In May, the lovely Barbara who runs the official SIR DIRK BOGARDE facebook page interviewed me about Dirk Bogarde and she kindly said I can share it with you all here. It explores why I love Dirk so much, why he appears in my novel Goblin, and his influence on my writing. Enjoy!
Hello, Everyone: Thank you for joining us today. I’m Barbara Siek, and on behalf of the Sir Dirk Bogarde Team, I’m pleased to welcome writer Ever Dundas whose debut novel Goblin includes an appearance by Dirk, which certainly made us sit up and take notice. The novel has won the Saltire First Book Award 2017.
SirDB: Congratulations of the Saltire Award, Ever. Before we talk in depth about your inclusion of Dirk, tell us a bit about Goblin, published in May 2017 by Freight Books and then by Saraband in December 2017.
Ever: Goblin has been described as Ian McEwan’s Atonement meets Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. The protagonist, Goblin, is an outcast girl growing up in 1930s London when she witnesses the pet massacre, an event where 400,000 pets were killed in London in the first few days after war was declared. Traumatised by the things she witnesses, Goblin seeks refuge in storytelling and the companionship of her animal friends. As she grows up, she travels with the circus and lives in Venice, trying to leave her past behind. In 2011, a chance meeting and an unwanted phone call compel an elderly Goblin to return to London amidst the riots and face the ghosts of her past.
SirDB: Your earlier short story, Biagio Cargnio, a macabre story of Venice is set in Venice. Was it in part the germ for Goblin? If not, what was the inspiration for the novel?
Ever: No, Biagio didn’t inspire Goblin, but Death in Venice inspired my obsession with Venice.
The main inspiration for Goblin was the pet massacre. I saw it depicted in the Poliakoff film Glorious 39 (2009) and was shocked that I’d never heard about the pet massacre before even though I’d read a lot about WWII. At first I thought Poliakoff was using the pet massacre as a fictional device as a foreshadowing of the Holocaust, but then I researched it and discovered it actually happened. I love animals, and I’ve been interested in animal welfare and animal rights since I was a kid, and I felt this little known event needed to be talked about more.
SirDB: Yes, Glorious 39 is a shocking film and hard to forget. I’m glad you decided to highlight the horrendous pet massacre in your writing. I wonder how many actually know about it. Like you, I didn’t until the film, which I was drawn to primarily for the stellar cast and then was stunned by the massacre.
As a footnote to your being inspired by Glorious 39 to write Goblin, there is a lovely coming full circle in that both Julie Christie and Muriel Pavlow who are in the film acted with Dirk–Julie in Darling and Muriel Pavlow in the Doctor films–and were great pals of his throughout his life.
Ever: Yes, that is lovely! I knew about the Julie Christie connection, but not about Muriel Pavlow.
SirDB: Once you had your idea for the story, did it make you pause to jump into the longer format of a novel, which we think is perfect for Goblin’s journey?
Ever: It was a huge challenge for me to write a novel. I felt overwhelmed at the prospect, and that was the main reason I signed up for the Napier University Creative Writing MA – I wanted to use it as a means to finally write a novel, and it helped develop all the skills I needed, giving me the confidence to tackle it.
Sir DB: How long did it take to write Goblin?
Ever: I’m not entirely sure of the exact time it took. I started researching it in 2009 and began writing it in 2010, but life and the day job got in the way, so I only worked on it sporadically for a while, which wasn’t ideal. In 2013 I successfully pitched the idea to an agent, Jenny Brown, and the knowledge that she was interested spurred me on to finish it in early 2015, and Jenny took me on after I submitted it to her.
SirDB: Were any sections of Goblin more difficult and/or took longer to write and why?
Ever: I don’t think any particular sections were more difficult than others. It was more just trying to keep at bay the fear of working on something so large – the task still overwhelmed me at times. Because I’ve been through it all with Goblin, I don’t have the same fear about writing my second novel HellSans – that has different challenges.
