Rod Duncan’s brand new book, THE BULLET CATCHER’S DAUGHTER, comes out on the 26th, and he was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions about the book, and much more!
Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a bit about The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, and what inspired you to write it?
The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter is a crime story set in an alternate history. It follows Elizabeth Barnabus, a private intelligence gatherer, as she attempts to track down a missing aristocrat. Unfortunately for her, the Victorian-esque society in which she lives will not allow a woman to engage in work reserved for men. Much of the detection must be done incognito and some of it in disguise. To aid her she has the skills of a grand illusion, learned during her childhood in a travelling magic show.
The story is told by Elizabeth. She doesn’t bother to comment on things that seem normal to her – even though they will be strange to us. Thus, we learn slowly about the curious qualities of the world in which she lives. Here too is a puzzle. Although her world seems at first to be late Victorian, she is living in the present day. Something has happened to hold back social and technological progress. Exactly what that is will be revealed gradually through the series.
The first inspiration for the story came from Leicester, where the book begins. Much of the city was built during Victorian times. Walking through it, one has the sense of another world just below the surface. Literally sometimes. There are streets where the modern road surface has been damaged and you can glimpse the cobblestones exposed just below.
But once I started writing, it was Elizabeth herself who kept me going. She refused to do what I expected or planned. From experience I’ve learned that it’s worth following characters who have a will of their own.
Elizabeth Barnabus leads quite a complicated life, but why do you think readers will connect with, and root for her?
Elizabeth has had a hard life. Her family was persecuted when she was a child and she was forced to flee into exile in a foreign land. She has a strength of will that does not fit the role society would like to assign to her. And yet, she makes the best of the life she’s been given. I think that is probably why readers have responded so warmly to her.
The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter isn’t your first book but it is a bit of a departure for you. In fact, your crime novel, Backlash, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger Award! Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I have always loved stories and admired people who could tell them well. My dad used to read to me when I was a child. This was particularly precious to me because I couldn’t read with any fluency until I was in my teens. Brilliant though The Cat In The Hat may be, it loses its charm when all your contemporaries have moved on to adventure stories.
It was learning to type and the development of the word processor that took away the barriers and enabled me to start writing stories of my own.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter is set in a fantasy world, but everything in it is rooted in reality. The timeline of the alternate history branches from our own a couple of hundred years ago. All the differences flow from that point. Therefore, much of my research has been on political and technological history. But there has been a lot of location visiting as well. I enjoy walking the streets where the story happens and imagining the alternate reality there in front of me.
There is a whole lot of background information that I have had to figure out about the world but have not been able to put into the book. I believe it was necessary for me to understand at that level of detail in order to make the world feel authentic – even if some of the research never makes it onto the page.
What is your writing process like?
My writing process varies from novel to novel. There is usually a phase at the beginning in which I am trying to find the voice of the story. I may write the same chapter several different ways until I am satisfied. After that the writing accelerates. By the time I get to 20 or 30 thousand words, I can usually see where the story is going and will be able to anticipate the main plot points. But the ending always surprises me. Not the way the plot works out – I will be able to see that coming. The thing that I can’t anticipate until I write it is the emotional outcome. How has the story impacted on the protagonist? It is when I write the last page that I know if the story has worked on a deeper level. If I can feel my own emotional response as I write, it usually means it will touch the readers.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
I was heavily influenced by the stories that my father used to read to me – authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Jerome K. Jerome, Lewis Carol, Daniel P. Mannix and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I should add Hergé’s Tintin books as a childhood influence. Those I read for myself (and still do).
In adulthood my tastes have become more eclectic. But it should be no surprise that crime adventures and SFF are the areas I have spent most time writing.
What are you currently reading?
In the heap of books by my bed are Kraken by China Mieville, Rose by Martin Cruz Smith and Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson – the centenary of whose birth it is this year.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I’ve been doing lots of writing this summer, so there’s been little time for much else. That has made walking particularly important to me. It gives me some exercise to counteract the hours of sitting at a desk, it allows me to free my mind and relax and I adore spending time with my family in the countryside.
I also love board games. A couple of days ago, I played Ticket To Ride and lost horribly.
What’s next for you?
I am editing Unseemly Science, the next novel in the series right now. It is due out early in 2015. After that I will back to teaching creative writing – something I really love doing. And I will be turning my thoughts towards a third adventure for Elizabeth Barnabus.
About THE BULLET-CATCHER’S DAUGHTER:
Elizabeth Barnabus lives a double life – as herself and as her brother, the private detective. She is trying to solve the mystery of a disappearing aristocrat and a hoard of arcane machines. In her way stand the rogues, freaks and self-proclaimed alchemists of a travelling circus.
But when she comes up against an agent of the all-powerful Patent Office, her life and the course of history will begin to change. And not necessarily for the better…