Despite Alzheimer's, William E. Thomas lives on in Pegasus Falling





We are featuring interviews with the top five finalists in all genres included in the New Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012 Awards. Today’s interview is a departure, however. As you will see, Alzheimer’s disease, a plague about which I have often written on my blog, has reached out its tentacles and snared author William E. Thomas.  But, in his stead, his grandson and publisher, Mike Harris, has stepped in to tell William’s story.


When William E. Thomas’s debut novel, Pegasus Falling, was named as a finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s Indie Books of 2012 Contest, there were no scenes of celebration from the author. William was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease shortly after completing his book and the rapid onset of his condition meant he was never able to pursue his dream of publication. So it fell to his grandson, MIKE HARRIS, to take on the challenge and make sure his grandfather’s dreams came true.

 What was it about the novel that made you think it was worth pursuing publication?

Pegasus Falling is part of a much larger work – The Cypress Branches – that William wrote when he retired in the early 1990s. The whole thing took him two years – writing from dawn til dusk – to complete. It was a mammoth task, and a huge book. I first read it when it was just finished. I was still a teenager, just about to head off to university, and even at that young age the book had a profound effect on me. I knew then that it was a special book and that it would be a tragedy if it never got to be published.

Mike Harris with his grandfather, William E. Thomas
Mike Harris with his grandfather, William E. Thomas

When I reread the manuscript five years ago, it had lost none of its magic. It’s a collection of incredible love stories, a family saga of sorts, with one of the best collections of characters I’ve ever come across. It’s the kind of book that you read and instantly want to introduce your friends to and nag them until they have read it so that you can discuss it. Those kinds of books are rare and it was so frustrating to think that I was one of only a few people who had access to it.

What made you take the self-publishing route?

Here I was with a novel that I knew would be enjoyed by many many people, if only it could be published! I knew I had to do something about it and set about looking at the options myself.

For many authors who have struggled to get the establishment to recognise them, self-publishing is often a last resort. For me, it was the only option. William’s health has been deteriorating rapidly for the past five years, becoming more and more forgetful and confused. I was eager to get the book printed in one form or another whilst we still had a chance of it meaning something to him.

If I had gone the traditional route and spent years trying to get a response from a mainstream publisher, there was a very real possibility that we’d have lost William completely in that time.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and get a book out there that William could be proud of. Self-publication was a very attractive option because I could retain control and make sure William’s work remained true to his own vision.

Tell us about the journey to publication and what it has been like for you.

It all started back in 2008, before the ebook revolution had really begun, so printed copies were the first route we took. Essentially, I became William’s editor, publisher and publicist all in one. In my spare time I edited, formatted, and proofread the entire manuscript into a huge hardback novel and had 100 copies printed by a firm which offered short print runs at very reasonable prices.

At this point, it was really a vanity project and it was only friends and family who bought it, but once the hardback was out there and people saw the quality of the writing, thoughts inevitably turned to a paperback version. In its original form, the book was far too big to be commercially viable, so the decision was made to try and adapt it into a trilogy.

Throughout this process, I’ve tried to approach the job in the most professional way possible. I have no background in publishing, so I took a course in proofreading and copy editing, which has been invaluable. At first, I did everything in my spare time, but it was taking far too long and so I’ve taken a career break in order to spend the necessary time needed to make this a success. It has since become an all consuming passion of mine!

Every editor needs a good relationship with their author. I had a great relationship with my granddad but the onset of Alzheimers has taken away his ability to communicate which means I have to make major editorial decisions without being able to consult the author. It’s tough, and I regret not starting this project earlier when I could have asked so many questions.

What do the rest of your family think about what you’re doing?

William has a large and loving family and we’re all very close. He has 6 children and a multitude of grandchildren and great grandchildren (I’m his eldest grandchild). Before I laid a finger on the manuscripts I went to the family and asked them if they had any objections to me giving publication a shot.

Every single member of the family got behind me and I’ve been overwhelmed by their support and encouragement. We’re extremely lucky that he has left us with this incredible legacy that the entire family can be proud of – and we are all very very proud. We all want to see his books succeed.

If I didn’t have the support of my family, I wouldn’t have been able to do this, and I have to say thank you to every single one of them for standing by me through thick and thin.

Does William know that his book has been published?

It’s hard to tell, to be honest. We printed the original manuscript in a hardback edition of The Cypress Branches back in 2009 when he was still walking and talking. He was very confused and his short term memory was impaired, but he could still take in the occasional highlight. We held a huge launch party which 4 generations of the Thomas family attended. We made such a huge fuss of him and he was bowled over. It was probably the last day of his life that left an indelible mark on his memory, because his health faded quite rapidly after that.

When we came to launch Pegasus Falling in March this year, he had moved to a nursing home. He spends most of his time sleeping these days and you never know whether or not he’ll respond to you. We held another launch party and again, most of the family was there, but this time the man of honour sat silent.

Do you think he’d be happy with what you have done?

I hope so. Sometimes I wonder if he’d be happy with some of the decisions I’ve had to make to turn his book into a series. But I know him well and we have a great relationship so I don’t think he’d mind. We’ve got a similar sense of humour and I talked to him a lot about the book before the dementia set in.

All the way through the process I’ve always asked myself, “Would Gramps have done this?” or “Would he have been happy with this change?” I have always gone for the solution which feels right from what I know of him and his attitudes.

I’m sure he’d be pleased with the result of my work and I’m certain that he’d be very happy with the reaction it’s getting from the public. I’m not sure what he would make of the ebook, though! He loves technology – he was always an early adopter of new gadgets – but he did love his book library, so I wonder if the ebook revolution may have been one step too far for him? Who knows, he was always full of surprises, so if he still had his health, he may well be the proud owner of his own Kindle now!

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