I had the great privilege of doing an interview with Natasha Duncan-Drake & Sophie Duncan. They are a great delight and while the interview was about writing, we managed to throw in computers, Star Trek, and other geeky things. I recommend watching it from the beginning to the end.
Together, they have published over 30 books from a wide range of genres, though have done many things individually. The are a great inspiration and fantastic role model for many beginner writers, but also great reminder that a career in writing can be a cruel mistress. Despite that, they couldn’t see themselves doing anything else.
I apologize for some of the audio issues. I did my best to correct them.
See if you can spot the cat. Each time you do, take a shot of tea.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Sophie: Let’s see – I’m a twin, which is a defining part of me – since the day I was born, I’ve always been one half of a larger whole. Tash and I are a team and will be until the day we die.
I’m also a Brit, a geek and, of course, a writer. I split my time between IT project management, which gives me a regular income, and writing. I have my arty side, the dreamer, the teller of tales, if you will, but I’m also in IT, because I’m practical too, and when I left school, I decided engineering and technology would always give me a living. I have a PhD in robotics, but haven’t made much use of it since 2000, although it does come in useful when writing science fiction ;).
I’ve been writing since I was a child and my ambition is to hang up the project management suit and be a full-time author. I think I’m good enough and I have thousands of stories inside my head that I want to share – too many for one lifetime! So,
Natasha: I have a PhD and used to be a database and systems engineer, but have always been a writer at heart and decided to take the plunge into professional writing when my whole department was made redundant. I have never met a genre I didn’t like and I don’t limit myself, but my great loves are speculative fiction and horror. I have always written because I have this underlying need to tell stories and being able to do this in real life as well as for a hobby is the most wonderful thing.
I come from a fanfiction background, which I have been doing for fun since I was a teenager, and I am a great advocate. It is a wonderful community with many people willing to help new writers improve and to simply share and enjoy fiction. No one should let media sensationalism scare them off; it really isn’t all about sex and bad writing. Some of the best fiction I have ever read has been fanfiction.
I’m also a twin and love to write with my sister, Sophie, as well as alone.
2. Do you consider yourself a character driven writer, or a plot driven writer?
A little of both, but I suppose I’m more plot than character driven. I believe characters are important, but it’s the plot that comes first in my head and then I find characters slot into it. Sometimes my shorter stories are led by the characters.
I think I’m a bit of both. I love complex characters, but I very much need a plot to go with them. I write what I enjoy reading and for me to really appreciate something it needs rich characters and a moving plot. It’s one of the reasons I prefer genre fiction to literary fiction.
3. What is your favorite sport and team?
I’m not a huge sports fan, so this one’s a toughie. I suppose one of my favourite sports when I do watch is figure skating, so I’d pick Torville and Dean as my favourite team, because there may only be two of them, but they are masters of the ice.
Figure Skating is my favourite sport and I don’t really have a team. My favourite figure skater is Johnny Weir; I adore his grace on the ice and his flamboyant costumes. Pairs and Ice Dance are also amazing to watch. I tend to prefer watching winter sports in general, for example I also love to watch the Ski Cross and Snowboard Cross events along with freestyle skiing and snowboarding.
If pushed to watch team sports I don’t mind Rugby – they have nice tight shorts ;).
4. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and where do you live now?
The simple answer to all 3 is Kent, UK, but I have lived all over the county. To be more specific: I was born in Maidstone, the county town. I grew up in Wittersham, a small village on The Isle of Oxney near the Sussex-Kent border, so I’m a country girl at heart. And I now live in Chartham, another village, a few miles from the city of Canterbury.
I was born in Allington, near Maidstone, Kent. We only lived there until I was four, so my memories of it are dim.
As for where I grew up, there are two places: the first one is a little village on the Sussex/Kent border called Wittersham; then from eleven onwards a small village near Canterbury called Chilham. People might have seen Chilham on TV because it gets used for filming sometimes: Poirot’s Christmas; Emma (with Johnny Lee Miller); Top Gear – Jaguar Special; Agatha Christie’s Marple – The Moving Finger are but a few of the things who used it as a location.
These days I live a couple of miles down the road in a village called Chartham with my husband and two cats. I am a country girl at heart and cannot abide living in the city. We might have slower broadband, but we have open space and fewer people and less crime.
5. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
If I moved anywhere else in the world, I’d have to take my entire family, my twin sister, brother-in-law and my parents with me, since I’ve tried living away from them and I was just miserable. Thus, I think I’d have to say I’m happy exactly where I am.
I wouldn’t mind living in Canada, British Columbia to be precise. My husband and I honeymooned there and have been back several times since. I love the people and the countryside and Victoria is just beautiful. However, I’m very much a home body, so I’d have to still have a house in the UK too and I’d have to drag the rest of my family with me.
6. What writers inspire you?
Susan Cooper was the first author whose stories I fell in love with. She wrote The Dark is Rising Sequence, a fantasy series based on British legends that took me on a journey I still love to this day. It was Young Adult fiction before that classification existed, with a young hero, turning 11 when we first meet him, and coming into his birth right as an Old One. It’s mysterious through these mythical immortal beings who watch over the world, but with a sense of adventure that can capture the imagination of any child.
There’s a theme with my inspirational authors, because my second is J K Rowling, the woman who put the magical fantasy genre firmly into the public imagination. I admire her for her storytelling, the way she puts together ideas and spins her tale.
I’ve always loved Tolkien for his world building and most of his plots – I have issue with the characters bursting into song every five minutes and Tom Bombadil and the appendices, but otherwise, totally brilliant.
David Eddings is the author who really sparked my unending love of more modern fantasy and The Belgariad is my go to book series for comfort reading. It’s like a warm hug to slip into Garion’s world.
Stephen King is a master of horror and I love Salem’s Lot and many of his other books. I have to admit I often prefer the screen adaptations, but he usually does those anyway, so it still counts.
J.K.Rowling, I mean who can dispute the greatness of Harry Potter and how she managed to make YA fantasy a respected genre? I really hope she succeeds with the screenwriting for Magical Beasts.
Agatha Christie spins a murder mystery like no other and I love her stories.
Joss Whedon is one of the most creative and amazing writers of the modern age as far as I am concerned. He is also an awesome director. I love Buffy and I could wax lyrical for hours about what he has done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
7. What is your favorite food, color, and ice cream flavor?
Favourite food is chocolate. Favourite colour is purple. Ice cream flavour is Baileys.
My favourite food is my mother’s steak and kidney pudding with mashed potato and lots of gravy. It is the most comforting comfort food there is.
My favourite colour is either black or red depending on my mood, although I do like purple as well. I’m always a bit undecided. About all I can really say is I definitely don’t like turquoise :).
Ice cream … hmmm … a difficult one. Oh, no, I have it, I love Speculoos flavour, especially when it has little bits of speculoos biscuits (cookies) in it – I’ve only ever had it in the Netherlands. Speculoos as spiced biscuits and there is a spread you can get made from them – in the UK they are called Lotus biscuits.
8. When you write, what is your drink of choice?
A nice cup of tea, white, no sugar. In that, I’ve very British, I find it comforting and relaxing.
During the day a nice cup of tea or coffee, both with milk are what I like to drink. If I’m writing in the evening, however, a nice glass of red wine is good.
9. Tell us about your current books and future releases?
I have a back catalogue of novels, novellas and short stories all published through Wittegen Press in a range of genres from Young Adult fantasy through to erotica. The whole list can be found here on the Wittegen Press Website.
My latest releases are two shorter works.
The End of The Journey is a New Adult Fantasy set in a modern Britain where a demon war has been raging unseen by most for centuries. This story is the first in a series, The Hidden War, that evolved from a short story I wrote for a Wittegen Press event, The Giveaway Games, which we held in July 2012. The main characters are two youths, Zac and Damon, one coming from each side of the war, who find themselves bound together by a common cause. This series actually sprang out of an idea for a Harry Potter fanfic which I never wrote and the idea left its roots behind and evolved into the demon-based magical universe that came to life in The Hidden War. The second story in this series, A New Path, is in final draft review at the moment, so will be coming out this year.
My other current release is Rage the second story in my paranormal erotica serial, The Vampire’s Concubine. This serial follows the sometimes dangerous and unequal relationship developing between Hieron, a vampire lord, and his new, mysterious concubine, Umi, who has joined his household through a bargain to swap vampire power for 99 years of service. When I began writing about Umi and Hieron, I was considering one novel, but as the idea developed, I began to feel that the timelines involved were such that discrete, shorter stories that could be read on their own, or in the context of the serial would work better.
