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Alan Sillitoe - picture credit David Sillitoe

Friday 8th
posted by Jody Porter in Features

Neil Fulwood and David Sillitoe explain how they decided to celebrate the diversity of Alan Sillitoe’s output as a writer, debunk the Angry Young Man cliche and direct the reader to other aspects of his work

Alan Sillitoe exploded onto the post-war literary scene with the one-two punch of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Both were adapted into films that became classics of British cinema. This initial blaze of success coincided with the Angry Young Men movement, a label that Alan rejected. He considered it a lazy and inaccurate pigeonhole for his work. The briefest overview of his bibliography proves him right.

Anyone who remembers Sillitoe for these two specific works might be surprised to find — in the 60-odd volumes of a career that spanned six decades — poetry, essays, plays, travel writing, memoirs, children’s books. Evaluated principally as a novelist, his output spans existential drama (The General), political satire (Travels in Nihilon), deconstructive thrillers (The Lost Flying-Boat, The German Numbers Woman), psychological meta-fiction (The Storyteller) and feminist character study (Her Victory).

In compiling More Raw Material: Work Inspired by Alan Sillitoe, we wanted to celebrate the diversity of his output as a writer, debunk the Angry Young Man cliche and direct the reader to other aspects of Sillitoe’s work.

We looked for diversity in terms of contributors — their ages, backgrounds, styles of writing; whether they were established or mining that first seam of their career — and also for pieces where his influence, inasmuch as it ranged from the reassuringly obvious to the barely noticeable, could be discerned.

We soon found that although the world (and Nottingham) have changed since Alan’s powerhouse debut, enduring themes and concerns remain.

The anthology’s title pays homeage to Alan’s part-novel, part-memoir Raw Material, while Lucifer Press is a tip of the hat to his book-length poetry sequence Snow on the North Side of Lucifer.

Forming our own imprint in order to retain complete artistic control was a great idea in the optimistic, beer-fuelled fug of the first round of editorial meetings in January and February 2015 — the Vat & Fiddle public house was our adopted office.

We reckoned without families, full-time jobs and the various distractions of real life and our positive mental attitude of “hey, we can get this done by May” gave way to “OK, if we have an absolute deadline of August, that should accommodate everyone,” which gave way to “all right, mid-September then, but no later!”

Not that we’re complaining. The calibre of contributors was astounding and if it meant holding the deadline another couple of weeks to get a world-class writer in the book, then so be it.

We’d started out by making a list of everyone we either knew or whose email address we could blag. Some people we messaged through Facebook. Our friend Viv Apple, who’s been at the hub of the Nottingham literary scene for half a century, pinged out dozens of emails on our behalf.

The response was overwhelming, and the same message kept coming back: Alan had been a friend, a mentor, a hero, an inspiration. Our contributors offered their work freely — in both senses of the word (revenue from sales goes to the Alan Sillitoe Memorial Fund). Their generosity was a re-affirmation of what we had hoped to find and a balance against the inevitability of the “every dog has his day” reality of a writer’s descending (and occasionally ascending) curve.

Nottingham writers are in abundance, but the anthology also houses southerners, northerners, a couple of fantastic Irish poets — including 2015 Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize winner Paul McMahon — and writers from the States.

Individual pieces evoke landscapes from the Middle East to Russia. In pulling everything together and going to press, however, we came right back home.

Nottingham-based Russell Press was formed in 1968 by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation to provide an affordable and supportive service to the voluntary sector. Cost-effectiveness, client-focus and collectivism remain key to their philosophy.

Russell Press had all the time in the world for us and they turned More Raw Material from a PDF file on a memory stick to a beautifully produced, perfect-bound book.

It was published on November 1 2015, 10 months after we had the first serious conversation about it. The launch was at Five Leaves, Nottingham’s pioneering independent bookshop.

More Raw Material is now available in nine different outlets throughout the city and we’re busy identifying retailers in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire who we’re interested in working with.

We have no interest in selling via a certain internet-based corporation which dodges tax and treats its employees like cattle. Nor will More Raw Material ever be an ebook. Alan kept it old school, and Lucifer Press is committed to honouring that aesthetic.

Further events are scheduled in January, March and July 2016, in Nottingham, Newcastle and Wakefield respectively. More events are in the pipeline. Promoting and distributing the book independently is a time-consuming business, but we have ambition. It may take a while, but we’ll bring More Raw Material to a town near you.

Creating the anthology wasn’t so much a learning curve as a roller coaster. But it’s given us the bug — moreover, you can only buy ISBN numbers in multiples of 10 so it would be a waste of money if we didn’t publish a few more volumes.

It’s been a long hard road out of Nottingham bringing More Raw Material to fruition, but we’re not done yet.

Well Versed is edited by Jody Porter. Please include a short, third-person biography and author photo with all submissions:

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