Welcome to Part Two of Confessions of a Reviewers interview with Duncan P Bradshaw.
In tonight’s section, Duncan kicks things off by answering some specific questions on his new book, Hexagram and finishes off with how his wife sticks him and lets you in on the secret of some of his influences.
It’s the middle of the week so go grab some pizza, a beer, sit back, and mostly……enjoy!
CoaR - Moving on to Hexagram, where did the idea for this one come from? What were you trying to get across with it?
DPB - It started last year at conventions, the other guys in the SHC only write novellas, and I kinda felt that I needed to get a couple written myself this year, to have a wider range. The original idea hit me around August time, I think: the notion that as we’re all made of stars, what would happen if it could be extracted?
The final story in Hexagram, about the two sisters, was going to be the entire novella. But, typically, as I wrote it, my mind, in an attempt to fill in some of the how’s and why’s, stumbled upon it being an Inca ritual. Then I thought, can I can trace that ritual, from all the way back then, to modern times?
I think I wanted to get across how knowledge is passed on from generation to generation. Without any sense of context, or facts, how the words can be twisted and formed into something which fits someone’s own ends. The characters in the book all use it, thinking it will do one thing, without any comprehension of what will actually happen. I found that scary, because history shows the same thing happening in real life.
I also wanted to show the grey area that exists within people. Even the most altruistic person, is capable of doing great harm, even unwittingly. I like to hold a mirror up to these characters, show what is driving them, their reasoning, but also both their good and bad. Even the most horrible characters in Hexagram are viewed by some as doing good. That’s the world we live in huh?
CoaR - One thing that struck me about it was the use of language in the different eras. Did you have to research this much?
DPB - I use some quaint turns of phrase, I think is the politest way of saying it, so when I wrote them, particularly in the first story, I tried to put it within the objects of the world. I thought that using modern items, in an analogy, would be a bit off-putting, so tried to use historic bits and pieces, to ground it more.
There are two first person stories in Hexagram, and they were probably the most fun to write, particularly the second one, set in Victorian London. I often speak to my wife in such a manner, so to write an entire story this way, was really good fun. For all of the stories, I needed to do research into things such as: American Civil War slang, layouts of settlements, poisons, cults, weather patterns, all that sort of thing, but not too much with the speech.
I’m keen on making sure that the dialogue is something that people can still get, without needing to Google the crap out of everything. I hope I found the right balance between historical elements and accessibility for a modern audience.
CoaR - You are a fun loving kinda chap. How do you get yourself in the frame of mind to write some of the horrific stuff like some of the scenes featuring torture or blood and guts in Hexagram?
DPB - The way I write, is completely off the bat. Sometimes, I have a vague idea about a particular scene, or an event which befalls someone, as that is either integral to the story, or one of the bits which made the idea flare in my head.
In the first story, I did a bit of research on Inca rituals, and in the main, it’s not quite as gory as we all believe it to be. However, that didn’t help at all with the whole purpose, which is people being harvested, to get the stardust, so made a more atypical scene. Hence, those scenes are intentionally OTT, including an element of the supernatural. These priests are kinda outside the normal world, so I wanted a few things in there which were quite full on.
I never sit down and think, ‘I have to make this scene really gory’, it is purely the words coming out of me as I wander around the scene in my head.
The later scene which you’re referring to, which I know turned your stomach, was an almost afterthought. I realised that I hadn’t really linked that part of the story back to anything I’d done earlier, so came up with a sort of ‘after-action’ report. This section is the one I alluded to earlier on, about design.
The character is obviously not a particularly nice one, and although you see one side to them, I wanted to show another. Almost the point at which the old him ended, and the new, reborn character began. He was on a real journey, and I wanted to show that the turn he took was borne out of vengeance, sheer brutality, desperation almost.
CoaR - What was the thinking behind the idea of almost having six short stories making up the novel?
DPB - When I made the decision to expand the story, and include the full history of the ritual, I wanted each part to be its own separate narrative. The storyteller in me loved it, as I was able to find a historic event, and then base each individual story around it. It also gave me scope to do different things with the characters.
It’s also a case of the title informing my choice. I don’t usually come up with a title straightaway, but Hexagram popped in my head early on. Numbers are quite significant in a lot of rituals. There are six priests for instance, so I thought ‘six stories’. With that, the idea of the six pointed star, fitted perfectly with the whole stardust motif, and the cover. Each of the points on the cover of Hexagram represents one of the stories, along with an element within them. See what I mean about what I said earlier with the cover design? Mike McGee (the cover artist), nailed that so well.
Knowing that I had six stories, I then knew how many links I had from the Inca, through to the modern day. With some research, I was able to set each story in its own time frame. Not all stories link in a linear way, and I like that.
I’ve had a few comments, on my books in general, that things aren’t too heavily signposted, and that I should leave more breadcrumbs. Personally, I want the reader to be so absorbed within the story, that they find the links themselves, and in some cases, make new ones.
