A Long Way in a Long Time

Guest Blog by Bob Stone

I hear a great deal from frustrated authors who are trying to get agents or publishers to take notice of their work and I understand their exasperation. You put your heart and soul into your work, spend months and months writing and refining and editing and then, just when it’s finally finished, it seems no-one wants to know. But the fact is, that sometime these things take a little time. It’s taken me over forty years.

In order for you to understand this bizarre claim, it is necessary that I explain where I get my timing from. I’m dating it from when I first started writing. I don’t mean the creative writing you are made to do in school, here; I’m referring to writing in my own time for my own pleasure. I have pretty much always done it. I remember writing a very lengthy series about a character called Mr.Crispin. He and his family all loved cereal. I’m sure there was a bit more to it than that, but that is all I remember. Then, when I started binge-reading Agatha Christie in my early teens, I started writing a series of highly derivative whodunnits, featuring a detective named Peter Grange. I’d forgotten about Peter until quite recently and don’t be surprised if a detective by that name appears in a book at some point as a kind of Easter Egg to myself. I don’t expect Mr.Crispin to appear again.

When my tastes broadened and I start reading a lot of American comics, I started writing and illustrating my own, and one series ran to nearly 100 issues. It’s highly unlikely any of them will ever see the light of day, because although the stories may have been okay, the artwork was woeful. Then I got involved with amateur dramatics and started to write one-act plays. Some are quite good and one won an award at a festival. And then I stopped for a bit. No particular reason, I just didn’t have anything I wanted to write.

Then I saw the artwork of Holly Bushnell and was enchanted by her animal pictures. The animals had such character, I suggested, that they must have a story to tell. I didn’t think for a minute it would be me telling it, exept…it happened. I got an idea. I liked the idea; it seemed to work. So I asked Holly if she fancied illustrating a book if I wrote it and she did. A Bushy Tale followed and we self-published it to a reasonable response. That encouraged us to go ahead and do A Bushy Tale:The Brush Off which also went down quite well. I wrote books three and four in the series and a spin-off (I still like A Curly Tale, which is about a pig and a pug who thinkt they are brothers), but understandably, Holly found herself in demand by hundreds of other authors and the Bushy Tale series is on hold at the moment.

But I still didn’t really consider myself an author. I’m not dismissing self publishing here by any means, don’t get me wrong. Anyone who has seen my shelves in my bookshop Write Blend, or been to one of the many events I do with independent authors will know that I do everything I can to promote the wonderful independent, self-published books which are brought to my attention. I’ve always been a very vocal advocate of self-publishing and I have seen and read some terrific books that really should be with one of the major publishers. However, from a personal point of view, self-publishing my own work still felt more like a vanity project. I still felt uncomfortable calling myself an author.

What happened next changed everything. I read a book called “More of Me” by an author named Kathryn Evans. I read it because I discovered Kathryn went to Bangor University, just like I did, (although she is much younger than me) and was curious to read the book she had written. I absoluely adored it, still do, and if you haven’t read it, do so immediately. It was the first Young Adult Book I read and it opened my eyes. Then at Write Blend, we did an event with an army of Young Adult authors; there was Kathryn, Patrice Lawrence, Sue Wallman, Olivia Levez and Eugene Lambert. I read and loved all their books. This encouraged me to try more YA ficiton and I devoured books by Alan Gibbons, Jon Mayhew, Tanya Landeman…and then I started wondering. I wondered it maybe the idea I’d had kicking about in my head might make a good Young Adult book. So I started to write.

And lo! The book that would become “Missing Beat” got written and it was actually not too bad. I was delighted to have finished the longest thing I had ever written. It was enough for me just to have done it. I should never have boasted about finishing it, because then people started to ask me what I was going to do with it next. I had no idea. I hadn’t even thought about that – I was too busy having fun writing it. I considered self-publishing it because having spent all that time writing it I really didn’t want to start sending it round agents and publishers and have them tell me it wasn’t good enough. Instead, I started sending it round publishers and agents and they started telling me it wasn’t good enough. They didn’t call it that; they called it “not quite what we’re looking for right now” but I got the gist. Then, when I was on the point of giving up, I thought about trying Beaten Track Publishing. I knew the publisher Debbie McGowan anyway, and stocked some of BTP’s books, but I didn’t think they published YA. But I contacted Debbie and asked if she’d mind taking a look, which she did. She really liked the first few chapters and stunned me by offering me a contract. The rest, as they say, is…well..it’s still ongoing really.

So now I have a website and a Facebook page and Twitter account and business cards and the all call be “Bob Stone Author”, like it’s some strange double-barrelled surname. The book is (at the time of writing) three weeks off publication and four weeks off launching. Will I be an author then? Or will I still feel like an imposter, using the description under false pretences? I suppose that depends on how the book is received.

It has taken me more than 40 years to get to this point. There were many times I felt like giving up and many times when I did, even if it was just for a while. But the support and encouragement I have had from Debbie and all the other authors at Beaten Track is phenomenal and has kept me going through all the doubt, all the times I have wanted to say “No, it’s fine, actually I’d rather you didn’t publish the book”. There are a great many smaller publishers like Beaten Track and I’ve heard good things about a number of them. It’s an increasingly popular alternative to the big boys or to self publishing and well worth investigating. But the most important thing is never to give up. You’ve written a great book. It deserves to be seen. Keep going until it you find the right way to make sure it is. It’s taken me a long time, and quite honestly, I’m just glad I’m not only just starting now. I don’t think I could cope with the excitement when I’m 93.

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About the Author:
Liverpool born Bob Stone is an author and bookshop owner. He has been writing for as long as he could hold a pen and some would say his handwriting has never improved. He is the author of two self-published children’s books, A Bushy Tale and A Bushy Tale: The Brush Off. Missing Beat, the first in a trilogy for Young Adults, is his first full-length novel.

Bob still lives in Liverpool with his wife and cat and sees no reason to change any of that.

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