Category Archives: Pegasus Falling

#Arnhem70: William the Soldier

One of the few photos we have of William in uniform, taken in Palestine c.1947.
One of the few photos we have of William in uniform, taken in Palestine c.1947.

I wish I could tell you more about who William the soldier was. Very few details about my grandfather’s time in the army are known by me or the family. Why? Because he very rarely talked about it.

In fact, I don’t recall ever speaking to Gramps in any fine detail about the war until after his retirement. He found it very difficult and there were only certain aspects he was willing or able to talk about. It was only when he began writing that he began to open up about his experiences.

He kept no personal mementos from the war or Palestine. There are only a few pictures, probably captured on a box brownie, and then dating from after the war ended.

So what do we know about William the soldier?

We know that he signed up at the tender age of 17, leaving a job in a factory in Harrow in order to join the fight against fascism. We also know that he took up the offer of joining the newly formed parachute regiment for no other reason than they were offering a few extra bob a week in pay. We know he undertook his training at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.

He was only 18 years old when, 70 years ago this week, Private William Edward Thomas, along with thousands of his comrades, was dropped from a plane into a field on the outskirts of the Dutch village of Oosterbeek, and took part in a ferocious battle over the next 10 days to secure the strategically important bridge over the Rhine. It was a battle which was to have a profound effect on the teenager (strange to think he was only half my age now when he was there).

As so many others did, he made some deep and lasting friendships whilst he was in the army. Whilst many undoubtedly never returned from the fighting (or returned to the regiment later, having been captured and taken prisoner) they were all remembered fondly for a long time after.

Once William began to open up, most stories and anecdotes involved those friends. One in particular, Wally Callis, seemed very important to him. Even as the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease took hold, memories of Wally and their escapades would come back, together with the disappointment that they eventually lost touch (Wally emigrated shortly after leaving the army). By all accounts, it seemed that Wally and William – or Bill as most people seemed to call him – were an inseparable pair. Was it their double act that inspired the piano playing duo, “the Twins”, featured in Pegasus Falling? Gramps was an accomplished, if amateur, piano player, and I can just imagine the two of them entertaining their fellow troops in raucous revelry in the mess.

It was in the army that William took up boxing, which he claims to have been very good at. I’d love to know if he was! He had the right build for it, and he maintained an interest in the sport throughout his life, something which surprised me, as he was a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist. But there was something about the art of boxing, the controlled aggression perhaps, which fascinated him.

Photo: Gramps in PalestineThere are so many things about William the soldier that remain unknown, though. His exact role at Arnhem is unclear, although his recalling of events in his fiction shows that he was intimately involved on the front line. I’m not sure when or if he ever progressed to a higher rank than Private. We have no medals or uniform to give us a clue. How did he get back to the UK after fighting in Arnhem? Was he one of the many who were evacuated after the operation failed?

What is clear is that his experiences left a heavy toll on him. He may have gotten through his time in the army physically unharmed, but Arnhem, and indeed Palestine, left him mentally scarred. He had signed up to fight because he felt morally obliged to do so, but he left the army with the unwavering attitude that war is wrong, and must be avoided at all costs.

He did not feel proud of what he did in battle. The very fact that his medals and uniform disappeared, and that he did not open up about his experiences for several decades afterwards, tell you a lot. When ever the subject of the war came up, his very strong opinions would be aired. What happened was necessary, given the circumstances. What he was asked to do had to be done. But it was wrong, very wrong, and the circumstances which lead to him having to undertake such tasks should never have presented themselves in the first place. Not only that, but he did all he could to champion peace and prosperity for the rest of his life.

He may not have been proud of his actions as a soldier, but one thing is clear. He had utmost respect for his fellow soldiers on the front line on both sides of the conflict. And that respect is clear to see in his writing. His characters live and breathe the same conflict he lived through himself. They take orders, they fight, they banter, they suffer, they laugh, they fall in love, just as he did out there. He may pull no punches in his criticism of those in charge, but there is no doubting the empathy with his fellow fighters who had to live with the consequences of the decisions that had been made above their heads.

A lot of the gaps in our knowledge of Gramps’ time out there could possibly be filled by reading his books. Undoubtedly, much of what happens in The Bridge and Pegasus Falling is based on his own experiences, and I am so glad he left us these stories as they give us some clue about what he lived through.

I only realised just how little I know about William the soldier when it was too late to start asking questions. Just as he was willing to start talking, Alzheimer’s began to eat away at his memories and the disease took away my opportunity to ask him more.

But I hope that all is not lost. Once I have published the last part of the Cypress Branches trilogy, I’ll turn my attention to finding out more about Gramps’ time in the army. I’m sure there are records I can look at, and maybe one or two internet forums may come in handy. It would be great to one day write another blog post in the not too distant future filling in some of those gaps.

Pegasus Falling’s new look

It is with great pleasure I present to you all the new cover of Pegasus Falling.

Pegasus Falling's new cover artwork

I’m really pleased with this new look for the first part of the Cypress Branches trilogy. It has taken a long time to get to this point, this being the fifth (and hopefully final!) version of the cover.

The previous four covers were all very similar, with small changes to the original picture of Lesley holding Sammy’s Paratrooper’s cap in her hands. Although I liked the image, and readers kept telling me they liked it too, I was never entirely happy with it as a cover. There was a certain something lacking which I couldn’t put my finger on.

