Patterson was born in the North of England on July 27, 1929. He moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland with his mother after his parents’ marriage foundered, and was raised there amid religious and political violence. First in Belfast and later in Leeds, Patterson proved to be an indifferent student and left school without completing his studies. He found a home in the British Army, however, and served two years as a non-commissioned officer in the Household Cavalry on the East German border during the 1950s. Patterson found, during his military service, that he possessed both considerable sharpshooting skills and considerable intelligence (scoring 147 on an army intelligence test). After leaving the army, he returned to school, studying sociology at London University while supporting himself as a driver and laborer. Completing his degree, he worked for a time as a teacher and began writing novels in 1959. The growing success of his early work allowed him to take time off from his teaching, and he eventually left the classroom to become a full-time novelist. He currently lives on Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, and continues to publish a new novel annually.