The Borrowed Hills

'A sucker-punch of a novel' Guardian

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Pub Date 11 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 18 Apr 2024

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‘Sundown turned the far horizon red and with the smoke spilling up it looked as if we’d set all Cumbria afire’

With foot and mouth disease spreading across the hills of Cumbria, emptying the valleys of sheep and filling the skies with smoke, two neighbouring shepherds lose everything and put aside their rivalry to join forces. They set their sights on a wealthy farm in the south with its flock of prizewinning animals. So begins the dark tale of Steve Elliman and William Herne.  

Their sheep rustling leads to more and more difficult decisions, and Steve’s only distraction is his growing fascination with William’s enigmatic and independent wife, Helen. As their home comes under the sway of a lawless outsider, it is left to Steve to save himself and Helen in a savage conflict that threatens an ancient way of life.    

Lyrical, cinematic and steeped in local folklore, The Borrowed Hills is an uncompromising vision of farmers lost in brutal devotion to their flocks, the aching love affairs that men and women use to sustain themselves and the painful consequences of a breath-taking heist gone bad. The Borrowed Hills is a thrilling adventure that reimagines the American Western for the fells of northern England. 

‘Sundown turned the far horizon red and with the smoke spilling up it looked as if we’d set all Cumbria afire’

With foot and mouth disease spreading across the hills of Cumbria, emptying the valleys...

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ISBN 9781399812849
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

Scott Preston's debut novel, The Borrowed Hills, arrives razor-sharp, a brutal tale of foot and mouth disease in Cumbria and the lengths some farmers go to make a living in those beautiful hills. It's language is rich, evocative of Cormac McCarthy and Faulkner at times, but cut through with Cumbrian grit.

William Herne and Steve Elliman, two local farmers, seek to reverse their fortunes by rustling livestock from the south. It is an unusual tale, its plot description sounding like something from 19th Century frontier America, but this is the story of desolate, burnt farms, dimly lit service stations and rural life in the modern age.

This is a startlingly brilliant debut, one which gripped me on every page. For me it's sure to be one of the highlights of 2024.

Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the ARC.

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Brilliant: bleak, funny and beautifully written. It's refreshing to read something so original.

Full review on publication.

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A visceral, wind-shorn, scathing immersion into the realities of making a living as a sheep farmer when foot & mouth disease reared its raw-mouthed head. The language is evocative, a grimace on the page, and resonant of the landscape and hardscrabble life it describes. It’s the fictional equivalent of Bella Bathurst’s Field Work (also excellent), and shares the same focus on what working on the land does to people.

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A stunning, visceral debut from Scott Preston who has written a book drenched in the oppressive atmosphere of the Cumbrian hills during one of the worst periods in the lives of hill farmers.

Steve Elliman is our narrator. He comes back to his family home to help his father during the cull of sheep due to a foot and mouth outbreak. I remember seeing the scenes of farms, farmers and families devastated by the wholesale destruction of their cattle and sheep. It was a horrific time.

After the sheep are gone Steve goes to the neighbouring farm to help out William Herne. Once William's flock is gone he leaves, going on the road far from the death and destruction. It is on his return that the trouble begins to spiral out of control and Steve is swept along with Williams increasingly dangerous schemes to save his farm.

This book is a real gut punch of a novel. The descriptions of the farmers' ravaged flocks, the struggle that they go through to save their livelihoods, are starkly drawn. The characterisations of William and Steve are of men who have led hard lives since birth and their determination to carry on is often heartbreaking.

Scott Preston has delivered an uncomfortable but excellent novel that brings to life the horror of the foot and mouth outbreak, the poverty that hill farmers endure but also the strength and determination that they have to show every day.

Highly recommended. I look forward to Scott Preston's next work.

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This was phenomenal. More often than not a novel has a strength in either its writing being lyrical, descriptive, emotive, or its characters are well rounded, and alive. This has both. It felt so balanced that I didn't know when to put it down, hence, I flew through it. A strong contender for my Book of the Year.

Thank you Scott Preston.

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