That is the joy of reading. Just because I have one view of a character’s motivations, or why something went the way it did, doesn’t mean that everyone else will. What other medium can do that? All I do is write down my view on it, it is up to the reader to make the connection between stories, or not. My main reason for writing, is to produce a good story, something which can either be pored over, or enjoyed at the shallowest level.
Anyway, the feedback I got from beta readers was really cool, in the main, each preferred different stories, and for differing reasons. Hell, even I have my favourites, and I loved hearing from other people which ones were their standout moments.
I think as well; this was the first non-zombie novel that I had written. I wanted it to be epic, sprawling different times and with a wealth of characters and motivation. It would have been easier to have stuck with my original novella idea, but it’s not how I work.
Finally…a lot of people rail on novels for being too long, that they don’t have time to sit down and read one, or they lose interest. The way I structured Hexagram, essentially gives the reader five short stories, and one novella. It breaks it down into bitesize chunks, so you can read a whole story in one sitting, put it away, and feel content that you’ve made progress. By the time you go back to read the next story, your brain has been working on what’s happened, and what could possibly happen next. Again, some might not like that approach, but I wanted to try something a little different.
CoaR - In many ways this a good versus evil type story. Do you have any beliefs in this area or is Hexagram totally made up from your imagination?
DPB - Hexagram started off purely as a notion of how could I make a story where people harvest stardust, and make them want to read it. Most stories need conflict, it’s probably the oldest backbone to many a tale. I also wanted that moral grey area thrown in though. Just because you can do something, should you?
Each of the main characters is doing something, because they feel compelled to. None of them, except for the Inca right at the beginning, have an inkling what will happen when they manage to see it through. Why would people go to such extreme lengths to do that? We as people have quite defined lines of right and wrong, but in each of us, it is different.
There is another theme of Hexagram. This essence, is inside all of us, it not only links us, as people, together, but to the entire universe. We just don’t know or understand why. Humans are an odd bunch of flesh wrapped skeletons, we thrash around like primitive beasts, trying to make sense of it all, and none of us, really have a clue. We are so infinitesimally small, perhaps that is why we act the way we do? Perhaps we really do understand why we struggle on, through life, but are just too afraid of that truth. I don’t know, I just wanted something that hints at something bigger, a chink of light and promise at the end of the road of our lives.
CoaR - How does your wife, Debbie, stick you? Is she on strong medication?
DPB - It is a question I’ve often wondered. I’m…an interesting person to live with, put it that way. I can be bouncing around the place like Tigger on amphetamines one minute, and then sitting quietly on the sofa the next, not wanting to speak to anyone. I’m lucky in that I know myself quite well, so know how to deal with my ups and downs, but appreciate that it must be really difficult for her at times.
I think, genuinely, and it’s probably not the answer you’re looking for, she fills my missing pieces in. We are complete opposites on so many things, but what I lack, she provides, and vice versa. We’re a real team, and though I can be a real cheeky sod to her, I am very lucky to be with someone who supports what I do, and puts up with my stupidness.
CoaR - Who would be the authors you would give the credit of being your influences and who do you just not “get”?
DPB - As a kid, it was all about Roald Dahl. I think his writing and stories, really fed my innate silliness. Aside from that, Danny King is a huge influence, mainly in the style of his writing, his books are hilarious, but also tell a really solid story.
Zombie wise, it would have to be Max Brooks. Both World War Z, and the Zombie Survival Guide, were just joys to read. Ultimately, I like to think that I write my way, not really tipping a hat to anyone in particular. I like that. I am me, I am unique, I say and do stupid things, so I am lucky that in my writing, I can add in my little -isms.
As for writers I don’t ‘get’, I can’t really say I have any. For every book I read of someone that I didn’t like, chances are, I’ll read something else by them, and find something I do enjoy. I try and read some of the old classics, and they can be tough, but that is down to the language and style of the time. The Prince, by Machiavelli for example, made my brain hurt, but I’m still glad I read it.
And so we come to the end of Part Two of the interview.
I think you will all agree that this one if worthy of a Part Three so please bring yourselves back into the Confessional tomorrow night when Duncan will continue telling you about is writing and life, and also give his answers to The Ten Confessions. Trust me, you don’t want to miss those!
Thanks again for visiting Confessions of a Reviewer!
CONFESSIONS REVIEWS DUNCAN P BRADSHAW
One day upon waking, as if from some frightful nightmare, I sat at my laptop and typed out letters, which formed words, slowly they created sentences. People read it and said, that's okay that is, have a biscuit. And I said yes.
I live in Wiltshire, in Southern England with my wife Debbie and our two cats, Rafa and Pepe, they just miaowed a hello at you. Between bouts of prolonged washing up and bungie cord knitting, I type out the weird and wonderful things that run around my head.
My debut novel, zom-com Class Three, was released in November 2014, the first book in the follow up trilogy, Class Four: Those Who Survive is out in July 2015. I'm then going to try and get some novellas released which are on something other than the undead.
And for more about Duncan, visit his site or find him on social media:
And for more about Duncan, visit his site or find him on social media: