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The Vikings are coming! Author Hugh Duncan Interviewed

The Vikings are coming is a great tag line, Hugh. How did you come up with that?

Thank you. Glad you like it. The origins are lost in the mists of time. The idea for the book started back in 1976 when the Viking craft just landed. It was always going to be called ‘Life on Mars’ but when I knew I wanted to write a series of books I needed a ‘subheading’ for each one. I usually find myself adopting cliché phrases and lines from pop culture, such as Monty Python, so I must have heard it and took it on board. Being a lifelong punk, it could have been from the 1980s punk group of the same ‘The Vikings are Coming’.

Is this book the first in a planned series?

Yes indeed! I liked the idea of several novels about life on Mars but focussing on a different character or period each time, and even about life on other planets. I already have at least half a dozen ideas based just on Mars…

What are you working on now?

A sequel called ‘one of our tortles is missing’, when half the team take a holiday on Phobos but with a hidden agenda and a prequel called ‘Pyrites!’ from a million years ago which tells how Captain Masha got her name and why the earth was already a danger to Mars back then. With Natascha, my talented book artist, we are looking at making a cartoon strip/graphic novel about Billie the Bubble, a sentient soap bubble with adventures such as ‘The Foampire Slayers’ and ‘Oh no it’s the Fizz!’

Have you any plans for reworking your Deskworld tales?

It was so much fun writing those Deskworld short stories, some three dozen in all, over 15 years. The teachers and students enjoyed me poking fun at them and the school (and myself!). But it was such a small targeted audience, I don’t think the stories would have the same appeal to people outside the school. Curiously, I had the idea for pirates in the Mars book decades ago, but actually tried them out in the school stories first. As it worked well I kept them in Mars. I have been stealing some other ideas from my Deskworld stories and recycling the least-worst jokes, like a good ecologist should!

What is your writing method: Plotter versus pantser?

Method?! Ha ha! I write what the voices in my head tell me to write. I’m probably a plontser. I have a rough idea of getting from A to B but I like to take the prettiest route. Having been a full-time teacher for the last forty-odd years, I tended to try and squeeze in some writing once all the school work was done. Usually far too late in the day and barely awake to know what I’m doing. Most of Mars was written like that, while either listening to musician friend Rick’s instrumental music (Mike Oldfield style) or the Eurovision Song Contest.

Since I retired a year ago I had hoped to set aside regular amounts of time but as my pension didn’t kick in, I ended up going back to teach. Maybe I can only write under such stressful conditions?!

That would be scary if true!


Racing against time, Jade and her friends must hide evidence of Life on Mars to stop the probes from Earth finding them

Jade is on her way to meet up with her dad, Elvis, for her sixteen-millionth birthday (tortles live a long time, in spite of the harsh conditions on Mars), when she gets side-tracked by a strange object that appears to have fallen from the sky. Elvis’ travelling companion Starkwood, an electrostatic plant, is hearing voices, claiming that “The Vikings Are Coming”, while their football-pitch-sized flying friend Fionix confirms the rumour: the Earth has sent two craft to look for life on Mars.

It then becomes a race against time to hide any evidence of such life before Earth destroys it for good. Can Jade and her friends succeed, with help from a Lung Whale, a liquid horse, some flying cats, the Hellas Angels, the Pyrites and a couple of House Martins from the South of France? Oh, and a quantum tunnelling worm – all while avoiding Zombie Vegetables and trouble with a Gravity Artist and the Physics Police?! A gentle and lightly humorous science fantasy adventure.

Excerpt: Fionix has ripped off the plaque from the Voyager craft and brought it to Mars…

‘So what’s on this picture?’ Elvis asked as the three of them perused the unusual engravings.

‘Oh, this thing here is a drawing of the shipwreck I pulled it from.’

‘And these odd-looking shapes?’ said Starkwood.

‘Oh, they’re examples of the Earth creatures,’ said Fionix. ‘They’re called a man and a woman.’

‘And they go around naked?!’

‘No, not really. Most of the time they cover themselves, probably as protection from the intense solar radiation.’

‘Typical isn’t it, the whole universe over. Give a graffiti artist a chance and they’ll draw all their rude parts on a public surface.’

‘Like our very own Hanksie,’ said Fionix

‘Oh, I get this part,’ said Elvis, ‘this is our solar system and there’s our home, Mars.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Fionix, ‘and you can see the metal ship came from Earth.’

‘Maybe they didn’t throw it away,’ pondered Starkwood, ‘Maybe it got lost and this says “if found please return to us Earthlings”?’

‘Maybe,’ said Fionix, ‘but the way these objects keep leaving Earth, I rather doubt it.’

‘So, what are these round things up here?’ asked Elvis, ‘are they more Earth creatures?’

‘Oh no!’ laughed Fionix, ‘it’s their symbol for carbon!’

‘But it’s not made of carbon,’ the rock star pointed out.

‘Maybe they need some and it’s some kind of postal request.’

‘Ooh,’ pointed Starkwood, ‘this looks like an Earth creature! Some multi-legged creepy crawly…’

The three of them peered closely at the unusual image in the centre of the plaque. If it had a body it was very small and there seemed to be a dozen or so legs of different lengths coming out in all directions and they were covered in tiny short bristles sticking out at right angles.

‘Did you see any creatures like that when you were on Earth?’ asked Elvis.

‘No, but I’ll look out for them next time.’

(NOTE the image was actually a diagram that was pointing to all the nearby pulsars, so aliens could use it like a map to

find the solar system, but it still looked like a spider).

‘Did you remember what I asked for?’ said Starkwood.

‘What, a book about life on Mars?’

‘Did you find one?’

‘I don’t think they know much, but I found this one…’

Fionix with her beak passed the book on to Starkwood, who accepted it with curiosity. He looked at the cover then showed it to Elvis.

‘Life on Mars,’ said Elvis out loud. ‘Interesting. I wonder if we get a mention?’

‘Not really,’ said Fionix matter-of-factly, ‘they only talk of little green men and-’

‘What, not even little green women?’ said Elvis

‘Well they give all the reasons why we can’t exist.’

‘So much for them being an advanced race,’ said Starkwood.

‘Agreed,’ said Fionix. ‘I mean what intelligent species would keep blasting their metal junk out to contaminate other planets?’

‘Why, are there other bits coming this way?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Fionix, again ambivalently, ‘I passed two more of their shipwrecks on my way back home…’

Both Elvis and Starkwood looked at each other with realisation.

‘The Vikings…’ said Starkwood dreamily.

‘…are coming…’ Elvis completed his chant.

‘How did you know they’re called Vikings?’ asked Fionix confused.

‘So, they are coming?!’ stated Starkwood, not believing his equivalent of ears. ‘Wait, how do you know about the Vikings?’

‘It’s written on the side of each ship…’

‘Were there any passengers with horned helmets?’ asked Elvis.

‘Didn’t see any. Ghost ships again.’


‘Like the others that came a few years ago…’

Elvis and Starkwood looked at each other again, then at Fionix.

‘What others?!’


Twitter: @hughduncan39




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