Thursday, April 28, 2016

Interview with Rod Duncan

Please welcome Rod Duncan to The Qwillery. Rod's most recent novel is The Custodian Marvels, the 3rd book in The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series, from Angry Robot Books.

TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Rod:  The most challenging thing is keeping the outline of a whole series of novels in my head.

Yes, I create plans of each novel. Lots of them. And each of them turns out different. When it comes down to it, a plan of a novel is only good for helping me to write the next chapter. Once the chapter is written, I have usually made discoveries that will change my ideas about where the book going.

TQDescribe The Custodian of Marvels in 140 characters or less.

Rod:  A heist & a date with destiny. It’s where the small adventures of Elizabeth Barnabus meet the big story of the fall of the Gas-Lit Empire.

TQTell us something about The Custodian of Marvels that is not found in the book description.

It is a story of circus folk and high politics.

It is also a story of horrifying secrets and terrifying locks. One secret is hidden in the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook. Another is hidden in a vault below the International Patent Court. One lock is the hammer that fires a gun, another is the mechanism that holds a mighty door closed.

I could tell you more, but it’s a secret.

TQThe Custodian of Marvels is the third novel of The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire. What are your feelings on concluding the series?

Rod:  It is the end. But it’s not the end. Like so many things in the life of Elizabeth Barnabus, this is a paradox.

I can tell you that I have started to write the next book in this alternate history. But I don’t want to say more than that, because it might spoil things for readers of the series. When you get to the end of the Custodian of Marvels, I hope these vague comments will make more sense to you!

TQThe Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series is Alternate History with a late Victorian setting. What appeals to you about writing Alternate History and AH set in the Victorian era?

Rod:  Alternate history has always appealed to me because it gives us the chance to ask “what if”? What if the Luddites had overthrown the government? What if technology had developed in a different way?

I own a small mechanical calculator. It is a marvellous piece of engineering and design, containing many hundreds of moving parts. It would have cost a huge amount of money when new. But this one was thrown away because it had been superseded by the newly invented four-function electronic calculator.

I doubt that anyone could make such a mechanical calculator today. It was the pinnacle of the technology. But what might have been developed in the world of mechanical calculation if the electronic calculator had not been invented quite so soon? Alternate history explores questions like that.

As for the Victorianesque setting – I’m not sure why I like it so much. I certainly wouldn’t like to be living in that era. But there is something about the aesthetic that appeals.

TQIn The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Rod:  I’m not sure which was the easiest character to write. But I will say that I particularly enjoyed writing Fabulo. I had a very clear understanding of who he was when I wrote the Bullet Catcher’s Daughter. But in that story he was always overshadowed by Harry Timpson. In the Custodian of Marvels he has a bigger part to play. Readers will get to understand him far better. It is a great pleasure to be able to share him in this way.

As for the hardest character to write – that was Elizabeth Barnabus. Of course, I know her best of all. I had no difficulty in knowing what she would feel or think or how she would behave. But for a couple of chapters in this story she is “not herself”. That is to say, she goes to a very dark place. My problem was working out how to convey that journey through her own voice.

TQWhy have you chosen to include social issues in The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series?

Rod:  Drama comes from conflict. Conflict often comes from inequality. And inequality lies at the heart of most social issues. Or, to put it another way, comfortable people aren’t so interesting to write about.

Most of the characters in these books are marginalised in one way or another. Fabulo is a dwarf. Tinker is a runaway from an abusive father. Elizabeth was born in a travelling show. It is because of these differences, and others that I can’t reveal here, that they go on to do extraordinary things.

TQWhich question about The Custodian of Marvels or The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Rod:  I think you’re asking me to do your job for you!

Q: “Can we make it into a series of movies?”

A: “Perhaps.”

TQWhat's next?

Rod:  As I said, I’m writing the next book set in this alternate history. I don’t want to reveal too much of that, because it might count as a spoiler. But I will tell you that in the last month, I have been researching the Louisiana Purchase, the sound of wooden beams moving against each other and various effects of the Labrador Current. Make of that what you will.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Rod:  Thank you. I always enjoy Qwillery questions.

The Custodian of Marvels
The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire 3
Angry Robot Books, February 2, 2016
     Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 368 pages
Angry Robot Books, February 11, 2016 (UK Print)
Cover Art by Will Staehle

You’d have to be mad to steal from the feared International Patent Office. But that’s what Elizabeth Barnabus is about to try. A one-time enemy from the circus has persuaded her to attempt a heist that will be the ultimate conjuring trick.

Hidden in the vaults of the Patent Court in London lie secrets that could shake the very pillars of the Gas-Lit Empire. All that stands in Elizabeth’s way are the agents of the Patent Office, a Duke’s private army and the mysterious Custodian of Marvels.

Rod Duncan returns with the climactic volume of The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, the breathtaking alternate history series that began with the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter.

File Under: Fantasy [ Time Runs Out | The Duke’s Enemy | Open the Vault | A Union ]

See Melanie's Review here.


The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter
The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire 1
Angry Robot Books, August 26, 2014
    Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
Angry Robot Books, September 4, 2014 (UK Print)
Cover Art by Will Staehle

Elizabeth Barnabus lives a double life – as herself and as her brother, the private detective. She is trying to solve the mystery of a disappearing aristocrat and a hoard of arcane machines. In her way stand the rogues, freaks and self-proclaimed alchemists of a travelling circus.

But when she comes up against an agent of the all-powerful Patent Office, her life and the course of history will begin to change. And not necessarily for the better…

File Under: Fantasy

See Melanie's Review here.

Unseemly Science
The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire 2
Angry Robot Books, May 5, 2015
    Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
May 7, 2015 (UK Print)
Cover Art by Will Staehle

In the divided land of England, Elizabeth Barnabus has been living a double life – as both herself and as her brother, the private detective. Witnessing the brutal hanging of someone very close to her, Elizabeth resolves to throw the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook into the fire, and forget her past. If only it were that easy!

There is a new charitable organisation in town, run by some highly respectable women. But something doesn’t feel right to Elizabeth. Perhaps it is time for her fictional brother to come out of retirement for one last case? Her unstoppable curiosity leads her to a dark world of body-snatching, unseemly experimentation, politics and scandal. Never was it harder for a woman in a man’s world…

File Under: Fantasy

See Melanie's Review here.

About Rod

Rod Duncan is a published crime writer. His first novel Backlash was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, and he has since written three other novels (all Simon & Schuster UK), and had his first screenplay produced.

His background is in scientific research and computing, and he lives in Leicester.

You can find Rod online at and follow him @RodDuncan on Twitter.


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