Meet Robin CM Duncan

Every Friday, we meet a member of the BFS and peer deep into their soul (or, at least, a form they filled out). Want to be featured? Email us: online@britishfantasysociety.org

Name, including preferred pronouns:
Robin CM Duncan

Which region are you based in?
Glasgow, Scotland

If you write, which genre: 
Sci-fi: yes (published novels and shorts)
Fantasy: yes (published shorts)
Horror: yes (unpublished)

Are you drawn to any specific SFFH sub-genres?
SF detective stories/mysteries

Your influences

Tell us about the book/film/thing that got you into SFFH: What was it? How old were you? What impact did it have on you?

  • Books – My first SFF book—aged 9 or 10, I think—was CS Lewis’s The Last Battle, followed by Larry Niven collection The Year of the Horse, both bought for me by my father. I quickly moved on to Tolkien, first The Hobbit, then The Lord of the Rings.
  • I very soon discovered Jack Vance (The Demon Princes, to start with) and I was hooked, both on Vance and SFF generally.
  • Movies – My earliest cinema experiences (aged 11), were Star Wars: A New HopeWatership Down, and Jaws – all on first release. I’m that old, I’m afraid.

How does that early influence show up in your work now?

Tolkien and Vance were big on invention in language. Tolkien’s chops in that area are renowned, but Jack Vance was hugely innovative and inventive with idiom and dialogue, and could turn a phrase as colourfully as any writer I’ve ever encountered. And all that before we discuss his wonderous worldbuilding, and his humour. 

Vance’s wit engaged me hugely. Humour is very important to me, in life and in my writing. I think my realisation that serious, dramatic stories could also contain humour came from reading (pretty much everything by) Vance. He’s a hugely underappreciated writer, and should be mentioned in the same breath as Asimov and Heinlein, not least because of his versatility in delivering world-class SF and Fantasy, and also writing detective stories under a pseudonym.

Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

Everywhere and anywhere, from the news, magazines, a line one of my family says. Out comes the notebook. I can be watching TV (less so with movies) and my brain goes in a different direction from the show. What if… Reading too. I can be reading a novel, and my mind sort of drifts away into some strange parallel narrative before I even realise I’m doing it.

(Pictured: Robin’s author copy “collection”, which “reinforces to me in moments of doubt that I can do this.)

Who do you look to as a genre hero? Why?

I’m re-reading Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels and the breadth of imagination is staggering. That man launched a hundred careers in SF, and I think you can look at a lot of award-winning SF novels in the last decade and more that would not exist, or would at least be very different, without Iain M. Banks. I think he revolutionised the treatment of AI as more than just a personality in a robot suit.

Your work

You’re stuck in an elevator for 60 seconds with that hero, and they want you to describe your work. Give us the pitch.

Well, there’s no way I would have had the nerve to pitch my work to Iain Banks! But, something like… ‘Private detective Quinton Kirby (aka Quirk) spends a roughly equal amount of time pursuing clients’ cases, arguing with his foul-mouthed, very resourceful assistant, Moth, and hauling around a prodigious amount of familial baggage. His profession, personal life and tangled corporate past collide with monotonous and increasingly hazardous regularity. My stories are near-future noirish SF, weaving webs across Earth, the Solar System and beyond.’

What are you working on right now?

I’m editing second draft of my third Quirk & Moth novel, The Rigel Redemption. The first two (The Mandroid Murders and The Carborundum Conundrum) were published by Space Wizard Science Fantasy in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Book 3 is slated for Summer 2024. Also, I’m polishing off edits on a short story for the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle anthology, due in the same timescale. That story is a love letter to Glasgow and to SFFH fandom. I’m really pleased with it.

Thinking about all the stories/work you’ve done, what sticks out most in your mind? Why?

In my novels it’s the central relationship between Quirk and Moth. He’s a PI, she’s an ex-convent orphan of a mob family—so, no baggage there. Their dynamic is the key to the books, the source of the humour, the emotion, and much of the plot. Very much a found family dynamic. The growth in their relationship, the family history, are what drive the stories and define the arc of the trilogy. Moth gets the most love from readers, I would say. She’s a brat, and never done busting Quirk’s chops. He’s the straight man—in a comedic sense. Otherwise the jury is out.

Where and when do you create/are you at your most creative?

Pretty much anywhere and everywhere, but I tend to be most effective in a coffee shop (cliché klaxon!!) due to the neutrality of the environment, and being able to close off from distraction, often with headphones. I rotate my locations though, for variety, and also because I find no one coffee house has the best of everything. The Mitchell Library in Glasgow is fabulous, because library!

What’s the best advice you’ve received about creativity?

