Archie Hind

The Guardian
Friday February 29, 2008

Archie Hind, who has died aged 79, was the author of just one published novel, The Dear Green Place. A passionate account of a working-class man's desire to become a writer, published in 1966, it is one of the finest to come out of 20th-century Glasgow and won four prizes, including the Guardian fiction award.

Though he is now less well known than the writers he influenced, Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and William McIlvanney among them, his novel has been reprinted many times and a new edition – together with a fragment of his uncompleted second, Fur Sadie – is due out in April.

Hind’s hero, Mat Craig, born like his creator into poverty in Glasgow’s east end, finds a postwar window where he can grab a little space from the jaws of want to read, think and dream of making his own art. The book reads more like a European novel than a kitchen-sink drama. But it is firmly rooted in a Glasgow, warmly and vividly portrayed, from the prosperous suburbs, “Rutherglen’s wee roon red lums reek briskly”, to the big, brown Clyde, flanked by manufacturing and engineering plants. Mat’s family has begun to leave behind the violence and want of the past, which is contrasted with the hopefulness of the 1945 Labour government. “All his life, Mat had thought of domestic life, family life as a ife of sordidness and squalor. Then all of a sudden it had become decent.”

Born in the east end, Hind was raised by his father, a locomotive stoker, and his stern Church of Scotland grandmother after his mother walked out one day with his baby sister. They were reconciled a decade later. Hind became a socialist and an atheist, and at 14 left Riverside high school, Carntyne, and became a process clerk at Britain’s largest engineering firm, Beardmore. He was known as “Trotsky” because of his socialist beliefs, and his wife Eleanor recalls how the men treated him. “Lots of them were terrifically well read, that was what it was like in the east end then. They would say to him, you have to read Schopenhauer and he went to the library and did. I don’t remember him ever reading it again, but he could quote it until the end of his life.”

At 20, Hind enrolled on an evening class in literature at Glasgow University taught by Jack Rillie, who got him a grant to study full time for a year at Newbattle College in Midlothian. He became friends with the warden, the poet Edwin Muir, who with his wife Willa was at that time the foremost translator of German novels by Broch, Musil and Kafka.

By this time, Hind was already involved with Eleanor Slane. The daughter of a Jewish emigrant from the Crimea and an Irish optician, she was 18 when she married Hind in 1952. Her father, who had become prosperous enough to buy her a Steinway piano, was furious at her early marriage to an impoverished literary hopeful and did not speak to his daughter again for seven years. But the Hinds remained happily married for almost six decades and had five children. Their lively, sociable home was always a magnet for writers and artists.

Alasdair Gray recalls that, “the Hinds had the only welcoming home I knew where literature, painting and music were subjects of extended, enjoyable conversation. The room held the children’s bunks so social life was always in the warm kitchen which, despite many evening visitors, never seemed overcrowded. These were years when London critics thought Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, Amis’s Lucky Jim and Braine’s Room at the Top were a new school of literature created through the agency of the welfare state. These three works described working-class lads acquiring middle-class women. Archie and I thought they described nothing profound when compared with the best writings of Joyce and DH Lawrence, Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. We admired The Tin Drum, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-5, and found we were both working on a novel about the only struggle we could take seriously – the struggle to make a work of art.”

Gray visited the Hinds in Govan, but it was a similar story later on in Bath Street, where they had a larger flat near the King’s Theatre. Hinds was a great talker – and a great listener. But the family faced difficulties too. The Hinds’ fourth child, Helen, is disabled and a wheelchair user. In 1974, the couple’s second son Gavin, an artist, died in a car crash, aged 23.

Hind’s career never regained the heights of the acclaim of The Dear Green Place. From the mid-70s, he became Helen’s carer while Eleanor was employed as a social worker. He had earlier worked in a bookshop and a slaughterhouse, was a trolley bus driver and a newspaper copytaker to bring in money for the family.

In 1968, Hind was part of the Easterhouse project, a privately funded youth project set up partly with money from the popular singer Frankie Vaughan at a time when Easterhouse was a byword for gang violence. Unfortunately, after too many bad headlines and insufficient funds, it closed in 1971.

Hind did do some writing, including 10 plays. A Scottish version of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was performed by the leftwing theatre group 7:84 to a sell-out audience. But he kept no scripts.

The manuscript of Fur Sadie, about a trapped housewife longing to become a pianist, was also mysteriously lost. Hind never completed another novel. He had, he said, “just run out of steam”.

He is survived by Eleanor, two sons, two daughters, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

· Archie Hind, writer, born June 3 1928; died February 21 2008

The Guardian
Friday February 29, 2008