SirDB: How did you come to include Dirk in Goblin?
Ever: One of the central themes of Goblin is the relationship between humans and other animals, and Dirk loved animals, particularly dogs.
SirDB: Goblin lives in Venice, which we assume is the segue to Dirk?
Ever: Yes, Dirk appears briefly when Goblin sees him a few yards away talking with Visconti during the filming of Death In Venice.
The major themes of Goblin include storytelling, memory, truth, and how we construct the stories of our own lives, with many obfuscations and elisions. So, of course, Dirk fits in well with this, given he’s written a seven volume autobiography, which only reveals what he wants to reveal.
SirDB: Yes, Dirk was foremost a storyteller, and he would adjust facts to favour a good story. If we include A Particular Friendship, making it eight autobiographies, Dirk carefully chooses the letters he shares with us from the many he wrote to Dorothy Gordon, the American woman who had lived in one of his homes. Like many authors writing their autobiographies, Dirk picks and chooses. But he does it so well.
SirDB: In the novel when Goblin says, “They’re filming Death In Venice,” Antonio, one of the characters, responds, “I know that story about an old man who can’t let go of an illusion.” When you wrote his line, what did you mean by “can’t let go of an illusion”?
Ever: The characters’ stumbling across the filming of Death In Venice is significant, as one of the characters has been accusing Goblin of living an illusion and compares her to Aschenbach, who, he says, “can’t let go of an illusion,” meaning he’s a fantasist who can’t live in the ‘real’ world – Antonio is deliberately challenging and provoking Goblin.
SirDB: One of the animals is called Mahler. Is this another reference to Dirk in Death In Venice or?
Ever: Yes. After seeing Death In Venice I sought out Mahler’s music. I also knew Goblin would seek out the film (although, I don’t specifically mention this in the novel). Mahler is her dog when she’s living in Edinburgh, and I wanted a call-back from her Edinburgh life to her time in Venice, as well as the Dirk connection.
SirDB: Some writers look back at childhood using an adult’s voice, but you and Dirk assumed a child’s-eye point of view: you in Goblin and Dirk in A Postillion Struck by Lightning and Great Meadow. As the character aged, both of you shifted to the adult voice. What made you decide to write from a child’s-eye view?
Ever: It was mainly as a way in to the story – the starting point was the pet massacre and our relationship to non-human animals. Children, like animals, are vulnerable. Children also understand the world differently from adults, and I knew seeing the events unfold from a child’s point of view would work better than through the eyes of an adult. So a Goblin was born. Goblin’s identity as a ‘goblin’ as ‘Other’ is also a way in to look at our relationship with animals.
SirDB: Was it difficult to write and maintain the child’s-eye view in Goblin and also the voice of the elderly Goblin?
Ever: No, once I had her character and knew her, the rest followed.
SirDB: Dirk would act out each character as he was writing in his studio each morning to test the ‘reality’ of a character. Did you also find yourself speaking the lines out loud or using another process to test the reality of the child’s voice and of the older woman?
Ever: I don’t read the dialogue aloud, but I’ve heard other authors give this advice, so maybe I should try it. The only problem I’d have with that is that I’d hear them in my own voice, when I want to hear theirs. I remember reading an extract at the Goblin book launch at the library where Goblin works in the novel and wishing she was there to read it herself.
SirDB: In creating his characters, Dirk drew upon his ongoing observation of people and then storing those details for use someday as well as drawing upon the various roles he played and his wide reading. What is the inspiration for your characters?
Ever: Inspiration for characters comes from a myriad of places – like Dirk, from daily observation, but also from reading voraciously, watching film and TV, one’s own life experience, and imagination. It’s a heady mix of all of those – but I’d say don’t underestimate imagination. I’m not of the ‘write what you know’ school – conjure it! Make it exist.
