I’ll admit, when I first started writing the original AUTUMN novel back in 1996 (I think), I wasn’t too bothered about trying to work out what caused the horrific infection that wiped out most of the human race (then made millions of them them get up again). As I’ve always said, the books are more about the human stories that followed than anything else. But by the time I got to AUTUMN: PURIFICATION in 2004, I’d spent quite a bit of time thinking about what might have happened. You sort of get a hint of an explanation in that book.
It was much, much later when I decided to come clean and write about the chain of events that triggered the AUTUMN apocalypse. The story – JOE AND ME – was written, but as far as I was concerned the AUTUMN series was done and dusted and I had no immediate plans to publish it. Enter my friend MICHAEL WILSON of THIS IS HORROR. Michael asked me to write the first THIS IS HORROR chapbook, and I saw an opportunity to release JOE AND ME into the wild. I was thrilled with the reception the story received, and that inspired me to re-write and expand the companion collection, AUTUMN: THE HUMAN CONDITION. JOE AND ME also features in that book.
I’ve thought a lot about JOE AND ME since the coronavirus pandemic began (you’ll understand why if you read it), and I decided to share it again. I thought the best way of doing that was to link to the episode of the THIS IS HORROR podcast when I narrated an audiobook version. Forgive my rough around the edges Brummie delivery – I’m very much an amateur when it comes to audio – but here it is. I hope you enjoy it.
So, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the AUTUMN series a lot recently. AUTUMN was the first of my books which really took off. As you may recall, I gave it away free online between 2001 and 2008 (when, strange as it now seems, eBooks were rare and very few people were giving them away), and it was downloaded many hundreds of thousands of times. I wrote a series of sequels which were well received, and the first book was even adapted as an online full cast audio drama which you can still listen to.
But then HATER came along and my focus shifted. I then moved onto other books and projects, and it’s now a sobering five years since the last book – AUTUMN: THE HUMAN CONDITION – was released. Yet even now people still get in touch regularly to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed the series.
When I wrote the very first draft of the very first book, way back in 1997, no one was writing about zombies. Very few people were watching zombie movies, either. In fact, no one was paying zombies any attention in any way, shape or form. But in the years which followed, a totally unexpected thing happened and, for the first time, the living dead became mainstream. In films, Danny Boyle’s 28 DAYS LATER was a huge hit (which sparked endless pointless debate about whether zombies should run or not, and whether or not his infected were zombies at all), and Zack Synder’s remake of George Romero’s ground-breaking DAWN OF THE DEAD bucked the trend and proved that not all remakes were worthless cash-ins. THE WALKING DEAD comic was launched and a number of writers including myself, BRIAN KEENE and DAVID WELLINGTON precipitated the flood of zombie fiction.
And despite hearing rumours to the contrary every few months since then, the bubble hasn’t burst. People still love the living dead.
I’m going to write two more AUTUMN novels. There – I’ve said it out loud and in public now. I have an idea which I can’t stop thinking about and that, for me, is the acid test. If an idea for a book won’t go away, then that book needs writing. I have a couple of other projects to wrap up first, then I’ll dive straight into what I’m currently calling AUTUMN: DAWN. I don’t want to say too much at the moment, but I think the time’s right for these new books. As I’ve already said, the world has changed dramatically since I first wrote AUTUMN. To my mind, zombies have always been the ultimate story-telling device for allowing writers and film-makers to study the human condition. By turning people into something so similar yet inherently different, it enables us to look back and consider what makes us human in the first place. Socially we’re in a vastly different place now to where we were in 2001, and I think it’ll be fascinating to imagine how we’d react to the events of AUTUMN if they took place today. The new books won’t replace the original novels, nor will they undermine them. Same dead world, different people. Not a rehash or reboot. It’s funny… one of the rules of zombie fiction and movies when I first started writing was that the characters had to have an unspoken innocence and couldn’t know what a zombie was. Given the pop culture explosion I’ve just been talking about, there’s no way I could get away with that in the new AUTUMN books!
So what about the movie?
It was released in 2008 to a torrent of abuse and ill-feeling. It creaks and it groans. It was made on a shoestring budget and it shows. People either loved it or hated it (mostly they hated it). I stopped trying to defend it and used the backlash to try and promote the books, working on the dubious premise that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Tellingly, none of the publishers of the series around the world mentioned the film in their marketing, though an editor who worked on the books did once tell me that ‘it’s always better to have a bad film made of one of your books than no film at all’. And with hindsight, I think I agree. But how bad a film is it? Was all the negativity justified? This week I took a deep breath and watched AUTUMN from start to finish for the first time in a decade. And you know what? I really enjoyed it. I’m under no illusions, it’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t think it’s the absolute car crash that most people assume.
Here’s a trailer, and my thoughts follow. And yes, that is me on the DVD cover above.
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 HATERall 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!
Today sees the launch in the UK of two new AUTUMN releases from Gollancz. First up is THE COMPLETE AUTUMN – an ebook only collection of the five AUTUMN novels (Autumn, The City, Purification, Disintegration and Aftermath) available in all major formats: Kindle / iBook / Nook / Kobo / ePub (Waterstones) / ePub (Hive). A great way to get into the series if you haven’t yet read the books. And don’t forget, for full completeness you can also pick up THE HUMAN CONDITION for the bargain price of £1.99!
Right, nearly there with my recaps of the AUTUMN series in readiness for the UK release of AFTERMATH next week. Today I’m going to look at the various short stories I’ve written to expand and compliment the overall story over the years.
