Happy New Year! I’ve just pledged to Common People, An Anthology of Working Class Writers, crowd-funding with Unbound now. I’ve been thinking a lot about class in literature lately. Last year I read Allie Roger’s book Little Gold, set on an estate in Brighton in the 1980s. It was moving and stark and cleverly used its 30 years ago setting to shine a spotlight on the injustices of the present. Common People’s editor, the campaigning writer Kit De Waal, said in an interview last year with The Guardian that working class representation had declined over the last decades. “I really see a gap in white, working-class stories – it’s a massively neglected area. I don’t think the experience of the white working class is valued enough.”
Allie’s novel is just the sort of book that should be being published to address this inequality but, apart from a few token titles from the major publishers; working class literature is left to the independents. To the companies without the marketing budgets to push their titles forward, or to crowd-funders like Unbound. Gone are the glory days of Alan Sillitoe, David Storey, Barry Hines, note that even in the 1960s they were almost all men, I don’t think this has changed much. Perhaps some shift of focus is now underway but it’s painfully slow.
Class is a subject close to my heart. I worry about not being working class anymore. I’ve got an MA and I work from home, my oldest son corrects me on my pronunciation of the word ‘bath’. In fact my sons are so well spoken I sometimes wonder if they are cuckoos. At what point do you stop being one thing and become another? Is it when you go to university? Own a property? Marry Prince Harry? Some people would say, once working class, always. Can that really be true? I’m very, very lucky but I remember my Dad working two jobs in order to pay the bills and my mother was born in a two roomed cottage in rural Ireland and went to work as a maid at the age of fourteen. I feel constantly guilty about what I’ve got, never buy anything that isn’t in a sale and hate waste in any form. A room full of publishing types with cut glass accents brings me out in a cold sweat and I have to remind myself that I’m just as good as they are and also that their class doesn’t make them bad people. A friend laughed a lot recently when I told her that I had to make an effort to afford the upper classes equal rights. In order to make amends I consciously try to write about class. In my collection, 15 Minutes, half of the stories tackle class in some way, either with characters or by highlighting societal inequalities. I’ve got an ex-miner, a hobo, a sous chef, a failed Big Brother contestant, a Mexican maid in the US, two disadvantaged kids and an ordinary family watching a royal wedding. It was almost impossible to get this collection published. I have no idea if that was just because of publishing’s fear of short fiction or if the subject matter played a part too. The story I’m most proud of is Carbon In Its Purest Form, which is about an ex-miner on the day Margaret Thatcher dies. It was subbed to every competition and journal going and never got anywhere so I’m absolutely delighted that it wound up in this collection.
Here’s to 2018, may it be the year of working class fiction.
I will be swallowing back my insecurities and talking at the wonderful Bookish Supper Salon on Feb 9th at The Regency Town House in Hove. Tickets available here.