To Cap it All

Irritated out of my blog silence by this article, in yesterday’s Guardian. I’ve heard it said that all British fiction engages with ideas and conflicts that spring from class – and that US fiction is similarly fascinated by race. Not irritated by the article, actually, but by this quotation within it. From Ian Haywood.

“…the term working-class writer has always been something of an oxymoron because at the point at which this writer gets published, they must have moved away from their original circumstances.”

Which suggests what? Class is something you can publish or buy your way out of? You get an advance, move house and you are suddenly not interested in the things you used to be interested in? They must have moved away? Really? Must have? Didn’t work that way for me, and my experience isn’t unusual at all.

Mobility is a difficult thing, isn’t it? As if it’s bad to be working class, whatever that means, and as soon as possible you must ‘move away’ from it? It’s important to progress, to be aspirational, to get a semi detached house and send your children to piano lessons (or insert other silly stereotype of your choice here).

I like to write about ordinary people. Ordinary is a relative term, based on my own experience of ordinary, with loads of imagined stuff chucked in. Perhaps some of my readers find my characters exotic.Should I write a country house novel? I could, if I wanted to. And country-house man could write a council estate novel, if he wanted to. And people will buy and read what they find interesting, and its to do with stories and characters and not how much money those characters make, or where about in the country they live. Or at least I hope it is. I think it is.

I’m actually getting a bit bored by my own interest in all things class. Seems very old fashioned of me. 

4 responses to “To Cap it All”

  1. Sibyl says:

    I wonder whether there is something to do with being articulate and being able to do to the sort of inside/but also outside, shifting of perspectives that does put writers at a slight remove from their background.

    I don’t think I am saying that any one social group is more articulate than another – that would be rubbish. But it’s something about having enough distance to be able to ‘use’ the speech of a social group within fiction, that means you may no longer be perceived as a fully-paid member of the group itself.

    I am currently finishing off a radio feature about Quaker poets. And the way I’m having to do it means that sometimes Quakers are ‘them’ – because I’m assuming the audience isn’t Quaker for the mot part. And sometimes Quakers are ‘us’. (Which would imply that we are/I may be assuming the audience for literary fiction is predominantly middle class. ….) Oh God my head is spinning. Better go and do something else…

  2. Matt says:

    The Guardian seems to think “being published” is synonymous with “being independently wealthy”. Another point to address is that many places will publish work and won’t pay a penny. Others will offer a “token” payment. Others more. Making a comfortable wage out of writing is what happens to a rare few, usually after being paid nothing for work, then a few pennies, then a little more each time. There are many “published writers”- like myself- who are still poor as shit.

  3. JDP Rutter says:

    I am delighted to hear that one can shift social class simply by writing as I have the great dissapointment of having never lived in either a country house or a council house and it would be great to experience teh cliches I have been told about.

    I am now inspired to write a piece of fiction about an imaginary near-future society in which the government of the day introduces a formal class system. Perhaps people could wear little red dots or stars (oops I’m stepping into American territory).

    Also if I am published am I required to move house only I’ve just spent three years building a bloody garden.

  4. GG says:

    I wonder how Ian Haywood means that a writer has moved away from the writer’s original circumstance, because if he’s talking financially then what a load of shit – I’m earning a fraction of what I earned before I became a writer! For return-on-investment, I’d be better off cleaning bogs for a living!

    There are so many assumptions made about class when people create art. For example, I notice, Jenn, in the Guardian article that you featured in a few months back (top 12 writers listed), a lot of the comments were about the class and whiteness of the collection. Nothing mentioned on the merit with which the people were chose, or indeed about anyone’s actual background.

    With that in mind, I’m not looking forward to assumptions made about me and my work because of my background. I’m a writer who is blatantly middle class, south-of-England white and my work has been about non-white, working class / under class. Why am I writing this story? What right have I got to tell it. Well I want to tell it and no one else is telling it.

    It would be good to be more anonymous in the writing process (I’d like to write under a band name) because ‘I’ the writer am not important, ‘they’ the characters are. I’ve already had a lot of assumptions because I’m middle class, and when I challenged a rant about middle class writers I squeaked ‘I’m middle class’ and they actually said ‘yeah but you’re all right, it’s those other ones.’

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