Common People, edited by Kit de Waal, brings together a collection of fantastic essays, poems and memoir from a variety of writers on what ‘working-class’ means to them. What emerges is a powerful force of varied voices, timbres and textures, that is both an enjoyable read and a challenge to the status quo.
I don’t think I have read anything in this format before, so I was extremely excited to discover this anthology. There are over 30 relatively short but memorable contributions, from a range of writers made up of many new exciting voices, as well as established writers such as Malorie Blackman, Damian Barr and Tony Walsh. The stories are woven together beautifully by Kit de Waal’s editing – each voice is distinct, but also complimented by the voices around them. There is a flow to the overall anthology, with stories with similar themes and moods clustered together; it weaves through a series of stories all about pastimes or hobbies (darts, football, pool, greyhound racing); at another point the locations associated with working class are explored in several stories (tower blocks, council estates). We hear about family, work, food, childhood, identity, memory, nostalgia… At points we laugh or smile fondly, at others we feel deep sadness, and often anger.
I basically haven’t been able to shut up about this book since I started reading it. Anyone who knows me (and also many who don’t) has likely heard me say in the last month or so: “that makes me think of this great anthology I’m reading about working-class writers…” [cue me talking for 5 minutes about something from the book]. But the most exciting thing is that each time it came up in conversation, I was met with equal enthusiasm – it really struck a chord with everyone I spoke to about it. It has been thrilling to see the power of books and writing in action, and such a joy to be able to share this with others over coffee at work, in the pub, with friends and family. If that’s not an indication that this is an relevant and needed book, then I don’t know what is.
It really is a compelling collection. Each and every contribution is of extremely high quality and I can honestly say I found each piece striking, emotive and interesting to read in different ways. At first I was trying to keep track of the pieces that stood out most to me, but I swiftly gave up on this and just absorbed it all eagerly. The book’s success for me is also in the collective voice, made up of individuals; the notion of working-class is reclaimed, through demonstrating that it is not one thing to one person, but many things to many people. In Tony Walsh’s poem ‘Tough’, which kicks off the collection, there is a repeated refrain: ‘But it’s tough, we’ve had enough and we are coming’. This poem had already completely captured my attention on first reading at the beginning of the anthology. But I also returned to this poem after I had finished the collection, and behind this refrain could now firmly feel the weight of the voices and experiences I’d just read. I felt it deep in my gut: I was inspired, moved, angry… There’s extreme power in this multiplicity of voices.
To close, I want to finish by focusing on these writers, who through this collection have redefined what it means to be working-class, and what it means to be a working-class writer. I know I’ll be working my way through existing publications from these writers and keeping my eye out for new ones. I anticipate great things from all the emerging writers who have contributed to this collection! The full list of writers is below, along with their Twitter handles and websites, so you can make sure they are all on your radar. I’ve included what I could find for now, but please get in touch with links that should be present in this list and I will continue to update it.
- Paul Allen, ‘No Lay, No Pay’, Interview in Literature Works, Twitter: @paulthebrickie
- Damian Barr, ‘Uniform’, Twitter: @Damian_Barr, Website: damianbarr.com
- Ruth Behan, ‘Stalin on the Mantelpiece’ , Interview in Literature Works
- Malorie Blackman, ‘Snakes and Ladders’ @malorieblackman, Website: malorieblackman.co.uk
- Astra Bloom, ‘Black Cat Dreaming’, Twitter: @AstraBloom
- Lisa Blower, ‘A Pear in a Tin of Peaches’, Twitter: @lisablowerwrite, Website: lisablower.com
- Jill Dawson, ‘The Dark Hole of the Head’, Twitter: @JDawsonwriter, Website: jilldawson.co.uk
- Kit de Waal, ‘The Things We Are’, Twitter: @KitdeWaal
- Louise Doughty, ‘Any Relation?’, Twitter: @DoughtyLouise, Website: louisedoughty.com
- Jenny Knight, ‘Matoose Rowsay’, Twitter: @knightjennyk
- Stuart Maconie, ‘Little Boxes’, Twitter: @StuartMaconie
- Katy Massey, ‘Don’t Mention Class!’, Twitter: @TangledRoots1, Website: tangledroots.co.uk
- Chris McCrudden, ‘Shy Bairns Get Nowt’, Twitter: @cmccrudden
- Lisa McInerney, ‘Working Class: An Escape Manual’, Twitter: @SwearyLady, Website: lisamcinerney.com
- Paul McVeigh, ‘Night of the Hunchback’, Website: paulmcveighwriter.com
- Daljit Nagra, ‘Steve’, Website: daljitnagra.com
- Julie Noble, ‘Detail’, Twitter: @julienoble38, Website: tallissecret.com
- Dave O’Brien, ‘Class and Publishing: Who is Missing from the Numbers?’, Twitter: @DrDaveOBrien, Website: eca.ed.ac.uk/profile/dr-dave-obrien
- Louise Powell, ‘This Place is Going to the Dogs’, Twitter: @louise__powell,
- Emma Purshouse, ‘Misspent Youth’, Twitter: @EmmaPurshouse, Website: emmapurshouse.co.uk
- Loretta Ramikissoon, ‘Which Floor?’, Twitter: @Loretta__Ram
- Cathy Rentzenbrink, ‘Darts’, Twitter: @CatRentzenbrink
- Riley Rockford, ‘Domus Operandi’, Twitter: @RockfordRiley
- Jodie Russian-Red, ‘The Funeral and the Wedding’, Twitter: @Jodierussianred
- Anita Sethi, ‘On Class and the Countryside’, Twitter: @anitasethi
- Adam Sharp, ‘Play’, Twitter: @AdamCSharp
- Adelle Stripe, ‘Driftwood’, Twitter: @adellestripe, Website: adellestripe.com
- Eva Verde, ‘I Am Not Your Tituba’, @Evakinder
- Lynne Voyce, ‘A Brief History of Industrial Action, Vauxhall Motors, Ellesmere Port’, Twitter: @LynneVoyce, Website: lynnevoyce.blogspot.co.uk
- Tony Walsh, ‘Tough’, Twitter: @LongfellaPoet, Website: longfella.co.uk
- Alex Wheatle, ‘Dear Nobody’, @brixtonbard, Website: alexwheatle.com
- Helen Wilber, ‘Underdogs’, See article in Writing East Midlands
- Elaine Williams, ‘Night’, See article in Spread The Word
- Shaun Wilson, ‘Passengers’, Twitter: @smw_writing
I do hope you’ll check out this anthology – it is out now, with Unbound. If you’ve not come across Unbound, take a look at other projects they have on the go! They are a crowdfunding publisher that publish a whole range of books that feel very current and fresh.
Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Right, that’s all folks!
Sophie @Sophie_Jo_Books 📚🐾