Many readers throughout the UK and, indeed, the World will be saddened to learn of the death of author Billy Hopkins, who passed away on 29 May after a short illness in his home town of Southport, followed by hospitalisation at Aintree Hospital.
Billy, whose real name was Wilfred, took to writing fiction after retiring in 1985 from a high-flying 40-year supervisory career in teacher training colleges in the UK, Kenya and Malawi.
His first, and most popular book, produced at the age of 71, was Our Kid, a fictionalised account of his early life in the district of Cheetham, Manchester, and his schooldays at Manchester Xaverian College, which had been alma mater, too, of his auctorial predecessor, Anthony Burgess, a less cheerful body by far.
Rejected out-of-hand by the UK’s capital centric commercial publishing industry (as is the perennial lot of British newcomers to writing who reside without the Home Counties), Wilf determinedly self-published his hugely-humorous debut novel to some local acclaim. Then, at some point after this, film producer John Sherlock happened to chance upon a copy of his self-published book, enjoyed it immensely and made a point of enquiring of an acquaintance in the publishing trade (one of that same knee-jerk rejection crew, who had previously rejected Our Kid out-of-hand) why (the hell: I say!) he wasn’t prepared to publish it, worthwhile enterprise though this would most certainly be.
Accordingly, Our Kid was eventually commercially published by Headline, realising sales of some 400,000 copies. A further half-dozen book titles about the life of the Hopkins’ family in and around Manchester from the 1880s on made the author a million seller, if not a millionaire. Because oddly enough, though vast numbers of Billy Hopkins’ book titles continue to be shipped out to the US, Canada and Australia, where their popularity continues to spread, no New World or antipodean imprint has yet been produced due to abiding wimpishness amongst commercial publishers. Unbelievably, too, neither have any of the film rights been auctioned off, notwithstanding which Our Kid has, itself, been long since been translated into Spanish and Finnish. Extant of these Manchester-based titles are Our Kid, High Hopes, Kate’s Story, Going Places, Anything Goes, Whatever Next! and Tommy’s World of which Kate’s Story is a particular favourite of mine. In it the author adopts the first person singular voice of his own mother, having tape recorded her reminiscences of early twentieth century urban life and added to them. This is a singularly impressive tour de force which I recommend without reservation.
Billy Hopkins most recent book, an African-based thriller entitled Big Mama, was similarly self-published. Indeed, only last September, Billy was scheduled to speak in my home town of Middleton, Manchester . . . until, that is, the family doctor put a stop to the author’s octogenarian gallop.
Thereupon, the author generously donated half his remaining stock of books, running to several hundred copies to a locally-based Catenian/Rotarian charity which has since sold them on in order to finance the provision of wheelchairs for a mission in Uganda.
Please log on to Billy Hopkins’ website [ www.billysbooks.info ] for his personal take on how he, Mancunian though he was ever proud to be, contrived to access the world of commercial publishing which, in the UK, tends to be the exclusive domain of authors domiciled in the Home Counties and Oxbridge corridor.
May his dear Soul rest in peace.
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.