Sinclair was born and grew up in Hendon, North London, and was educated at the University of East Anglia (BA, PhD), the University of California, Santa Cruz, and at the University of Exeter.
Although his writing career began with short stories that appeared in magazines and journals, his first book was a novel – Bibliosexuality – which was published in 1973 by Allison and Busby. As he said in a 2012 interview: "The truth is I’ve always been a short story writer rather than a novelist. Bibliosexuality was originally a collection of short stories about a certain David Drollkind. Margaret Busby said she would publish it, if I could find a way of linking them. That’s how it became a novel."
Sinclair went on to become better known as a writer of short stories, with his next book, the 1981 collection Hearts of Gold, winning him the Somerset Maugham Award. In 1983, he was recognised in Granta′s list of Best Young British Novelists. He subsequently published several novels and collections of shorter fiction, in addition to non-fiction, such as biography and travel writing. His stories, interviews, travel pieces and reviews have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Encounter, The Year’s Best Horror Stories, New Review, London Magazine, Penthouse, Club International, Transatlantic Review, Lilith, Monat, The Guardian, The Independent,
Contrappasso Magazine. and The Times Literary Supplement (TLS).
Between 1983 and 1987 he was literary editor of the Jewish Chronicle, and in 1988 he was the British Council Guest Writer-in-residence at the University of Uppsala, Sweden. He has also been the British Library Penguin Writer's Fellow, as well as a visiting lecturer, most frequently at the University of East Anglia, but also at the University of California, Santa Cruz, his special subjects being gothic fiction, creative writing, detective fiction, and Holocaust literature.
His recent books include Clive Sinclair's True Tales of the Wild West, A Soap Opera From Hell: Essays on the Facts of Life and the Facts of Death and Death & Texas.
Sinclair was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1983.
Sinclair died in March 2018, aged 70. A posthumous collection of his work, entitled Shylock Must Die – based on the character Shylock – is due for publication in June 2018.