‘A country boy with a fossilized village upbringing and a close affinity with the natural world, I was naturally drawn to Hardy, and to this story in particular with its deliberately evocative title. And I imagined the book would be a literary extension of my own rural habitat. We lived out between the sea and the fields – where horse-gear still jingled and the farmers still laid out the harvest as they had done for centuries in house-high haystacks. Hardy’s rustics were people I knew personally. In my adolescence I conducted the customary love-affair with language and literature. I mooned around country churchyards, pretending I was – not Thomas Hardy, but Thomas Gray . . .