David felt that
he could both paint and write. But paint what? Write what? On the other hand,
he was also a star rugby forward at school, so at 18 he was signed by Leeds,
one of the best Rugby League clubs, for an initial bonus of $1,700. Then he
registered at art school in his hometown of Wakefield.
took an immediate and enduring dislike to him. In many matches he suffered as
much from their blows as from those of opponents. "They were all young
colliers or factory workers and I was a bloody student," he recalls.
"They thought it was absurd to be carrying on as a painter. To them, all
artists were homosexuals."
Matters got worse
the following year when Storey transferred to Slade, the famous art school in
London. The management at Leeds was very reasonable about David's move. He
thinks, in fact, that the owner rather enjoyed the notion of having an exotic
around, especially since—in 1953—Storey's hair was as long as George Best's is
now. The hostility of his teammates deepened. "I was a moody, introverted
young man, and I was doing an incredible thing," he says with
characteristic dispassion. "During the week I was living with flighty,
artistic nonentities in London, and then traveling 200 miles to play with
plumbers on Saturday. Also, I did no training, whereas they had been pounding
around on the pitch two nights a week."
As it turned out,
both art and athletics suffered. "When I got back to Slade on Mondays, all
I could draw were awful little squiggles. My fingers were swollen until
Wednesday. Half the time I was in bed until Wednesday."
For all that
punishment he never did become a first-rate forward. His manager, Ken Dalby,
says Storey had promise. "He had a nice turn of speed and didn't fear
anybody in his tackling. He never knew when he was licked, and I feel sure that
had he stayed with Leeds he would have been blooded with the first team in
another 18 months." Today that comment sounds a bit like the learned
lepidopterists who contend that Nabokov could have been a respected butterfly
man if he hadn't dabbled in writing.
After four years,
though, David felt he was licked. At the same time Slade was taking a dim view
of his latest artistic vision—metal sculptures—and he was at a dead end there.
For a few years he was forced to teach, a life he found every bit as wretched
as he had anticipated.
Life, begun on train journeys between London and Leeds, was to be his
salvation. After eight rejection slips from British editors, it won the 1960
Macmillan Fiction Award in the U.S. At first Storey thought this amounted to a
distant round of applause. Then word came that it meant the book finally would
be published and he would receive $7,500, and in that vertiginous moment he
went out and bought a Jaguar, to this day the most impulsive and extravagant
act he admits to.
accepts the puritanical heritage of his youth. He feels obligated to put in at
least an eight-hour daily shift at the typewriter. As a result he has been very
prolific: four novels published with a fifth due soon, five plays produced with
two more "in the queue" at the Royal Court.
Storey labors at
his fiction, but he literally dashes off his plays. He wrote the award-winning
Home, which provided those true knights of the theater, Ralph Richardson and
John Gielgud, with their best roles in years, in two days. The Changing Room
took five days, largely because Storey had trouble keeping track of the large
He works with
serendipidist simplicity. The Contractor began with a vision of three tent
poles (Storey once had a job putting up banquet tents). He got the idea for The
Changing Room, with its even more detailed physical activity, from watching
rehearsals of The Contractor. Home took shape from two chairs and a table and a
man seated in one of the chairs. "Then," adds the author
disingenuously, "he has to have someone to talk to."