Russell Conwell Hoban was born February 4, 1925 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Army at age 18 and served in the Philippines and Italy as a radio operator during World War II. After the war, he worked as an illustrator (painting several covers for TIME magazine) and an advertising copywriter, before writing and illustrating his first children's book, What Does It Do and How Does It Work.
Shortly after writing his first full-length novel, The Mouse and His Child, he moved to London in 1969 with his first wife (illustrator Lillian Hoban, who collaborated on his successful children's books about Frances the Badger), intending to stay only a short time. But following the breakup of their marriage, he remained in London and has lived there ever since. Most of his adult novels are set in whole or part in contemporary London.
Hoban is often described as a fantasy writer; only two of his novels, Turtle Diary and The Bat Tattoo, are entirely devoid of supernatural elements. Many of his novels could also be considered romances, following the development of a relationship between two characters who often take turns as narrators, bonding over some common obsession or artistic interest.