Hello, this is L.M. David. Today I am interviewing Martin Hopkins, author of Cracks in the Pavement. Welcome Martin to my closet space that passes for an office. I’d offer you something to drink but our resident vampyre emptied everything out and replaced it with his favorite beverage…never seen that much blood in my life except, maybe, in a blood bank. And I really want to say thank you for bringing the claymore and shield. I don’t know how this will work on Preston, but it’s certainly nice to look at, and quite heavy. Maybe if I smash the shield over his egotistical head…
Okay, let’s begin.
Q. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A. Howdy … (tips a hat), I am the only member of my family to be born south of the border, down England way. My entire family is Scottish but I am a honourary Scotsman, having lived here now for 27 years.
Q. Your story, Cracks in the Pavement, is a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde scenario. How did you come up with the idea?
I love Robert Louis Stevenson and the Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde tale. I wanted to write a character who breaks down his sense of ‘self’ over the course of the novel. Some of the content is based on my life, and some of it is exaggerated for dramatic effect. Walking to a job I hated every day, and observing society, gave me the idea for the story. Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground was also a big help as well.
The idea of having two or more sides to your personality always intrigued me. I studied psychology at a university and, on a few occasions, I have come into contact with people diagnosed as schizophrenic. The idea of a public persona interests me, how you act with your colleagues, or out and about on the street, can be very different from how you act with certain friends and family.
We each have a mask, or a number of them, depending where we are and who we are with. We use it to protect our secret selves and hold the darkness at bay. If a person begins to hear multiple voices in their head, have that conflict with everything, that’s a cracking point. Scary. I saw an old man walking down the street today, muttering and swearing to himself. Angry, passive-aggressive nonsense. Sad really, that he couldn’t work out his problems with himself and other people. I don’t want to ever become that guy. Pass me another beer!
Q. I sent a guy out to grab a few for you. So tell me, what genre would you classify your book?
A. I would classify it as mixed genre. It is a psychological, literary crime thriller with elements of drama, erotica, romance, action and suspense. The book is also a contemporary tale of a young man struggling to find his way in life and his relationships. The book examines society and the wealth gap, the extremely rich versus the dirt poor broke, and the Grand Canyon like divide between them.
Q. Interesting viewpoint, Martin. Let’s talk about Daniel Walker, who seems like an everyday guy. How did he get the courage to take on the “Dark Stranger”?
A. Daniel appears to be an Average Joe sort, walking to work in a hung-over state and his misery tripping him up at every turn. It certainly is an aspect to his personality but only one of them. He is also a very handsome, intelligent character. He is able to use charm and cunning, coupled with his looks, to his advantage. I mention at the start of the novel that he was a gymnast for four years and then, later on, that he had mixed that with martial arts training. Despite the heavy drinking problem, he still has a couple of moves up his trouser leg! He is also numbed by the alcohol and doesn’t feel physical pain as much as others. He can move quickly when he needs to. He’d prefer to sit in a bar somewhere. A combinationof Charles Bukowski and Bruce Lee.
Daniel becomes so distraught over the violent attack on his ex-girlfriend, and her reaction to it, that he needed to catch this guy, a retribution sort of thing. He was also fascinated by him and was determined to find him. The ‘Dark Stranger’ and Daniel are alike in a few ways…
Q. The world you have created is kind of dismal. How did you get the mindset to build a world of prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, pornography and pan handlers/street-beggers?
A. I grew up in a small mining village in central Scotland. There was no multi-cultural aspect there at all. I moved to the city of Edinburgh, and whilst not on the same scale as London, or New York, there is still a predominant monetary divide and the ‘class’ system continues. I read George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and that inspired me too.
I wanted to tell a 21st Century story about society, looked around, recorded what I saw and added some mystery. All these characters are here in modern British society, not just in the shadows, but on Princes Street. You can’t ignore them. They’re human. Just like you.
