Stripe, Adelle (2016) Writing Andrea Dunbar: framing the non-fiction novel in the literary north. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Black Teeth is a novel based on Andrea Dunbar, a young woman with an extraordinary talent for writing who becomes famous by accident. She is propelled into the London theatre establishment via a Women’s Aid refuge and an adapted screenplay of two of her early plays brings her wealth, accolades and notoriety. Rita, Sue and Bob Too! is a national scandal upon its release, and its tagline ‘Thatcher’s Britain with Her Knickers Down’ ensures it is a box office sensation. Fame brings her great anxiety and she is unable to cope with the media attention of the national press who elect her a poster girl for the underclass. Dunbar slowly succumbs to the pitfalls of drink and spends her last days in her local pub The Beacon, where she writes her final script based on a gang of unscrupulous debt collectors. In 1990, aged 29, she collapses in the pub from a fatal brain haemorrhage.

This creative work reflects the harsh realities of working-class life during the 1980s and reveals the story of Andrea Dunbar, a remarkably stubborn ‘genius straight from the slums’. Through a cast of real and imagined characters the novel explores how her portrayal of the Buttershaw Estate revealed levels of poverty within her own community that were previously unknown to the outside world. Her black-witted comedies included themes of domestic violence, underage sex, alcoholism and the declining status of men. By using frank and expletive-ridden dialogue Dunbar gave a no-holds-barred account of the working-class North composed in the tradition of social realism.

This is the first time an account of Dunbar’s life and work has appeared in novel form and offers a unique insight into one of the North’s lost literary greats. It places her work within the social and historical context of the Thatcher era and re-asserts her position within the cultural heritage of West Yorkshire. By drawing connections to recent works in contemporary Northern literature the research also explores representations of West Riding in the 1970s and 80s. It examines the work of Gordon Burn and David Peace and shows how they utilised the non-fiction novel and New Journalism forms to create fact-based fiction set in the region.

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