Michael Standen: Novelist and poet

Michael Standen was an integral part of the literary scene of the North East, as novelist, poet, co-editor of the journal Other Poetry, an organiser of the invaluable Colpitts Poetry readings, and much else besides.

He was born near London in 1937 and, as he once said, after that moved steadily northwards. Following school at Nottingham, he did his national service, an experience on which he drew for some of the funnier episodes in his third novel, Stick-man (1970), then read English at Cambridge. In 1961, newly married, he began teaching in Manchester, and three years later was appointed to a post as Tutor Organiser for the Northern District of the Workers Educational Association (WEA), at first in Cumberland, then later as District Secretary based in Newcastle upon Tyne, although he and Val, a university biologist, made their home in Durham.

His first novel, Start Somewhere (1965), rightly brought him a number of highly favourable reviews and was almost at once reprinted. A wry, affecting and keenly observed study of young people beginning their lives, the novel is set in Nottingham and deftly catches the feeling of the city at that time: a slightly seedy respectability shading into the down-at-heel raffishness to be found in the life of its pubs, the streets of small shops, of talk coloured by recommendations for duff patent medicines, all observed with a mixture of sardonic detachment and genuine warmth.

Then came, in regular succession, A Sane and Able Man (1966), Stick-man and The Dreamland Tree (1972). Unfortunately, none of these was able to repeat the success, either critical or commercial, of his first novel, and Heinemann, which had published all four, declined to accept his next. In 1977, OUP published his novel for younger readers Over the Wet Lawn (1977), reckoned by some astute judges to be among the best fictions ever written for that age group; but apart from a collection of shorter pieces, gathered together as Months and Other Stories (1994), Mick Standen's career as a prose writer had ended.

Poetry, however, brought him new readers. He had been runner-up to Seamus Heaney for the 1966 Cheltenham Literature Festival's poetry prize, and began increasingly to write and publish verse as well as to consider work submitted to Other Poetry, a journal whose reputation he helped to enhance through his sympathetic vigilance. His first full collection, Time's Fly-Past, was published in 1991. Then came Gifts of Egypt and this was followed last year by Leaves at Midnight: new and selected poems.

Leaves at Midnight appeared in time for Mick's 70th birthday, an occasion at which he was presented with Still Standen: a celebration of the poet's life, put together by friends and admirers who included Gillian Allnutt, Peter Armstrong, Peter Bennet, Jacques Darras, Richard Kell, Peter Mortimer and Anne Stevenson.

But respect and affection for Mick was by no means confined to writers. A lifelong socialist whose care for the environment was partly reflected in the tending of an allotment he and Val shared, he continued to teach for the WEA well after retirement, and his undoctrinaire passion for literature, integral to which was a genial contempt for whichever critical or theoretical orthodoxy happened at any time to be "fashionable and cruel", as well as a relish for humanity's bent timber, meant that he unfailingly attracted to his classes students of all ages and dispositions.

Latterly, he took up painting in watercolours, and when last year he and Val stayed for some days with my wife and me on the Greek island of Aegina, Mick produced detailed and evocative sketches of some of the island's architectural treasures.

John Lucas

Michael Standen, writer and poet: born Epsom, Surrey 28 July 1937; married 1961 Val Healey (two sons); died Durham 1 June 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power