Bill in Dialogue
WD – Writing’s a bit different to architecture, isn’t it?
Bill – Yes and no. Obviously the finished products—books and buildings—are very different, but the creative processes have many similarities. Both involve looking outside yourself to identify the landscape, remaining in tune with your critical values as a creator, identifying a central idea, and then beginning to create your work from these elements. Writing requires structure, a thorough understanding of the requisite tools, and a constant dedication to improving your craft. Architecture is the same. And also like writing, successful architecture relies on focussed editing and developing a finely-tuned sense of what to leave in and what to take away.
WD – Literary or Genre?
Bill – I admit to being confused by the blurred line between these two definitions of writing. If you said that Stephen King is an example of genre and Tim Winton literary—though I’m not sure that it’s ever that simple—I enjoy reading both. As to what it is that I write, ultimately that will be up to the readers (and maybe agents and publishers) to decide.
WD – What are you working on at the moment?
Bill – At the moment (Dec 2015) I’m in the middle of rewriting a novel called FINDING KAROL. A cuckolded husband discovers more than he expected while digging through the personal effects of his estranged—and recently deceased—father. Taking the advice of a stranger, he leaves his family behind and journeys from Sydney’s leafy suburbs to the USA and North Korea in search of the truth about his childhood memories. Once the rewrites are complete, I’ll be diving into the journey of finding a home for it.
Sitting on my shelf and fermenting nicely is the first draft of a private-eye story— RAFFERTY : FALSE GODS. This is a continuation of the Rafferty series originally written in the eighties by W Glenn Duncan, my father. I’ll be getting back into the rewriting and polishing phase of this while KAROL is doing the rounds.
WD – Favourite books?
Bill – These are only some of my favourites, in no particular order:
The City by Dean Koontz
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Long Walk by Stephen King
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Parsifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum
The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan
Between a Rock and Hard Place by Aron Ralston
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Quiet by Susan Cain
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
On Writing by Stephen King
WD – Keyboard or pen?
Bill – Keyboard. I enjoy handwriting and lament the loss of good penmanship as a widespread skill, but the truth is that I can’t write fast enough to keep up with my mind, so I lose less thoughts if I type.
WD – What’s in your reading pile?
Bill – A bit of everything: Dirt Music by Tim Winton, I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Lucky Man by Michael J Fox, Hotel Honolulu by Paul Theroux, amongst more than a few others.
WD – Plotter or pantser?
Bill – I’ve tried both but, by nature, I’m a pantser. Plotting gets restrictive and strangles a story pretty quickly to the point where I feel the magic gets lost. Real life doesn’t follow a plot, so I enjoy throwing my characters into a situation and then sitting back to watch what happens. The whole experience is like watching an internal movie and doing my best to write it down as fully and meaningfully as I can. It also makes the writing process more fun and surprising, since most of the time I have no idea what my characters are going to do until they’ve already done it.
WD – Where do you get your ideas from?
Bill – If I knew with any certainty, I’d write a book for everyone else about how to do it! The truth is I just keep my eyes and ears open. Some ideas take time to gain momentum. FINDING KAROL started about 9 years ago with the concept of a middle aged son, coping with the after effects of his father’s slow decline and death from Alzheimers disease. In the beginning I had thought the book would be much more comical than it turned out. Other ideas strike like a lightning bolt—like this: “It’s 1970. A drunk Australian airline steward steals a bus in downtown Bombay.” That one’s going to be fun.
WD – What inspires you?
Bill – Real people. I love reading biographies and following the stories of actual people. But even more inspiring than these, are the people we all meet each day whose stories haven’t yet been written. Maybe their stories won’t ever be published in toto, but when I hear a conversation that includes, “When I first woke up, I knew three things: I was hungover, I had no idea where I was, and I’m pretty sure that last night I didn’t have a pin-up girl tattoo on my leg.” I love that kind of stuff and can’t wait to see it revealed in a character one day.
WD – Is there anything particular you’d like to try your hand at writing?
Bill – I can’t see myself moving away from fiction but the idea of working in different formats does appeal. I’d like to write a screenplay and also play around with restrictive structure, like some of the formal poetries—haiku and villanelle spring to mind. I also find songwriting magical and will one day work on turning my notebook of scratchy lyrics into actual songs.
WD – Who have been your writing inspirations?
Bill – I have enjoyed reading Stephen King for years, but it was his non-fiction book, On Writing, that was the first book to make me sit up and think, “I can do this. I can actually do this.” In the second half of the book he sets an exercise for the reader to write a 1500 word scene, without plotting. I was just playing around with my writing at the time, knowing I wanted to write a novel but not really feeling like I had the tools to do so. I took King at his word, started the exercise, and within two hours I had punched out the 1500 words and sat there thinking “Where the hell did that come from?” It was like I’d been a passenger and just watched my fingers move over the keyboard without conscious control. It will rank forever as one of the most powerful moments in my life. Within six months of that day I had first drafts of two 100,000 word novels completed.
My other inspiration has been my father, W Glenn Duncan. He wrote a series of novels in the eighties centred on a Dallas private eye, Rafferty. Long before this he instilled in me a love of reading and word play, so I was as excited as he was when he broke through to have the first of the stories published. I’m looking forward to continuing Rafferty’s story in the years to come.