Killing a work colleague

Autumn: Purification (Thomas Dunne Books, 2011)A clickbait post title if ever there was one, but there’s a genuine point to this so bear with me. It begins many years ago, when I worked as a manager in a processing centre for a bank, looking after around 100 staff as we wound our centre down to a close. The work we did was being farmed out to newly opened sites overseas, where it could be done at a fraction of the cost, leaving my team and I redundant. I’m glad it happened, all things considered, because leaving the bank gave me a chance to take Infected Books to the next level and turn my part-time writing hobby into a full-time career.

But that’s not what this post is about. I was working on AUTUMN: PURIFICATION at the time, and having to deal with the redeployment of so many people in the real world brought unexpected benefits to my writing. I was able to release my stresses on the page (ever wondered where the inspiration for Samurai sword-wielding Harry Stayt came from?), and if I found myself becoming frustrated by my bosses, members of my team, or other people I was having to deal with at the time, I’d often picture them as a zombie and give them a particularly gruesome death in the book (without mentioning any names, of course, as I’d already got enough to deal with without being sued by anyone who took objection).

My new book which came out last week, ONE OF US WILL BE DEAD BY MORNING, has again reminded me of the usefulness of creating characters based on facets of people you know or who you’ve had interactions with. I find that it really helps keep them grounded and real, and if the characters in a horror novel are believable, it can add an enormous amount of weight to the emotion and impact of the vile situations you drop them into.

At the weekend I went away with my wife, and on the way home we stopped at Crosby Beach near Liverpool where Antony Gormley’s spectacular ANOTHER PLACE is installed. If you’ve not come across it before, it’s a series of 100 cast iron figures placed facing out to sea across a 2 mile stretch of beach. We visited on an ice-cold, exceptionally windy day, and that added to the impact of the sculpture. There’s something really affecting about seeing so many motionless (and emotionless) figures being buffeted and beaten by the waves. It felt quite dystopian, and the picture I took which I’ve posted here reminded me both of Danny McCoyne in THEM OR US, and Matthew Dunne at the beginning of ONE OF US WILL BE DEAD BY MORNING. These characters are the intentional antithesis of each other, and both play pivotal roles in their respective trilogies as you’ll discover as the new series progresses.

When I was at a particularly low ebb a few years ago and my creative spark had been snuffed out, my wise wife said to me ‘how can you write about people anymore when you don’t know any?’. She was right, of course. I’d become a bit of a recluse, and my writing had suffered. I went back to work in an office, intending to stay there for a few months, and I’m still there after more than 3 years (and just by way of an aside, I now manage a team doing pretty much exactly the job I had Danny McCoyne doing in HATER all those years ago!). Though I have less time to write, the writing I produce is far, far better now that I’m mixing with other people on a daily basis again, and dealing with all the emotions of those interactions, both positive and negative. For me, the benefits of having a completely separate day job are clear, and right now it’s something I wouldn’t want to be without.

And that’s the reason for this post, I guess. ONE OF US WILL BE DEAD BY MORNING has been my first major release for some time, and it’s the first novel in which I’ve used characters inspired by the people I’ve recently worked with. Being around such a wide range of people while I’ve been writing the new HATER novels has been bizarrely therapeutic. I don’t really advocate killing your work colleagues, but do take inspiration from them. If you’re anything like me, it’ll help you in both your writing and non-writing careers. It’ll improve the quality of your characters, and it’ll help you get through those challenging business meetings as you imagine the horrific ending you’re going to give to the person currently giving you an ear-bending…

So thanks to the real Ronan Heggarty and Paul O’Keefe, for the inspiration they’ve both unwittingly provided. You don’t know who you are, but I do!