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Talking Location With author Jim Gibson – Nottinghamshire ex coalfields

22nd October 2022

Jim Gibson#TalkingLocationWith…. Jim Gibson, author of The Bygones: Stories and sounds from the Nottinghamshire ex-coalfields

The Bygones is inspired and, to a certain degree, set in a particular area of Nottinghamshire called the Hidden Valleys. It’s an area that not many people know exist. Its beauty lies in the dichotomy of its rolling countryside and woodland interspersed with its industrial mining past. The now ex-coalfields of the area are filled with nature reserves and outstanding natural beauty and wildlife yet the once prosperous communities of these areas have been left in the past along with the mines that have long since been removed.

An important factor about this area is that they all seem to have very strong community values and, being a person who has been brought up in and still lives in one of these areas, I have a great connection with these places. Rough around the edges yet beautiful and filled with the most unique characters that you will find in society. I put this fact down to how removed it is from any form of urban or contemporary lifestyles; lots of people hardly even leave their village on a daily basis and, for them, this forms their world. Their whole reality. With nothing but the basic amenities, a strong community and a connection to our natural heritage.

Jim Gibson

The Old Pit Pond. Photo: Sophie Gibson

I live in Newstead Village, one of these ex-mining communities. On all sides of the village you are isolated, although housing developments are moving gradually in and threatening to take away the remoteness. The unique character of the village and similar nearby locations is still here for now, albeit, destined to be removed in the inevitable act of urbanisation as people want to move out from cities and don’t want to lose their conveniences so they instead change the face of the community whom they falsely believe that they want to be a part of. This is the unfortunate truth of matter. At the minute the village looks like this:

woodland to the top of the village,

farmland on one side,                                                              the old pit face to the other                                                  (now a housing development),

country park to the bottom

and, further on, the grandness of Newstead abbey.

The Village (Photo: Sophie Gibson)

Although Newstead Abbey doesn’t directly feature in the book, it provides an interesting dichotomy between the grandness and prosperity of its history and the bold connotations with Lord Byron, to the humble village that surrounds it, built for a sole purpose and then forgotten.

Jim Gibson

The Woodland (photo: Sophie Gibson)

The woodland is one location that does directly play a part in the book, drawing on an actual event from the past that was recently dramatized by the BBC in a series entitled ‘Sherwood’. The brief outline of actual events is that there were two murders in the area that happened very close together with regards to location and time. Both of the murderers decided to hide in the woods to the top of the village. A large scale police operation was launched and the BBC dealt with it in a very dramatic way. The story in The Bygones that features this event is entitled ‘The Squirrel’. It has a young boy talk about his wonder for nature and recall how his grandma used to feed a squirrel who sat upon her shoulder. He enters the woods as a place where he still finds solace only to encounter one of the killers, unbeknownst to him at the time. The killer, however, is friendly towards him and it is only after leaving the woods that the boy becomes aware of the situation he was in. The underlying themes at play in the story are clear for the reader and the underplayed scenario provides a questioning take to what we might expect in the given circumstance.

Apart from this one example, actual locations do not abound in this collection, whilst at the same time being a work that is steeped in its own place. For me, The Bygones could be any one of the villages in the Hidden Valleys area and the setting is so thick and strong in the book that it becomes another character in itself. This sense of place does also go wider than the small localised community in which I am a part of and readers from all over the UK will find many familiarities with the subtleties of the works in this collection for them to compare to their own communities. For those from further afield it acts as an interesting insight into rural areas of the country that often go overlooked in literature.

It cannot be ignored that this book is all the more important as we are continuing to lose these communities bit by bit and at some point these places will be gone. Without the relevant literature to document them, be that through fictitious or non-fictitious mediums, these places and their ways will be destined to be lost with people’s memories and the future will have lost a significant part of its social history. The Bygones, through the short story form, shows just how unique, funny, heart-warming, sad, lonely and complex these areas are, much like the inhabitants that live within them.

The Bygones by Jim Gibson is published by Tangerine Press on 27th October.

JIM GIBSON

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