Monday, July 12, 2010

Stephen Volk Interview (with Charles Tan)

Stephen Volk

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. How did you settle on the plot--and title--of Vardøger?

(Warning: Contains spoilers!) The start point came from two directions really. Firstly, the simple idea of a hotel booking mistake that seems innocuous enough to start with, then people recognise you in a place you've never been to before and you start to think you're going crazy. But I didn't know where that goes, ultimately, until I thought, completely unrelatedly, about the British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe (The "Yorkshire Ripper") who is still in Broadmoor secure mental hospital to this day, I believe, after killing several woman, mostly (but not all) prostitutes. I wondered how a person like that stands up in court and faces the reality of their crimes. Well, maybe they don't face the reality, I thought. Maybe they completely blank it out and create a different reality in their heads, one they can live with, of an ordinary job and a happy marriage and family life, which is a total fabrication. And say, part of that fabrication was thinking Broadmoor is actually a luxury hotel? (Maybe this also came from knowing that when my wife's mother was in a nursing home with Alzheimer's, she thought it was a luxury hotel and the staff were all waiters.) So it became a doppelganger story: the doppelganger of Sean being the "real" Sean threatening to reveal to him the awful truth. As for the title, I didn't want anything obvious like "Doppelganger" which gives everything away, but I found in my research that the Norwegian variation on "doppelganger" was "Vardger". I like the fact that that word tells you absolutely nothing (unless your are Norwegian!), but has a nice ring about it! Also, I was damned if I was going to explain the word in the text.

Did you encounter any challenges in writing Sean's point of view?

Once the idea was thought out, and I'm a scene-by-scene planner by nature, I had to keep in Sean's mindset of believing he was a good, normal person and an innocent. He'd mentally separated out all his badness into his double. The tricky part was achieving the double-take (sic) towards the end where I wanted the reader to think Sean has finished his police interview downstairs and is upstairs with Monica packing to leave, but in fact that is his double, except we don't know it yet. The only way I felt I could do that was to do it filmically as if cutting between two scenes. I hope it works. I hope it all works, obviously.

Part of what underscores the story is the feeling of being accused of a crime you didn't commit. I often have a dream where I've committed some crime and I don't know what it is, but it's going to be found out, and I'm full of panic and remorse and fear and total dread and a feeling of "Who am I? Who is the real me? Have I been living a lie?". I haven't often seen that feeling caught in a story and, even though I didn't realise when I was writing it, I think that was in the back of my mind. I hate to think what that says about me!

How did Gray Friar Press end up publishing your novella?

That was a real coincidence. I'd finished writing it and I saw Gray Friar Press announcing the previous novellas in its Gray Matter series (Paul Finch, Conrad Williams etc). I thought, "Hello", because Gary Fry of Gray Friar Press had already published my first collection of short stories, Dark Corners. So I e-mailed him and asked if he wanted to read it with the thought of it as a Gray Matter novella and he did indeed, and actually put it out quite quickly. I'm really lucky it happened like that because there's not a million places you can send a novella. And a Shirley Jackson Award nomination is just such a tremendous accolade I can't believe it. Thank you!


Unknown said...

As a Norwegian-American, I like the ring of "Vardøger," too! Tusen takk for this compelling back story.

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