For a while I had had the idea of using the image within a wider context. When I created the cover for The Bridge (William’s short story available to download for free), I considered using the haunting image of falling paratroopers on the cover of Pegasus Falling as well. I had a play around, but didn’t come up with anything satisfactory and left things as they were.

However, a few months ago, I opened up Photoshop again and had another play. This time, inspiration must have struck and I was much happier with the result. The original image of Lesley holding the red beret (captured brilliantly by photographer Dewi Clough) remains, but as part of a much more dynamic whole.

With the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem coming up next month, I’m really pleased that I have been able to include two bold key images portraying the British Parachute Regiment on the cover. The regiment, then newly formed, played an important part in the infamous and controversial operation which forms the backdrop for the opening scenes of the book. Even more poignantly, the author was a witness to those appalling scenes he describes so vividly – he was 18 when he fought on the front line at Arnhem, and used his experiences to tell his story.

I’d love to know what readers think of the new cover, so please do leave a comment or get in touch.

A new start

Greetings, Bloggerland!
How have you been? I know, it’s been a long time, hasn’t it. Sorry about that. Had some time off to think things over and work out what to do next…
You see, 2012 and 2013 have been quite eventful, emotional and trying at times. The excitement of publishing the Cypress Branches trilogy, and learning my way around the self-publishing world, has been tempered by some very sad and difficult events.
William’s wife, my grandmother, passed away earlier this year, just before we released It Never Was You. With the family’s blessing, I decided to go ahead with a low-key launch and the blog tour. But to be honest, it took it out of me, and I decided that I’d have to take a break.
And I’m glad I did. I’d been concentrating on publishing the books pretty much constantly for about 18 months, and the strain was beginning to show. I just wasn’t enjoying it any more, and when you stop enjoying something, that’s when you need to take a step back.

But the trilogy has rarely been far from my thoughts, and I’ve used the last few months to have a really good think about what direction I want to take the project from here on in. I think I have a plan nailed, and once again I’m pretty excited about it, which is great. There are going to be changes, but all for the good, I think.

So, where to begin?

Online spring clean

Well, for a start, the main website (acuteanglebooks.co.uk) is having a makeover to bring it right into the 21st century. With the new format, it will now work just as well on mobile and tablet devices as it did on PCs, rather than being re-formatted into a poor HTML version, which has always been a bugbear of mine. I’m also making it a bit more streamlined and user-friendly, both for the reader and for me making updates!

There will also be changes around this blog. I’m going to do a spring clean as soon as the website is up and running, then I’ll start to pen some posts I’ve been planning for a long time now, but have never managed to get round to…

New blog content

Earlier in the year, I pledged to blog more often. Alas, events overtook that resolution, and the extra content never materialised. But it’s never too late to make a start, and hopefully soon, there will be more opportunities to create some really interesting content.

One of the things I’ve realised since taking my sabbatical is that I’ve never done any really meaty research into Gramps’s past. This really is a rich seam to explore, what with his career as a paratrooper, merchant seaman, engineer and university lab technician. I’d love to get in touch with others who might know of a parent or grandparent who may have served with William during the war, or at sea. I want to find out more about what his life would have been like back then, and get a better understanding of where his ideas for the book came from.

And there’s all the posts around the books themselves that I’d like to do. They are set against the backdrop of some incredible moments in the history of the 20th century, and I’d love to explore them more. In Pegasus Falling alone, we take in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden at Arnhem, the concentration camps, the refugee crisis in Germany after the war, the Jewish settlers trying to reach Palestine, and the whole Middle East situation flaring up. All of these are fascinating aspects of history that I’d love to read more about. As I do, I’ll be documenting my research here.

I’m teeming with ideas, and can’t wait to get stuck in.

Building the audience

The key aim all along has been to get the books into the hands of the audience William’s work deserves, and for the first 18 months of this project I was searching out readers right across the globe. Drunk on the possibilities that ebook publishing offers, I cast the net wide hoping to build an audience wherever I could. That tactic had some success, but not enough to warrant continuing down that road. Because our readers are scattered across the continents, building momentum has been difficult, and I feel that now a bit of consolidation closer to home is what’s needed.

For the time being I’ll be concentrating on building an audience on this side of the Atlantic. Whilst the US market offers a huge number of readers, and I have managed to find a few out there (thanks guys!), I really should be doing more in the UK first. (Don’t worry, international readers, I’m not forsaking you totally, and the books will continue to be available around the world wherever possible, so if you’re in the States (or Australia, Spain, Portugal, or anywhere else the books have sold) and you know your friends will love the books as much as you have, go tell them to buy them – they’re still there in the Kindle Store.

Building a bigger fan base closer to home over the coming months makes a lot of sense for several reasons. For a start, although we now live in a global marketplace, and Facebook and Twitter have transformed how word of mouth is spread, I think it still makes sense to start small. I suspect that building excitement around the books will be easier to do in a small area to begin with. I can visit places in the UK, bringing that personal touch. Plus, with the second and third books being set primarily in the UK, there are places here that I can (and will!) target, and that’s my next step (watch out, Liverpool!)

…But what about the books themselves?!