This is not advice I was given, but things I learned the hard way, i.e. by not doing them. Number 1, BICHOK (Bum In Chair, Hands On Keyboard). You’ll hear that in numerous forms from many sources. And no, you don’t have to write every day, but consistency is everything.

Number 2, a natural extension of No.1, just finish it. I’ve completed 7 novels, 9 novellas and 15 short stories, but only once I learned to stop tinkering with my first novel. Finishing things is the most important early skill to learn, IMO, and once you’ve cracked it, things can really start to happen.

If you are unable to achieve No.2, or even No.1—after concerted effort (weeks, months)—then progress to No.3, which is start something new, maybe something shorter, because learning to get to the end shows you can deliver. I like to quote one of my favourite movies Glengarry Glen Ross, “Always be closing.”

Oh, and No.4, join a writing group: Having a supportive environment is very important. Most groups I’ve experienced will give huge of time and effort to lift everyone up. Looking at you, Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle, and Reading Excuses.

In summary, always be writing—but remember writing is reading, listening, learning, thinking, scribbling, typing, editing. It’s everything. And don’t describe yourself as ‘aspiring’. If you put words on the page you’re a writer.

What’s your writing soundtrack?

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross soundtracks (Social Network, Birdcage, Mid 90s, Watchmen, etc. etc.), Mogwai, Max Richter, Johnny Greenwood, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and a cool website called Tabletop Audio (https://tabletopaudio.com).

The quickfire round

Sci-fi, fantasy or horror?
Yes please.

Quiet or loud?
LOL, I’ve found my author voice and it is indeed LOUD.

Dark or light?
Both—sticking to one is boring.

Strict lines or genre blend?
For writing, I’m still exploring SF, F, and H. For reading, whatever.

Awards or bestseller?
There’s no short answer to this! (So my therapist said, anyway.) I’ve got no aspirations other than being able to write, and knowing some folks read my work and enjoy it. I don’t think I’d want to bestseller; too much pressure. Possibly the same with an award. It would be an honour to be nominated, though.

Fiction or non-fiction?
Always fiction. The real world is too sad and infuriating.

Poetry or prose?
Prose. I’ve written poetry, it’s really hard.

Plotter or pantser?
On the spectrum. Nobody is purely one or the other, IMO. If they say they are, they’re…incorrect, and I’ll happily argue the case over a pint/cuppa.

Reading or listening?
Both. I usually have 3 or 4 books on the go at any one time, always one audiobook. I listen to books when I’m gardening.

Notebook or computer?
MacBook. Will never touch a PC again, if I can avoid it. Oh, do you mean like paper notebook? Yeah, I’ve got notes on both my phones, two paper notebooks in my bag, and my MacBook, of course. Also, I tend to accumulate little bits of paper, scribble in the margins of magazines…

Favourite SFFH book of all time?
The next one.

Last book you read?
Just finished Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch; Rivers of London, Book 6. I just love those books, the blend of mundane procedure and fabulous magic discussed with that systemic police stoicism and logic… For me it’s a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed.

(Pictured: Robin’s TBR/HJR shelf which “will wind some people up!”)

Any SFFH author on auto-buy?
Jeff Noon, Anna Smith Spark, Kim Newman, Neil Williamson, Cameron Johnson

Favourite podcast?
I listened to Writing Excuses religiously for 17 seasons, but Brandon Sanderson departed so, nothing regularly now that’s writing related. I do like the Publishing Rodeo Podcast, which is fascinating if you’re interested in publishing contracts.

The home stretch

What’s the best thing about being a SFFH writer?

Participating in the genre community, and talking to anyone who’ll listen about writing. I include in this attending conventions (performing readings, sitting on, moderating or attending panels, or just catching up in the bar); and participating in a writing group, whether in person or online. The genre community is incredibly enthusiastic, supportive and generous, whether it’s authors, fans, publishers, organisers, vendors. To be united in creativity in such a diverse area of literature is a special thing.

Time to plug your stuff! Where can we find you and your work? What have you got coming up? Consider this your advertising space.

(Pictured: three anthologies featuring Robin’s work, plus the two Quirk & Moth novels.)

I think all the links are on my website robincmduncan.com, but my books can be ordered from Am*z*n, Waterstones.co.uk., and Barnes & Noble, principally. They are also available direct from my publisher: www.spacewizardsciencefantasy.com.

My novels are being published in audiobook by Tantor Media. They’re available on audiobooks.com (or co.uk). Book 1, The Mandroid Murders, is available now, read with great style by Adi Cabral, who’s done a great job.

I have a short story called The Sarry Heid Free Press in an upcoming anthology from the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle. Due to appear pre-Worldcon, I believe.

Also, I have a short coming later in the year in a new anthology from Space Wizard, the last in my trilogy of sapphic romance pirate shorts starring Astrid and Mehdina.

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