Interview with A J Oates author of Bolt-hole
Can you tell us a bit more about your background other than that you went to "Gleadless
Valley Comprehensive School for Talented Children?"
My family (going back numerous generations) are Sheffield born and bred and I was brought up on the mean streets of Norton on the south side of the city. I went to Norton Free Infant/junior School, and then Gleadless Valley Comprehensive School (sadly now defunct and reconstituted as a housing estate). I subsequently studied at Newcastle and then Liverpool Universities before working in Japan and USA for 3 years. I then returned to Yorkshire, albeit it’s second city of Leeds, where I studied medicine and completed post graduate medical training. I then spent a year in Toronto before taking up a consultant post at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 2012.
I can't believe Bolt-hole wasn't snapped up by a publisher. Did you try to get an agent/publisher? If so did you count the rejection letters?
I approached 8-10 literary agents/publishers but with little or no interest. I door-stepped a Yorkshire-based literary agent (specialising in “Northern” fiction) who made me a cup of tea and agreed to read the entire manuscript but it went no further (other than a police caution). As many will know, it is extremely difficult to get interest from publishers and while I would have liked the support (and the kudos) of a literary agent’s backing, it is incredibly easy to self-publish. After which, it is for the public to decide whether your book is any good.
How did you manage to get inside Julian's head? To imagine such a catastrophe happening?
I did not find this difficult. Like me, and most other people, Julian was an ordinary guy living an ordinary life, but then he got caught up in this extra-ordinary situation – some of it of his own making. I was keen to avoid him coming across as some sort of Special Forces dude where crazy things happened all the time. I wrote it in the first person hopefully as means for the reader to find some empathy and personal attachment to him despite his failings and the horror of his acts.
Do you have a place and time where you can do your writing or do you have to squeeze it in around life?
I have 3 young daughters and a busy job, and it has always been tricky to find the time to write. Often it will be late at night while on-call and waiting for a patient to arrive but my most productive time for writing Bolt-hole was on a Saturday morning when my eldest daughter was in her 1hr ballet lessons – this gave me uninterrupted time to think. Often, I thought of elements of the story when not necessarily sat in front of the lap top e.g. driving, watching TV or reading other novels.
How many downloads of Bolt-hole have you had?
I have had approximately 2,500 free promotional downloads and approximately 800 sales. At one point I ranked number 303 in all of Kindle sales but more recently hover between rankings of 20,000-150,000. Generally the reviews have been pretty good on both Amazon and Goodreads.
How carefully did you research the locations? I can imagine you having sat up on Kinder on your own for hours - did you?
Many of the elements of the Graves park aspect of the story are highly accurate. I lived on the doorstep of the park for 20 years and more recently (while fact-checking) I walked the routes and studied maps to ensure I gave accurate descriptions. The route to the Peak District is also accurate but the actual bolt-hole (Picasso’s head) on Kinder Scout is not based any specific place. I have spent a lot of time on Kinder Scout particularly in my teens and it is a fabulous place to be. Some-what wishfully thinking, I have always thought that Bolt-hole would lend itself well to the silver screen with the great contrasts of the dark, dirty bolt-holes and the vast expanse of beautiful country side through the changing seasons of his incarceration, and also the contrast of his previous settled family life to what was to ultimately to become of him.
Should any of us feel the need, are there really bolt-holes in Graves Park and on Kinder?
There is a “real-life” bolt-hole in Graves Park and when I first published the book, I attached advertising flyers to trees close by as a way to drum up business. I am more than happy to provide directions!
What are you writing now? How's it going?
I am writing a second novel. This story is all mapped out but I just have to find the time to put it altogether. I am 44 (but only look 43) and in a perfect world retire at 60, and then write full time (possibly on a Caribbean beach).
I loved the book but my biggest criticism was that I thought the epilogue unnecessary. Did you just have a crisis of conscience? Or was it your Mum telling you that crime shouldn't pay?
I thought very carefully about the epilogue and whether or not to include it. I had discussed it with a couple of friends who deemed it a bad idea. Interestingly (to me at least), I always considered myself to be a bit of a "fake" writer but on this particular point I felt adamant that it should be included (even if others didn’t like it). In a way this gave me the sense that I had a degree of artistic/writer’s integrity, and perhaps that I was not so fake after all - I realise this all sounds a bit pretentious!
Ultimately (and without wanting to provide too much of a spoiler), Julian had lost everything that he ever valued and despite the incredible efforts and sacrifices he had made to ensure his freedom, he had the destroying realisation that it would never bring back what he really wanted and needed; hence the epilogue. As you said in your review, I did “surreally” allude to the ending midway in the story – this was the only time I effectively stepped-out of character and provided an overview of future events. I appreciate this was a bit anomalous with the rest of the narrative but I suppose this is the power of the writer and that you can say what you like (so long as you don’t try to make a fool out of the reader by acting too clever). In many respects I am glad I stuck to my guns but acknowledge the criticism of the 5 lines of the epilogue – perhaps future readers should stop at the previous page.