A research student at the University of Bradford hopes to bring a ‘forgotten’ international best-selling author back into the public eye.

David Copeland, who has recently completed his Mphil at the university, has for the first time fully documented the life of Bradford writer Willie Riley.

Mr Copeland made the breakthrough in his groundbreaking research after questioning why his brother’s house, bought in 1971, was called Windyridge.

It was by chance, some 15 years later when his question was finally answered, when he stumbled across a book called Windyridge by Willie Riley in a charity shop and bought it for his brother.

Mr Copeland was intrigued by the novel and discovered Mr Riley was a Bradford-born writer who set his novels in West Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales.

The place names used were often fictitious, hiding real identifiable places, so Mr Copeland set about identifying the real places and discovering who Mr Riley really was.

Mr Copeland 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.”

A lack of information on the internet meant Mr Copeland had to rely on a few newspaper reviews of Mr Riley’s books in Bradford library.

But through staff at the university, Mr Copeland found the copyright of Mr Riley’s works belonged to the nephew of his second wife – and he later found out where another nephew lived.

It was there he was shown, and allowed to borrow, a collection of Mr Riley’s notebooks, scrapbooks and other archive material. University staff encouraged Mr Copeland to take his research further, so he decided to take up the Mphil.

Mr 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 friends’ encouragement, he managed to get a book published that he originally wrote for two recently-bereaved sisters who were his friends.

Windyridge was an international best-seller and in reviews was compared to Elizabeth Gaskell’s series of books about Cranford.

Mr Copeland said: “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.”

Mr Riley continued to write until the Second World War and published about one book a year, 39 books in all. At the time, his writing was compared to such authors as Thomas Hardy and JB Priestley.

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

Mr Copeland 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 of Mr Riley’s life.