Author Interview with Martin Dukes

Ah, March. Spring is just around the corner. This month I bring you an interview with UK author Martin Dukes, a teacher and YA author who uses his interest in history and science to influence his writing.

So let’s begin…

Martin_Dukes1. Let’s get to know you a bit. Where are you from, and what genre do you write?

I’m from the English Midlands, from a town that history hasn’t so much bypassed as entirely failed to notice. There was once a glassmaking industry hereabouts but nowadays people mostly focus on selling things to each other that folks in other countries have made. It’s not an economic model that would have a lot of future, you’d have thought, but somehow it seems to work. Our Victorian forefathers and their descendants down to about 1950 erected some rather nice buildings in the vicinity but since then good taste seems to have taken the back seat to expediency and an unsightly rash of uninspired brick boxes has spread across the landscape. Still, I have fields close at hand and a wood where I can walk my dog, so things could be worse. I wouldn’t say that I’m specially an outdoor person. My lifestyle is what my younger son once described as ‘sedimentary’, which I think has a certain ring to it, but I like to look out of a window and see a wider world with lots of evidence of the natural world. I feel much the same about the sea. I have absolutely no urge to swim in it or (perish the thought!) sail, surf or ski upon it. Nevertheless, I like to be near to it when I can. There’s something about the look and smell of it that makes me feel a fuller, wholer person.

I write for the YA market where I try to combine my interest in science with my love of history. I’ve always loved ‘what-if’ scenarios and writing enables me to set up an imaginary situation and people it with characters through which I can explore its possibilities. It’s essentially taking day dreaming to an extreme level. I’m sure all people indulge in a little daydreaming from time to time. Only writers embellish their daydreams with such detail and crystalize them in written form so that others may share them.


2. With all the risks and uncertainty around publishing, what was it that drew you to a career in writing?

I’ve been writing stories as long as I can remember. I still have a dog-eared exercise book with the ‘Story of George and his friends’ in it, penned in my own fair hand when I was about eight, and illustrated in a variety of fetching felt tip pen hues. Like many an aspiring writer, I have a bulging folder with rejection slips from agents and publishers. Laying these out on a table I can see a progression over the years in terms of the technology of rejection. The early slips are typewritten, with that tell-tale unevenness of print but gradually we see the introduction, first of electric typewriters and then of inkjet or laser printers. Hand written notes of encouragement from readers occasionally enliven these, with optimistic assertions that others might feel differently about my scribbling. Reading through my earlier literary attempts I can see why these failed to set the literary world afire. Thankfully, advancing age and experience have enabled me to hone my skills to the extent that I am able to produce work that others seem to enjoy. In earlier years I entertained the hope that I might make writing my career. Since then I have been required to redefine that word. Like most people, I present several fronts to the world. The front that sustains me economically (and brings me much satisfaction) is teaching. The front that brings me most fulfilment and enjoyment is writing. I don’t expect to be particularly enriched by it. If people read and enjoy my work I am content. If I can at least offset my expenses, so much the better


3. As a teacher, do you have good insight as to what your intended audience likes to read?

I’d like to think that my many years of classroom experience have given me an insight into the workings of the teenage mind. Unfortunately, as someone who has taught only girls in the last thirty years of my career, I can claim insight only into the female mind. Perhaps teaching about 3,000 girls during that time at least partially outweighs the inevitable bias that comes from being a man. I hope that my books are equally accessible to male and female readers and although the main protagonist in my trilogy is male, there are strong female characters too. Without striving consciously to depict aspects of individual girls I have taught it is not unlikely that this has happened on a more subconscious level. My life experience has taught me to be a keen feminist and being the father of two boys has only served to entrench me in that position. Girls are so much more mature at a much earlier age and seem so much better equipped to lead a decent civilised life! However, I wrote my trilogy with no particular audience in mind within the YA sphere. I think a good story has universal appeal, particularly if it is inspired by an original idea and is peopled with interesting characters. My Alex Trueman trilogy is founded in an idea that is unique in literature, so far as I know. The central idea derives more from my own experiences as a teenager than my adult life as a teacher. 


4. Your town sounds very charming. Do you add elements of your surroundings into your stories?

 The first book in my trilogy is very much rooted in surroundings that are familiar to me. The park in which much of the action takes place is based on a park a mile or so away from where I live. It’s not a particularly large one but it has a pool with ducks of various sorts, much accustomed to being fed bread by visitors. Sometimes so much bread is offered to the creatures, a sort of bread slick forms around the edges. I imagine that if you were to drain the pool you would find the bottom covered with a silt of sunken bread several inches thick. There is a bandstand and a low building where players change before playing soccer on the adjoining pitches across the road. There are bowling greens, open spaces, mature trees and an elegant building (much neglected) in which the original owner of the park resided before having died and generously donated the premises and its surrounding land to the borough and its people in perpetuity. Long before setting the story down on the page I had imagined various episodes taking place there and in the surrounding town. Being able to conjure up a convincing stage for one’s characters to act out their drama is a vital part of the writer’s art. If that stage is an amalgam of imagination and reality it may be that the result is more convincing. Although various scenes in the trilogy are necessarily figments of my imagination the books have a firm foundation in the physical reality of my surroundings.


