How did you start your writing career?
Those who know me would think me the most unlikely creative writer they could ever imagine. I began my career as a result of a combination of circumstances:
Around six years ago, there were a number of difficult elements in my personal life; severe illness, death and hardship. I began to write creatively as a catharsis and as a means of escaping from, and therefore coping with, these. One day, I was visiting my father in the care home where he lived when one of the other residents, who was also in the end-stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, suddenly cried out, begging some long-dead uncle to stop, screaming that he was hurting her. It made me begin to imagine what sort of horrors she must be reliving and that sparked the idea behind my debut novel, The Eighth Circle of Hell.
Tell us about your current release.
The Eighth Circle of Hell uses the fractured and disturbed memories of an elderly workhouse ‘imbecile’ to explore the horrors of child sexual abuse. It is set during what must surely be the greatest social scandal in modern British history; the Victorian Defloration Mania. It is a difficult read – both technically and emotionally but it tells a powerful and moving story that few people, even in Britain know about and which absolutely needs to be told.
When in the day/night do you write? How long per day?
When I wrote The Eighth Circle of Hell, I was caring for a close family member who was going through severe mental health problems. They weren’t able to be left for any length of time on their own and so I wrote the majority of the novel in the wee, small hours, when they were sedated for sleep.
Now that they are much improved, I can plan my writing time a little better. I tend to write from around 5am in the morning until I am too mentally exhausted to continue effectively. That might be for two, three or four hours typically depending on how intense are the pros.
What is the hardest part of writing your books?
It’s always the dialogue. My books are all set in the Victorian period and I obviously need to reflect the idiom and style of the time. However, if I did that completely accurately, the pace of the novel would suffer and it would become quite tiresome to read. There is therefore a balance to be struck, which essentially hints at the time period but which retains the fluidity of modern speech.
Where do you research for your books?
Research is everything for me, as it should be to all writers of historical fiction. If I get a detail wrong, then there will be someone out there who will know the true facts and the story will be spoiled for them. Even in the relatively recent 19th Century, one needs to check whether a particular street or building existed, whether a word or phrase had even been coined and if it had, did it mean the same thing as now? I research online of course, but I’m careful to cross-reference everything because there is a lot of erroneous information out there. I like to personally visit places I write about too, because that way I can get a real ‘feel’ for them. If I can ‘method write’ passages I do too. For example; in The Eighth Circle of Hell I wanted to write about the protagonist leaping into a river, so I actually plunged my head and shoulders into that same river in the middle of winter to help me do so.
Who are your books published with?
I am published by Thames River Press, an imprint of WPC of London and a sister imprint to Anthem Press. It is an ambitious, traditional publisher of fiction and non-fiction.
How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?
I tend to start with a basic idea. Then I research extensively and read around the related subjects because usually I find that ideas and subplots are thrown up in the process. A loose, skeletal plan of the plot follows, which I flesh out as I write.
As regards character development, I try to imagine that person in their whole
lifetime and think about what influences would have affected them and how. Would they have fears or phobias, for example? Would they be arrogant or judgmental, or calm and gentle? I then write a list of adjectives and adverbs about them as a reminder to me as I write. Because my work is historical fiction, I take great care to research the social norms and conventions of the day too, as these will have a major effect on character.
Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it? If so, can you share it?
The opening line of the novel is this: ‘In my experience, little girls who beg for mercy seldom deserve it.’
This really sets the theme of the novel, almost to the end. During the real defloration mania, young virgin girls were seen as nothing more than simple commodities and playthings to be bought and used at will by the wealthy classes.
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 used to ill-purpose. It was the time of the ‘defloration mania’, where young girls were bought and sold like the slaves they became.
Gary Dolman was born on South 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.