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Nottingham Castle

Rod Duncan Jan mag

7 January 08 words: James Walker
Rod Duncan discusses his latest publication, dyslexia and the Lowdham Crime Fiction weekend

Rod Duncan is the author of Backlash, Breakbeat and Burnout. Three novels set in the same city against the backdrop of the same fictional riot, but following the lives of different people. Most recently he has written The Mentalist, a short story for Five Leaves new crime fiction imprint. The story centres around Harry Gysel, a charismatic psychic who appears to predict the death of a woman in the audience of one of his shows. It is the literary equivalent of a Derren Brown show, exposing the conflict between rationality and faith. James Walker caught up with him to discuss mysticism, dyslexia and why Sherlock Holmes would not make a good dinner guest…    


I am dyslexic and by the age of seven I was having problems in school that were causing me much grief. I remember spending escapist hours telling myself stories in which I was the central character. Unlike many people who went on to be novelists, I did not write my stories down. Dyslexia blocked that outlet. But I told them none-the-less. To an audience of one.



This is a topic in Breakbeat. Was this for cathartic or aesthetic purposes? 
I wanted a chance to explore my dyslexia. I am not the main character Daz Croxley, but there are elements of me in him. I also think that it maybe showed a new landscape to many of my readers, and may therefore have been of interest.

I started writing one day with no clear idea about what I would do, and this is the story that emerged. It was one of those times when I can be sure that my subconscious mind was in the lead. I started typing and a couple of hours later the first chapter was there on the page.


Where did the riot image come from?
A couple of places, I think. From seeing a crowd of people gathered around a burning car in Leicester one night. Hearing it explode. That was the obvious origin of the scene. But possibly another event; which I only consciously remembered when someone asked me this question at an event last year. When I was 10, I was in a car that became surrounded by a rowdy demonstration. Hands banged down on the windows. The car rocked. Then a way cleared ahead and we drove. 



My father, a physicist, taught me from my early childhood about scientific method. As an amateur conjuror he also taught me a healthy degree of scepticism. The quest for objective truth is in my blood. But the things that have most influenced my life have been intensely subjective – creativity and love, for example. These two modes of exploration are often pitted against each other. Arts against sciences. Believer against sceptic. I think each has something to tell us about reality



Depends on your definition. The mind is a subtle, mysterious and wonderful thing. We can sometimes pick up on hints of body language so subtle that we are not conscious of them. Thus there is a form of mind reading that definitely work



Both are great showmen. But Derren Brown is definitely my favourite. Harry is not based on any individual. He started as the embodiment of a conflict between belief and cynicism and of my love for the mentalist tricks my father used to tell me about when I was a child. Ideological conflicts are an important aspect of my writing. But a story has to work in the simple sense of being a good yarn. I hope I manage to marry the two.


How did you get involved with the Crime Express  series? 
I wanted to have a go at writing one as soon as I heard about the series. A fascinating length of story to work with. I’d already had the idea for the Mentalist, and it seemed as if this might be a good format for it. 









Finally, you can invite two detectives and two villains from literature for dinner. Who would you invite and why?
Fictional detectives and villains make good reading because they generate conflict, which is the ultimate source of all drama. Real conflict gives me indigestion, so I’d prefer not to have them to dinner at all. Who’d want to dine with Sherlock Holmes? You’d be on edge all the time, worrying about what you were giving away. Much better to dine with Watson. 

I enjoyed your reading at the Lowdham Crime Festival. Do you prefer individual book readings or collaborations?
I love collaborative work. There is something extra you get when working with other creative minds. I don’t think it is MORE than the sum of the parts, exactly. But it is definitely DIFFERENT from the sum of the parts. But individual performances do have their own special quality, which I would not wish to be without. The chance to craft something so personal and individual. So... in answer to your question, I am not answering. I can’t choose.

Derren Brown or David Blaine?

Is there a difference between being a psychic and reading minds?

The Mentalist, among other things, deals with issues of truth. What is your conception of truth?

You appear to be attracted to enigmatic characters such as Daz Croxley in Breakbeat and Harry Gysel in the Mentalist. Why is this?
Harry and Daz both needed to be written in that somewhat enigmatic way because the psychology of each is the driving force behind their respective stories. It is the gradual discovery by the reader of what makes each of them tick that ultimately provides much of the emotional interest. Also, with Harry, I wanted the readers to be able to see what he does on stage from the outside – as members of the audience – so they could make up their minds about how he does what he does. Is he a genuine psychic? Is there such a thing? Only later do I allow the readers to see his performance from the inside looking out.

Backlash is set during a riot. Why did you choose this particular setting for your first novel?

Were the school supportive?
Back in the 1960s the term ‘dyslexia’ was not widely known. The first educational psychologist I was sent to believed that the condition did not exist and could offer no advice on what was wrong with me. Thankfully others disagreed. By the age of eight I had been formally diagnosed. A child would be diagnosed quickly these days.

Tell us about your childhood:
I was born in the village of Borth on the coast of Wales. For most of the year, that extraordinary beach felt like my private playground. Amazing things would be washed up on the sand. I remember a huge jellyfish beached there one day and once after a storm, thousands of pink starfish. Treasure everywhere. When I was six we moved to Aberystwyth. This heralded a more conflicted time for me.


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