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Important Bradford writer rediscovered

13 May 09

A research student at the University of Bradford has rediscovered a forgotten but important and popular Bradford writer, Willie Riley.

Willie Riley David Copeland, who has recently completed his MPhil at the University, started to make his breakthrough after questioning why his brother's house (bought in 1971) was called 'Windyridge'.  It was by chance, some fifteen years later when David's question was finally answered - he stumbled across a book called 'Windyridge' by Willie Riley in a charity shop and bought it for his brother.

David was intrigued by the novel after he read the story. He learned that Willie Riley was a Bradford born writer who set his novels in West Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales. The place names Willie used were often fictitious names, hiding real identifiable places.

David then set about identifying the real places Riley wrote about and discovering who Riley really was. He struggled when he found there was no information on the internet about the writer and could only find a few newspaper reviews of Riley's books in the Bradford public library.

Through staff at the University, David found out that the copyright of Riley's works belonged to the nephew of Riley's second wife - a little time later he found out where another nephew lived. It is there he was shown, and allowed to borrow, a collection of Riley's notebooks, scrapbooks, and other archive material.

When staff at the University realised David's enthusiasm and knowledge of the writer he was encouraged to take his research further. He decided to take up an MPhil at the University.

David's groundbreaking research has now for the first time documented, in full, the history of the major Bradford writer. Riley lived from 1866-1961 and until 1914 was the Managing Director of Riley Brothers, a successful Magic Lantern Company based in Bradford.

In 1912, with his wife's and friend's encouragement, Willie managed to get a book published that he originally wrote for two recently bereaved sisters who were his friend's.  'Windyridge' was an international best-seller and in reviews was compared to 'Cranford'. He continued to write until the Second World War and published approximately one book a year - 39 books in all. At the time, his writing was compared to such authors as Hardy and Priestley.

He was also a major figure in northern Methodism, and was a dedicated local preacher for 75 years.

David has now put together the only complete bibliography of his writings, including short stories, articles and lectures that have been lost for many years and a complete biography on Willie Riley's life.

David said: "From my research it appears that Willie was a warm, life-affirming writer who was really proud of Bradford, the Dales and West Yorkshire. It was really important for me to bring this really successful but forgotten author back into the public domain so hopefully people can rediscover his works."

13 May 09

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For further information please contact the University of Bradford Press Office on 01274 23 3089/3084.

Out of office hours call 07879 437996. Alternatively, e-mail or fax on (01274) 236280.