A novel focus on mathematicians

Danyl McLauchlan rises early every day to write before he heads off to his day job as a computational biologist at Victoria University. His early-morning discipline has paid off.

Danyl McLauchlan outside a store front in Aro Valley

In June this year, Victoria University Press will publish his second novel, Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley, a follow-up to his first novel Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley.

Danyl always wanted to be a writer but it wasn’t until his late thirties that he learned the importance of rewriting.

“I learned all the basic storytelling stuff from working with a friend on a screenplay that was never made into a film. Then I started to write my first book when shows like The Wire and The Sopranos were doing all this complex innovative stuff in terms of storytelling, really paying attention to plot structure on a technical level.”

While his first novel was centred around a group of occultists in the Aro Valley, in Mysterious Mysteries it is a group of mathematicians who create havoc, setting the protagonist—a flawed anti-hero named Danyl—on a series of hilarious adventures.

Mathematics is widely seen as a science and something very practical, says Danyl.

“But if you look closer at it and learn a little of the philosophy, it is very mysterious. What are mathematical objects? Are they real? Are they created or discovered? Cults of mathematicians can be just as sinister and mysterious as occultists.” He gave the main character his own name as a way to keep himself honest.

“Sometimes I feel like novelists make fools of themselves when they have these loosely disguised versions of themselves running around inside their books—they make themselves brilliant, brave, witty and attractive.”

The character Danyl is none of these things, and much of the book’s hallmark humour is derived from the bumbling investigations of the main character.

Although both his books have a local Wellington setting, Danyl says it was incidental, playing into the humour of the books.

“It wasn’t important for me to base my fiction in Aro Valley. It’s just a great comic setting for comic novels and no one else was using it, so I thought I might as well take advantage of it.”

Not content with two careers, Danyl is also behind the popular political blog The Dim-Post, which he calls a hobby.

“It’s what I do instead of watching sport, or trainspotting. I try to be accurate and insightful but I don’t take it too seriously.

“Ironically, the political commentary is more widely read and discussed, but hopefully the books will have a longer shelf life.”