BRADFORD, Haworth, Saltaire and Skipton are among the many towns and villages that have been the focus of books by a Yorkshire-based author and historian.

In just 12 years Paul Chrystal has written 130 books, turning his attention to dozens of communities across the region, looking at life in days gone by, from the people who inhabited them to the industries, education and social life of the time.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Paul with a selection of his booksPaul with a selection of his books

Through words and accompanying pictures he has brought the past to life in places from Bradford to Leeds, Harrogate, Knaresborough and Teesside. He has looked upon many communities through ‘then and now’ books, comparing scenes from long ago to how things look in the present day.

Paul has also written historical books on subjects as diverse as the history of sweets, pandemics, biowarfare, the ancient Greeks and the Romans.

Before starting a book he investigates whether the village or town has a good heritage, history and an interesting hinterland. “Most importantly, though, is the availability of old photos and a good archive,” he says.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: One of Paul's many booksOne of Paul's many books

Paul looks into the history of the town or village and at what has been published previously, and when.

“If the coast looks clear I’ll propose it to a likely publisher,” he says. “Once contracts are signed I’ll visit the place a few times to get a feel for it and see for myself what I’ve read about it. This has the advantage of exposing urban myths and any historic facts that are incorrect. It also enables me to photograph the ‘now’ for ‘then and now’ books.”

Paul, who has also been commissioned by publishers to produce local history books as well as books on other subjects, also talks to any local independent booksellers and scours the local library and archives for information.

He also has to buy images, which can be expensive. “Many councils charge £60 or more for each image, many of which they have obtained free from local families. They sometimes claim they are copyright holders when they are nothing of the sort.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: A tea party in OakworthA tea party in Oakworth

The internet is vital to aid research, he says, although it does contain inaccuracies and has to be used with care.

Paul studied classics at the University of Hull and was on course to become a teacher when he decided that he wanted a job in publishing.

“It was one of the hardest professions to get into and populated largely by ex-public school and Oxbridge people. So, I started work in Beverley Bookshop and then moved to what is now Waterstones at the University of Hull, all the while applying for jobs posted in the Guardian and The Bookseller,” he says.

“Astonishingly, six months later I got a job working for John Wiley & Sons, a major international scientific, technical and medical publisher based in Chichester and New York - a long way from Hull, where I returned to frequently to see the woman who is now my wife.”

He was later headhunted by another US medical publisher with offices in London. Thirty years later he retired, having been Vice President (sales) for Europe and Middle East markets in what had evolved into Elsevier Publishing, the world’s biggest health care publisher.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Saltaire in days gone bySaltaire in days gone by

Paul didn’t put his feet up, however, and went on to run Knaresborough Bookshop. It was then, in 2010, that he started writing books.

Sadly, it came about following the death of Arnold Kellett who was a prominent figure in, and past mayor of, Knaresborough.

“He had asked me my opinion of a publisher - Amberley - who had approached him to write a book on the town. After his death Amberley rang and asked if I could suggest a replacement author; I said yes, me - and that’s how it all started.

Knaresborough Through Time was his first book and is still in print. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was all very new to me despite having spent a lifetime with authors, production people and other aspects of publishing,” he says’

Getting up at around six, Paul usually begins his day with an hour’s walk before work. I have a break at 10am and for lunch, then another break at 3pm then dinner at around six. “By 3pm the creativity and productivity are flagging,” he says. “I’m a much better writer in the morning. I used to start again about 6.30 pm till 8 or 9 but I’ve largely stopped doing that.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Paul wearing a T-shirt bearing an appropriate messagePaul wearing a T-shirt bearing an appropriate message

“If it’s a straightforward history, I’ll usually arrange it chronologically so the chapters suggest themselves. If it’s more than history I’ll focus on a particular event, topic or theme, as in the case of The History of Sweets and 100 Pandemics, Plagues and Epidemics."

Paul, who lives in York - about which he has written extensively - also gets commissions to write pieces for magazines and newspapers, he appears on the radio and has helped the research teams on various TV programmes. He is invited to speak in schools and has been commissioned by various companies to write their histories, such as Mars Confectionery this year.

He currently has 12 books in various stages of production.

Paul loves his craft. “As with all books, you are learning something new; local history writing in particular gives a unique insight into a place - and you always find something new or little known, even in York where I’ve lived for more than 30 years.