1. When did your zombie odyssey start? From what I know, Autumn was your first foray into the genre. Is this true?
You’re right, Autumn was my first zombie story. When I wrote the book I was pretty much unaware of the existence of any other zombie fiction and I certainly hadn’t read any. Like most people, I guess, my fascination with zombies began with movies. Growing up as a teenage horror fan in the 1980’s UK wasn’t a lot of fun. A moral minority with too loud a voice and far too much influence convinced a large proportion of the population and the government of the day that horror movies were responsible for all of society’s ills. As a result, legislation was passed which effectively banned virtually every horror movie (they classed them all as ‘video nasties’ – you’ve probably heard that expression). Luckily for me, I had a friend whose dad owned one of the first comic book shops in the UK. He used to go on regular shopping trips to the States, and after one of those trips I discovered he’d managed to get hold of a laser disc player (remember them?) and a stack of discs. During one school holiday a few of us sat around the TV and watched Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. A huge thunderstorm broke outside, and the day turned black as night. And that afternoon was the beginning of my zombie odyssey!
2. Now that you’ve hit it big with New York, any plans on remaining independent for certain projects, or have you left your independent days behind?
Signing with a mainstream publisher has been an incredible experience, and I’m eternally grateful for the exposure it’s given me. That said, there are aspects of independent publishing which I really miss. For example, the speed of ‘real’ publishing is very much slower than when you’re doing things by yourself. I used to finish a book one day and have it on sale in print and as an ebook within a couple of weeks. Now it’s often longer than a year between finishing a book and getting it onto the shelves. When you’re independently publishing, you have complete control over every aspect of the book, and that’s another thing which is different now. Now there are editors, designers, marketing people and lots of other folks involved. That’s great because it means I can concentrate on writing, but it can also be a frustration. Looking forward, I certainly would consider independently publishing again. For one thing, the market has changed massively in the few years since I ran Infected Books. Most noticeably, the long-predicted ebook explosion has finally happened, and many people are now generating huge sales figures and decent incomes for themselves without major publishing house support. I have a few projects in mind which perhaps aren’t commercially viable, and maybe those will be the ones I publish myself. Another really exciting thing that I’ve started looking into is film. As technology made the mechanics of publishing more accessible a few years back, so it’s now becoming financially viable to produce decent quality movies in the same way. I can’t say much more at the moment, but independent movie making and delivery of those movies via the same channels I used to use when I self-published is something I’m actively looking into.
3. Are there plans for any more installments in the Autumn saga, and if so, when can fans expect more?
Yes! There is already an unpublished Autumn novel – Disintegration – which will be released next year. It’s a book I’d written and was about to publish via Infected Books when the series was bought by Thomas Dunne Books, so it hasn’t yet seen the light of day. There will also be another novel to round off the series, and that will most likely be released in 2012. I’m also working on another couple of Autumn-related projects which will see the light of day soon and which will compliment the original series.
4. Since you’re now writing as a fulltime gig, are you putting words to paper every day or are you in that getting-stuff-ready-for-publication stage?
Both! Since signing with Thomas Dunne Books I’ve written two sequels to Hater – Dog Blood and Them or Us (due out in 2011), and I’ll also start writing the final Autumn book soon – but a lot of my time right now is spent working on the existing Autumn novels and getting them ready for publication. I’m working with the US and UK publishers at the same time, and both have different editing requirements. At the last count I’m working through each book about six times to get them ready! I also have a couple of older novels I want to go back and rework (Trust and Straight to You). I have a stack of ideas for new books, but present commitments are stopping me getting to them just now.
5. Who would be your top choice to work with on a collaborative zombie novel?
I’ve never really considered writing a collaboration. I don’t think it’s something I’d be very good at. Writing to me is such an insular and personal process and I’m not sure I’d work well with another author. That said, I’d love to write in other people’s zombie universes. I think every zombie author would like to take a crack at Romero’s world, and I’d kill to get involved in The Walking Dead. There’s no harm dreaming…!
6. Though, of course, zombies fall into the realm of fiction, do you ever foresee a day where a zombie apocalypse could happen?
Actually, yes. Maybe not a full-on Romeroesque re-animation of the dead, but I definitely think we could be hit by a rabies-like, 28 Days Later style rage virus. I wonder how people would react? Most zombie movies and films assume that people will immediately take up arms and start fighting, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. A lot of folks would just crumble and implode. If it does happen, I think the zombie apocalypse will be just as devastating as we’ve always imagined, but maybe not as bloody and violent.
7. Imagine you were captured by a horde of the undead and you knew it was game over for you. Which body part would you like them to chow down on first?
That’s a good question! The sick zombie author in me would probably want to watch everything, so I’d want them to do a Captain Rhodes (from Romero’s Day of the Dead) on me – a mass brawl for my guts. But, in reality, I couldn’t think of a more horrific way to die. I’d probably want them to bite through something that’d kill me instantly. Also, as per Captain Rhodes, I’d like the diseased bastards to really “choke on ‘em!”
8. Do you believe zombies are the best fictional depiction of humanity, both superficially and, perhaps, “beneath the skin”?
I think that zombies give us an unparalleled view of ourselves. My book Hater is often described as a zombie novel, although it’s clearly not. I think it’s labelled as such because it deals with a split in society: a new division occurs which turns people against each other, and one of the immediate side-effects of the change is that all other divisions – race, age, sex, beliefs, existing relationships etc. etc. – are immediately forgotten. I think the living dead in zombie stories do much the same thing – by introducing a new ‘type’ of human into the mix, writers and film-makers can examine the reaction of ‘normal’ people in close detail. Zombies give us a great opportunity to look into the mirror and study ourselves. Unfortunately, what we see reflected back is often more horrific than anything the undead can throw at us!
9. In terms of the zombie market as it is today, do you think we’ve reached over saturation, or are we not quite there yet?
I think we’re almost there. For a long time zombies have been fodder for countless cheap, gore-fest movies, and I think that’s starting to change. The Walking Dead, World War Z, Autumn (forgive me for plugging my own stuff!)… those kind of books and movies are presenting a new and far more serious side to the living dead. Zombies can be (and should be) bloody terrifying, but for too long they’ve just been a staple of knockabout, slapstick horror films and books. I’m hopeful that we’re about to enter a ‘golden age’ for the living dead! I really hope that no-one does a Twilight on us, and turns the genre into a piss-weak memory of what it used to be. I remember the days when vampires used to be foul, diseased, blood-sucking creatures, not sparkly teenagers. Here’s hoping the same thing doesn’t happen with the undead!
10. No gun’s in sight. What would be your top choice for a weapon against the undead?
Maybe it’s because I’m in the UK (where firearms of any sort are pretty hard to get hold of), but I wouldn’t go for a gun anyway. Okay, so once you shoot a zombie in the head, it’s not getting up, but the side-effects concern me. All that noise… it’s just going to let the dead know exactly where you’re hiding. And you need ammo. If you’re the last survivor surrounded by thousands of corpses, are you ever going to have enough bullets? I like the idea of a crossbow – silent and deadly – but you’ve got the same issue with ammunition there. Personally, I’d go for a sword. Silent. Deadly. Never needs reloading. Okay, so you might need to get a little too close to the dead for comfort when you’re dealing with them, but you’ll look so damn cool swinging a sword around and sending the limbs flying!