I’m joined today by history enthusiast Bob Aston. He’s telling us about the inspiration behind his Jack O’ series as well as the bumps on the road to publication.
Would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
Born in Oxford to Black Country parents, I was raised by my grandmother when my mother died early and my father waltzed off in search of pastures new. I had to leave school at the age of fifteen with no qualifications, an abhorrence of learning, and the conviction that I was stupid.
By an amazing stroke of luck, I became an apprentice in an engineering drawing office. Night School was a fresh start, for the subjects being studied there were relevant to my need to earn a wage.
After gaining experience at this and other engineering companies, I got a job as a Research Engineer at the University of Birmingham. While instructing the students in Machine Tool Technology, I was encouraged to undertake research work with the object of gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree. This was followed by a Master of Philosophy . . . both obtained by writing and submitting substantial theses.
(well you did ask)
What inspired you to start writing?
After the shock of unexpected (but voluntary) redundancy, I urgently needed to find an all-consuming pastime.
Having written the theses and articles for engineering journals, I wondered if I could write something with people in it. A short course in ‘Creating Writing’ showed me that I could. During the course, one of the tasks was to write about a building in Dudley. I chose Dudley Castle.
So when the course had finished, I tried sending one of my efforts to a weekly local newspaper.
To my amazement it was accepted for publication and was serialised in that paper. Readers’ response was very encouraging, so I did it again … and again, running to consecutive stories in forty episodes.
The journey to publication
When the newspaper eventually declined more episodes, I merged the first three stories and sent the resulting manuscript to a publisher in Birmingham.
I heard nothing for SEVEN MONTHS and then received a note too say that it wasn’t up their street.
Discouraged by this, I came across an advert by ‘PenPress’ offering ‘Partnership Publishing’. I would pay for Editing, Cover Design and Production Costs and they would also market the book. They seemed to be offering what is called ‘Vanity Publishing’ but I knew that I needed the services of professionals.
I had a pretty good idea about what I wanted, including line drawings to avoid the need for long descriptions of the Castle, the medieval town of Dudley, the costumes and artefacts.
The staff at Penpress were friendly and the editing was good. The line drawings were incorporated without any trouble.
The paperback ‘Jack O’ Beans’ was just as I wanted, and I contracted them for the second one, ‘Jack O’ Knaves’.
This time, the experience wasn’t good. Two Proof Copies of ‘Jack O’ Knaves’ contained many mistakes. When I provided a list of these and their locations, the ladies at ‘Penpress’ seemed to have hysterics.
After a lot of argy bargy, only a couple of corrections remained when they suddenly ceased trading.
Their CO suggested that their sister organisation (Author Essentials) would carry on with the publication. Author Essentials had already published short stories by my wife and myself, so we were relieved that they agreed to help us.
They made the two alterations right away, but it took nine months to geta printed copy of the book.
‘Jack O’ Knaves’ was just how we wanted it to be and everything seemed to be going well when they too ceased trading
However, they passed us on to ‘New Generation’.
‘New Generation’ agreed to continue publishing ‘Jack O’ Beans’ and ‘Jack O’ Knaves’ and to add ‘Jack O’ War’ to form the Trilogy.
This latest phase has proved to be both enjoyable and fruitful.
Initially, my main reason for publishing the books was just to see what could be achieved. But now I am hoping that the books can promote Dudley Castle, and the medieval heritage of the town and surrounding area.
All three books are on sale on New Generation’s website and are available via ‘Amazon’ and ‘Waterstones’. They are also being sold in local outlets.
What is your latest book about?
‘Jack O’ War’, follows on from ‘Jack O’ Beans’ and‘Jack O’ Knaves’.
Jack is now grown to manhood and, together wit his feisty grandmother, they get caught up in the war between King Edward the Second and his rebelling barons.
Fed up in an unhappy marriage, Jack enrols as an archer in the Baron of Dudley’s contingent in the King’s army.
And In spite of a barely healed sword-wound (‘Jack O’ Knaves’) he plays a crucial role in the war.
On the way to the war-zone, he witnesses a demon being summoned up to kill the King and his most loyal barons (based on records from the time).
And on returning to Dudley Castle, he and his Gran fight the demon when it comes to claim the Baron.
As the story unfolds, Jack recalls the events in his past that have brought him to his present situation. In this way, it can be enjoyed without the necessity of reading the previous books.
How did you come up with the title?
All three books have Jack O’ in their title. This follows the pattern established for ‘Jack O’ Beans’. This was inspired by the word ‘Jacobean’, and the fact that the story suggests an origin for ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’.
Did you celebrate the publication day?
We publicised ‘Jack O’ Beans’ by renting the ground floor of the local ‘’Cancer Support’ building. With food and wine laid on, we invited the Mayor of Dudley, the guardians of Dudley Castle and the local press.
Of these, only the Mayor and Mayoress came.
The friends who supported us had a good time, but we didn’t think that the considerable expenditure would warrant a repeat.
Do you have work in progress?
I’ve gone back to my first medieval story in which a modern youth is transported back to Medieval Dudley. For this, I’m having to return to researching the Middle English language.
I’m also involved with a local ‘Writers’ Group’ and perform my irreverent verse at a local café. These, and other methods of promoting my books are rather distracting at present.
What are your favourite books?
Richmal Crompton’s ‘Just William’ books.
The style of writing and the humour are incredible.
What book for a Desert Island?
The New Testament.
I’m still trying to figure out what really happened by comparing the accounts given in the Godspells.
What book would you like to see made into a film?
Performers? No idea.
How can people connect with you on social media?
What character would you like to be in a book?
‘Jack in ‘Jack O’ Knaves’.
That’s where he falls in love with his future wife.