An illustration in a home-made draft of the book
PP: What demographic is the book aimed at?
Tom: Well, we started it as teenagers and it still has many elements that an inquisitive teen mind might enjoy, but we’re really old now and we still laugh ourselves to tears over certain parts of the book. I’d say ages 14 to maybe 24 would enjoy it most.
Colin: Given that we were pubescent boys when we started writing it I guess you’d start there. And when we finished writing it we were rapidly approaching middle age, so anyone in between really.
PP: Can you tell me about the Don Colebox character?
Tom: Yes, he’s Jim’s arch enemy. Like Professor Moriarty in relation to Sherlock Holmes. The adversaries in our book had at one time been friends but their lives went in different directions. Don is self-styled master criminal, head of a hapless gang of imbeciles. Jim and Don are in a game of cat and mouse throughout the book, leading up to their inevitable showdown.
PP: What are the main themes in the book?
Tom: I guess we are looking at the absurdity of life and death quite a lot and the way that it is dealt with through religious stories. There’s also a lot of playing with the idea of reality. As humans, we like there to be a division between reality and fantasy and we use all sorts of things like science and data analysis to separate the two. But the reality of reality is that it is intangible. We mess with that a lot.
PP: There seems to be a lot of circularity in the book, with themes reoccurring and situations coming back on themselves. What’s that about?
Tom: Ah, I can tell you’ve read it all the way through! Yes indeed. In 1992, I got into a situation which was genuinely life threatening and it made me really consider what life might be about. I came up with a bit of a concept, which I won’t delve into too much here, but essentially it is the idea of circularity. As you point out, there is a symmetry to many events in the book and some of the things that seem really random early on turn out to be vitally important later on. It’s a very satisfying book in that respect, but you need a bit of faith in it at the start. Although it’s just a construct in our story, I think that theme has something to say about life itself.
Colin: The circularity partly comes from why we think we are here. Reincarnation is not the right word, but it is the fact that you are going to come back in some shape or form. It’s to do with the circularity of life itself.
PP: What is the idea behind the Carnival?
Colin: Carnival is a time when normal social standards get suspended for the duration of the festival. During that phase, anything is possible. That fits in with the story we are trying to tell because anything is possible, certainly for Jim Leighton, including surviving many times when he probably should have died!
Tom: There is a carnival that happens in the book, but the whole book is imbued with the spirit of carnival.
PP: What about the ‘Hermit The Bog’ bit of the title?
Tom: Well, that’s an example of the absurd. There is a whole philosophical concept called absurdism, which relates to what I was saying about the intangibility of reality.
PP: I assumed the Bog bit was a reference to toilets. There is a lot of toilet humour in the book, why is that?
Tom: Life is a dirty, messy business. When we are born our mothers usually deliver us along with a poo which the midwife quickly clears away. And there’s loads of blood, sweat, fluids and membranes. Being a baby is all about sicking up milk and messing our nappies.
We try to create an illusion of hygiene and cleanliness, but our bodies are full of parasites and germs. I’m not just talking about worms. There are even parasites that live in the eyelashes and hair follicles of all of us
In the 18th century there was a fantastic political cartoonist called James Gillray who delighted in drawing the aristocracy on the toilet. One of my favourites of his is called National Conveniences, which shows several national stereotypes using the loo. His subjects are also often shown belching and being sick. It’s those bodily functions that we as modern humans try to deny, and that’s what’s so funny.
The father of an old school friend of mine was an American ex-Vietnam veteran and when he thought that someone wasn’t genuine or too good to be true he used to say ‘His shit don’t stink!’, which is a similar kind of thing.
Also poo is the essence of life. It really is. It fertilises the soil and from that everything that we need to survive grows. Dirt and decay brings growth, so it’s the circularity idea again.