We Never Had It So Good is a thematic collection of stories by David Williams. It is set in the mining town of Ashington, Northumberland in the late 1950s. Characters appear and reappear in several of the stories and they are held together by the central character and narrator, a miner’s son going through his junior school years in the town. The stories are fictional, but real-life incidents have been used as the springboards for much of the action.
The stories are prefaced by an Author’s Introduction. David Williams provides some insight into his approach to the book, his writing style and his choice of subject matter. At the back of the book readers will find a section entitled Behind the Stories where they can read transcripts of contemporary newspaper articles that record some of the real-life events mentioned in the stories. This Book Drum profile has provided the added opportunity, using the Bookmarks, to add a wealth of extra background material, audio and visual resources that relate to the book, all with specific reference to the stories, including contemporary images, songs, TV and film clips.
The eighteen stories are self-contained but can be read as a continuous narrative – almost as an episodic novel – with development in several of the key characters along the way. The stories are grouped into four themed sections:
Through tales of dark autumn nights, fireworks and bonfires the author sets the scene of the streets as playground of these working class children, introduces us to the boy as narrator and begins to reveal the cast of characters that will become familiar as the work develops. By turns humorous and tense, these early stories help to establish the distinctive tone of the writing.
ELDERS AND BETTERS
The older members of his family and other adults in his life are viewed from the boy’s perspective in stories shot through with misinterpretations and confounded expectations. The journey from innocence to experience starts here.
More than in any other section, this is the narrator as curious observer on the purportedly grown-up world. Several of the more public real-life events of the time (such as the Munich air crash of 1958) are refracted through the eyes of the child.
The boy inches towards a certain maturity through significant encounters, blunders and an eventual success (passing his eleven plus) that peers try to turn into another kind of failure. We leave the boy facing a new phase of his life with a trace of ambivalence and a thread of hope.