About Me

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Ripon, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Gary Dolman was born in the industrial north east of England in the 1960s, but grew up in Harrogate in Yorkshire, where he now lives with his wife, three children and dogs. His writing reflects his fascination by the dark places of the human mind.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Tragedy on Too Many Levels

The appalling news from Connecticut, USA has sent a huge wave of shock and disbelief around the globe. No fewer than 28 victims died in a gun attack, 27 of them at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 20 of those, little children who had barely had chance to live yet.

Of course there is necessarily a great deal of speculation and supposition in these early news reports as people try to comprehend what might have driven a human being to commit such an atrocity. What could his motive possibly have been?

I don’t (as part of my own speculation and supposition) believe there was one as such, in the rational and logical sense of the word anyway. That is because there have been several (early and anonymous) reports that the alleged killer, Adam Lanza, had been diagnosed with a personality disorder. 

Personality disorders are psychological disorders of the mind, often arising from prolonged trauma during childhood and adolescence. The most commonly diagnosed of these disorders used to be called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It was called ‘borderline’ not because it is borderline as to whether or not it is a disorder at all, but because it sits on the border between being neurological and psychological in nature. In other words, it is partly 'wired' into the brain.

We all have an ancient response to perceived danger, commonly called ‘fight or flee.’ To this day, we will either run from threats, or fight them. Sometimes we might ‘freeze’ too. In people who are unfortunate enough to suffer from personality disorders, this response is often exaggerated. They also have a particular ‘black-and-white’ perception whereby people or events seem either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ – a rather dangerous combination.

And what might turn a dangerous combination into a catastrophic one is the phenomenon of ‘dissociation.’ This is where reality switches off for a while and the individual drops back into instinctive and impulsive behaviour, sometimes with high-level thinking and perception.

When they flee, especially if they dissociate, they might literally run, putting themselves into dangerous or difficult situations. Or they may run to alcohol or drugs or the pain of self-harm, or they may commit suicide. When they are dissociated and fight...well, we are just watching on the news reports what might happen then.

That is why I noted above that there were 28 victims in total. Of course that is no comfort to the parents and friends of the dead and injured, or, of course, to the injured themselves. Theirs is a pain beyond comprehension. Nor is it an excuse.

That is not to say that those who have disordered personalities are likely to be dangerous. They are much more likely to hurt or kill themselves than others. But there are people with emotionally unstable personality disorders of the impulsive type, who under certain circumstances can be very dangerous indeed.

Unfortunately, mental health service providers around the world often neglect the treatment of personality disorders. They are seen as persistent and difficult or expensive to treat despite the fact that they cause misery for millions. In the UK, many believe that psychiatrists deliberately do not diagnose personality disorders because that will then lead to the right of patients to access treatments (Dialectical Behaviour Therapies, or DBT) which are expensive to provide.

It really is an outrage.

In THE EIGHTH CIRCLE OF HELL, the main character is tormented by personality disorders arising from adolescent sexual abuse. It happened to hundreds of thousands like her during the Defloration Mania of Victorian times. But then there was little psychiatry and no DBT.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Phew, What a Stinker. (A Cautionary Tale)

Many years (and a good many pounds) ago, I used to play rugby-football. In those days, I was quite a sprinter too, even though I say it myself. However, I must confess that there was a time when my supposed speed went completely to my head. In fact, in the warm-up before one particular match, I actually kept running repeatedly into the ground because I absolutely believed that I was faster than I actually was. How’s that for arrogance?

I had a novel published last month by Thames River Press. It is called The Eighth Circle of Hell and, even though I say it myself, it is quite literary. Under the guidance of the editors at Thames River Press, I have written something worth reading on a number of levels.

But... (Yes, you’ve guessed it)...

I have a second manuscript under submission with the working title: Seven Gifts of Madness. I had actually written an early draft of it before The Eighth Circle of Hell, and agents and editors who had looked at it then had, in the main, quite liked it although there were certainly issues to be addressed in the dialogue and plot.

