Author of Joseph, 1917

David Hewitt

David Hewitt

David Hewitt is a lawyer and writer and, like some of the people in Joseph, 1917, he sits on judicial tribunals. He was born and brought up in the place in which his book is set, Thornton Cleveleys, and he is interested in the law and what it does to people. He is also interested in the lost stories, especially those that shed fresh light on great events, and he enjoys bringing those stories back into the light.

Don’t be too focused, at least at the start

When I started the project that became Joseph, 1917, I had no fixed idea what it would be about. I wasn’t even sure it would end up as a book.

I knew there was a collection of old documents I might be interested in, but I didn’t know what it contained. I could get to the collection without travelling too far, however, and that seemed a good place to start.

I began by making a note of every case and the documents that mentioned it.  That took a while, especially as I was doing the research in my spare time, but it meant I could be very sure what I was dealing with.

At first, Joseph’s story attracted me simply because it had quite detailed records. It was only later that I realised how interesting and important the story was.

Don’t worry if you only know part of the story

After I’d looked in the records, I thought I might broaden Joseph’s story by finding about his family, so I went on one of those online genealogy sites. That was interesting, although I only ended up using a fraction of what I had found.

But what really makes Joseph’s story striking, and unusual, is what I found out somewhere else.

The case didn’t end in the records I had seen, it continued in the National Archives at Kew, and I was again able to get what I needed online.

So I think it’s also a good idea to pick a story for which there’s a fair bit of evidence, but also to keep your eyes peeled for other places in which that evidence might be found.

Be distinctive

I have read a lot of historical biographies, and they tend to take the same approach to their subject.

They talk about her grandparents and parents, about her birth and schooldays and about everything that came next – and they only get to the really interesting parts about half-way through.

I didn’t want my book to be like that. 

Although I do talk about Joseph's relatives, I only say as much as I need to in order to tell his tale. And there's absolutely nothing about what he did at school.

Almost all of the book is about the part of Joseph’s story that most interested me, and that’s the part I think will be most interesting for readers.

I wanted the story to be vivid – and so, in telling it, I wasn’t afraid of going off at a tangent.

The book is about what happened to Joseph, but it’s also about the odd and infuriating people he encountered and the strange place he called home.

And there’s just as much in the book about the old windmill that was done up for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, about the golfer who had shared a stage with Lillie Langtry and now had an awful lot to say, and about the little lass who lay in a coffin of glass. (She’s still there, by the way.)

Write the book for you

All would-be authors are told try to find your own voice.  That’s a cliché, but it’s true.

Don’t write to impress someone. Write as you speak.

When I had finished the first draft of the book, I went through it time after time, trying to make the language clear.

Although it’s a history book, it’s intended for a general reader, so I tried to imagine that I was telling Joseph’s story to my Mum. She’s no longer with us, sadly, but as I read what I had written, I thought about what she would say. I found that really helpful.

Stick to your guns

If, when you have your story, you find it interesting, other people will find it interesting, too.  Have confidence in that, and your confidence will come through in the writing.

For too long while I was working on Joseph, 1917 I was worried that people wouldn't get it. I kept going, though, because I'm stubborn – I get that from my Mum – and I’m glad I did, because people who have read the book tell me they love it.

And finally...

As anyone will tell you, there’s nothing special about me. All I brought to this was an inquisitive mind and a bit of perseverance.

If I can do it, you certainly can.

Good luck.