Benjamin Myers is the author of six novels – The Gallows Pole, Turning Blue, Beastings, Pig Iron, Richard, The Book of Fuck – a novella, Snorri & Frosti, and four collections of poetry. He is also a journalist contributing to various online and print publications.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in Dryburn Hospital, Durham. I grew up three miles away in a suburb of the city.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Any particular formative influences? We had all sorts of books, but especially a lot of fiction. From a young age I enjoyed Roald Dahl, the anthologies of suspense stories that Hitchcock put his name to, Stephen King novels, a lot of works that bridge the gap between adolescence and young adulthood – Dracula, Robinson Crusoe, Huckleberry Finn – but also a lot of female-orientated books too, especially by Judy Blume. I read all of her work, which of course went down with the lads in the north-east in the 1980s.
That was all probably under the age of twelve, at which point I got heavily into comics, particularly the counter-cultural underground, stuff like Robert Crumb and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Then I delved headlong into fiction: George Orwell, Laurie Lee, D.H. Lawrence, James Baldwin, William Burroughs, Harry Crews. Given that the average household in the UK purchases 1 or 2 books per year, I was very lucky to have access to the written word at all.
The Yorkshire moors: wild and untameable. Land of the Brontës, Bram Stoker, Ted Hughes and David Hockney, that much I knew, until I read Ben Myers’ pungent and addictive novel, The Gallows Pole, about a forgotten chapter of history. King David Hartley of Bell House was the leader of the Cragg Vale Coiners, “whose brutality had put the fear in many and whose wicked practices had damaged the trade of the common man, but whose efforts had rewarded the brave too, and whose rumoured generosity had put clothes on the backs and food on the tables of the starved communities of the upper moorlands when everyone else had failed them.”
In the 1760s, Hartley ran “the yellow trade,” creating counterfeit coins, from his “gloomy sky palace” perched on the lawless upper moorlands — Sowerby Bridge and Halifax to the east; Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall to the west. A place apart, it is well away from a changing England where the “wheels of industry turn ever onwards and the trees are falling still. Last week I did chance to meet a man right down there in Cragg Vale who told me that soon this valley is to be invaded. He spoke of chimneys and buildings and waterways and told of work for those that wanted it, but work that pays a pittance and keeps you enslaved to those that make the money. This man — he told me this land around us was soon no longer to be our land but that of those who want to reap and rape and bind those of us whose blood is in the sod. They’re pulling it out from beneath our feet like a widow shaking out her clippy mat. He said he had it in writing. Said it was legally binding.”