…when I reached the pages of New Statesman. That was the greatest thrill of my life and from then on I reckoned that I really was a writing man.
Patrick McGeown’s reading habits emerged from a very young age. Whist at school he ‘discovered Dickens, and R. L Stevenson and Oliver Goldsmith’ and ‘delighted in them’ (28). Around the same time, Patrick also had a lodger in his family home who conversed with him about literature: ‘my friend had travelled the roads and worked alongside Patrick McGill the Navy Poet and he loaned me books of McGill’s published work. One was, A Navvy’s Scrapbook, another was verses about navvy life entitled, Songs of the Dead End (34). When looking at the navvy texts, it is evident that this author has had a huge impact on Patrick, so much so, that in his later years Patrick visited McGill’s birth place. It is interesting to note that Patrick had an interest in reading about the life of a worker from young age. When considering why Patrick may have chosen to write his autobiography the way in which he did, McGill’s writings may have played a large role in influencing his style. Patrick says that he was drawn to McGill’s work as ‘they were short, simple and interesting, and [he] couldn’t know enough of the unusual navvy who wrote them’ (34). Taking a step back and looking at Patrick’s autobiography, it appears that he crafted each chapter of his book in the style of writing he enjoyed- ‘short, simple and interesting.’
Patrick never distinguishes between good and bad reading in his memoir. I believe he was a man that appreciated the written word in all its forms. For Patrick, it is clear that reading was not just an individual activity for he liked it to be sociable too and he enjoyed talking about literature. This passion for discussing the written word was not fulfilled until his retirement when he ‘joined the literary study group in the Manchester College of Adult Education’ (190) and ‘it was the first time [he] conversed with people who were really interested in writing’. I find it touching that Patrick never gave up on his passion and fulfilled his ambitions in later life. A trait that I value highly in Patrick is his confidence in his writing alibies: ‘yet not once in all the years had I let go on the belief that I could write. I was certain of that whereas I was a doubtful, hesitant fellow in nearly everything else (190). In his retirement Patrick ‘read many books on the technique of writing’ (190). However, I do believe that his talent for writing was innate; elevated by the experience of life.
What surprised me is the amount of writing Patrick actually did. Most working-class writers will publish a memoir and that is it, yet here we have a man who not only published his life story in great detail but also made a living out of writing for radios, magazines and letters. Patrick writes that it was his son-in-law who influenced him to write a piece for the BBC ‘about steelmaking in a heat wave’ (190). This piece titled The Interval Heatwave (BBC, 1963) was presented on the 24th November 1963 at 15:32.
Having looked at a variety of Patrick’s writing it is evident that he enjoys writing about his experiences. I believe that Patrick’s writing stems from the enjoyment he had in experiencing the life of Patrick McGill through his writing. Patrick’s writing shares many characteristics with other working-class writers. However, it is his passion for writing that sets him apart from the rest for me.
493 MCGEOWN, Patrick, Heat the Furnace Seven Times More (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., London, 1967), pp.192. Other edn., with an introduction by Asa Briggs, Readers Union, London, 1968, pp.192.
MCGEOWN, Patrick, Heat the Furnace Seven Times More (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., London, 1967)
Image 1: A screen grab of New Statesman article. Retrieved from: The Wordster (newstatesman.com)