“I’m me and nobody else; and whatever people think I am or say I am, that’s what I’m not, because they don’t know a bloody thing about me.”
“All I’m out for is a good time – all the rest is propaganda.”
These blistering lines, from ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, announced the arrival of a major writer. Alan Sillitoe followed his no-punches-pulled portrayal of post-war working class resilience and rebelliousness with ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’. It was a dynamic literary one-two; an opening salvo that set the tone for a five-decade career marked by honesty and integrity.
His second novel, ‘The General’ (1960), marked a significant change in direction and left a number of critics – as well as a large swathe of his readership – perplexed. ‘Key to the Door’ (1961) saw him back on home turf with a chunky family saga focusing on Arthur Seaton’s older brother Brian. ‘The Open Door’ (1989) continued Brian’s story, and the older and wiser Seaton brothers were eventually reunited in ‘Birthday’ (2001).
Elsewhere, Alan Sillitoe’s increasingly foregrounded political views came to the fore in the Frank Dawley trilogy: ‘The Death of William Posters’ (1965), ‘A Tree on Life’ (1967) and ‘The Flame of Life’ (1974). His short story collection ‘The Ragman’s Daughter’ (1963) considered reactionary themes, while his travelogue ‘Road to Volgograd’ was written after he visited the USSR at the invitation of the Soviet Writers’ Union. Although he enjoyed a reputation in Russia unrivalled by any other western writer, he was quick to criticize the regime. He revisited his travels here, as well as chronicling more recent visits, in his last published work ‘Gadfly in Russia’ (2007).
He continued to diversify as a writer throughout the 70s and 80s, with 1968’s ‘Guzman Go Home’ showcasing a deft talent for picaresque narrative and absurdist humour.
The Michael Cullen novels – ‘A Start in Life’ (1970) and ‘Life Goes On’ (1985) – are firmly rooted in the picaresque tradition, while ‘Travels in Nihilon’ (1971) presents an absurdist political satire.
‘The Lost Flying Boat’ (1983) is an unapologetically old-school adventure story, ‘Down from the Hill’ (1984) is equally unapologetically nostalgic, ‘Her Victory’ (1982) is one of the best examples of a male author completely and empathetically creating a female protagonist, and ‘Raw Material’ (1972) is a visceral fusion of novel and autobiography.
That Alan Sillitoe punctuated these works with volumes of poetry, essays and children’s fiction only offer further proof of his continuing commitment to diversify and develop as a writer. His challenging and unflinching 1979 novel ‘The Storyteller’ examined the blurring lines between reality and fiction in what can only be described as a precursor to meta-fiction.
His output was prodigious: factor in the children’s books, poetry, plays, translations and such miscellany as ‘Leading the Blind’ (1997), a social history of guidebook travel in the nineteen-hundreds, and his bibliography stands at a good fifty volumes.
This site is an online resource and tribute, established by the members of the Alan Sillitoe Committee.