My favorite books that feature the lives of coal miners

Why am I passionate about this?

I write fictional, contemporary gay mysteries, but I prefer to read facts and I enjoy the research that accompanies my storytelling. Industrial history and geology fascinate me, so it isn’t any wonder that I set my tales in the Durham hills of northeast England. As some of my videos in the link show, there are many abandoned quarries, lead and coal mines in the area. I can become emotional when I think about the socio-political history of mining and quarrying. My latest tale reflects my interest in quarrying and my five recommendations reflect a passion that has its roots in the UK’s once thriving, now defunct, coal industry.


I wrote...

The Refuge Bid

By Jude Tresswell,

Book cover of The Refuge Bid

What is my book about?

The Refuge Bid is a gay mystery and relationships tale set in fictional Tunhead, northeast England. Is there a link between a woman who has been missing for ten years and the people bidding to buy and redevelop Tunhead’s decommissioned church and graveyard? Can the County Durham Quad and their special friend, Nick, find out and stop the sale—one grave is special—and can they raise the cash to counter the bids with an offer of their own? Success involves their drawing on Tunhead’s industrial history and on employing their different skills but, also, they must each acknowledge what they really want from their unusual liaison.

(Note: explores asexual/ sexual relationships and contains references to teenage suicide and conversion therapy.)

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Measures for Measure: Geology and the Industrial Revolution

Jude Tresswell Why did I love this book?

My sole non-fiction choice. I love the scope of this book: the early engineers and industrialists who were involved, the palaeogeological conditions that made coal deposits possible, the legacy of burning carbon, and, chapter by chapter, a description of most of the coalfields of Britain and the landscapes that resulted. Add poems and songs and paintings and you have a wonderful book. My sole gripe: the illustrations are too tiny. The breadth of content deserves something better.

By Mike Leeder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Measures for Measure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Measures for Measure features once greatly-disturbed landscapes - now largely reclaimed, physically at least, by post-industrial activity. Yet the surviving machines, buildings and housing of the original Industrial Revolution, founded mostly upon Coal Measures strata, still loom large over many parts of Britain. They do so nowadays in the family-friendly and informative context of industrial museums, reconstructed industrial settlements, preserved landscapes and historic townscapes. Our society and its creative core of literature, visual arts and architecture were profoundly affected by the whole process. The British Carboniferous legacy for wider humankind was profound and permanent, more so with the realisation over…


Book cover of Billy Elliot

Jude Tresswell Why did I love this book?

Billy Elliott is a miner’s son who wants to be a ballet dancer. This is an adaptation of Lee Hall’s original screenplay and, to me, lacks the feel of a novel, but I’ve chosen it for three reasons. It’s set in County Durham. It challenges traditional, macho values. It’s as good a description as anything I’ve read that describes aspects of the UK miners’ strikes of the 1980s. When Jackie, Billy’s dad, says, "There’s coal behind everything in this country. It’s still down there. We’re not,” you can sense the anger, hurt, and bitterness—and, forty years later, just like the coal, those feelings remain.

By Melvin Burgess, Melvin Burgess,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Billy Elliot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Billy Elliot's not like his Dad. He doesn't want to learn boxing. He's not cut out to be a miner. But when he stumbles across a ballet class and discovers he's a natural, he realises what he does want to do. This is Billy's gritty and determined struggle, at first in secret, but then with the wholehearted backing of his family, to dance his way to a different future.


Book cover of How Green Was My Valley

Jude Tresswell Why did I love this book?

Another book that features striking miners but, this time, set in Victorian Wales. It’s more fiction than autobiography, but I do believe in its portrayal of a family trying to deal with the change from Victorian values to more modern ones. The father clings to his belief in traditional forms of authority and in the power of prayer. The sons believe in unions and fighting for what they feel are workers’ rights. There’s more to How Green Was My Valley than that, but I felt I learnt something. It hadn’t occurred to me that the growth of unions could be so divisive within families. In fact, until I read the book, I knew very little about union development. It came at a price.

