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Interview with M. W. Duncan, author of Only The Dead: An African War


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What’s the story?
When does someone else’s battle become your own? Sent to train Liberian rebels to fight a corrupt government, Mark finds himself in the midst of chaos when the war erupts around him. Shadowed by a naive reporter, the unlikely allies struggle to survive the harsh jungles of Africa while eluding enemy forces and a warlord who doesn’t recognise friend from foe. Set during the Second Liberian Civil War, Only The Dead: An African War is a novella about friendship, morality, war and consequence.

How did the book come about?
Only The Dead: An African War started life as a short story.  A test to see if I had an aptitude for writing in the first person. It quickly grew into much more and turned into the first of several novellas in the Only The Dead series.  It’s the culmination of almost a years’ worth of work.

Novellas? Why not full-length novels?
Writing novellas happened by chance.  Generally, I enjoy writing a full length novel, I have a lot more words to work with and able to introduce more characters.  Where An African War ends just felt like the right time to end the novella.  Although I could have kept writing and made the first two novellas into a single novel, I really felt they were both so different to each other that they deserved their own titles.  Novellas provide a nice challenge, a restricted word limit in which to tell your story.  They are not too heavy to get through when reading.

What genre is it?
I struggled over how to classify this novella.  It’s set during a civil war, so military and war would fit.  It’s also got a few action scenes when the battles heat up, so it could also be action and adventure. At the heart of the story is the relationship between the two main characters. There’s a lot of diversity in the story, with elements of a thriller there, too.

We understand the dilemma. What kind of readers will it appeal to then?
Well obviously those who enjoy war and action books.  But I’m hopeful it will also appeal to others, who perhaps would not necessarily read in these genres. Several of my beta readers commented on how they wouldn’t have usually read a book set during a war, but since they had finished it, they were glad they did as the focus was not on the war so much as the characters themselves.

I did not tone down the war aspects of the novella as I felt it important to show the realities of the conflict. This book is aimed for the mature audience due to the setting and some of the scenes.

Complete this sentence for us: if you like _________________, you’ll love my book.
If you like being taken out of your own realms of experience you’ll love my book.  I dare say that most of my readers won’t have first-hand experience of war or of the jungles of Liberia.  This novella will pick you up and throw you into an unfamiliar situation.  If you like seeing relationships between characters develop over the course of a book, you will enjoy the story.  And lastly, if you enjoy a good tale, I think you’ll love my book.  Survival, conflict, morality, consequence, friendship, An African War has it all.

You’re right, we’ve never been to war in Liberia. Is that something Only The Dead: An African War will make us feel by the end of the book?
I would like readers to sit back and think “wow” that was a great read.  I would hope having finished the novella a spark of interest had been ignited, too.  Hopefully it’ll make readers want to know what’s next for Mark and Kyle.  It would be nice to think that once you finish my book, you perhaps think a little more about war, and how it’s not always straightforward, with two sides, one good, one bad.

Have you written any other books that we should read next?
I’m currently writing the next instalment of the Only The Dead series entitled ‘A Familiar Oblivion.’  I tend to write quickly but spend double the time editing so keepbchecking back to my blog for more information about its progress.

I’ve also written a full length novel, Welcome To Carrion City.  It’s a character driven thriller set in the North-East of Scotland.  Currently, it’s under consideration with a publisher.  Hopefully there will be some news on it in the near future. When I know, I’ll post an update on my blog.

Your blog?
Yes, I run a blog which I update twice weekly.  One update is usually writing related and the second entry is a bit more random.  Whatever happens to be in my mind at the time, really.

I’m still pretty new to the whole blogging thing but so far so good.

What about social media?
I can be found on Twitter @MarkWDuncan.  Be sure to stop by and say hello. I always enjoy having a chat via tweets.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
Well I am 28 and a student at Aberdeen University.  Currently I’m studying toward gaining a diploma in counselling.  Not including writing, I think that becoming a counsellor is one of the only careers that I would truly enjoy.  As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time writing, some reading and any spare time gaming or watching movies. Although spare time at the moment feels like a thing of the past.

I’ve been writing since I was little, and really only started to take it seriously in the last four or so years. It’s just something I’ve always done. I’m not really any good at sitting doing nothing, so writing was always a good way to occupy my time. I think my imagination works overtime.

What’s next?
Well I want to get on with writing the next Only The Dead instalment.  I’m about 20% through the first draft and it’s going well.  Should the publisher be interested in my other novel, I’ll have to start writing the next book in the series. I’ve also a standalone novella in draft form. It’s a reworking of a previous work. Something quite different from what I’m used to writing. Eventually, I’d also like to try my hand at a fantasy novel, but I’m happy to leave that for a few years.

Outside of writing?  Well the main aim is to qualify as a counsellor and be able to help people.  That’s always been important to me, having a job where I can really make a difference to people’s lives.

And as for right now, some lunch with my friend Jane.

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