Last month I happened to mention that: “Often and oft at various venues in the Greater Manchester conurbation have I enjoyed presentations by Billy Hopkins.
Who he? you say.
Billy Hopkins (check out Amazon and www.billysbooks.info ) is the octogenarian best-seller who wrote the hugely humorous and 7-strong Manchester-based family saga that commences with his personal fictionalised memoir, Our Kid which was originally self-published. More recently, he has self-published an eighth book title, Big Mama – an African-based thriller – which his commercial publisher declined to publish, being too (pock, pock) chicken to jump genre.
Here’s how said Billy Hopkins came across in a recent interview . . .
Q. Please tell us what it feels like to see your books in shop windows?
A. Nothing but nothing can beat the first glimpse of my first-born child but seeing my first book Our Kid in a shop window came a pretty close second. I still get a great kick out of seeing one of my books in the shops and still ask myself: ‘Is that really me and did I really write that book?
Q. What inspired you to become a writer?
A. I always had the ambition to be a writer. Hence my first job as a copy boy at the then Manchester Guardian where I hoped to be their star reporter. But then I saw that I needed better qualifications and experience to even hope to write on such an illustrious newspaper. I decided to postpone writing until I had more experience and better qualifications. Retirement after 40 years of teaching gave me the leisure and the opportunity. Oddly enough, it was my daughter, Cathy Hopkins – a writer herself (of teen fiction) – who persuaded me to try my hand. Wrong way round I suppose because it’s supposed to be the parent who persuades his child to take up a career.
Q. What is your writing routine?
A. My first stage is ALWAYS to plan out the story. I usually know how it is going to end. I never write in the morning! Probably because my brain doesn’t waken up until after lunch (I am 81 after all!). I sometimes go for a walk to think out the next stage of a story. Around 3 pm, I start writing until around 5 or 6 pm. It takes 12 to 18 months to write the whole story. When I’ve finished writing the first draft, I always get my wife Clare to read it and give her verdict. She always has lots of suggestions – some valuable and some unprintable.
Q. We can see that you incorporate people you know or things that have happened to you and your family in your text. Is this a legacy you can leave for your future family?
A. All seven of my books are BASED on real people and real events. I usually change names to protect people’s identity and to save them possible embarrassment. I may change also the timing of certain events to preserve continuity but the events did actually take place. My own six children (5 sons and one daughter) usually recognize who is who in the stories. Sometimes it’s them! I’ve thought of adding a full account of my life under a title like: “Will the real Billy Hopkins please stand up!” and leaving that for them to digest after I’ve gone. So far, I haven’t got round to it.
Q. Who is your favourite author?
A. Not an easy question to answer but, if pushed, I have to say John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath (which won the Pulitzer Prize) is a masterpiece and although written in 1939 it is still relevant and eminently readable today. He wrote 27 novels and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He has a beautiful, easy-to-read style and one I have always tried to emulate. His novels do not contain long involved sentences and complicated ideas that are difficult to unravel – what he called “hooptedoodle”in his book, Sweet Thursday. He simply tells it the way it is.
I hope you are not too surprised if I tell you that I think The Godfather by Mario Puzo is superbly written and a real page turner. Anyone who wants to write a story that hooks you from page one couldn’t do better than read it several times over to study its structure. I’ve even read it Italian and it’s even more gripping.
Q. What is your next project?
A. To retire. I am now 81 years old and look forward to taking it easy. I started writing these books at the age of 70 (see my web-site: www.billysbooks.info ) and I have always found it quite demanding. If anyone tells you writing is easy, they haven’t really written anything or they’re telling fibs.
Must admit though that at the back of my mind (I mean right at the back) I’ve had a story called Big Mama* which I thought I might write some day – maybe when I’m in my nineties. It wouln’t be anything like a family saga but more of a thriller about a powerful and evil woman who takes over an African country and runs it with an iron hand like one of the male dictators – Banda, Mugabe, Amin, etc. etc. I’m not sure if any of my usual readers would welcome it.
Q. What is your favourite holiday destination?
A. I studied Italian at university and so it’s got to be Italy, even if it’s only to practise the language. And of all places, I’d choose Sorrento. No matter which direction you look in that part of the country, your breath is simply taken away by the sheer beauty and splendour of the scenery. And an added bonus is that you are within easy reach of Capri, Herculaneum, and Pompei. Their Limoncello liqueur isn’t bad either.
Q. Have you any pets?
A. Sadly, not at the moment. We used to have two cats. A Persian by the name of Boswell (he looked so wise and knowledgeable) and a common or garden moggy simply called by default “Puss-Puss.”
Q. If you were invisible for the day what would you do?
A. This may sound morbid but I’d like to be an invisible presence at my own funeral:
a) to see who had taken the trouble to turn up, and
b) to hear what they were saying about me behind my back.
There is a well-known character in literature who was present at his own “funeral”. Any ideas as to who it was? It was Tom Sawyer who hid at the back of the church and witnessed his own obsequies when everyone thought he was dead.
Q. What is your happiest memory?
A. Apart from the usual extremely happy memories – the day of one’s wedding (my wife just made me say that), wonderful Christmases, family birthdays, seeing one’s children for the first time, etc I treasure the memory of the day I received a letter that told me I had been accepted into teacher training college in London after I had been turned down in my first attempt. That letter changed the course of my life.
* Big Mama is now for sale on Amazon or direct from Urmston Bookshop
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, http://www.novelnovella.com.