The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Michael Dhillon

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Michael Dhillon


Summary: Bookbag really enjoyed The Cuckoo Parchment and the Dyke with its unusual plot and pace. When we had the opportunity to talk to Michael Dhillon we couldn’t resist!
Date: 8 March 2011
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Bookbag really enjoyed The Cuckoo Parchment and the Dyke with its unusual plot and pace. When we had the opportunity to talk to Michael Dhillon we couldn’t resist!

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Michael Dhillon: To be honest I've never really thought of things this way. I guess a reader would be someone with a keen interest in the unusual, who is willing to try something new. What appeals to me where books are concerned is something that attempts to be fresh and confrontational - to challenge assumptions and make me think in a novel way, or to see the world differently.

  • BB: Michael, I loved The Cuckoo Parchment and the Dyke. Where did you get the inspiration for such an unusual plot?

MD: I'd been toying with the idea for years. I started writing the novel way back in 2002, when I was on honeymoon in Prague. I wrote a brief section and showed it to my wife, who was intrigued. For the next five years she regularly enquired what had happened to this idea for a novel. Only in early 2008 did I decide to write something substantial. In terms of ideas, they accrued over several years. I've been fascinated by Dada and Surrealism since I was a teenager, and have read quite alot around the subjects. My interest in art has matured over the years, and is now a passion, so almost by default I wrote about something that I love. Artists fascinate me, especially those who are successful and achieve 'freedom' to pursue their art on their own terms. Dissatisfaction with the course of humankind and how we'll cope with the challenges that will arise both now and in the future are very much ingrained in what I care about. All of these elements came together in The Cuckoo Parchment and the Dyke, and I tried my hardest to do them justice.

  • BB: Did any real people inspire your characters? Benedict Grayson put me in mind of Bill Clinton!

MD: Many real people inspired my characters, although not Bill Clinton. Benedict Grayson was probably more akin to George W Bush, with an undercurrent of John F Kennedy's extramarital affairs, and Homer Simpson. Tristan Jarry was inspired by many of the characters involved in the life of Dada - Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara, to name the most obvious. But there were many peripheral characters - some comic, others tragic, a small number much darker in outlook - who invested Tristan Jarry with depth and personality. Dada itself was multifaceted, which ultimately led to its fracture and disintegration as a 'movement, and I wanted to reflect that in Tristan's character.

  • BB: I sense that art plays a big part in your life: I always had the feeling that The Cuckoo Parchment and the Dyke was written from knowledge rather than from research. Are you an artist?

MD: I'm not an artist, but much of my adult life has been spent in the company of them. One of my oldest friends is Mark Titcher, who is a successful artist and was nominated for the Turner Prize a few years back. I shared a flat with Mark when I first lived in London and I became very much immersed in the cultural and social aspect of this world. It was decadent, self-destructive and fascinating. It opened my eyes to a different world and enforced my appreciation of what art could be, beyond what I'd been led to belief it was during my childhood. In London it's easy to take the accessibility to art for granted - Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the hundreds of smaller galleries showcasing the work of thousands of international artists - but for me it's been an opportunity to learn. Beyond this, I've spent a great deal of time with film makers, both commerical and artistic, which has furthered my appreciation of art, and similarly with photography.

  • BB: HWho’s your favourite artist – not necessarily the one whom you feel is technically the most accomplished, but the one you turn to when your heart needs uplifting?

MD: I think it would have to be Edward Hopper. I can look at his work for hours at a time - perhaps odd, but his work pulls me inside, which is the mark of something special from my perspective.

  • BB: And who’s your favourite author? Do you still have books from when you were a child and which book has made the most impression on you?

MD: I'm afraid I don't. There are so many great writers and even more great books. From my childhood I strongly recall the books of Arthur Ransome - the idea of a idyllic childhood, playing on boats and all that has never left me. I've also recently started revisiting Roald Dahl's books because my little boy is getting to the age where they'll make sense. Dahl was a phenomenal writer, and his adult literature is stunningly good. There are several writers who will grab my attention if a new work is published, say Bret Easton Ellis, James Kelman or Toni Morrison. The best book I can recall reading in recent years is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace - the quality of writing throughout left me in awe. He death so young is a genuine loss to the literary world. In terms of book that has made the most impression on me: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Not because it's particularly good, but because it sent me down a different route in terms of what I read and considered the world of which I'm part.

  • BB: Is writing your day job – and if it isn’t, do you wish that it could be?

MD: Writing is a passion, for which I am poorly remunerated! I pay the rent by working for an international company that helps healthcare systems and organisations work more effectively and efficiently. Do I wish that I could write for a living - absolutely. The chances of that happening are likely remote, but I believe the opportunities presented to writers and artists outside of the conventional publishing business model means that hard work can be rewarded. The music industry has been blown apart in the past five years by digital technology, and I believe a similar thing will occur in publishing.

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

MD: The truth is as and when I can. I have two small children who are everything to me. Writing has to fit in around them, which invariably means writing late at night. When I'm working hard on something the sleep side of life suffers.

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

MD: To be totally selfish, to be have sufficient financial independence to spend more time with my children. I find it really hard being away from them, even for a few hours at work, and it gets me down. My attitude towards being a parent has always been that I'll have one chance to get it right and put in the effort to maximise the chance of them wanting to know me when they've flown the nest and I'm getting old and slow and forgetful. Beyond that, I don't really have any wishes for anything to be different with my life. I have a wonderful wife, who's my closest friend, we have a two children who provide us with joy, and I write stories that some people get something from. I'm grateful for all of these things.

  • BB: What’s next for Michael Dhillon?

MD: I'm working hard on a novella, which I hope to complete within the next few weeks. Then I'll try and find a publisher. It's about a successful script writer's descent into madness, and the dimensions of reality he creates to cope with his illness. It's coming together well and the plot is holding together, which is a good sign. The characters are strong, too. Beyond that, I have multiple short stories in various stages of completion. And a well developed idea for a novel size work. I need to make progress in 2011, to build upon the steps taken in 2010 with my novel and other work.

  • BB: Good luck wih all of that, Michael, and it's been a real pleasure talking to you.

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