The Bullet Catcher’s Author: An Interview with Rod Duncan

Black and White Headshot of Rod DuncanLadies, Gentlemen, and Non-Gendered Polite Mechanicals, Davetopia is proud to present for your edification the question-answering talents of Mr Rod Duncan.

Marvel as he forms a coherent sentence!

Gasp in awe at his ability to sustain an argument!

Observe, if you dare, the innermost workings of his mind!

1. Your official bio is below. But what dark secrets did you leave out?

All autobiography is fiction. But in fiction there are the seeds of autobiography. By which I mean that I’m unlikely to admit, here, to involvement in the Hatton Garden heist. But I hope that by reading my novels, people will get to know me, at least a little bit.

2. The Custodian of Marvels, the third book in your Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series comes out soon. Can you shamelessly – yet briefly – plug that?

My publisher describes it as: “The climactic volume of The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, the breathtaking alternate history series that began with the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter.”

I describe it as a heist, an adventure and the best book I’ve ever written.

3. The Gas-Lit Empire world has been described as “steampunk”, “alternate history”, and “fantasy”. Do you regard it as one more than another? Or do you find genres an inaccurate measure?

It is certainly alternate history. There is a specific point at which the timeline branches from the history we’re familiar with. I work through the consequences of that change, right up to the present day.

The world of the books does have anachronistic elements and a Victorian aesthetic. That’s why some people have described it as steampunk. Personally, I don’t think that steampunk is so easy to define. I’d prefer to say that the Gas-Lit Empire has steampunk influences. The stories have also been described as crime fiction and adventure – which is true. If the genre is somewhat ambiguous, that probably matches the story.

4. Some authors write the worlds they want to live in, while others want to explore dystopias. Which would you say it truer of you?

The Gas-Lit Empire is a non-ideal world. I wouldn’t like to live in it. Inequalities are stark and there has been a lack of social progress. But I don’t see it as a dystopia. They haven’t had a major war for almost 200 years and medicine has made significant advances.

Reality isn’t divided into utopias and dystopias. It is more complex; which brings us back to that word: ambiguity. Ambiguity may be unsettling, but it makes us think about the world with an intensity that certainty never does.

5. What started you writing?

The word processor started me writing. But perhaps you meant to ask what started me telling stories? That’s a harder one to answer, since I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. It’s just that, as a child, I found the process of writing and reading agonisingly difficult. The stories stayed in my head. Sometimes I spoke them out loud – usually to myself.

It was the development of technology that started to dissolve the barriers and enable me to write. (Though I am at this moment speaking this out loud and allowing the speech-to-text system ‘Dragon NaturallySpeaking’ to transcribe it for me.)

6. Is there anything you know now, you wish you’d known when you started writing? Or generally?

If I went back and explained things about the craft of writing and the publishing market to past me, I probably wouldn’t have listened. I’m the kind of person who needs to do it and learn from my mistakes – of which there are many. I wrote five novels before I got one published. And I’m still on the same road – hoping the next thing I write will be a bit better than the last.

7. You are also a screenwriter. Do you use the same technique to start screenplays and books? If not, what changes.

The big difference between the two processes is that my novel writing is solitary but my screenwriting is collaborative. I love the dynamic that comes when two people, both passionate about story, put their creativity together. I learn a huge amount from that situation.

But I also enjoy having complete control. Writing a novel, no one else is there to tell you not to do something. And there are no budget constraints. If you want a scene with a triceratops being fired on by a regiment of Napoleonic musketeers on the slope of an erupting volcano – it only costs paper and ink.

8. Do you have any odd writing habits?

All of my writing habits are entirely normal. It’s everyone else who is peculiar. For example, I’ve heard of writers so odd that they don’t go for long walks to think through plot lines. And others who’ve never set a kitchen timer to regulate their writing sessions. Crazy, huh?

9. Do you cast your characters in your head before you start writing?

My characters start out fairly simple and ill-defined. When I put them into situations and have them interact, they reveal themselves as individuals. Readers sometimes tell me which actors they think would be perfect in a movie of the books. But I don’t do that myself. (Though I have occasionally imagined specific actors voicing the lines when I’m writing dialogue. That is a trick to help create distinct speech patterns for each character.)

10. Do you ever set out to write one thing and end up writing something entirely different?

I usually set out writing with a sense of the main beats of the story but no detail. The adventure is built from the discoveries I make along the way. I get realisations about the characters as I’m writing. And I dream up plot devices while out walking. Walking and daydreaming is an important part of the process for me.

So yes, two or three times a discovery has been so significant that it has changed the entire nature of a novel.

11. What’s next for you? A return to crime, more Gas-Lit Empire, or something completely different?

Although the trilogy reaches its climax with The Custodian of Marvels, the story is not complete. I’m working on the first book in a new series, which will continue the adventure. I can’t say too much about that yet. Announcements will follow, as they say.

12. If readers want to express fulsome praise or ask insightful questions, what are the best ways to gain your attention?

I do love to hear from readers. Twitter is an easy way to say hello. You can find me there as @RodDuncan. For more in-depth news and articles, there is a Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/gaslitempire. And if you enjoy a bit of transmedia fun, there’s a website to explore at: www.gaslitempire.co.uk/


The Custodian of Marvels by Rod DuncanRod Duncan wrote crime fiction before turning to science fiction/fantasy. His first crime novel Backlash was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, and his first science fiction novel The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award. He also writes screenplays. His background is in scientific research and computing. He now lives in Leicester where he works as a lecturer in Creative Writing at DeMontfort University.

The Custodian of Marvels, the climactic volume in his Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series, is released on 2nd February 2016.

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