By Paul Irving
ALAN Sillitoe, the working-class novelist, died last weekend leaving people from Manchester to draw on their own personal recollections.
Sillitoe, 82, died at Charing Cross Hospital on Sunday 25th April, marking the end of a long and spirited career.
The writer’s work, along with that of luminaries such as John Osborne and John Braine, rocked the sleepy, conservative world of the 1950s.
Geoff Ryman, author and University of Manchester lecturer, remembers Sillitoe as the first writer he ever met and was a little surprised.
“I thought writers would be as extraordinary as their books,” he said.
Sillitoe delivered a lecture in 1972 when Mr Ryman was studying at the University of Sussex and afterwards the class even took him out to dinner.
“In those days there were few enough students, or perhaps few enough interested in literature, that that was possible,” said Mr Ryman.
He added: “His modesty struck me, his self-centredness for both good and bad and his sheer ordinariness.”
Sillitoe’s big successes were Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner.
The clamour surrounding these first two books of his career – and their subsequent films – far outweighed anything else in Sillitoe’s career.
Mr Ryman said: “The tragedy is some of his best work was done while the spotlight was shining elsewhere. That is our problem not his.”
Dr Andrew Biswell, head of the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University, also remembers Sillitoe, but recalls less fondly Sillitoe’s novel Key to the Door (1960).
The book deals with the British presence in colonial Malaya.
Dr Biswell states Sillitoe’s failure to learn the language produced lots of cultural inaccuracies.
He said: “Sillitoe’s description of one of the richest multi-cultural societies on earth ends up as a half-witted insult to the people who live there.”
Still, even Dr Biswell concedes that, although Sillitoe’s later work will probably not survive the test of time, his early books will endure.
“They will be his monument,” said Dr Biswell.
Nottingham-born Sillitoe worked at a bicycle factory, then served as a RAF wireless operator before contracting TB.
Eighteen months later he left military hospital with his discharge papers.
He taught himself to write under orange trees in Majorca while supporting himself on his military pension.
Waterstones on Manchester’s Deansgate have set up a display with Sillitoe’s books and the books of the other ‘Angry Young Men’ of the period.
Dave, one of store’s booksellers, said an author’s passing can often renew interest in their work.
He said: “It often jogs peoples’ memories, makes them think ‘I’ve always wanted to read that book’. It reminds you of their existence.”