Early life and education
Born at Stockport, Greater Manchester, to circuit judge Gilbert Alexander Forrest (1912–1977) and teacher Emily Maureen, daughter of Joseph Armstrong, of Fivemiletown, County Tyrone, Spurling was educated at Clifton High School, an independent school in Bristol in South West England, followed by Somerville College, Oxford.
- Ivy When Young: The Early Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett 1884–1919 (1974)
- Mervyn Peake: Drawings (1974) editor
- Invitation to the Dance, A Handbook to Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time (1977)
- Secrets of a Woman's Heart: The Later Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett 1920–1969 (1984)
- Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book: Elizabethan Country House Cooking (1986)
- Paul Scott: A Life (1990)
- Paper Spirits. Collage Portraits by Vladimir Sulyagin (1992) introduction
- Ivy: The Life of I. Compton-Burnett (1995; combines two volumes originally published separately in 1974 and 1984)
- The Unknown Matisse: Volume 1 – A Life of Henri Matisse 1869–1908 (1998)
- La Grande Thérèse: The Greatest Swindle of the Century (1999) on Thérèse Humbert
- The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell (2002)
- Matisse the Master: The Conquest of Colour 1909–1954 (2005)
- Ann Stokes: Artists' Potter (contributor) (2009)
- Matisse: The Life (abridged version of two earlier works) (2009)
- Pearl Buck in China (also published as Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck) (2010)
- Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time (2017)
- 1976, Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for Ivy When Young: The Early Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett 1884–1919
- 1984, Duff Cooper Prize for Ivy When Young: The Early Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett 1884–1919
- 2005, Whitbread Book of the Year award for Matisse the Master: The Conquest of Colour 1909–1954
- 2010, James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography, for Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck in China
- International Who's Who of Writers and Authors, 23rd edition, Europa Publications, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008, p. 685.
- World Authors, 1985–1990, ed. Vineta Colby, H. W. Wilson Ltd, 1995, p. 842.
- Who was Who: A Cumulated Index 1897–2000, A. & C. Black, 2002, p. 289.
- The Solicitors' Journal, vol. 121, 1977, p. 648.
- Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes, 95th edition, Kelly's Directories Ltd, 1969, p. 764.
- Biography of Hilary Spurling from The Guardian.
- Kirkpatrick, Kirk; Vinson, James, eds. (1988). "Spurling, John". Contemporary Dramatists (Fourth ed.). Chicago and London: St. James Press. p. 500. ISBN 0912289627.
- "Dazzling tale of Ms Saigon takes top award". The Scotsman. 20 August 2011.
|Awards and achievements|
| Rose Mary Crawshay Prize