Category Archives: The Cypress Branches

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.

Wordy Wednesdays #1: Tallyman

To her surprise and delight, Mary received a letter from Harry the following day. Recognising the handwriting, she smiled to herself. ‘He’s got the pilot playing postman for him again, I bet.’ She sat on her bed reading slowly then gazed, rapt, the letter clutched in her hand. After a while she began to read it through again. Shaking her head she went to her bedside cupboard and took out a small dictionary.

It Never Was You by William E. Thomas, Ch. 10, p.234  

I’m sure many a reader chuckled when they read this passage in It Never Was You, as it sums up pretty well the character of Harry and Mary’s early romance. Mary’s loquacious but unsophisticated chatter is offset so brilliantly by Harry’s intermittent yet eloquent ripostes. He is a quiet man, but one with a well-honed vocabulary that he puts to good use, often for comic and sardonic effect.

Harry’s banter often reminds me of William himself, who loved to explore and experiment with words. He peppered The Cypress Branches with a plethora of wonderful, and sometimes weird, acronyms, slang and now long forgotten, obsolete words and phrases. The way people spoke in the 1940s and 50s when the books are set was very different to how we speak now, and once common and every-day phrases now seem baffling to the contemporary reader.

More than once, as I was editing and reviewing the books, I have found myself in a similar situation to Mary, reaching for a dictionary or going online to look up the meaning of a slang phrase. I love this aspect of the books. It roots them in the time they’re set, and makes the dialogue that much richer and more believable.

So, I thought I’d start a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure and interesting words which I have encountered in the books, and share with you what I have been able to discover about them.

Are there any words or phrases you’ve seen in the trilogy that you’d love to know more about – or just know what the heck they mean? If so, let me know and I’ll add them to the list to explore in future posts.

Wordy Wednesday #1: Tallyman

Where? It Never Was You, Chapter 6, page140

What’s the context? Harry and Mary are on their first outing together, and have stopped to take tea in a small patisserie. Mary is on one of her never-ending “ear-bashings”, telling Harry all about her family and her past.


“…don’t know how they managed, really, me mum and dad, him being away at sea, like, not that they were sex-mad, well not for each other, anyway, know what I mean, me mam put it about a bit, you know, the tallyman, the milkman always come out with a smile on their face, like…”

What does it mean? There are a number of possible definitions of a tallyman. As the name suggests, they are people employed to keep a tally – a running count – of people or items. In some countries, the tallyman is present at an election count, to keep a note of preferences when the ballot boxes are opened. In some towns and cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries, tallymen were often employed by landlords or councils to do head counts, to ensure the correct number of people were living in council owned properties.

More often, though, the tallyman was the collector of debts. Hire purchase was popular in the period between and after the war, when the desire for consumer goods outstripped the everyday purchasing power of families. The result was many households buying goods (from furniture to vacuum cleaners) on credit, and paying back in instalments. Credit unions also helped out families on low incomes, clawing back the debts by sending the tallyman round periodically to collect the payments. Alan Johnson writes about how he and his family would hide from the tallyman when he came knocking, in his memoir, This Boy: “We were well practised in ducking down away from the windows and remaining silent as soon as we heard four knocks, and lying low until the tallyman gave up. We also knew we had to walk straight past the house if we saw one of them on the doorstep. They were easy to spot with their uniform belted raincoats and the thick, black ledgers they all carried.

Liverpool and its tallymen: The word has a particular association with Liverpool, where It Never Was You is set. During the early Victorian period, Liverpool was renowned for its overcrowded, unsanitary slums where dock and factory workers crammed into tiny dwellings with their extended families. In an effort to clean up the slums, and improve the health of the ever-growing population, Dr William Henry Duncan was appointed as the city’s (and the country’s) first Medical Officer of Health in 1847. He had some radical ideas, and it was undoubtedly thanks to his influence that the living conditions of Liverpool’s population improved markedly, with the slums eventually making way for the now ubiquitous Victorian “two-up two-down” terraces.

But Duncan’s legacy has a more sinister side, with tales (whether apocryphal or not, it isn’t clear) of a version of the tallyman sent to check on the number of people living in each home. So the stories go, the tallyman would visit, often at night, and if the home was considered too overcrowded or unsanitary, the authorities would remove children from their families and re-home them outside the city. The tallyman thus became an object of fear, and many who grew up in the 40s and 50s tell tales of how they were encouraged to behave, “or the tallyman will come to get you”.

Whether this was officially sanctioned, or even if it happened at all, isn’t clear, but it does make for a great “bogieman” threat to keep kids in line!

Have you heard of any tales of the tallyman? Can you shed any more light on the tallymen of Liverpool? If so, please leave a comment.

It Never Was You blog tour & Giveaway

It Never Was You is available to buy from today! And to celebrate, we’re going on a blog tour. And to celebrate that, we’ve got a fantastic give away lined up. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the Rafflecopter give away and enter to win a $50 / £30 Amazon voucher, one of three copies of the paperback, or one of ten copies of the ebook.

