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Rivers are great workings of nature, time and geology. They have long been at the very centre of human culture, sustaining us with water, food, power and stories. Our thoughts flow like a river. A river's journey, from source to sea, is a metaphor for life.
H.E. Bates's own journey began on the banks and in the waters of two contrasting Midland rivers. The River Nene's jumbled course and character, with its towpaths and locks and bridges, speaks of human industry on its journey to The Wash. The River Ouse, in contrast, with its wide meanders brimmed with reeds and smoky willows, rich in wildlife and wild flowers, is an uplifting, ephemeral water, a river of summer memories and flag irises, the blue pulse of kingfishers and pike lurking in weed-shadows. Peopled by his relatives and neighbours, both the Nene and the Ouse, however different, filled H.E. Bates's imagination with the wonderful stories and characters that make his writing so enjoyable.
H.E. Bates was born in Rushden, Northamptonshire, where he spent his childhood wandering the footpaths of the surrounding countryside, often at night. After leaving school he worked as a reporter and a clerk in a shoe factory, where he wrote his first two novels between shifts. In 1931 he married Marjorie (Madge) Cox and they made their home in an old granary in Little Chart, Kent. Commissioned into the RAF to write short stories during the Second World War, he published under the pseudonym 'Flying Officer X'. Described by Graham Greene as Britain's successor to Chekhov, he wrote over a hundred novels and collections of short stories and was appointed CBE in 1973. Further success came posthumously with the adaptation for television of My Uncle Silas, Love for Lydia and The Darling Buds of May.
"The river, memory and the impulse to write, the sounds and rhythms of words and water, these things merge time and again across the centuries to become the poetry and prose of rivers."
– Charles Rangeley-Wilson