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Press Reviews for Tommy's World

 

REVIEW BY PROFESSOR BRIAN MCGUINNESS

 

This is a truly outstanding novel based on real events, real characters and an intimate knowledge of Manchester and its history.

The country has come a long way in the century since rampant deprivation, tragedy and personal struggles so graphically described by the author, Billy Hopkins.

His engaging writing style makes this and indeed his other novels so captivating.  Here we have a wonderful opportunity to learn about the social history of poverty, courage and personal vision set, as they clearly were, against the immense wealth of late Victorian and early twentieth century Britain.

“Tommy’s World” is an important addition to the reading list of anyone with an interest in the origins and background of the era that included welfare reform, social fairness and equality of opportunity that we take now for granted.  Inheritance of resources and assumed privilege are still with us but the brave soul of “Tommy’s World” challenged and changed the agenda forever.

This is a splendid novel of a rise from the slums of northern city thanks to courage and vision of “Tommy and his World”.

Be sure to read and enjoy!

 

Brian McGuinness, MD

President, Society of Medical Writers

12th November, 2009

 

 

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CHRISTMAS PRESENT? … GIVE CHRISTMAS PAST

COURTESY OF TOMMY’S WORLD by BILLY HOPKINS

ISBN 9780755359585, pub. 12 November 2009

 

Bill Keeth perceives more than meets the eye in the latest offering in the 7-strong Hopkins family saga

 

Newly returned from a hectic Greyhound trip across the USA from Chicago to LA and back, and emerging, too, from the quick fire dialogue and devil-take-the- hindmost cut and thrust of three hard-boiled American novels since my return,* I must confess that the far slower pace, texture and language of fin-de-siècle nineteenth century Manchester as revealed in Tommy’s World, Billy Hopkins’ soon-to-be-published seventh novel, came as something of a culture shock. None of which matters in the greater scheme of things, of course. Because Billy Hopkins’ father Tommy (born 1886) is the chirpy first person singular narrator of this long-awaited companion volume to Kate’s Story (Billy’s mother’s tale) and simultaneously paired prequel to that other runaway best-seller Our Kid. And Tommy Hopkins it is who extends to the reader a welcome warm as buttered toast and cocoa on a winter’s night, in which vein he then goes on to relate the story of the first twenty-three years of his life, listing the trial, tribulations and very simple pleasures thereof. Here, by way of example, is how Tommy Hopkins describes his mother from his viewpoint as an infant:

 

“As befitted a visit to church, she was dressed modestly but tastefully in her finest navy blue coat, a pair of white gloves, while over her head and shoulders she draped a lovely black lace mantilla, one of her proudest possessions. When I saw my mother dressed up like this, I couldn’t help thinking how beautiful she was and how lucky I was that she was my mother.”

 

Tommy then goes on to describe his father in similar terms, though the aforementioned mantilla gives way to a bowler hat and other more manly accoutrements, of course . . . But how is it, I wonder (pausing to alert readers of Life magazine to the author’s mastery of the narrative art, lest they remain as yet unaware of it) . . . How is it that such straightforward descriptions, simple though they would appear to be in print, just happen (in my not so humble opinion at any rate) to be imbued with a certain literary je-ne-sais-quoi which may lead us simultaneously to suspect that what Tommy Hopkins is really doing here is visualising a time in the not-too-distant future when the things he most loves and needs in this world will be wrest from him by the cruellest Providence?

 

Here’s how the Press release describes Tommy’s World . . .

 

“Billy Hopkins’ novels have captured the imagination of many thousands of readers. Following the story of the Hopkins family, from his mother’s struggles in turn-of-the-century Manchester, through Billy’s own childhood in the city and his own young family’s attempts to start a new life in Africa, they’re full of warm-hearted memories of days gone by. His first novel Our Kid went on to sell over a quarter of a million copies. The novel closely followed the author’s personal story, from his birth in 1920s Manchester, through the war years and beyond.

