Dark Fantasy: Ever Dundas on debut novel Goblin

Article by Alan Bett | 10 May 2017

Goblin, the debut novel from Ever Dundas, blurs the lines between fantasy and reality but also between genders, questioning the roles imposed upon us from birth. The author discusses her book

Ever Dundas makes a good first impression when meeting The Skinny to discuss her magical, dark and endearing debut novel, Goblin; a fantastical life story viewed through the blurred lens of memory. She arrives wearing a Re-Animator t-shirt – that sick and hilarious Stuart Gordon B-movie shocker. Relevantly enough, schlock body horror feeds into a conversation that weaves across our treatment of animals, gender constraints placed upon us by society and the terrifying mortality imposed by the human body. Diverse and weighty themes, all of which entwine in the tapestry of her central character who identifies as Goblin.

The Skinny: The narrative of your book winds around the theme of the human/animal relationship and a horrific true incident I knew nothing of: the pet massacre. Why did you make this a starting point for your novel?

Ever Dundas: I went to see the Steven Poliakoff film, Glorious 39, set just before WWII and focussed on the issue of appeasement, and the pet massacre featured in it. I’d read a lot about the War when I was younger and thought I knew a lot, so was shocked when it came up in the film. At first I thought, 'This can’t be true, he’s using it as a fictional device, foreshadowing for the holocaust or something…' So I researched it and realised it had actually happened and wanted to know more.

There was a lot of fear on the eve of WWII, people actually talked about having poison and thinking that if there was a Nazi invasion of the UK they would poison both their children and themselves. So that put in context what happened to the pets, but it still didn’t seem like a great explanation. What I was really struggling with was that within a few days of WWII being declared, 400,000 pets were put down in London. There had been no bombing, it wasn’t a government directive. It didn’t seem like any kind of mass panic, more almost a practical decision; put up blackout blinds, build a shelter, kill the family pet.

The body – both human and animal – is another theme central to Goblin and your short fiction, such as the Aeon award-shortlisted Wire. Where are the origins of this interest?

My love of schlocky body horror films – that definitely feeds into Goblin. And my husband studied anatomy at university, so I think that’s influenced me as well.

It’s frightening subject matter. Our bodies eventually fail us all.

Yes, I know that well. I think it's maybe influenced by having a chronic illness, my relationship with the body… we are flesh and blood and meat and bone. And I don’t think we face that as much as we should. Having a chronic illness brings you face to face with that. I think we often try to disguise this and cover up our mortality.

Goblin feels very fluid in terms of gender – she moves back and forth depending upon the situation and how she presents herself. But this only relates to how she wants others to define her, she refuses to box herself in by expectations…

I think she is pretty comfortable in her own skin, although I think she has a problem in the way that gender is imposed upon her, but she is comfortable in her own body. It’s about what society expects and how she has to perform; she’s practical about it. I think complexity is very important, that’s what I want. We’re moving away from the black and white. I understand that people are afraid of that; they want simple [gender] narratives, but that’s not good enough. I want complex narratives and not to be afraid of that.

We meet Goblin at both ends of the age spectrum, as a child and elderly woman. Both can be viewed as unreliable narrators who find it easily to skip into fantasy. Were these specific vantage points intrinsic to weaving such a fantastical tale?

(Laughs) She’s definitely an unreliable narrator, definitely. I refer a lot to Goblin being a storyteller, and hopefully that puts the reader a bit on edge, thinking, 'Well, what is it that she’s telling me? What’s between the lines? Is this truth; can she really remember this?'

But these fantasies seem to act as a psychological sandpit, allowing her to shelter herself from the reality of a long and traumatic life…

Yeah, not to make myself too much like Goblin because I’m definitely not, but while growing up, I basically lived in my own little fantasy world so definitely identify with Goblin in that [sense]. The power of imagination and storytelling can help you cope with things you wouldn’t otherwise, because if Goblin hadn’t had her own fantasy world I don’t think she would have survived. I think it transmutes the poison [of trauma]. Storytelling is really important in helping us understand our lives.

Goblin is published on 18 May by Freight Books, RRP £9.99