Adrian Duncan: a flash interview

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1. Love Notes from a Building Site is you first novel. Did you approach a publisher directly or attempt to get an agent. Why?

At first I approached two Irish publishers, but the MS in its early stages was turned down by both. One of the publishers was Lilliput Press, but their rejection letter came with helpful, encouraging notes. I was in touch then with a few literary agents in the UK. Two showed some interest in the collection of short stories I’d written, but once I sent them on the novel, they suddenly fell quiet. In the end, after a couple of years of re-writes, I decided to make contact with Lilliput Press again. Antony Farrell, the publisher at Lilliput, had always left the door ajar for me there. I was still somewhat surprised when they responded expressing interest in the reworked MS.

2. Do you feel that Irish authors benefit from living abroad?

It might not suit everyone, but I think I have benefitted in this instance. The German language and its compound nouns, verbs, etc., play a central part in Love Notes from a German Building Site. It’s unlikely I would have written that book if I had not moved to Germany, but I reckon I would have almost certainly written something about building sites – I find them incredibly interesting in and of themselves. Some of the non-fiction I’ve written over the last few years has come from a curiosity for German towns with their cultural and technical artefacts, but ultimately I think if you are curious about the place you live then it shouldn’t really matter too much if you are living abroad or not.

3. The best fiction often contains elements of truth. What, if anything, do you have in common with your protagonist Paul?

I’m finishing up an edit with Lilliput Press on my second novel, A Sabbatical in Leipzig. The narrator, Michael, is a retired bridge engineer in his late seventies, and it’s strange because I feel far closer to him in terms of personality than I do to Paul in Love Notes, who is closer to me in age and apparent circumstance. That said, because I studied and worked as an engineer for almost two decades, there are certain types of knowledge that fed into the novel and had an effect on Paul’s state of mind. I suppose we are also similar in that we both live in Germany and have struggled to learn the language, not to mention that I am also inclined towards making series and lists, so our methods of organising material would be shared. I learned also, however, when you spend a good deal of time with a character they develop personality traits that are unforeseeable, and I would say some ideas did appear in the work that in a sense came from Paul.

Adrian Duncan is participating in Brave New Words along with writers Wendy Erskine and Jackie Gorman on Saturday 28th: 14.30 in Bray Town Hall.

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