Alan Sillitoe was born in Nottingham in 1928. His father, a labourer, was unemployed throughout the economic depression of the 1930’s, and as a child Sillitoe acquired books either by saving what pocket money he could get or borrowing them from the public library. He left school at fourteen, to work in various factories until 1946, when he joined the Royal Air Force and served as a wireless operator. After two years in Malaya he was diagnosed as having tuberculosis, and spent a year in an RAF hospital, at which time he embarked on reading the best of world literature, from Antiquity to the present day. Demobilised from the Air Force with a disability pension, he went to live in the south of France, and then Majorca, with the poet Ruth Fainlight, who later became his wife. During six years abroad he wrote half a dozen novels which failed to be published, though he was later glad that they were not. He then wrote ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ (1958) which, after being rejected several times, appeared in 1958. The following year ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ came out. Both books received worldwide acclaim. Never considering himself to be an “Angry Young Man”, he was nevertheless assumed to be part of the mainstream of the time, with such writers as John Osborne, Shelagh Delaney, John Braine, John Wain, Arnold Wesker and Kingsley Amis. Like these, Sillitoe introduced the realistic depiction of working people in the post-war period, though his heroes were not typical class warriors, but rather anarchic people who, regardless of so-called social standing, insisted on their own values and refused assimilation to any party or state. The problems of the individual were presented by Sillitoe with sympathy, understanding and imagination. The powerful tension reflected in his early work still stands as vintage Sillitoe. He has, however, written many more novels and short stories, half of which are set in Nottingham. The 1960’s trilogy made up of: ‘The Death of William Posters’ (1965), ‘A Tree on Fire’ (1967) and ‘The Flame of Life’ (1974), gave a view of the social and political currents of that controversial decade. In them the uncertain but searching protagonists turn away from the conventional family, yet eventually return to it, since they can find no better human arrangement fit to take its place. Sillitoe is not only a novelist, having produced volumes of poetry, an autobiography (‘Life Without Armour’, 1995), plays, essays, and children’s books. His most recent novel ‘A Man of His Time’, about the life and tribulations of a Nottingham blacksmith and his family, was published in 2004. Alan Sillitoe lives and works in London.
© international literature festival berlin