And then, of course, there’s the small matter of publishing part three of the trilogy. Work hasn’t begun on it yet, which I know will dismay many readers eagerly awaiting its release. But I can assure you, work will begin soon. The first job is to re-read the manuscript – something I haven’t done since putting together the hardback. I can’t wait to get stuck in!

So, that’s the plan. What the next 18 months actually holds in store, who knows. But I’m looking forward to getting started.

Watch this space!

2013 and all that – what to expect from the year ahead

2012 was a year of change for me. I left a job which I’d been doing for 10 years to concentrate on publishing the trilogy, I moved house…twice, studied a bit and learned a hell of a lot about an industry which I didn’t have much of a clue about before I started. It was a year for learning, for trying new things out, reaching out to new people, making friends, making mistakes, getting better at what I’m doing and figuring out how to achieve what I want in the future.
This year is bound to be different. It will be a year of building on the foundations which were laid last year, of learning from those mistakes I made, making the most of my new connections and moving the Cypress Branches project forward. It should be an exciting year, and I have high hopes for a successful and prosperous one, but my approach will have to be different.
2012 was kind to me in that I found myself in a position where I could afford to take time out of work to concentrate on Pegasus Falling. But I’m going to have to move forward with a lot less time and money available.
I have always been realistic and never expected to make much, if anything, from this project, and sure enough, I haven’t. The most important thing was to do justice to William’s work and get the books out there so that people could read them. I’m now well over half way to making that happen. 
Much as I’d love to, I won’t be able to work on the books full-time, as I have done this year. I wish I could, but if you think that publishing a book will lead to instant millionaire status and the easy life, then think again. It’s been a tough slog this year and there have been virtually no financial rewards to speak of.
The pot of gold which I found myself with last year was never going to last forever, and I no longer have the luxury of being able to treat the Cypress Branches as my job. I need to return to paid employment, which means going back to working on the books part-time.
The year I have spent foundation-building has been important and I’m certainly glad I did it. It means that there is an audience for the books, which will hopefully continue to grow, and that I’m now in a position – 10 months after the publication of Pegasus Falling – to publish It Never Was You. Considering it took the best part of three years to get Pegasus Falling off the ground, because I was doing it in fits and starts between work contracts, I’m very pleased with that kind of progress!
So, it’s hi-ho, hi-ho and back off to work I go. And I’m glad, actually. As much as I’ve enjoyed working from home and being my own boss, I do miss the work routine – especially the commute. (Call me mad, but it’s true. Honestly, last year was dire from a reading point of view. I always read on the train, and because I wasn’t commuting, I virtually stopped reading. I’ve now got a TBR pile that’s about to collapse and I’m looking forward to enjoying my morning and evening read again.)
But that doesn’t mean that the Cypress Branches project is on hold. Oh no, there’s plenty to look forward to! I’m now looking forward to building on those foundations laid in 2012 and starting to add bricks and mortar over the coming months.
So, what is the plan?

The blog

I’m planning to make much more use of the blog this year, and to create more exciting content for readers of the books. I’m hoping to post much more frequently – at least once a week, on average – and with content which is much more relevant to readers.
I’ve got plenty of ideas in the pipeline which I hope will allow readers and fans to find out more about William and his writing. There are plenty of themes to explore, characters to profile and history to delve in to, and my aim is to build up a collection of interesting articles and resources which readers can dip in and out of to enhance their reading experience.
To help readers find the posts, the pages (which you may have noticed popped up on the site just before Christmas) will be updated with links and I’ll look into adding “further reading” links to the bottom of posts, should readers want to continue exploring. The plan is that over the course of the year Pegasus Falling and It Never Was You will both have the beginnings of an extensive archive which (hopefully!) readers will find valuable.
I’ve got reading groups as well as individuals in mind here, and if any of you have got any suggestions, please do get in touch.

It Never Was You

I am on the cusp of announcing the details for the release of It Never Was You – part two of the trilogy. The paperback and ebook will be released in late February, but keep an eye out for posts in the run up to the release date which will include the cover reveal, extracts and an exploration of the themes.

Part Three

Although Part Three of the trilogy is still nameless and still requires a lot of editing, it is still my plan to release it later this year – hopefully in time for Christmas. That seems a long way off, but it’s actually a very tight deadline! I’m certain that when people have read It Never Was You, they’ll be baying for Part Three, and I don’t intend keeping them waiting too long. It will be an exciting day when I can say that William’s trilogy is finished, and I don’t want to wait either! Once It Never Was You has been published and the initial publicity push has quietened down, I’ll be ploughing straight on with Part Three. (The first job will be naming it!)

More interaction

I wish that William was able to interact with his readers personally, but alas, that is not possible.
As William’s grandson, and his publisher, I’m very keen to interact with more and more readers on his behalf. I’d love for readers to be able to get to know him better, and I’ll be writing a number of articles to allow that to happen over the coming year.
In the mean time, I would love to hear from you, so get in touch if you have a question, have something to share or if there is something in particular you’d like to know more about William and his books.
I’ll be keeping in touch with the brilliant bloggers I got to know in 2012, and I’m aiming to get to know even more over the next 12 months. The indie publishing game is all about networking, and I’m hoping that with the new content on the blog, more interaction on various forums, as well as the completion of the trilogy, I’ll be able to connect with more and more readers.