When I came to revise Seven Gifts of Madness after having finished The Eighth Circle of Hell, I brought all my supposed newly-discovered talents to bear. I embellished it and complicated it, and embellished it again and yes I admit now, it became an absolute stinker, which in the words of the publisher’s reader, ‘disappeared up its own fundament.’


And I have to agree. I’m now left with several layers of pomposity and arrogance to peel away from both my manuscript and also I fear my good self. Then, suitably chastened, I hope I will have a manuscript worth publishing again. In retrospect I could have saved both myself and Thames River Press a lot of time.

As I recall my old rugby coach saying many years ago: ‘What a plonker!’ You’re only as good as your current manuscript.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

It’s Not What I Do, It’s The Way That I Do It.

It seems that there is a storm raging in the U.K. once again. It concerns another of our, ‘national treasures,’ and this time it is, 'Dear Old Auntie,' the BBC.

It appears that senior news editors within the BBC allowed false accusations of child abuse to be directed at an innocent, though prominent individual. That followed the non-screening of a documentary investigating the seemingly real abuse perpetrated by another prominent show-business personality; Sir Jimmy Savile. 

It all culminated in the resignation of the Director-General of the BBC.

What however seems to have been largely forgotten in all of this is the child abuse at the centre of it all. Boys (in this case) were abused by a person or persons un-named and their lives debased and destroyed into adulthood. Their tragedies have been all but obscured by the arguments over the propriety or impropriety of the investigations themselves.

It puts me in mind of the first great exposure of widespread child abuse in Great Britain; that of the pioneering journalist WT Stead in the Pall Mall Gazette of July 1885 – the infamous Defloration Mania.
Stead exposed the almost industrial-scale trade in adolescent girls who were procured for rape by 'gentlemen' of the wealthy classes. To demonstrate how easy it was to procure a young girl, Stead arranged for the purchase of a certain Eliza Armstrong, the thirteen year-old daughter of a chimney sweep for £5.
However, as a result of what were subsequently considered to be illegal investigative methods (where Stead allegedly failed to secure the girl’s father’s permission to take her), he was tried and convicted of the, ‘unlawful kidnapping of a minor’, and sentenced to three months in prison. Never mind that he had uncovered perhaps the greatest scandal in recent British history and forced the government of the day to change the law by raising the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16 years.

Thereafter, every November 10th, (the anniversary of his conviction), Stead would dress in his prison uniform as a reminder of his, ‘triumph.’ He at least could keep a sense of proportion.

In my recently published novel, THE EIGHTH CIRCLE OF HELL, I show through the experiences of a single victim how a misplaced sense of propriety can keep horrific abuse almost entirely hidden from view. No one of course should be wrongly accused, but celebrity or not, national treasure or not, those guilty of perpetrating abuse should be dragged fearlessly into the glare of investigation.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Top Hats and Track Suits

The single biggest news item in the UK at the moment is probably the allegation that a National treasure; Sir Jimmy Savil abused scores of underage girls over several decades before his death.

Many of his alleged victims are coming forward now to describe their experiences.

But why, many ask, are these victims coming out now, after his death, when he cannot defend himself against their accusations or indeed suffer punishment if found guilty.

The answer psychologists, and many of the victims themselves give, is that they were simply too frightened to. They feared that their word would not be believed against that of a great and charismatic philanthropist such as Savil. They perceived him as being a great and powerful man, with wealth and therefore access to the very best legal representation.

Now that he is dead, there is no one to disbelieve them and the numbers of other women...and now men coming forward corroborates their own memory and provides safety in numbers from a public opinion still influenced by fond memory.

Savil was an enigma: Eccentric, yes; charismatic, certainly and undeniably a great philanthropist. Yet it seems now that he was also a monster.

If we struggle to marry those opposites in our minds, how must he have fared? Did he do his many good works to compensate for his bad? Did he genuinely believe that he was not really hurting anybody, or that his victims were actually enjoying it? Or were the alleged rapes and assaults the products of episodic madness?

My own feeling is that his power had corrupted him. (See my previous blog.) He regarded the girls as nothing more than playthings, objects to be toyed with at will.

