Stan(ley) Barstow Biography
Stan Barstow comments:
Nationality: British. Born: Horbury, Yorkshire, 1928. Education: Ossett Grammar School. Career: Draftsman and sales executive in the engineering industry, 1944-62. Lives in Hawath, West Yorkshire. Awards: Writers Guild award, 1974; Royal Television Society award, 1975. M.A.: Open University, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, 1982. Honorary Fellow, Bretton Hall College, Wakefield Yorkshire, 1985. Agent: Lemon Unna and Durbridge Ltd., 24 Pottery Lane, London W11 4LZ, England.
A Kind of Loving: The Vic Brown Trilogy. London, Joseph, 1981.
A Kind of Loving. London, Joseph, 1960; New York, Doubleday, 1961.
The Watchers on the Shore. London, Joseph, 1966; New York, Doubleday, 1967.
The Right True End. London, Joseph, 1976.
Ask Me Tomorrow. London, Joseph, 1962.
Joby. London, Joseph, 1964.
A Raging Calm. London, Joseph, 1968; as The Hidden Part, NewYork, Coward McCann, 1969.
A Brother's Tale. London, Joseph, 1980.
Just You Wait and See. London, Joseph, 1986.
B-movie. London, Joseph, 1987.
Give Us This Day. London, Joseph, 1989.
Next of Kin. London and New York, Joseph, 1991.
The Desperadoes. London, Joseph, 1961.
The Human Element and Other Stories, edited by Marilyn Davies. London, Longman, 1969.
A Season with Eros. London, Joseph, 1971.
A Casual Acquaintance and Other Stories, edited by Marilyn Davies. London, Longman, 1976.
The Glad Eye and Other Stories. London, Joseph, 1984.
Ask Me Tomorrow, with Alfred Bradley, adaptation of the novel byBarstow (produced Sheffield, 1964). London, French, 1966.
A Kind of Loving, with Alfred Bradley, adaptation of the novel byBarstow (broadcast 1964; produced Sheffield, 1965). London, Blackie, 1970.
An Enemy of the People, adaptation of a play by Ibsen (producedHarrogate, Yorkshire, 1969). London, Calder, 1977.
Listen for the Trains, Love, music by Alex Glasgow (producedSheffield, 1970).
Stringer's Last Stand, with Alfred Bradley (produced York, 1971).
We Could Always Fit a Sidecar (broadcast 1974). Published in Out of the Air: Five Plays for Radio, edited by Alfred Bradley, London, Blackie, 1977.
Joby, adaptation of his own novel (televised 1975). London, Blackie, 1977.
The Human Element, and Albert's Part (televised 1977). London, Blackie, 1984.
A Kind of Loving, from his own novel, 1964; The Desperadoes, from his own story, 1965; The Watchers on the Shore, from his own novel, 1971; We Could Always Fit a Sidecar, 1974; The Right True End, from his own novel, 1978; The Apples of Paradise, 1988; Foreign Parts, 1990.
The Human Element, 1964; The Pity of It All, 1965;A World Inside (documentary), with John Gibson, 1966; A Family at War (1 episode), 1970; Mind You, I Live Here (documentary), with John Gibson, 1971; A Raging Calm, from his own novel, 1974; South Riding, from the novel by Winifred Holtby, 1974; Joby, from his own novel, 1975; The Cost of Loving, 1977; The Human Element, 1977; Albert's Part, 1977; Travellers, 1978; A Kind of Loving, from his own novels, 1981; A Brother's Tale, from his own novel, 1983; The Man Who Cried, from the novel by Catherine Cookson, 1993.
Editor, Through the Green Woods: An Anthology of Contemporary Writing about Youth and Children. Leeds, E.J. Arnold, 1968.
Came to prominence about the same time as several other novelists from North of England working-class backgrounds, viz. John Braine, Alan Sillitoe, David Storey, Keith Waterhouse, and saw with satisfaction, and occasional irritation, the gains made in the opening up of the regions and the "elevation" of the people into fit subjects for fictional portrayal absorbed into the popular cultures of the cinema and TV drama series and comedy shows. Still, living in the provinces and using mainly regional settings, consider myself non-metropolitan oriented. The publication of some of my work in the U.S. and its translation into several European languages reassures me that I have not resisted the neurotic trendiness of much metropolitan culture for the sake of mere provincial narrowness; and the knowledge that some of the finest novels in the language are "regional" leads me to the belief that to hoe one's own row diligently, thus seeking out the universal in the particular, brings more worthwhile satisfactions than the frantic pursuit of a largely phony jet-age internationalism.
(1995) As I review this comment in 1995, reading flourishes, yet the mainstream literary novel has a harder time than ever in the world of the "celebrity" novel, where fortunes are regularly made by doing badly what others have spent their working lives trying to do well.
