sail-header-edge

Stanley Middleton: A Centenary

David Belbin
Mon 29 Jul, 2019

August 1st, 2019 marks the centenary of the Nottingham novelist, Stanley Middleton. Our chair, David Belbin was a friend and neighbour of Stanley’s.

He and NUCoL organised a crowdfunder to erect a plaque outside Stanley’s former home in Sherwood on the centenary. The same day, Beeston’s Shoestring Press publishes the first ever collection of the novelist’s poems, Poetry and Old Age. Crowdfunded copies of the book will be donated to all Nottingham libraries.

On the centenary, Thursday, August 1st, Sherwood library (on the corner of Spondon St and Mansfield Rd) will be open from 11.30, with a launch at midday. Stanley visited the library most Saturdays The launch will be followed by a short walk and the unveiling of the plaque at 42 Caledon Rd at 1pm. Below, David tells us about Stanley with contributions from his daughters, friends Sue Dymoke, Catharine Arnold and John Lucas, his literary executor, Philip Davis, and fans, Stephen Lowe and Lee Stuart Evans.

At 80 Photo Sue Dyoke

Stanley Middleton at 80 (photo credit: Sue Dymoke)

Stanley was born in Bulwell. He and his wife, Margaret, moved to Sherwood with their two young daughters in 1961. Therefore the vast majority of his novels were written in the large house on Caledon Rd where we’ll be putting up a memorial plaque, generously crowdfunded by fans and friends.

I first saw Stanley Middleton speak in 1981. I was an unemployed writer-in-waiting, working my way through his novels from Radford Library and remember him patiently explaining to an elderly writers’ club member why he thought War and Peace was a better written book than Gone With the Wind.

Sixteen years later, I approached him to write a short story for an anthology I was editing. We met, appropriately, at Sherwood Library, for the launch of his novel Live and Learn. Someone took a photo. Several of the people in it will be at Sherwood Library to celebrate Stanley’s centenary. If you’re reading this in time, I hope you can join us there. One of the people in the photo is John Lucas, an old friend of Stanley’s, who was to become a close friend of mine, too.

Belbin Second From Left Back Lucas 4Th From Left Back Sm Centre Sherwood Library June 96

David Belbin ( back, second from left) John Lucas (back, fourth from left); Sherwood Library June 1996.

Stanley and I discovered we were neighbours and began to meet regularly, usually on Friday afternoons after I’d finished writing (he only wrote in the morning). His wife, Margaret (who, sadly, died earlier this year) was a wonderful gardener and bonded with my partner, Sue, over gardening, sharing plants and much more. The four of us spent many happy hours in that garden.

In 1998, John and I offered to edit a festschrift to celebrate Stanley’s 80th birthday. The first two times we asked his permission to do this, Stanley modestly refused. I persevered and, the third time, he relented. In the end, he was delighted by the book, which contained a long interview with Stanley, essays and poems about him, and otherwise unavailable stories and essays by Stanley himself. Five Leaves published a new edition of Holiday, which had, by then, been allowed to go out of print. This novel was Stanley’s one big seller, after he won the Booker Prize with it in 1974. He didn’t rate this masterpiece a great deal higher than any of his other novels. His favourite was Harris’s Requiem, and I was to edit a new edition of this classic about a Nottingham composer, which NTU’s Trent Editions brought back into print in 2006.

John has written us a fascinating piece about the letters that Stanley sent him over the years.

John's Shoestring Press publishes Stanley’s Selected Poems. The book is edited by Stanley’s former pupil at High Pavement, Professor Philip Davis, with a long, fascinating introduction. Below, Philip talks about Middleton the man, and here’s what Phil looked when he was a student and the Middletons visited him at Cambridge University.

Cambridge Aug 76

Cambridge, August 1976

Incidentally, the garden party we threw at Bromley House Library to launch the festschrift and celebrate Stanley’s 80th was, he said, the only birthday party he ever had. My partner, poet Sue Dymoke, made the cucumber sandwiches (she also took the photo of him at work at the top of this piece, for the 80th book). Here’s a photo I took of her that day, with the Middletons. Below, she introduces a poem she wrote about Stanley for Middleton at Eighty.

B House 80Th

Celebrating at Bromley House

I asked Stanley’s daughters, Penny and Sarah, for some family reminiscences and Sarah chose to focus on the importance of poetry in Stanley’s life.

Penny told me some interesting things about what it’s like to have a writer in the family. ‘I think of him not as a writer but as a father. I did read his books once I was old enough but never discussed them with him in any detail. I found them quite uncomfortable to read as I would recognise characters or situations. Stanley was a most acute observer and although he might not comment on something at the time it would often crop up in a novel later.’ Here, she tells us about the author as a father.

And here’s a photo of the whole family in front of a bench that still stands in the garden at Caledon Rd. This was taken around the mid-60s.

Middleton Family

Stanley was a much-loved teacher. We’re expecting several Old Paviours at the library. He became Head of English at High Pavement, where he had been a pupil himself, first on Stanley Rd, Forest Fields, then in Bestwood Park. He also helped many writers, including our former sheriff, author Catherine Arnold, who pays tribute here.

I have written about Stanley several times. My favourite piece is the one in the graphic stories book James Walker edited and NUCoL published, Dawn of the Unread. Our friendship began exactly as I tell it in Shelves (Follow the link and don’t miss the extra embedded prose pieces accessed by clicking on the stars.)

Stanley’s novels continue to attract fans, including Nottingham born script writer and novelist, Lee Stuart Evans, who tells us about how he found a first edition of Stanley’s most famous novel, Holiday.

Finally, our honorary president, the playwright Stephen Lowe, tells us why you should read Stanley Middleton:

‘I came late to the works of Middleton but what a joy to discover a truly brilliant provincial writer taking on the major theme of art and society. A writer with the capacity to convey the wonders (and frustrations) of the creation of music, painting, sculpture whilst keeping a sharp eye on the wider world. His description in the Booker Prize Winner Holiday of the working class at Skeggie seaside is one of the most wonderfully observed descriptions of the bucket and spade bank holiday day trippers-at play: a description I can personally vouch for. His writing is always powerfully evocative and humane. It is simply a pleasure. Better late than never.’

Img 2204

David Belbin with the Stanley Middleton plaque.


This post is tagged in

Stanley Middleton David Belbin john lucas

Be in the know. Subscribe to our newsletter

Keep bang up to date with what's new at Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Subscribe to our newsletter, and you'll hear all about the latest news, job opportunities and literary events.

subscribe

Search