Author Interview: Duncan Swallow

Duncan SwallowWhere do you write?  I was tempted to go a bit Wildean here, and say something profound such as ‘In my head.’ I decided against that. My daily port of call is my local library. There’s free wi-fi for my laptop, free Internet access from public computers if the wi-fi fails, I’m warm, surrounded by books, and the staff make me cups of tea and occasionally feed me biscuits. What’s not to like, as they say? Also lots of the cafes and pubs where I live have free wi-fi, and additionally can be rich sources of overheard bits of conversation, or an unlikely sounding stories to work on.

I also love writing where my Writers’ Circle meets. Follow this link and you’ll see exactly why it’s an inspirational place.

Tell us about your book(s).  I’ve written a novel, Charlie and Me, and I’m well into a second one, a spoof detective story featuring the laconic Blain. I’m also working on an autobiography/memoir. On TipsyLit I’m better known for my short stories. Ericka kindly invited me to the party and I have to say I’ve had a riot of a time on the Prompted Challenges.

I also run a blog, nobodysreadingme,and post on that every day except Sunday, which is the maid’s day off. Actually, sometimes I do cheat and post on Sundays too, but I do try to take a day off a week from writing and publicising myself.

What was your publishing experience like?  Disheartening to start with, and that is a masterpiece of British understatement. I had stacks of rejections for Charlie and Me, and even more dismaying were the people who didn’t even bother acknowledging a submission. I think that’s just rude.

I finally got so fed up I decided to go down the route of self publishing online. It’s pretty straightforward, but can be a bit rough and tumble. The way I see it is that if I have a chunk of success under my belt I’ll carry a bit more clout as and when I go down the more ‘traditional’ publishing route. And I have been pretty successful in a short space of time, with thousands of reads for my short stories, nearly 600 followers on my blog.

How have you balanced your online author platform with writing?  As well as I was able. My stories crop up on three different platforms, and promoting to the different audiences takes a lot of time. I hate Twitter, but it’s a necessary evil; it’s a great marketing tool, very powerful. But I can lose an entire day if I’ve just put a story out and I have to keep banging away to get the reads up to critical mass.

I do think I get it right on my blog. I tend to keep my fiction off there, but with the Challenges format I have to post a story a week. My blog audience seem to like this as a balance to the factional pyrotechnics of the rest of my blog content.

Do you work with a writing partner? If not, have you ever considered it?  Yes, I do. It started out with some co-authoring on a couple of blogs, and working with two friends on some fiction about dementia. We’re also playing with the idea of a series of short plays describing life in a care home. Slightly oddly, another friend and I are developing a spoof blog extolling the health benefits of earwax.

My Writers’ Circle also has an ongoing joint project where we’re writing a soap opera. There are seven of us, and the scenario is that our characters all share a house in London. If anybody survives the whole year of the timeline it will be little short of miraculous. All the residents have bats in the belfry, and my character is a sociopath with a penchant for poisoning pigeons.

What have you found to be the best places to promote your work online?  I’m not quite sure how to answer this, since for me it’s inextricably tied up with how I publish. My first foray was onto EtherBooks, but it’s a bit of a clunky platform. Readers need to download an app to a mobile device, and the content actually has to be downloaded as well. The reader interface is a bit of a pain too, and as an author it can be frustrating to get published, since it can take up to 90 days for the editors to read and approve submissions. Promoting yourself on there is limited to links to Twitter and Facebook.

I had a story bounced by Ether, who felt there was no audience for ‘the decontextualised violence, implicit religious overtones, and explicit intent of sexual abuse.’ Since it was my first go at writing horror, I was quite pleased about this. I took the story and put it out here and it’s turned into one of my biggest hits. Wattpad has inbuilt links to allow you to promote via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest, and WeHeartIt. You can dedicate stories or chapters to your friends too, which I think is a nice touch.

I’m also playing with ReadWave, trying to compare the performance there with that of Wattpad. ReadWave have a strict 800 words limit to their stories, so it’s very good for quick and dirty reads, but if you write over 800 words you go in the sinbin and won’t appear on the headline pages. Wattpad has a much larger word limit, and is also set up for publishing in longer works or novels in chapters. Charlie and Me is up there.

