The story behind the story
Beryl the Beetle
by Jayne Reed
The year we lost Dad was horrible. I was desperate to have, or to do something as a tribute to him and all our memories whilst growing up, through married life and when my own children were young - and so I wrote. I scribbled down ideas whenever they came, whether it was walking the dog after work or any time I was alone with my thoughts. Sometimes it would only be a sentence or two here and there, others an idea for a character; a plot for a book, or just a group of words I wanted to use. It gave me something to focus on and it helped me grieve. In a way, I was bringing my dad back to life. I thought, one day, my children would be able to read my story to their own children and they would know about their Great Grandad Ernie.
For a couple of years, the ideas didn’t come freely and I didn’t think I could do it. It was pointless I thought. It wasn’t good enough. But Richard, my husband, encouraged me and told me to keep writing. He taught me to believe in myself. So, I carried on, a couple of lines here and there, just plodding on but nevertheless not giving up.
Then, as time went by, it began to get easier. During a holiday something told me that I should put all my ideas into a story and so I wrote and I wrote and I sketched and painted my ideas. The ideas came easily and my writing flowed freely. I looked at the sketches of Dad and his workshop and it made me smile; I could almost see him smiling back at me too. Over the course of a couple of months I tweaked and changed parts of the story, moving a sentence here and adding an extra few words there. I drafted and redrafted until finally it was finished and I was happy. And so, Beryl was ‘born’.
Where do I go from here?
I shared the story of Beryl the beetle with my family, and I felt proud. I was pleased that I had finished it and I thought that it wouldn’t even matter if no one else read it again. But, I would self-publish my story for my dad and it would be out there nevertheless, for him. I took the finished manuscript to the school where I worked and read it to all the year groups and staff just to see what the response would be. They loved it! Even the kids in year 6 told me that they wanted to be the first to buy it and said that they wanted me to sign it for them. I had children in Reception sitting quietly listening, waiting for the secret I promised to tell them at the end. I told the story of Beryl and Ernie the paint shop man and then I told them the secret; that Ernie the paint shop man was a real person – he was my Dad.
Because I’d had such a great response from the kids at school, I decided not to self-publish after all but to try my luck at finding a publisher - what was there to lose? I started by sending off my story to 10 publishers, having researched the ones most suitable for my target audience. I planned a list of another 10 possibilities ready for the next batch after the rejections that I expected to come. I knew it would be a tough journey and probably one that would never happen, but I still thought it was worth a try. So, I submitted my manuscript for Beryl the Beetle and I waited.
A couple of publishers came back straight away and said although it was well written and had great potential, it wasn’t for them. Do they say that to everyone I thought? Another said they would like to see more of my stories before they would then make a decision. Then a couple of days before Christmas I opened the door and found a large white envelope on my doormat. I opened it and read the letter. I had to read it several times before it actually sunk in. My manuscript had been accepted! A publisher wanted my book! I had a contract to sign!