Fred has lived with us for about six months. We remembered him on the centenary of his death, 9th May 2016. We shall always remember him because he is the subject of our son Huw’s first published book, General Pa.
Huw had been hired by Reggie Heyworth, the owner of the Cotswold Wildlife Park, to edit the First World War Diary of his Great Uncle, Brigadier General Frederic James Heyworth. He returned from a day trip to the Wildlife Park with the two precious volumes in his rucksack last August, and so began his first paid job after graduation.
I have worked with a few authors. Often all I have done is transcribe or translate some tricksy handwriting. Sometimes my input has been right at the beginning, proposing primary sources, maybe even joining them on their first visit to the archives. So having an author in our home has been interesting. I’ve observed. I’ve listened. I did suggest primary sources, websites delivering images of sources, such as regimental diaries via The National Archives Discovery database. But little help was needed with twentieth-century handwriting. So I have simply enjoyed watching a writer and editor at work. Here are some of my observations:
- It really is work. Huw was up early and at his desk by nine, often working into the evenings and at weekends too.
- Total immersion is the rule with successful authors
- It’s a dialogue, with the sources, with other writers, and with whoever was available for a discussion about it (usually me on our walks with Toby the Terrier)
- Sources can be outdoors as well as indoors, and much much bigger than those hardback volumes in Huw’s rucksack; as well as archives, he also visited the Western Front and the place where Fred was shot by a German sniper a hundred years ago – in November 2015 when Belgium was practically shut down by both a terrorism alert and a national rail strike – there’s commitment for you.
- Writing is time-expensive, and Huw was very fortunate to have a good Patron in Reggie.
- All Knowledge work is like dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants. You have to understand what has been written before, whether Orthodoxy still holds, or Revisionism is sweeping it away. Not being in a University, but in the middle of a ‘gap year’, this meant daily deliveries of second-hand books and downloads of electronic texts and articles.
- Historians have transferrable skills. Forget ‘it’s not my period’. Huw had not studied the First World War at University, but he has certainly learned how to study and how to write.
- However solitary the research and writing, in the end getting a book out depends on team work. Andrew Chapman of PreparetoPublish not only elegantly designed the book, but very professionally project-managed it.
People often ask how they can get a copy of Huw’s book. General Pa: The Life and WW1 Diaries of Frederic James Heyworth was published by the Cotswold Wildlife Park, Burford, Oxfordshire, OX18 4JP, in 2016 (ISBN 978-1-905315-61-1).
This is a challenge for me: when is my next book going to be published?