SirDB: Did Dirk’s dark drawings depicting the macabre horror of the Blitz with Londoners taking shelter in Tube stations resonate with you as you were writing Goblin?
Ever: Definitely. They’re so evocative, and I love the use of colour though the colour doesn’t add brightness; there’s a muddy claustrophobic feel to the drawings.
SirDB: Reading about Goblin on her own on the streets of London, I am reminded of Dirk’s autobiographies and his dark memories as a young boy on his own on the streets of Edinburgh escaping school and the confines of living with relatives into the cinema and the clutches of a child molester. Similar to Goblin, young Derek escaped through his imagination into a world of fantasy and writing plays which he and his sister acted out. Did that resonate with you as you were planning and writing Goblin?
Ever: Yes, Dirk’s childhood didn’t directly inspire Goblin’s experience, but it was definitely there as I was writing.
SirDB: Have any of Dirk’s books in particular inspired and influenced your writing?
Ever: I had the pleasure of devouring his seven volume autobiography straight after I discovered him. But my writing is influenced just as much by other art forms as it is by writing. Film is a huge influence on my work, and I’m more influenced by his films than his novels. In all he does, I admire his commitment to his craft. Acting is a different craft to my own, but it’s still inspiring – it makes me push and challenge myself. I will never phone it in.
SirDB: How did you become a fan of Dirk Bogarde?
Ever: I saw a documentary about Dirk to mark the anniversary of his death in May 2000, and I was intrigued by him, so I watched some of the films that were on that week – I didn’t particularly enjoy any of the films, but Dirk kept me watching. It was 19th August 2000 that cemented my love of Dirk. I can be that specific because I have a note of it in my diary – I caught The Night Porter on TV that night and was obsessed from that moment on (I became a Charlotte Rampling fan too, of course). His performance mesmerised me. There’s so much in his eyes and in small movements – that infamous raised eyebrow.
SirDB: It’s immensely gratifying to hear that you are a fan of The Night Porter. It’s a controversial film and often misunderstood. Yet, it has fervent followers who liked Dirk’s nuanced performance as Max and find it hard to forget. We’re among them.
Ever: There was also the serendipity of a Dirk season at the Glasgow Film Theatre the year I discovered him, and I was so excited. I travelled through for some of the films, and I remember I actually gasped when he appeared onscreen at the beginning of I Could Go On Singing.
SirDB: Oh, yes we know the feeling.
SirDB: As a fan of Dirk’s film work, are there some Dirk films you particularly like?
Ever: When I discovered Dirk, it was an absolute joy going through his back catalogue – so many delights to discover. I do enjoy some of his early films like The Blue Lamp and Hunted, but I’m definitely more of a fan of his later work – Victim, The Servant, Darling, Accident, Death In Venice, The Night Porter and Providence. It’s hard to choose, but I have to say Death In Venice, followed closely by Accident, The Night Porter and The Servant. Dirk gives an astounding performance in Death In Venice, and it’s a stunning film.
SirDB: Most Dirk fans will enthusiastically agree with you about the excellence of those films.
SirDB: What is it about Dirk that makes you want to include him in your novels?
Ever: His mesmerising presence. As I mentioned, there’s so much in his eyes alone. He’s talked quite a bit in interviews about the camera photographing thought. He establishes a rapport with the camera and magic happens, without a doubt. Even while I was aware of his skill, there were still moments where he’d surprise me. The best example I can think of is Providence – for the majority of the film his role requires high camp, hyper archness. He’s brilliant at it, but on the surface it’s a one-note performance, and I admit I was fooled by it. I thought, “OK, so that’s all this role is, fine.” But when he makes that switch towards the end, it felt like a punch in the gut. It was so expertly done. I really stood up and took notice. There’s a particular moment when he’s sitting out in the garden looking at his father and again at the table when he gives the toast – the sheer power of his stillness is almost shocking. He does so much while seeming to do so little. There’s such depth, so many layers. He achieves exactly what he was talking about – that rapport with the lens as it photographs his mind.
