Paolo Hewitt spent eight years in care. He is author of over 20 books including Colour me Father: An Open Letter To My Son* a worthy companion to his classic memoirs But We All Shine On and The Looked After Kid. A prolific writer including The Fashion of Football and biographies on Oasis, Paul Weller and The Jam as well as the re-released and updated Bowie: Album by Album is the ultimate celebration of Bowie’s entire career culminating in the critically acclaimed Blackstar.
Colour me Father: An Open Letter To My Son is Hewitt’s tribute to his son Rafi. On August 21st 2015 at 10.30 pm in an Archway hospital, Paolo’s son Rafi Supino Arif was born. As Rafi started to grow, one thought kept repeating itself in Paolo’s mind. Would he write about him or the experience of raising a son? The answer was always no. He goes on to describe how the book grew:
There was no handle for me to grab onto so I put it to one side. Until his first birthday. It was there that Rafi first heard applause and the look on his face hit something inside of me. Within a week I had begun writing Colour me Father. Actually, to be truthful I had started writing a book called On the Dawn of Your First Smile, which I loved as a title but which in those Google days of ours would not work. I fell upon Colour Me Father, passed it by some friends and got the thumbs up.
After I had written about his birthday I then found myself writing about dreams and pigeons and Sister Patricia (May God rest her soul) and fatherhood and Wood Green and Robert De Niro, and it became apparent to me that I should let the words flow, just write what came to mind.
I also saw that I was fulfilling a lifetime mission – that of paying homage, in my very very limited way, to a piece of literature that ranks as one of the finest in my mind – Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis. This is a letter that Oscar wrote to his boyfriend whilst serving his last year in Reading Gaol. (In the first year of his imprisonment the authorities refuse d to allow him to write and I think that one of the cruellest punishments ever heaped upon an artist.)
During the writing of Colour I only read De Profundis. I would start it finish it, start again. My thinking was that if just one per cent of its quality rubbed off on my work, then I would stand a chance of producing something very worthwhile.
My writing process was quite simple. In the morning when walking Rafi to a nursery session, I would plot out the book in my mind. I would then put those idea into a small Dictaphone that I carry with me . Back home, I would write out those ideas and then on Saturdays I would head for the British Library where I would spend all day writing.
Sundays I would rest, Mondays the process would start again.
One Saturday I was in the British Library and had just finished a passage when the thought forcefully occurred, that’s it, you are done, you are finished. Create an ending and then exit. You have said all you need to say. And as I advise Rafi in the book, in life always follow the heart not the head.
That is what I did. I obeyed the thought my heart sent me.
The book is short compared to others but it stops where it needs to stop. To carry on would have diluted its strength.
I think it my best work to date. I hope you do as well.
It’s an absolute honour to welcome Paolo to the blog. Colour Me Father, is a beautifully written book which will take your emotions on a stunning journey as well as illustrate the amazing power of love.
Tell us of your journey as a writer.
Got the call at age 14. Read NME and the lightbulb went on. This is what I want to do. Everything went into the pursuit. Told my English teacher at age 15 of my plan. Was laughed at. At age 19 knew that I would have to leave Woking and get to London. Enrolled at North London Poly. First stop, signing up to College Paper to be a music critic. Second important step – the walk to Camden Tube station every Tuesday lunchtime to buy the NME. One week sold out so bought Melody Maker – can’t get heroin get methadone was the thinking. Opened up paper to see advert for young workers. Sent off pieces written for college paper Tuesday afternoon. In editor’s office Friday evening. Staff writer within a year. Obsession drove me.
What made you choose to write about care experience?
I always knew that at some point I would but I also knew I would have to wait until I was ready to do so. Which meant not starting the book until I was forty years old. I wrote it for two specific reasons. A) I wanted kids in care to have a book that tried to sum up the experience and had the potential to inspire them- especially if they themselves had leanings towards the written word. And 2) I wanted to make as much money as possible and live my life exactly how I wanted to.
Do you have any personal experience with the care system, fostering, children’s homes etc?
Yes I was in care 1958 – 1961 – and then 1968 to 1976.
Orphans, those in foster care or children’s homes, often feel they are stereotyped by their past. How aware of this were you whilst writing your story?
Not at all. I just wrote my story. The biggest compliments I got for my books on care were Care Experienced adults saying that is exactly how I felt. Often moved me to tears often when I so complimented
What is the meaning of the title?
One day I took a break from writing and read in the paper that the then Prime Minister, the brilliant Gordon Brown, was considering giving looked after kids a thousand pounds when they left care. I had never seen us described as looked after kids. And I thought it very pertinent to my experience in that I was looked after – I was given a roof and three meals a day but emotionally and psychologically I was anything but.
What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?
What #diverse characters do you think are missing from literature?
British working class.
If you could recommend one book for your readers, what would it be?
Colour Me Father by Paolo Hewitt.
Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?
I was always drawn to Oliver Twist but later developed a real fondness for the Artful Dodger. Don’t know what that says!
Follow Paolo on Twitter: @PaoloHewitt1
*Colour Me Father, read by Paolo is also available as an audio book.