Rod Duncan is a Leicester based author, screenwriter and Creative Writing university lecturer. He has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick and East Midlands book awards. During my time at De Montfort University, I had the pleasure of being taught by Rod who told many stories from his path to being published, to The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter – the first book in The Fall Of The Gas-Lit Empire. Now on the release of the third book in the series, The Custodian of Marvels, Rod answered a few of my burning questions.
With the release of your new book, The Custodian of Marvels, finally here how are you feeling?
Although there is more of the adventure to come, this book brings the story to a significant moment. So I am really excited about it. I’m so happy that it’s finally out there and people are going to be reading it.
When you started writing the series, what was the first aspect to jump out at you? (for example, a character, plot idea)
I began with the city of Leicester and the many traces of the Victorians who built it. That started a story. But I only knew it was going to be a novel when I discovered the voice of Elizabeth, the protagonist. And then, as I began to understand who she was and where she came from, I realised it was going to be a whole series of books.
At the States of Independence festival last March, you did a talk on Steampunk which has become a sort of identifier for this series. Did steampunk act as an inspiration or has it just been associated with your work?
Some people have called the novels steampunk and some say they are ‘gas-lit fiction’. Others say they are crime fiction and other others say they’re alternate history! I see all those labels as influences, but I never felt constrained by them. The story had a life of its own and, to a certain extent, I followed to see where it would take me.
Which character was the most interesting for you to write?
I have to be interested in all my characters. That is the only way I can write them. Often there are things about them that I know but never get to tell the readers. A few of those secrets are revealed in The Custodian of Marvels. I’m very interested to see how the readers react to those revelations.
Did you struggle writing any of the books and if so, which one?
The most difficult was The Custodian of Marvels – because there were plot strands from the previous two novels that needed to be woven together. And there is a heist element to the story – which is technically intricate to plot. But I think it is the strongest book of the three. I’m really delighted with the way it all worked out.
Are there any books that got you into writing?
Listening to the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on BBC Radio 4 was the first time I really became aware of authorship. I remember thinking – Wow! Someone wrote this. Someone created it out of their imagination. That was very inspiring. But I didn’t at the time think I could write anything. I’m dyslexic and writing was very difficult for me back then. But later, after the word processor came along and I did start to write, I remembered that moment and it felt significant to me.
How do you handle rejection/negativity on your work?
I wrote several novels before I had my first one published. So I did go through the whole rejection thing. It was difficult. But I always felt compelled to go back and write another one.
I’ve been lucky with reviews of my books. Most people have been very positive. But it’s important to not get fixated on trying to please everyone. I write the kind of novel I would like to read and happily there are people out there who have similar tastes. But if someone hates it, that’s fine. It wasn’t meant for them.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Never say: ‘I want to be a writer’. If you feel compelled to write, then you are one already. Accept it. Other people might judge you not a ‘real’ writer until you win a prize or get a publication deal. But the day before you get that big break you’ll be just the same writer as you are the day after.
It’s fair enough to say: ‘I want to get published’. But don’t let the goal make you miserable. So long as each new thing you write is a little bit better than the last, be happy. And if you keep that up then the other stuff will follow.
We’re all on the same journey.
Finally, and most importantly, what can readers expect from The Custodian of Marvels?
You can expect the return of some characters from The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter – both friends and enemies. There will be a heist and secrets will be revealed about the origin of the Gas-Lit Empire. And there’ll be a lot more besides – but I don’t want to spoil it for you.
“You’d have to be mad to steal from the feared International Patent office. But that’s what Elizabeth Barnabus is about to do.”
The Custodian of Marvels is out now in the UK on Ebook and audiobook platforms and will be available in physical form from 11th February.