Social Media

Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads have all been brilliant for connecting with readers and other authors, and I plan to continue ploughing that furrow through 2013. If you haven’t already, please follow / like / add us wherever you find us.
So, that’s the plan. Now to put it into action!
First up, look out next week for a very exciting post. I’ll be revealing the cover image of It Never Was You. Can’t wait!
Happy reading…
Mike

Weihnachten

With Christmas just around the corner, and complement our review of 2012 (see the Facebook page or Twitter to catch up on the highlights) I thought I’d share with you an excerpt from Pegasus Falling set during the winter of 1944. 
It’s not your usual Christmas story involving elves and reindeer, gifts under the tree and carol singers. It’s probably not the kind of thing you’d want to read if you’re expecting a warm, cosy story. In fact, it’s rather bleak. But in a way, there is an element of the Christmas message in here, thanks to the brave and honourable action our hero takes. 
In Chapter 2 we find Sammy Parker, a British Paratrooper captured in Arnhem, incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp. There, he witnesses the full horrors of the final solution. As winter sets in, the suffering is exacerbated and Sammy tries bravely to help his fellow inmates. But one evening, he finds himself unexpectedly summoned to the camp commandant’s office where he is horrified to find out what is going on away from the main camp…

Sammy and Doctor Rhadski worked together in the small storeroom sterilising the instruments, grateful for the opportunity to huddle close to the hot water boiler. The cold northerly winds now sweeping down across the north German plain brought the first flurries of fine dry snow which blew like salt across the compound, driven by the icy gusts. They had listened stoically to the news on their illicit radio, that a German offensive had smashed the American front in the Ardennes and halted the Allied advance, adding perhaps a further six months to the war and as Christmas approached Sammy wondered how much longer he could sustain himself in these conditions. His health had suffered from the effects of the cold and poor diet and Karl had allowed him to move his bunk into the dispensary to spare him the nightly ordeal of shivering, sleepless in his freezing cell. Yet compared to the inmates of the main camp he knew he was living in comparative luxury. He looked at the doctor. His eyes gazed hopelessly out of a cadaverous face and his breathing became ever more strained. Sammy tried to share his meagre rations with him but he invariably declined.
    ‘It is important that you survive, my son.’ He wheezed painfully. ‘You must live to tell them about this place and what they did. Good Germans must know and understand what has been done in their name.’
    ‘But if you don’t eat you will die and that is foolish. The war will soon be over, Germany will need men like you.’
    The old man smiled. ‘I am dying already, it would be foolish of me to take food from you and put you at risk.’
    ‘You are being foolish and stubborn,’ said Sammy. ‘You’re not dying, you are killing yourself.’
    ‘You are a good man, Sammy. You remind me of some English friends I had before the war, good people. Our two sons were as close as brothers.’
    ‘You were in England?’
    ‘I have visited England, of course, but no, these were doctors from London whom I met at the university in Heidelberg. We were post-grads there. I fell in love with the woman. We were lovers for a while, until her Englander arrived.’ He shrugged and gave his wheezy laugh.
    Sammy touched his arm. ‘You will see them again, Rudi, I promise, but you must eat.’
    The old man looked at Sammy affectionately. ‘No Sammy, I shall not survive the winter. I have TB.’
    Sammy looked at him sadly. ‘How can you be so sure?’
    ‘I’m a doctor, for God’s sake, but it’s rife in the camp, and there is dysentery and pneumonia. The consequence of all this good living, I guess.’ He tried to laugh again. ‘You know it’s ironic, but the gas chambers are a merciful release for most of us.’ Sammy looked away, chastened by the old man’s suffering.
    The klaxon sounded for the evening roll call. Sammy gazed through the window of the dispensary at the shivering prisoners huddled together in groups on the arctic Appellplatz. He knew the SS guards would keep them there until they almost froze, before returning them to the main camp for the night. He saw Rudi, his hands tucked under his folded arms, coughing into the icy wind and as he watched he felt the bitter tears of frustration running down his face. He turned wearily and slumped into a chair. He felt crushed by despair at his impotence in the face of such infamy. Suddenly the door burst open to admit two SS guards.
    ‘Komm, Englander, on your feet, the boss wants to see you, now.’
    ‘What for, what does he want?’
    ‘You don’t ask the questions here, you piece of shit, you just do as you are told. Now move it, nobody keeps Gräber waiting.’
    He was taken under escort to the commandant’s office. He wondered what he had done. Perhaps Gräber had discovered he was sleeping in the dispensary instead of freezing in his cell. He determined to brazen it out.
    Gräber pointed to a chair. ‘Setzen Sie sich.’ He looked at Sammy, his cold shark’s eyes expressionless. ‘Do you know what today is, Captain Parker?’
    Sammy held his gaze. ‘No, and why should I care?’
    Still unsmiling, Gräber said, ‘It is Weihnacht, Das Christfest, the last of the war.’