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It is never easy for the author of a best-selling first novel to come to terms with its success. All too often, publishers demand a sequel, or at the very least another novel written in the same vein, in an attempt to recreate the formula. Stan Barstow is one of the few novelists who has managed to keep intact the mold of their first success and then to have built upon it. Following the appearance of A Kind of Loving in 1960, he created a trilogy around Vic Brown, the driven central character who finds himself struggling against the odds in a tough and no-nonsense world. Written at the tail-end of the 1950s, when Britain was entering its first sustained period of postwar prosperity, it is very much a novel of its times. It also reflected a sense of proletarian evangelism: it was as if Barstow was desperate to write about real lives and real events, things normally ignored by the literary world at the time. Although the background was supplied by the potentially grim northern town of Cressley, this was not a joyless fortress but a living place whose inhabitants had created a close-knit community. In many ways too, Cressley was a metaphor for what was happening at the time, as its population seemed to be unaware of the shift that was slowly eroding their existences. Vic is told this in terms that could be said to be prophetic: "But we're all living in a fool's paradise, that all. A fool's paradise, Vic. Full employment and business booming? It just isn't possible, lad. Don't say I didn't warn you when the crash comes."
Barstow's ability to grasp the moment and record it in fictional terms is typical of the way in which he attacks a novel. Tom Simpkins, caught up in a love affair in A Raging Calm, is aware of the possibilities that lie outside his own existence and wants to enjoy them but is also painfully aware of the inhibitions that have helped to shape his life and to give meaning to his sense of morality. (Here it is worth acknowledging that Barstow is particularly responsive to all the complexities for romantic and physical love and does not shirk from attempting to understand the motives for adultery, broken affairs, divorce and unhappiness.) With his ability to allow the narrative to unfold through the development of his main characters, it is little wonder that A Raging Calm was later transformed into an equally successful television play.
That Barstow was content to remain within the confines of a world which he knew best—the West Riding of Yorkshire—and with characters whom he understood—the working class of northern England—has been made abundantly clear by his later output. His trilogy of novels about the Palmer family during World War II is a good example—Just You Wait and See, Give Us This Day, and Next of Kin. The setting of the small Yorkshire town of Daker, another close-knit community of millhands and colliers, is a resonant background for a wide range of ordinary people who find themselves caught up, willy-nilly, in the maelstrom of war. By far the most notable of these is Ella, a mature 23-year-old who comes to prominence in Give Us This Day—the anxieties and hardships she has to face give the meaning to the book's title. A young war bride, she discovers that marriage means having to cope with the absence of her husband Walter as she struggles to make a home which they can enjoy once the war is over. Without ever descending into sentimentality, Barstow carefully recreates the tender embarrassment that invades their lives when they meet, and one of the novel's highlights is a firmly constructed set-piece scene in which Walter comes home on leave and the young couple have to rediscover one another all over again.
Mature and single-minded beyond her years, Ella is the still presence at the novel's center, and around her the other characters act almost like a chorus to record the desperate events of a world—their world, in the town of Daker—that has been plunged into war. One of the most memorable moments in the novel is Barstow's description of a mass air-raid on Sheffield that Ella and her mother witness from a train. "None of the pain and loss in her life had prepared her for the vast faceless malice of last night; for sitting in that train while the sky lit up, the bombs fell, the ground shook beneath her. And all the time, behind, in the middle of it, people they knew, whom they had only just left behind."
In its successor, Next of Kin, an older Ella has to struggle even harder to preserve her independence and to adjust to the privations of being a war widow. Although she revives a relationship with a former lover, Howard Strickland, he remains a shadowy figure who only brings new pressures into her life. As in the previous two novels, a key feature is Barstow's unerring ability to bring alive the atmosphere of life in a northern provincial town. A born storyteller, Barstow also underscores all his writing with a genuine love for the characters he has created.
B-movie finds Barstow breaking new ground with a short novel written in the manner of a 1950s crime thriller. Opening with the murder and robbery of a pawnbroker in a Northern town, it shifts focus to the two leading characters, young men on holiday in Blackpool. As the two friends form relationships with local girls and news filters through of the murder in their home town, the tension rises and events move to a shocking conclusion. The fact that most readers would recognize the murderer at an early stage does not in any way detract from the power of the plot, core of which is the changed relationship between close friends who are suddenly revealed as strangers, and the life-and-death decisions that are forced upon them.
B-movie, like the Palmer trilogy, is an excellent example of its form, but in both works Barstow transcends genres to produce something of his own. His writing refuses to fit into pigeon-holes, remaining what it has always been, tough and honest and true to itself.
—Trevor Royle, updated by
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