My Yorkshire: Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble was born in Sheffield just before the outbreak of the Second World War and attended the Mount School in York before graduating with a Double First at Cambridge. She joined the RSC as an actress (and was once understudy to Vanessa Redgrave) and left to become a writer. She has published nearly 20 novels and is married to the writer and biographer Sir Michael Holroyd.

What's your first Yorkshire memory?

Being pushed in my pram in Pontefract, at the age of about two. We'd been evacuated there from Sheffield – my mother was teaching at the local boys' grammar school and my father was by then in the RAF. I can remember seeing a sort of golden-coloured stone wall, and I have the feeling that there was another child somewhere, because I remember thinking that my own space was being invaded. We lived in Hardwick Road, and I've been back to see the house since. I don't think that I've made the memory up!

What's your favourite part of the county – and why?

This is really tricky, because there are so many. Kettlewell, I think. There's a rather nice little hotel up there, and I used to take the children walking in that area when they were young. Back then, we'd stay in the local Youth Hostel, and like everyone else, we had to join in with doing the chores as a part-payment for our accommodation. Only it wasn't a chore, it was always such fun. We used to go for five-day trips. You had to arrive at the hostel on foot or by bike back then – no petrol transport allowed. At least, my memories tell me that it was.

What's your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

I've got lots of photographs of our family jaunts to the Dales, with my own children and at least one of someone else's. So I'll say a Sunday lunch in one of the Dales' pubs, and walking along a limestone

edge somewhere.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

I used to love Filey and Scarborough as a child, we'd go to posh Scarborough for a lunch or tea, and stay in a bed and breakfast in Filey, and I adored walking along Filey Brigg. I still do, actually. I don't get there as much as I would like these days, but it is a remarkable place.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take

for lunch?

Freddie Trueman – because all my children talked about him.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

James Mason. He once rang me up out of the blue, and asked me to write a screenplay for him. Sadly, it never happened, but that voice at the other end of the line was unmistakeable. It took me completely by surprise. He was a slightly sinister performer – but also a very brave one. Who else would have taken up the challenge to appear in the hugely-controversial Lolita? I think that he simply didn't care what other people thought about him, but that when he saw a challenge, he'd go for it. A remarkable man.

If you had to name your Yorkshire "hidden gem", what would it be?

Well, because it stands on a hill, and towers over the town, it's hardly "hidden", but I'd say Conisbrough Castle, the setting of Scott's Ivanhoe. My father was born in Conisbrough, and when I took my grandchildren there not so long ago, they had great delight in finding that their great-grandfather had lived there, and an even greater delight in rolling down the castle slopes. I am delighted to learn

that English Heritage are giving their visitor centres a makeover. It certainly needed it.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

This is a hard one. The obstinacy, the understatement, the negativity in phases like "Oh, well, I don't mind if I do". The way that things are always underplayed, the integrity and also the self-confidence. And the very fact that a Yorkshireman has a pride in where they come from.

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what?

I don't, I'm afraid. I was never a very sporty little girl, and I have grown into a totally non-sporty woman. The only thing that I don't miss watching is the snooker, from Sheffield at the Crucible. Long may that continue. I also love tennis – but I couldn't care less where the players come from, frankly, as long as they're delivering an interesting game.

What about Yorkshire's cultural life?

Where does one start? In Sheffield when I was young, there was the Lyceum and the Empire – look at the wonderful refurbishment of the former! And the Crucible, too. I'm told that the re-modelled theatre has an amazing foyer space now, and more than enough loos for the ladies. That's progress. Then there's the WYP in Leeds, where my husband and I went earlier in the year – first rate. And the National Media Museum in Bradford. Not to mention so many creative writers, musicians, artists. I think that it's in a pretty healthy state, don't you?

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

When Michael and I were in Leeds in April, we went to that branch of the Loch Fyne restaurant chain near the station. It was a beautifully warm evening, and we sat outside and had a wonderful meal in the sunshine (which always makes a difference!) and the service was impeccable. We just relaxed and enjoyed the food and the surrounding architecture. It was all pretty special.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

Not a food shop, but the fish markets in cities like Sheffield and Leeds. As a child I used to love the markets for the sweetie stalls, today I love them for their fresh fish and seafood. Treasure them – and support them.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you've known it?

It's hard to generalise, because it really is "swings and roundabouts", isn't it? There's some splendid new architecture, and some that is pretty grim as well. Look what Poulson did to places like Pontefract. The countryside seems to be in good hands, there's a lot of revitalisation – don't forget that my childhood was spent looking at some major bomb damage.

There are pockets of racial tension, and I loathe all that. And I regret that things like the Earth Centre – an absolutely terrific and enterprising idea at Conisbrough – were allowed to close when the support didn't come.

I hate to say this, but there's still strong philistinism in certain pockets of Yorkshire.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

Roy Hattersley. And his mum. He's a fine writer (whom I enjoy reading) a great conversationalist and an astute politician. Roy, who I have had the pleasure to meet on several occasions, is outspoken, and energetic. He's also not afraid to change his mind, which is a rare quality these days.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Very much so. I may have left when I was just 15, but I keep on returning, and finding much pleasure in my visits. A lot of "Yorkshire landscapes" find their way into my work, and I think that my characters often look at things in a Yorkshire way. I still feel very Northern, and that's what counts.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.

JB Priestley – whose plays are still revived frequently, but whose books are not so popular as they were, which is a pity, because they are extraordinary writing by any standards. I am so delighted that English Journey has just been re-published this year. It's far superior to Orwell's Wigan Pier, in my opinion. Priestley was an archetypal Yorkshireman, but also a citizen of the world.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

Rievaulx Abbey and the Temples. We used to go there on school outings. I regret that our thoughts were not really with the monks who had lived there, or anything to do with God in general, but the wonderful views and the gloriously fresh air.

Margaret Drabble's A Writer's Britain is published next week by Thames and Hudson, 12.95. To order a copy from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop, call free on 0800 0153232 or go online at www. yorkshire postbookshop.co.uk. P&P is 2.75.