Socialist Worker

David Peace interview: GB84’s shadowy forces ranged against the miners

Issue No. 2142

The police at the Bilsten Glen mine near Edinburgh (Pic: John Sturrock)

The police at the Bilsten Glen mine near Edinburgh (Pic: John Sturrock)

Your book, GB84, is forensic in its detail about the Miners’ Strike, yet you would have been quite young when the strike was happening. What made you take such an interest in it?

I was 17 when the strike began and was studying for my A-levels at Wakefield college, which is at the centre of that mining area.

So there was no getting away from the strike, even if I had wanted to, because it involved so many people I knew.

By the end of the strike, to my shame, I remember wishing it would just go away.

But later, when I was writing the four books that form the Red Riding Quartet and remembering the time and the place that I grew up in, I knew that the strike was a big part of that.

Initially I planned to end the quartet with the strike. But those Red Riding books really deal with the effect of the crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper and the police investigation on the community.

I felt it would be a disservice to the strike to “tack it on” to this quartet of crime books.

So the strike book became GB84 and I researched it for over a year – reading all the books that had been written about it, all the newspaper reports and listening to the music of the time as well.

I also spoke to a few people who had been involved. I was very lucky that two miners who had been on strike for the year spoke to me as well as someone who had been “inside” the Yorkshire National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and someone from the “other side”.

I found GB84 a very traumatic book to read, partly because it brought back so many painful memories and partly because I knew how the story had to end. Was it a difficult book for you to write?

At the risk of sounding dramatic, it was a difficult book to write emotionally because of the guilt I felt as I researched and wrote.

Despite growing up in that area and living there during the strike, I realised that I hadn’t truly appreciated the sacrifices that the striking miners had made, nor the intimidation and violence that they had been subjected to.

As I say, I had known many people who had been directly involved and I had worn my “Coal Not Dole” sticker, given what I could and even collected sometimes.

The band I was in at that time had played some local benefit gigs too. So, of course, I had “supported” the miners. But I now know it wasn’t enough.

Did the strike impact on you personally as someone growing up in Yorkshire? How did it affect your political outlook at the time?

At the time of the miners’ defeat I think that, like many people, I felt relief that it was over but also an incredible sense of despair and impotency.

This then became a kind of political apathy and lasted a long time. But writing the book reawakened my political outlook, so to speak.

GB84 is a crime novel with the strike as the context. What made you choose to intertwine the stories of murders committed by shadowy paramilitaries alongside the narrative of the strike? Was it supposed to tell us something else about those times?

To be honest, I slightly regret the crime element of the book now – or at least some of it. I think when I was writing it, between 2001 and 2003, I lacked the confidence to write without the crime element.

However, there WAS a “shadowy paramilitary” presence in the actual strike – techniques that had been used by the British in Northern Ireland were used in the pit villages. Agent provocateurs and MI5 were present.

So I hope this element gives some impression of the forces that were ranged against the strikers and the nature of those forces.

Do you think that the strike revealed anything that has continuing relevance? Does the current recession make the strike and the experience of the mid-1980s more important than before?

The defeat of the miners signalled a dramatic shift in labour relations and employment conditions in Britain, and everyone still lives with this legacy.

And the subsequent closure of pits had a massive impact on all the mining communities, not only in Yorkshire.

Among their many, many sins, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown unforgivably made no attempt to repeal any of the Conservative anti-union legislation that was enacted before, during and after the strike.

And now, as ordinary working people suffer the consequences of the present recession, the lack of any real trade union protection will be felt more than ever.

One of the aspects of GB84 I liked best was the way it illustrated the panic that gripped the government and ruling class at several points in the strike. Why do you think that this is generally left out of the Miners’ Strike story when told today?

When the strike is talked about, written about or filmed these days, there is a tendency to focus on, say, only the women’s groups, or to engage in some kind of nostalgia for the banners and the badges.

And I understand this, because it is trying to take something positive from a tragedy.

However, I wanted to try to show the complexity and entirety of the strike – and from both sides. The strike involved, either directly or indirectly, millions of people.

So when I wrote the book I wanted to try to illustrate that fact and to have as many different perspectives as possible – both from the union side and the other side.

What kind of reaction did you get to GB84 from those who read it? Did you get any feedback from miners or others in the trade union movement?

I’ve only ever had kind and generous words about the book from people involved in the strike.

It is interesting, though, that the book got a lot more media attention – and sold much better – when it was translated and published in France and Italy, where the strike and the defeat are regarded as absolutely pivotal moments in post-war British history.

For a political event that had such an intense impact on so many people’s lives, the Miners’ Strike receives relatively little attention in contemporary culture. Why do you think that is?

I think the strike itself remains a difficult subject culturally because for many people, myself included, it is a source of shame and guilt.

But GB84 has just been optioned and I am very, very hopeful that it will get made for either film or TV.

GB84 by David Peace is available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to »

Red Riding, an adaptation of three of David’s Red Riding quartet of novels, is currently on Channel 4 on Thursdays at 9pm, while the film of The Damned Utd, which is an adaptation on David’s novel on Brian Clough’s time at Leeds United, is out at cinemas on 27 March

David Peace

David Peace

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