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Life and times of Nottingham writer Alan Sillitoe

Alan Sillitoe's experiences in the city shaped his writing throughout his life

The Nottingham-born novelist, and poet, Alan Sillitoe has died aged 82 at Charing Cross Hospital in London.

Alan Sillitoe was born in Nottingham in 1928 and wrote largely about his working class background.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was his most famous work and is set in Nottingham among the terraced houses of Radford and the former Raleigh factory.

Back in the 1950s the book did not initially find favour with publishers.

He persisted: "I knew that at last this book had come along which was clear and concise... and it really was worth publishing," he told the BBC in 2008.

His conviction paid off and the book was published in 1958.

Like his character, Arthur Seaton, in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe worked at the Raleigh Bicycle Factory in Radford.

He said of the workers: "Morning, noon and night men and women going down Salisbury Street packing the [Raleigh] factory. It was going 24 hours a day.

"There was a canteen there. They ate there. It livened the area up no end. It was fantastic."

Without Nottingham, without its scenery, without all the work I have done in Nottingham, where would I have been without 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning'?
Alan Sillitoe

Gritty realism

Mr Sillitoe joined the RAF in 1946 but contracted TB. He moved to Mallorca on a military pension where he started writing after being encouraged by the poet Robert Graves.

It was on the Spanish island that Sillitoe first started writing about working class life in Nottingham, penning a short story titled The Adventures of Arthur Seaton.

He said: "Being away from Nottingham enabled me to be briefer in my descriptions and not be overwhelmed by things I was seeing every day."

The short story became Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and it caused a sensation in 1958.

Stories of everyday people and their lives had never been told before with such gritty realism.

Portrait of Alan Sillitoe by Edward Sellman
Edward Sellman's portrait of Nottinghamshire writer Alan Sillitoe

Dr Sean Matthews from Nottingham University explained its impact: "This wasn't somebody commentating on what it is like to be in this grotty area.

"It is all assumed that this way of living, the way the houses are laid out, the way people speak to each other. There's no judgement implied on that.

"This is how people live from the inside."

The book became a film in 1960 and Arthur Seaton was played by Albert Finney.

Mr Sillitoe went on to write more novels, collections of short stories, including The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and poetry.

In May, 2008, he became a Freeman of Nottingham.

He said of the honour: "It means a great deal actually, funnily enough, why shouldn't it?

"Without Nottingham, without its scenery, without all the work I have done in Nottingham, where would I have been without 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning'?

"I would never have written it so I feel very good about it. I think it's something which I must say thank you for."

Alan Sillitoe discusses the origins of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning


Local writer Nicola Monaghan, author of The Killing Jar and Starfishing, said Alan Sillitoe was a major inspiration for her work.

Nottingham culture magazine Leftlion adopted the line "I'm out for a good time - all the rest is propaganda!" from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and said Alan Sillitoe was a major reason for their existence.

Alan Sillitoe was also the subject of a recent portrait by artist Edward Sellman. The portrait is on display at the Jubilee Campus, University of Nottingham.

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