“If you watch a thousand sparks cascading,
They’re all wee thoughts,
And, if you could think like that……….”
At 13 years old, his formal education ended, and at 17, he started working at a shipyard in Govan, Scotland. An early start to a life of grueling labor, but Robert Fullerton looked through the reflecting glass visor of his welding helmet and found inspiration in the spirit of the shipyard.
In the video documentary, “Mining Poems or Odes” from the Scottish Documentary Institute (produced by Jack Cocker, directed by Jack Cocker), Robert Fullerton reveals how he learned to write, his creative process, and ‘tools of the trade’.
Robert Fullerton’s story reminds us that sparks of inspiration are everywhere, and the real magic is in a book. His passion for books and writing began when his workmate and mentor, Archie, gave him a copy of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists* by Robert Tressell**, the pen name of author Robert Noonan (1870-1911), an Irish-born house painter.
The novel is set in the fictional town of Mugsborough, and based on Noonan’s personal experiences of poverty and exploitation and his views on the relationship between working-class people and their employers, the gross injustice and inequalities of society, and workers’ acceptance of the status quo. Out of work and ill, Noonan was in dire straits during the writing, and there are traces of the anger and bitterness he was feeling in the Ragged story, along with compassion and a sense of humor.
Widely regarded a classic of modern British literature and ranked as a ‘best loved’ novel in a 2003 BBC survey, the completed manuscript originally called, The Ragged Arsed Philanthropists, was rejected by three publishing houses before Noonan died in 1911 at age 40. His daughter was able to sell the book rights to a publisher for £25, and an edited version (with most of the socialist ideology cut out) was published in 1914. Forty years later, Robert Noonan’s original manuscript was found, and the unabridged edition was published in 1955.
*Editor’s Note: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is available to read free in ebook form or online, and is also free to download and print, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. The volunteer organization founded in 1971 by American Michael S. Hart (1947-2011), inventor of the ebook, has created a digital library offering over 53,000 ebooks of literary works in the public domain that can be accessed, read, downloaded and printed—all free of charge.
Wikipedia: Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Govan, Project Gutenberg, Michael S. Hart
“Welder Turned Poet….”, The Daily Record (February 14, 2016)
The historical works created during times of social unrest and cultural change continue to inspire today Activist Arts
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Feature photo of welder is courtesy of Pixabay/Pexels, CC0
**Zeester Media LLC may receive a small commission for a book purchase you make via the link to this Robert Noonan biography “One of the Damned: The Life & Times of Robert Tressell” by F.C. Ball. This in no way affects the price you pay for the purchase.