Her­bert Hop­kins: Tack­ling sen­si­tive top­ics

The Compass - - OPINION -

Her­bert F. Hop­kins, re­tired after 30 years as an in­ter­me­di­ate teacher, lives in St. John’s, where he has, in his words, “found a com­fort­able place in the world of art, be it writ­ing, carv­ing or mu­sic.”

As a writer, with the re­lease of “Tem­per­ance Street,” he has pub­lished his sec­ond work of fic­tion.

When I say “pub­lished,” I mean he lit­er­ally pub­lishes his own books.

“Some­times,” he says, “selfpub­lish­ing gets a bad rap.” I should know, as I self-pub­lished my first book in 1981 and “lost my shirt” in the process.

“I would like to think,” Hop­kins adds, “that my work is as good as any pub­lisher’s – and in some ways bet­ter. My work is all about qual­ity.”

Writ­ing helps him to un­der­stand and, at the same time, “is a place to ex­er­cise imag­i­na­tion.”

His fer­tile imag­i­na­tion is ev­i­dent on ev­ery page in his lat­est novel.

The book opens in 1992, when both the New­found­land cod fish­ery and the Ro­man Catholic Church are im­plod­ing un­der the weight of unimag­in­able abuse.

Four­teen-year-old Luke Delaney and his best friend, Mikey Ryan, set out from the Outer Bat­tery to climb the Salt Moun­tains to bear wit­ness to the end of a way of life.

When he wants to, Hop­kins can turn a de­cid­edly hu­mourous phrase. As he says, “Hu­mour is crit­i­cal to mak­ing a story real – and read­able. We laugh in our day-to-day; it’s of­ten how we get by.”

While this is patently true, he ad­mits, “in this story, though, hu­mour had to be curbed – the is­sues were too del­i­cate.”

“Tem­per­ance Street” is a pre­quel to an ear­lier work, but the two sto­ries are sep­a­rate. In “The Book of Luke,” the pro­tag­o­nist, Luke Delaney, is 27 years of age; in “Tem­per­ance Street,” Hop­kins, imag­in­ing Luke as a 14-year-old, sets his mind to telling the teenager’s story.

Writ­ing means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Even the ac­tual craft of con­struct­ing a ful­l­length novel varies from writer to writer.

“Usu­ally,” Hop­kins ex­plains, “there is an over­all theme and then it’s sen­tence by sen­tence. Sur­pris­ingly, when I sit down, I have no idea where a story is go­ing – solid char­ac­ters push the story for­ward and cre­ate their own plot. With­out solid char­ac­ters, sto­ries are doomed for fail­ure.”

“Tem­per­ance Street” is def­i­nitely not doomed to fail. To his credit, as stated ear­lier, the au­thor tack­les head on the cod mora­to­rium of 1992 and the Ro­man Catholic Church own­ing up to the tragedy of Mount Cashel. Sen­si­tive top­ics both.

As he told another re­viewer, “Those were two top­ics that I didn’t re­ally want to write a novel about but they were thrown in my lap.”

In re­sponse to this writer’s ques­tion, “What is your hope for the read­ers of your works?,” Hop­kins states, “I write ‘sto­ries’ and I don’t want to pro­fess any­thing, how­ever, if is­sues are in­volved, I hope my char­ac­ters spell out all sides and, from that, maybe the reader will be­come more in­formed.” In essence, “Tem­per­ance Street” re­volves around the

To his credit, the au­thor

tack­les head on the cod mora­to­rium of 1992 and the Ro­man Catholic Church own­ing up to the tragedy of Mount Cashel.

Sen­si­tive top­ics both.

idea of cop­ing and com­ing to grips with the re­al­ity of loss.

Thus, Mikey’s fa­ther de­cries for all and sundry to hear, “If the fish don’t come back, God knows what’s in store for me and my son.”

And, later, the arch­bishop moans, “The dio­cese is crip­pled ... Al­le­ga­tion after al­le­ga­tion of abuse. Ev­ery other week some­one is beat­ing at my door. It’s a feed­ing frenzy. If ev­ery al­le­ga­tion went to court, the le­gal costs alone would sink us. We need to weather the storm, keep the walls up un­til this blows over. Start re­build­ing with new lead­er­ship.”

Writ­ing is only one of Hop­kins’ hob­bies. One sus­pects that, at times, es­pe­cially after writ­ing a book like “Tem­per­ance Street,” he has to turn to another of his artis­tic en­deav­ours, per­haps carv­ing.

“My carv­ings come from a lifetime of work us­ing the medium of wood,” he ex­plains. His train­ing is as an In­dus­trial Arts teacher. “Carv­ing is a nice di­ver­sion to writ­ing a novel,” he says, “and al­lows me to con­tinue on with some old skills.” He may be im­mersed in writ­ing a novel like “Tem­per­ance Street” for four years, while a fin­ished carv­ing may take only four months.

Hop­kins is most at peace when he is writ­ing and carv­ing. He has al­ready started on the fi­nal book — Luke and the City of Dreams — in his tril­ogy. As he puts it, “Another four years of head to the grind­stone. Maybe a carv­ing or two be­tween it all.”

Is he frus­trated by the time re­quired to com­plete the tasks he sets for him­self?

“Happy to be re­sponse.





— Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net.

Photo by Melissa Jenk­ins/The Com­pass

VIS­IT­ING THE FIRE STA­TION — Hat­tie Par­rott from Car­bon­ear was su­per ex­cited to visit the John T. Pike Fire Hall in her home­town Oct. 8, dur­ing Fire Preven­tion Week. The three-year-old re­ceived a firetruck book­mark at the sta­tion, and a Hal­loween bag with safety in­for­ma­tion and toys inside. After a short les­son on fire safety down­stairs, Hat­tie went up­stairs for a hot­dog and a drink. She was one of many kids who had the op­por­tu­nity to take a ride on the fire trucks dur­ing the evening. Hat­tie is the daugh­ter of Juanita and Leslie Par­rott, and is soon to be a big sis­ter.

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