A Hundred Years To Arras

By Jason Cobley

From a Somerset farm to the trenches of France: one man's coming of age through land, love and blood

Friday, 19 August 2022

Happy Birthday!

Today, 19th August, marks one whole year since 'A Hundred Years to Arras' was published. It came to life because of your support, and it's one of my proudest achievements.

When Unbound agreed to take it on, it was on the understanding that production, editing and - ahem - marketing were paid for through crowdfunding. Unlike something like Kickstarter, it isn't just anybody who gets to do it. Books were - and still are - carefully curated by Unbound in the way that any publisher would. My book, among many others, was part of what was called 'The Digital List', in that it was to be promoted as an e-book and the paperback alongside it. In the end, the paperback has done much better than the e-book. On release, Unbound promoted a little bit on social media and orgnaised what's called a Blog Tour, where a number of websites and bloggers reviewed the book. Universally, they loved it, praising the "beautiful" writing and the the "moving" story. It was then up to me alone to try and get it into magazines, newspapers etc. I managed to get one article in the local online newspaper, and an interview on BBC Radio Somerset, with readings too! Wonderful! I managed to get places at a few book festivals, but the majority rejected me and the book out of hand. Not famous enough. Stratfod Literary Festival decided it was self-published (it isn't; Unbound is a 'proper' publisher) and I was then invited to their indie writers event, which turned out to be a single table in a hotel lobby and a 2 minute slot to 'pitch' my book to an audience. On the other hand, I was made so welcome and did so well as Southam and Moulton Literary Festivals that I'm going back this year. My favourite 'event' was joining Patrick Kincaid's Write Club for an evening to talk about the writing of the novel. A lovely group of people! I teamed up with another author to sign and sell books at a Christmas market, which was a great experience, and I'll be at Quinn's Literary Festival in Market Harborough on Saturday 27th August, which looks to be a great event. I'll be there with copies of all my books. 

To my knowledge, the book hasn't been put forward by the publisher to any awards, so nothing for being a debut novelist, no place on the Booker Prize longlist, no certificates or badges. But that's OK. That's not why we do it. I found out too late that I could have put myself forward for prizes but what ya gonna do. The 'Digital List' has come to an end and Unbound's focus is on their newer authors.

I have been overwhelmed by the positive reactions I've had to the book, but one year on, as we stand at 24 reviews on Amazon, 18 on GoodReads and the aforementioned dozen or so on social media, momentum has inevitably slowed. It's stocked in a number of bookshops, who have all been brilliant. Some have re-ordered, some give it a prominent place. Waterstones in Leamington Spa have had it in stock all year. Another branch of Waterstones promised to get it in but then didn't, which was disappointing. My dream would have been for it to be in all branches but alas, not to be. This sounds like a big whinge I know, but really just an illustration of how difficult it is for authors. Unless you're a celebrity or offering something very marketable, it's a struggle to get noticed. There are of course many exceptions. Unbound's very own Lulu Allison, with a literary novel like mine, got on the Women's Prize Longlist, for example - and well deserved it is too. Hers is a great book. 

I do think 'A Hundred Years to Arras' has longevity - an attempt to generate a buzz around Remembrance Sunday and the anniversary of the Battle of Arras went nowhere, but I believe it is now stocked at the bookshop at the Wellington Tunnels Museum in Arras itself! I'm still available for book clubs and signings and bookshops and libraries! And 11th November and 9th April come around every year!

So, what's next? 

When I started crowdfunding, my Dad had recently died, I was working at a secondary school in a senior role. When it finished (during lockdown), my Mam also died, I left that job and became Head Teacher at a small school in a hospital for teenagers with mental health issues. It was both an immensely humbling and satisfying experience, as well as a very worrying one. One day I'll write about it in some form. The book was out by that stage, but then I moved on to a new secondary school. I've been teaching for many years, and the English teacher as a novelist is a bit of a cliche by now. I guess as a middle-aged working-class-but-in-a-middle-class-job man I'm not as marketable as some to agents and some publishers. And that's OK. We need a variety of voices. There hasn't been any agent or publisher interest yet in (working title) 'This House Aches', my novel set around the Tonypandy Riots of 1910. I'm persisting, but I'm also working on another book, which I may end up self-publishing, provisionally titled 'Eutierria'. What is it, exactly? It's a mystery. What can you deduce from the (very rough) draft cover?

Anyway, thanks once again for your support of 'A Hundred Years to Arras'. If you can find some time to pop a quick review on Amazon, it would make a huge difference - or if you'd just like to drop me a line, feel free! jmcobley @ gmail.com



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