5. Have you ever thought about giving up? If you did, what changed your mind?

I imagine that most authors experience moments of disillusionment, since the writing side of one’s life can hardly be divorced from the rest of it and there’s inevitably a spillover from one to the other. I’ve occasionally considered giving up my day job and the same dalliance has occurred from time to time with regard to my writing. I suppose if the whole of one’s career was devoted to what one laid out on the page it might be a different proposition. I’ve never had the opportunity to experience such a situation. Naturally, there are occasions when life in general gets in the way of writing and I try to overcome this through a kind of mental discipline. I try to make it a rule to write at least five hundred words a day, even when the creative muse is at its least forthcoming. There was a time, when my children were very small, when I almost despaired of creating anything worthwhile and weeks went by without so much as a sentence emerging from the cursor. After a while an idea began to germinate in the back of my mind. During the day time this could, with difficulty, be ignored but in those special moments between sleeping and waking it shouldered its way to the forefront of my mind. Here, it began to gradually assert itself, gathering detail and substance until it demanded to be cast into permanent shape on the page. I don’t think that I shall ever be able to give up writing because writing is the way that dreams enter the world.


6. Some authors tend to stay away from certain genre’s/categories. Myself, I can’t write YA. Is there one you know you can’t write or would have a difficult time trying to write?

I envy anyone with the versatility of mind to write in a number of genres. I think the most authentic writing occurs on the watershed of imagination and reality, when the author’s imagination is lent shape and structure by their own life experience. I like to write the kind of thing that I would read myself in other circumstances. I’m not particularly interested in reading horror or crime books and so I’m sure that disinclination would come across strongly in my writing were I attempt to produce any work in that genre. I’m particularly interested in history and in science and I hope that my passion for those themes comes across in my work.


7. Which do you think would be harder? A male writer writing a female MC, or vice versa?

I think too much is made of fundamental hard-wired differences between male and female outlooks. In my experience the difference between personalities is far more important than mere distinctions of gender. Any writer with a reasonable degree of life-experience should be able to imagine and create a convincing MC of either gender. Philip Pullman, one of my favourite writers, is a case in point. I think his Lyra, in his Dark Materials trilogy, is quite wonderful. You could argue that when writing romantic fiction the situation might be slightly different but this raises all sorts of interesting questions about male and female psychology that could be endlessly debated. Evolutionists might argue that male and female have somewhat different priorities with regard to the acquisition and retention of mates and this, in very general terms, might affect attitudes and behaviour. I would argue that such considerations are largely irrelevant, that writers concern themselves with the specific rather than the general and that works of fiction are judged for the interest of their individual vision rather than their place within an array of statistics. I have yet to write a female MC myself, but my next book will feature an attempt to do so. Readers will be able to form their own judgement as to my success!


8. What do you like most about the genre’s you write? What do you like the least?

My books are written in the YA genre. What I like about this genre is the scope for imaginative invention within this field. There really are no limits. In addition, as a teacher of thirty years or so experience, I have spent the best part of my waking life in the company of teenagers. Whilst a certain amount of irritation, an occasional bout of revulsion is an inevitable strand of this experience, I rather think that it has caused me to see the world through the lens of teenage experience. In other words, I’ve never really grown up! I guess that’s why my first instinct is to write for this market. On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of zombies/vampires/werewolves. It was a rich seam and a lot of great work emerged from it but I think it’s pretty much mined out now. I prize originality.


9. What do you hope readers will find interesting or unique about your story?

When I was thinking about ‘Caught in a Moment’ (and I was thinking for a long time before setting anything down in print) I was trying to come up with an idea that I had never seen written about or heard mentioned before. Millions of creative writers out there have been labouring in search of originality for decades, I guess, so this was a somewhat challenging task. I believe I have succeeded, however. I’ve received lots of interesting and thought-provoking feedback but in none of this does anyone suggest that my basic premise is not an original one. The idea of stopping time is far from unprecedented, of course, but I have imagined the structure of time to be an endless sequence of moments and a world that exists in the interstices between them, a world in which time progresses effectively at right angles to normal time. Such a time-trapped world offers endless possibilities for mischief or adventure as many a daydreamer might have conjectured. Just how could you take advantage of a situation where the world was frozen into immobility around you? The possibilities afforded by such a scenario lie at the core of ‘Caught in a Moment.’ But an innovative premise in itself offers absolutely no certainty of entertainment in the absence of interesting characters and a story that engages the interest of the reader. I will let my readers make their own decision as to whether I have satisfied this requirement too! My MC faces a situation in which he is offered almost unimaginable power, but with that power comes responsibility and the looming possibility of tragedy. During the three books, of which ‘Caught in a Moment’ is the first, his character is hammered on the anvil of experience and emerges a very different person at the climax of the trilogy.

10. As a reader, what are some things that attract you to a story?

I like to see strong characters who react in credible ways to the kind of circumstances that might be found on the wilder shores of human experience. I enjoy humorous dialogue and a little sexual tension to add spice to relationships. I’m looking for surprises too. The unexpected is what keeps me turning pages. I love it when a writer manages to instil in his or her work a sense of gathering tension, a sense that some wonderful climax is approaching and this is what keeps me up at night in the small hours, reading by torchlight whilst my wife slumbers beside me. Such is the joy of a good book!

Caught in a Moment Cover-smallWhere to purchase Caught in a Moment online:

Amazon UK.



About Darke Conteur
Darke Conteur is a writer at the mercy of her Muse. The author of stories in several genres, she prefers to create within the realms Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy. A pagan at heart, her personal goal it to find her balance within nature; exploring the dark through her stories and the light through her beliefs. When not writing or working with crystals, she enjoys knitting, gardening, cooking and very loud music.

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