Ben Beazley talks about researching and publishing Leicestershire history
Local historian Ben Beazley was born in Leicester, England, in 1943. Since retiring from a 30-year career in the police force he has devoted his life to researching and writing about the history of Leicestershire.
To date he has published three books, Four Years Remembered: Leicester During the Great War, Peelers to Pandas: an Illustrated History of the Leicester City Police and Wartime Leicester.
Kaye Axon interviewed Ben Beazley via email over the course of several days between July 20 and July 24.
How did you get into writing about local history?
When I retired from the police I decided to take some time out to work on a project about Leicester during the First World War. As the research progressed I found that I had accrued a large number of photographs and an immense amount of knowledge, which together resulted in my first book, Four Years Remembered: Leicester During the Great War.
How do you do your research and what are the main hindrances to your research?
I still work in almost the same way as when I first started. Do a lot of leg work in tracking down photographs and illustrations, combined with hours of trawling through material at the local Records Office. Plus of course going out and interviewing people who have stories to tell.
It is notoriously difficult to get published as a local history writer, what do publishers look for and how do you pitch your work?
Non-fiction work is far easier to get published than fiction. Basically, you need first to decide upon a subject that is going to be of interest to a reasonably wide readership. After that it is a matter of doing your research work and sourcing a sufficient amount of photographs — publishers are not interested in a history nowadays unless you can illustrate it adequately — you will need a minimum of 100 pictures for an 80,000 word project.
Your next hurdle is to interest a decent mainline publisher…I personally would never go for a vanity publisher who will charge you a huge amount of money just to print your work and then leave you high and dry because they don’t have any distribution network to link into. To interest a publisher you need to show that your work is good quality and that it will appeal to sufficient people to make it commercially worth their while taking you on. I always try to pitch my work at two groups, the average person who wants a decent read, and the serious student who wants something to use as a reference book. With a bit of practice the balance is quite obtainable.
Do you ever feel that you have to compromise in order to make a book more commercial?
No. If you illustrate correctly and choose,(hopefully), interesting material to write about you should be alright. Also, once you are established with a publisher, they tend to leave you alone. Having signed on the dotted line, my contact with Sutton’s — who are my publishers — is minimal, there may be one or two queries at the editorial stage, but other than that, I personally have no problems of interference.
Tell me about your new book Post War Leicester: An Illustrated History of Leicester 1945-1975.
Post-war Leicester, as the title suggests is about life in the city after World War Two, and is the sequel to my last book, Wartime Leicester. It explains what life was like in the city between 1945 and 1975. I particularly enjoyed dealing with the period because it was the time when I was growing up and eventually settling down to raise my family, so I tended to have quite a lot of knowledge in the first place, which helped in the research work.
When can we expect to see it on the shelves?
Hopefully it will come out in December this year, ready for Christmas. It is already with the publishers, so I just have to keep my fingers crossed that they will not have any slippage.
What will be your next project?
I have had tentative discussions with Sutton’s, and it is a spin-up whether we do a photographic album or a book on murders in the city in the 19th and 20th centuries. Hopefully we will do both — it is mainly a matter of deciding which one to bring out first.
This article was first published on OhmyNews International.