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Alan Sillitoe: 1928-2010

27 April 10 words: James Walker
photos: Dom Henry

"Unquestionably the greatest writer to emerge from the region, and certainly one of the master storytellers of his generation"

"In Nottingham I learned to read and write, and how to spell - lucky! I went hungry now and again, but then was fed by the City; the place nurtured me, for a start in life, because I worked there for a living - which was good; got bombed in 1941 and didn’t get hit!
A youth in Nottingham was rich with lovely girls, and friendships never to be forgotten, a town built into my bones and heart, carried with me forever. Always part of me, impossible not to make it live for others as it lived and still does for me - something given back with more than thanks.

Alan Sillitoe, writing for LeftLion, in 2008

Alan Sillitoe - photo by Dom Henry

Alan Sillitoe - photo by Dom Henry

Alan Sillitoe was unquestionably the greatest writer to emerge from the region, and certainly one of the master storytellers of his generation.

Born the second child of five children on the outskirts of Nottingham in 1928, he produced over 50 books, including poetry, children’s books, travelogues, screenplays, non-fiction and essays. Not bad for a man who failed his eleven-plus and left school at the tender age of fourteen, particularly when you consider nowadays you need a degree to clean a toilet.

Through his books he constructed the definitive Nottingham landscape, producing narratives and characters which are constantly revisited, similar in principle to Balzac’s comédie humaine. The best-known family to reappear in his work were those lovable rogues, the Seaton family.

Arthur Seaton was originally conceived as a poem in 1950 which focused in on his thoughts while fishing. He would later be immortalised in Sillitoe’s seminal work, Saturday Night, Sunday Morning which won the Authors' Club First Novel Award and was later turned into a film staring Albert Finney.

Sillitoe was often lumped into the Angry Young Men genre, which tends to simplify the depth of his characters; these were existential rebels with a cause. Think of the integrity of Colin Smith, and what he sacrificed to achieve self-understanding by losing that long lonely race; the same applies to Arthur Seaton. He requires a couple of bruises on his journey to discover who and what he actually is. Respect is not a given: it is something earned, and it is certainly not the repository of the middle-class authority figures who are so often manipulated by their more cunning inferiors.

Having grown up in chronic poverty and witnessed his illiterate father dragged off to jail for the crime of being unable to pay for food, Sillitoe was - and still will be- a constant voice for the underdog by portraying their struggle with dignity, compassion and most importantly, truth. In a world dominated by bullshit and political correctness (no matter how well intentioned) Sillitoe reminds us of the most important facts of all: Trust the gut. Know thyself. Never give in.

And that, readers, is why you should mourn the loss of Nottingham's most important voice,  because as petrol goes up and your self-esteem goes down, this man might just continue to offer you the one commodity the bastards can’t steal from you; hope.

Alan Sillitoe: His Final Interview

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