Interview with Fin C. Gray, author of Duplicity (Olympia Publishers, 2019)

My take on Duplicity

Tom McIntyre appears to have everything, and yet, it is not enough, so he makes a diabolical deal and hopes to gain even more. Tom has a tragic childhood, but even that does not prevent him becoming a monster in the reader’s eye. His towering vanity, his ability to dissemble to his loved ones, and his desire for yet more and more, all add up to a series of terrible falls. Fin C. Gray’s prescience has enabled him to create a modern-day monster in Tom McIntyre, whose choices will echo down the generations. Ultimately, his Faustian pact has consequences that reach far beyond his own family and into the public sphere.


Where did you get the idea for Duplicity?

I had long been interested in the increasing proselytisation of young western men, having become aware of this phenomenon in recent years. I thought that being able to realise the process in a story and making it real in the public mind would be interesting. I had also gone through a long period of separation from my eldest son immediately before beginning the book and knew that he’d been travelling in parts of the world where radicalisation was prominent. From that knowledge and personal parental worry, the bones of the story started to form. At that stage, I had no idea that it might become a novel, least of all as dark a novel as it turned out to be. It’s interesting how the seeds of a story can generate something substantial and real, that was never in your imagination in the first place.

Sid Smith, author of Something Like a House, which is set in China, never went there and argues that the only ticket needed for research purposes is a library ticket. Can you tell me about your approach to researching the different locations in your novel?

I mostly agree with this viewpoint, even though I’ve been taught, and also believe, that you should write what you know. With internet access and libraries, it is easy to understand through reading and research what you previously didn’t. When it comes to place, one can argue that it’s challenging to write authoritatively, especially when it comes to nuance and idiosyncrasy of location. Readers will quickly pick up if you are winging things as a writer and censure you if you get an essential element of place wrong. 

In Duplicity, I was familiar with almost all the locations personally. The big gap in my knowledge was the Jihadi camps in Pakistan. Still, as well as doing a fair amount of online research, I was lucky enough to have a second son who had spent long periods in Afghanistan and knew something of the training camps there. I also have friends who served in the Pakistani military. I travelled to the India/Pakistan border towards the end of my writing process to be sure that I had given a reasonable sense of place and hope I have succeeded in this.

Your protagonist, Tom McIntyre, is something of an unsympathetic character. How did it feel to channel him onto the page, and were you ever tempted to soften his edges? 

Duplicity, being my first novel, presented me with many surprises. The biggest of these, possibly, is that characters often go where they want to go and, by doing so, shape the story as it develops. When Tom first appeared in my imagination, he was an unlucky man with problems, none really of his own making, and I had no vision of him as the dark, unpleasant man that finally showed up on the pages of the book. As the story developed, so too did his character, and I found that I disliked him more and more. I could, of course, have given him some redeeming qualities if I chose to. I don’t want to appear disingenuous, but in all honesty, it is difficult to go against the grain of a character as they grow in the narrative. I’m sure most authors will agree that they become surprised by how their characters develop in their stories. If I had been kinder to Tom, the hatred his son feels for him would lose some veracity as would the desperate need for Daniel to find a replacement for his mother. I do give Tom some moments of light and partial redemption, but I feel the way he turns out on these pages fits his real inner self.

Daniel McIntyre’s initial disaffection spirals into terrifying consequences, not just for his father but also for wider society. How did it feel to write about such a shocking situation, and did it take a toll on you personally?

Before the horrifying results of 9/11, the world seemed like a safer place, and our day to day business of travelling around was easier and less fraught with danger, even though the world had experienced some horrifying terrorist events before that. I think the toll of terrorism on us all societally is immense. Writing Duplicity had more of a personal impact on me in forcing myself to relive personal moments of loss, which I felt was necessary to give some truth to those situations within the fictional family. The depiction of the shocking terrorist events, in a way, helped me to process some of the lack of understanding that we all face when presented with horrifying news reports. I think it’s important to remember that there is a human side to every news report and however shocked we are by events in the news, there is a set of circumstances that leads to everything.

