I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not. (Arthur Seaton).
Last week a tram was named after Alan Sillitoe in recognition of his outstanding contribution to literature and putting Nottingham on the map. Sillitoe wrote across genres and in a wide variety of forms, but it is his debut novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning which he is most fondly remembered for. Yet it was originally rejected by eight publishers because anti-hero Arthur Seaton’s womanising, boozing and outlook was deemed ‘too gritty’. They wanted a more edifying narrative, feeling that the working classes had it hard enough already, with no need to rub it in further. There was also a fear that the book might even incite hatred for decent working men among its potential readers. One local politician wanted the book banning, presumably concerned that it would forever define Nottingham as a refuge for alcoholics and illicit behaviour. But the public loved it and it went on to be Pans first paperback to sell a million copies.
I will be bringing Colin Smith and Arthur Seaton, two of Sillitoe’s finest characters, back to life for our chapter on 8 February 2015. I’ve just had the first pencil drawings in from artist Carol Swain – by post, rather than the cloud. Another example of the varied way in which artist/writer collaborations work.
But this weekend is when we have a real digital celebration of Sillitoe’s seminal portrayal of working class life. Paul Fillingham and I will be producing the first-ever Live 24-hour Twitter presentation of the novel. I’ve just spent Saturday night and Sunday morning and Monday night and Tuesday morning, working my way through the original film script and the novel to produce the timeline. The text will be a combination of the novel, the film script, quotes from other works by Sillitoe and improvisation @BeingArthur. A modern Arthur will also be retelling the novel in a modern setting through my personal Twitter feed @TheSpaceLathe.
Paul and I originally had the idea for a modern Arthur Seaton for our Sillitoe Trail commission for The Space in 2012/3. In this, we asked Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods to be the voice of our modern day Arthur because he had the right attitude and, as he confesses, a face people just want to smack. We called this feature Seaton Rifles and the below video was created as a spin-off of this format in support of Pussy Riot in association with PEN.
Arthur Seaton is belligerent, fiercely individualistic, subversive and rebellious. He has an opinion and an answer for everything. For our Live 24-hour presentation we will be tweeting around the clock as an army of Arthur’s engage in role-play and conversation, responding to the themes and situations presented to them in our modern day version of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
We will be creating accounts for some of the main characters, such as Ma Bull, Bert, Robboe the Foreman, Jack, Brenda and Arthur’s mam and dad. Paul is working on a Seaton generator, so that you can input words which will be turned into the kind of iconic phrases you would expect to come straight out of Seaton’s trap. He also has the arduous task of scheduling tweets for all of the cast so that they appear in chronological order, are retweeted so they appear in the right place on the timeline, and other forms of digital mastery which our partnership has benefitted from over the past few years.
The project is part of the Being Human Festival at the University of Nottingham. This is the UK’s first national festival of the humanities, led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. It follows on from my recent talk at Durham University for a conference Beyond Crisis: Visions for the New Humanities and is an example of how Paul and I are trying to bring literature to the heart of debates surrounding the humanities.
- Being Human Festival (nottingham.ac.uk)
- Interview Sleaford Mods (Leftlion.co.uk)
- School of Advanced Studies (sas.ac.uk)
- Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities. Programme Snapshots (beinghumanfestival.org)
- Sillitoe Trail App (jameskwalker.co.uk)
- Lost Again, A Letter to Alan Sillitoe from Michael Eaton (sillitoe.com)