Today I have an interview with the talented UK author Gary Dolman! His book The Eighth Circle of Hell is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and various other retailers. He has another book coming out in 2013, entitled Seven Gifts of Madness.
What led you to become a writer?
I am as unlikely a novelist as you will ever come across. When I began writing creatively, which was around four years ago, I had a lot of very difficult circumstances in my life; hardship and illness and death and I really began to write as a catharsis and a way of coping with these.
One evening I was visiting my father in the nursing home where he was dying of Alzheimer’s disease when the elderly lady sitting in the chair next to his suddenly began screaming and screaming, begging some uncle to stop, that he was hurting her. Of course it made me begin to imagine what sort of horrors she must have been reliving and that led in turn to The Eighth Circle of Hell.
What authors inspire and/or influence your work?
I am really the sum of very many influences because like many writers I have always read widely and voraciously. The biggest of those influences I guess would be Charles Dickens, Thomas Harris, (who is a master at describing the pain of mental disorder, Arthur Conan Doyle and Shelley.
The Eighth Circle of Hell is published by Thames River Press. What was your journey to publication like? Did you enlist the assistance of an agent?
Unless you are already an established ‘name’, the road to publication seems almost always to be a tortuous one. I did begin in the usual way, by submitting queries to literary agents, and I was eventually accepted by one. However, because The Eighth Circle of Hell is not the most obviously commercial of novels and because many of the larger publishing houses were also becoming increasingly cautious about taking on new writers in the wake of the recession, he couldn’t place me. He therefore, quite understandably I suppose, terminated our contract.
I began to research small and medium-sized publishers and started to make submissions to those I thought were the best fit for my work. One of those was Thames River Press, an imprint of the Wimbledon Publishing Company of London. The Submissions Editor duly accepted the manuscript and we spent the next two years or so revising and polishing the manuscript until it was right for publication.
The book is based in the 1800s. Are you a history buff? What made you choose that particular era?
I am very much a history buff. The plot for The Eighth Circle of Hell was to centre on the sexual abuse of girls. When I began to research the history of the subject, I stumbled across what is probably the greatest social scandal in modern British history – The Victorian Defloration Mania. This was in essence, the almost industrial-scale trade in adolescent girls who were procured by the wealthy classes for rape. The story of the hundreds of thousands of young, innocent girls caught up in that horrific time really had to be told.
What sort of research did you have to do in order to make the story come alive?
Everything I describe in The Eighth Circle of Hell, from the padded rooms to the procuresses, from life in the workhouse to that in the linen mill, is based on thoroughly researched fact. To bring it alive, I had to try to drop myself into the situation of the characters, to feel their agony as best I could and then to voice it.
Research is hugely important in historical fiction. If you state something that isn’t factually correct, there are enough people out there who really know the subject to make sure it comes back to bite you. Research must involve every aspect of setting and dialogue. Streets for example may not have existed at the time you write about or words might not have been coined. Never take anything for granted.
There’s a quote on your blog that pertains to the manuscript for Seven Gifts of Madness. You said you were “left with several layers of pomposity and arrogance to peel away” from the writing. I know remaining objective about your own writing can be difficult. How did you know which parts of the story or writing ventured into arrogance territory?
That was quite easy; the submissions editor rather bluntly told me so and suggested a major rewrite, which I duly did. Sitting alone for hours over a keyboard is not the best way to maintain objectivity about a manuscript. The Eighth Circle of Hell is quite literary and I tried too hard to achieve even more with Seven Gifts of Madness. I hope I have the balance just about right now and I have the reassurance that the manuscript will be revised further at substance-editing and final-review stages.
Are any aspects of Lizzie’s (protagonist of The Eighth Circle of Hell) personality based on anyone you know?
The inspiration for the character was drawn from the elderly lady in the nursing home. Like Lizzie, she has passed on now, and is at peace. Lizzie’s personality I derived from a number of people I know, all of whom have suffered severe (but not necessarily sexual) trauma at some point in their adolescence.
What experience do you want for your readers?
That is a very good question. The theme of the novel is that of Dante’s Divine Comedy (from which the title is derived); Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. I want the reader to feel each of these elements in turn: the Hell of sexual abuse, the Purgatory of Lizzie’s memories of this and her eventual pleasure and relief in death. There are also three distinct murders in the story. I want the reader to make his or her own mind up as to the justification, if not necessity of each. And I would also like them to be informed about how hypocritical and brutal Victorian Britain could be.
The Eighth Circle of Hell is available at:
The Victorian age is often held up as a shining era of British history, a time of wealth and power, of civilisation and philanthropy. It was all of these. Yet it was also a time of cruelty and depravity, where power and wealth were too-often used for ill-purpose and exploitation. It was the time of the ‘Defloration Mania’, where young girls were bought and sold like the slaves they became. Elizabeth Wilson is an elderly woman who has spent a lifetime of grinding toil and poverty in a workhouse. She fled there as a young girl, pregnant and penniless, to escape her depraved uncle and his powerful friends. However, advancing dementia has caused her to regress inexorably back in her life, to the point where she is once again re-living the hellish memories of her life as an orphaned child. [NP] ‘The Eighth Circle of Hell’ is a bleak study of the stark contrast between the polite, strictly ordered society of the Victorian age, and the utter depravity and exploitation of the vulnerable it shielded. This story demonstrates how in the furnace of shared adversity, enmities and friendships can be forged that will last a lifetime, and which are more enduring than the boundaries of life and death.
Gary Dolman was born on Tyneside in the early 1960s but grew up in Harrogate in Yorkshire where he now lives with his wife, three children and three dogs. His writing reflects his fascination by the aberrations of the human mind.
Gary’s blog is HERE.