Without giving any spoilers about the plot, Duplicity is strangely prescient. Were you aware that you were plugging into a zeitgeist, or was this coincidental?

All I wanted to achieve from writing the book was to show to myself how a family might be affected by the commission of a horrendous criminal act. That was the real catalyst for writing the story. I had often wondered what the chain of events was that had led to some of the worst acts of terrorism in recent years. The media regularly give snippets of background on perpetrators of such acts, but rarely does one get close to the people closest to them or any indication of how their families could allow them to get to that point. I knew the strength of my curiosity regarding this, and I felt sure that I wasn’t alone in this. I didn’t believe I was tapping into anything other than that public curiosity.

Can you tell me about your journey to publication, and are there any tips you would give to aspiring authors hoping to get published?

Above all, make sure that you have a clean, properly proofread manuscript. I think potential publishers will throw out shoddy submissions without a second thought. With that in mind, identify publishers who accept submissions from new authors and be sure that they have published fiction that fits your book. Never be disheartened by rejection letters or emails and keep sending your story out until you find a publisher that wants to put you into print.

My road to publication was reasonably straightforward. I had my manuscript professionally proofread by two different proofreaders before I even considered sending it out. Once I was satisfied that my book was in the best shape it possibly could be, I worked my way through the latest edition of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (don’t cheap out and use an older version publishers come and go all the time, so minimise the chances of wasting your time) and marked the publishers who were the best fit for me. I then narrowed that down to the closest 20 and set about sending my novel out to those as a first pass. Don’t forget to make a note of all the publishers you have approached and the date you submitted to them.

I was lucky enough to be offered a contract by two separate publishers, even before I had finished sending out my work. This was a massive surprise to me and felt like a very luxurious dilemma. I stopped sending out my manuscript at that point, but in retrospect, I would rather have spent more time considering the best fit for me as a new author and would advise anyone in this position to keep sending their work out while they consider their options. When you do decide on a publisher, before you commit, I would strongly recommend sending your contract to The Society of Authors in the UK or the Authors Guild in the US. Membership of these institutions is invaluable, and they offer contract vetting for all members.

Finally, after I signed the contract that I eventually settled on, I wasn’t fully prepared for how long the publication process then takes. From signing to Publication Day was just a few days short of a year. So, however excited and euphoric you may feel once you are signed, prepare yourself to be patient. Traditional or hybrid publishing is not the same as self-publishing, especially in terms of timescales, but with conventional publishing, the end product is usually of a much higher professional standard than you will find from self-publishing.

What does your writing day look like and do you have any particular writing rituals or equipment that you can’t do without?

Because of my extensive travel commitments and the various locations and time zones I traverse, it’s hard to frame a typical writing day for me. I often brainstorm with a glass of wine in my hand as I fly over the Atlantic. I find being trapped in a plane for several hours at a time can focus the mind, and I confess I get some great ideas for stories while I fly. Each place I inhabit, I try to make sure that I have a desk to work at and access to a power point so that I can keep my trusted MacBook charged and ready. I am always glad to have my iPad to hand as well as I find the notepad very accessible for getting notes down quickly. When I’m out and about, I couldn’t be without my smartphone because it offers an immediate facility to make quick notes or to record voice notes. 

Can you tell me about some of your other work, such as ‘Dolores and Gigi’?

‘Dolores and Gigi’ was my first successful foray into publishing. It’s a New York-based short story and was picked up by the East Hampton Star for their Arts section in 2011. This story was the catalyst for me wanting to take writing further and led to me taking the master’s course at Manchester Metropolitan University. I even got a film producer interested in adapting it, but unfortunately, that project never happened for a variety of reasons. I started writing a follow-up to this last year and have even considered turning it into a novel, but that’s still in the pile of possibilities. You can read the story here:

You completed a Creative Writing MA at Manchester Metropolitan University. What did you gain from this study and what effect did it have on your writing?

