Nell Dunn is another author I've discovered by reading my way through Virago books at random. I came across Poor Cow and Up The Junction when I was ordering some DVDs for our film collection at work, and then decided to read the books before I watched the films *(see below). It's the story of a young woman living in the 1960s, and is as much a description of London in the 1960s as it is of her life. I think there is a sequel but I'm not sure what it is called. I went on and watched the film last week and was really impressed by the way Ken Loach brought the book to life using lots of music and not too much dialogue. It's gritty and not terribly cheering but definitely worth watching.
I'm now reading Up the junction, which is more of a series of vignettes than a joined up story like Poor Cow so it will be interesting to see how that translates to the screen.
(((*edit* I think what I liked so much about the books is how different they are from other Virago books that I've read. Main female character faces hard times is not an unusual theme, but so far the characters that have encountered hardship in the novels I've read have been from the middle and upper classes. I haven't really read any other "working class" centric Virago books yet, although I'm sure there must be some.)))
* I always prefer to read the book first when the book came before the film (and I don't tend to read those books that came after the film). I like to get the author's original intentions and see it all in my imagination first rather than letting the film dictate how I see things. Somehow it taints the experience of reading the book if you've already seen someone's interpretation. Almost the only case I can recall of preferring the film to the book is Mary Poppins, and I'm quite sure that is because I watched the film aged 5 or 6 and only read the book a few years later, and was very disappointed as it wasn't so exciting (I was probably only 9). The Mary Poppins books are quite dark and very different from the film, although I was interested that the stage show in London a couple of years ago was actually very faithful to the books which have grown on me as I've moved away from singing a Spoonful of sugar so frequently!