Sheffield 'not like other places' - Celebrated author's love letter to the influential Steel City

Fargate in the 1970s.
Fargate in the 1970s.
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A celebrated author has written an open love letter to Sheffield - describing how the Steel City's early industrial landscape inspired his writing.

Novelist Philip Hensher told how he found it 'scary' moving up from London to Sheffield as a nine-year-old boy in 1974 but the city began to influence his thinking - and indeed his writing.

Rare & Racy.

Rare & Racy.

His semi-autobiographical and Sheffield-set novel The Northern Clemency was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008 and he has now written at length about his love for the city as he prepares to release his latest book The Friendly Ones.

READ MORE: Booker nominee visits his old school

In a column written for The Guardian newspaper, he describes how he first noticed 'monuments' of the industrial revolution including 'black mountains of slag by the side of the road' and 'mysterious, spindly watchtowers', on the city skyline.

But the young Philip soon discovered there was more to the place than it's initial bleak appearance.

READ MORE: City base for Booker booK

The former Tapton School pupil praised the symphonic concerts held every Friday night at the City Hall and described his admiration for the famed Race & Racy second-hand book shop.



He said: "That gift of culture, the habit of not thinking of Beethoven or Nabokov as properties connected to swank, money and social class, but just there to be thought about and engaged with, was one thing that made me."

The author explained that the 'discovery of difference' in the Steel City 'turned him into a writer.'

He said: "Places were less alike in the 1970s than they are now. To a shy boy, the experience was almost overwhelming.

"People looked and dressed differently. Speech was quite different – I was quite unprepared for 'castle' to rhyme with 'cattle'.

Philip Hensher.

Philip Hensher.

"Most of all, the manners were different. They spoke to you briskly; adult women should not be expected to be shy and retiring; the joke was delivered with a straight face, and usually turned out to be on you. Pretty soon I was giving as good as I got.

"The discovery that everyone is not the same is a good one to make."

He described Sheffield as being 'not like like other places' and added: "It's difference taught me how to look at other people, and listen to them. Taught me not to be so shy, too.

"I haven’t been frightened of anything for decades."

His latest book The Friendly Ones is a family drama set in Sheffield and is on sale from March 8.