Posts Tagged ‘Soul Music’

Radio 4 Programme Next Week Asking ‘Where Are All the Working Class Writers?’

November 15, 2017

Next Thursday, 23rd November 2017, at 11.30 in the morning, Radio 4 are broadcasting a programme, Where Are All the Working-Class Writers? by the writer Kit de Waal. The blurb for the programme on page 137 of the Radio Times runs

Birmingham-raised writer Kit de Waal published her first novel in 2016, aged 55. She used part of the advance to set up a scholarship in an attempt to improve working-class representation in the arts. She talks to writers, agents and publishers about barriers for writers from working-class backgrounds.

More information about her and the programme is in another piece on the opposite page, 135. This states

“I never expected to be a writer,” says Kit de Waal in this thoughtful exploration of class and writing. “I was working class, I was the daughter of immigrants. People like me weren’t even expected to go to university. ” De Waal did go to university, but at 51; she’d left school at 16. She knows that her background and – and how it influences the stories she tellls – makers her an oddity in literary circles. As she speaks to writers, agents and publishers to find out why this is, it becomes clear that class is an intrinsic part of the under-representation question, overlapping with race and gender. She gleans erudite contributions – take Tim Lott’s description of working-class writing as “the literary equivalent of soul music”, as he asks, “who’s making the soul music?’ Who’s making the rock ‘n’ roll?’

This is an issues that the great British comics writer, Pat Mills, raised in some of the interviews I posted up on here. Mills, who created the classic anti-war strip, Charley’s War, and wrote and created many of the classic characters in the SF comic, 2000 AD, has said that he felt angry that there were no working class characters in comics and very few in mainstream literature. Worse, there was an attitude amongst the media that was determined to exclude them. He has described how he was working on a story for Dr. Who in the 1980s, which was to have a working-class spaceship captain. This was rejected by the script editor, who really didn’t like the idea.

As for popular music, I was told by a friend of mine a little while ago that this was another traditional working class area that was being taken over by the middle classes. Most of the stars now in the charts, or at least at the time, were graduates of university courses in music or the performing arts. The pub rock scene, which emerged in the ’70s and which the launched the careers of many of the great working class bands of the ’70s and ’80s is now very much disappearing.

Once upon a time, back in the 1980s and 1990s, Private Eye’s literary column took a somewhat similar view of the contemporary literary scene. The reviewer back then was acutely critical of the snobbishness and cliquishness of literature and the publishing industry. The Eye believed and very strongly argued that British literature was dominated by a small clique of writers, who were largely vastly overhyped, to the exclusion of better writers and aspiring authors, who were rejected out of hand. They gave as an example of this a conversation they’d heard about with one of the editors of Granta. When the editor was asked about a piece submitted by one aspiring author, they responded by asking what colour the enveloped it was send in was. This, the Eye’s reviewer went on, showed precisely what the attitude towards outside submissions at the magazine was. It was geared entirely towards people within the literary clique. Those outside were automatically rejected, manuscript unread.

The Eye wasn’t particularly interested in the class aspects of this question. Which isn’t surprising, as Richard Ingrams, the former editor pointed out during a talk one year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the magazine’s founders – himself, Willie Rushton, Peter Cook and so on, were all middle-class and privately educated. The Eye’s reviewer said several times that there was no reason why working class writers should be particularly promoted over others. They also made the occasional sneering comments directed at left-wing authors stressing their very working class roots that they were ‘prolier than thou’. I think they may even have made a comment about ‘Prole-lit’ for a type of very stereotypical ‘working class’ literature.

But they also attacked authors, who seemed to be published solely on snob value, because they were members of the aristocracy or the upper-middle classes, rather than because their writing had any intrinsic merit. Regarding one such author, the Eye’s reviewer said that any miner, who ever picked up a pen to write a sonnet, was of far more interest and value than them. They also savaged authors from the upper classes, who struck them as having a particularly patronising attitude to the lower orders, who read her books. There’s one review, which takes Jilly Cooper to task for this, whether the reviewer writing as her, sends her up by describing her readers as ‘pawps’ as an example of the class snobbishness in her novels. I’ve never read Cooper, so can’t really say whether this attitude is entirely fair or not, or, if it is, whether Cooper is any worse than many other authors.

I think that in more recent years the Eye’s literary column lost a little of that fierce opposition to the cliquishness of the literary scene, and particularly the London literary milieu. It still attacks and parodies overhyped, bad writing, but this seems part of a simple attack on overrated, mediocre literature. This now includes the works of the stars of reality TV shows and vapid, but inexplicably popular, bloggers and vloggers on the Net. But working class representation in writing, and other areas of the arts is a genuine part of the wider issues of access and exclusivity. Whether the Net will have an impact here, in popularising the work of working class writers, who would otherwise remain unpublished if left to the world of traditional literary agents and publishers, remains to be seen.