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Jude Southerland Kessler

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Shoulda Been There
by Jude Southerland Kessler   

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Historical Fiction

Publisher:  Penin Inc Publishing ISBN-10:  0979944805 Type: 


Copyright:  2007 ISBN-13:  9780979944802

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On the Rock Books
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Shoulda been there

Shoulda Been There tells the tragic story of John Lennon's life from 1940 until the day The Beatles signed with Brian Epstein in 1961.

Readers meet all of the family, friends, teachers, and mentors who shaped John's future. The death of beloved Uncle George and later, his mother, Julia as well as his early separation from his parents leads to John's ensuing quest for happiness and to his desire to become famous, "the toppermost of the poppermost." Readers will see the beginnings of The Beatles and their struggles to become bigger 'n Elvis.

Shoulda Been There is the first work of historical fiction on the life of John Lennon. Many, many non-fiction books have been written about Lennon, and an entire genre of fiction stories exist about the famous composer/singer/entertainer. As Beatles' expert, Bill Harry, phrased it, "Now comes a book...that breathes life into...the worn tale." Shoulda Been There is a researched historical fiction, documented over 20 years with 7 trips to Liverpool and countless interviews with the real people who were there! Although it is a touching novel, it contains footnotes, endnotes, an encyclopedia or real characters, a Scouse glossary of Liverpool terms, and photos of the author's many trips Merseyside.    Excerpt
To read a sample chapter, please go to and click on "read the novel." The book is sold through It is not sold in large chain bookstores. The author will entertain selling the book in small book venues on a case by case basis. It is "coming soon" to The Beatles Shop in Liverpool.

Professional Reviews

A New Wave of Beatlemania Hits Our Area
A New Wave of Beatlemania Hits our Area
By Ann Varnum
“The Ann Varnum Show,” WTVY, CBS Affiliate
Feature Writer for “Wiregrass Living,” “Dothan Magazine,” and “The Dothan Eagle”

