Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

Jason Hewitt walks into a South Kensington hotel for our interview, a mixture of well-dressed and bohemian style. He exudes the aura of artist and carries it with aplomb. Quietly spoken, he’s here to talk about his debut novel, The Dynamite Room.

Hewitt spent his youth in Oxford, going on to study at the University of Winchester. Seeking the bright lights, he now resides in London (Wimbledon) although he assures me it is the dodgy end of Wimbledon. Are there really bad areas in Wimbledon, famed for its tennis tournament? There are, he assures me, and he lives there.

In 2005 Hewitt gained his MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, a place that heralds a number of recent literary stars including Nathan Filer, winner of the Costa Book Award, who provides an admirable testimonial on the front cover of Hewitt’s book. In fact both Filer and Hewitt share a place on the longlist for the Desmond Elliott Prize.

Success has taken its time to come to Hewitt. He is an actor, playwright and now novelist. His previous work has gone largely unnoticed; his first novel languishes in a drawer after it was picked up by an agent, but not sold to a publisher. However this year Hewitt has enjoyed enormous success. His first full-length play, Claustrophobia, will debut later this year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and his debut novel, The Dynamite Room, has just been released to much acclaim.

With a background steeped in a passion for history, his degree was in English and History; he continues his fascination with research securing himself a place in the ranks of historical fiction writers. The Dynamite Room is set in 1940 over a period of five days. Hewitt conducted much of his research at the British Library, a place he can often be found reading and writing away from the frenetic London scene.

In between acting and writing Hewitt also worked in publishing although he says he was in educational publishing which was not terribly helpful for a budding novelist. However Hewitt’s experience as a writer and actor has surely added to his ability to write a startling debut novel.

Hewitt used his acting contacts to pull off a fabulous launch in The Vaults under Waterloo station. To get the guests in the mood there was live 1940s music, scenes from the book were re-enacted, and gas masks were provided as well as spam sandwiches. The Bookseller called Hewitt’s event an “interactive theatre launch”. Hewitt conceived and pulled off the entire event himself, a feat that he says has left him indebted to many people, but secured him a good deal of publicity including a spot of BBC Radio 4’s Open Book.

His love of the stage imbues his work allowing him to relish his public readings. His two main characters in The Dynamite Room, Heiden, Lydia’s captor, and Lydia, give him scope as an actor. Heiden’s German accent and Lydia’s youth provide no great challenge for a man who has performed Shakespeare on stage.

The one surprising element in Hewitt’s book is the lack of dialogue. For a playwright it seems strange that he has steered so resolutely away from dialogue. Hewitt says it was never international, he is quite partial to dialogue, his upcoming play is all dialogue!

Preferring to write historical fiction rather than contemporary fiction, Hewitt is currently working on his second book which is set in 1950. He says he is slowly creeping forward in time, but does not want to go too far as his preference is to write at a time when social media did not hold influence.

The Dynamite Room has been released in the UK and Australia and will be released in the US early next year. Working hard and patiently waiting for his time to shine has paid dividends for Hewitt who this year reaps the benefits of his endeavours.

As Hewitt heads off he carries a bag of what looks like pots and pans, he doesn’t divulge the contents, only that he is returning items to his publisher that were used at his launch. He is just "popping in", he says, obviously enjoying the fact that he can just pop in to see his publisher just down the road in London.

The Dynamite Room is out now, published by Simon and Schuster.

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