Benjamin Myers is an award-winning author, poet and journalist. Born in Durham, he moved to Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire in 2009, where he lives with his wife.
What’s your first memory of being outdoors? There exists a photograph of me aged five or six, knee-deep in the River Swale somewhere near Richmond, plucking a crayfish out from beneath a rock while on a day-trip down from Durham.
What’s your favourite part of the county and why? The Upper Calder Valley, where I live. It keeps revealing new hidden corners to me and the people have a steely spirit. My novel The Gallows Pole, published earlier this year, is about the Cragg Vale Coiners, an 18th century criminal gang who were based here, and my latest book These Darkening Days, about an outbreak of mass hysteria in 1930s Halifax, has give me an excuse to explore every hidden cranny in the name of research.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend/day out in Yorkshire? I’d probably take a tour of some of my favourite outdoor swimming spots: Gaddings Dam near Todmorden, Lumb Falls near Hebden Bridge, Sparth Reservoir at Slaithwaite, Janet’s Foss at Malham. Then some strong black tea and cake, shared with my wife Adelle and our dog, a Patterdale terrier called Cliff.
Do you have a favourite walk, or view? I probably have several hundred, but two spring to mind. The first is a walk up Scout Rock in Mytholmroyd. It’s a wooded and rather secret escarpment landmark behind my house that has begun to take on almost mystical qualities for me, and the other is a view from a particular meadow high above Robin Hood’s Bay. I’m afraid I can’t reveal which one.
How do you immerse yourself in Yorkshire’s cultural life? I worked in the music business in London for years, and have travelled widely with lots of rock bands while working as a music journalist, but The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge remains my favourite venue in the world. With passion and hard work, promoter Mal Campbell has made it internationally-renowned. It’s also the antithesis of the corporate music venue.
Do you find yourself ‘selling’ Yorkshire to non-believers? If so, how? I’ve written a series of novels set in Yorkshire, though they to tend explore the side of life rarely seen on Countryfile so I’m not sure the tourist board will be calling me up any time soon. I coined the phrase ‘the green cathedral’ to convey the feelings I sometimes experience deep in the woods or up on the moors and I do post a lot of landscape photographs online which perhaps portray different aspects of Yorkshire in the best light, which people seem to enjoy.
Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub? The Robin Hood pub in Cragg Vale serves the world’s best chips.
How has living in Yorkshire influenced your work? In ways I could never have predicted. It has given my writing focus, direction, a voice. It’s endlessly inspiring.
Who is the Yorkshire man or woman you most admire? Boxer ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed has always been a controversial figure but in the 1990s he was a superstar. I admired his fearlessness, his tenacity, his rhetoric, his athleticism and the way he represented his community. To see him box was like watching ballet. His speed and balance was almost superhuman, and his absurd sense of the theatrical made him an icon of his time. Also, he had the good sense to retire young.
If a stranger to Yorkshire had time to visit only one place, where would you send them? Because I’m drawn to remoteness, I’d say find somewhere away from civilisation and take some time to enjoy the space, silence and wildlife. You can get good food and culture most places in Britain these days, but silence is a rare commodity. Somewhere such as Keld in the heart of the Dales is a good place to start out from.
If you had to name Yorkshire’s hidden gem, what would it be? The Piece Hall in Halifax has reopened and I’m pleased to see this monument to industrialisation being given a new life, a new purpose for the modern age.
What do you think gives Yorkshire’s its unique identity? Beyond the stunning landscapes, it’s very difficult to pinpoint a singular identity for Yorkshire – and that in itself can be viewed as a strength. Diversity of people, place and politics should never be reduced down to archetypes, and I think the notion of “telling it how it is” isn’t necessarily always a good thing. I mean, what if you’re an idiot? Humour is more important, and people in Yorkshire use their dry and droll humour as an armour against anything life throws at them. Beneath it though they’re warm and community-minded.
Name your favourite Yorkshire author/artist/performer and tell us why? I like the actor Malcolm McDowell. From early films such as ...if, A Clockwork Orange and O Lucky Man! through Our Friends In The North to Mozart In The Jungle he always steals his scenes. We’re spoilt for writers here too: David Storey, Pat Barker, David Peace, Barry Hines, the Brontë sisters. Glyn Hughes is a late, great poet who made a home in West Yorkshire too.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m writing a non-fiction book about, amongst other things, poetry, floods, nettles, geology, swimming, skulls, landslides, logging, badgers and much besides. It’s called Under The Rock.
Benjamin Myers’ latest book These Darkening Days is published by Mayfly Press, priced £7.99.