We’re in the dim, comfortable back room of TJ Walls coffee. The last time I met Ever Dundas here it was to discuss the publication of one of her short stories, Northern Lights. Now Ever is meeting me as the author of Goblin (Freight, 2017), a critically acclaimed debut novel full of fantastic characters and not a little heartbreak.
Ever has made it clear she has no interest in discussing the mechanics of writing, what makes a great character, the secret to her success.
TF: So, Lizards?
I really love lizards and part of the Goblin mythos is that there’s lizard people living in the underground in London – they’re demigods. Goblin worships them and prays to them.
I’d never do something like this now, but I used to keep a lizard when I was young and stupid. He lived in a terrarium in the kitchen and I fed him live crickets. We kept the crickets in a box in the kitchen cupboard; one time they got out and we had to chase them down.
TF: Your next book, HellSans, sounds quite different from Goblin. Did you make a conscious decision to switch it up?
No. It’s just what I want to do. I actually get pissed off when authors are only expected to write one kind of thing, whereas I’m interested in all sorts of genres. I think there are a few authors that get away with it, Michel Faber does, but at the same time his work is still usually classified under literary fiction, even when it’s blatantly sci-fi.
I didn’t purposefully set out to do something different from Goblin, and I did realise I could lose people. Going from Goblin, which is literary fiction with fantastical elements, to a sci-fi thriller is possibly a risk. But I’m hoping readers will follow me. It’s got the same kind of energy as Goblin and some similar themes. I touched a bit on disability and otherness in Goblin, and that’s going to be a huge theme. My lefty themes are going to be in neon lights in HellSans, it’s a very unsubtle metaphor for capitalism, basically. But it’s also going to be fun, I’m having great fun writing it.
TF: Anything else you want to say about HellSans?
I’m playing around with structure. Goblin wasn’t straightforward in structure anyway, but with HellSans it’s going to be in three parts, and the first two parts are gonna be interchangeable. So if it gets published I would love it if a publisher put out two editions where they were swapped around, and whatever edition the reader gets they can read the first two parts in any order. The order they read it in it should make a difference with how they read the third part and who they think the protagonist is, and also who’s narrating it.
TF: You’ve got a very distinctive image as an author: eccentric, quiet and a bit spooky; do you have a fear that you’d have difficulty selling a piece of, say, more conventional literary fiction?
(Laughing) Well, I think for a start I wouldn’t write conventional literary fiction. I suppose my image is me. It’s a part of my personality, though I realise I’m maybe pushing it a bit. I don’t know, I think I am actually just being me, kind of spooky and weird and that’s just my thing.
But I get what you mean, I could be pigeonholed as being slightly kooky. I’m in control of it at the moment I suppose. I had a chat once with my tutor, who told me “define yourself before other people define you”: I’m happy being this horror loving eccentric freak. It’s taken years to get to the point where I’m happy being my weirdo self, and i’m not going to hide it.
TF: You’re currently published by Freight Books. There’s been something of an upheaval going on there, some core staff leaving. Can you talk about how that’s been for you and your work?
I suppose every author has sort of nerve wracking what-ifs when we get a publishing contract, there’s a bit of a ‘what’s your worst nightmare’ scenario kind of thing, so when I was told Adrian (Searle, co-founder and former director of Freight) was leaving it was a bit of a shock. I was extremely glad I had an agent. So I obviously went straight to Jenny to just kind of talk things through.
I was very lucky at the stage I was at, Goblin had already gone to the printers. It was just about to go to the distributors. The first lot of press releases had gone out, so that had all been done. I had the copy in my hand. But there were a few other authors where that wasn’t the case. I think if it was me i would have been devastated, worried that my book just wouldn’t appear. So I really felt for the other authors. Thank the lizards for Robbie (Guillory, interim managing editor), stepping in, otherwise who knew what would have happened.
TF: Something a bit lighter-hearted: what are you reading right now?
I’m partway through Nasty Women (2017, 404 Ink), I’m enjoying particularly Becca’s (Inglis, Love in a Time of Melancholia) essay about Courtney Love. I’m a huge fan of Courtney, I really love her image as basically a ‘nasty woman’, allowed to not just be ‘good’, or the perfect feminist, or anything like that: she’s a human being.
I also just started Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, and that’s brilliant, I’m partway through that and loving it. She points out the way basically our idea of Black history in the UK is imported from the US. I know barely anything about our history of slavery, and she (Eddo-Lodge) was the same. I found it really enlightening and I think it should be sent out to every high school in the UK.
Goblin by Ever Dundas was published by Freight Books on 18th May 2017 and Ever will be talking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 16th August 2017.