Sunday, 25 April 2010

RIP... Alan Sillitoe

I was very sad to read just now that Alan Sillitoe has died.

A brilliant writer, writing what I would consider to be some of the greatest English novels of the twentieth century.

When I was on my creative writing MA, my tutor directed to me to his novels, feeling that I would relate to them, learn from them, that some of what I wanted to achieve was explored in his novels. I read The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner first and was gripped, first by his use of language, the way he uses 'voice' and depicts local vernacular, and spoken voice within his narratives. Second for the structure, I loved the three part structure, each exploring a different aspect of Colin, his family and life in Nottingham, his time in Borstal, and then his running. Thirdly, the story, which captures achingly difficult, sad aspects of life, in a down to earth, gritty way. Real, I would describe it as. I know when his novels were adapted for film, they were described as 'kitchen sink', I'm not sure whether that could be used to described his novels, but certainly there is something grimly everyday about them. This, for me is what is so overwhelmingly good about them, he captures something that elsewhere might seem boring or mundane, but transforms it into something poignant, imbued with meaning, affecting.

I couldn't get enough of that novel, still my favourite I think. I suppose it's the English version of 'Catcher in the Rye', very different, but for me equal to it.

Saturday Night, Sunday morning as well. Bloody hell, does this novel say so much to me, capture what could so easily be missed. I don't know whether Nottingham can be described as 'the north', probably more like the midlands, but for me, it helped me to identify my place in a literary world, my northernness, how I didn't have to be intellectual in my writing, or clever, that just writing in my voice, with my ideas and environments, my way of seeing the world is enough, in fact more than enough. I could write about tough stuff, grim environments, in an ordinary way, and it could be poetic. Almost as though reading his work, made me understand more of who I was as a writer, or affirmed perhaps who I am.

I'm not sure whether his work might seem old-fashioned now, I don't think so. It captures a specific era I think, beautifully, a culture, a social class. It made me feel YES, I can do this.

So I guess you could say he was an influence, that until reading about his death, perhaps I didn't realise fully. He will certainly be remembered for his writing, and my thoughts go out to his family and friends.

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