I write because the materials to write are there, and because I have something to say. Everything on the page, is a version of me; it has to be. Nobody else is holding that pen, or typing at that keyboard; just me, Dan McGill.
Writers rarely make appearances on mainstream television; unless that is they’re famous for something else. A fictionalized depiction of the great American Author Richard Yates did make an appearance in an episode of Seinfeld . It was based on a real meeting, between Larry David and Richard Yates. David was dating Yates’s daughter, and aware of the authors difficult reputation.
Seeing that the real Yates was no fan of the entertainment business, and was often a nightmare socially; there was a lot of scope for comedy in that meeting. One of these days I’m actually going to watch that episode, just to see if Larry David’s character is anything like the way I imagine Yates was in later life.
Over the years I’ve met a lot of writers, many obscure, and some famous. I met Alan Sillitoe shortly before he died. Sometimes people mix up authors with the characters they create. Yates wrote about seriously imperfect men in Revolutionary Road and Young Hearts Crying: they are versions of him, at different stages in his life.
Sillitoe in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, wrote about a factory worker, Arthur Seaton, who lives life large, in cinemascope. Seaton is not introspective; he just is. And when I met Seaton’s creator, I was curious: would there be anything of the character in the author?
The title of the piece is an age old phrase; and used by Arthur Seaton, as he works his lathe.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down. April, 2010
Author Alan Sillitoe died in London today aged 82. He’s one of the few famous writers I’ve met; and came across as a man with few pretensions. I can’t be certain if the man who entertained a small audience at the London Bookshop Foyles was acting for the crowd. But then wouldn’t I, if such books as Saturday Night Sunday Morning or The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner had come from me.
Alan Sillitoe sat in a chair, with a glass of wine in one hand and a copy of a Morse Code book in the other. I remember his leather waistcoat, which gave him the look of an old man from his most famous novel. And I imagined him keeping a stash of tobacco in one of the pockets.
Ostensibly he was reading from his 1970 book A Start in Life, which had just been republished. The books main character, Michael Cullen, is described as a bastard, by birth and by nature. He’s supposed to be the inspiration for the 70s TV character Budgie, but I’ve also heard he inspired the incarnation of Mick Travis in O Lucky Man.
Before giving his reading, Sillitoe buzzed out some Morse and asked the audience to guess what its meaning, nobody did. He took questions later, and I remember someone asking the most common question an author gets – is your writing autobiographical. I can’t remember his reply, although it did include something about his bike factory job.
There’s was not much of Arthur Seaton in the Eighty year old Sillitoe, but I’m sure his essence was there. The impression I got was of a man happy with his life, who was not especially northern and not especially matter-of-fact. He carried himself like someone who’d reached a point were everything is stable and calm; where he could just enjoy himself and look back at a novel written forty years ago.
The bastards did not succeed in grinding him down. Cheers Alan, and thanks for all your great writing. Long may you stay in print.