You just Shoulda been there, and you can…by reading the new book by that title recently released by perky Alabama author, Jude Southerland Kessler. Researched, documented, written, and revised over twenty years, Shoulda been there is the only factual historical novel ever written on the life of famed Beatle, John Lennon. And it is now available for fans everywhere to enjoy!
Those who know Jude Kessler well aren’t a bit surprised that this marvelous repository of Beatle facts wrapped in a fiction shell has come to be! Jude Kessler has been writing all of her life.
Encouraged by her college administrator/educator father, Dr. Tom Paul Southerland, and her professor mother, Maxine Southerland, to write, write, write, Jude published her first book – a volume of poetry entitled Memories from Grade School Years – in 1964. Even though Jude was only twelve years old when the work was published, a local art teacher took an interest in the book and illustrated it for her.
Later, when the Southerland family moved to Natchitoches, Louisiana (the city where Steel Magnolias actually took place and was filmed), Jude began writing for “The Natchitoches Times.” A “junior features editor” under the tutelage of editor, Lovan Thomas, Jude was able to “sit at the feet” of a man who owned and operated 18 successful Louisiana newspapers. Thomas took time to critique each article Kessler wrote and guided her in successful, accurate reporting.
In 1974, Kessler completing college with two degrees in only three years (one in English and one in history), maintaining a perfect 4.0 average. And without a semester’s breather, Jude went right on to secure her master’s degree in English at the University of Maryland in College Park.
In Maryland, Jude met her future husband, a Midshipman at the Naval Academy, Rande Kessler, and after the two were married, they moved many times while Jude taught English to junior high and high school students. When they settled in Dothan, Alabama from 1981-86, Jude taught English composition and literature at Troy State University.
It was only when her son, Cliff, began first grade in 1986 that Jude decided to write the novel she had always planned to write. Since she had been an avid Lennon fan since 1964, she gravitated to that topic. She was convinced that she knew more about Lennon than any other topic.
“If you want to know how little you know about anything,” Kessler smiled in a recent interview, “try writing a complete history on that topic.” She quickly realized that she knew only fables, tales, and rhetoric about the famous Beatle. Research on Lennon, therefore, became her life.
From September of 1986 until 26 November 2007, when Shoulda been there was released, Kessler spent every spare minute immersed in Lennon books, interview CD’s, informational DVD’s, journals, videos, and newspaper archives. She traveled to Liverpool, England, seven times to interview hundreds of “Beatle people” – including the Beatles first manager, Allan Williams; the former life model at Liverpool College of Art (where John attended college), June Furlong; Helen Anderson, John’s dear friend from art school days, and Dave Bennion, the Head Boy at John’s high school.
Jude and her husband, Rande, spent hours talking to the colorful people who became her characters: Bob Wooler, the d.j. at The Cavern Club where The Beatles performed hundreds of times in the early ‘60’s and John’s uncle, Charlie Lennon. They walked through every school and pub that Lennon ever attended, photographing it all. And they strolled through the homes of Paul McCartney and Pete Best.
“We saw Best’s home, The Casbah Club, where The Beatles performed in 1959 and 1960 before it was open to the general public,” Kessler confided, “thanks to Ray Johnson of Cavern City Tours. We held John Lennon’s sketch book, ‘The Daily Howl’ when it was still in private hands. On a couple of occasions, the people of Liverpool tested us to see if we could measure up to their trust. When we passed muster, they opened their hearts unequivocally.”
Here in “the States,” Kessler met and interviewed Ruth McCartney, Paul’s sister, and Louise Harrison, George’s sister. She traveled to New York to hear former Beatles’ drummer Pete Best speak. She began to write for Beatle newsletters and seek guidance from other Beatle authors such as the talented Jim O’Donnell, who generously gave her time and advice.
By 2003, Kessler had completed the one-of-a-kind project – telling John’s story carefully and faithfully, but doing so in a novel format – and she was ready to hand the manuscript over to Philadelphia editor, Diana Nolan. Nolan reduced the enormous work from over 1,000 pages to 780 working pages. The novel was taking shape.
In August of 2007, just as Kessler was going to print with her book, she ran across a bit of trivia for which she had no answer. “I wrote to the Head of Liverpool College of Art, Colin Fallows, to ask what art course Bruce Sabine had taught in the 1960’s. Colin, who had helped me so many times over my twenty years of research, suggested that I write to noted Beatle authority, Bill Harry. I was a bit daunted, because Harry was ‘larger than life’ to me. All of his remarkable works had guided me in my research. It was a bit like an ingénue scientist approaching Einstein. But…I plucked up my courage, and e-mailed him. Mr. Harry answered almost immediately!”
And not only did he answer the question about Sabine, he agreed to write the foreword for Kessler’s book. “He was remarkably supportive and kind…an amazing man,” Kessler is still dazed by the offer. “When Bill Harry wrote that I ‘breathed life’ into the age-old Lennon saga, I was taken aback. I was thrilled.”
Jude has been similarly exhilarated over the book’s success. Half the first edition has sold in the first 7 weeks of publication, and book orders are coming in from all over the United States, even though the book is only sold via Beatles’ websites, Kessler’s website (, and in smaller bookstores and gift shops.
So far, those who have finished the book are amazed at Kessler’s skill as she weaves the moving story of a little boy lost into the story of the “Nowhere Man” who cried “Help!” to a world of screaming fans. Enthusiastic Dothan reader, Julie Dowling states, “It’s absolutely fabulous!” and Sharon Powell comments, “Jude’s style is so vivid that it makes you feel as if you know the characters personally.”
Leigh Salter Harp of Dothan observed, “The book is riveting…even if you aren’t a Beatlephile!” She added that she had to set aside a strict time for reading Kessler’s novel, “because once I get started, I can’t stop.”
“For me,” Kessler sighs, “telling the story of John’s mother who was forced to relinquish him and of John’s father, who had to leave the young boy under adverse circumstances, is more important than explaining why John played a Rickenbacker…or rode on the top of double Decker busses. This is a story about a mother, a father, and a little boy. It is a story about the importance of parents in our lives.”
Kessler had unbelievable familial support in writing her novel. “My parents gave me a check that sent me on my first trip to Liverpool, and my in-laws babysat for me while I travelled. My sister edited the book early on, as did my sister-in-law, and later my sister spent hours in technical revisions. My son, Cliff, never let me give up on my dream. He would call me and say, ‘C’mon, when are you going to have it finished!?” And my daughter-in-law, Paige, was my friend throughout the long, tedious process.”
“But my number one fan, critic, editor, and supporter was my husband, Rande, who took me to Liverpool, took notes at all my interviews, investigated the publishing process and made the book into a reality, and is my business manager.” Kessler, the CEO of Advanced Coastal Technologies, is no stranger to creativity. He plays several musical instruments, builds and refinishes furniture, has won awards for his pen and ink sketches, and has composed a CD of rock songs. “Rande understands the dedication and long hours it takes to make work into art work. He knows,” Kessler said.
The Kesslers have devoted an entire room in their home to Beatle books and memorabilia. Imagine…the face of John Lennon on a marble! “It’s fun to collect, but most of my funds have been spent on research books,” Jude explained. “I was determined to get to the bottom of Beatle myths, to tell the truth about John’s life in my book. I had no desire to perpetuate Beatle tales that just weren’t true.”
So whether you are a fan of The Beatles or not, you will enjoy Jude Kessler’s well-researched and colorfully written account of Lennon’s life. “The chapters are so short that you can enjoy one in just a few minutes, and then move on to something else if your time is limited,” Barbara Liddon noted. “The book is written in vignettes for the busy reader. It’s digestible.”
It’s the perfect companion for a soggy spring afternoon by the fire or a long day at the beach. Shoulda been there is on sale locally at Red House Books, Northcutt’s on Main, Mint Julep, Attitudes and Company, Dothan Daily Mail, and The Wiregrass Museum of Art. And Kessler will be on hand at Red House Books on Saturday, 5 April, to autograph books and answer questions. “I am also honored to speak to local groups about the research and the story…just not in late March. I’m going back to Liverpool then…to begin book two!”

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