    Sammy smiled broadly then said softly, ‘Geronimo.’
    ‘What did you say?’
    ‘It doesn’t matter.’
    Gräber smiled. ‘You don’t understand, my friend, the Wehrmacht will be in Antwerp within the week. Von Ründstedt’s Panzers have smashed through the American lines in the Ardennes, the allies are in full retreat and our secret V weapons are levelling Paris, Brussels and London to the ground as we speak.’ He rose and walked to a large wall cabinet. He lifted a large stone flask and poured thick yellow Korn schnapps into two glasses and offered one to Sammy.
    He raised his glass. ‘Sieg Heil. To victory.’
    Sammy smiled. ‘I’ll drink to that.’
    Gräber laughed aloud. ‘Come, my friend, let us go and eat.’
    ‘Eat?’ Sammy echoed with some surprise and followed as the SS man made off into a connecting room.
    Several SS officers were standing round a table laden with a dazzling variety of delicacies looted from the occupied countries. Polish ham, Norwegian herring, smoked salmon and pâté de foie gras from France, lobster and langoustine and Viennese pastries. Sammy’s gaze fell upon a woman dressed in the uniform of the SS. It was clear she had been beautiful once. Her thick blonde hair framed a finely boned face which was now growing plump. She had a dissolute appearance, her expression vacant. He thought she was probably drunk. ‘Be careful, Liebchen,’ Gräber laughed, ‘I think our guest fancies you.’ Turning to Sammy he said, ‘Allow me to introduce my adjutant, Leutnant Höchst, but watch yourself Captain, die schöne Gisele eats men like you for breakfast, don’t you, meine Süss?’ He bent to kiss her. She gazed up at Sammy, leering stupidly. ‘Meine Kameraden!’ Gräber addressed the gathering. ‘It is Christmas, the last of this war, for Germany is on its way to final victory. So in the spirit of magnanimity to a gallant enemy, I have invited our gallant British Bulldog and…’ He tapped his nose with his finger, winking suggestively. ‘…friend of Churchill’s daughter, to celebrate with us.’ He paused, grinning. ‘Before we return him to his kennel, that is.’ They all laughed heartily and sycophantically. ‘Come, Captain Parker, eat.’
    Sammy looked at the assembled company. They stood around, arrogant, loud and contemptuously self-assured in their leather and steel. He looked at the repast laid out before them and thought of the conditions barely a kilometre away in the compound. The cold, the hunger, the disease, the hopelessness and the assurance of a painful, unjust and premature death at the hands of these philistines. He turned his gaze finally to Gräber. Slowly and deliberately he turned his glass over, causing the yellow liquor to patter noisily onto the carpet. ‘I don’t think I care to,’ he hissed. ‘It is enough that I have to witness your sickening barbarities every day, listen to the cries of children and see the hopelessness in the faces of their elders as they try to ease what’s left of their short miserable lives, to watch the casual beatings and murder of people who have done no more than try to survive this hell. What I will not do is share any of this loot with you.’ He flicked his hand contemptuously at the assembled officers. ‘Or these shitbags.’ He placed the glass on the table and wiped his hands on his jacket as though trying to remove all witness of contact with his captors. He scowled at them. ‘If I live through this, Gräber, I swear to God I shall see you pay for all you have done here, you bastards. Now, I have no doubt that you will arrange for a couple of your simians to beat the shit out of me before I go to sleep tonight, so let’s get it over with, shall we?’ He turned and walked from the room.
    Gräber shouted after him. ‘But I can’t have you beaten, Parker. You are protected by the Geneva Convention, remember. And Germany is a civilised country.’
    He heard their laughter as he made his way out of the officer’s block. Trying to understand why Gräber had not immediately placed him under arrest or had him beaten, he hurried to the dispensary hoping they would not look for him there, but he found the administration block empty. Then faintly, drifting across the icy Appellplatz from the guard’s quarters, he heard singing and carousing. He sat on his bunk. ‘You’re OK, Sammy my son, at least until Boxing Day. They are all having a good old Christmas piss up.’
    He smiled and lying back, pulled the thin blanket over himself. The fire had died in the stove and he knew he would not be able to fetch more fuel until morning. As he lay, weary from hunger, he felt the cold gradually begin to eat into his limbs and he wondered how much more he could take. 

Want to find out what happens to Sammy? Find out where to buy “Pegasus Falling” on Ganxy

Opening Lines

It is often said that the opening lines of a book are the most important. If the author gets them right, they’re the ones that will grab the reader and suck them straight into a story. Get them wrong, and the book will be returned to the shelf and never read. No matter now well structured the following 99,900 words are in your masterpiece, get the first 100 wrong and you’ve had it.

When re-structuring The Cypress Branches into a trilogy, I was faced with the problem of how to start each of the three books. But unlike an author who is in full control and can let their imaginations run wild, as an editor, and an editor who can’t communicate with the author, I had to find the opening lines of Pegasus Falling from within the existing text.

Indeed, it was the importance of the opening passage which lead me to decide to cut two scenes from the book.

