Corben Duke Interview

Born in a Yorkshire cave after his mother became stuck during a pot-holing holiday, Corben Duke was left behind and raised by bats. Later he became a shack-dweller on Bernard Island, Outer Hebrides where he now lives with his wife Mrs Duke and two dogs, Crusher and Mr Fluffy. Three years ago Corben teamed up with Mark Roman (via the HarperCollins Authonomy website) and they wrote The Worst Man on Mars.

What inspired you to write?
The inspiration for 'The Worst Man on Mars' came after a chance meeting with top British scientist and author Mark Roman.

I’m a beach-dweller on a small island in the Outer Hebrides. A few years ago I found Mark wandering along Doom Beach collecting and cataloguing brightly coloured pebbles. In return for a cup of hot seaweed tea he gave me a copy of a fascinating book he had written speculating about the various rocks that might be found on Mars. Before burning it on the campfire for extra warmth (it’s cold here) I thought I’d better read it and I’m glad I did. It reminded me of the story my grandfather used to tell about when he was a rocket scientist after WWII. He claimed that a very good rocket scientist chum of his made a discovery that allowed him to make the trip to Mars, long before it became fashionable. As a boy, I thought Grandpa Helmut was as crazy as a coconut which, as it turned out, he was.
But meeting Mark Roman and reading his Mars rock-book got me thinking about Gramps’ yarn and I decided to contact him with the idea of co-authoring a story inspired by my grandfather’s claim.

Did the inspiration to write come to you suddenly, or had you been thinking about it some time?
To keep warm on Doom Beach I keep a fire going all the time. As you can imagine, fuel is limited and I often resort to burning beach debris of unknown origin. The inspiration to write ‘The Worst Man on Mars’ came after burning a half empty tub of what looked like creosote. It turned out that the resulting vapours were hallucinogenic*. Man, the dreams I had that night were awesome!

*Note: Corben Duke does not condone the use of hallucinogens as an aid to writing ... no way ... not ever!

How did you tell your story? In other words, did you use an outline, or just write your story from start to finish?
My co-author and I have a “mind-shed”. It’s an imaginary shed where we go to write. He lives in London and I live on Doom Beach so it’s not practical to meet in a real shed. Every evening at 7pm we each enter the mind-shed and begin our allotted tasks. Mark bashes away on an old Olivetti typewriter while I sit in the corner with my colouring crayons and draw something pretty. I’m usually finished by 7.10pm so I play with the imaginary dog for a while before leaving Mark to it. The whole process works very well.

Did you receive any encouragement from family and friends, or did you work on your book alone?
None whatsoever. My family and friend view me as a bit of an idiot with an IQ somewhere between a horse and a crow. They don’t encourage me to pursue intellectual hobbies. Fortunately I have a brilliant co-writer.

What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
The beginning was pretty difficult. The end was very hard too. And then there was that bit in the middle ... that was tough. I’d say it was a tie between beginning, middle and end.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing your book?
I’ll ask my writing buddy since he did all the writing. I did enjoy colouring in the cover with my crayons.

Did you experience any personal transformation after the book was published?
Funny you should mention personal transformations. As it happens I did experience a ‘change’. Post publication I detected a spring in my step. At first I took it to be an aftereffect of the creative process. But then I checked my right shoe and discovered a spring wedged in the sole.

What’s something that gets in the way of your creativity?
Laziness.

What strategies do you use to deal with criticism?
The best thing about being part of a writing partnership is that I can blame my writing buddy for any criticism we receive. It's all his fault.

Where did you grow up and what is your favorite/worst childhood memory?
I was born in a Yorkshire cave after my mother became stuck during a pot-holing holiday. She hadn’t realised she was pregnant at the time and after mum was freed by the cave rescue team I was left behind and raised by bats. Years later it dawned on me I didn’t look anything like my friends and I couldn’t fly. So I tagged along with a group of enthusiasts from the Yorkshire Pot-Holers Club and the rest is history.

Do you have a favorite quote?
“I’m sorry, that seat’s taken”. Does that count? I use it all the time to stop people sitting next to me.

What is your favorite show on TV?
“The Adventures of Champion the Wonder Horse”.

Favorite movie?
“The Adventures of Champion the Wonder Horse: The Movie”.

Favorite book?
Easy. “The Ultimate Inferior Beings” by Mark Roman. Possibly the best book ever written.

Who would you want to meet if you could? Dead or alive.
Gordon Honeycombe. He was a English newsreader back in the day. He’s dead now. No idea why I’d like to meet him other than I like the sound of his name.

Is there a talent you wish you had?
I’d like to have the ability to talk to seals. There are thousands of them on Seal Beach (next door to my beach) and they make a heck of a din. It’s hard to sleep with all that going on. If could speak Seal I could tell them to keep the bloomin’ noise down.

What’s something about you that would surprise us?
You’re referring to my blond hair aren’t you? Thanks for noticing. Hair ‘product’ is very limited on Bernard Island. There are no shops here. Just birds and seals ... millions of them. However, a few months ago a freight container fell off the back of a passing Chinese cargo ship and bottles of what I took to be shampoo began washing up on Doom Beach. Unfortunately the writing on the bottles was in Chinese and I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ve been washing my hair in toilet bleach. You see, I’m not a natural blond. In fact my normal colour is jet black.

Describe yourself in 3 words!
Nice but dim.