By Richard Llewellyn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How Green Was My Valley as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

All six episodes of the BBC adaptation of Richard Llewellyn's classic novel set in a Welsh mining community at the turn of the century. Gwilym (Stanley Baker) and Beth Morgan (Siân Phillips) work their hardest to provide for their children, but these are the years before the unions improved the miner's lot, and times are very hard indeed. However, the community in which the Morgans live is a close-knit one, and they are grateful for all the help they receive, especially from the Rev. Gruffydd (Gareth Thomas).


Book cover of Sons And Lovers

Jude Tresswell Why did I love this book?

Another book that features sons. Lawrence’s father was a Nottinghamshire coal miner and there are many little details in the book that attest to the author’s knowledge of nineteenth-century mining family life. I’ve chosen Sons and Lovers because, to me, it asks an unanswerable question and so the tale has stayed in my mind. Did Lawrence despise his own father as much as fictional Paul, influenced by Paul’s mother, despises Walter Morel? I’d love to know. I sympathised with Gertrude, the wife and mother, but I felt so sorry for Walter. He worked hard in a terrible job. He became old and tired before his time. Yes, he was uncouth and illiterate, but I felt he deserved some praise, not contempt.

By D.H. Lawrence, Taylor Anderson (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sons And Lovers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sons and Lovers is the critically-acclaimed story of Paul Morel, a second son who must discover his own identity in the shadow of his mother’s overwhelming presence and influence. A budding artist, Paul must choose between his responsibility to his mother and his desire to explore the world and fall in love. Faced with the chance for a future with two different women, Paul must decide what he truly wants and whose opinion—his own or his mother’s—matters most.

HarperPerennial Classics brings great works of literature to life in digital format, upholding the highest standards in ebook production and celebrating reading…


Book cover of Pure

Jude Tresswell Why did I love this book?

This final choice reprises the idea that a miner’s life was hard, though that isn’t the focus of the story. The plot sounds unpromising, but I loved Pure! Set in the time of Louis XVI, a provincial engineer is tasked with demolishing a Parisian church and relocating the bones of its graveyard. He employs a motley crew of coal miners to carry out the work as he knows they’ll have the necessary strength, stamina, and skill. One little episode that featured them stayed with me. The engineer stands on a platform to address the miners but years of crouching in narrow coal seams have bent and misshapen them so much that they can’t stand straight enough to see him. He was shocked. I wasn’t.

By Andrew Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD (2011)

A year of bones, of grave-dirt, relentless work. Of mummified corpses and chanting priests.

A year of rape, suicide, sudden death. Of friendship too. Of desire. Of love...

A year unlike any other he has lived.

Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. Into their midst comes Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young, provincial engineer charged by the king with demolishing it.

At first Baratte sees this as a chance to clear the burden of history, a…


You might also like...

The Good Woman's Guide to Making Better Choices

By Liz Foster,

Book cover of The Good Woman's Guide to Making Better Choices

Liz Foster Author Of The Good Woman's Guide to Making Better Choices

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always loved reading and its ability to take you far away to a distant time and place and lift you up. As a kid, I never left the house without a book, and the ones that made me laugh were my go-to's. I believe the ability to make people laugh is a truly special talent, especially while making the text relatable, so the reader’s always asking, wow, what would I do in that situation? My readers often tell me that my writing sounds just like me, which is wonderful because there’s no need to pretend. You will always know what you’ll get with me!

Liz's book list on make you laugh and leave you smiling

What is my book about?

A heart-warming and hilarious novel about the highs and lows of marriage, fraud, and goat’s cheese.

Libby Popovic is a country girl who’s now living a golden life in Bondi with her confident financier husband Ludo, and their two children. When Ludo is jailed for financial fraud, and Libby’s friends and family lose tens of thousands of dollars as a result, she feels agonisingly complicit.

Matters go from atrocious to worse when her possessions and home are repossessed, Libby is sacked, and a priceless family heirloom is wrecked. While camping out at the family goat farm, Libby must re-evaluate her life choices. How will she crawl out of financial ruin? Can she make amends? And can she save her family from falling apart?

The Good Woman's Guide to Making Better Choices

By Liz Foster,


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in coal, geology, and coming of age?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about coal, geology, and coming of age.

Coal Explore 18 books about coal
Geology Explore 49 books about geology
Coming Of Age Explore 1,211 books about coming of age