Sunday, August 31, 2008

RIP John Summers

Sadly Welsh writer John Summers died recently, aged 80. Back in 2004 he was kind enough to complete an interview with me for my website. Since then, we have corresponded occasionally via the post. John's letters were always welcome - they railed against various injustices in the world, but also contained wonderful anecdotes from his literary career. During his lifetime he had met the likes of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, and interviewed such luminaries as Anthony Powell, Robert Shaw, Ian Fleming, Angus Wilson, Evelyn Waugh and Rocky Marciano.

As well as being a journalist, he also wrote four works of fiction and three travel books. His best known novel, The Disaster, dramatised the Aberfan catastrophe and the subsequent battle for compensation. This was a fight which John had personally been involved in. In fact, it was he who had issued the High Court writ that eventually resulted in the restoration of missing money to the fund.

With The Disaster, Summers had to overcome a difficult challenge. He had to turn a still very raw tragedy into art - entertainment even, in order to draw attention to the compensation fiasco. This, for me, makes it a unique and culturally interesting piece of work. It was a novel written with a purpose way beyond its own aesthetic dimensions. John was more than happy for the populist New English Library to publish his book because it meant greater numbers of people would be made aware of a terrible injustice.

It was sad then, and ironic, to read that John spent his last years embroiled in a bitter battle with his local council over housing. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that he was continuing his fight against unfeeling authority, and raging against the dying of the light. The good news is that Alwyn Turner, author of the excellent Trash Fiction enterprise, has set up an online tribute website dedicated to preserving John's name and promoting his work. Although only in the early stages of its development, you'll find information there on the Welsh author, examples of his writings, photographs, and other miscellany. So be sure to check it out.

You can read a Telegraph obituary of John Summers here.