TRCH Mindgames

Lucifer Press' Tribute to Alan Sillitoe: More Raw Material

17 March 16 words: Neil Fulwood and David Sillitoe
"[Alan] continually experimented and pushed himself and challenged his readers and he didn't give a damn whether that put a dint in his popularity or not"
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“In the beginning was the word, and Adam was the Printer’s Devil.”       

Thus begins Alan Sillitoe’s 1972 part-novel-part-autobiography hybrid Raw Material, a book that was “meta” before the term was prevalent. Alan was a writer’s writer and there was no form of literary endeavour or discipline that was out of bounds for him. He continually experimented and pushed himself and challenged his readers and he didn’t give a damn whether that put a dint in his popularity or not. “Go back to Nottingham, Mr Sillitoe,” raged a reviewer perplexed by his existential novel The General. You have to wonder what that selfsame critic made of the anti-thrillers The Lost Flying Boat and The German Numbers Woman, the feminist character study Her Victory, or the deconstructive late-period masterpiece The Broken Chariot.

His output was prodigious: more than sixty volumes – a lot more if you count small press editions and limited printings – across six decades. Novels, short fiction, poetry, essays, travel writing, plays, film scripts, children’s books, a memoir. And letters. He corresponded enthusiastically, always writing in longhand: a beautiful, perfectly legible script in fountain pen. We’ve yet to see any evidence of a smudge. His literary output was typed, corrections made by hand. There was a brief experiment with word processing. It ended badly.

In putting together More Raw Material, we not only wanted to pay tribute to Alan Sillitoe, but to capture something of his spirit. So we asked our contributors for personal reminiscences, short fiction, essays, travel writing, poetry. Alan’s first chosen form as a writer was poetry yet his talents in this respect were never fully recognised, despite a handsome Collected Poems published in 1993. We hope this collection will stand as a corrective to the lazy, inaccurate “Alan Sillitoe as angry young man” theorising that fixates on three or four volumes from the outset of his career and misses the riches and diversity of a life’s work.

We also hope that it will entertain, inspire and invigorate. We are honoured that such a roster of talented and important writers – both established and up-and-coming – agreed to be part of this project. Alan left us in 2010. In assembling this anthology, it has felt like he’s never been gone.

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The following poems are all extracts from More Raw Material and includes one by Alan’s widow, Ruth Fainlight.

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Cathy Grindrod

A Writer Visits                 
i.m. Alan Sillitoe
By Cathy Grindrod

He was one of the easiest.
No demands.
Easy to find
with the aid of
a studio photo
that didn’t take off 20 years
and easily visible, mainly
because of his                                   hat.

He always spoke well.
There were no requests
for a separate room,
a particular wine, a hairdryer,
Rennies, silence.
Just a bar with a pint
if convenient, and questions,
from him about                us.

There was, however, the pipe.
No concessions.
At the sound-check
a fixed steely eye
beneath the alarmingly
prominent ‘no smoking’ signs.
A simple equation -
this would be about        him.

He missed herding the sheep.
Couldn’t come.
Being a freeman and having the right
to lead all those sheep (well that one)
right over Trent Bridge. No mind.
Strikes me he was already
a pretty free man and not much
of a one for                        sheep.
 

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Rosie Garland

Asking for directions
Rosie Garland

Take the road past the abandoned cliff-edge
hotel. A boy will lean out of a car and shoot
at you. Don’t worry. He will miss. Follow

the bullet’s breath to the hospital and its folded
wards. You only think it is a dead-end. Continue
through its convoluted drainage system to a courtyard

with bricked-up doorways. Choose the only one
that’s open, then along a bridle-path signed no motor vehicles,
past disbelieving wrecks of burnt-out trucks. Keep walking.

You’ll arrive at the station breathless, too late
for your train and minus ticket, money, timetable. Stow
that ridiculously heavy suitcase in a locker and climb

the gravelled path up the hill. Yes, it gets steeper.
Your sat-nav? It won’t work here. Feel your way
with the bravery you used to have when you crossed

roads without looking. Keep going. You can’t miss it:
the sheer drop, the view back with its tarpaulin
of smoke, all those wooden markers.
 

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Ruth Fainlight

The Motorway
Ruth Fainlight

I was born in the motorway era:
we both were. He used to say it made him
happy to see me writing in the car,
in the passenger seat.

We drove the motorways – going north on
the M1, all the routes through France heading south,
west from Nashville to San Diego, then
east again across the continent
to Montauk Point before returning the car:
you driving, me writing.

Sometimes I’d be aware you’d quickly turned
your head sideways, only for a moment
shifting your gaze from the road – one flick
of your eyes, to watch me making notes.
I laughed and said: “It’s perfect – you driving,
me writing, let’s go on like this forever”,
and you laughed and agreed.

But we didn’t. There were other things to do.
And now it`s impossible. You’re dead.
And I’m driving with another person,
with someone else.
I stare through the windscreen into the distance
as the pylons draw their lines of power
across the green and brown and yellow fields,
the landscape of small hills, hedges and streams
you taught me to understand – stare into
the distance – as if by looking hard enough
I`ll find that place where the two sides
of the road merge and unite.

More Raw Material is available from Five Leaves Bookshop and online, £9.

Lucifer Press website

You can hear David and Neil discussing Lucifer Press on the March WriteLion podcast

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