Bringing History Alive for 21st Century Children; A Dedication to Research Has Paid off for Novelist Paul Dows Well as His Sea-Faring Adventure Stories Bring History Alive for Children. SALLY HOBAN Went to Meet Him PROFILE

The Birmingham Post (England), March 29, 2008 | Go to article overview

Bringing History Alive for 21st Century Children; A Dedication to Research Has Paid off for Novelist Paul Dows Well as His Sea-Faring Adventure Stories Bring History Alive for Children. SALLY HOBAN Went to Meet Him PROFILE


Byline: SALLY HOBAN

One of Paul Dows well's two cats is watching me from the window of his Victorian house when I arrive to meet him. She's a beautiful, longhaired creature but Paul tells me she can't work out how the cat flap works, which means it gets draughty inside the house as he has to leave it open for her all the time.

"So are you warm enough?" he asks, almost as soon as he's welcomed me inside the house.

He offers me a choice of three or four varieties of tea and within a few moments we're settled in his peaceful office upstairs, steaming mugs in hand.

Two guitars lean against a bookshelf and piles of research material wait to be brought to life. A set of framed postcards hang on the wall by the door. A small, brightly coloured plastic crocodile and a dinky, happy looking tin robot overlook Paul's desk.

He is the author of the children's book trilogy Powder Monkey, Prison Ship and Battle Fleet, which tell the story of a boy sailor called Sam Witch all. Battle Fleet was published at the end of last year and in it Sam becomes a midshipman aboard Nelson's Victory and takes part in the Battle of Trafalgar.

It's a heady, exciting and fast-paced read.

Paul has also written non-fiction books for adults and children.

He was born in Chester and moved to Wolver hampton in 1991 with his wife.

"I worked for the Science Museum and the National Science Archive before moving into publishing," he says. "My favourite job was a researcher at Time Life. The editors there liked the way I presented material so suggested I start writing as well. I composed voluminous diaries and long letters as a teenager but stopped writing my diary when I began to write professionally.

"I've written over 60 books now, which makes me sound like a terrible hack! History is my specialist subject but I also enjoy writing about nature, science, geography, in fact almost anything apart from golf and mechanical engineering."

Paul also worked at Usborne Publishing, where he wrote a series of True Stories books which retell real events in a fictional style. Two of these books were shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award two years running.

"For a brief, glorious moment around this time I was hot property, so I got an agent who suggested I should write fiction. I was making quite a good living writing non-fiction and I suppose I'd pigeonholed myself. However, living in Wolver hampton rather than London meant that financially I was in a better position to do what I liked. So I decided to give fiction a go.

"I've been very lucky in my writing career so far. My agent got me a great deal with Bloomsbury for my three historical novels and I have a great editor who helped me learn on the job.

"He stops talking for a moment and looks down at his feet because he's remembered he's left his slippers on. He was going to put some shoes on before I arrived, but forgot.

"So why does he write children's books?

"That's quite difficult to answer," he says.

"Actually I'd like to think my books aren't just for children and that adults enjoy them too.

People who read Patrick O'Brien's novels often like my work. I don't just write for boys either, I'd say half my audience are girls.

"What links all my writing is the desire to get my reader to think about what it was like to be in a historical situation, for example how did it feel to be a lad in Nelson's army?"

So why did he choose to focus on that time?

"I was looking for an exciting story to tell. I was researching naval warfare at Wolverhampton Library one day when I saw a copy of an 1825 painting called The Fall of Nelson by Denis Dighton."

He pulls a book from one of the shelves to show me the picture. It's a bloodthirsty, smoke-filled scene on board ship, brimming with fighting men.

"What intrigued me as I looked at it was this figure here, who is a boy of about 12 years old.

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