Today I’m interviewing Duncan Lay because he’s an Australian fantasy writer who’s just signed with Voyager to produce his second trilogy, and I thought I’d ask him the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male writer.
Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.
Q: On Voyager, you say you were seduced to the dark side of reading fantasy by a friend who gave you a copy of David Gemmell’s Legend. Do you still have that book? Did you end up reading all of David Gemmell’s books? (I can see why he’d appeal to a fifteen year-old).
I do indeed have that copy of Legend, dog-eared and yellowing though it may be! I have read all of Gemmell’s books, which take up an entire bookshelf!
Q: Lucky you! I see you interviewed Raymond Feist in 2002 when he was here on his Talon of Silver Hawk tour. You say: ‘we began talking about writing, and he described how his characters sometimes take his story threads off in different directions to the one he planned. That they almost tell the story for him. The way he described it they begin at A and have to get to Z but they don’t go there via B, C, D etc – they might jump to H, then back again and so on.’ You say you walked away with your head buzzing and mind afire. Seven years later, your first book, Wounded Guardian came out. But you’d spent many years before that, writing and getting rejected. (Which we all do). If you could go back twenty years, what would you tell that younger aspiring writer that was you?
To be honest, there is very little I could tell myself that would enable me to “jump the gap’’ and write the way I do now. My growth as a writer is definitely an organic, ongoing process. I had to suffer pain and anguish, take myself to my own borders, to see death, to watch my children being born and hold them in my arms before being published.
I’m not saying everyone has to do these things to be published – obviously they don’t. But I had to. Seeing more of life, experiencing highs and lows is what I needed to do, to unlock the characters in my head and merge them with the stories that I have carried around with me since I was a small child.
I could tell the younger me about those things but some things must be experienced to be understood.
On a practical note, I would tip the younger me off about some winning Lotto numbers …!
Q: Your fantasy trilogy, The Dragon Sword Histories, has been described as gritty with characters that are neither good nor evil. Do you think that fantasy as a genre is maturing?
Firstly, I would say there ARE characters who are good, and others who are evil. But they are not distinguishable by white and black hats. The point about Dragon Sword Histories is the “good’ characters have made mistakes, continue to make mistakes and definitely don’t always act in the way a “typical’’ good character might.
Secondly, I don’t think I’d say fantasy is maturing. It is certainly growing, splitting off into all sorts of sub-categories and gaining more and more acceptance and popularity. Maturing, to me, implies a slowing down and a certain level of comfort. I don’t see that – rather it is, by turns, exciting, innovative, annoying, thrilling, funny, wise and thought-provoking. I hear mature and I think beige cardigans and tartan slippers – fantasy is more a pair of purple Doc Martens and a loud T-shirt!
Q: In an interview on Voyager you say that you wrote while travelling on the train to work (as a layout designed and headline writer at the Sunday Telegraph). Did you find that you could dip into the world of your story for half an hour each day, or was it hard to get back into the right mind-set to write?
Sadly, my train trip is far more than half an hour! It’s between 75 and 90 minutes on the train each way! I find writing on the train a really useful exercise – about 2.5 to 3 hours a day of quality writing time that enables me to compartmentalise my writing, work and family lives!
Q: I see you have a new trilogy coming out:
Book 1 (currently called The Cursed Tears but may well become Bridge Of Swords or indeed something else entirely!) will be out in August 2012.
Book 2 (now The Grieving Son but hopefully Pass Of Arrows) will be out February 2013
Book 3 (now The Raging Night but perhaps Hill Of Shields) will be out August 2013.
I guess we can take from this that writers don’t have much say over what their books are called. Did you get much input into the covers and titles of your first trilogy?
Writers do have plenty of say over what their stories are called – mine has been evolving rapidly over the last few months and so what seemed the right and proper emphasis has shifted. I can’t comment on other publishers but HarperCollins has been fantastic about letting me work out the right titles for my books.
As for the covers, they had the original ideas but I had plenty of input into how they came out and was able to get them altered until I was happy with them – there are earlier posts on my Facebook page that show the development of those book covers, if anyone wants to see!
Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?
I find that perception quite amusing, as in Australia 70% of fantasy readers are women. I’ve made more than 60 bookstores appearances in the last three years and I find I get many more sales from women than men.
Of course there is a difference in the way males and females write fantasy – but those differences are often relatively small and it would be natural for fantasy readers to have a stock of favoured male and female readers. You can read and enjoy both, for different reasons.
Australian Bookseller + Publisher said I write the “best battle scenes since the late (David) Gemmell’’. I took that as a huge compliment – but I know I also appeal to a female readership with two of the three main characters being strong females.
I haven’t read enough female fantasy writers to offer more than a limited, and generalized opinion, but if there is one area where they perhaps fall down is in the last 5% of a male character – the x-factor if you will. Testosterone, as well as an instinct to win and be dominant often make men do strange and foolish things for what seems to be no good reason. It’s something I have found often lacking in my –admittedly limited – reading of fantasy male characters written by women.
I’m sure the reverse is true as well. I have three sisters, a wife and a daughter but as much as I like to think I understand women – perhaps my female characters are also missing that top 5%!
Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?
The gender of a writer does not change my expectations – it’s what the blurb suggests they are writing about and what they are hoping to achieve that sets my expectations. Two of the worst fantasy books I ever read (to the point where I gave up on them before I even finished the middle of the first book in the series) were written by men. There’s another male writer who annoys me intensely and I regret ever buying his books.
Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?
I would go back to about 500AD, when the Saxons were slowly conquering Celtic Britain but were turned back for a generation by a British (as in Welsh) warleader or King. Some have called him Arthur, others claim no such man existed. Given history is written by the victors, we’ll never know for sure. But I’d like to go back and find out for sure!
The hero of The Dragon Sword Histories is Martil, a warrior whose life is changed and forever defined by one mistake that he hopes, yet fails to atone for. He longs for the chance to go back and make a choice again. What one thing would you change in your life – if you had the chance to go back in time and make a different choice in your life, what would it be?
Catch up with Duncan on Goodreads
Follow Duncan on Twitter. @DuncanLay