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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, With The Band by Billy Cole is the new memoir about his life and career running his music shop, Cole’s Woodwind And Brass.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed musician and author Billy Cole about his memoir, With The Band, what inspired him to write it, and his creative process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
At the age of 17, I went to The University of New York at Morrisville where I studied musical Instrument repair. With diploma in hand, I applied for work but found that no music store wanted to hire me. So, I opened my own shop “Cole’s Woodwind and Brass.” Soon after I married my high school sweetheart Mary Alice. Through many serendipitous twists and turns, we raised our family with our little music shop.
Today, after 45 years of working on horns, I reflect back with great appreciation for a life that has given so much. In an effort to give back I travelled to the impoverished nation of Haiti in 2016 to teach instrument repair. After returning several times, I founded Horns for Haiti Inc. in 2020, an organization that teaches band instrument repair and how to start your own music business.
To date, we’ve trained dozens of musicians and music teachers how to repair and started two businesses. Billy Shop D’Haiti, Musical Instrument Repair and the Haitian Music Supply Company.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
After my dad passed my mother gave me a trunk of old family Cole mementos including photos, diplomas and news clippings. Mostly dating back to my great grandparents. However, when I got to the bottom of the trunk I found the hand written diary of Mark Cole, my Great, Great Grandfather’s 1852 voyage to America from his homeland in England. I felt so privileged to hold this piece of family history in my hands and more importantly, to read his words, his intimate thoughts about other passengers on the ship, his family and God. Wow, that inspired me to record my life for future generations of the Cole family.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I decide to write a collection of stories related to my music shop about 20 years ago.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
About 20 years
What made you want to write With The Band?
Again, I wrote it for my family, however as I started writing I realize how bless my life has been; that encouraged me to continue with enthusiasm.
What were your biggest challenges with writing With The Band?
No challenges really other than trying to recall dates and organizing events so they were told in order
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
You would think it would be me, since its my memoir. But, when it all played out my wife Mary Alice emerges as a leading character as she quietly, without fanfare, gives constant support and love.
Side note: It’s important to know this is the 2nd edition of With The Band. The first cover had a montage of back stage passes on it that I collected over the years. But after it was published I realized it was really a love story of sorts. So, when my daughter suggested putting an old photo of us on the cover, standing in front of our first shop., it seemed more appropriate.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
There certainly were people that were mean to me, mostly jealous, greedy people that would come and go during my career. I decide not to include these people in my book. Theres enough press about mean people, I decided not to give them a forum. (Again, advise from MA)
What is the inciting incident of With The Band?
What is the main conflict of With The Band?
Getting people to take me seriously in the very early years of my career.
Did you plot With The Band in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
Fly baby fly!
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did With The Band need?
A good friend of mine, Ken Drumm, who had some editing experience edited the core of the book for me. Even though I rewrote it several times, it still needed a lot of attention, and he spent a lot of time going over it.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Whenever I talked to an established writer about writing or publishing a book they would look me in the eyes and say, “Just write for yourself”. At first, I thought they were just blowing me off in a blunt way. After I got over the feeling of rejection, I eventually took their advice and I did write for me first. As I read back what I wrote, I thought, do I like this?, does this sentence flow?, have I made myself clear?, does this make me feel inspired? and does this make me to look forward to the next chapter? So yes, write it for yourself first, chances are, if you honestly love it, others will too. 😉
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
There are just so many more stories to tell. My next book is already in the works and it focuses on my work it Haiti and the non-for profit I founded “Horns for Haiti”
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I think everyone should write a memoir, since everyone’s life is special and it will, without a doubt, reveal both accomplishments and blessings in your life. Yes, it was worth every minute of effort.
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