A Sheffielder born and bred, Simon Beckett is the author of the bestselling crime series featuring forensic anthropologist hero Dr David Hunter. The fifth Hunter story, The Restless Dead, is out now.
What’s your first Yorkshire memory? One of my earliest is going on holiday to Filey. I must have been about three so this would be in the 1960s. We stayed in a caravan, and I can remember going down a path to the sea, where there was also a small fairground-type shooting gallery. I have a nasty feeling I might have worn a cowboy hat, but my abiding memory is of sunshine and a sandy beach.
What’s your favourite part of the county – and why? I love the rugged coastline around Whitby and Scarborough, and the drive there across the moors is wonderful. My wife and I went on our first holiday together to Scarborough, staying in a little B&B on the North Bay. We didn’t have much money, I got stung by a bee and spilt coffee on my wife’s new top, but it was still one of the best holidays that we’ve ever had.
What’s your idea of a perfect day or a perfect weekend out in Yorkshire? It would definitely involve staying in Burnsall, a small village near Bolton Abbey. I’d call at Ilkley on the way up, and then drive into Harrogate for lunch. After that I’d head up to Burnsall for an evening walk along the river before dinner in the Devonshire Fell.
Do you have favourite walk – or view? There’s a walk that follows the River Wharfe from Bolton Abbey all the way to Burnsall. It runs through Strid Wood, which is very atmospheric and full of wild garlic in spring. If you walk all the way to Burnsall it’s about eight miles, so you deserve an ice-cream from the van at Bolton Abbey by the time you get back.
Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take lunch? This would be the late Alan Woodward, a legendary winger for Sheffield United in the 1960s and 70s. He could score direct from corners, and my memory is of seeing him bend the ball into the net on more than one occasion. There was always a terrific sense of excitement whenever he walked up to the corner spot.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take to dinner? Charles Laughton, the actor from Scarborough who also directed The Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum, which is an incredible film, and James Mason from Huddersfield, who was very much the suave leading man. I’d prime them with wine and then sit back and listen to stories from more than four decades of Hollywood.
If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’ what would it be? I don’t think anyone in South Yorkshire would think of it as “hidden” because it’s so well known. But Henderson’s Relish is one of those local delicacies that not many people outside the region have heard of. It’s made in Sheffield, where it’s no exaggeration to say it has iconic status, if an icon is something you can dowse all over a meat pie.
What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique quality? The countryside, the people, the history, the location.
Do you follow sport in the county and, if so, what? As can probably be guessed from my answer to the earlier question, I follow Sheffield United. I won’t describe myself as a supporter, since I don’t often get to matches any more. And I risk flak from both sets of fans by saying that I’d like to see both United and Wednesday back in the Premier League where they belong.
Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub? There are two at the moment. Brocco on the Park is a boutique hotel on the edge of Endcliffe Park in Sheffield, and its restaurant is a great addition to Sheffield’s food scene. Then there’s Rafters, also in Sheffield, which is an old favourite, but seems to be going from strength to strength.
Do you have a favourite food shop? I have several, mostly on Sharrowvale Road in Sheffield. A lot of artisan food shops have opened there in the past couple of years. There’s Seven Hills Bakery, which makes great bread, and the Porter Brook Deli has excellent cheeses. Barra Organics sells organic produce and there’s also a very good independent wine merchant called StarmoreBoss.
If you had to change one thing in, or about, Yorkshire, what would that be? Better train links between towns and cities, and across the Pennines.
Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire? This would have to be the late Barry Hines, who was the author of A Kestrel for a Knave and Threads, a harrowingly realistic account of nuclear war in the 1980s. When I was starting out I pestered him into taking a look at the manuscript of my first novel. He read a few paragraphs, then shook his head and said: “You’re trying too hard.” I was hugely disappointed but I realised he was right. It changed my approach to writing and my next novel, Fine Lines, was deliberately more pared down in style. It became my first published book.
Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.? Where do you start? I’m going to go for another literary figure and say Alan Bennett. His style seems so naturalistic, but I know from experience how hard that is to achieve. His Talking Heads series of monologues was superb – bittersweet, comic and tragic, sometimes all at the same time.
If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be? We’re back in North Yorkshire again, because this would be Robin Hood’s Bay. It’s a quintessential seaside town, still unspoiled and very traditional. There’s a long walk down a steep hill that winds past old fisherman’s cottages, with alleyways running off where you’ll find second-hand bookshops or little stores selling fishing nets. Then there’s the beautiful bay at the bottom, with rock pools at low tide. Just thinking about it is enough to conjure up the smell of seaweed and fish and chips.
The Restless Dead, published by Bantam, is out now. For more information visit simonbeckett.com.