My next release coming out in the next couple of months, will be a reformatted, and tweaked version of The Burning Web a story I serialised for the recent A to Z Challenge. It’s a ghost story, my first novel-length foray into the genre, and tells the story of Tris and his husband Xander, who, while Tris is battling his way back to health after suffering a stroke, are renovating an old house. Tris, alone, discovers that they are not the only inhabitants of the house, but he must decide if the visions he is seeing are real, or mere artefacts of his damaged brain.
I have 25 books out currently, 5 novels and 20 novellas/short stories (several of the short stories are free if you would like to sample my writing). They range from New Adult/YA fantasy through horror and crime to erotic romance and most have some fantasy or paranormal element to them.
My latest release is Cat’s Confidence, the third book in The Chronicles of Charlie Waterman and has dragons and magic and shape changing and other worlds. It is a contemporary fantasy written for teens and adults alike.
When I collaborate with my sister, Sophie, we write in the universe of the Haward Mysteries from the points of view of Remy and Theo Haward. They are magical police officers on the Sorcerous Crimes Task Force. We like to think of the books as Harry Potter for grownups meets Midsomer Murders.
The book I am working on at the moment doesn’t yet have a title, even though it is 70% finished. I describe it as cross-gender Indiana Jones in space. It’s about Elli, who is a very successful freelance finder of people and things. She has some really big secrets, the biggest of which is she is, for all practical purposes, immortal and if anyone found out what she is they would attempt to kill her before she could rip open their head and eat their brain. She, unlike her brethren, is not actually inclined to do anything like that, but she does understand their point of view. Her constant companion is Lance, her eccentric AI. The first book has them searching for a religious relic called the Bren Diamond which has been lost for 1300 years. There are sci-fi elements and fantasy elements as well as a little romance for Lance, and I am very much enjoying creating their universe. It’s my first dip into novel-length sci-fi.
10. How much control do you feel you have on the outcome of your story? Do you have complete control or are you along for the ride?
When I start planning a story, or writing a scene, I know I start out in control, but the idea generally begins to flow from that one point and it sometimes feels pretty Zen-like as to where the flow takes me.
In planning, that can mean scenes pop into my head in random orders, usually because there is a strong emotion, or climactic event which inspires them. I also use mindmaps at this time, so that it doesn’t matter what order the thoughts occur, I can capture them – that I am fairly anal about, once I have started planning a story, I don’t want to forget anything ;P.
When I’m writing the details, some scenes I will have detailed notes from the planning phase, definite plot points I need to get in, so I have to be in control for those. Other scenes, though, may just be a sentence, and some don’t even exist at all because they evolve out of preceding scenes. That’s when I go with my instincts and see what happens.
So, in conclusion, I don’t usually set out with a plan to write a story about X who is going to do Y, the story evolves from images and ideas, but within that creation process, I consciously take control, knowing that to achieve B, I have to have my characters do A, and other times I let my subconscious lead, both at a macro and micro level.
Somewhere in the middle I think. I don’t plan the whole book when I start usually and I very rarely write in a straight line so some parts are thought through and some just happen. I’ve been known to write the end without any idea of how my characters or universe is going to get there. When I first start, I bounce around writing whichever scenes take my fancy, some planned, some spur of the moment.
The one thing I can be almost positive about, however, is that there are two kinds of scenes I always end up writing last: fight/battle scenes and sex scenes. They are the hardest to write and often I find it’s best to let those just happen. I tend to know what outcome I want and so I just sit down and write whatever comes into my head. Once I have something on paper I can improve them in the editing process.
I tend to make a universe bible as I go along, making notes about people and things so that I have a reference later.
My short stories tend to be much more spontaneous than my novels, simply because sometimes I just sit down and let myself create. The novels take more thought.
Where to Find Natasha Duncan-Drake
Where to Find Sophie Duncan
Blog – Sophie’s Thoughts and Fumbles: http://sophiesthoughtsandfunmbles.blogspot.co.uk/
Where to Wittengen Press
Fantasy Boys XXX: http://fantasyboysxxx.blogspot.co.uk/
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