The Cypress Branches, in its original format, starts with a prologue. Because of the way I have restructured the novel, that prologue will not appear until book three. (This decision alone was something I agonised over for a long long time, but hopefully when you get to read it, you’ll see why I made the decision!) The prologue starts with a very powerful image. Here are the opening lines…

Joyce Williamson, reflecting upon the events following her father’s death, had become withdrawn, suppressing a sort of vague rage. A cold, furious incomprehension at such a calamity. She threw herself into an orgy of frantic, almost hysterical activity. Dismissing her sister’s entreaties, she stripped her father’s room of everything which connected it to him: his clothes, his books, his toiletries, his pictures, his bric-a-brac. When she had finished, she locked the room. She then turned her attention to the rest of the house: polishing, cleaning, clearing cupboards and shelves, shampooing carpets, re-arranging furniture, changing curtains. By this aberrant behaviour, it seemed she was determined to so expunge the familiar that she could not be reminded of the past. She restored all the packages finally into the now gleaming kitchen cabinets and closed the doors upon her labours. She climbed down from the kick stool and, crossing to the sink, filled the kettle and flicked the switch. She sat at the table, gazing out, motionless, drained by her efforts. Suddenly she began to cry like a small child. ‘Oh, Daddy, why did you do this to us? Why, Daddy, why?’

I don’t know about you, but that really makes me want to read on! Who is Joyce? What happened to her father? Why is she reacting in this particular way? In less than 200 words, we’re hooked. We want to know more, and find out what the situation is.

It’s a great opening…and was the perfect way to open The Cypress Branches in its original form. But it would have made no sense to open Pegasus Falling with that prologue. Why? Well, for a start, Joyce and her father don’t feature in it! They do feature, heavily, in what will be the second and third instalments.

I was therefore left with a bit of a headache-inducing predicament. Although I knew I had a good book on my hands with Pegasus Falling, for a while I didn’t feel like I had the right opening. It has to grab you, suck you in and make sure you want to read on, so I had a big decision to make.

And now I’m facing the same dilemma with It Never Was You, part two of the trilogy. Part three is sorted – it will open with those lines you see above. But I can’t use them in part two. And I can hardly open with a doctor throwing his bicycle to the ground and running feverishly up the steps again, can I?!

One thing is for sure, though – the opening lines will be William’s. What opens It Never Was You will have formed part of the original manuscript. This is William’s writing, not mine. I’m close to a decision, but I may have to make more sacrifices just as I had to with part one. But those sacrifices will be for the greater good.

Book Bloggers Appreciation Week – a thank you

I only realised it was Book Bloggers Appreciation Week on Monday when I started to see the various posts appearing on all the wonderful blogs I’ve started to follow. Because it has been such a whirlwind of a week so far, I’m coming to the party quite late, but wanted to mark the occasion with my own tribute to a world which, up until 8 months ago, I knew virtually nothing about, but now I have a huge…appreciation for!

Bloggers have become a hugely important aspect of book marketing, and it has been fantastic to find so many generous bloggers out there who are willing to take a punt on a virtually unknown author like William – especially as it’s his grandson coming begging, and not the man himself! It can be a cut throat world out there for Indie authors and publishers and I certainly would not have been able to get the word out there about William’s books if it hadn’t been for the wonderful bloggers who have not only taken that punt, but come back with wonderful words of praise and encouragement.

I have met some great people behind the blogs, too. Great personalities, funny, clever, occasionally out-there bloggers, and yes, some are very good writers themselves. No blog is the same as the last, and I have loved discovering blogs which have taken a different approach to their reviews or the look of their site. I look forward to meeting more over the coming months and years.

Book blogs have become part of my every day routine now. I look forward to seeing updates appear in my inbox and check out new ones all the time. They are a wonderful source of books I would never have even come across, or necessarily considered if it hadn’t been for their erudite assessments.

It would be unfair to pick out individual bloggers for praise. Every single one who has not only read Pegasus Falling, but also taken the time to tell the world what they thought is deserving of praise and my heartfelt thanks. I know many of the bloggers I have approached over the past year asking for a review had already been inundated with requests from the burgeoning world of Indies, and I am still amazed when they come back to me with an excited “yes please, I’d love to read your grandfather’s book!” It takes an enormous leap of faith to commit to reading a book written by a pensioner and self-published by his doting grandson, so honestly, thank you!

To all the bloggers I have met, and will meet soon, it has been, and continues to be an absolute pleasure sharing William’s work with you. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for you guys.

Mike

A matter of Price and Death

What you charge for your ebook is a hot topic, a hot potato and a headache all in one.

And its a matter that I don’t take lightly. Throughout the last 6 months, I’ve read many authors’ and bloggers’ thoughts as I’ve gone through the process of making William’s work available in ebook form.

Pegasus Falling has been available at several price points since its launch in March. I launched it at a fairly respectable (in my then opinion) £1.49 / $1.99. Although this didn’t qualify it for the 70% royalty on the US price, it did represent (again, in my opinion), a good introductory price for those who would be interested in reading it.

However, as I read more into it, it looked like I might have been too eager, and evidence was pointing towards new authors having to price their work at rock bottom to start sales going. On the back of a story published in the Guardian back in February, I dropped the price to the minimum permissible on KDP – £0.75 / $0.99.

Sales started to pick up. This is without doubt partly down to us receiving some very positive reviews from early readers on Amazon and the intrepid and generous bloggers who have taken a punt on an unknown author. But it did appear that if people were seeking the book out, the low price was leading to an on-the-spot sale. After all, it’s less than a quid – where could you go wrong?

