When last heard from I reviewed Apollyon, a contemporary novel dealing with the impact of school bullying. Here, as promised, is my interview with UK author, Hilary West, the author of Apollyon.
Shomeret: As I indicated in my previous blog entry, I understand that St. Dominic's is not a public school, but I did see similarities between Apollyon and the genre of public school novels. Were you influenced by any particular public school novel?
Hilary West: No, I was not influenced by any particular public school novel, though of course everyone knows of Flashman. I drew on my own experiences at school which was not a private school at all, just an ordinary comprehensive, so I was writing pure fiction. St. Dominic’s is a private school as I wanted to portray a certain class. The Farnhams are middle middle to upper middle class and this really precluded a public school but not a private school which took day boys. I have since read The Clamour King by David Muirhead which is about public schoolboys.
Shomeret: Did you do any research on Dominican schools, or the Dominican order in general before writing Apollyon ?
Hilary West: No, I did not do any research into the Dominican order or Dominican schools. Really this book is not supposed to be about Dominicans as such. It again is a fictional order which I made up. I called it the order of San Paolo of Padua and it could be anything. I made the brothers Catholic as I had heard of abuse in Catholic schools, and Catholicism is central to the story. Julian Farnham is very much a Catholic schoolboy, hence his stint as an altar boy at the Abbey. Although the book is very definitely Catholic in tenor it is not about any specific order of brothers.
Shomeret: What are the current attitudes toward bullying and harassment in schools in Britain? What do you think are the causes of bullying? What role do you think Apollyon can play in bringing about a positive change in student behavior?
Hilary West: I think the attitude towards bullying in schools in Britain is very healthy. Because for a start we are all aware it goes on. I think years ago it went on unnoticed and this is where the real damage was done. Now it is out in the open we have a chance to address it and everybody I know wants to stamp it out. The causes of bullying I guess are many and varied. With Julian, he was a very sensitive boy and I think the more aggressive, sporty boys picked on him because of his limp after he had fallen down the stairs, and also the fact he was a quiet boy who took an interest in Art. Sometimes it is something as innocuous as being a bit of a teacher’s pet which wrankles with other less popular pupils. A kind of jealousy if you like. I think the role Apollyon can play in bringing about a change in the attitudes towards bullying is by showing the devastating effect it has on Julian’s life. It completely wrecks it. The other two boys he goes around with become outcasts and they are ostracized by the majority. The result in later life is a complete breakdown. Julian only wanted to be popular but this was denied him by bullies. Bullying is seen as a deleterious evil with far reaching effects that persist long after the time it was happening.
Shomeret: What if the protagonist of Apollyon had been a girl who went to a girl's private school? How do you think that would have changed the book? Could you have written a similar book about Julia instead of Julian?
Hilary West: I think if my protagonist had been a girl it would have been a very different book. For me, it was often the ‘macho’ in boys that created the problems, so this would not happen with girls. I have heard girls can be just as bad at bullying but I think I would have found it really difficult to write this book with girls in the frame rather than boys.
Shomeret: Since I have an undergraduate degree in history, I am interested in how history is taught. You portray Julian as bored by history. What is your experience of history in school? Was it interesting to you?
Hilary West: Julian is bored by the history lesson; it is true. I was merely wanting to show that sometimes the teaching at St. Dominic’s was uninspired and pedestrian, although on the whole it is a good school academically. They depend on results to survive, but it is a bad atmosphere and we often feel, do they really care; are they just selfish people only bothered about themselves? I myself liked history at school and took it at advanced level. But I must say the teaching was uninspired. All the teacher did was read out his notes and we were expected to take them down lesson after lesson. Yawn.
Shomeret: Given the way the psychotherapist character in this book is portrayed, I feel I have to ask about your view of psychotherapy. Do you feel that psychotherapy is effective?
Hilary West: Yes, I feel psychotherapy is effective, though I must admit to knowing only a little about it. I do know that it is by facing the truth you get better. That is why the psychotherapist puts all sides to Julian. By going over his youth, Julian begins to realize what people really were, and he sees the good and the bad. There were angels and demons in his life.
Shomeret: Is there anything else that you want readers to know about Apollyon or about your work in general?
Hilary West: I would like my readers to know I wrote all my novels with my tongue in my cheek. And they are all vaguely about fun and laughing at a complex world. I people my books with a lot of different types of characters, just like life really. I feel I write varied novels and no one book is like another.
Shomeret: Thank you, Hilary West. For more information see his profile on Goodreads at
Hilary West on Goodreads
Hilary West on Goodreads