Life Stories #93: James Rebanks

Life Stories: James Rebanks

Like many people, I first became aware of James Rebanks through his Herdwick Shepherd Twitter feed, where he posts pictures of his flock and talks about life as a farmer in England’s Lake District. When he came to the United States for the first time in the fall of 2016 to promote his two books, The Shepherd’s Life and The Shepherd’s View, I was excited to chat with him about how Internet fame has changed his life (not much, it turns out) and his role as an advocate for sustainable practices for farmers and consumers alike.

We also dove into his personal history, including a reflection on how writing about nature typically comes from a leisurely perspective. “It doesn’t tend to be the person that’s pulling the turnips or plowing the field,” Rebanks explained. “It tends to be somebody who somehow has enough time and enough money to wander through it and wonder how beautiful it is… And it’s beautiful, and it’s special, and it’s wonderful writing. But it’s not the full story of what happens on the land.” That’s why, when he read W. H. Hudson’s A Shepherd’s Life as a teenager, it inspired him long before he turned to social media:

“I love that book, [but] if I’m honest, it isn’t the brilliance of the writing, or the brilliance of the story, although there is brilliance in both of those things. It was pure and simply… I’d gone right through school, never once imagining that books could be about us, about people like us. And then I stumbled across this book when I’m fifteen or sixteen, and suddenly I’m reading a book which feels like it’s about my people; it’s about my grandfather; it’s about people who work on the land…

One of the books I read immediately after that was The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, which is still one of my favorite books. It had the same effect on me. I read the story of the boy who loves the old fisherman, the beauty of that relationship and the admiration he has for that old man when everybody else doubts him. [I thought], ‘I want to write a book like The Old Man and the Sea, but about my grandfather as a shepherd.’ Took me about 25 years to pull that off, but that’s really where the idea of my book came from.”

Listen to Life Stories #93: James Rebanks (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (If you’re already an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

photo: Eamonn McCabe

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15 June 2017 | life stories |