Then, as sales started to go slowly but surely upwards,  I started reading around again, and was worried that I was doing the novel an injustice by charging the bare minimum…

This interesting post from Catherine Ryan Howard helped seal my decision. Her argument seemed to ring true with what others were saying around the net – that you should try and price your work at a point where it is simultaneously a bargain and expensive enough not to look suspect. I could see the logic behind thinking that readers would be put off by a price that was too low – after all, you tend to get what you pay for, don’t you? And with me thinking it would be nice to earn 70% of £1.79 (£1.21) rather than 30% of £0.75 (£0.26) with each sale, and confident that sales figures would continue to rise and rise on the back of more and more positive reviews, so I made the changes.

I upped the price to £1.79 and $2.99 on all platforms. And, to be fair, sales continued for a week – albeit with Amazon discounting the book to start with, because they had been quicker to apply the new price, so were still price matching the dawdling Smashwords and Kobo.

But then, the worst thing possible happened. Sales slowed to a barely noticeable trickle. Despite the fact that more positive reviews continued to be posted, with each one, the anticipated flurry of sales failed to materialise. It was more like an occasional drip than a flurry – a lone snow flake blowing in the wind, not the blizzard I had been sure would happen.

So what went wrong? I had priced the book at a reasonable, yet still bargain basement price. But sales made for the opposite direction to where I’d hoped.

It took a while for it to sink in, but after arguably our best and most widely read review yet lead to one of the most lacklustre sales weeks we’ve had so far, I had to come to the conclusion that something was wrong with the price.

Promoting your book is all about making people care about it – they have to want to pick it up and read it. Reviews are one way of getting it seen, and Pegasus Falling has had universally good or excellent reviews. But, as I’ve discovered, that’s not enough to get people to reach into their virtual pockets and pay good money to read it.

The fact is that many people must have had a good look at Pegasus Falling online, but decided that $2.99 is still too much to fork out, seeing as they’ve never heard of the book before and besides, there are other books by other unknown writers out there which are being given away for free, or close to free. That barrier that goes up in a large proportion (whether its a majority or not, I still don’t know) of the reading population when they see a self-published book (or suspect it is) stops a lot of potential buyers from clicking “Add to cart”.

And after all, The Bridge aside, there are no other works of William’s available…for now. Until It Never Was You is released later in the year, he will remain a completely unknown author of only one major work, and people are wary of trying out anything new. 

Although the argument that a higher price will give your book more kudos amongst the reading public might be a very attractive one, I think it is flawed – certainly for the little or unknown author just starting out. Yes, I believe that Pegasus Falling is well worth the $2.99 price tag, but I can’t get passed the fact that at that price, it has sold nowhere near the numbers it has at $0.99.

And at the end of the day, it’s sales that matter at this stage. The more people read the book, the better. We have to make some money from the venture – bills need paying, after all, and yes, the royalties are far lower per unit at this price point – it takes almost five sales at $0.99 to make the same royalty as it does one sale at $2.99. But if your sales increase 10-fold, you win in two ways…you make more money, and more people read your books. 

So, the decision has been made to reduce the price back down to its minimum and the ebook is available on all platforms for £0.79 / £0.99. Whether it’ll be permanent or not, I don’t know, but it will be interesting to see if sales pick up and grow again.

One thing I’d say to other novice self-publishers is this. Although you know your book is amazing and people will love it when they read it, the general public don’t know that yet, and even if it tickles their fancy, they may not want to pay good money on an unknown quantity. Don’t run before you can walk. Although you know in your heart that your book is worth more, price it at a point which makes the most sales. Experiment, by all means – you may be luckier, and find that you can get away with a higher price – but don’t be scared to bring the price down again.

I’d be interested to hear what other authors / publishers experiences have been.


EDIT (4th September 2012): Well, since first writing this post, we’ve had another lacklustre month of sales. Perhaps it was the small matter of the world being distracted by elite sportsmen and women doing what they do best, or the fact that people just don’t buy books over the summer because they’re on the beach reading the ones they’ve already bought, but reducing the price to £0.99 made no difference at all.

And in the mean time, I’ve been talking to other indie authors about the subject. It seems there is no easy answer, but the $0.99 price point is no longer the silver bullet it once was. It’s too low for the book for serious readers to be take it seriously, and too high for those readers only after freebies to consider.

So once again, the price has changed. It’s back at $2.99 / £1.79. With Saturday’s exciting news that Pegasus Falling has been named a finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012 contest, the accolades are starting to roll in, and I have to set the price at a point that matches the excellent response its getting from those who do read it.

Pegasus Falling is a serious book for serious readers and I feel that I have to stand by its quality. Others are, so why shouldn’t I?

Pegasus Falling is available now from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Kobo & Smashwords

Back to earth with a bump

Hello everyone,

It’s been a crazy fortnight here in London, for more than just the most obvious reasons.

For the entire two weeks of the Olympics, I found my life turned completely upside-down and inside-out. Not one aspect of my usual daily routine was left untouched, which included the marketing campaign for the Cypress Branches books.

And it wasn’t just because the Olympics were on. As I reported back in July, I’ve been undertaking an internship at the Hand & Eye Letterpress in East London – an incredibly interesting and engaging experience which I will blog about in the next few days. I’ve also been getting ready to move house, so not only were my days taken up by commuting and learning new skills, but my evenings and weekends were consumed in carboard boxes and dealing with logistical nightmares!

