Category Archives: Alzheimer’s

The Special Edition Hardback…Where it all began

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!

Happy Birthday William…87 today

William E. Thomas, the author of Pegasus Falling and The Cypress Branches trilogy, was born on 2nd September 1925. Today was his 87th birthday.

To celebrate, the Thomas family gathered to wish him well. 87 is a lot of candles even for someone of a much younger age to blow out, so William made do with just one on his cake.

As many of you will know, William is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. He now resides in a care home in Milton Keynes in the UK. He is visited daily by his family and many friends who take every opportunity possible to spoil and make a fuss of him.

William received an early birthday present yesterday when we received the news that Pegasus Falling has been named as a finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012 contest. It is just one of five books in the running in the Literary Fiction category. This really is exciting news and the family are very proud of William’s achievement. It certainly put everyone in the mood for a party!

I’m sure all of his new friends in the indie publishing world would like to join the rest of his family in wishing William many happy returns.

I’ll leave you with a few more snaps from the family gathering earlier on today.

Happy reading,
Mike

Alzheimer’s and the author: The long goodbye

As many of you will know, William has Alzheimer’s. He began showing signs of dementia shortly after finishing writing the Cypress Branches 15 years ago. Since then, his health has deteriorated steadily and he is now cared for in a home in Milton Keynes in the UK.

It has been a struggle for the family to see a man so vibrant and intelligent in life slowly slip away from us.

Browsing through some old photos a few days ago, I found three photos of William with his wife Sheila, each taken 3 years apart covering the last six years. It is both remarkable and heartbreaking to see the difference in each photo.

The first was taken in April 2006 on a holiday in Somerset.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila on holiday 2006

The next was taken three years later, at the launch of the hardback book in July 2009.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila at book launch 2009

And most recently, this one, taken in March 2012, at the launch of Pegasus Falling.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila in 2012

Alzheimer’s is called “the long goodbye” for a reason. I was asked recently during a radio interview whether the family had said goodbye and the question floored me for a second. Although William’s personality and vitality has diminished rapidly in the last six years, there are still glimmers of him that come through. On most occasions, he won’t talk and rarely recognises members of his own family. We’re all prepared for the inevitable. He’s not going to get any better. And we’ve all been saying goodbye for a while now, but it’s so hard to do.

When, all of a sudden, he’ll fix you with a knowing stare and say, “hello mate”, instead of saying goodbye, you want to reach into that mind of his and say hello back, start a conversation, ask him what he’s been up to and share a joke or two. It would be wonderful to be able to claw back the man who wrote such incredible books, and to ask him the many questions I have about them.

Instead, the moment passes all too quickly and the understanding is gone again.

Radio days

I’m reaching the end of what has been a rather odd week.

Last week, we were contemplating putting the heating on overnight because it was so cold in the flat. This week, we’re basking in glorious early summer sunshine.

Last week, I was contemplating writing an email to Nick Coffer, presenter of the afternoon show on BBC Three Counties Radio with a press release about Pegasus Falling. This week, I’m just about getting over the trauma of appearing on the show.

The speed at which it all happened took me completely by surprise. The email was sent on Friday, a reply received on Saturday, appearance arranged on Monday and I was on the air on Wednesday. The downside of all this was that Nick didn’t have the chance to read the book before the item. The upside was that I only had a couple of days to panic.

Now, you’d think, me being a seasoned media professional, I’d be relaxed with the idea of being placed in front of the mic myself. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case. I’m much happier being behind the camera, and well away from the microphone, so on the morning of the show I have to admit I got into a bit of a panic. I was trying to put some notes together to make sure I had all the information I needed in my head beforehand, but I found that the more I worked on the notes the more nervous I became. So I stopped, printed out what I had and hoped I hadn’t forgotten anything – or at least had enough in my head not to be tripped up by any left-field questions I might be asked. On the train up to the studio, I got the notes out and started reading them. Again, the nerves started to jangle, so they were promptly put to one side again.

I’d managed to calm down a little when I arrived at the studio in Luton, about 10 minutes early. I had been surprised when Nick asked me to be there just 10 minutes before I was due in the studio. Coming from a television background, I’m used to there being a much longer lead in to an appearance. With no visual aspect to worry about in radio, there was no need for the make-up and wardrobe checks, the fitting of radio-mics, camera rehearsals, or the like that I’m used to. Instead, I was beckoned into the reception area and simply asked to wait.

