Duncan Lay is the bestselling Fantasy author of two trilogies, The Dragon Sword Histories, and The Bridge of Swords series. I was fortunate enough to interview him in-between his fulltime work and his epic book-signing tours.
In Duncan, I found a kindred spirit – we both drank green tea!
We headed to a café close to where Duncan works on a national newspaper, and sat with our pots of tea and chatted about books.
The theme of family is strong throughout your books; did you draw from your own relationships for this?
Yes, definitely. You have to have a kernel of truth in there, especially in fantasy. The characters have to have some truth on their part; the readers are more likely to go on that journey with you. Tim Martin from Infinitas bookstore is a huge fan of mine, and he said to me once that you can go on and on about plots, but if the characters don’t resonate then the readers aren’t going to relate.
Do you get attached to your characters?
Most definitely, they live in your head and then in your words for years; they are part of your life for years.
Did you come from a family of writers?
My grandmother was a journalist.
My father was an interesting character – I suppose there was a little “Walter Mitty” in him. He would tell you a lot of stories and you were never sure what was real or made up – we had an interesting relationship.
The third book was very personal for me as he passed away just before it came out. In The Empire of Bones series, I got to explore how our relationship with our parents changes the relationship with our children, and our relationship with our children changes how we view our parents. This extends through the generations. That was something very true to me; I viewed my father very differently once I’d had children. That resonated with people. Not everyone has children, but everyone has parents. It’s fascinating to watch people break away from their parents.
Where did the Japanese influence in your books come from?
I’ve always been fascinated with Japan. My father again influenced this; he told me he studied Aikido and was invited to Japan. Also, my son took up Karate before I wrote this series and his sensei was half Japanese, and I would take my laptop to the lessons so I could work on the book, and it influenced me, particularly the fighting scenes.
The fighting scenes are very realistic; did you have any other knowledge in this area?
I watched a lot of it, especially high end. My son’s sensei represented Australia, so I’d talk to him and watch sword (wooden) demonstrations. I’m also a student of history, I know enough to be dangerous, but I couldn’t write an historical novel. I’d be besieged by people saying you didn’t get that and this bit right. That’s the beauty of fantasy; you can weave those bits in there and not worry about if it’s historically accurate.
Have you noticed that Fantasy has had a bit of resurgence lately?
Yes, I think the female readers keep it going. In fantasy, seventy percent of readers are females, and Sci-Fi readers are generally male. I create strong female characters and I think that appeals, besides I have three sisters and they would kill me if I didn’t.
Do you find there’s snobbery in Australia towards genre fiction, particularly Fantasy?
Oh my goodness, yes, a massive amount of snobbery. As you know I did that big tour, 50 stores in 50 days, and I was at a bookstore and I had a queue of people waiting for me; it was going so well, I was on a high, and this woman stopped and saw my big banner and said “ewww that’s fantasy, oh that’s disgusting”, and she kept going on and on how people were stupid to read it. It felt like she was going for hours, it was probably only a few minutes, but she wouldn’t stop.
There is even a bit of snobbery between Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Some of the Sci-Fi guys say, “well this is based on science, this could really happen; fantasy is just swords and sandals”.
Maybe there’s some rivalry?
Yes, Sci-Fi writers are doing it tough in Australia at the moment; there are a lot of talented Sci-Fi writers who aren’t getting the attention that Fantasy writers are getting.
I read that you write on the train during your daily commute, don’t you find it distracting?
I have my iPod on to help tune out and I have different playlists; like Coldplay are good for emotional scenes. I Twittered, the other day, that there is no better music to write a battle scene to than AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
I recommend if you have a favourite movie or TV show and it evokes a certain emotion in you – it doesn’t have to necessarily be the emotion intended, just what it means to you – you can tap into it and go away and channel this into your writing.
Do people read over your shoulder while on the train?
Once I did have a couple of drunken guys leaning over, reading as I was writing, commentating. It was a little bizarre.
Is there an author you read that has influenced you?
To be honest I don’t read a lot of fantasy, and I don’t read a lot when I’m writing either. That’s partly a time thing and partly because I do like to have a clear mind, and I don’t want to tap into anyone else’s writing.
I like varied books. I like Ian Rankin’s series – I like his multi-layered plots; and I read historical stuff. I’m a bit of a bowerbird, not a great fantasy reader. Probably Raymond E. Feist was the last one I read. I love the writing so much.
Confess! Do you have any quirky habits or superstitions while writing?
No. I should make some up; like a favourite pair of undies. I do try and hog an aisle seat, I like a bit of elbow- room, and my feet flat on the ground to make a more stable table.
How do you feel about the almost compulsory social media presence that an author has to have today?
It’s essential. If you approach a publisher and you don’t have a blog, a Twitter account, Facebook, then they’ll just go “thanks, but no thanks”, regardless of the writing quality. Conversely there is so much white noise out there.
How do you fit the time in for social media?
In between re-writes, waiting for edits to come back. I always have, like, ten little pieces ready to go. I don’t have much time, I work five days a week with four hours travel time a day.
Twitter is great if you’ve got a couple of quick minutes, you can whip something out. A blog is more considered. I’m getting a lot of hits, on my blog, from the US now.
Is the whole series available in the U.S.A?
It’s now available as an eBook and through the Harper Collins, 360 program. This means it can be ordered online through the major bookstores and a paperback copy will be sent to you. I will be doing a giveaway hard copy soon.
Thank you Duncan, it has been a pleasure.