As the nights draw in, we continue to be in a crime mood at Bloomsbury Reader, and our author the talented Mr Hopton writes about the inspiration for his thriller, IN PIECES, described by the New York Post as “A wry, intelligent story of London life in the nineties” – or as we would have it, the thinking man’s Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Terrorism is never far from our lives these days. Recent events in The Middle East are just the latest reminder that extremist fanatics, often outrageously claiming to act in the name of religion, are intent on destroying Western values of freedom, justice and equality.
Writing In Pieces in the Nineties, the threat of terrorism came from closer to home. It was pre-9/11 and before the Good Friday Agreement that brought a political settlement to the Troubles in Ireland. The IRA had recently bombed Canary Wharf, and it was not unusual for Central London to be disrupted by bomb threats. I’d even felt the impact of the IRA’s mainland campaign myself, when an attack on Downing Street blew open the windows in my nearby office.
But I didn’t want to write just another thriller about terrorism. My aim was to explore how an otherwise decent individual can be brought to commit an atrocity. To try and look with a degree of compassion at the terrorist as a person. So one of the main characters in the novel is a young Irish lad brainwashed and manipulated into becoming a suicide bomber. Life is rarely linear and the complexities facing him – sexually, politically and theologically – are as important to the plot as the IRA taskmasters’ instructions.
That said, In Pieces is about more than terrorism. I’d been introduced to Armisted Maupin’s Tales of the City novels by the writer Patrick Gale, my landlord when I first moved to London. Inspired by Maupin, I wanted to do something similar with London – as opposed to his San Francisco – as the urban protagonist in the novel. At the time the UK was emerging from a recession and there was an upbeat and exciting atmosphere in the capital – some similarities to the present environment. I tried to capture this frissant.
As today, football was an important element of daily life in London. Manchester United’s historic Double Double season provides the backdrop to the novel (in fact, I used Double Double as a working title). One of my characters became an overnight Old Trafford hero. It was fun, though not without difficulty, to sketch fictional cameo roles for players like Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs. This included weaving into the plot descriptions of real matches and glorious goals.
Writing In Pieces took a couple of years, a time when I was working as a press officer. It wasn’t an accident that I made the central character a journalist editing a Diary column in a London newspaper. My hope was to create an entertaining page turner which also encouraged the reader to reflect on one or two serious issues. I am delighted that Bloomsbury Reader are re-issuing the book and hope a new generation of readers will enjoy it.