And, of course, there was the inevitable distraction of the games themselves, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I managed to get tickets to the beach volleyball, which was a great experience. Unfortunately, being so busy, I didn’t get the chance to visit the Olympic Park itself during the fortnight, which is a shame. It would have been amazing to have experienced that atmosphere. But there was still a thrill watching it on the television, knowing that it was all happening just a few miles up the road (we could actually see the Opening Ceremony fireworks from the top floor of our flat). I managed to catch quite a lot of the action on TV, but it had to be a background thing – there was simply too much to do to be able to sit down and enjoy it properly.

I knew that the past fortnight was going to be difficult, and deliberately didn’t plan any activities for the books. And so it proved. I found myself with no spare time whatsoever, and I must admit that the momentum has been lost with the books.

Thankfully, in that period, more people have been reading Pegasus Falling and a couple more reviews have appeared on blogs and Goodreads. A massive thank you to Meg at A Bookish Affair and Joanna on Goodreads for their kind words.

But as London starts to adjust back to normal after a very peculiar, exciting and affirming two weeks, alas a return to normality for me is a while off yet. I fear another bout of radio silence is beckoning, as I disappear on holiday to Sweden next week – a break which is very overdue and I can’t wait to get away! So, this week is a case of try and catch up and get ready to head away again.

Keep an eye out for some exciting news in September regarding the second instalment of The Cypress Branches trilogy. I know that there are a lot of readers out there eagerly anticipating it and I’m chomping at the bit myself to get it out there…but there’s still so so much to do before it’s ready.

In the meantime, have you all read The Bridge yet? The short story which William wrote before embarking on the Cypress Branches is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, so if you can’t wait to get your teeth in to It Never Was You, there’s something to keep you going!

Happy reading!

Mike

The Undiscovered Documents

A few months ago, just after Pegasus Falling had been released, my nan (William’s wife, Sheila) thrust a small, unassuming plastic envelope in my hands, proclaiming that she’d found it in amongst an old pile of Gramps’ stuff. In it were three very interesting items.

Firstly, there was a short, typed memo from Gramps to ‘Kate’. This is my mum – her real name isn’t Kate, but her initials are K.T, so Kate for short. Dated 2.10.92 (for my American readers, that’s October 2nd, not February 10th!), it introduced a short story hot off his new word processor.

Gramps retired in 1990. He soon became bored with the life of a pensioner and decided to set himself the challenge of writing a book. He called his first work simply ‘Opus 1’. I had read it back in 1992 (at the grand age of 13) but had not laid eyes on it again until now. Set in a part-Courier typewriter / part-computer system typeface, the manuscript ran to just 20 pages, loose leaf and unformatted. It was just as he had written it, un-fettered and undisturbed for many years. 


The third piece in the plastic envelope was a much larger loose leaf document – a synopsis and abstract from The Cypress Branches, the document William had sent to publishers on his brief attempt to publish.  


All three are fascinating items in themselves. I wish I had seen the synopsis and abstract years ago, when I first set out to edit the books. Although written for a different purpose, it provides an insight into how William saw the novel work. Thankfully, it looks like my changes work within the context of his vision, but a lot of difficult decisions would have been made easier with this document to hand. 


The memo is poignant, to say the least. Although it is a simple note, its style is as efficient as William’s prose, declaring that “I’m still feeling my way with this” and that he had to “exploit a direct experience”, asking for, “some objective comments please”. 


Opus 1 itself is a revelation. The memo goes on to say, “of course there is some artistic licence and more than a suspicion of hyperbole, but the tale is in general, true.” As with his subsequent work, William drew on many and varied incidents from his own life and weaved them together into a gripping and heartbreaking work of fiction. It is the story of a romance between a British Parachute Regiment sergeant and a Dutch girl whose house is taken over by the army and turned in to their HQ for the ensuing battle to secure the bridge. William was a paratrooper, and at the age of 18, was involved in the ill-fated operation to capture the bridge at Oosterbeek, near Arnhem in Holland – the fabled Operation Market Garden which ended so badly for the troops involved. William was one of the lucky few who managed to escape back home and tell the tale. Many of his friends were not so fortunate. 

Although Opus 1 was initially written as a standalone work, elements of it ended up becoming part of William’s much larger work, The Cypress Branches, which he started to write almost immediately after completing his first short story. Although it underwent a considerable amount of editing and the story was changed to integrate it into the longer storyline, some readers will recognise it as forming the basis of the first chapter of Pegasus Falling – part 1 of the Cypress Branches trilogy. They’ll also recognise the sergeant, the main character in Opus 1 who plays a smaller role in the story of Pegasus Falling

Opus 1 is a fantastic introduction to William’s work – it reflects his style and the characters are just as well-written as those in The Cypress Branches. So, I have built it into a stand alone ebook and it is now available to download for free from Smashwords, Kobo Books and acuteanglebooks.co.uk. Despite its quality, Opus 1 was never, to my knowledge, meant for publication, so William never gave it a proper title. I have named it “The Bridge” – which seemed simple, fitting and appropriate. 


You can download a copy of The Bridge from any of the following links: 
The Bridge on acuteanglebooks.co.uk (FREE downloads for epub, .mobi and PDF)
The Bridge on Amazon (77p / 99c – but hopefully they will price match soon)