David Hewson, author of the acclaimed Nic Costa mystery series set in Italy, describes his long journey to becoming a published author.....
I always did want to write
That much is true anyway. I grew up in and around the small seaside retirement town of Bridlington in Yorkshire. For a few years my parents ran a small children's home in a bleak position on the coast. It closed every winter. They had no car. But the place had a library so, weekend after weekend, that was there you'd find me, reading everything from Victorian classics to old American crime and science titles someone, in their ignorance, had dumped on us. In order to write fiction you need the ability to create an imaginary world, with imaginary people, inside your own head. A childhood like this helps an awful lot. Perhaps you don't need the dysfunctional part to get there, but I don't know many writers who had what the rest of the world would call a normal upbringing.
Wanting to write and being able to write are two different things, of course. I worked down an amusement arcade for a while, handing out change, taking money on the bingo stand. When I'd saved enough I bought a battered, ancient typewriter down the junk shop. That's all you need to be a writer, isn't it? The tools.
Wrong I vaguely recall the start of a book in which there was a nuclear war that left everything in the world intact except Bridlington, and no-one minded. It didn't get very far. Fiction requires more than a facility with words and an old typewriter. It needs life to flesh it out. So I did what someone with no other obvious talents than writing did back then. I got a job on the local newspaper, the Scarborough Evening News, and spent the next three years indentured as an apprentice hack. Covered a lot of flower shows and funerals. Got threatened with the sack for being idle once or twice. Survived to get another job. Survival is a skill to be learned in all writing careers.
I also learned ambition too. I liked journalism. It was a licence to ask impertinent, sometimes important questions that ordinary people would like answered but are too polite to raise. So, after provincial jobs in Carlisle, Hemel Hempstead and the East End of London, I found myself on the staff of The Times at the age of 25. I covered business, general news, the arts and the media during the 1980s. During the great newspaper upheavals of that decade I later quit The Times to work as acting features editor for the launch of the Independent. Once that traumatic episode had resulted in the paper's appearance, I decided to make a final attempt to earn a living writing books.
It was a disaster. A series of travel books on Spain and the UK cost as much to research as they earned, and I briefly returned to publishing to launch and edit a magazine for private pilots, Flyer. It was an enticing prospect, since it meant I had to obtain a pilot's license, flying in the UK, Europe and through the US for a few years. But the itch to write never went away and in the early Nineties I quit editing for writing once again, subsidizing those efforts with freelance journalism for national newspapers in the UK, principally about computers, technology and the internet. For a decade I had enormous fun turning out a lively and occasionally vituperous weekly column for the Sunday Times but I gave this up in August 2005 to focus on real writing. It was, by that stage, decidedly hard to get into the paper the kind of column I thought was warranted. A lot of journalism's gone soft these days, to be honest. After more than thirty years at the hacking coalface I find I miss it not one whit, though I may do the odd piece for someone from time to time, if they'll print it.
I have this luxury because, of course, I finally learned a little about writing books. After several abortive attempts, and at least three completed earlier novels, I found a buyer for the Spanish thriller, Semana Santa, which appeared in the UK in 1996, won the WH Smith Fresh Talent award for first-time novelists, and went on to be published in several different languages around the world, then turned into a movie. Since that time I've continued to produce a range of books at regular intervals, with locations as diverse as Spain, the US and rural England.
A Season for the Dead was the first in a crime series set in Rome, featuring the young Italian detective Nic Costa. The historical Venetian tale, Lucifer's Shadow, appeared in the US in August 2004. I research the books by commuting between home in the UK and Italy constantly, and learning Italian at a school in Rome. Five Costa books are now complete and at least six will be published in total. I am also working on other projects, none of which are quite ready for public view at the moment. Watch this space.
I live with my wife, Helen, a former PA on The Times, in a remote location on the North Downs in Kent, near Wye, not far from the English Channel. We've two kids - Tom, who is reading music at Oxford, and Kate, who is at UCL in London studying English. When not writing, I'm fond of food, travel and working on the development of a small vineyard by our house which should produce its first bottle of wine in 2007.
Whenever possible, I try to get out of the office too, to book events, conventions and anywhere interesting I am invited. So if you think it would be worthwhile, do get in touch. Oh, and the inevitable age question I was born on January 9, 1953.
Copyright 2005 David Hewson. All rights reserved. Reproduced from davidhewson.com by permission of the author.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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