Although he will shortly turn 85, Tony Whelpton has written six novels in less than six years. His latest, A Change of Mind, which will appear shortly, will be launched at the 2017 Cheltenham Literature Festival, the largest and most prestigious literary event in the UK. It will be the first time Tony has featured in the main programme; he will be speaking about his work and reading from A Change of Mind at 4.30 pm on Thursday 12 October.
Tony Whelpton is insistent that A Change of Mind is fiction, not autobiography, but admits that its central theme, stammering (or stuttering, if you prefer), is drawn from personal experience, for, in his early eighties, he was stricken by this appalling affliction for the first time in his life and, as in the case of Maurice Summerfield, the hero of A Change of Mind, there was no physical or neurological cause evident.
Both A Happy Christmas and There's No Pride in Prejudice were longlisted for the 2017 UK International Novel Writing Competition.
He has been writing books for nearly forty years, but turned to fiction late in life, and has been so successful that he wishes he had started earlier! He is the author of thirty or so school and college text books – mostly in French – as well as two books on cricket and a history of the Cheltenham Bach Choir, of which he became Vice-President after retiring from singing at the age of 80.
He was born in Hyson Green, Nottingham in January 1933, and was educated at St Mary’s Junior School, High Pavement Grammar School (where his English teacher was novelist Stanley Middleton, winner of the 1974 Booker Prize), Goldsmiths College (University of London), Birkbeck College (University of London) and the University of Lille.
He taught French for four years each at Beckenham & Penge Grammar School and Lowestoft Grammar School, then moved into Higher Education, ultimately becoming Principal Lecturer in French at Trent Polytechnic (later Nottingham Trent University), where he spent seventeen years. For more than a quarter of a century he was a nationally known figure, being Chief Examiner in French at O and A Levels and also at GCSE.
He is also an experienced journalist and broadcaster: he produced and presented the first ever schools programme on UK local radio, a French programme on BBC Radio Nottingham for junior schools, called Écoutez, les enfants! He has sung at the BBC Proms, he came second in the European Final of the World French Spelling Championships in 1990, and appeared on Mastermind on BBC1 in 2009.
His first novel, Before the Swallow Dares (published 2012), concerns two old school friends who get together after a break of nearly fifty years, as a result of a chance meeting. One of them discovers that the other is married to a girl whom he loved at school, but who, to his utter devastation, disappeared without trace and never answered his letters.
His second novel, The Heat of the Kitchen (published 2013), takes us to Saint-Pierre-sur-Loup, a fictitious village in France, where the Mayor is wrestling with a common problem in the south of France: too much traffic for the town. His favoured solution succeeds in upsetting most of the inhabitants, and he finds himself in a fight for his political life.
Billy’s War (published 2014) takes us back to Tony’s home town in 1941, a year and a half after World War Two broke out, and begins with an air raid which he remembers well, although the district where he lived did not receive many of the bombs; but he has such vivid memories of the shrieking noise of falling bombs followed by explosions that he felt compelled to use that as his starting-point for Billy’s War. But Tony is not Billy, his mother was not killed and his Dad was too old to be in the army, having served in the final stages of World War One and spending World War Two in the Home Guard – sometimes known as Dad’s Army.
Billy’s War was so successful, and the character of Billy so popular that Tony decided early on that a sequel was required: There’s No Pride In Prejudice (2016) is the result. It has nothing to do with Jane Austen: the title comes from a statement made by Billy Frecknall in the book, expressing an idea which he adopts as his motto throughout his distinguished life. One romantic attachment after another makes him realise the widespread influence of prejudice throughout the world, and he decides to devote his life to fighting discrimination of every kind wherever it occurs.
Tony's attitude to life is that it is there for living and he believes that getting old is not an excuse for sitting around doing nothing; one of his favourite quotations comes from the French cellist Paul Tortelier: 'Everybody should die young – but as late in life as possible'. Now you understand why Tony is still writing!
If you would like to know more, check out Tony's website at www.literarylounge.co.uk and follow him on Twitter (@TonyWhelpton1) or like his Facebook page Tony Whelpton Novelist.
Even more importantly, if you have enjoyed reading any of his books, please take a few minutes to write a review on the Amazon website!