I'm proud to be a supporter of this terrific collection—"written in celebration not apology"—which brings together 33 established and emerging writers, who in their very different ways reclaim and redefine what it means to be working-class. Among the contributors are Lisa McInerney on escaping the ghetto of people's assumptions; Cathy Rentzenbrink on being a darts champion; Daljit Nagra on an enduring friendship; and Chris McCrudden on why shy bairns get nowt.
While Dave O’Brien’s essay on class and publishing drives home the miracle of Common People even existing, the myriad themes (darts, pool, libraries, prison, cats, Stalin, strikes, violence, peaches, racism, love, pain, courage, dreams) showcase the diversity and talent of working-class voices, in a collection fizzing with originality and energy.
There are of course common threads – Margaret Thatcher, childhood, the barriers and snobbery that limit access to the publishing industry, the way that working-class writers who do find success are assumed to have somehow become middle class. But what shines through is the variety and quality of the short pieces – whether the subject is darts, ageing, funerals or tinned peaches, there’s something to treasure every few pages.
This unique collection of short stories about growing up working class is an important platform for inspiring and often unheard voices.
The most enjoyable pieces in the volume are probably the most unusual. The Galway writer Lisa McInerney opens the collection with a funny and astute reflection on the slippery nature of class definition, distinguishing between origins, aesthetics and achievement concluding that “All a working-class person needs to become middle class is to be good at something”, a means of diminishing their success and deflecting middle-class unease. I enjoyed Katy Massey’s fierce pride in her mother’s achievements as madam of a brothel in Leeds in the 1980s, the entrepreneur being an admirer of Margaret Thatcher and Cynthia Payne. The establishment was called Aristotle’s, and the author worked there until Yorkshire Police closed it down after a raid. Her mother’s employees, sensible, underprivileged working women, proved inspirational and a means of helping her negotiate the complicated transition to adulthood.
Common People casts a kinder light on working-class life. It consists of thirty-four mostly autobiographical short pieces, twenty-five by women, about lives they consider ‘working class’, or at any rate ‘ordinary’, not ‘posh’. Some of the contributors are accomplished, prize-winning authors, a few with degrees in creative writing and maisonettes in Tufnell Park, but it is to the editor’s credit that half the pieces are by previously unpublished writers, and that they’re all sharp and bright.