BackStory: Five Questions with Gary Duncan

Hector, detail

BackStory: Five Questions with Gary Duncan
Author of Thrice Around the Walls of Troy

What inspired you to write “Thrice Around the Walls of Troy”?

I’ve been fascinated by The Iliad since I read it in high school and later at university as part of my Ancient History degree. I’ve tried to write something about it for ages but never found the right way into it. I wrote this one with FlashBack Fiction in mind. I don’t usually do that, as I tend to write the story first and then worry about where to send it afterwards. This seemed like a great fit though — I’d been dipping into The Iliad again when I first heard about FlashBack Fiction.

Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?

About 99 percent of the original story didn’t make it! I didn’t really have an end story in mind when I started, just that I wanted to do something about The Iliad and the Achilles-Hector fight scene in particular. I stuck fairly close to the original passage, just to get it down, and then set about taking it apart. I removed a lot of the things I love about Homer — the epithets, the repetitions, the endless detail — that don’t really lend themselves to flash. I changed the point of view too. My first few drafts had alternate voices — Hector in the first paragraph, then Achilles, then Helen, etc. — but the final version is centred on Hector. I took out most of the dialogue and almost all the proper nouns — Hector, Helen, Achilles, Paris, Priam, Zeus and Agamemnon. All except “Troy” (in the title) and “Greek” (for Achilles) — I wanted to give it just enough context but keep it quite vague too.

What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite? 

I prefer the editing and the fine-tuning to the actual writing. I work fairly slowly, usually rewriting as I go, rather than throwing everything at the page and going back to “find” the story. Least favourite? Having to finish a story. My brain’s screaming “enough, it’s done!” but I’m thinking “one more edit”. I don’t like reading my stories once they’re published, for the same reason. I only end up wishing I’d said this instead of that, or wondering why I’d chosen that word when this one would have been much better.

If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?

Britain in the Early Stone Age, about 200,000 BCE. That would be fun (I think). I like the idea of being a rugged outdoors type, a hunter-gatherer, living on my wits (in a cave). Maybe I’ve just watched too much Ray Mears and Bear Grylls. I’d probably survive a week and then teleport myself back to the future. Maybe to Berlin at the height of the Cold War — that would be fascinating.

We are open to imagined and alternate histories as long as each story rings true of itself. How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?

Not at all. If it’s supposed to be true to time and place and it’s riddled with errors then that’s a different issue. But I like stories that are loose with the facts, that keep you wondering. James Ellroy does it brilliantly — he writes about Howard Hughes and J. Edgar Hoover and all those old movie stars and you’re never quite sure where that line is between fact and fiction.


Gary Duncan is a freelance writer and editor based in Northumberland, England. His flash fiction collection, You’re Not Supposed to Cry, is available from Vagabond Voices. Recent credits include Train LitGravel and The Cabinet of Heed.  Find him on Facebook at or on Twitter @garyjohnduncan.

Image of Hector putting on his armour; side A of an Attic red-figure amphora by Euthymides, ca. 510 BC. From Vulci.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.