The UK shows some love for Set Free
Bookbag.co.uk Interview with Luke Marlowe
Luke was impressed when he read Set Free by Anthony Bidulka not least because he liked the characters he felt he could invest in. He had quite a few questions when the author popped into Bookbag Towers.
- Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
Anthony Bidulka: For me, it’s more a case of imagining the environment they’re in and how are they’re feeling as they read my books. My fondest wish is that my books are read for pure enjoyment. Yes, it’s very nice if readers can get something more cerebral from what I’ve written, but first off, I want joy. I like to imagine my readers in their favourite arm chair, on a plane, lying by an ocean, sitting on a bus, and luxuriating in the simple joy of reading. I want them to put down the book and feel satisfied, as if they’ve had a good time, just them, a book, and maybe a glass of wine or beer.
- BB: The story in Set Free slips between time periods and narrators with ease – Jasper’s captivity allowing glimpses into his past, and building a deep and involving backstory, which is swiftly challenged by ever changing events. Whilst exciting, the reader never gets too confused by the changes in period, time or narrator though – how did you achieve this?
AB: I’m so glad you feel this way. Thank you for saying so. Although I expected this to be a challenging aspect of writing this book, I think the reason it works is that I tried to not over-think it. I attempted to go about it organically, allowing the changes to occur naturally. Sometimes this was driven by me as the writer. For instance, I’d be deep into a scene with Jaspar during his abduction and I’d begin to feel overwhelmed by the darkness. Personally I am an optimist and generally seek happiness. To immerse myself in Jaspar’s situation for too long would eventually drag me down into a place I did not enjoy. If I wasn’t enjoying it, I figured readers might feel the same way. It was time to move on to something else for a while. Other times, the change would be driven by the character. With each main character, I’d do my best to put myself in their shoes and live what they were living (in my mind). These were people who, each in their own way, were living under extreme circumstances, and like all of us, sometimes you just need a break. When a character demanded a time-out, I knew it was time for a change.
- BB: The hostage experience seems frighteningly, vividly real. How much research did you have to do to adequately describe this terrifying experience?
AB: Because I often include international flavour and foreign destinations in my books, most of which are based on my own personal travel experiences, much of my research has been nothing short of wondrous and uplifting. However, when you write about the grittier side of life, about crime, personal anguish, the worst of what humans can do to one another, these are, shall I say, less than wondrous experiences.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when bad things happen to people on a dreadfully regular basis. Fortunately, many of these people live to tell about their experiences, through media, books, movies, social media. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t know which, I benefit from this.
With Set Free I needed to learn about abduction, long-term incarceration, the experience of being beaten. I have never been the type of writer to focus on violence or the gruesome, but you must go where the story takes you and hope you come out the other end undamaged.
- BB: Many characters enter fairly dark and extreme mental states during the book – how easy was it to put yourself in their mindset?
AB: You have hit on a fascinating and personal subject. As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself to be a positive, glass-half-full, happy kind of fellow. But to chronicle the human condition, a writer must be willing to step outside their comfort zone and visit the unfamiliar and prickly, bumpy, painful parts of life. Circumstance took the main characters of Set Free into dark places. I must admit that at times I am surprised that I, as the writer, was the one who led them there. In most of my earlier work, there is a certain light-heartedness, with only an occasional dip into dark waters. Here, well, I dove in head first without a life jacket. I think I was able to sustain the mood for two reasons. The first, and more personal, is that there were certain things happening in my own life (as life is wont to throw our way now and again) that were not particularly joyous. I used this to my advantage and poured some of the darkness into this book. The second, was a writing schedule, consciously created, which allowed me to pull out of a scene and escape into the light whenever I needed to. I’d walk my dogs or look at art or watch a funny movie. I’d recover, then dive back in until the story was told.
- BB: There’s a certain focus on the media in Set Free, with shifting narratives taking in various forms of storytelling and reporting. As an author who is well used to dealing with various forms of the media, was this a conscious decision?
AB: Only in a broad sense. I have always been a writer who believes that to make a book successful, it takes a team, writer, publisher, all forms of media, booksellers, reviewers, my mother! I also believe there are two distinct sides to the career of writing – the creative side and the business side. Storytelling falls on one side, reporting about the story falls on the other. I liked the idea of marrying these two sides through the narrative of the book and asking readers to decide which to believe in…or not.
- BB: Without giving too much away, there may well be an unreliable narrator at a point in the book. How easy was it to navigate and plot the shifting stories?
AB: Ohhhhhhh, I am so anxious to say a great deal about this, but I do not wish to spoil or lead astray. Let me just say that on a careful second or third reading, what may have appeared unreliable may no longer be so. Surprisingly, the navigation went rather smoothly, in part because whichever narrator I was working with, I completely bought in to whatever they believed to be true. Does that make any sense?
- BB: The book’s depiction of Morocco shows both the bustling chaos of the city and the eerie quietness of the mountains. It’s clear from your website that you’re well travelled, but is it somewhere you’ve visited, and, if not, would you like to go?
AB: Oh yes. The story I’d like to tell is too long to impart here, but quickly put, as the milestone age of fifty was approaching, I decided to celebrate with an adventure to anywhere in the world, alone, nothing was off limits. There is a story just in the decision phase, but we’ll keep that for another time. I settled on Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains. You’ll recall I earlier described much of my research as being wondrous…well, this was an example. The city itself was exotic, frightening, exciting, callous, stunning, tempting, and challenging. I fell in love with it. The Atlas Mountains were austere and still, rustic and crafty, sad and exultant, magnificent and inspiring. Really, nearly impossible to put into words. Many of my pictures, which inspired settings in Set Free, can be found via my website.
- BB: Your previous books have been part of series -the Adam Saint books about a tough as nails Disaster Recovery Agent, and the Russell Quant books – about a world-travelling, wine-swilling, wise-cracking, gay PI (books I intend to check out very shortly), how different was it to write a book that stood alone?
AB: This was indeed a splendid, and sometimes exasperating, challenge. As both a writer and a reader, I enjoy series novels. Over the course of several books one can truly come to know characters and the world they live in. With a stand-alone, everything you want to say has to be in three hundred pages. No second chances, no follow up books to develop characters, flesh out storylines, fix mistakes, or indulge in my fondness for a teasing cliff-hanger. I am someone who enjoys change and challenge and trying new things, so this worked to my advantage here. Although it may have taken me longer to write, I am very pleased with the result. It was me, the writer, stretching a different artistic muscle.
- BB: How influenced were you by other thriller writers – and do you have any particular recommendations for our readers?
AB: If you were to visit my office…you’re welcome to Saskatoon any time!…you would likely be surprised by the books on my shelves. You would find anything from thriller to romance to autobiography to mystery. I will admit I am not a big reader of violent, gritty, action-packed thrillers. I appreciate the craft, I simply do not have the attraction as a reader or skill as a writer. I would describe Set Free more as a suspense novel than a thriller. It may seem a small distinction, but there is a difference. Writers have ‘voices’ and with Set Free, I was finding my voice as a suspense author.
- BB: What’s next for Anthony Bidulka?
AB: I’m currently working on another suspense novel, working title: Lone Cay. It’s about a man with a special ‘gift’ which has rendered him the loneliest man in the world. In part, it takes place on a fictional island in the Turks and Caicos named Lone Cay. I predict more wondrous research in my future!
- BB: Thanks for chatting to us, Tony – and we look forward to reading Lone Cay.