Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Ben Myers

Ben Myers | 10th December 2009

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;

365 days of rain and mud and fires and writing and walking and squinting at a horizon we’ve spent out whole lives pursuing. And finally we got there.

2009 was the year that I did all those things you talk about doing but don’t because you’re either too lazy or busy or broke or often just reluctant to embrace for fear of letting go of all that you know – or maybe just appearing too middle aged. Too uncool.

The dreams of the past few years were a sign: dreams of people-less places and shacks in the woods. Of bivouacs and foliage. Of undulating heaths and broad orange skies. The underlying message was implicit: you need to get away from the crowds. You need to stop looking over your shoulder. London is not the centre of the world.

So we left the capital behind and moved to rural Yorkshire, into a house older than any in America. There are no horror stories of hateful inbred locals to share here. In fact, the generosity of neighbours and strangers alike has helped stem the crippling cynicism that goes hand-in-hand with the worlds of music and the media. So save for finding it harder to buy fresh plantain and not being able to wear most of my nice footwear for fear of ruining them in the beastly mud and oomska, it is, as they say, all good.

And it has been a year of advancements. Small steps which, viewed from a distance, have joined together to create a seismic shift toward a new place. A new place with new pleasures. Small pleasures, but new all the same.

I tried to go everywhere on foot. I must have done about 1500 miles through villages, town and cities and across moors, up hills and through woodlands in 2010; my sparrow’s legs are no more. And I also got a very small dog called Heathcliff From Haworth, who drinks tea and eats coal.

After ten years of writing fiction every day and ten years of rejection from the literary world, I was offered a book deal. My novel Richard is coming out in late 2010 on Picador. That felt good.

I lost employment, I gained employment. When I had money I bought things, when I didn’t I didn’t. I picked berries in the summer and burnt dead wood in the winter. I shed some tears as I lost an aunt, gained a nephew and saw my girlfriend graduate with a high First in Creative Writing – the first in her family to don a square hat.

I read great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry by Chris Killen, Adelle Stripe, Cormac McCarthy, Sid Smith, Bill Drummond, Knut Hamsun, Dan Fante, Anna Kavan, Jacob Polley, Joseph Ridgwell, Gordon Burn, Slavoj Zizek, Will Hodgkinson, Jenni Fagan, Tony O’Neill, Ian Glasper, Peter Murphy – and the CBTR anthology, of course.

Instead of films and television, I drew more inspiration from photographs, paintings and sculptures at exhibitions by Francis Bacon, Andy Goldsworthy, Martin Parr, Grayson Perry, Don McCullin and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

In many ways, despite all this, it was also year of going nowhere. I spent precisely eight hours abroad on a day trip to Paris in the first days of January and took no holidays, yet as the year draws to a close it feels like I’ve seen more of the world – my world, the one around me, an England I have lived in for all of my 33 years yet barely noticed – than ever before.

And there was fishing too. Ah yes – fishing. After 26 months of catching nothing but a cold, 2009 actually saw me catch some fish. Not big ones, but they were definitely fish. No longer is my ineptitude a running joke amongst those who know me.

Hopefully this doesn’t sound too smug. I know I’m lucky. 2009 has been a vintage year. I’ve appreciated every wet, skint second of it.