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Spotlight on... David Wells (historical non-fiction)

David Wells is the director of research and heritage at the West India Committee.

The West India Committee (WIC) is a UK registered charity, not for profit organisation and the oldest body representative of the Commonwealth. Founded in 1735 and incorporated by Royal Charter in 1904, the West India Committee has attained recognition as Public Diplomats, and is a Consulting NGO to UNESCO. Due to its significance to Caribbean heritage, the West India Committee's archive and library is inscribed as a UNESCO Memory of the World collection.

About you...

When did you first develop an interest in history?

I've always had an interest from history, from a very young age.

What made you start writing?

My first book came out of a heritage project, and we found there was so much information we had found that we couldn't really utilise in the other outcomes, that it seemed sensible to write a book!

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?

Keep your sentences short and sweet.

Do you prefer to work alone or collaborate with other authors? Why?

It would depend on the topic I'm writing.

What genres do you like to read in your spare time?

A bit of fantasy, a bit of sci-fi and Classical Literature. Virgil's Aeneid has yet to be beat!

Which author in your field do you most admire, and why?

Straddling several different spheres of history it's hard to say, but with the research for my most recent book I would have to say J.W. Fortescue for his History of the British Army. The sheer scope of the work and the effort that must have gone into it over the decades it took for all the volumes to be published is incredible.

Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?

No, as a historian I know how frustrating it is trying to figure out who really wrote certain books!

How do you process and deal with negative book reviews?

Much like I would with feedback at school and university, take it onboard and try and address it in the next one.

What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

Always remember that someone other than you has to read the final work.

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

Accurate facts and clarity.

How do you approach research for your writing?

Never be afraid of where the research leads you, even if it contradicts your initial thoughts.

About your books...

How many books have you written and which is your favourite?

Three hard copy books and three e-books. My most recent hard copy book, The West Indian Soldier, would be my favourite as it has been the greatest challenge to date.

Which part of the book was the most fun to write?

Morbidly enough, the sections relating to the diseases that the British Army faced in the West Indies. It is absolutely fascinating how badly disease affected the Army in the region, how it affected the nature of warfare in the Caribbean and the efforts of doctors to counter it before the widespread acceptance of germ theory.

What part of the book was the hardest to write?

The history of the West India Regiments in the early 20th century. It was very difficult to access sources and there was not much available secondary literature.

What inspired the idea for your book?

The book was one of the outcomes from my latest heritage project on the Caribbean's relationship with the British Army, which in turn was born out of a previous heritage project on the Caribbean's Great War, when we realised that there really was not much public knowledge about the Caribbean contribution to the British Army or the role of the British Army in Caribbean history.

Who is your book's ideal reader?

Someone interested in Military History.

What is the greatest compliment you've ever received about your book?

"Very interesting and well researched"

How long did you spend doing research for your book?

A full year.

What would you say are the biggest challenges you've faced when writing your book?

Trying to do original research in the middle of lockdowns and a global pandemic!

A bit of fun...

What’s your favourite writing snack or drink?

Earl Grey tea with a slice of lemon.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My mother, from whom I've inherited my love of history and who I can always talk about ideas with.

If you could spend a day with another popular author (from your field or any other of your choice, fiction or non-fiction), whom would you choose?

My original degree was in Ancient History and I would love to spend a day discussing Ancient Greece and Rome with Mary Beard.

Do you play music while you write — and, if so, what’s your favourite?

Music is vital to my writing process. I listened to Dire Straits so much when writing The West Indian Soldier that Mark Knopfler probably deserved special thanks!

Click here to find out more about David's latest book, 'The West Indian Soldier'!
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