Length: 416 pages
About: Gorbals slum-dweller with ambitions
Style: 1st person
Where: Scotland (Glasgow)
'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
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
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