Case Study #9

Author publishes 70-year-old war-time manuscript as a novel, securing a signing at British Imperial War Museum

 

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"We knew we found the right publisher because we were made to feel welcome and relaxed. Silverwood allowed us to have control of our book, while still offering their expert advice in the areas of publishing that we didn't quite understand. When they said it was worth publishing, we believed them. Our mother always wanted to publish this book, so it's been wonderful to do it for her. We felt like we went to absolutely the right place to get it done."
 

Author Profile

Gillian Fernandez Morton grew up in post-war Portsmouth. After pursuing a social science degree, Gillian stepped sideways into education where her curiosity about children who were failing in school drew her to therapeutic training. She has published papers and contributed to conferences nationally and internationally.
 
Bombweed is Gillian's first novel, based on an unpublished story written in 1947 by her mother. Assisted by her sister Maureen, she turned their mother's lengthy typescript narrative into an engrossing tale of love, loss and sibling rivalry in wartime Britain.
 

70-year-old manuscript collecting dust has potential

 
In the 1940s, Gillian's mother, Margaret, wrote a story based on her experiences of the Second World War. This four-volume manuscript detailed the love, loss and chaos of life during wartime. Margaret dreamed of publishing this work when she completed it in 1947 but faced resistance that it was 'too soon'. At the time, publishers were looking for battle tales of heroism rather than one exploring the real-life psychological effects of the war. So when Margaret passed away in 2005, her two daughters inherited this treasure and Gillian decided to read it.
 
Although the manuscript needed major work, Gillian realised its potential as a novel. Maureen stepped in to help her shorten the four folders of typescript, reducing it down to 150,000 words - but it was still too long. Over months of collaborative editing, sharing memories and working together on it, they had a more acceptable novel length ready for publishing.
 
"I went on creative writing workshops and did get some advice on submission packages to publishers. They gave some nice feedback, but nothing concrete," shares Gillian.
 
Because this work was so personal, it was essential to Gillian and her sister that they retain creative control over their book. They wanted a publisher to assist where they lacked expertise, such as with the cover design, print and the more technical aspects of the publishing world.
 
"How would we secure an ISBN or know what to do to get the book printed? We knew what we wanted it to look and feel like, but we needed support for the publishing process without being shut out. So Maureen literally knocked on SilverWood's door to make an appointment to discuss what was possible for our book," Gillian recalls.
 

SilverWood Books provides collaborative, yet expert, publishing resource

 
From the beginning, Gillian and her sister knew they made the right decision, because SilverWood took a collaborative approach. "We knew we'd found the right publisher when we were made to feel welcome and relaxed straight away. They were so encouraging. We felt there was expertise when we needed it to help us understand the publishing process, but we could still have control over what we wanted to do ourselves."
 
The book cover was an area where Gillian and Maureen had a clear idea of what they wanted, but needed SilverWood to execute the artwork. "We had a family photograph of my father's house when he was a boy which we wanted combined with an artistic picture of the rosebay willowherb, nicknamed bombweed after the war. My sister Maureen even took in a book of wildflower prints."
 
SilverWood went above and beyond to make sure the book cover design was just right. Gillian shares, "It was so nice to speak to the designer on the phone. After showing them the pictures, she came back with exactly what we wanted. It was a lovely feeling, seeing the final result."
 
Because SilverWood recognised their voice in the process, Gillian felt confident to publish Bombweed. "I knew we were in safe hands. When they said it was worth publishing, we believed them."
 

Rich recollections and a fruitful book signing at the Imperial War Museum

 
Since publishing, the sisters have sold many copies of the book and held reading events at libraries, museums, independent bookshops and book festivals. After organising a book signing in their visitors' shop, the Imperial War Museum has stocked the book, placing a bulk order in anticipation of their next event. Gillian and her sister have appeared on radio and receive continued interest from local press, museums and libraries.
 
Maureen and her mother Margaret, pregnant with Gillian at the time, were evacuated to a farm during the war - an experience which forms part of the story. To reconnect with their mother's past, Maureen placed an ad in the local Wiltshire paper to try and find the exact location and some of the people there. One woman whose family lived and worked on the same farm has been in touch, sharing a poignant trip with the sisters to the farming family's graves to pay their respects.
 
Gillian shares that the most rewarding outcome is the endless 'small stories' she hears from readers, "I've connected with so many people who relate to the story or connect to the events in the book. People whose grandparents or parents never wanted to talk about the war, little memories, showing how the book has truly meant something to them. From writing the book, I've also connected with the younger generation who are simply interested in that period and the history. I have lots of little conversations that are so moving."

Buy your copy of Bombweedhere or visit www.gfmortonbombweed.com

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Bombweed

Bombweed

Gillian Fernandez Morton

Paperback

£11.99

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