The Redlit Boys by William Bedford

William Bedford’s collection of poetry The Redlit Boys takes its title from George Orwell’s description of 1920’s iron and steel works :

Through the open doors of foundries you see fiery serpents of iron beinghauled to and fro by redlit boys,and you hear the whizz and thump of steam hammers and the scream of iron under he blow.

But whilst the harshness of the foundries forms a constant backdrop to the poems, their subject is a lyric, yet authentic elegy for the working class districts of the Sheffield of his parents’ and grandparents’ youth. Here are the factories, knockers up, chapels and the characters of the industrial North at its zenith.

William Bedford is already an acclaimed and established novelist and one can detect his novelistic gifts in the people who live so vividly in these poems. The plight of maiden Auntie Annie who sustains herself with a “hive of cheap romances” and who believes that the “preacher fancies me” is amusing. Yet the potential for humour is counteracted by the surprise of the following line which shows empathy and compassion for the sexual frustration of the woman in a haunting manner :

Passion and lust in accidental glances.

Haunting is the word which best summarises this impressive book. The reader is left with the sense of a lost, yet unsentimentally portrayed community. Their values and way of life are conveyed as if the poet himself had lived them instead of absorbing the details from the stories of his elderly relatives. Bedford’s writing is similar to that of D. H. Lawrence but with a critical love, rather than disdain for his subject.

William Bedford lives and writes on the east coast of Lincolnshire. He has published several collections of poetry, novels for adults and children, and poetry and short stories in many literary journals, including Agenda, The Daily Telegraph, Encounter, The Independent, London Magazine, London Review of Books, Poetry Review and the Washington Times.

His stories have frequently been broadcast on BBC Radio Four. His first novel Happiland was short-listed for the 1990 Guardian Fiction Prize, and his second, All Shook Up, was one of the most reviewed books of its year.

William concentrates now almost entirely on poetry and children’s writing.

The Redlit Boys (£4.95) is supported by Yorkshire Arts

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Below: from the Daily Express, Monday, 8th January 2001

The Signwriter by William Bedford



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