There’s been a lot of talk about this lately. Is there such a creature? And do we need to distinguish this concept from writing about the working class?
It may all depend on how you define working class.
I remember the great joy I experienced when our teacher at primary school started reading us The Family at One End Street. We’d had Wind in the Willows and Secret Garden and now at last was a book with a family in it a little more like mine than the ones you found in the The Famous Five or The Chronicles of Narnia. Alas, we never got beyond two chapters. Only now am I wondering whether someone stopped him reading it?
Of course part of the joy of reading and indeed watching commercial television where I sometimes enjoyed the adverts even more than the programmes, was being introduced to a more luxurious life style than the one with which I was familiar.
”But who wants to read about poverty and people who work hard for their living?” asks one of my writing friends. Plenty of people, apparently. Look at the popularity of Charles Dickens, D H Lawrence, Emile Zola and Catherine Cookson.
But what of the writing class writer?
What is working class and at which point do you stop being working class? You become literate, you acquire the skills of reading and writing, perhaps you go to a Grammar School and maybe you then go on to university and become teacher as I did. You are paid monthly and your salary goes straight into your bank account. You become what people call middle class. Are you still a working class writer because you were born into the working class?
My father wore a beret to work and carried a knapsack. He was paid weekly and received his wages in a little brown envelope in cash. However, when he and my mother started buying a house, the firm agreed to “put him on the staff” and he stated receiving a monthly salary. Yes paid straight into his bank account. His job hadn’t changed. He was quite a skilled graphic designer. Now though, he enjoyed the trappings of the middle class: a mortgage, DIY at the weekends and an account with Burton’s. Later he got a Barclaycard.
I argue that if you work for a living, whether it be as dustbin man or a brain surgeon, you are working class. You are perhaps particularly a working class writer if you earn most of your money from your writing. You are beholden to a boss – even if in the case of the writer it is your public and your publisher and if you don’t work you don’t earn.
And why wouldn’t you write about people like that? Aren’t we encouraged to write what we know?
So, let’s recognise our working class writers and I might just go an buy a copy of The Fanily From One End Street.