It was the same in the Nineteenth Century during what came to be known as the Defloration Mania. Gentlemen saw young girls as pretty toys to be used and abused at will. They themselves were rich and powerful and effectively above the law. They were the very pillars of society and any attack on them was an attack on society itself. In Great Britain, the leading nation of the world, that would never do.

When the Defloration Mania was finally exposed by the journalist WT Stead amongst others, an outraged public was shocked to see that monsters might dress in waistcoats and fine linen. We today are shocked that they might also wear glittering tracksuits.  

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Peers, Plebs, Presidents and People.

It was the liberal peer Lord Acton (1834-1902) who famously remarked that, ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.’

What Acton meant by this was not that the powerful would necessarily become corrupt or fraudulent in the legal sense of the word but rather that power tends to cause a moral corruption, a corruption of the heart and conscience.  There were very many in Acton’s own day like that. The immense wealth and military might of Victorian Britain led to the outrageous exploitation of many of the weakest in society both at home and abroad despite the efforts of the celebrated philanthropists and social reformers of the day.

Tragically, little has changed almost a century and a half later. From Presidential candidates in the United States to some of the popular press here in the UK there is a deeply-held belief that some people are part of an underclass of no-hope, ne’er-do-well freeloaders who parasitize society. It is an attitude held by not a few, both in government and in society.  

These individuals have invariably been born into privilege; either into wealth or self-perceived authority, or at least NOT into financial and emotional hardship. They see disadvantage as something that must surely have resulted from laziness or fecklessness and not from circumstance or sheer bad luck. They make judgements based on stereotypes and assumption and they condemn.

After months of portraying those on disability benefits as largely workshy and lazy, Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborn were roundly jeered by the spectators at the recent Paralympic Games in London.  They then attributed this to the poor presentation of their views rather than the views themselves.

Then we have a now-notorious Chief Whip in the British Government who (allegedly) called a member of the police service a, ‘pleb,’ and (again allegedly) suggested he should ‘know his place.’ He may well have been, as he claims, tired and frustrated when he made the outburst but tiredness and frustration does not excuse that fundamentally superior attitude of mind; it merely explains why it was blurted out in the heat of the moment.

Civilisation is all about how we regard and go about caring for the least advantaged in society, not about how we might encourage or laud those who already have the most advantage. It is about striving to do what is best for civilisation – for society – as a whole, not for ourselves or our ‘equals’. This is not politics; this is simple humanity. It sounds self-evident but tragically relatively few really live it.


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Tick Grows Louder

From time to time the press and the media advise us of the next great, ‘ticking time-bomb,’ about to cause a holocaust in our society. There has been variant-Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Ebola, various avian influenzas, AIDS, cancers and many, many others. Let me say from the start that I certainly wouldn’t wish to minimise in any way the misery or devastation caused to anyone unfortunate enough to suffer from any of these conditions, or their families, but there is another group of disorders which profoundly affects millions of persons across the world, (especially the First World), which are hardly ever reported on and which are too-often ignored by the health professionals.

These are the Personality Disorders.

Whilst there are several different types and sub-types of personality disorder, the behavioural patterns they cause are typically disturbed, usually substantially so, and often in several areas of the personality. They are nearly always associated with considerable personal and social disruption for the sufferer, often causing severe anxiety and depression. Personality disorders are inflexible and pervasive.

Most people haven’t heard of these disorders and might be surprised to learn that they account for between 40 and 60% of all mental health diagnoses – by far the most common. Whilst there is likely a genetic predisposition, typically they can be traced back to trauma or other profound difficulties in adolescence or childhood.

Therein lies the problem: As society degrades and the family unit breaks down, and as the number of dysfunctional parental relationships increases, so does the number of children exposed to trauma, neglect and abuse. These are the individuals most likely to develop personality disorders.

And because psychological disorders in general, and personality disorders in particular are difficult and expensive to treat, so cash-strapped health bodies tend not to formally diagnose or even attempt to address them. They rely instead on the sufferer, and their family and friends, coping as best they can, perhaps prescribing anti-depressant medication. But because personality disorders are psychological in origin, medication is generally of limited benefit. Effective treatment typically involves talking or group therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy or the excellent dialectical behaviour therapy.

