Robert Edric: Popular Sheffield writer looks back at his tense sixties family life in new book

An acclaimed Sheffield writer who has written 28 books has finally tackled the thorny subject of his tough upbringing in the city.

By Julia Armstrong
Thursday, 24th February 2022, 2:59 pm
Updated Friday, 25th February 2022, 12:03 pm

Robert Edric, aged 65, who also writes under his original name Gary Edric Armitage, has produced novels including crime and historical fiction and featured real characters such as Branwell Brontë, brother of the Yorkshire writer sisters, showman PT Barnum and occultist Aleister Crowley.

His new book, My Own Worst Enemy: Scenes from a Childhood, looks for the first time at his own upbringing at the hands of a bullying dad and beloved mum in 1960s Ecclesfield and Fir Vale.

Robert, who now lives in Hornsea on the East Yorkshire coast, explained why he decided to write the book. “Being stuck in the house for two years!” he joked.

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It was 'buses only' from late 1960 and, with the trams gone, Sheffield Corporation experimented with a temporary roundabout in Town Hall Square

“I have been doing this for 40 years and I’ve never written a book, apart from the crime trilogy (Song Cycle, based in Hull), set in contemporary Britain. I’ve never written a book which reflects my life or anything about me.”

“Two to three years ago I started writing down little bits and pieces, based entirely on memory. I read a lot of memoirs and histories, not many novels – I suspect it’s a bit like having a cafe and eating at other people's restaurants.

“We remember things from when we were two, three, four, five, 13, 14, 15… we’ve taken them and told those stories 50 times to people. We think they are true and I think they are more true than the events themselves because they are part of you.”

‘The family trod on eggshells around his dad’

Sheffield trainspotters in their element at Woodhead in 1960

He added: “What you are at seven, eight or nine is what you will become 10 years later. What you are then is what you are for the rest of your life, unless something wonderful or ridiculous happens to you.”

He said he decided to write the story of his early life based on all those remembered incidents and felt it was important to be honest about what life was like.

He didn’t seriously think about publishing it, then it came out through the small Shoestring Press, before Swift Press took an interest.

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The Moor, Sheffield, around 1960, before the rebuilding was complete. Note the tramlines remain, but only buses are now on view.

The book starts with an incident that took place when Robert was 12 and arrived home from grammar school to find his dad wearing a new Crown Topper toupee.

The way he was expected to admire it and pretend he couldn’t tell it wasn’t real illustrates perfectly how the family trod on eggshells around his dad in case he had a fit of violent temper.

Robert realised later that it also revealed his father’s vanity to the world and laid himself – and his family - open to ridicule.

The book looks at Robert’s early years and his family’s claustrophobic little world and how getting into grammar school meant an escape to university in Hull and a different life.

He never came back to Sheffield to live, although he still visits relatives.

The book is brilliantly evocative of a world that many Sheffielders will remember, looked at without a hint of nostalgia, and is an excellent read.

My Own Worst Enemy: Scenes from a Childhood is published by Swift Press and out now.