Today, I’m delighted to say, is my stop on the blog tour for The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden. This is a wonderful novel and Oh Billy, you have broken my heart. There is something rather beautiful in this tale of lost love, mistakes and missed opportunities and it moved me to tears on more than one occasion.
The Six Loves of Billy Binns is deeply moving, bittersweet century-spanning debut set in London against the backdrop of the changing 20th century.
At well over a hundred years old, Billy Binns believes he’s the oldest man in Europe and knows his days are numbered. But Billy has a final wish: he wants to remember what Love feels like one last time.
As he looks back at the relationships that have coloured his life – and the events that shaped the century – he recalls a lifetime of hope and heartbreak.
This is the story of an ordinary man’s life, an enchanting novel which takes you on an epic yet intimate journey that will make you laugh, cry and reflect on the universal turmoil of love.
Billy was born on the first day, on the first year of the 20th century. He is over a 100 years old and spending his final days in a care home. He has seen many residents come and go. Chairs filled and then left empty awaiting the next old soul. He knows he doesn’t have long but he has a need to remember the man he was and remember the times he knew love.
‘I want to remember what love feels like, one last time. To remember each of the people I loved, to see them all clearly again.’
Surely he was a good man and he simply wants to be remembered for something other than the shrivelled old body he has become. Because once upon a time there was so much more.
According to author, Richard Lumsden, the idea for the novel began in 1992 when he was just twenty-seven and living in Shepherd’s Bush.
‘Inspired by old photographs on the walls of the library (now the bush theatre) of trams on the Green, and an old white arch beside the central line station, I mapped out Billy’s story but became daunted by the amount of research required to detail all of the last century and turned to written TV & radio scripts instead.
In 2000, I discovered a series of booklets published by the Shepherd’s Bush Local History Society. I phoned their secretary, Joan Blake, who invited me to their monthly meetings in the back of St Luke’s Church on the Uxbridge Road. Over the next few months I listened to stories of growing up in W12 through the 20s, 30s & 40s, and watched slide shows featuring the exhibition palaces and canals at White City. With the kind help of Joan and her friends I was finally able to get started. It took me eighteen months to research and write part one of the novel. Then, faced with more intensive bouts of historical research for parts two to five, I decided I wasn’t cut out to write novels and abandoned the idea.
By 2009, having already worked on a couple of plays for BBC Radio 4, I decided to write ‘The Six Loves of Billy Binns’ as a play too. It still needed more research but a 45 minute radio script was less daunting than going back to the novel. In 2009 Sir Tom Courtenay gave Billy his voice, and the radio play, of which I’m very proud, still gets repeated from time to time. However, I knew I’d bottled out by not telling Billy’s story as originally intended.
In 2015 I turned fifty, and at a very different stage of life, twenty-three years after starting part one of the novel. A supportive literary agent encouraged me to get it finished. I went back to my Shepherd’s Bush Local History Society booklets and took another two years to complete a draft to send out to publishers.
It’s a story about love, disappointment, and the flaws that make us human. Billy has a tendency to reinterpret his own history, but ultimately he’s an ordinary man who lived an ordinary life, and I hope the readers might take him to heart on his journey to remember what love feels like.’
So Billy’s journey has taken it’s time to come to us but the time is definitely right. Life today moves incredibly fast and this novel not only takes us through the history of the last century but reminds us that life is fleeting. Yes, his story was at times incredibly sad and there were moments when I just wanted to shout ‘Billy NO!’ in frustration. Yet there were also the most wonderful moments of tenderness, especially towards the end. Moments that made me stop to take a breath. Now that I’ve reached the end I feel that I have shared so much with Billy. I have such affection for him and I wish that some things had worked out differently. Yet every experience he went brought him to the place he was at the end. It was beautifully done, beautifully worded and I really don’t think I will ever forget Billy Binns and the lessons he has taught me.
Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour and sending me a copy of this wonderful novel. Thank you also to Richard for bringing Billy to us. This novel has quite obviously been a journey for you and I’m so glad you carried it through to the end.
The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden will be published by Tinder Press on the 24th of January.