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Scottish writer Jeff Torrington dies at 72

Torrington, whose novel “Swing Hammer Swing!” won two Whitbread Awards in 1992, for best first novel and book of the year, died Sunday at Dykebar Hospital in Paisley, Scotland, the family said.The cause of death was not announced, but he had suffered from Parkinson's disease since the 1980s.Torrington grew up in the tough Gorbals district of Glasgow, living down the street from his father, an
/ Source: The Associated Press

Torrington, whose novel “Swing Hammer Swing!” won two Whitbread Awards in 1992, for best first novel and book of the year, died Sunday at Dykebar Hospital in Paisley, Scotland, the family said.

The cause of death was not announced, but he had suffered from Parkinson's disease since the 1980s.

Torrington grew up in the tough Gorbals district of Glasgow, living down the street from his father, an army cook who had a separate family and never married Torrington's mother.

Leaving school at 13 because of tuberculosis, Torrington shuffled among jobs as banana packer, postman, locomotive fireman, cinema projectionist and automobile assembly-line worker.

He also wrote short stories which appeared in local newspapers and the New Edinburgh Review.

"Swing hammer swing!" was the slowly matured fruit of a decades of reading, attending creative writing classes and rewriting as time allowed.

The title referred to the destruction of the slum tenements of the Gorbals, and its tight-knit community, with the arrival of high-rise public housing in the 1960s.

"Shrugging working-class shoulders were good at making this wee gesture of resignation," Torrington wrote.

"From the Industrial Revolution onwards we kept getting better'n better at it. 'You'll work an 18-hour day, six days a week, and no slacking. Take it or leave it!' (shrug-shrug); 'Right, chaps, when I blow the whistle, up'n at the Hunnish swine.

'"And remember, if you're hit, try to fall face-down on the barbed wire to give the chap behind you a better foothold.' (shrug-shrug)..."

Torrington said Parkinson's disease slowed his work, but by putting an end to his working life it gave him time to finish the book.

"Many people have asked me why it took me 30 years to complete the book, and the only reasonable answer I can think of is that I couldn't find a pencil.

"My illness has hampered me physically for obvious reasons, but now that I have a word processor things are a lot easier," Torrington said when he accepted the Whitbread Award.

In an interview with The Associated Press in 1993, he recalled the logistics of writing when he, his wife Margaret and their three children lived in a two-room apartment.

"I would be writing at the kitchen table and I would have to move to the bedroom so we could eat. Then I would have to move back to the kitchen so the babies could go to sleep," he said.

His second book, “The Devil's Carousel,” was published in 1996. He had a third work in progress when he died.

He is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter and six grandchildren.