 

“Now Billy’s father Tommy takes centre stage in Tommy’s World, warm-hearted and nostalgic novel set at the turn of the nineteenth-to-twentieth century. Tommy Hopkins’ early years aren’t too promising, suffering not only penury but a series of tragedies too. Denied the chance of a promising career as an engineer, Tommy finds employment at Manchester’s Smithfield market and works his way up, finally catching the eye of Kate Lally – who may just be the love of his life.

 

“With charm, warmth and humour, Billy Hopkins vividly evokes the tragic, and always touching story of his beloved dad. Tommy’s World gives the reader a glimpse of a time almost forgotten, and of people who knew how to make the best of what little they had.”

 

All this is true, of course. Tommy’s World is warm and nostalgic and sentimental, too. Furthermore, readers like myself will not be inclined to forget that they share a degree of kinship and consanguinity with certain former inhabitants of by-gone Collyhurst, Ancoats or Cheetham wherein the storyline is set. Accordingly, readers such as ourselves will find themselves reading this book throughout with an uncanny and enduring sense of our own loved ones constituting an integral part of the story – a feeling, indeed, that these same forbears of ours may well walk on stage at any given moment as they simultaneously live out their lives in similar circumstances at some neighbouring address where poverty, hunger, contagious disease and early demise dance close attendance upon them on an almost daily basis, as certainly they do in Tommy Hopkins’ early life.

Tommy’s World is a deceptively simple book, an oblique testament, as it were, to the author’s abiding and lifelong commitment to civilised values. Have we (I seem to hear Billy Hopkins ask, though I may well be mistaken in this) . . . Have we in our headlong pursuit of proper nutrition, health, happiness, pensionable employment, education, annual holidays, Motability and all the rest perhaps thrown out any babies with the bath water? Or temporarily misplaced them at any rate?

Now, I don’t want to give away any part of the story, but there are certainly parts of it I find almost inexpressibly sad. Those schoolchildren in Cheetham, for instance, whose attendance at school is adjudged of greater importance by their teachers than the fact that their feet are unshod. Okay, such children are in the minority, and it will be another half century before teacher training colleges will hear tell of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. So nobody can be blamed for this. But why, then, in this same day and age, and similarly lacking Abraham Maslow’s input in the matter, would a certain Mr Franco Rocca, proprietor of an ice-cream parlour on Great Ancoats street . . .

 

“[supply] football boots to those players [on Tommy’s team] who couldn’t afford them”?

 

Out of the sheer goodness of his heart, I say! (I offer this as an afterthought, of course, consequent upon an urgent self-analysis of the unexpected tears which constituted my initial knee-jerk response in the matter.) Such is the reason, too, perhaps, why this self-same Ancoats-based family of ice cream vendors, the Roccas, would within the next generation or so make available to the Manchester education service a secondary teacher/headteacher of undoubted genius and widespread repute (Joe, the man’s Christian name) at St Gregory’s, Ardwick Green, and Newton Heath Technical Schools, both.

 

Believe me, dear Reader, Tommy’s World is an absolute must-read for anyone who has read Our Kid and/or Kate’s Story or any of the other books in the Hopkins canon – an item, to be gifted and/or self-purchased, thereby guaranteeing the Merry Christmas and Happy New Year I do most sincerely wish you.

 

Tommy’s World by Billy Hopkins retails at £19.99 or less, in hardback, first edition

A must-read, I say! Make sure you check-out Amazon’s price-listing (£15.99, inc. p&p)

 

 

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This book by the author of Our Kid and others is a hugely enjoyable read.  It begins in a slum district of Manchester in the late nineteenth century and follows Tommy’s childhood to adulthood.  Early days at home, schooldays, and working days are brought to life in the author’s captivating style.  A delightful addition to his previous output.

Daniel Murphy

Retired Secondary school teacher

 

 

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I have just read the latest of Billy Hopkins' books, Tommy's World, and he has not disappointed me. Once again I was unable to put it down, reading into the early hours. So many memories were brought to mind. My grandmother lived not far from Tommy and the places mentioned were familiar to me from my childhood visits there. He really brings to life a bygone age around the Manchester area. Roll on the next book Billy.

Val Davies

Urmston, Manchester

 

 

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