The great writer Alan Sillitoe has just died, aged 82. He was one of my formative influences, writing in a working-class register that angry young boys growing up in a brutal industrial cities in the 1970s could make some sense of and relate to. In reading about his life a while back I discovered that he was on the edge of packing it all in before a publisher finally offered him a deal: he’d received the usual thirty rejection slips prior to his breakthrough. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what on earth editors see when they read.
The publishers of my first collection of stories sent proofs to Alan Sillitoe – he said some kind words which they used on the cover. Though I knew my work wasn’t in his class, nothing could have meant more to me than to receive an encomium from such a source. I nearly met him once, a few years ago. I noticed him because he was wearing an odd leather waistcoat and was smoking a pipe, this was in the Hungarian Culture Centre in London. It was only after the event that George Szirtes told me who he was. George and Alan Sillitoe were friends; I imagine George will write a proper appreciation on his blog (link on sidebar).