My name is Matt Lewis, and I’m an author. There. I said it. Does that count as Step 1? Acknowledging the sickness that has taken a grip on my life. Mind you; I’m not sure it can be called a sickness when it’s what you’ve always wanted.
I studied law at university, and although I can’t say I enjoyed the course, it teaches some valuable transferable skills around research, structuring and presenting an argument, dealing with counterarguments and public speaking. I could hardly have known the way in which it would prove most useful, but they are skills I have been able to apply throughout my work life. I’ve had an eclectic career history. Studying law put me off working in it, and I never really settled into any particular career. I worked in product management, customer service management, project management, IT, and ran my own business, a boarding kennel and cattery, for twelve years.
During that time, I never lost my interest in history. It began at A-level, largely due to a fantastic teacher, and I almost took a history degree before switching to law. When we studied the Wars of the Roses, it grabbed hold of my imagination and has yet to let go, more years later than I care to count. I was particularly fascinated with Richard III, and in my spare time over about ten years, I wrote a novel about his life, really just for fun. When some friends read the finished thing they suggested I send it to publishers, but I ended up self-publishing it, mainly to show everyone how badly it would do. For the first six months, it sold hardly any copies. I could smugly tell everyone I’d told them so while I cried inside.
After those six months, Richard III’s remains were unearthed in Leicester. It was the kind of publicity I couldn’t have paid for, and suddenly the book sold a lot of copies. With all the hype surrounding Richard III at the time, a lot of which was factually incorrect, often wildly so, I started a blog to try and set the record straight where I could. If got some traction, and then a commissioning editor emailed me through my blog to say they liked the way I wrote, and would I want to write a (real, proper, traditionally published) book for them. After checking if it was a joke several times and picking myself up off the floor, I jumped at the opportunity.
Since then, I have written several non-fiction histories. The first was a history of the Wars of the Roses. I have also written biographies of Henry III, Richard Duke of York and Richard III, as well as an account of The Anarchy. I have also contributed a couple of short histories to a series as well. All in all, it’s been a hectic but productive eight years. My next book due for publication is a joint biography of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine due for release in July 2021. I am currently working on a book on medieval rebellions, and amongst those I have contracts for is a biography of Warwick the Kingmaker. The legal training has definitely paid dividends in this career lurch. I also had the huge honour to recently present two documentaraies of History Hit from the Tower of London, one on the Princes in the Tower and one on escapees from imprisonment there. It was a mind-blowing experience which I hope to be able to repeat.
Part of trying to make a success of writing is being active on social media. I’m often (too often? I should be writing!) on Twitter @MattLewisAuthor, I have a Facebook page with the same name and am on Instagram @MattLewisHistory. If I am asked for advice for aspiring writers, it is simply to write. Practice and refine the skill, and tell stories that people will want to read. If you’re like me, you will never believe what you write is any good. That’s when someone like Eleri at Newgen, who was that first commissioning editor to contact me, is so valuable. They will see beyond modesty or a lack of self-belief and help direct you towards success. I told Eleri the other day she had created a monster, and it was all her fault. And it is, because without her belief and guidance, I wouldn’t be where I am today.