This would have been fine if it hadn’t been for the fact that the station’s output was being piped over the loud speaker. When I arrived, Nick was talking to a doctor who was helping callers with their health problems. The nerves, which had been dying down, sprang to life again when Nick trailed what was coming next…me!

I had been told that I would be in the studio after the 3 o’clock news and would be talking to Nick for about half and hour. At 3, the news came on, and finished, and I was still sat in reception wondering if anyone actually knew I was there. Nick’s voice appeared again and he intro’d what was coming next again…me. But there I was, still outside in reception. When a song came on, suddenly the door burst open and in came Katherine, Nick’s producer. She beckoned me in, apologising for taking so long to retrieve me. It turned out the guest before me had broken her leg (weeks ago, not in the studio) and needed help leaving the studio.

The briefest of formalities, and there I was, sat in front of a green microphone and Nick with his bank of equipment. We had barely said hello when the music died down and Nick introduced me and the conversation started flowing.

The nerves were certainly jangling, and I was suddenly aware of my very dry throat. Katherine walked in with a glass of water, but I was unable to take a much needed draught, as I was the one doing most of the talking. Despite the lack of preparation on both sides, Nick knew just enough to get the story out of me and somehow I managed to make sense (I think).

Listening back, you can hear the nerves in my voice, certainly in the first half of the item. Thankfully, as the time went on, those nerves abated slightly and the shakiness left my voice. Nick has a clever way that good presenters do of making a nervous contributor feel at ease. The questions flowed and he gave the appropriate nods and gestures to let me know that what I was saying was interesting. All that being said, I’ve never been happier to hear the opening chords of Wet Wet Wet’s Goodnight Girl, a song I can’t stand, but it did give me an opportunity to finally whet my whistle from that glass of water which had been taunting me for the last 10 minutes.

At the end of the first half of the interview, we’d covered the very emotional story of William and his battle with Alzheimer’s. As Marti Pellow got stuck in, Nick said, “Lovely”. Then immediately apologised – it wasn’t the right word to use. It was lovely in a “good radio” sense, but the story itself wasn’t “lovely”. I told him not to worry, I knew exactly what he meant and certainly wasn’t going to take offence. It served to highlight just how difficult it is to talk about Alzheimer’s, and its leading role in the story of William and the book.

The only embarrassing moment in the whole broadcast came after Nick had cut off Marti in his prime. During the song he had briefed me about what he was going to ask in part 2 and I was deep in thought when he turned to me, mid-spiel and asked me a question. I had been so caught up in my thoughts that all I heard was “1952” and a question. I hadn’t actually heard what he’d asked at all! Hence my rather vague reply to a very easy question! Luckily, the rest of the interview went swimmingly.

In truth, the entire 25 minutes or so I was in the studio flew past, as I knew it would. A quick goodbye from Nick and Katherine before they whisked their next guest in to the hot seat and I was headed out into the glaring afternoon sun again, barely remembering a thing about what had just happened.

As I left, though, Nick asked me to let them know when It Never Was You is released. I’ll definitely be keeping in touch.

So, all in all, a successful radio debut. Hopefully it won’t be my last appearance. And hopefully my nerves won’t be as shredded next time!

If you missed it, or would like to listen to the show again, you can listen online by following this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00rjdks I appear 2 hours in to the show. It’s available until next Tuesday (29th May) before it is consigned to the iPlayer recycle bin. Enjoy!

Family gathers to launch Pegasus Falling

This post was originally published on acuteanglebooks.co.uk on 25th March 2012

Four generations of William’s family gathered today (Sunday 25th March) to celebrate the launch of Pegasus Falling.

The event took place at the care home where William is now resident, so that the man himself could be a part of the day. William, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, got into the spirit of the occasion by sporting a vintage paratrooper’s beret – similar to the one he wore as a member of the parachute regiment during and after the second world war.

The family raised a toast to William and the success of the book with a glass of champagne (orange juice for the kids!) and enjoyed the glorious spring sunshine before leaving William to his well earned afternoon nap.

Thanks to all the family for making the effort to attend the party and give the book the perfect launch.