ReadWave has a more limited set of promotional links; Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, though the Challenge page also has a Tumblr link. Despite that, there’s not much to choose between Wattpad and ReadWave in terms of how many reads I can get.

TipsyLit’s done me a lot of favours, with people coming over to my blog to read the Prompted challenge stories. Weekends on my blog used to be a time for quiet reflection, but it lights up like a Christmas tree when the Challenge poll breaks cover.

I’ve also been lucky enough to be interviewed for my local radio station, and have a short playlet performed at the same time.  A lot of people seem to like hearing what I sound like, so I’m also dabbling with increasing my presence on YouTube or, more likely, Soundwave. It’s finding the time, really.

Tell us about your writing process.  That’s tricky, because I don’t have a consistent approach. When I set out to write Charlie and Me, I had two characters, an endpoint (which changed), and absolutely no idea of what the plot might be. I just waded in. Same with Blain. I had a character, a controversial subplot, an endpoint (which may still change), and that was it.

For short stories, the ‘process’ is even more nebulous. One of my biggest stories is a fairy tale, based on two photoprompts of a path through some trees, and a fire on a beach. How I got to a fairy story from there is anybody’s guess. A lot of my work comes from photoprompts from a really close friend. I’ll find a picture in my Inbox at 10 in the morning, and a note saying I have to post a story by no later than 5 PM.

Readers here may remember the shape shifting alien telepath in ‘Why I hate being the dog.’ This came about during a writing exercise during a day out with the Circle. One of our number brought her dog along, and he was the basis for the alien, she was the inspiration for Soon-ya. I’d seen a sign for a village fete on the way to where we were, and one thing led to another.

I suppose the only way to put it is I don’t have a process. I just get on with it.

What online sites/resources do you use when writing?  I like to get my facts right, and to that end I tend to write about places that I know. If I don’t know them, then it’s Google here we come. Much as I hate Google, it’s a good source of info (as long as you avoid ending up on Wikipedia.) I often end up in map sites too, or the sites for historic buildings or events.

I avoid like the plague any site that says ‘Ever wanted to become a writer? Well now you can!’ I’m sure you all know why.

Did you go to school for writing, or learn along the way?  No. Yes. In that order.

Any advice for our readers?  Advice? You may be talking to the wrong guy; I try to avoid giving it. But here’s something I tell friends when they’re despairing or blocked. ‘Anything you write, however bad, is better writing than anything you don’t write.’ You just have to get back behind the wheel and drive it like you just stole it.

Duncan is a graduate and has been a research scientist, a technical editor and writer, a copywriter, a deputy managing director, and a health and safety trainer. He hasn’t worked for over two years because of health problems so he occupies his time by blogging and writing fiction.  He has written fiction for over 40 years. Yes, he is that old.

You can find Duncan at the following sites:



26 thoughts on “Author Interview: Duncan Swallow

  1. :) I loved this interview. Helpful in a specific way, charming in an unintentional way, fluid in word and process– and of course fascinating. Just like Duncan. :) Kudos to both the interviewee, and the interviewer!


          1. what a shame :( i would have loved to see it on my super full bookshelf :)
            yes it was okay… just my grandma stressing herself out always makes me angry, because she’s a bit… loud and very loud..


          2. Duncan :) I hope you had a wonderful christmas!
            Could you do me a favour and drop a comment on my authors blog? I changed the desing and I want to make sure that everything works :)


  2. Wonderful interview Duncan and as everyone says, it’s lovely to be able to get to know you all over again! Well done for being show cased here and may you have every success with your future stories :)


  3. I’m not familiar with Ether (well now I am) but I can totally relate to the “getting bounced” for a similar list of reasons. And like your ‘Wax On Wax Off’ those stories with ‘no audience’ are usually the more successful ones. Hmm…
    Thank you Duncan and Ericka for an interesting interview.


    1. A bit like my blog, I can’t predict what people are going to take to. I can do what I think of as a throwaway filler post, and it develops a life of its own. Lee Roy Fuckwit was supposed to be a one-off character, and he runs to eight stories and a collection of (redneck) haiku now, thanks to popular demand.
      And when you get bounced, as I said, get back behind the wheel and drive like you stole it..
      I’m glad you liked the interview. Ericka and I go back a fair way by a series of accidental crossing of paths, and occasionally swords.


What's the word?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s