I’m always late to the game when it comes to starting popular TV shows, often seasons behind the crowd (I still haven’t managed to finish the first season of Game of Thrones). This was no different for House of Cards, until my friend told me that a particular plot twist in the second season caused him to scream aloud in a crowded subway car while watching it (the setting of this story both humorous and gravely ironic if you know what I’m talking about). After hearing that, I was hooked. Now awaiting the sixth and final season, I had the surreal experience of hearing the author and executive producer, Michael Dobbs (a Tufts alum!!), speak about his writing process, what it was like to be a student at Tufts during the end of the Vietnam War, and his experience in politics.
Michael Dobbs is the award-winning author of the House of Cards trilogy, which the BBC and Netflix series were based on. He attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and graduated with three degrees (putting my double major to shame): an M.A., M.A.L.D., and a Ph.D in nuclear defense studies. Dobbs is heavily involved in politics and public service: he’s a member of the House of Lords, was an advisor to the first British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and has held positions such as speechwriter, Government Special Advisor, and Chief of Staff for the Conservative Party. So when did he decide to become a writer?
“Everything has been unplanned,” Dobbs answered, laughing when asked how his writing career began. As a senior facing major questions about what my own career path will look like, knowing that life often isn’t a clear, straightforward journey was reassuring. He told us that the key to success is motivation. When he realized that his high-paying, secure job at an advertising agency no longer excited him, he quit to focus on writing. He explained that as a writer, nothing could bore him because the world around him was constantly providing inspiration.
In fact, an exceptionally upsetting interaction with Margaret Thatcher actually gave Dobbs the idea for House of Cards. After endlessly criticizing a book during a vacation, his wife suggested that he should stop complaining and try to write something better. Still upset over his recent argument with Thatcher, hours of brainstorming only led to two letters: “FU.” Those letters turned into the initials of his main character, Francis Uruquart (known as Frank Underwood in the American version). Dobbs humorously explained that finding inspiration for a political thriller is easy: you just “take reality and water it down.” And looking at everything that’s been happening recently in the news, it seems to me that he has a point.
- Julie Doten '18
A note from Julie: It felt weird writing this without addressing the suspended production of the series as Netflix looks into the allegations against Kevin Spacey. I hope this decision will help continue the momentum we’ve seen in the past weeks of support for those coming forward.