Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sillitoe Day at Nottingham Contemporary

With the likes of McGregor and Moore, Nottingham is fast adding to its literary tradition but we still, quite rightly, celebrate our randy rebels, Byron, Bertie and Alan Sillitoe. Eastwood’s annual D H Lawrence Festival and Hucknall’s annual International Byron Festival do their bit. Last Saturday it was Sillitoe’s turn.

The Second ‘Sillitoe Day’ was a cracking event. Here’s what you might have missed:

After BBC TV’s Marie ‘one-take’ Ashby did her piece to camera, we kicked off with James Walker & Paul Fillingham, launching the Sillitoe Trail mobile phone App. The Sillitoe Trail is a literary walk commissioned by The Space (their only literary commission outside of London). The idea of the phone App is that you can access loads of information as you visit each of five locations featured in the novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Accompanying a series of slides, we heard an audio of Derrick Buttress talking about the history of Slab Square. It included an evocative account of his experiencing VE Day as a 14 year old. The Nottingham author and poet then took the microphone, recounting further tales and reading a couple of nostalgic poems.

LeftLion editor Al Needham’s talk about Nottingham’s pub culture was as poignant as it was hilarious. You had to be there but his tale about wanting to have a drink with Robbo and Dale Winton was a gem. He smoothly switched from recounting his formative years to imagining where a modern day Arthur Seaton would drink, now that the White Horse pub is a curry house. Perhaps on the other side of a bar, pulling pints and other people’s wives?  

After a short film about the Raleigh production line, Pete Davis (Storytellers of Nottingham) shared some of the raucous antics that he’d gleaned from staff that had worked at the cycle factory during its heyday.

Ann Featherstone was next up, rounding off the trail with an entertaining account of Seaton’s Goose Fair where, as the bright lights came on, boxing and wife bothering were the order of things.  

The Space and the Sillitoe Trail App contain a rich variety of audio and visual treats. The content includes the chance to hear Arthur Seaton’s views on his home city in 2012. Penned by James Walker & Neil Fulwood, and voiced by Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson, this is a monologue of reflection and advice, Seaton-style.

With David Sillitoe (Alan’s son) as compare, we began the afternoon session with a short film by Sam Derby-Cooper. The filmmaker had previously met Alan Sillitoe to ask him for permission to adapt his acclaimed short story, Mimic, for the silver screen. Sillitoe acquiesced, on the proviso that he had final say on the film’s release. After watching the short movie, Sillitoe gave his blessing on this faithful and atmospheric film.     

The launch of Sillitoe’s novel, The Open Door, came next. This republished edition has been well produced in hardback by Five Leaves and we heard readings from the book. The Open Door follows Brian Seaton (Arthur’s brother) as he is diagnosed with, and recovers from, TB. This, and Brian’s path to becoming a novelist, provides overtones of the autobiographical. Discover more here.

Michael Eaton’s letter to Alan Sillitoe was a wonderful homage to Nottingham and its people. From the origin of the term ‘duck’, to living with the odd break-in, Eaton had the audience in his palm.

The day continued with Frank Abbott’s preview of his mash-up of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Abbott’s film is a remix of the original, containing new images and extracts of other movies.

Local legend and screenwriter, Billy Ivory, missed his beloved Notts County in action to discuss Sillitoe’s film adaptations, their place in the British Social Realism movement, and Sillitoe’s influence on his writing.

There was much more besides at this well organised feast of local heritage.

Following Sillitoe Day was Sillitoe Evening, a night of poetry and music. Profits and donations from the two events have gone to the Alan Sillitoe Memorial Fund. It’s important that we honour Sillitoe with a statue. It will happen, but will we get the immortal line etched into its pedestal, ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down!’

Alan Sillitoe proved that you can’t label an individual but you can give him a voice.

Sillitoe’s Nottingham: Then and Now at The Space
The Sillitoe Trail
The Alan Sillitoe Website


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