James Rebanks: What I've Learned

Best-selling author and Twitter's favourite shepherd James Rebanks on what life has taught him so far

Most Popular

James Rebanks is the literary sensation who straddles the ancient and modern worlds: with 80,000 followers, he is Twitter's favourite shepherd.

More impressively, his memoir about the vanishing professional – A Shepherd's Life - put him on the top of Sunday Times best seller list and is about to come out for the first time in paperback.

To mark the release, we meet him to discuss writing, the countryside and what life has taught him so far.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Literature has tended to portray shepherds as guys with a crook, stood alone on a wind-swept moor. People are usually amazed to learn how social and communal it is. I mean there are days you're alone in the rain in the middle of nowhere, but not many.

After I graduated from Oxford, I went for a job interview in London at a big consultancy firm, because that's what I thought I was supposed to do. They put us all in a group and gave us one of those psychometric tests about how to move items across a river in the correct order. All I could think about was how I wanted to drown them in it - they were the most obnoxious people I'd ever met in my life.

Most Popular

I didn't pass the test, I wasn't offered the job. But I got a glimpse and I thought: screw this. So I went home.

Back where I live in the Lakes, the community find my success with the book very amusing, mainly because they know I don't relish being the centre of attention. The truth is if you're a lousy farmer they'll judge you as a lousy farmer. It's only because my shepherding street cred is  still quite good that I can get away with also writing books.

Why were people interested to read about a shepherd? I think people like the idea of older stuff and older ways of life. Sometimes it reminds them of their own backgrounds, or a past they've lost touch with.

I write from 9 o clock at night until about 3 o clock in the morning. I've got three kids, so that's the only peace and quiet I get. Now I can't write in quiet or in daylight. It's bonkers really, but somehow I got a book out like that!

I love mid-twentieth century fiction: paired back, simple prose. I wrote about no-nonsense working people in the Lake District and tried to find a voice for them, so it was never going to be flowery or literary.

The Old Man And The Sea. That's the book that made me want to be a writer. It reminded me of my granddad who was this slightly broken guy who I thought was amazing even though no one else could see it.

Why do I use Twitter? Because there's no future for what I do, unless people care about it.

The link in the food chain between producer and consumer has been broken, and I think that's a massive problem. I think the whole food industry is screwed up. We are copying an American food economy which is bad for the environment, and bad for society.

I think the more disconnected you get from nature, the more romantic it becomes. It becomes something false: scenery people want to paint their own aspirations on.

Tourism is great, but you need to be careful to portray the reality to people. All the imagery advertising the Lakes is empty valleys and snow-capped mountains… then you actually get to one, and a hundred people are standing around looking miserable because they don't have it to themselves.

My Dad died last February. What I admired about him was how modest he was. He also didn't give two hoots about money. He was utterly indifferent to whether people were rich or poor.

I spent a lot of the early part of my life thinking you had to do something that amounted to a lot in other people's eyes. I felt I should have more value in the eyes of society than a sheep farmer. My Dad taught me not to worry about what anyone else thinks - if you love the thing you're doing, do it and find your own meaning in it.

The best piece of advice I've been given was recently. Someone said 'be kind to yourself'. I had no idea what they meant. But in time the penny dropped. People are very hard on themselves when someone they love dies. You have to cut yourself some slack for not doing everything right.

He was able to read the book just before he died. He was really proud of it. He cried a lot, because it was about his life. The whole book was a letter to him really, my way of telling him I respect him. If it never sold a copy, I'd still be happy because he died knowing exactly how I felt about him - there was nothing left unsaid. How many people get to say that?

The Shepherds Life is out now in paperback.

What do you think?

Culture
Share
Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt Reportedly Have An 'Ironclad' Prenup
​Here's how they'll split $500 Million
Film
Share
Michael Bay Defends Covering Churchill's Birthplace In Nazi Flags. Says He Would "Smile" About It
Michael Bay is almost certainly wrong​
Culture
Share
Arnold Palmer: What I've Learned
​The then 82-year-old golfer on how staying with the classic styles helped him dress well his whole life​
In order to hide his Polio from the public, Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived in New York via a secret extension of Grand Central Terminal underneath the Waldorf Astoria hotel. His abandoned train car—which is still there today—transported the president and his limousine directly up into the hotel's garage so he could come and go unnoticed.
Culture
Share
17 Photos Of The Most Eerie Abandoned Sites In The World
And in some cases, actually haunted
Snapchat Glasses
Culture
Share
Snapchat Is Bringing Out Sunglasses That Record Video
​Is this the end of days?​
Culture
Share
The Making Of David Bowie's Lost Soul Album
​How it got made—and why it was shelved—from those that were there​
Drake
Culture
Share
Drake Has Released His Own Action Film
​​A mix of Indecent Proposal, The Bourne Identity and Taken... ​apparently ​
Culture
Share
Nirvana's 'Nevermind' Baby Has Recreated His Cover Shot 25 Years Later
​"I said to the photographer, 'Let's do it naked.' But he thought that would be weird​"
TV
Share
Watch The Trailer For Matt Damon And Ben Affleck's New TV Series
​​It's a dystopian drama, and it looks surprisingly good​
Culture
Share
Is This The Worst Plane Seat Assignment Ever?
Hello, nightmares