Last year, we told you about an exciting new anthology set for release in 2019. Common People: an anthology of working class writers is edited by Kit de Waal and will be published in May this year. As the region's literature development agency, we were involved in selecting two writers from the South West. Here, we interview Ruth Behan one of the writers whose work will be featured.
We caught up with Ruth to find out more about his writing and what being selected for Common People means to her.
You’re one of the two writers selected by Literature Works to have a piece of writing featured in Common People – an anthology of working class writers – Congratulations! How does it feel to know that your work will be featured in the anthology?
Surprised and delighted beyond words. I was just starting to have a three – quarter life crisis and this perked me up no end. Seriously though – I feel like it’s putting my feet back on a path I should have followed long before this. I got good marks for essays at school and I enjoyed writing, but because I am dyslexic my spelling was terrible and I got discouraged. Of course we didn’t have computers in those days.
Tell us a little bit about the piece (not too many spoilers) – what inspired it?
I was telling Emily (one of my daughters) about my childhood. Our family comes from a long line of idealists, rebels and agitators. There was one incident which always struck me as poignant because it shows the moment when father’s idealism was finally crushed. Emily said –
“Mum that’s so good – you must write that”
I always obey my daughters. So I did. I have carried on writing about my childhood in South London in the 1950s. Maybe there isn’t such a thing as a typical working class childhood. It wasn’t happening round our house for sure.
What does being a working class writer mean to you?
It depends if we are talking about actually “being a working class writer” or being described as a “working class writer” rather than just “a writer”. I remember hearing an interview with Maya Angelou in which the misguided interviewer described her as a “Black Writer”. She took a very dim view of this and was right of course.
I am writing lots at the moment so on a good day I think of myself as a writer. My numerous attempts to inveigle my way into the middle class have come to nothing, so I guess I must still be working class. But put the two words together and it’s not comfortable. It’s a bit like there is something unexpected about being working class and being a writer.
On the other hand perhaps there is something unexpected not just because there is a stereotype to overcome and on the practical side, you need to earn a living in a way that leaves you time and energy and confidence to write.
Social class is fascinating isn’t it? There are people who think “Middle Class” is a deadly insult and maybe these people think that “Working Class” must be high praise. If so I hope they won’t go into a rough pub and start describing people as Working Class because it could end badly for them.
However, where there is embarrassment there is a gold mine of comedy. So let’s get it all out in the open and have a good laugh. And if it means I am to be coaxed and curated as an exotic specimen bring it on. I’m not proud.
As part of Common People you’re attending a series of writer development events. What is the main thing you would like to gain from these events?
I am so utterly ignorant of this entire writing type thing that I don’t even know what I should be hoping for. Whatever it is I need it! It’s been very useful so far and stopped me making some rookie mistakes. Good conversations are a great bonus and seeing how other people go about things.
Are there are any writers who particularly inspire you?
Charles Dickens is still top of my list. He is still relevant now which is a dreadful state of affairs. Margaret Atwood too, Muriel Spark and Caitlin Moran. I love Mark Twain too especially his filthy books! And that girl that does Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) – she is brilliant! I love funny books. I had depression at one time. Laughing is good for you I think.
I spent years only reading O.U textbook and the like because I was studying for work related qualifications. Since my work was Childcare it also probably means that Where the Wild Things Are and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt are etched into my brain forever!
You’re a fiddle teacher by trade, how do you make time for your writing – does your music impact on your writing – and what does ‘writing time’ look like for you?
As regards making time for writing, I am better off than most people who are just starting out because I have the Secret Superpower of being quite an old lady so there is no chance of me ever getting a proper job. I haven’t got children or grand -children that need looking after. My house is a tip and my garden is a jungle but then again it always was. My partner is a songwriter so he understands the process and silently brings me cups of tea. I get a lot of ideas when I am just messing about doing everyday things. I used to just forget them but now I rush to the computer even if they only go to a file named “Odds and Sods”.
I think the music has helped my writing – music and speech are very close as neuro-scientists will tell you. I like to get a good rhythm into a sentence. Maybe echoes of old Irish tunes. And the process of having ideas and then cutting it down to the best ones and tweaking them into place is the same I think. Playing gigs is about 90% hanging around though so I like writing because I can just get on with it.