As I’ve already explained, AUTUMN started small but grew rapidly in size, its cast of characters growing with each new novel. Apart from jumping back in time to the beginning of the outbreak at the beginning of THE CITY, and the parallel events of PURIFICATION and DISINTEGRATION, it’s told in a largely linear way. That’s all well and good, but as I introduced each new character, I found myself wanting to go back and tell their individual backstories. To have done that within the books would have made them unnecessarily complicated, and so I came up with AUTUMN: ECHOES.
Originally appearing online only, these (very) short stories explained what had happened to minor background characters from THE CITY to get them from the end of the world to the city centre university where the survivors had grouped at the beginning of the book. It seemed to work so well I continued and did the same with some of the new characters from PURIFICATION too, and it was while I was putting together the third book that these ECHOES seemed to take on a life of their own. Here’s a brief extract from a scene near to the end of the book:
“Eight weeks ago this had been an intelligent young clothing store department manager with a bright future ahead of her. Now it was a mud-splattered, half-naked, emaciated collection of brittle bone and rotting flesh. Unlike the majority of the seething crowd, however, this one was beginning to exhibit signs of real control and determination. Unlike those which simply stood there vacantly or those which ripped and tore at the other corpses immediately around them, this body was beginning to think.”
Once again, bear with me while I exorcise a few more AUTUMN memories. As with previous instalments, there may be spoilers here…
As I mentioned in last week’s post, by the time I’d finished writing the second AUTUMN novel, I was already plotting the third. THE CITY had opened up the story dramatically, and it was becoming clear to me that by killing off 99% of the population by the end of the first page of the first book, I’d given myself the mother of all blank canvases to work from. That said, AUTUMN: PURIFICATION was originally intended to be the end of the series, and it does bring the story of Michael, Emma and the other original survivors to a conclusion, albeit a temporary one.
THE CITY ended with all the major characters in one place (for the first time), trapped underground, and it would have been easy to write something along the lines of Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD. I knew I wanted to take AUTUMN in a very different direction, though, so I needed to get everyone out of the bunker they’d fought so hard to get into. I’d also started to take a fair amount of flack from people who weren’t at all impressed with my take on zombies. They didn’t like the idea of a zombie story without any flesh eating, divorced from many of the usual clichés of the genre. In response, I wanted to open the third book with a bang, hoping to demonstrate that even though my living dead creatures had started off relatively tame, they were now anything but!
A brief disclaimer: as I’ve said previously, it feels pretentious to be writing a retrospective of my own books. I think I’m doing this for my own benefit more than anything else, so please bear with me. It’s some weird kind of personal therapy, I think…
For me, the writing process usually begins when I come up with an ending, then work my way back to the beginning of a story. Not so with the second AUTUMN novel. This time, just to be different, I began with the middle.
I’d been wondering what had happened to Michael and Emma after escaping the farm house at the end of the first book (it wasn’t until recently that I actually went back and filled in that part of their story – see BREAKING POINT over at www.lastoftheliving.net). I had visions of them quickly coming to the conclusion it would be too dangerous to stay in one place, and so electing to base themselves in a mobile home and move whenever the immediate danger became too great. But I knew that in order to move the overall AUTUMN story forward – and it was starting to feel like a much bigger story by that point – they’d need to interact with characters we hadn’t yet met. This meeting – whenever and with whomever – would have to happen almost a month after the initial infection, and yet I wanted these new characters to feel like people we already knew. The best option, I thought – though not necessarily the most obvious – was to rewind time and start from the beginning again.
It’s all a bit quiet around here at the moment, and it’s likely to stay that way for the next couple of months. I’m working on a number of new (and old) projects right now, and will let you know what I’m up to just as soon as I’m able. In the meantime, here are a couple of AUTUMN re-releases which came out this week.
Firstly in the UK, Gollancz are continuing their mass market paperback re-releases and we’re now up to AUTUMN: PURIFICATION (or, as my family have christened it, the green one). And in Spain, the mass market edition of CIUDAD ZOMBIE (AUTUMN: THE CITY) is now out. The Spanish editions of the AUTUMN books have gone down really well, so thanks to everyone who picked them up.
Right… back to work. By the way, don’t forget I’ll be at alt.fiction in Leicester this weekend (just in the morning on Saturday, most of the day on Sunday), and I’ll be signing with Wayne Simmons at Waterstones in Cardiff on Saturday 21st. Please come along and say hello.
With the US release of AUTUMN: AFTERMATH now just over a month away (UK and German releases to follow later in 2012) I thought it was about time I told you a little more about the book. I’ve deliberately not said too much, because this is a direct sequel to bothPURIFICATION and DISINTEGRATION and it was important for everyone to have had chance to read the preceding books first.
So, to whet your appetites, here’s the blurb…
“It’s been almost one hundred days since a killer disease wiped out 99% of the population. Three months since the dead reanimated. Survivors are few and far between now, and those who remain stick together to give themselves the best possible chance of continuing to stay alive. They are the last of the living.
A band of refugees has taken shelter in a medieval castle – a fortress that has stood strong for hundreds of years. Besieged by the dead, they only emerge when it’s absolutely necessary. As autumn turns to winter, however, the balance of power slowly begins to shift.
The unexpected appearance of survivors from another group changes everything. They bring choice, and an alternative way of life which is a far cry from the world everyone has been forced to leave behind. Society as we know it has crumbled beyond repair and things will never be the same again. Some people are ready to embrace this change, others can’t let go of the past. The choice is divisive.
Are we entering mankind’s final days? In the aftermath of the disease, will the last survivors destroy each other, or will the dead destroy them all?”
Just to clear up any confusion, this is very definitely the final book in the AUTUMN timeline. There are a few more short stories to share, but is the last chapter in the series. And yes, in case you’re wondering, the ‘survivors from another group’ mentioned in the blurb are from the island of Cormansey…
Next week I’ll introduce you to one of the key characters from the book, and those of you who read THE HUMAN CONDITION first time around might remember him!