The Dearne Valley these days is somewhere you whizz through on fast link roads to get from Doncaster to Barnsley and Rotherham. But until the 1990s it was one of the most important coal mining areas in Europe and home to numerous pits, producing top quality coal (some, from the Brodsworth pit, supplying the sovereign due to its intense heat producing qualities). The Valley tells the extraordinary story of an ordinary Dearne family for pretty much the whole of the twentieth century and beyond. Epic in scope (it's over 500 pages long) and novelistic in its sense of place, character and story it is extremely difficult to put aside once you start it. The fact that it is totally engrossing is largely down to the author's knowledge of the fine details of his family life - he has obviously spent many hours speaking to friends and relations and mined deep into the history of family and community. What emerges is full of incident, love, disaster and triumph against the odds.
Richard Benson tells the further story of his own branch of the family in The Farm. Published before The Valley it is an equally fascinating story.