It was in 2008 when it struck me that I could make my grandfather's dreams of becoming a published author come true.
William had been showing signs of dementia for many years, and was finally diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer's disease in 2006. The family and I could only watch as the disease took away a small piece of him every day. As his memory faded and confusion made him start to shrink inside himself, my mind kept turning to the great manuscript which he had finished writing less than 10 years previously.
|The original manuscript which I read 15 years ago. It has stayed with me ever since, both physically and emotionally, and will stay in my possession for a long time to come. The book has changed quite considerably since this version was printed, but it's still recognisably The Cypress Branches.|
I had been one of the lucky few people to have read the manuscript shortly after it was finished. I spent a summer wrapped up in the characters and tales within its pages. It was a beautiful novel, one which had a profound effect on me. I learned so much about the war that I hadn't known before. I fell in love with the characters; laughed at their jokes; frowned at their indiscretions and cried with them as their tragic story unfolded before me.
The manuscript is huge. The pages aren't numbered, but they must total well over 500 A4 sheets, single line spaced and point 10 font size at that. But I was gripped, and consumed it whole. The fact that this wonderful story came from the mind of my Grandfather made it all the more beguiling, but I knew for sure that this was a book which would have wide appeal.
Having been passed around between a select few friends and family, the manuscript's last stop ended up being with me. I put it safely away and time passed. It went with me as I moved, first to university and then to work in London. Every so often, I would take the script down from the shelf and flick through its pages, reminding myself of the funny and moving passages within it, wondering if one day it might actually get published and be read by more people.
It's a sad fact that it was William's worsening health which finally kick started the whole idea of getting it published myself. William had approached a few publishers shortly after finishing the book, but had only had the usual rejections which so many first time novelists receive. He'd become dejected, and I'm sure his health had something to do with the fact that he soon gave up. He handed me the floppy disks which contained the original files and told me that if I wanted to have a try, I had his blessing.
So, try I did. I knew time was short, because William's short term memory was getting worse by the day. It was obvious to me that he was unable to partake in a prolonged editing process, so I set about editing the manuscript myself.
I was determined that I would produce a professional product which William and the family could be proud of. And I wasn't just content with printing the manuscript as is. I'm a freelance television producer and often have long spells between projects. I used these periods to work on the book, poring over the pages and correcting the mistakes which inevitably creep in when an author is pouring the story onto the page.
I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I learned new skills (I took a course in proofreading and copy-editing), discovered a lot about publishing and printing, and immersed myself in the process, spending hour upon hour inspecting the script, designing the cover, creating the interior and making sure the formatting was just so.
The result was a hardback book as epic and formidable as the novel within it. At nearly 700 pages, I just about squeezed the entire manuscript in. I worked with the printers (the excellent Biddles) to make sure that it wasn't too large (any larger and the spine would have become unstable). William finally had his book in print, and I couldn't have been happier.
|You won't find a collection of these on display in Waterstones! Only 108 copies were printed, and only a few remain...|
William wrote the original story as one novel split into six "books", with a prologue and epilogue wrapping the story up at each end. The hardback version contains the story in this form. My role as editor was to tidy it up only where needed. What is contained in the hardback is William's original concept with as little meddling as possible.
The printing is top-notch, thanks to the fantastic people at Biddles. It has a blue cloth cover with silver inlaid lettering and a glossy jacket (with artwork courtesy of my father, Dennis Harris). It's a beautiful thing to adorn a bookshelf, and it has taken pride of place in the family's collections.
The main intention behind making this book was for William to see his work in print. For that to happen, we didn't need a huge print run, so the minimum - only 108 copies - were made. It will never be produced in this form again. It's something special for those who have one to treasure, and to make it even more special, each copy comes with its own certificate to prove it's one of the original print run.
|The special edition hardback. Only 108 were printed, and each comes with a certificate to prove it came from the first and only print run. Owning a copy is the only way of reading The Cypress Branches as William wrote it (i.e. before I turned it into a trilogy). |
It was the production of this hardback which made me realise that there was potential in what I'd done. Those who tackled the massive tome loved it, but to the man they all agreed that its size made it too impractical. The hardback would never be a viable option to produce on a large scale, so thoughts turned to producing a paperback version instead. And for that to work, it would have to be split into shorter segments.
And so here we are with Pegasus Falling winning accolades and awards around the globe and It Never Was You about to be released.
We've come a long way since I first started work on the hardback. I've learned many more lessons (and put those learned on producing the hardback to good use too!) and the support has been tremendous. Thankfully, I was able to get the hardback printed in time for William to enjoy his success. He was overjoyed when we presented him with his copy. He was bewildered, but a very proud man. And the four generations of Thomases who turned out that day to celebrate with him were all very proud too. Unfortunately his illness has progressed to the point where he is unaware of the success that Pegasus Falling has had, but I'm sure he'd be chuffed that people are finally enjoying his work.
Out of those 108 copies, there are only a handful left. As the other intention of this whole exercise is to get William's work read, I've decided to give them away as perks in our Indiegogo campaign. They're special books, so I've reserved them for the top contributors.
If you'd like to be one of the very few people to read the saga as William originally intended, and help me get William's novels into the hands of more readers, then grab the "Special Edition" perk at indiegogo.com. But be quick! When they're all gone, they're all gone.
To contribute to the campaign and help me complete William's heartbreaking trilogy, head to http://igg.me/p/310787/x/2088376
Remember to grab your perk! A contribution of just £3 ($5) will entitle you to the Pegasus Falling ebook. For £10, you will receive the paperback edition of It Never Was You in the post before it goes on general release!
Labels: Alzheimer's, crowdfunding, hardback, indiegogo, Special edition, The Cypress Branches, William E. Thomas