The story of how Pegasus Falling came to be published is possibly as tragic as the story within its pages.
William Thomas, my grandfather, was born in 1925. He started work as a messenger at theBBC at the age of 14. When war broke out, he went to work with his father at a factory in Harrow. While still a teenager, William joined the army and was soon recruited in to the Parachute Regiment. By May 1945, he had been “dropped” in to a number of key battles and become a much decorated soldier. He was still only 19 years old. Following the war, he served in Palestine until 1948.
William has six children. As they were growing up, he was working and studying in shifts as a merchant seaman and an engineer. He was one of the first students to enrol at The Open University and in his mid fifties, he decided to work there full time as a lab technician, remaining there until his retirement in 1990.
Having become quickly bored of the life of a pensioner, he looked around for something to keep him occupied. A lover of the arts, in particular music and literature, he bought himself an electronic keyboard (he is an excellent jazz pianist) and a word processor, having decided to sit down and write a book.
Drawing on his own eclectic experiences in his life and career, William wove together an intricate story of love, loss, friendship and betrayal. The book became a work of passion, taking him nearly two years to complete. Working from dawn till often way past dusk, he would tap away for hour upon hour, the story seemingly flowing from him in an unstoppable stream. At the end of each day’s efforts, the new pages would be printed out and handed to his wife Sheila for review. He became besotted with his characters, and by all accounts, so did Sheila.
As the last pages were finished, the manuscript was handed to a select few family members and friends. Having seen my grandfather poring over this epic work for so long, I was eager to get my hands on it myself. Having just finished studying for my A Level exams at the time, The Cypress Branches finally arrived via my mother and I spent a very happy summer devouring its pages.
Like my mother, grandmother and William himself, I fell in love with the characters and sobbed, often with laughter, but also with genuine anguish as the story unfolded. At the time I had no doubt that this was a story which had to be told. Some efforts were made by William and Sheila to contact publishers, but as is often the case with first-time authors, none took it up. We begged William to keep trying but he became disheartened. I was determined to help but as university life beckoned, somehow the book was pushed to the back of our minds.
But it never truly left my thoughts. The manuscript went with me to university and has stayed with me wherever I’ve lived since, always with the thought of pursuing that dream of publishing it one day.
Shortly after finishing the book, William’s health started to deteriorate. His memory was failing him and he was finding it harder and harder to do the things he most enjoyed. First he gave up driving, then the cryptic crossword, which he’d completed every day without fail for decades, went blank. His normally exquisite cooking faltered, reading his beloved books became impossible and then even watching films became difficult – the 90 minute narratives too long to follow.
Six years ago he was diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer’s Disease, confirming what the family already suspected. It was difficult for us all to watch a man so vibrant in life, such an intellectual, continue to deteriorate and slowly become a shadow of his former self.
One day, quite by chance, I found myself picking up the manuscript and dusting it down after many years of it sitting undisturbed on a high shelf. Suddenly the thought struck me that perhaps now was the time to set the wheels in motion again to see if we could get it published.
I explored many avenues, but finally decided on self-publication, the main reason being that William’s health was deteriorating rapidly and I wanted to get the book published as quickly as possible in the hope that it would still mean something to him.
The Cypress Branches was published in its full length form as a limited edition hardback in 2009. Four generations of his family gathered on launch day to see William presented with the first copy. William’s reaction was exactly what I had hoped. He was thrilled to see the book, and kept hold of his copy, leafing through its pages for the rest of the day. The memories of his days writing it came flooding back and he and I had fun remembering the emotional moments, both comic and tragic, scattered throughout its pages.
I had rushed the book out in order to beat the rapidly progressing dementia William was displaying. And we only just made it. Thanks to the fuss we made of him that day, the memories lingered for that little bit longer. But he wouldn’t always remember, so in the weeks and months after the launch, Sheila would often put the novel in front of William for him to leaf through. When he couldn’t remember what it was, or its significance, she would remind him of that special day and he’d beam with delight, discovering once again that he’d had his book published.
Flushed with the success of the hardback, our thoughts turned to publishing a paperback for wider distribution. In its full length, The Cypress Branches is truly epic and ambitious. Weighing in at just shy of 365,000 words, the hardback is a large, heavy tome – a treasure to have on the bookshelf, but not exactly an ideal companion for the daily commute.
Thankfully, the episodic structure of the novel lends itself to being split into smaller instalments, so the decision was made to adapt it into a trilogy of paperbacks. So it was that I took on the challenge of becoming William’s editor, working on it between jobs until finally, in March 2012 the first part, Pegasus Falling, was ready for release.
In turning William’s book into a trilogy, I have endeavoured to stay as true to his original vision as possible. The minimum of editing has taken place; some small scenes have been deleted entirely, but only for the sake of clarity. Nothing has been added – what you read in Pegasus Falling is all William’s work.
In the three years between the publication of the hardback and the release of Pegasus Falling, William’s health has continued to deteriorate to the point where he can no longer live at home. Now in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, he lives in a care home in his home town of Milton Keynes, 50 miles north of London.
Pegasus Falling was launched at another family event held at the care home in March this year. Although we made sure that William was able to be a part of the launch day, his reaction was far less profound this time around. Whether he is aware of the paperback’s release or not, I have no idea. What is important now, to both me and his loving family as a whole, is that his work is published and seen by as wide an audience as it deserves. What’s tragic is that although his legacy will live on, he will never know of his success.
Part two of the trilogy, titled It Never Was You, is scheduled for release later this year. Part three will follow in early 2013.