SirDB: Well said. For Dirk, internal action was primary rather than ‘histrionic’ external action. His ultimate drive in creating his characters was to internalize feelings and reflect them in his eyes and face to allow the camera to record those feelings. He was superb at nuance. Charlotte Rampling talks about Dirk’s stressing internal action during the making of The Night Porter. when she was just starting out as a serious actress. But in addition to the nuance of internal action, Dirk also had what truly fine actors have, the ability to flame when the character demands it, for example, Farr in the showdown scene with Laura in Victim.
Ever: Dirk may be quite well known, but I think he’s one of the most underestimated and underrated actors. I will forever be a champion of his films, and I hope that I’m able to bring a new audience to his brilliant body of work.
SirDB: Your commitment to highlight the creative work of Dirk Bogarde is so very encouraging to us. We and all of our members share that desire.
Dirk often talked about being dogged by his earlier ‘Idol of the Odeons’ image and the lightweight roles foisted off on him by Rank because they made money. After Victim, his work with Losey and then Visconti made critics see him in a new light.
But when his second career as a writer took off, he made fewer films. He refused to go below the title and take bit parts or minor character roles to keep his name before film goers. His return in his final film Daddy Nostalgie was a wonderful swan song. Over the years, there are many who have remained fiercely loyal to Dirk, and thanks to film tributes, etc. newer fans like you have discovered his rare talent and will keep his creative memory alive. Knowing that makes us really happy.
SirDB: Tell us a bit about yourself as a writer. When did you start writing, and what propelled you to write? For example, do you come from a family of writers?
Ever: No, I don’t come from a family of writers. I read a lot as a kid, and I was always making up stories and plays and generally just living in a fantasy world, a bit like Goblin. I wanted to be a published author since I was around seven years old, so it feels great to have finally achieved that childhood ambition.
SirDB: Dirk also talks about the thrill of holding his first book in his hand and knowing that it was all his own effort unlike a film which is edited and the result of many efforts. In the end, I think he valued his career as a writer more than his years as an actor. We appreciate him for his wonderful books but also for his memorable films.
Ever: Yes, holding your first book in your hands is an amazing feeling after so much work. I have the photograph of Dirk’s writing space from the cover of ‘Ever, Dirk’ (obviously I love the title, as it feels like it’s just for me!) up in my own writing space, with his quote about writing: “It is an astonishing thing to me to find that I am really not a bit happy unless I am writing. Even a letter will do.”
SirDB: Do you begin with paper and pen, or on the computer?
Ever: I occasionally scribble down messy (often illegible!) notes, but I’m definitely a laptop creature – I can type much faster than I can write with a pen, and I often jump around from one idea/problem/question/scene to another, and it’s easier to work that way on a laptop.
SirDB: Yes, Dirk did his writing on a typewriter, albeit slowly with two index fingers. He had a computer later, but by then most of his books had been written, and he never really took to it having started on the typewriter.
SirDB: Do you follow a process in writing, i.e. outlining the plot and structure of your short story or book before you actually start writing….or not at all?
Ever: For a novel, I definitely plot. I don’t have absolutely everything outlined down to the finest detail – there’s still a lot of discovery on the journey as I write a novel, but having a plot outline provides a structure and map keeping me on track and preventing me from getting overwhelmed by the task.
I’ve never plotted a short story – they’re much more manageable in terms of scale, so I can often bash off a rough first draft pretty quickly and make a few notes along the way if I need to.
SirDB: Dirk was also a planner, ever ‘an orderly man.’ He would have a plot and structure in mind and then outlined as he worked even for his film roles. A striking example is Victim, where he outlined the emotional arc that Farr would go through in the film.
SirDB: Do you go through several drafts in writing a novel, revising and editing each one? very little or none? Dirk would meticulously revise and edit his manuscripts and his film scripts.