Q. I noted you added a bit of a twist by adding the fact someone is also tracking Daniel. Without giving too much away, how does Daniel discover that someone is after him?
A. Daniel tries to help another character and it doesn’t work out well for him. He discovers, way too late, that people were tracking him as well, while in police custody. Detective Inspector Morrison reveals Daniel is being followed. I watched a documentary on the C.I.A and I always enjoyed seeing someone following someone else but being unknowingly followed themselves. Christopher Nolan’s Following is a great film and a good example of this. How many times did I just say ‘Following’? Following. 4.
Q. Yes, you said it four times. (coughs in hand, smiling) What is the Emily character like?
A. Emily is beautiful, but only on the outside. She has elaborate tattoos, wears ripped jeans, no underwear, black leather jackets, with an amazing body underneath. Emily is sex personified. On the inside she is fractured, damaged, and a little empty emotionally. She is a disturbing character because she is manipulative and can feign empathy to get what she wants. Emily is selfish, narcissistic, maybe even bordering on sociopathic.
Q. How long did it take to write Cracks in the Pavement?
A. Two and a bit years, on and off. I had the whole 9 to 5 thing to contend with so I spent many a late night writing and not getting much sleep. After a couple of years, I packed in the monotonous job and went back a university to study Creative Writing. The story has gone through a number of changes. It started as a stage play, then a screenplay, novel and back to a screenplay.
Q. Are you planning, or do you have a sequel to Cracks in the Pavement?
A. Cracks in the Pavement is the first book of a three part series. But it is not the normal trilogy type style, there is a twist! I’m researching the second novel at the moment, The Crook of Things, about a young cat burglar who robs a national bank vault. He eventually gets caught, represents himself at trial and is imprisoned on a technicality and must escape from prison. The crooked Detective Inspector Morrison re-appears in that one. The third novel is an origin story of the Professor, his time at Oxford and what made him crack. The final installment is called Sophistry.
Q. What has been the hardest part, for you, with respect to writing the book and getting it published?
A. Being in your own head all the time can be difficult. You need to distract yourself with something so you don’t go nuts! The editing process and multiple re-writes were intense. I can touch-type fairly well, and quickly, but when you go back over it for the 700th time and see how many things you want to change, and the mistakes you made during a ten hour writing session that can be daunting.
Having to tailor each and every submission differently to literary agents and publisher can be frustrating. You can’t get into a story after only ten pages. The months of waiting and the one line rejections or no response at all is just unprofessional. Also, there were publishers who only accepted hard copies. There was a time where I couldn’t afford the ink, paper and postage costs. It was £50 per submission.
The old dinosaurs in the publishing industry really have to wake up and go green. Poor writers can’t afford the expense and also buy food to live.
Q. I can certainly understand your frustration. So, how do you associate Dickensian with modern day society with respect to Cracks in the Pavement?
A. The Victorian London society Charles Dickens grew up in had large scale poverty. He lived it, hated it and wrote about it. The working class struggled and supported the middle classes, 14 hours a day underground in a mine, for example, to fuel the fire of some rich guy sitting in a gold embroidered robe with his initial on it; ‘T’ which stands for ‘Twat’. My grandfather did that, hours in a crawl space of less than two feet, hoping it didn’t come down on your think-box.
Upper class people and royalty helped each other and frowned upon the ‘riff-raff’. Hundreds of years later, we still have the same thing except it is even more prevalent. The multi-millionaires are now multi-billionaires and society is run on trillions of dollars, pounds, yen. People continue to starve and die – it’s nothing new but unnecessarily so. Like Bill Hicks said twenty-five years ago “Take all that money you spend on weapons, arming the fucking world and bombing innocents, and spend it on feeding, clothing and educating the poor children of the world, which it would do many times over, and together we can explore outer space …” Sadly, nothing ever changes. Not yet. Apart from space travel, now it’s the Virgin Galactica Project. Tourists on the moon. Cool.
