Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Prize Winning Fiction
Prize Winning Fiction

1992 Costa Winner

Swing Hammer Swing! by Jeff Torrington


Publisher: Vintage

Length: 416 pages

About: Gorbals slum-dweller with ambitions

Style: 1st person

Where: Scotland (Glasgow)

When: 1960s


Publisher’s synopsis:

'Swing Hammer Swing! is a seriously good novel. Critics have rightly claimed that he does for Glasgow what James Joyce did for Dublin' - Stephen Pile, Daily Telegraph

A riotous urban picaresque, richly laced with black humour, Jeff Torrington's comic novel marks a milestone in Scottish literature.

'This tale of a week in the life of Tam Clay, Gorbals slum-dweller, father-in-waiting and wordsmith manqué, is funny from beginning to end... As Tam stumbles through the drink-sodden world of the Gorbals underclass of the sixties, when a house in Castlemilk was an ambition, he embarks on a mini-odyssey of self-discovery while blinding the reader with literary legerdemain' - Ian Black, The Herald.



Something really weird was happening in the Gorbals - from the battered hulk of the Planet Cinema in Scobie Street, a deepsea diver was emerging. He hesitated, bamboozled maybe by the shimmering fathoms of light, the towering rockfaces of the snow-coraled tenements.




Here a new landscape stamps itself indelibly onto the literary map: the infamous Glasgow slum called the Gorbals, in whose ripe, decaying airs Torrington's intoxicated and intoxicating debut is steeped, and through whose derelict streets his narrator and alter ego, Tam Clay, traces his past and parlous future in the last few frigid days before the wrecking crews move in. ....... Thirty years in the writing, this 1992 winner of the Whitbread Award is overstuffed, parochial, self-indulgent, sentimental, overambitious--and well worth every minute of reading time.

Click here for full review

Publishers Weekly, 4th April 1994


Not so good:

Vigorously written and with some engaging set-pieces, Swing Hammer Swing] could have been shorter, but it is certainly something more than generic.

For full review click here.

The Independent, 19th December 1992


About the author

31 December 1935 – 11 May 2008

Born in Glasgow, his father was a cook in the Army, but soon left the family, and the boy grew up in a house without books, though by the time he was five or six he was making up adventure stories to amuse his younger brother. At the age of nine he discovered the McNeil Street library, and never looked back.
In his early teens Torrington contracted tuberculosis and spent a period in hospital, during which he taught himself French from Linguaphone records (in order to be able to read Camus in the original) and determined to become a writer. Shortly after he recovered he left school aged 13 and drifted through a variety of trades.
He had spells as a packing case nailer, a cinema projectionist, a fruit-market porter, labourer, postman and as a fireman on the railways.
Most of his career, however, was spent as a worker at the Linwood car plant on the outskirts of Glasgow. But from the age of 20 he had been writing short stories, almost always genre yarns with twists in the tail.
Some were published in local newspapers, and he proudly preserved cuttings from the Glasgow Evening Times, the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch and the New Edinburgh Review – though he admitted that these journeyman efforts had little to commend them.
But after joining a writers' group at Paisley Central Library, Torrington was encouraged, first by Edward Scouller and later by the novelist James Kelman, to write about what he knew, rather than thrillers and ghost stories.
When, in the early 1980s, he was sacked from the car factory, and simultaneously diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Torrington became profoundly depressed. But after a year he set down to work on the book which became Swing Hammer Swing! He worked every day in two-hour bursts, aiming to produce 2,000 words.
His condition made typing difficult, and he used a great deal of Tipp-Ex. He later told Kelman that he was the "first writer who ever needed a pair of dungarees".
He took college courses ("because the grant paid better than the dole") but was unable to progress to university because of the advance of his disease. At that point, however, Kelman looked at the manuscript of his novel (the sixth or seventh draft) and pronounced it ready for the press. Secker and Warburg took it on at once.

This is taken from The Daily Telegraph obituary 14th May 2008. To see full text click here


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<1991> -  <1993>




















Page turner







Age guide: 15






Books by same author:

The Devil's Carousel, 1996,








In 1996, it was turned into a stage play to great acclaim by Giles Havergal then director of Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre, with Alastair Galbraith playing Tam.



























































































































2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner

It's a massive day in arts and journalism because the 100th annual Pulitzer Prize winners were just announced, and there's a big surprise. 2015's best artistic and nonfiction writing across 21 categories were recognized during a ceremony Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Hebert Bayward Swope, a reporter for The New York World, in 1916. (And if you're as big a fan of Newsies as I am, that paper should ring a bell, but try to think of it more positively.)

The major prize for book nerds, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), a legitimate surprise, if you've been paying attention to the book nerd and industry buzz. The feeling around the prize in the last few months would have you putting all your hard-earned cash down on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara to take home the award, but that's why you should never gamble. Viet Thanh Nguyen is no less deserving, and moreover, it's his debut novel, which makes it such a wonderful win.

Extract from New York Times to view full article...

Click here


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