Bearmouth

Ambitious and darkly brilliant... provocative, tender, claustrophobic and epic. It blew my mind.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Bearmouth - Liz Hyder
Cover by Yeti Lambregts

Time down here is a diffrent thing see. Lyke on the other side you sees seesons change, leeves grow bold an grene an fayde to gold an red, then drop off and kirl up and disappear into snoe. But Bearmouth is black. Black an warm an dark an wet an full o coal. All days all weeks all year. Forever and ever. Amen.

Life in Bearmouth is one of hard labour, the sunlit world above the mine a distant memory. Reward will come in the next life with the benevolence of the Mayker. Newt accepts everything, that is until the mysterious Devlin arrives. Newt is soon looking at Bearmouth with a fresh perspective – questioning the system and setting in motion a change of events that could destroy their entire world.

Inspired by Liz’s research into the working conditions of early Victorian coal mines, Bearmouth shows an imagined world where workers are treated as little more than pit ponies, both living and working in the dark depths of a mine. Told first person, Bearmouth explores ideas around exploitation, truth and class through the unique voice of an extraordinary young person who dares to question the status quo.

Find out more about the idea behind the book.

Pushkin Press / Hardback / 19 September 2019 / £12.99

Liz Hyder is a writer of true courage.

David Almond, winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal, author of Skellig, My Name Is Mina

A mighty impressive piece of work... compelling, powerful and utterly unique. The voice of Newt is so original, demonstrating a lyrical dexterity in such a brilliant style. I loved the claustrophobic nature of the mine and the wider society as a whole.

Brian Conaghan, winner of the Costa Children’s Book Award, author of When Mr Dog Bites, The Bombs That Brought Us Together

Set in an intense, darkly claustrophobic subterranean world and told in a distinctive first-person dialect, Hyder takes on big themes of oppression, justice and resistance in an ambitious, memorable debut.

One to Watch, The Bookseller, June 2019

The most memorable, different and stunning YA book I’ve read as bookseller, baby editor, talent scout reader or author since Mortal Engines... Bearmouth is *that* fresh and new, and that exciting ... A brilliantly original new voice in YA.

Katy Moran, author of Hester and Crow, Wicked by Design

Clearly destined for greatness... It’s going to be huge, and deservedly so. It will stop you in your tracks. It will grip you, bewitch you, haunt you. It's a brilliant, brilliant book.

Nicholas Pegg, writer, director, actor

Darkly brilliant. I was totally immersed... subterranean and claustrophobic and a vivid voice telling the story.

Gill Lewis, author of A Story Like the Wind, The Closest Thing to Flying

A hugely atmospheric read... a page-turner for sure.

John McLay, Artistic Director, Bath Children's Literature Festival

A great achievement — deeply moving, original, profound.

Chloe Dunbar, Director at Ways with Words, Head of Development at Hera Pictures

Limited edition

The hardback first edition of Bearmouth comes with red end papers and red sprayed edges.

£12.99 each + P&P. Available from Pushkin.

The Mayker’s Prayer

The Mayker’s Prayer, which features prominently in Bearmouth, has been hand-set in metal type and traditionally letterpress printed by Dulcie Fulton of Mostly Flat. These limited editions are printed as they would have been in Victorian times, on a cast iron early 1900s foot-powered treadle press. The print is designed to nestle happily within the book, either as a bookmark or as a little gift.

£3 each + P&P. Available from Mostly Flat.

The idea behind the book

Stories are hidden everywhere, in the buildings that surround us, in the people we walk past in the street and in the ground beneath our feet. I had known about Victorian child labour since my school days, the small children darting between noisy looms in the cotton mills in the north, the chimney sweepers coughing and spluttering in the dark vents, but somehow I had forgotten about the child miners. It wasn’t until a trip to the Welsh coast a few years back when I ventured down a slate mine (“here’s a torch and a hard hat, mind your head”), and came face-to-face with some of the horrors of what it was really like for children to work in that environment day after day, that the idea for Bearmouth was born.

Since then I have been down lots of other mines — coal and slate – read numerous books on the subject, listened to and sung old miner’s songs and read many first-hand accounts from child miners in the early 1840s. What I learnt was horrifying. Children from the age of four working 12—hour days, six days a week. Children with sores on their heads and legs from dragging and pulling heavy loads, children whose bodies were twisted out of shape from their work, children who fell asleep into their food on a Sunday because they were so tired. Children killed in explosions, crushed to death, drowned or suffocated.

In Bearmouth, which doubles as both the title of my book and the name of the fictional mine in which the novel is set, much of what happens is inspired by the research that I did. I didn’t want my Bearmouth to be an actual Victorian mine but more a fictional Victorian-esque mine, one in which I could set a page-turning fable about truth and hope, about the power and importance of asking questions.

It may surprise you, it may shock you even, to find that there are still children working in mines around the world, open cast mines in the Congo, for example, where coltan is mined (it’s in your phone, your laptop, your computer, it’s in the device you’re likely reading this on now). Child labour and exploitation hasn’t gone away, it has just changed, transformed itself into something else but, as ever, it remains hidden from view. I hope that in a small way at least, Bearmouth and those who read it will bring it to the surface again.

Liz Hyder