Author of article on the Grassington branch in Silver Jubilee issue of Backtrack. For a time was publisher of the journal.
Though in many ways they could scarcely look or be more different, our dinner
guests are two of a kind: outstanding workaday writers and editors. By workaday,
I mean that without pretentiousness they get on with their varied portfolios
of tasks in an eminently practical manner, giving satisfaction to sizeable
audiences. Though they each have a wide circle of both friends and admirers,
they will never be famous and don't claim literary genius. But if only there
were more like them. They both have a powerful storehouse of experience,
and love and know the Dales, from which they draw strength and repay with
In the footsteps of his father, who had been agricultural correspondent, David Joy began life at the Yorkshire Post. I first knew him as railway historian and contributor of two of the best volumes in the Regional Railway History series. By that time he was working for The Dalesman, in charge of the magazine's considerable list of local interest paperbacks.
Founded by Harry Scott, The Dalesman was a remarkable institution, reaching a peak circulation in the 1970s of 70,000, the highest ever achieved by an English regional magazine. Distinctly not socialite, it was perhaps a touch folksy, but that is what Yorkshire folk at home and in exile enjoyed. A critic once dismissed it as run by amateurs for amateurs. Knowing his market, Harry Scott took that as a compliment. Respecting David's strengths, I wasn't surprised when he took over as co-owner and editor, carefully maintaining Scott's traditions. Moving into the top position he however needed a 'right-hand man'... the kind of position that fell vacant at The Dalesman about once in a generation.
On cue, Hilary popped into the office on what she thought was a pretty hopeless search for journalistic work in a remote area. Most of her career had so far been for the magazine and newspaper company DC Thomson of Dundee. She had just moved to Horton in Ribblesdale to be with her partner Bryan. Now, anyone trained and given responsibility by DC Thomson (she edited teenage magazines amongst others and 'did all and everything' across the board) tends to be seen as a down-to-earth treasure. It took all of a few minutes for David to snap her up.
Their partnership at The Dalesman was fruitful. Each has told me a lot about the other. They could indeed write books about each other. Foibles, yes, but always mutual respect and trust. Though it was a time when all regional magazine circulations were falling, Dalesman books did better than ever.
Like me at David & Charles, David wondered about the future of his business, and occasionally discussed it. When he sold, he pursued railway publishing, and visiting a distant base. in Cornwall every few weeks took over my personal railway titles. He's been a real railway nut, going off to experience steam wherever it remains in service in the world's underdeveloped exotic spots. Three trains at a time can run round the I-gauge garden railway at the farm that has been in the family for over a century: 800ft up with eighty inches of rain a year, challenging in winter but a suntrap in summer. Then his wife Judith is busy with a substantial self-service holiday rental business, complementing (and I suspect on occasions underwriting) publishing and authorship.
A couple of years after the sale of The Dalesman, Hilary went freelance, writing books and articles, editing, and doing public relations work. Though, on first meeting she might seem to be in a permanent state of exuberant fluster, her ability to get down to things and do them thoroughly and quickly, is pretty unusual. She edited another country magazine I took over from David, and also my Country Origins, which began well but, with the writing magazines, proved too much to handle with our limited facilities at Nairn. Then she became deputy editor of these writing magazines, still on a freelance basis, for their new owners in Leeds. She goes there three long days a week and does her own writing the rest of the week. She has had a hand in getting this book shipshape.
So here we are in the cosy, busy restaurant of the Pheasant Inn, renowned for its good cooking and generous helpings. Before sitting down, towering well above anyone else in sight, to our amusement David annoUnces he has 'officially retired'. He still edits the railway magazine Narrow Gauge World, has just produced a huge Yorkshire title in association with the Yorkshire Post and is full of other ideas. Retired!
He has, it is true, just returned from a railway holiday in Salvador, but at his busiest kept himself sane by draughts of steam nostalgia around the world. Once he is seated, winding his legs round the chair, I tell him I've bought his new Dales title and Hilary that I picked up her Dales People at Work from the visitors' centre at Grassington, the latter alas at a knocked-down price.
That sets David off: 'I'm glad I'm out of publishing... especially railway books. Nobody reads today. Pictures and captions are all they want'.
Hilary: 'That's why celebrity magazines have become so important'
David: 'The other difficulty is that there aren't enough good writers'
We're getting a bit negative, even when moving to television.
'Remakes are never as good as the original,' says Hilary.
Apropos of nothing, David says that selling The Dalesman was painful.
Hilary: 'He'd been there man and boy'
David: 'It was a way of life, certainly'
Hilary: 'You trailblazed. But things have moved on. Look on the bright side. There wasn't even Tipp-Ex in those days. We forget how recently technology came to our rescue. It was only in the last couple of years at The Dalesman that we had a word-processor. Before that, cutting and pasting meant exactly that scissors, glue and Tipp-ex'
David: 'When you couldn't alter things easily, it was good discipline. You had to get them right first go'
Hilary: 'Yes, but I couldn't possibly get through what I do today'
David: 'True, and it is because of the lower cost-base that local publishing is still vibrant. The trouble is that people rush into print, publishing themselves, with inadequate editing'
I agree, but make the point that among self-published books there is a growing proportion of well-produced, sensibly-edited titles, adding that looking through the books on sale at Grassington had been exceptionally pleasurable.
Then, as our main courses arrive, we heartily accept that we should be grateful that rural Britain remains so diverse and protected and that people explore it, write and read about it, in ever greater numbers.
Hilary: 'All those fears that television would kill local dialect and characters certainly didn't prove true. Actually TV has encouraged new interest in the Dales'
TV and Yorkshire produce inevitable reference to James Herriot.
David teases me: 'And you turned down All Creatures Great and Small'
Yes, but so did nearly every other publisher. I enjoyed reading it lying on bed one evening but wondered who would actually buy it. When a UK publisher did take it up, it wasn't really successful. Only later, when the publicity of American success was reflected back to England, did Herriot start to become well known.
We spend most of the rest of the evening discussing the book trade's wrinkles and specific places in the Dales where we've earlier met together or especially love: Bolton Abbey, Grassington and Hebden in particular.
Sheila joins us in drinking to the Dales before David and Hilary make their separate ways to their homes in very different but both hilly settings where man has for centuries been inspired, pitting his wits against the landscape.
Next morning we set off early for Nairn through scenery few in Britain's most populous areas experience except on holiday. Though friends in the south often worry about us in our northern fastness, we feel we are privileged.