Work in the countryside ties you, soul and salary, to the land, but often those who labour in nature have the least control over what happens there.
Starting with Rebecca Smith's own family history – foresters in Cumbria, miners in Derbyshire, millworkers in Nottinghamshire, builders of reservoirs and the Manchester Ship Canal – Rural is an exploration of our green and pleasant land, and the people whose labour has shaped it.
Beautifully observed, these are the stories of professions and communities that often go overlooked. Smith shows the precarity for those whose lives are entangled in the natural landscape. And she traces how these rural working-class worlds have changed. As industry has transformed – mines closing, country estates shrinking, farmers struggling to make profit on a pint of milk, holiday lets increasing so relentlessly that local people can no longer live where they were born – we are led to question the legacy of the countryside in all our lives.
This is a book for anyone who loves and longs for the countryside, whose family owes something to a bygone trade, or who is interested in the future of rural Britain.
Rebecca Smith worked for BBC Radio for over a decade, producing live and pre-recorded programmes. She now works for the BBC Radio 4 Readings Team, researching titles for Book of the Week and The Fiction Serial. She also reviews for The List, and BBC Radio Scotland’s The Afternoon Show. In 2021, she was shortlisted for the Scottish Book Trust’s Ignite Fellowship.
"An educational and moving read that I believe no matter where you fit in society, you can enjoy [...] Smith beautifully stitches together the beauty, tragedy and comedy that underpins rural communities today making her book a fascinating history lesson"
– The Scotsman
"The politics of land ownership and rural economics are complex and Smith deserves credit for grappling with some of this territory within an accessible and thought-provoking narrative. There's much to enjoy in Rural"
– The Herald
"Smith is uniquely positioned to harvest the stories of rural and ex-rural working-class communities and turn them into something approaching magic. Rural ascends to beauty because it manages something more than simple reportage [...] This book is tender, glowing, vitally important stories whispered into an ear"
– Kirstin Innes, Press and Journal
"A brilliant book about another side of working-class life, not a tower block in sight. Clever and honest, tackling slavery, loss and aspiration with humour and candour. I loved it"
– Kit de Waal, author of My Name is Leon
"A thoughtful, moving, honest book that questions what it means to belong to a place when it can never belong to you [...] Timely and illuminating"
– Cal Flyn, author of Islands of Abandonment
"Rural tenderly reveals the precarious lives that underpin the beauty and the wealth of our countryside. Essential reading for lovers of the land and its people"
– Katherine May, author of Wintering
"It is a wonderful book, beautifully conceived in its movement between different dimensions of a rural working life, Smith's and her family's and all the others, both past and present. And with a seriousness at the heart of it all [...] So immediate and clearly seen, so gracefully and gently written [...] It is such a valuable thing"
– Adam Nicolson, author of Life Between the Tides
"Too often, the lives of rural people have been overlooked or else romanticised, especially by writers. Not here. With uncommon insight, Rebecca Smith shows the hardship and precarity of rural life, alongside its rewards. She weaves family and social history, and shows how the inequalities and injustices of the past are still playing out across the land today. Warm, astute and sincere, Rural shows the British countryside as it truly is and always has been: a peopled place"
– Malachy Tallack, author of Sixty Degrees North
"Rebecca Smith has written an unsentimental and refreshing study of the countryside – how it is now and how it was then – asking who were the workers who created the countryside as we know it and what does the future hold for them and their successors? This is a neglected perspective and Rural is a welcome and timely book. Rebecca strikes an elegant balance between appreciating the beauty of the countryside while also graphically describing working class country lifestyles that could be brutal, dangerous and squalid. A wonderful debut that has made me rethink the history and geography of our countryside. Highly recommended"
– Catherine Simpson, author of Truestory and When I Had a Little Sister
"A vital, questing book about the often misunderstood past, hard present-day, and possible futures of rural life in the UK"
– Dan Richards, author of Outpost and co-author of Holloway