If diagnosis and treatment is generally poor in this, the 21st Century, it was virtually non-existent in the 19th. The rape and sexual abuse of girls was endemic in the Defloration Mania of the Victorian era. Most of it took place when the girls were just 13 years and above, (when they were deemed capable of consent), and this is the age at which such trauma can have the most profound and enduring consequences. There must have been tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of deeply traumatised girls living in continual anguish as a result of their being procured as children for the, ‘amusement,’ of wealthy gentleman.

I have tried to express the manifestations of such trauma in The Eighth Circle of Hell (available early October 2012, Thames River Press.) It is a stark, shocking account set in the explosion of the Victorian-age time-bomb. 150 years later, the ticking grow deafening once more.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Good Grief, Mr Chips!

            July 2012 sees the printing of my debut novel, The Eighth Circle of Hell. It’s classified by the publisher, Thames River Press, as historical fiction, which it undoubtedly is, being set in the 1840s and ‘90s. But it is also literary fiction, both in style and in the way it parallels Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Last week, Kamaljit Singh, the driving force behind Thames River Press, told me that he had entered it into the Costa Book Awards as a first novel and that he intends to do the same for the Man Booker Prize. Heady days indeed!

I was never particularly good at English at school. The fact that I was placed firmly in Set 4 at my comprehensive school perhaps illustrates this, as does my achievement of a grade B in English Language at ‘O’-Level and the scraping of a ‘C’ in English Literature.  So I wonder what the reaction of my old English teachers will be if they find out about all of this. The fact that I’ve written anything without a gun to my temple will astound them; that it’s been taken up and published by a traditional publisher will send them reaching for a cold compress.

Very much, Good Grief!

What has changed for me is that my family has been through some real dark days over the past five years or so. Death, illness and mental disorder have a way of really squeezing the creative juices from the most dry and shrivelled fruit. And looking back at the time before then, I am a much better human being for it. I am far less judgemental and a lot kinder. In a way, and for me, (I certainly would not have wished it on any of the other family members) it was good grief.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Cometh the Hour

I recall the demise of the Net Book Agreement (NBA) very well. It was in March 1997 and I remember feeling outraged that such an abomination as a price-fixing agreement could have existed in the first place. I felt as if I had been ripped-off for years and I celebrated the decision to declare it unlawful. Spokesmen for independent booksellers bleated at the time that not only did the NBA help to ensure that new writing talent was nurtured by the big publishing houses, it also kept their own sector buoyant. I regarded their words as just that – the pitiful bleating of those afraid of fair competition.

I fear now that they were entirely correct.

The removal of the NBA allowed the large multiple retailers, both specialist chains and especially supermarkets to dominate the market. They were interested only in pounds, shillings and pence, and not at all in the health of literature per se. A narrow offering of best-selling titles and celebrity memoirs increasingly dominated the market with volumes driven by deep discounting and strong point-of-purchase marketing. Multiple buyers looked only for proven names and formats and the large but increasingly dependent publishers and their literary agents slavishly pandered to them. The independent booksellers, unable to compete on best-seller sales were decimated. There was less and less shelf space available for new authors and as a result, fewer were taken on. Literature suffered.

Cometh the hour, cometh the independent presses. The vacuum created by the implosion of the offerings of the big publishing houses began to be filled by small presses and latterly, ebook publishers. They now drive the new blood in writing and as often as not, dominate the literary prize shortlists. The traditional gatekeepers of publication, the literary agents, have been either overwhelmed, or by-passed by the tide of competent new writers being adopted by the small presses.

Unfortunately, that tide also contains very many poor writers who generate correspondingly poor and barely-edited work, which is self-published, (and yes of course, on occasion, good work is self-published too.) With the exceptions perhaps of erotica and some fantasy fiction, consumers learn to buy books from traditional publishers who will both proof-read and substantively edit their offerings.

But small presses are not equipped to supply the big retailers and the demise of the independent sector means that the shelf space to offer their books on is often not there, leaving only the electronic route to market.

Be careful what you wish for.