A prize-winning lecturer from De Montfort University (DMU) is set to launch the latest book in his sci-fi series.
Rod Duncan, who teaches Creative Writing at DMU, will celebrate the publication of his novel, The Outlaw and the Upstart King, at Central Library later this month (23 January 2019).
The story follows fearless female lead, Elizabeth Barnabus, as she embarks on another mission in Rod’s Gas-Lit Empire, a world steeped in illusion and misdirection.
Rod said: “It is an alternate history which means that I have posited a change in history some 200 years ago and I’m working through what might have become of the world in the aftermath of that change. So we’ve reached the present day but it doesn’t look like the present day because science and technology and social progress have been held back.”
It is the fifth book Rod has written in the critically acclaimed series, though it works as a stand-alone read.
Rod came up with the idea while walking through Leicester town centre but his imagined world couldn’t be more different. Leicester has been transformed into a place divided between a republic to the north and a kingdom to the south with a border cutting right across the city.
Although the inspiration for the trilogy preceded the EU referendum, it seems starkly relevant to our times, while exploring themes of change, governance, social justice and gender.
Rod explained: “It’s a general truth that science fiction books pretend to be about the future but are really about the present. And I think it’s impossible for an author or artist to set out to create a major work without making themselves into an antenna to pick up on the zeitgeist of the things that are going on around them.
“The novel is a form of writing that allows you to address issues without engaging in the language of hashtag politics. Through close observation of real people in dramatic situations, you can write about issues without triggering automatic disagreement from people on different sides of the political divisions of the day.”
The Gas-Lit Empire series has proved a hit with readers worldwide and has been shortlisted for a number of prizes including the prestigious Philip K Dick Award - where Rod met his writing heroes in Seattle, including sci-fi legend George RR Martin.
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Rod, who has been working at the university for five years, said that his time teaching has enhanced his creative practice. “I always learn a huge amount from teaching. It helps clarify my thoughts. So as well as being a genuine joy working with the students I feel like it helps me along the path of being a writer.”
Rod is a disciplined writer who pens one novel a year. “That doesn’t mean I’m writing all year. It means that it takes that long for all the ideas to come,” he explained.
His writing process can be quite haphazard, especially in the early days when he is still experimenting and finding a way through the story. Once he’s figured out where the story is going, his writing sessions become all-consuming.
Early extracts of his work-in-progress are often road-tested on his writing group.
Rod has enjoyed a long and successful career as a published writer, stretching back to 2003 when he landed a publishing deal from Simon & Schuster for his debut novel, Backlash. But he said the journey hasn’t always been an easy one.
“I am dyslexic and reading came quite late for me. My father used to read me stories and he loved science fiction and fantasy.”
Particular favourites included Sherlock Holmes and the Asimov Foundation, which along with his father’s fascination for conjuring and stage illusion have left a big impression on him. In many ways, Rod said his work is still heavily influenced by these early stories.
The biggest challenge for Rod has been getting the stories in his head down on paper. “Ask me to write a page with a pen and paper and I will be in a difficult situation,” he admitted. Using a word processor and increasingly dictation software have been a tremendous help.
“I still have problems with reading. It takes a lot of concentration and so I don’t read as much as I would like to. But there are swings and roundabouts and I think there are things I have benefitted from as a writer.
“I think strangely, some dyslexics are drawn to writing because that very battle with language can give a freshness to the words on the page.”
The lecturer’s advice to anyone thinking about writing a novel is to write little and often. Setting aside just fifteen minutes of uninterrupted time, four days a week is a good starting point.
“Writing a novel is like a marathon, you just wouldn’t run a marathon without training. So concentrate on the process not the product. When you’re having your 15 minute writing slots don’t worry if it’s not very good. It’s just like your practice runs when you’re building up to do the marathon. At some stage you’ll start producing what will be in the final novel.”
The Outlaw and the Upstart King published by Angry Robot launches at Central Library on 23 January 2019 at 6.45pm. Admission is free. You can follow the Gas-Lit Empire on Facebook and Rod on Twitter @RodDuncan
Posted on Friday 11th January 2019