Back in 2005 a little-known British horror writer published a series of books under his own publishing banner, Infected Books. These books, collectively called the Autumn Series, had already created quite a sensation when the author, David J. Moody, made them available for download and nearly half a million people did so. Now some big publishing houses have taken note, and on October 26th St. Martin’s will be publishing the first book in the series, Autumn (in the UK Gollancz will be bringing the book out October 28th).
Moody is also the author of Hater, which has been optioned by Guillermo del Toro, and its sequel, Dog Blood. THIS is a guy all horror readers should take note of.
Dread Central recently had the opportunity to interview the prolific writer and find out a bit more what he has in store for us Autumn fans. We have been warned…
Dread Central: Thank you so much for taking time to do this interview with Dread Central. Now, how about a little background information about David J. Moody? Just the facts and any entertaining tidbits you might want readers to know.
David Moody: It’s a pleasure! I’ve been a massive fan of horror and science fiction for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always had a morbid fascination with books and films dealing with the end of the world. I think my earliest post-apocalyptic memory was being scared shitless at a very early age by seeing When Worlds Collide on TV. I remember looking at that planet in the sky which was about to crash into Earth and wondering what was happening to everyone else – not those lucky people being saved from Armageddon in their retro silver spaceship that the movie focused on, but the billions of other people left behind. I became addicted to horror movies – initially old Universal and Hammer classics (which were all we could get in the UK at the time thanks to the over-reactionary government of the day which labeled most of the films I wanted to see as “video nasties” and banned them), but then I discovered George Romero, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, and I decided that I wanted to make movies myself. Unfortunately, when I left school, I didn’t have any relevant experience or qualifications and ended up working in a bank to pay the bills. While I was there, I started writing, figuring that if I couldn’t film the stories I was coming up with, I’d try to put them into novel form to at least get them out to some kind of audience. My first book – Straight to You – didn’t sell in huge numbers so when I’d finished my next book (Autumn), I decided to give it away via my website. Everything else really snowballed from that.
DC: Autumn, the first book in a five-part series, is coming out here in the States on October 26th, but this isn’t a truly “brand new” novel. It got its start as a downloadable tale on your website and then was published by a small press. How did the actual story that became Autumn come about? There are definitely tips of the hat to George Romero and Night of the Living Dead as well as Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.
DM: As I’ve already mentioned, I did originally make Autumn available as a free download through my site. After one less than successful brush with the publishing industry, I didn’t want to get straight onto the submission/rejection merry-go-round again. All I wanted was to get the book to as many people as possible to build up an audience and start developing a name for myself. The free download was a huge success with around half a million people picking up the book during the seven years or so it was available online. In 2005 I was made redundant (the bank moved my job to Sri Lanka, but I decided not to go with it), and I used the time and some of my redundancy cheque to found Infected Books – a very small publishing house – to get my books into print. There’s always been a stigma attached to self-publishing (rightly so, in lots of cases) so using the Infected Books brand as a cover gave me a little more credibility. I’d written a series of sequels to Autumn, along with several other novels, which I then published myself and managed to generate some decent sales figures.
The story which eventually became Autumn started as an “empty Earth” tale where a handful of people wake up one day to find everyone else dead. I was interested in looking at the loneliness and isolation such a situation would inevitably result in, but the story was definitely missing something. It didn’t take long to work out that it was zombies! I’d watched Romero’s Night of the Living Dead countless times, and I loved the coldness and bleakness of it. But there were aspects of NOTLD and other zombie stories that I personally didn’t find so satisfying. Autumn gave me the opportunity to put a slightly new spin on the living dead which would hopefully a) make them even more frightening, and b) not upset the zombie purists too much!
DC: I absolutely loved how Autumn set up the characters of Carl, Michael and Emma and then had them trying to stay safe from the risen dead in an old English farmhouse. And the absolute desolation of the Penn Farm and the growing population of the walking dead, along with the sojourns out to find provisions, made for some very unsettling, creepy reading. And again, there is little to no gore for gore’s sake, but it just works. What did you set out to do when you created the Autumn series? What was your initial “plan”?
DM: As I mentioned, there were some aspects of the traditional zombie mythos that didn’t work for me. I could never understand flesh eating, for example. Why would something that’s dead need to eat? Zombies don’t stop for toilet breaks, do they? They don’t sleep, they don’t drink … so why would they eat? I know it’s all academic and you could come up with a hundred and one viable reasons why they might, but it’s just something I’ve never understood, and it’s something I steered away from in the Autumn books. I also get frustrated by the over-reliance on spreading infection in lots of zombie tales. How many times have you seen a film or read a book where one character gets bitten and then hides the bite from the other survivors until he/she “turns” (usually at the least opportune moment) and kills most of the others? I know it’s a staple of the genre, but it’s become something of a cliché.
