Some years ago I retired after a forty-year career in Education, one half of it in Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow - the other half in teacher training in African universities (Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi).
On my return to England, I looked around for something to occupy my retirement. I hit on the idea of making doll's houses and I spent a couple of years producing the most elaborate Tudor mansions complete with lights. My family got tired of the constant hammering and suggested something quieter.
I turned my hand to wine-making. I thought it was going well until a few bottles exploded in my daughter's kitchen giving everything a crimson hue. Then they got round to tasting the stuff. That was enough. 'Look,' they said. 'What a fascinating life you've led, why not write your memoirs - your life story? Get it down on paper for the sake of posterity. Start with your childhood in Collyhurst, Manchester.' (Les Dawson was born a stone's throw from the tenement where I was born). I did as I was told - took me a year. Then they said, 'This is amazing stuff. You must make it into a novel - it's bound to be a best-seller.' Once again, I did as I was bade - the result a 150,000-word story entitled Our Kid.
The next command was , "Now you must go about getting it published and hit the bookshops with it. Freddie Forsythe, Geoffrey Archer, - move over! First of all you must get yourself an agent - a ten percenter."
I looked through The Writers' Handbook and picked out thirty or so likely looking agents. I was told that it takes some of them six months to answer a letter and so I realised that it would take about fifteen years to get round
my selection. I'm not sure I have that much time left! I decided to do a very unethical thing and write to them all at the same time, enclosing a sample chapter, a synopsis, and a stamped addressed envelope, to see if anybody wanted to promote my ‘masterpiece’.
After a year or so, I had a dozen replies. The responses are worth a book in themselves.
The first one said "Charming story - charmingly told. What a pity, you're not a little girl. Why not write it again and pretend that you are?" The second said simply "You should try to write sideways." (Meaning?) The next reply stated quite bluntly, "There's no demand for stories about nostalgia, northern slums, and 'trouble in't mill' stuff." (Pace 'Coronation Street' and Catherine Cookson!) A third sent me a note in illegible scribble which we only managed to decipher with the aid of a magnifying glass and after prolonged debate. It said, "Someone left this stuff on my desk. I don't know why. But I certainly do not have time to read it. I'm swamped." Next one: "Too much conflict in this story". Another "Too bland - not enough drama" "The story did not 'click'" And so the comments continued. "Add a daughter to the story." "Why not add a brother?" I have been assured that any kind of comment is a bonus since most agents answer with a cryptic 'No thanks'.
One agent answered: "I have just found your manuscript which you sent me last year. It had fallen behind the radiator. What a pity as it has great potential and I'm sure I could have done something with it." Needless to say I rushed off a copy to her. I heard no more. 3 months later, I discovered that she had gone bankrupt! Hope I wasn't a contributory factor. But maybe she has a cornucopia of masterpieces hidden behind her radiator.
I'm still waiting for the other 18 agents to answer. Horror stories indicate that the slush piles in their offices are eight feet high! Most discouraging for would-be writers. What a chaotic world the publishing world appeared to be!
In the end I decided to publish the book myself. I bought fairly sophisticated desk-top equipment and learned how to use it. First, I had just three copies bound in imitation leather at a cost of £35 each but later had a hundred paperback printed and results exceeded all my expectations. Family, friends, colleagues, and selected members of the general public were most appreciative. Perhaps it had something. I printed more and ended up selling nearly a thousand copies privately.
A happy final note. Thanks to a perceptive agent who read my work, liked it, and recommended it, my book was published in hardback by Headline in October 1998 and is now out in paperback. Other developments have been: World Book Club chose it as their star book of the month in March, Magna (large print publishers) have also bought it. W.H. Smith have given it a high readability and saleability grade and sales of the paperback stand at well over 100,000+. Starting September 1st, the book will be read every day on Radio Lancashire for 5 weeks. In the end then, persistence paid off.
It's all happened since I reached the age of seventy.
Am now faced with a dilemma. Should I buy a Rolls or a Bentley?
Billy Hopkins, (better known to his family and friends as Wilfred Hopkins)