Above all, it gave me access to a network of talented writers who I have stayed in touch with ever since and who have helped me incredibly with my work. The degree was challenging and not for the faint-hearted, but it taught me to be more self-disciplined and exposed me to a much wider sphere of creative writing and approaches. It helped me to develop my writing skills and rid me of many lazy attitudes I had picked up over the years. I’m happy I did it and grateful that it forced me to knuckle down and finish a novel, finally.

What are you working on now?

I have started working again on a novel I began over 20 years ago. I want to see if the idea has legs after all this time, and it is so far removed from Duplicity, it’s offering new and exciting challenges to me. It’s a work of young-adult fiction with a science-fantasy element. I’m hoping to finish it by mid-2020 then decide whether or not to try for publication. One concern I have is that this will not appeal to readers who liked the first novel, but I feel I need to get it out of my system. Who knows? It may be the genre I end up working in full time. 

Finally, can you tell me what your favourite three books are, and why?

This question is a difficult one to answer! My responses will probably change in time (apart from my first choice) but here goes:

  1. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself: With a detail of curious traditionary facts and other evidence by the editor – by James Hogg 

I read this for the first time as a young man and was haunted by it for weeks afterwards. It’s a gothic, psychological mystery and, written in 1824, it is one of the first and most excellent examples of crime fiction. Crime fiction is a genre that has thrilled and entertained me for most of my life, and although this book is too complex to fit any one genre, it remains and will remain, in my library as a literary classic.

      2. The Natural – by Bernard Malamud

The Natural was Malamud’s debut novel and the first of his I read, even though there were many of his available when I started reading this one in my early teens. It was the first novel that genuinely shocked me and had me reading back over pages to be sure that I had really understood what I had just read. It was a long time before a book did that to me again and lives on in my mind as being the formative one for me. I read most of his other books on the strength of this one, but, although there were many greats among them, none had the power of The Natural for me.

      3. Burnt Shadows – by Kamila Shamsie

I move to more recent times for this choice, and I pick it again for the impact that it had upon me. Again, this book contains its own shocks, but it gives an epic feel of family history, even though it covers a relatively short time span. Shamsie creates unforgettable, compelling characters in this novel that still stay with me. Character-based fiction has long been a favourite of mine, and Burnt Shadows represents one of the finest examples of that to me. It has a filmic quality to it that I have tried to create in my own fiction.

Thank you very much, Fin, for giving up your time to answer my questions, and with such erudite answers, too! If anyone would like to know more about Fin or his novel, where to buy the novel, or how to connect with him on social media, please see below.

About the book

England, 2003. Tom McIntyre is a worried man. Debts are piling up, his career is in free-fall, and his family life is under strain. Only his wife, Alison, remains unswerving in her support. Close to rock bottom, he clinches the deal of a lifetime before tragedy strikes, putting everything Tom values at risk. In the aftermath, a toxic mix of grief, substance abuse and blame lead to different paths for the family. Duplicity is a story of lost innocence, unwitting deals with darker forces, and fragile family bonds. Can grief, love, lies and hate be reconciled? And can Tom repair his fractured family and release himself from the pact he has made? What fate does he deserve?

About the author

Fin C. Gray was born in central Scotland but has spent his time between London and New York for the last 20 years. Now semi-retired, he invests in theatre and film. An avid traveller, Fin enjoys making trips abroad, learning about cultures and customs. He is a graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University where he was awarded an MA in Creative Writing with Merit in 2017. This book was the result of this degree. He is now working on his second novel and hopes to write full-time in the future.

A photo of author, Fin C. Gray reading a copy of his novel, Duplicity. He is wearing a David Bowie black-star shirt and a bronze lamé dinner jacket with a black shalw collar.
Fin C. Gray

Buy the book: Duplicity

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