Alan Sillitoe is one of the best English writers of the 20th century. His career is one of the best examples to prove that a good education is not a prerequisite to being an exceptional writer. The lack of a luxurious life, and a violent father who made his life miserable perhaps sowed the seeds of creativity in Alan. The turning point in his life was the trip to Europe in his early twenties. His interaction with legendary poet Robert Graves and American poet Ruth Fainlight, who later on became his wife, gave him a different outlook towards life. As a result, Alan went on to author over more than 40 novels and a dozen collection of poems. Alan was one of the handful few who raised his voice against the inhumanity which had been plaguing the industrial life in Europe. His sympathies towards labourers were evident in many of his critically acclaimed works. Many contemporary writers are of the opinion that each of Alan’s works is a masterpiece.
Childhood & Early Life
Alan was born on 4 March 1928, in Nottingham, to Sabina and Christopher Sillitoe. Alan's family was in a poor financial condition since his father worked at a bicycle factory which paid him a meagre salary. He also shifted jobs quite frequently and was economically unsteady.
At the age of 14, Alan's education ended since he had failed in the entrance examination for the 'Grammar School'. He ended up working at 'Rayleigh Bicycle Factory' almost immediately, and continued for the next four years. Alan apparently read books whenever he found time, and also tried his luck with girls during this time.
Alan then joined the Royal Air Force. He was posted as a wireless operator in Malaya, during the Emergency. After he returned home, it was discovered that Alan had contracted tuberculosis. Hence, he had to spend the next 16 months in a hospital.
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Due to his illness Alan had to retire at an early age of 21. He had to manage himself for a long time on a pension of 45 shillings. For a period of 7 years, Alan lived in places like France and Spain. At Spain he met the famous poet Robert Graves, who also inspired him greatly.
Together, Robert and Alan started working on the latter’s debut work ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’. In 1958, this work was released to the public.
In 1962, Alan’s short story ‘The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner’ was adapted into a movie.
Alan was invited to the Soviet Union several times in the early part of the 1960’s to address the issue of oppression of workers. In 1968, he addressed the ‘Congress of Soviet Writers Union’ where he spoke about the various issues of human abuse, few of them which he had witnessed himself.
Alan’s autobiography titled ‘Life Without Armour’ was published in 1995. This book which mainly focused on many incidents of Alan’s childhood, went on to become one his most acclaimed works.
His last work as a writer was the book ‘Gadfly in Russia’ which was published in 2007. In this book, Alan talked about the experiences of his various travels to Russia over a period of 40 years.
One of Alan’s most important works is ‘A Tree on Fire’, a book which is very underrated. The book deals with the inhuman conditions under which labourers in industries work. The exploitation of the labour class in Soviet Union could have been a possible reason for this piece of literature.
Awards & Achievements
In 1990, he was given an honorary degree from the ‘Nottingham Trent University’.
In 1994, he was awarded an honorary D. Litt by the University of Nottingham.
In 1997, Alan became a member of the esteemed ‘Royal Society of Literature’, a senior literary organization of Britain.
Personal Life & Legacy
Alan felt his father was very violent, and almost brought the family to a state of starvation. His father also inspired Alan to pen one of the key characters of his debut novel ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’.
Alan met poetess Ruth Fainlight, an American, during his stay in Spain. After a courtship of four years, they finally tied the knot in 1959. The couple had a son named David. They also adopted a girl named Susan.
He died due to cancer on 25 April 2010, at the age of 82.
Other than ‘Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’, three other works of Alan’s were adapted into films, namely ‘The Ragman’s Daughter’, ‘Counterpoint’, and the very famous ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’.