Writing my first novel


How did it all get started? This is a question I often hear when telling others I have written my first novel. Well, it blossomed out of my research into my family’s ancestry. The earliest ancestor of which I am certain was born in the late 1700s in a small village about 15 miles north of London, England. My grandfather wrote a note to his brother saying “he was a knuckle fighter and went by the name of Bob Gill.” That peeked my interest because my research showed his real name was Robert Gilderson, and he was a shoemaker. So I concluded that Bob Gill was the fighting name he used when he was earning some money with his second vocation. From there I went on to look at Theydon Garnon, the village where he was baptized in the local church. That church has a wonderful website that describes the church and its work, but also includes the history of the building and the neighboring area.


All of this caught my attention as I researched the happenings of that era. My mind began to imagine a plot for the story. In those days the Lord of the Manor was a powerful local man who controlled much of what went on in his manor. In the story I turned this man into an evil monster who became involved in smuggling. He also defrauded an unfortunate couple who were going through desperate times. Eventually my knuckle fighter/ shoemaker hero fashions a plot that gives this villain his comeuppance. The book title is “The Beast of Theydon Garnon.” The Lord of the Manor is the Beast.

When I was writing the original script I found the experience exciting. Normally I will watch a baseball game in the evening while relaxing in my wonderful recliner. Those games, I have found, are often televised only partially. Several innings are omitted. But when it came to writing, I stayed up late, engrossed with my imaginative work. That turned out to be the easy part.

I bought a couple of books on writing and publishing, and discovered that it takes many years for the average writer to get his book into print. I told myself I was not sure I had that much tread left on my tires. Many authors have to convince an agent of their work. This process requires great patience and a thick skin as most encounter several rejections. Therefore I turned to the self publication route.

I had taken a short story writing course at a Millsaps enrichment class, and the teacher encouraged me when reading one chapter of my book. Through him I found a local professional editor. Together we went through countless readings to correct punctuation and other mistakes. The editor made several suggestions but always deferred to me as the author. At one time he suggested that it would add a little interest to have the wife of the antagonist give birth. “All right,” I said, “go ahead and get her pregnant.”

Once we were both satisfied with the story, it was time to do several administrative chores.We had to apply for a copyright, library of Congress number, and other things. (The copyright is needed because one day this will be a blockbuster Hollywood movie. I’ve already picked out the overweight character to play the villain: a recently disgraced movie mogul.) My editor knew his way through all of these requirements and thus sped the process. My granddaughter recently graduated with an art major at the University of Wisconsin. She did a wonderful job with the book cover, and I hired another lady to perform the graphic design and page layout. Altogether it took me about two years to produce the book. I decided to have a hard cover copy because its cost was only $3 more than paperback. My unit cost is relatively high. By comparison John Grisham undoubtedly prints tens of thousands of copies. His cost must be a fraction of mine. I chose the minimum, just 500 copies. When these were shipped I had the boxes stored in our pantry. Do you know what five hundred books look like? Just ask my wife. She said something about my having to eat my words.


Next came the task of selling all these books. I discovered that book stores typically take 40 percent of the sales price. If I chose that route I would fall far short of covering my costs. I decided to initially sell copies privately, and then, if necessary, to turn over the remainder to the stores. In this respect my endeavor is like growing a small kitchen garden: it would be cheaper to buy from the farm store, but the grower has the satisfaction of producing his own. So far I have sold 100 copies. I will have a book signing at The Corner Bakery in Madison on June 21 from 3-4 p.m., and at The Corner Bakery in Flowood on June 22 from 3-4 p.m. Come one, come all.

Peter Gilderson is a Northsider.

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