Ever: For novels, many drafts. I have the plot and structure outlined, so that keeps me on track, along with documents for various notes, research, and problem solving. I’ll write a rough first draft, but this will usually come in at around 40,000 words, so there’s a lot of gaps and ‘notes to self,’ but I find this better than forcing myself to get a full 80-90,000 first draft, as it leaves more room for manoeuvre when I go through it again to make sure everything works. There can sometimes be problems that need solving that then have knock-on effects on other aspects of the plot, so it’s best to sort them out early on, and it’s easier to do before a full draft is written. This is how I work, anyway. I’m suspicious of any writers who consider their own practices to be the way every writer should work. You’ll find the way that works best for you.
SirDB: The cover design by Cinnamon Curtis (Paul Wilson, your husband) is stunning and a perfect visual expression of your novel. We think it should have won the Book Cover of the Year award. At what point do you begin thinking about a cover? Do you start writing with an image of a cover in your head, midway on, or when you’re finished and can see the ‘aerial’ view of your novel?
Ever: Thank you for your lovely words about the cover – I really love it too (especially the full wraparound of the Saraband version), and it makes me happy my husband was able to contribute to my first book in this way. Usually an author doesn’t get much control over the book cover, so I was lucky Cinn does design and illustration, and my publisher was willing to look at his work.
The cover originally started out as a cut-out tunnel book Cinn made me for as a gift, which you can see here: Goblin Tunnel Book
In terms of my own ideas about a cover as I was working on the manuscript, I had a vague image in my head of Goblin as a child with Monsta and London in ruins and flames behind her. I thought of this quite early on – it helped spur me on, imagining it as a ‘real’ published book.
SirDB: We’ll tell you a secret that only you and our 13,000 members will know. *smile* We actually took off the cover from our Saraband edition and framed it, we like it that much.
SirDB: What’s ahead for you as a writer, and any idea when you’ll complete HellSans?
Ever: HellSans is going well and should be finished by December this year. It’s a sci-fi thriller, so a bit different from Goblin, but it embraces some similar themes and ideas such as difference, disability, storytelling.
SirDB: Will Dirk appear in HellSans and future writings?
Ever: I’ve decided that Dirk will appear in every novel I write even if it’s just in passing such as a character watching one of his films. I will try to connect it to the story in some way as I did with Goblin, rather than it being a gratuitous Dirk appearance (though, in my humble opinion, an appearance from Dirk is never gratuitous). It will be my ode to him, my thank you for his work, and I hope it will introduce people to Dirk and his films and, in turn, inspire them.
SirDB: In closing, if you could ask Dirk one question, what would it be?
Ever: As every Dirk fan is aware, Dirk wore a pinky ring in most (all?) of his films – it was quite distinctive and I love it. I would probably ask about that and what it means to him, but a part of me likes that it’s this mysterious enigmatic thing.
SirDB: Shall we answer that question about Dirk’s signet ring worn in many, not all, his films or leave it an intriguing mystery for you?
Ever: My curiosity has got the better of me, and now I want to know!
SirDB: Perfect! I’d want to know too. How about this: we’ll set up an album with photos of Dirk wearing his signet ring and explain its history for you and all fans to access any time you want.
Ever: I’d love that! Thank you.
SirDB: On behalf of the SirDB Team and myself, thank you for taking the time to be here today to share your thoughts on Dirk and most of all to discuss your award-winning novel Goblin and Dirk’s role in it.
Ever: Thanks so much to you and the SirDB Team – I’m so glad the wonderful website and Facebook page exist. I think I can speak for all Dirk’s fan by saying we really appreciate all the work you do to keep Dirk’s spirit alive.
SirDB: A hand-on-heart thank you for liking our Official Bogarde website and its SirDB page at Facebook. Dirk’s creative work deserves to live on, and with appreciative fans and writers like you, it will.
It’s been a pleasure. Until next time.