Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Author Interview: Hal Duncan

Listen to the interview here!

Tell me a little about yourself and your writing.
I'm a thirtysomething Scottish writer who's queer in a few senses of the term. I guess I write the sort of pulp modernist stuff that has people confused over which genre it sits in, with SF, Fantasy and Horror tropes all mixing it up with a very literary sensibility (I read too much James Joyce as a kid and way too muc William Burroughs). Thing is, I grew up with the default label for that -- books like Zelazny's ROADMARKS or Silverberg's THE BOOK OF SKULLS or Moorcock's CORNELIUS QUARTET -- being SF, but these days it seems to be more commonly called Fantasy... or cross-genre, or slipstream, interstitial, New Wave, New Weird, New Wave Fabulist -- I've sort of given up on all these labels. These days I just call it strange fiction.

Tell me about the story that you've created a soundtrack/playlist for.
VELLUM was my first book, and the first half of a diptych, THE BOOK OF ALL HOURS, completed with INK. I think of it as kind of a "Cubist fantasy". The narrative is non-linear, with the story fragmented across this Moorcockian multiverse, the Vellum of the title, with the characters playing out their roles (or trying to escape them) across the various folds of the Vellum, in different incarnations.

The basic idea is that you've got a language called the Cant which allows humans to "write" reality on that Vellum. Humans who get themselves rewritten by the Cant basically become gods amongst men -- unkin. The downside of this is that you have one group of these unkin, the Covenant, who see themselves as angels of God, and they're basically building up to an apocalypse where they intend to wipe out all opposition. The heroes are rogues unkin who don't want to participate in this War in Heaven on either side; they remember what it is to be human and just want to live like the rest of us. It's basically about their struggle to survive as reality falls apart around them.

What is your playlist?

  1. TV Eye, The Stooges

  2. HoppĂ­polla, Sigur Ros

  3. Tenderness and Scar Tissue, Five Seconds to Self-Destruction

  4. Jumpin' Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones

  5. The Green Fields of France, The Fureys

  6. Fairytale of New York, The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

  7. The Wrecker and the Wrecked, Five Seconds to Self-Destruction

  8. Search and Destroy, The Stooges

  9. Anarchy in the UK, Sex Pistols

  10. Nancy Boy, Placebo

  11. I Wanna Be Your Dog, The Stooges

  12. Goodbye You Fucking Thief, G-Plan

  13. The Drama of Being With You, Five Seconds to Self-Destruction

  14. Operation Jack Goes Boom, Five Seconds to Self-Destruction

  15. If You Love Me, You'd Destroy Me, Aereogramme (& Hal Duncan)

What does music mean to you? To your writing?
I love music. Who doesn't? If I had the talent to actually sing or play an instrument I'd totally be in a band. It might not be a good band but, it'd be... enthusiastic, if nothing else. The poetry I write is pretty traditionally lyrical because I'm drawn to the musical patterning, I guess -- the rhythm and rhyme. Even my prose has a tendency towards the lyrical at times.

I've actually written a lot of songs -- lyrics and music that exists in my head (but that I don't, unfortunately, have any effective way of communicating to others, given my appalling singing voice.) Hell, I've got a full musical scripted as a libretto, all the songs -- duets, reprises, medleys, the full whack -- and it sounds great in my head. If I could play piano, write sheet music or something, I'd be well up for trying to stage it. But hey ho. The nearest I've got to actually making music is a collaboration with the band Aereogramme for the Ballads of the Book album that came out last year from Chemikal Underground, that and fiddling around on my own with Apple's Garageband software. That's where the Five Seconds to Self-Destruction stuff comes from actually; it's kind of a proper actual soundtrack to VELLUM and INK in the sense that the tracks were put together with the books in mind, scenes and characters. It may not be terribly proffessional at all, but sod it; I like it.

What kind of music do you like to write to?
I don't actually write to music at all, I'm afraid. It's too distracting, I find. I can't focus on my words with someone else's being sung in my ear. And even if it's instrumental music, my attention gets drawn away into it so I lose focus on the text. The thing is, voice is a big part of my writing, and if you're working on prose that has it's own rhythm, even a soundscapey post-rock track that matches the mood of a scene perfectly is liable to clash with what's going on in my head. I mean, if you're working out a sentence, you write down your first version, read it through, change a few words, read it through again, and repeat until it flows right. So it's like editing some piece of experimental music: record, rewind and play; rewind, cut here, splice there, and play; and so on. To me, it's like trying to edit one track with another track playing constantly in the background, and not being rewinded in time to the one you're working on.

If this story was made into a movie, who would you want to do the soundtrack?
Oh, that's kind of a hard one. There's kind of two aspects to the sound I'd want to be there. I'd want the sort of soundscape thing you get from post-rock, from bands like Sigur Ros, Kinski, Aereogramme, Mogwai, G-Plan, mainly instrumental, shifting through quiet and loud phases, really complex and interesting. But at the same time, I'd want some of the three-minute, balls-out garage/punk blast-in-the-face quality you get from The Stooges or the Sex Pistols. I don't know if there's one band that could do that. Then again, Aereogramme's earlier stuff is pretty full-on guitar, so I reckon they'd be fucking awesome. And since they called it quits last year after their latest (and I think best) album, this'd mean they'd have to get back together, right? So, yeah, I'll go with them. They'd do a fucking awesome job.

To learn more about Hal, visit his blog Notes from the Geek Show.

Stop by next week for my interview with author Jeff Sypeck.

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