Monday, April 27, 2009
Interview with S.J. Bolton
Recently, I reviewed "Awakening," the second book by British author S.J. Bolton (see review two posts below). This book so intrigued me that I had to know more about the author.
Q. You’ve had interesting careers before this, as an actress and in PR. What drew you to writing novels?
A. Looking back, I realize I had all the ingredients that make up a writer, I just didn’t recognize them for what they were. I’ve always loved books and read avidly, the part of my job I enjoyed the most was the writing and I’ve always been one of those people who have a fantasy life running in parallel to the real one. It wasn’t until I was married with a baby on the way that I realized I might have a work of fiction in me. Once I started, it was like falling off a log! I loved it and knew that, published or not, it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my working life.
Q. Elsewhere, you’ve written that you wanted to write “spooky crime.” The supernatural does pop up in some mysteries, but you’ve really embraced it. What is it about the spooky that draws you?
A. Its very darkness; the sense that no rules apply; the expectation of a journey into the complete unknown from which there may be no return; complete escapism from the real world. All these things and many more. I’ve always loved stories of the supernatural but because I write in a very strict genre, I have two editors, one on either side of the Atlantic, who work very hard to keep me grounded in reality. Ultimately, there is nothing supernatural in my books; it just looks that way for a while.
Q. Your first book, Sacrifice, has been short-listed for several prizes. Writing this novel, did you have any idea of the impact it would have?
A. All the time I was writing Sacrifice I had no idea it would even get published. Technically, I felt the book was shaping up well but I knew the story might prove too fantastic, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, to be taken seriously by the publishing world. Luckily for me, it was, but even now that it’s been published in several countries, the reaction has been mixed and extreme. For every person who’s loved it, another has hated it.
Q. You’ve written two books with a third one almost finished. They all have very different settings and plots. How do you come up with the ideas for them?
A. My ideas come from the people and places around me. Sacrifice was born out of my own experience of wanting to have a child and finding it difficult to conceive. Awakening was inspired by the village I live in now and by its residents – both human and reptilian. My third book is set in a remote town in the Pennine hills in the north of England, the place were I grew up. I find myself inspired by landscapes frequently. For a small island, Great Britain has a remarkably diverse and beautiful topography and I love to imagine the dark undercurrent beneath the idyllic surface.
Q. I’m always interested in how writers create characters. Are any of them based on people you know?
A. All of them. That’s not to say people will necessarily recognize themselves. Sometimes it’s just a hairstyle or a mannerism that makes it into print. I don’t worry too much about developing characters at the outset. I have a very vague idea about them – age, appearance, occupation. Then I concentrate on telling the story and let the characters develop themselves through their behaviour and their reaction to events.
Q. In Awakening, you’ve created a damaged yet strong protagonist, Clara. Long after I put the book down, I kept thinking of her – and wondering what would happen next to her. Any chance you’ll ever bring her back, or are you done with the characters once you finish a book?
A. I’d love to see Clara again. She is easily my favourite heroine so far. Her job, though, is very specific, so I will need to come up with a mystery that, somehow, revolves around wild animals. Nothing immediately springs to mind but maybe one day.
Q. Can you give us a peek into your third book – what is it about?
A. Folklore meets forensics on the bleak and remote Pennine Moors. A charismatic young Anglican priest is on the verge of falling in love with a beautiful children’s psychiatrist, when the remains of several young children are found on land close to the church. The resulting events test his faith to its limits and threaten everyone he cares about.
Q. Who are your favorite current authors?
A. Stephen King is, and probably will remain, my favourite contemporary author. He combines the most formidable imagination with a real gift for language. So many books can wind me up for so many reasons but when I open a King novel, I feel myself breathing a deep sigh of relief. I know I’m in the presence of a master. Other authors I love include Joanne Harris, JK Rowling, Thomas Harris, Dan Brown and Tess Gerritsen. New writers that I think have immense talent include Ariana Franklin, Simon Beckett, Nick Stone and Tom Cain.