With the onset of a night of hot restless summer 1989, two men slip into the dark fields of England to produce amazing works of art that fascinate and confuse the nation.
Two conspirators, one a former Falkland War soldier and the other an eccentric traveler, come up with huge intricate crop circles in wheat and barley fields, leaving no trace other than their plans and disappearing before dawn.
In Benjamin Myers ’film The Perfect Golden Wheel, released on May 17 from Melville House, the two, Redbone and Calvert, are linked in their secret project while the nation rages with protests and police. Even as the book explores a 33-year-old historical moment, his concerns – income inequality, police brutality and climate change – remain extremely relevant.
“There have been a lot of violent clashes around Stonehenge that is visually very strange to see. All these types of free hippie punks and the police are attacking with shields and truncheons, ”said Myers, who was 13 in the summer of 1989.
“So that was the whole background that was going on during the day. But meanwhile in the same district at night there were men and women who went on these amazing artistic adventures, doing something much calmer and more beautiful. ”
Myers spoke from his home in Hebden Bridge, a small art town in West Yorkshire between Leeds and Manchester in England. A journalist whose work has appeared in The Guardian, Mojo and Le Monde, Myers ’books include“ The Offing, ”“ Pig Iron, ”and“ The Glows Pole, ”the latter of which is adapted for television. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The question. The “perfect golden wheel” includes crop circles. What interested you in this?
The idea came to me in the summer in the middle of a sown field. It seems to have arrived. In the summer of 2019, my previous novel “The Offing” came out in the UK and I was just burned out, worried and a little exhausted.
I went out on this field. It was June, it was sunny, and the thought came: you need to write a novel about two men and they will go out into these fields like you do now. It will be 10 chapters, each of which is a circle in the fields, unfolding in the summer of 1989. It was a duration of 10 seconds. I just thought [bleep] you, I don’t want to write a book, I’m exhausted. But I went and made a few notes, wrote it all down and put it off for a few months. And then I sat down and wrote everything from start to finish and finished a week before the first COVID closing in early 2020.
The question. During your research, did you learn anything about crop circles that you have left?
I’m not so interested in crop circles by themselves; I’m interested in when they happened, and that was in the UK in 1989, and I’m more interested in who and why than how. So you’ll notice that in the book I’m not actually touching on any of the conspiracy theories, UFOs, or anything else, because it was all debunked pretty early on.
I really wanted to explore the idea of who did it and why, because it’s an ego-free activity. Nowadays, when you do creative work, you want it to have your name on it, and you want recognition. So the anonymity of the creators of the crop circles attracted me to them.
At the same time, to write about that world, I needed to do research. One of the things I learned is that most of the British crop circles were created by two farmers who were really humble and unpretentious, who came forward and said, “Yeah, we did it, and that’s how we did it.” and kind of debunked all conspiracy theories in 30 seconds. They did this with some boards and some pieces of rope.
I was drawn to this idea because crop circles cannot be monetized. These are wonderful examples of landscape art, but they cannot be sold, they cannot be put in a gallery. And the only people who actually made money on it were a few enterprising farmers who instructed people to travel to their land, or the British press, which sent planes to take pictures from the air.
The question. My first experience with your work was collecting “Gallows” while traveling in England. Can you talk a little bit about this book?
Book, it was like a slow burning thing in the UK; he came out five years ago and he had a real, sort of, little indie band. Before I started writing it, I had an idea like “The Sopranos” or “The Wire”, but the action takes place in 18th century Yorkshire.
In fact, the point is that the neglected lower class is taking matters into its own hands, in this case through a criminal campaign. But I thought the gap between rich and poor, which is currently widening in Britain, was felt then and can be felt today.
Q: Do you have any idea why the interest in “The Gallows” went beyond the usual publishing cycle?
Not at all, no. I mean, it’s word of mouth, I think, and booksellers have backed it up. It started really locally, it was first published by a small independent publisher that was about a mile from here, Bluemoose. We kind of built it in Yorkshire, then in the north of England, then all over England and the UK. And then she got that award, the Walter Scott Award for historical fiction, which turned out to be a pretty big deal. This is the world’s largest award for historical fiction in terms of the prize you receive [roughly $30,000].
Now it has been shot and directed by Shane Meadows. He seems to be a really popular cult director here. So, I guess that brought him to some other level of visibility. And I am in that strange period when this series was filmed, but it was not broadcast, and I’m waiting for it to come out.
It’s a long answer to say I don’t know. I don’t know why it’s constantly growing.
Q: In the book you touch on climate change, and there is almost a sense of retrospect, a melancholy hope that 32 years ago we could see what was happening and act then.
Yes, definitely. This was something that probably appeared a little later when I was rewriting the book. I thought I needed to do this.
Over the last few years, things have accelerated irrevocably, and I kind of wanted to go back to the naivety when we knew nothing about climate change or global warming. All we knew was what we were told in the news, and it was a very simplistic version, supposedly plastic was not discussed, disposable plastic or how the oceans are full of poisons.
I don’t look like some hardcore activist; I’m just a person who realizes how bad it is and feels absolutely helpless. You know, I recycle and try to use a reusable cup for coffee and stuff, but it seems so useless. I wanted to capture what is felt today, but through the prism of the past and how naive we were.
I think most people would like to save the planet when it comes to this, but there are so many distractions and so many everyday details of life that you have to go through. I don’t have the strength at all, but my only way to handle it is to write stories that I hope will make people, even if it’s just a few thousand people, stop and maybe think of something different.
The question. In your new book, one of the characters says, “It’s not about patterns or crops, it’s about the land.” Do you think this is an excessive line in your work?
Yes, I think so. This is probably what I wrote about most often with the idea of climate change. I mean, I like the village and I spend a lot of time just wandering; our house kind of opens up, just behind the fields, and then the hills, then the empty swamps and empty ponds. And so I draw a lot of inspiration from the earth.
But I am also aware that the landscape is always changing and it is natural that it happens. I don’t think it should stay the same, but I feel a lot is changing for the worse. For example, every time I go back to Durham, where I grew up, I see plots of land that turn into shopping malls or strip clubs, they can be called shopping malls. And that’s just for the rest of my life. I see that a lot has changed. And this change is usually for retail location, or now when I drive down the highway to visit my parents, and just before I come to Durham, you can usually see this cathedral that was built 1,000 years ago . Now you see a huge Amazon warehouse blocking the horizon in the middle of the fields.
So I just realize that the landscape needs protection and at least with respect. And that’s what stands behind everything I write, especially this new novel. The point is that two people respect the land on which they work. Because when crop circles were made and printed in the press in the 1980s, there are many stories, if they were not about aliens visiting, then about these terrible hooligans and vandals who destroyed crops.
But in fact they were not; did so so that the harvest was restored. And I like the idea that these crop circles are disappearing almost like invisible ink, you know you can do something, and in a week it’s going to disappear. So I wanted to take into account the fact that these guys were artists who used their fields as canvas. And perhaps this is such a metaphor for some of my thoughts on how to respect landscapes and use them more thoughtfully.