Interview with James C. Duncan, Author of A Song Of Steel

23 Mar 2021

What can you tell us about your new release, A Song Of Steel?

A Song Of Steel is an exploration of the question ‘What if the Vikings had refused to convert to Christianity peacefully’, told in the form of a Norse style saga of heroes and gods and a mythical sword. It’s a book that has a bit more story and background to it than a typical Viking adventure, but there is all the raiding, shield shattering,  swashbuckling and Norse mythology that everyone loves to read in their Viking tales. This is a tale of two worlds, the Christian nations of Western Europe, and the Norse nations of Northern Europe, clashing in an ultimate contest of war, culture and religion to decide who will rule the North. A true epic confrontation at every level. The center of the story, and the threat that holds it together, is the mythical sword ‘The Light of the North’, for which the series is named. This is a saga that takes a lot of influence from the real Norse sagas and their themes and topics, to give a more satisfying and rounded tale than just Crusaders and Vikings engaging in giant battles (much fun though Crusaders and Vikings fighting giant battles is).

What or who inspired you to become an author?

I always wanted to be an author, I have been reading non-stop since I was first taught how, I was reading Bernard Cornwell from about six years old and never stopped. The final straw for me was reading a story about how a young girl named Saga had found a Norse sword in a lake in Sweden. I just really wanted to know what the story of that sword was, why was it in the lake, what had it seen in its lifetime, who owned it? Of course, we will never know and that is a shame but then the idea for a fictional story of its past just hit me. The name of the girl who pulled it from the lake was Saga, It just had to be done, a Norse saga about this sword just had to be written, and I was going to do it. Within a few days I had the entire main storyline planned out, and spent several years filling in the details to give the first book you see today, with four more to come.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

I have too many, but I’ll do one for each of my 5 favorite authors.

HMS Ulysses, by Alistair Maclean. This was his first book, and much less famous than his later hits ‘The guns of Navarone’, ‘Where Eagles dare’ etc. But it’s my favorite. The reason is that he was writing about something he really knew about. He was a Royal Navy sailor in WW2 on an arctic Convoy and his real experience shines through. This is a common theme for me in favorite books, real experience. It’s also just a great ‘against the odds’ story of simple heroism.

Sharpe’s Tiger, by Bernard Cornwell. Again, not his most famous book, but one that I loved as a kid. It took Sharpe, and me, away from the familiar world of pain and Europe, to India and all the exoticness that meant to a ten-year-old boy. It’s a fascinating adventure, and the book of this great authors that sticks in my mind the most.

Wolf of the Plains, by Conn Iggulden. In my opinion his best work, a wonderful fictionalized story of the origin of Ghengis Khan. Everyone knows who he became, but this book shows you where he came from. The pinnacle of his writing career to me. He does good action, but his main strength here was the depth of the character and story.

Killer of Men, by Christian Cameron. Christian is the best historical fiction author of the ‘military’ genre, in my opinion. This is partly because he tells great stories about people we otherwise wouldn’t know about, in this case Arimnestos of Platea, but also because he is a historical re-enactor, and he knows what it is to march in hoplite armor, to fight in the phalanx, to walk across the battlefields of Greece because he has done it all. Hands-on research is irreplaceable in authoring, and he is the king of it.

The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. Joe’s books and worldbuilding are great, but what sets him apart is his creation of characters. His first series has more great characters in than most authors make in a career. He is so good at giving them color and conviction and making us care about them and understand their motivations. He could write a book about Logen Nine Fingers playing a chess tournament and I would read it. Great characters are so important, and he is the king.

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?

I would want to invite GRR Martin on and ask him what HE thought of season 8. That would get people watching the show.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

The first draft. Editing and re-writing is a chore, but when you are in the flow and churning the story out in its basic form sometimes its glorious. I have sat down to a good session before for ten hours without really getting up, and it can feel like nothing as the story just pours out of you. Truly it’s a unique experience of creativity.

What is a typical day like for you?

People imagine authors just sit and write. Writing is about 10% of authoring. The rest is admin, marketing, answering emails, editing, working on graphics and additional materials etc. Then, I am not a full-time author, so my day goes like most other peoples. I get up, am grumpy through a normal work day at my real job, and then I do my authoring in the evenings and on weekends. It’s something I enjoy more than my real job, most of the time. If I’m not working or writing, I like films and strategy/building games with my friends. I have a little online geek brigade I game with. Am I supposed to admit to that? Probably not, but hey, it’s 2021, there is no shame.

What scene from A Song Of Steel was your favorite to write?

My favorite scene in the book is right at the end, where the culmination of everything is coming together, and it’s heart-pounding and exciting and people are dying and it was just exciting to write. I got it all out in one session and I barely touched it since. Some scenes do that, especially action. you see them in your head, in order, and you get them onto the page and fiddling with it later doesn’t help, because it’s all there from the first run through, as If I was there on that riverbank with them.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Don’t think about doing stuff, just go and do stuff. Don’t spend your life wishing you had done something. You want to write a book? go write a book. You want to learn to fight in Roman armor? Go do that. You want to become an expert basket weaver? Go do it. No one gets to 80 and thinks ‘Damn, I’m glad I spent all that time doing nothing.’

James C. Duncan is the author of the new book A Song Of Steel

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