Q. Describe a typical day in your life.
A. I wake up in the fog of my own design (hung-over) and muse briefly that I’m still alive, rub the sleep out of my tired green eyes and drink some council juice. Stumbling the twelve feet to the coffee machine (kettle) and I brew a cup o’ Joe. After the water/coffee to re/de-hydrate, I check my emails, thinking lovingly of the next beer. Do some writing stuff. Watch some shows online, Dexter, Person of Interest, Black Books. Maybe visit the library, walk around observing people and behaviour. Checking out young women with shapely derrieres is most appealing. Go to the pub. Home. Pass out. Wake up? I also love to read, watch films and hang out with my friends. Mr. Social.
Q. If Cracks in the Pavement were being made into a movie, who would you like to see play the main character Daniel?
Emile Hirsch … if he can do a Scottish accent, what a challenge it’d be for an actor. But one of his caliber, he can probably pull it off!? He was fantastic in Into the Wild. I considered getting a Scottish actor, an up-and-comer or maybe James MacAvoy. I do some acting too, so if I can’t get him I may as well play myself!
The screenplay is at the second stage of consideration with the British Film Institute and I have a meeting with Blue Iris Films next week, so we’ll see what happens. It’s rare to see some original material up on the big screen; it’s normally remakes, rom-coms, super heroes or something with vampires or wizards in it. As old as time and just as boring.
Q. Hey, don’t knock vampyres or I’ll open that door and let you meet one up close and personal. Okay, now for the last, but most favorite, questions. Do you have any advice for writers just starting out or who are trying to get their work published?
A. I have discovered that no-one can teach you to write. Sentence structure, character development, blah-blah-blah. You can learn this on your own or should have learned it at school. The amount of time wasted reading my stories out loud to classmates who just don’t get it, and it has to be re-told, is like explaining a joke, and could have been more beneficially spent writing. One arrogant Irishman told me “You’re just giving us a shopping list…” “No,” I replied. “I’m describing the characteristics of a person – strong, content, secure.” Moron is another one.
Everyone has at least one book in them, the story of their life, which is unique to them. But you have to discover your own voice, the mixture of love and rage inside you. If you can’t write a novel, or see it as too much of a challenge, start smaller. Write an article, review, short story, and go from there.
You don’t have to go down the traditional mainstream publishing route anymore – literary agent to publisher to print. You can self-publish in eBook format on Amazon and print and release it yourself. That’s how E.L James got started, building a following on Goodreads and getting world-wide attention, securing a publishing deal afterwards. Then the publishers can concentrate on the marketing and promotion aspect and you can focus on the writing part and living. The Hank Moody in me doesn’t enjoy all the self-promotion.
L.M. David: Thanks for the insight, Martin, and for stopping by to do this interview. Wish you the best with your book and all your upcoming projects.
Martin Hopkins is a new literary fiction writer based in Edinburgh. He studied Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. A collection of his short stories have been published by Ether Books, including: ‘Old Man in Window’, ‘Knock-Knock … (Who’s There?)‘, ‘The Widow’.
His controversial debut novel ‘Cracks in the Pavement‘ is a darkly funny, sexually graphic
Dickensian look at the dizzying heights, and gritty depths, of a fractured modern society. It is available now as an eBook from Amazon and Goodreads.
Extracts from Cracks in the Pavement reached No.27 in The Next Big Author Competition 2012, world-wide.
Martin has adapted his novel into a feature length screenplay, currently under consideration with the British Film Institute. ‘Old Man in Window‘ is a coming-of-age tale of a unique friendship between a young boy and an old man. It was his first ever short story, published by Ether Books in 2011. The story was then narrated by Howard Ellison and broadcast on My Word Radio in December 2011. Hopkins has written an adaptation of William Saroyan’s ‘The Time of Your Life‘. After securing the exclusive U.K performance rights, he is now in the funding application stage.