Golden Oldies


The importance of reinventing personal experience in fiction.

‘I don’t see the point in writing fiction if you’re real life is full of events,’ says 83 year old Mancunian writer, Alice Mellalieu-Cambell, author of the self-published autobiographical My Story [ISBN 0955398509].

And certainly, eventful lives are something this month’s star older generation writers have had, Alice Mellalieu-Cambell in the UK and out in Canada, and Billy Hopkins, the best-selling Manchester writer, too, with his African experiences (Going Places) now behind him, and writing with gusto about his retirement years in Whatever Next! – the sixth volume in the best-selling Hopkins’ family saga.

But with regard to what Alice avers about the pointlessness of writing fiction in such circumstances – well, this is something I really must remember to tackle the lady about when next we meet up for elevenses at Manchester’s North City Library, bless her. For the time being, though, perhaps I had better explain that Alice has very generously (far too generously, in my opinion) stuck to her guns in her autobiographical, My Story, which just so happens to be a very close-packed 200,000 words long. In other words, it’s like buying two books in one. Which, given that Alice is a very sprightly and articulate 83 years of age, may suit her right down to the ground. However, I do seriously doubt that her advice in the matter is appropriate for an author of a lesser longevity in the sense that, unless autobiographical material is used more sparingly, there will be nothing left to draw from this particular well should the aforementioned younger writer want to write a second novel, a third, and so on.

Make no mistake about it, though, if it’s value for money reading matter you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong with My Story because of the book’s similarity of narrative style to William Woodruff’s Nab End novels.

Billy Hopkins’ books, of which Whatever Next! is his sixth*, are also value for money, his new one being itself over 300 (not quite so close packed) pages in length, you may well prefer to find. But there, to my mind, the apparent similarity ends. Because, as Billy Hopkins reveals in the very first paragraph of Whatever Next!: “As with the first five books in this series the present volume should be considered a work of fiction. The story has been inspired by true events, but I have taken dramatic liberties in order to create what I hope is an enjoyable read.”

A most enjoyable read it is, too, and I think Billy Hopkins has got another winner on his hands here. My initial reaction is that Whatever Next! is my second favourite only to Kate’s Story.

In Whatever Next! I do truly relish every detail of Billy Hopkins’ dealings with the world of publishing. (Like myself, this author was originally self-published, readers may be interested to know.) An initial period of readjustment is needed, I think, in order to accommodate a scenario wherein the perennially ebullient, go-ahead, life-long questing Billy Hopkins of old has – well, grown old, I suppose. Wherein, too, he is effectively having to fight a rearguard action, as it were. against popular misconceptions with regard to his true capabilities as a retired professional who now turns his hand to a series of unsuccessful business ventures. But I could not, come the revelations about Billy’s UK privatisation stock dealings during the 1980s, put this book down. There is so much common ground here that the book is to some extent a necessary social document, as indeed are the other books in theHopkins canon, each in its own way.

Note, though, ye aspiring writers and self-publishers, what many of Billy Hopkins’ many fans fail to realise or appreciate is that, despite his having lived a very interesting and varied life, occasionally in climes exotic to a native Mancunian, the author has, as he says, been ever inclined to reinvent and restructure his life experience for dramatic effect. So, if a novelist you would be, make sure you utilise your life experience, but stop short of sheer, unadulterated reminiscence. Unless, of course, like Alice, you intend to write just one book and one book only.

Still, lest I conclude on too serious a note, here’s a joke, courtesy of Billy Hopkins’ dourly parsimonious father-in-law, who offers it to him in all seriousness, for the use of:

‘Never pass a toilet or ye may come to regret it!’

Why is it, I wonder, that an imagined Scottish burr simply adds to the humour inherent in this admonition.

* At 80 years of age Billy Hopkins, brought out his seventh novel, Tommy’s World [ISBN 9780755359585] in November 2009.

PS Maybe check out Billy Hopkins’ website  It’s a fun read!

March 2010

© Bill Keeth

Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website,

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