Nottingham author Duncan Pile has written a fantasy opus, Nature Mage and it’s hitting our bookshelves now. It’s a world filled with wizards, demons, gore and horror and it’s written for teenagers. Duncan talks about his journey from idea to fully-fledged epic.
Tell us about the book.
It’s a coming of age fantasy fiction about a boy, Gaspi, living in a mountain village, who discovers under duress that he has a rare and powerful magical gift. He goes on a journey to learn how to control these powers, only to discover there are creatures draining the life out of magical people.
Amazon does the ‘people who bought this book also bought.’ Which authors would come next to Nature Mage?
Well, my favourite fantasy author, Tad Williams, who wrote Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Definitely JK Rowling. And David Eddings, his books awoke in me a real hunger for storytelling. My book starts off similar to Harry Potter, in a magical college, but as it goes on it moves more into classic heroic fantasy.
So did you wake up one day and say ‘I’m going to write a fantasy book called Nature Mage?
You’re kidding me?
I just started writing one day. I’ve always loved expressing myself in written words, I compose poetry, and I just sat down and began with a simple image. I can’t remember what inspired it. The idea literally came off the pen. Then I thought, ‘you know what, I’d like to write a story about this’. I expanded it into a plot and then characters.
Do you think stories choose the writers?
I’ll be honest, I’m often surprised by the actions of my characters. They are not me, nor expressions of me, they are their own individuals. In them I see behaviour from everyday life. And as I’ve pressed on with the novel it’s come extremely naturally, I’ve never once had a difficult session where I couldn’t write. So perhaps, yes, the story does chose the writer.
Are you a fantasy genre writer?
No. I also write a popular blog, an inspirational blog. I write about serious things but I also love to tell stories. I think the two are equally important for me.
What do you think of the fantasy market today?
I can’t speak for everyone, but my experience is when I go to the bookstore, I don’t often find anything really satisfying. I can end up re-reading old classics. Frankly, it’s easy to write a rubbish fantasy novel, because the themes and motifs are so iconic. You’re going to be using the same motifs as the great writers, Tolkien etc, which is what the readers want. But there are books out there, built solely around these motifs, which lack substance. You have to inject your own unique qualities and ideas. Your characters must be extremely convincing so that readers can identify with them.
What is it about fantasy that appeals to you as a writer?
Because it brings to the fore character and personal crises that might get lost in the busyness of a novel about actual everyday experiences. It allows you to emphasise the emotional qualities and journeys of your characters.
How did you go about creating your fantasy world? Do you use maps? Notebooks?
I’ve not written an entire history of that world. Early in the writing process I decided what the scale of the continent might be and some of those historical events that are crucial to the story. So the reader has everything they need and more, but I haven’t gone into superfluous detail.
Is this a book for boys or girls?
Both. And there are a couple of romances in there. I have a lot of readers and everyone tells me, boy or girl, they find it a page-turner. I didn’t sit down to write a book for boys or girls, I wrote it for human beings.
Do you identify with Gaspi?
No. If I relate to anyone in the book it would probably be Hephistole, the school chancellor. Quirky, knowing more about things than you should, widely travelled. I see myself as a bit of a bearded know-it-all.
Tell us about your journey as a writer.
I’ve always loved to write. I used to scribble a journal before the days of laptops. In my twenties I wrote a small story about a holiday romance. A few years later I read it back and thought this is awful so I destroyed it. Then I spent some years in Asia and wrote a memoir and it was this that persuaded my agent to take me on.
I spent a few years writing Nature Mage. My agent was getting rejections from every publisher he sent it too. I have to admit I think most of them didn’t even read it. It’s so difficult for a new author to get taken on. The market’s practically closed. So my agent pointed me in the direction of New Generation Publishing, a self-publishing company that offer a bridge to traditional publishing. The bridge is the prize of a book deal with Legend Press, they offer this three times a year to the best manuscripts. I won the prize.
Then Love Reading chose Nature Mage as debut book of the month and their eleven plus book of the month. They also featured me on the Love Writing site as fantasy book and children’s book of the month. Now I’m signing copies at the Loughborough and Nottingham Waterstones.
Imagine you’re picking up a literary award. What would you say in your acceptance speech?
Um, to anyone in particular?
Anyone who reads it. And my agent, he gives me straight talking when I need it. Oh, there’s a girl in South Africa who was my first test reader and she’s definitely been my biggest support.
Are you enjoying your first book’s release?
Yes, although it can be stressful. Like when I had a new cover arranged. Lots of artists had to compete for the job but only one could get it. The writing is a sheer pleasure but the marketing is stressful. There again, when I heard Waterstone's were going to stock me in their East Midlands branches I was over the moon.
An aspiring writer is penning a fantasy book. What advice would you give?
Write a page-turner.
Invest everything you’ve got in character, pace and plot.
So Harry Potter, love him or loathe him?
I love him. It’s a phenomenal piece of storytelling, very well structured, full of surprises. And the theme of love being the ultimate power is true to what I see in life. And I’m a sentimental fool!
Are there any more adventures for Gaspi?
Nature Mage is the first in a trilogy of Gaspi’s adventures. The bulk of the second is almost finished and the third’s plot is now set in stone. I’m very excited. The sequel takes Nature Mage to a whole new level and the third is going to go through the roof
Duncan will be signing copies of the book at Waterstone's, Bridlesmith Gate, on Saturday 21 January from 11.30 in the teenage fiction section.