November was National Novel Writing Month, so how'd you get on? The idea was to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Finished it yet? No, me neither.
Anyway, I have a better idea. Instead of trying to make up stories, why not write a factual one? This is my suggestion – national 'Write Your Autobiography Month'. No need to think up make-believe characters and a plot, just try to remember the real-life characters you've met and the life you've lived. In addition, you've got to come up with a title for your book and consider what animal would take pride of place on the front page?
OK, off you go. You've got two months to pen 100,000 words. I won't be joining you, though, and for one good reason – I've already written mine. That's why I'm keen for others to have a go.
Gus Honeybun, Your Boys Have Taken One Hell Of A Beating wasn't really the story of my whole life. Instead, it was the story of my life following the mighty Exeter City FC. And it was published on April Fool's Day, 2016. You couldn't make it up.
I know what you're thinking. 'Who the hell is Gus Honeybun? And why did his boys take a massive beating?' Well, Gus was a puppet rabbit who presented a children's TV show in the west country throughout my entire childhood. His (human) co-presenter read out kids' birthdays and Gus would accompany the words with bunny hops, bunny winks or – his piece de resistance – standing on his head.
I'm not making this up, and I haven't been drinking either.
Augustus Jeremiah Honeybun was – indeed, still is – a west country legend. He appeared on TV from the mid-’60s through to the early ’80s when he was scandalously 'killed off' when Westcountry took over the franchise. In terms of televisual longevity, only Sooty and Sweep have lasted longer among the puppet fraternity than Gus.
However, I did have a problem with Mr Honeybun and that was because he 'supported' Exeter's arch rivals, Plymouth Argyle.
Whenever Argyle had a big game – which was not often – Gus would appear on the box with a green and white scarf draped around his moth-eaten fur.
Imagine this, Pompey fans – you're young and your birthday is being read out on local TV. 'Darren, from Paulsgrove, you're eight today!' and Gus does eight regulation hops – but Gus is wearing a SOUTHAMPTON FC scarf! How would you react? Something apparently so loveable – a puppet bunny – has a dark side from which even Darth Vader would recoil.
Seriously, this sort of stuff could mess with your mind as a pre-pubescent. Gus never wore a red and white scarf when Exeter had a big game (which also wasn't often), so what kind of message did THAT send out to the impressionable youth of the west country who did not follow Plymouth Argyle? Would any Portsea Island residents want their birthday read out by a bunny wearing a Saints’ scarf? Exactly.
Anyway, despite the above, I put a huge pic of Gus on the front cover of my book. Possibly not the best commercially-driven idea of my life, but it made me laugh. And the beating the book title refers to was Exeter's 3-0 win at Plymouth in 1993. 'Francis Drake, Michael Foot, Angela Rippon, Sharron Davies, Gus Honeybun – your boys took one hell of a beating!'
Yeah, I know, I'm a bit sad. Humour me, I'm an Exeter supporter – we can't all follow clubs who've won the Football League and the FA Cup or hosted AC Milan in a European tie, can we? And anyway, if it wasn't for us then Pompey wouldn't have won the League 2 title in 2017 (we beat Doncaster away in the penultimate game) so you owe me one. Buy my book, that'll do. It's on Amazon.
In fact, go out and buy ANY book. That'll also do. We need to support our bookshops – especially the second hand ones – because otherwise they'll disappear from our streets in the same way as all the well-known retail names have vanished in the past decade.
As I said last week, I haven't lived in Portsmouth for long. So I was astonished – in a good way – to discover that the delights of Albert Road, contain no fewer than three second hand bookshops. In this day and age, that's a fact that deserves to be celebrated. But the best way to celebrate them is to take a trip down to Southsea and buy some books from them. Imagine Aladdin having a hat-trick of caves stuffed full of goodies. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. Well done, people of Portsmouth, for keeping these shops alive amid the tsunami of tattoo parlours, hairdressers, cafés and takeaways. If we ever lose them, it will be a sad day indeed.
Lose them we could, though.
Earlier this year The News ran the story of Robert Smith, owner of Adelphi Books – one of the three shops I visited. He claimed he could be forced to shut because the council had hiked his rent by £2,500 a year to more than £7,000. You need to sell a lot of second hand books to cover that cost alone.
A few months on, Robert is (thankfully) still trading, but what I see today gives me scant hope for the future.
My teenaged kids aren't big book readers, which saddens me. In fact, outside of ones they have had to read for school purposes, they have hardly ever picked up a book in their life (including mine, and they get mentions in that). I guess they're the rule rather than the exception, as opposed to the other way round. I'd like to think most teenaged kids would put their phones down for half an hour every day and read a book, but if I really believed that was true I'd also believe unicorns pranced around in a field next to the M27.
Have the raging advances of technology and social media created a childhood where reading books is now viewed as 'oh sooooo boring' by the majority of under-18s? (Adopts sarcastic voice) Why read when you can play computer games or send 'pout' selfies to your mates instead?
But I will keep on attempting to promote book reading, and indeed book writing. Everyone's got a book in them, so the saying goes. I happen to believe that's 100 per cent true. After all, everyone's story is worth telling. Dredging up your memories from the deepest, darkest recesses of your brain is the easy bit. Taking the time to write it, and publish it. That's the hard bit. But the pride you feel in yourself when you hold your own book in your hands is lovely, trust me. And we should all feel proud of ourselves now and again ....
A word of warning, though, to all you potential Bill Brysons or JK Rowlings: writing books is not a simple way to raking in the filthy lucre. We can't all be like the two people I've just mentioned, can we?
If you see books retailing for a tenner, the person who wrote it will generally bank just a tenth of that. Yep, a quid per book. That is the reality of the publishing industry. If you can write a Harry Potter book and shift more than a million copies, life is good. But if you write books about a moth-eaten puppet bunny and a football club whose average attendance is about 4,000, then you really cannot expect to open up offshore bank accounts in your dog's name – a la Harry Redknapp – and retire early...
I'll be honest, I have the utmost respect for anyone capable of writing a novel. I couldn't do it, and I've been a journalist all my life (and, yeah, I can hear you saying 'well you should be good at making up stuff then!'). My bookcases creak and groan under the weight of hundreds and hundreds of books, but I've only got about four novels.
So why – when real life is so fascinating, so unpredictable, so full of emotion – spend time reading a made-up story?