Here’s the schedule as it stands right now. Bloggers are still signing up for the later dates in the tour, so events will be added over the coming days and weeks. Make sure to check back regularly to make sure you don’t miss anything…

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Want to get stuck in to the trilogy?
You can get Pegasus Falling, the acclaimed first instalment, on your Kindle, Kobo or Nook for as little as 99c / 79p until the end of June! Grab your copy now before the price reverts to the RRP ($2.99 / £1.99)
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Thursday 25th April
susanrussoanderson.com

Interview

Our first stop is at the wonderful blog of Susan Russo Anderson, author of the Serafina Florio series. She interviewed Mike about Pegasus Falling, and she was interested in the use of the haunting Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th Symphony. Take a look…

Friday 26th April
susanrussoanderson.com

Excerpt from Pegasus Falling

As a weekend treat, we return to Susan’s blog for an excerpt from Pegasus Falling, the scene which features Mahler’s 5th Symphony. The year is 1946 and the place is Tel Aviv, Palestine. Sammy and Lesley have just met up for the first time since their troubling liaison just after the war, and Mahler’s stirring music is about to have a profound effect on them both. Jump in…

Monday 29th April
outofthebags.com

Review 

Liss is one of the most recent bloggers to read Pegasus Falling, but she has the honour of being the first blogger in the tour to tell us what she made of It Never Was You. She loved it, giving it 4 stars. “Mr. Thomas has weaved a tale of mystery, romance, fact and fiction into a grand masterpiece.” Read on…

Thursday 2nd May
plasticrosaries.com

Review & Excerpt from It Never Was You

“Very different to Pegasus Falling but Thomas’ characters are just as, if not more endearing as ever.”

Today, we head over to Beth Townsend’s brilliant blog for our first UK review, which is exciting, especially as she gave it 4 stars!

Also, Beth chose one of her favourite passages from the book to highlight. Part One is presented here…

Friday 3rd May
plasticrosaries.com

Part Two of the It Never Was You excerpt

We return to Beth’s blog for part two of the excerpt that Beth chose. Beth lives in Liverpool, the setting for the book, and she was struck by the character of Mary and her “Scouse vernacular”, which is shown off to great effect in this funny and clever scene…

Monday 6th May
A Bookish Affair

Guest post

Meg at A Bookish Affair is our host today as we delve into one of the most important themes of the book and ask the question, did William write a romance or a love story? Check out the post here…

Friday 10th May
jillysheep.wordpress.com

Review

Jill is one of the most prolific readers I have ever had the pleasure to meet. She is one of amazon.co.uk’s Hall of Fame reviewers and was also one of the first reviewers who kindly took a chance on an unknown author. Thankfully she loved Pegasus Falling and was delighted to receive her copy of It Never Was You. Today, Jill posted her wonderful review, which you can read here…

Saturday 11th May
jillysheep.wordpress.com

Guest Post

We head back to Jill’s blog to take a closer look at one of the main characters from the trilogy – Harry Williamson…

Monday 13th May
onevintageheart.com

Interview

Juliette Hill is an author (find her short stories on Amazon) who has shown an incredible amount of support for William’s books. Back in September 2012, she hosted an interview with me as well as a glowing review of Pegasus Falling, which was part of the Best Indie Book Festival. Today, she hosts a follow up interview before sharing her thoughts on It Never Was You…

Saturday 18th May
Darlene’s Book Nook

Guest Post

Darlene’s fab blog is our home for the day as list 10 things you didn’t know about William…

Thursday 23rd May

I Read A Book Once

The Eclectic Bookworm

Review

Jonathan Wilhoit runs one of my favourite book review blogs on the web – reviewing a wide range of interesting reads together with his small band of fellow bloggers. Amanda Amaya from Texas read Pegasus Falling earlier this year and was virtually biting my hand off to be one of the first to read It Never Was You. She was, and here are her thoughts.

Sunday 26th May
Missuswolf’s Storyland

Interview

Today, we slip off our shoes, slump into our favourite comfy chair and relax for a cuppa and a catch up with British indie author Gemma Wilford.

Thursday 6th June
World Literary CafeInterview

Author Stacy Eaton took time out of her (extremely) busy schedule to interview me about William, his books and the devastating effect Alzheimer’s has had on him and the family. Officially, this isn’t part of the tour, but I’m chuffed to bits with how the interview came out, so I’m including it here anyway!

Thursday 6th June
The Pax Integral

Guest Post

Something a little different today. We head over to the blog of Meryl S. Fortney, the author of end-of-the-world zombie thriller Pax Corpus. Meryl blogs not only about her books, but also her experiences as a transexual. She hosts a guest post exploring the attitudes to homosexuality in the 1940s and 1950s, and asks, did my grandfather write a homophobic novel?

Friday 7th June
Great Romance Promotions
Excerpt

We delve back into the book today and enjoy a glimpse at what I’m sure will be a romance that touches many a reader’s heart.

Friday 14th June
Lucybirdbooks.com

Guest Post

It’s the last stop on the tour today (I know, sad), but we’ve got a great treat lined up to send the tour off in style.

The Giveaway

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter the giveaway. As well as the star prize of a $50 or £30 gift certificate to spend at amazon, we’ve also got five copies of the paperback and 10 copies of the ebook to give away!

All you need to do to enter is “like” the Cypress Branches Trilogy on Facebook and follow @cypressbranches on twitter.

Want more chances to win? Follow our lovely bloggers on Twitter, leave a comment on this post, tweet about the giveaway or leave a comment on the FB page to earn extra entries!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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!

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.