Alan Sillitoe enters the Oxford Dictionary of Biography

“Not sure how to check plagiarism? I use Grammarly because whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not”

Alan Sillitoe was added to the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in January, joining 218 other contemporary figures who passed away in 2010. The former Raleigh worker had a phenomenal output which included fiction, non-fiction, poetry, travel, plays and children’s stories. He is perhaps most remembered for his debut novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) which became a million-selling Pan paperback.

The exploits of Arthur Seaton, the hard-drinking, womanising factory worker at the heart of the novel, offered an authentic voice to the working class and led to the Nottingham-born author being labelled as an ‘angry young man’. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is not so much a novel about anger but of the violence latent in everyday life, where everyone turns against each other at the slightest provocation. Life is literally a battle that comes at you from all angles, every day. The key is to ‘not let the bastards grind you down.’ Of Seaton, Sillitoe wrote he “has no spiritual values because the kind of conditions he lives in do not allow him to have any.” The problem is not an ‘angry’ author or a selfish character. It’s society. It’s no wonder certain politicians wanted the film banned.

Sillitoe despised labels and had no interest in being the poster boy for the latest media fad: “whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not’. He was suspicious of any kind of institution and had no intention of being a member of anyone’s gang, a characteristic he shared with Seaton. Everyone was out for whatever they could get and only a cunning attitude would ensure protection from “the snot-gobbling get that teks my income tax, the swivel-eyed swine that collects our rent, the big-headed bastard that gets my goat when he asks me to union meetings or sign a paper against what’s happening in Kenya.” The message both Sillitoe and Seaton send to the world at large is clear: leave me alone.

‘Leave me alone’ is something I imagine many adolescents mutter under their breath. If we are to believe the news they are: unsociable, egotistical, stupid, self-obsessed, lazy, violent, illiterate and obsessed with technology. The solutions to these problems include all of the usual suspects: harsher discipline, read more, ban Facebook, etc. My solution is…the Unread.
THE SPACE SILLITOE
I will be bringing Arthur Seaton back to life alongside Colin Smith (the anti-hero of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner). These characters are belligerent, defiant, iconoclastic, and untrusting of all forms of authority. I can’t think of better role models to aspire to given the current political climate. And yes, I’m quite aware that I sound like a hypocrite. That I’m just another authority figure (and a white male with it) who thinks he has the magical solution to get teenagers reading, save libraries and the answers to other social ills. But it’s not like that, honest. (that’s what they all say)

I hope to lure reluctant readers by showing them snippets of relevant and alluring literary figures in the hope that this might trigger an interest to discover more. I have chosen the graphic novel because it’s a medium they’re comfortable with and through embedded content offers many opportunities to go deeper into the text. This is why it’s available across media platforms, so they can access it in forms they are most comfortable with. And no this is not dumbing down or pandering, it’s being realistic.

Alan Sillitoe means a great deal to me. His books offered a way out of the pit village I grew up in, and through Seaton and Smith, the self-belief and confidence to embark on projects like this. If you don’t want the bastards to grind you down, become your own foreman.

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