August 11, 2014

Grand Illusions and Genre Fusion: an interview with Rod Duncan, author of "The Bullet Catcher's Daughter"

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.

I had a chance to ask Rod a few questions about his new novel, The Bullet Catcher's Daughter, and his writing in general. Enjoy!

Gef: For the uninitiated like me, your first few novels are strictly in the crime genre, but you've branched out a fair bit with The Bullet Catcher's Daughter in the more fantastical realms. What was the lure for you?

Rod: I was brought up on science fiction and fantasy so it was probably inevitable I would turn to it in my writing.

Not that it was planned. My creative work seems to emerge in response to the environment. In this case that is the city of Leicester - the Victorian aspects of it in particular. One image keeps coming to my mind when I am asked about this – the old cobblestones showing through where the road surface has been damaged. A hidden world just below the surface.

Gef: Elizabeth Barnabus is not only an orphan, but in this world where females are second-class citizens, she has an alter-ego in the form of her nonexistent brother so that she can work, in this case as a detective. Neat trick if you can pull it off. Sounds a little Albert Nobbs at first blush, so where did the inspiration for this come from?

Rod: There are many examples of literary cross dressing. They used to seem rather improbable to me. Take Twelfth Night as an example. Viola throws on some male clothes and all the other characters are taken in – even though we in the audience can see through the disguise.  

But the reality is that many women in history have successfully presented themselves as male. Some clearly did this to access roles and privileges reserved for men. Others have done it as an expression of the person they perceived themselves to be. And for every one we know about, there may have been many more who were never discovered.

Like several of the real life cases, Elizabeth learned her art in childhood. As an adult she tries to access the best of both worlds, choosing when to go about as male and when as female. She is rejecting the social restrictions of the world in which she is obliged to live.   

Strangely, I had not come across Albert Nobbs, either as a film or a novella when I wrote the book. As for where the idea came from, I am not sure. I’d been writing a short story about a man walking through Victorian Leicester, when the protagonist surprised me by removing her disguise. I have generally found that when a character announces herself so boldly, it is best to keep on writing. So I did.

Gef: With a title that includes "bullet catcher," I'm drawn to the iconic illusion that proved fatal for Chung Ling Soo. Is there any correlation here given the timeline, and if so what other tie-ins to British history might we see?

Rod: The timeline of this series of books branches from real history approximately 200 years ago. Everything before the bifurcation is the same. But after it there is a domino fall of differences which come to alter the geopolitical map of the world. The story takes place in the present day but something has caused history to stall, leaving the world with a Victorian feeling. Exactly what happened to make this change is not revealed in the first book. That will become important later on, as will the question of how long the tide of history can be held back.

A by-product of this change has been the prolongation of the Golden Age of stage magic. Our protagonist was born in one travelling magic show and much of the action of the story takes place in another. The phrase ‘bullet catcher’ has come to stand for anyone who performs a grand stage illusion.

Gef: This is the first of a two-book run with Angry Robot. Now is this specifically designed as a duology or are you leaving the door open for this universe?

Rod: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire is the series title. That probably gives a hint of the scale of the project. I do intend it to run further than two books.

Gef: The Patent Office, the nefarious conglomerate, with whom Elizabeth runs afoul .. any chance this is a commentary on all those patent trolls out there these days making life miserable for inventors and entrepreneurs?

Rod: The answer to that happens to be no. But it is a very good question.

It would be impossible and undesirable for any writer to insulate themselves from the world. That undoubtedly causes imagery and ideas from reality to reincarnate themselves in fictional form. But I try not to do it trivially, as I think it can disrespect the readers, who one is asking to invest their emotions in the fictional world. Where I allow real world ideas through, I hope they amuse or interest rather than irritate.

Gef: What are other projects do you have lined up? Where might folks keep caught up on what's coming next, as well as check out your previous works?

Rod: I am going to be busy with the world of Elizabeth Barnabus for a while yet. I am in the process of launching a couple of new websites, one will be a standard author site. The other will be devoted to the Gas-Lit Empire and should include some interactive content. I do also have a few collaborative screenwriting projects on the slate. Right now I am keeping people updated via my Twitter tag @RodDuncan.

Gef: Thanks, Rod. As for the rest of you, you can pre-order The Bullet Catcher's Daughter on and other online retailers, brick-and-mortar bookshops, or even looks it up on Angry Robot Books' own e-store.


  1. Thanks to both of you for the interesting interview.
    I pre-ordered a copy of "The Bullet Catcher's Daughter" in May 2014 because I was hooked by the cover and the description.

  2. You're welcome, Edi. It is a really snazzy cover.