… and for those of you unfamiliar with Yorkshire dialect (unlike my Bridlingtonian maternal grandparents), that means “Has the working class been written out of literature?” and was composed with the aid of the Chicken Run Yorkshire Translator – for those whose familiarity with Yorkshire goes no further than Chicken Run.
What started this particular chicken run was another silly post in The Guardian – home of silly post after other silly post – from Kevin Duffy, founder of the otherwise excellent Yorkshire independent Bluemoose Books, based in Hebden Bridge. Duffy complains that “Working-class fiction has been written out of publishing,” seconding Lord Melvyn Bragg’s recent admonition that it’s “time to end mockery and cliche in depictions of working class.” Declares Duffy:
We know that literary fiction is the record of the middle classes by the middle classes. Sometimes working-class characters exist, but they are there in the main to be ciphers or consequences. However, though it’s not a recent phenomenon, it is getting worse.
Well, really? Because it makes me wonder what books these people have been reading. Of course, if you look back as (not so far) as D.H. Lawrence and J.B. Priestley, you’ll come across plenty of examples of working-class characters written about by working-class authors from working-class backgrounds – unless you take the view that they ceased being working class the moment they set pen to paper. But if you want more recent, living British writers who wear their roots on their sleeves and let them run through their books, dirt and all, how about William McIlvanney, or Alasdair Gray, or Irvine Welsh, or Geoffrey Hill, or even Peter Ackroyd. “There is a belief in publishing that books set in the north with working-class characters are too ‘small’ and don’t fit the middle-class demographic,” claims Duffy, but I’m willing to bet that any current UK publisher would diet on Yorkshire parkin for a year just to have another Lanark or Mercian Hymns or Trainspotting cross their desk.
On the other hand, I’d agree whole-heartedly with Duffy that: “There is an increasing disconnect between the lives of those who commission books and the real world of readers up and down the country.” Want to know what to do about it? Self-publish. Get out of the commissioning loop entirely, and leave those silly Southerners to their self-reinforcing prejudices.