Primary school teacher wins international book awards
It took Douglas Reed ten years to complete Child of Gilead.
A labour of love, it was worth the effort; the Elliot Primary School teacher’s book nabbed top honours in the fiction categories of both the BookLife Prize and the Writer’s Digest’s Annual Self-Published Book Awards last summer.
“I was stunned that I won. Still have to pinch myself at times,” he said. “I thought it had a chance to be received well because I think Publisher’s Weekly [which sponsors the BookLife Prize] in general leans towards literary fiction, which Child of Gilead is. But I’m still amazed that I won. Feel incredibly blessed and honoured that I did.”
The author describes his book as a parable centred around a young mother and son and the secrets that might be revealed after they are visited by an old family friend.
Child of Gilead is Mr Reed’s second book. He wrote his first, Garden’s Corner, 20 years ago.
“It took many years to finally get to my second novel but I never lost sight of continuing that dream to write,” he said explaining how the combination of family life, teaching duties and his work coaching talented youngsters involved with the charity, Team Hurricane Basketball Academy, had kept him busy.
“I started and I stopped, it was a long process. Even my first novel took me about five years to write. I am one of those writers that write when I really feel in the creative space and sometimes there are periods when that space isn’t really there. Although I’m constantly thinking of stories, actually sitting down to type it out, sometimes it can be a long journey.”
He saw an opportunity in March when schools and businesses were shut and residents ordered to shelter in place because of the threat of Covid-19.
“The pandemic came and [I thought], ‘I have this time, let me really sit down and finish it.’ I was able to really get into a comfortable schedule of getting the work done, to use my time productively.”
When school resumed in September, the teacher was thrilled to share the news with his students that he had written a book and entered it in competition.
“The contest was in stages and I actually kept them informed all along the way,” he said. “They were constantly asking: ‘Mr Reed did you win yet? Did you win yet?’ They were very excited [to the point that] they want to put a book together. It’s really encouraging to see that they’re so excited and so supportive.”
He believes its simplicity is part of the reason why Child of Gilead has received the acclaim it has.
“It’s simply told, yet there are a lot of big ideas that are expressed in the story and I think people are responding to that. Within the main story there are lots of little stories and slowly but surely you see them all come together, how they all seem to build up to this climax.
“My friends and family have been very supportive. They’ve enjoyed the story. I’ve had a whole lot of love and support. It’s very encouraging.”
Mr Reed has been interested in writing since “a kid” although it was screenplays that initially captivated him.
“My father had a great in-house library. I was one of those kids who always had a book in his hand. My mom encouraged me with writing at a very young age, my teachers encouraged me. It was just something that naturally came.
“I wanted to be a filmmaker making independent films and I wrote a few screenplays and tried to get them made independently, to get them produced.”
Inspired by JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, he wrote his first novel.
“It was a coming of age story kind of, [and featured] a similar type of character to Holden Caulfield,” Mr Reed said. “Just loving words and how people tell stories is always something that I’ve enjoyed.
“I plan to continue to write. I may want to do a children’s book. [Within Child of Gilead] there is a folk tale that’s being told which I may want to turn into a children’s book. It would almost be like a complementary piece but that’s another project in terms of finding an illustrator and things of that nature.”
Bolstered by the positive reaction to his novels, and now that he is more disciplined in his writing, Mr Reed’s plan is to put out his next book more quickly.
“I don’t intend for it to take me as long. I think maybe, hopefully, my next one I can do in record time, maybe a year. Because I’ve had such a good time with writing I think I’m really going to make an effort to produce more work. It’s been very fulfilling and something I want to keep on doing and not take so long in between.”
When Covid-19 made book signings impossible, he was grateful that BookBaby, the publishing company he chose, offered easy access to online sellers Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Rakuten.
“They give you access to all of these online distributors as well as some wholesalers as well,” Mr Reed said. “They do a lot of the legwork for you so I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to sell the book in the States, the UK, wherever their network reaches. That’s been really cool.”
Child of Gilead is available through online book stores and also at Brown & Co. Follow Douglas Reed, Author on Twitter and Facebook. For more information visit https://bit.ly/3bcNnxU