In Autumn you’ve either got it or you haven’t by the end of the first chapter – you’re dead or you’re alive. I think it gives the stories a different dynamic to most others. Finally, I wanted my zombies to evolve. Again, in your typical zombie story, the first creatures you meet are the same as the last, and the living dead generally remain a constant and unchanging threat. In the Autumn series, however, they develop, and the danger they present steadily increases. They start as dumb, reanimated hunks of flesh which can barely function, but then, over time, their senses start to return and they regain a degree of control. But as this is happening and they’re regaining mental strength, their physical bodies are decaying. So there’s this great paradox – the dead can understand more, but they’re able to do less about it.
Inevitably, therefore, over time the dead bodies in the Autumn books become more and more aggressive and are an ever-increasing threat to the few survivors who remain alive.
DC: How did you manage NOT to use the “Z” word throughout, I assume, the series? Was it a conscious choice?
DM: There’s a great scene in Shaun of the Dead when Shaun and Ed are about to leave their house for the first time since the dead have risen. Ed looks out through the letter box and tells Shaun how many zombies are outside. Shaun’s response is, “Don’t say that … don’t use the “Z” word!” I think the “zombie” label conjures up a whole load of images and ideas that I tried to steer away from in Autumn so yes, it was a conscious decision. If you saw a dead relative of yours walking up your garden path, would you really call them a zombie? Wouldn’t you say “There’s Aunt Alisha” or whatever? I tried to make the Autumn series believable (as believable as any book about walking corpses can be, anyway), and I can’t help thinking that if the dead really did rise, we wouldn’t call them zombies! Also, there’s an unwritten rule in most zombie movies and fiction that the characters always act as if they’ve never heard of zombies or seen a zombie movie before. No one ever says, “Let’s do XXX like they did in Dawn of the Dead!” or “Why don’t you do YYY like in 28 Days Later?”
DC: After Autumn there will be Autumn: The City, Autumn: Purification, Autumn: Disintegration and finally, the mysterious fifth book, Autumn: The Human Condition. Just to get readers started out, how would you describe Autumn to those unfamiliar with the first book or the series itself? And will fans see the fifth book in the near future?
DM: I think Autumn is the Marmite of zombie fiction, in that people either really get into the series or they absolutely detest it. (I’m not sure if that will mean anything to anyone outside the UK. See marmite.com for an explanation; it’s a food that people either love or hate, and there’s no in-between).
The books really offer a different perspective on the zombie apocalypse which is more character orientated than most. They’re much more about the living than the dead, and they’re definitely not non-stop, blood and guts, action-filled stories. There is plenty of action (and blood and guts), but unlike in a lot of zombie stories you don’t get it all in the first chapter. The people who survive in Autumn are not necessarily the best suited to survival. I think most people assume that if the dead did rise and the world fell apart, they’d find themselves an impenetrable fortress, stock up with supplies and weapons, and sit the crisis out. I’m sure some people would act like that, but there’d be plenty more who didn’t – people who’d just crumble and fall apart, people who’d lose their grip on reality, others who’d just want to get drunk and end it all… The Autumn series is about normal, average, everyday people trapped in this appalling nightmare along with several million walking corpses.
The first three books are a straightforward trilogy, and while I was writing the third book in the series, Purification, it occurred to me that there were lots of new characters appearing that we didn’t know a huge amount about. In Autumn it’s as if everyone’s life has been reset on page one, and what you did and who you were before the end of the world doesn’t count for anything anymore. I thought it would be cool to go back and write about these new characters and give them each some back story (i.e., where were you when the shit hit the fan?). Those stories became a web-based series called “Autumn: Echoes”. After Purification was published, I decided to publish the Echoes (there were about 35 of them) along with some other Autumn short stories and novellas I’d written. They were released as Autumn: The Human Condition, and although there are no plans to republish that book just yet, I’m pleased to announce that all of the stories will be made available online to tie in with the other books as they’re republished throughout 2011. That’s more than 120,000 words of free zombie fiction to look forward to!
Autumn: Disintegration was written after I’d closed down Infected Books (once I’d signed with Thomas Dunne Books), and it will be published for the first time in summer 2011. It takes place at the same time as Purification but deals with a whole new set of characters. There will also be another book, which I’m planning as we speak, that’ll tie up all the loose ends and bring a very definite end to the entire story.
DC: And would you mind just giving a little away about Autumn: The City for those of us who have less patience waiting? Will we be seeing what happens to Emma and Michael and even Carl?
DM: Autumn: The City goes back to the beginning of the disaster and looks at what happened through the eyes of a different group of survivors who choose to lock themselves down in the middle of a sprawling metropolis rather than trying to escape like Michael, Carl and Emma in book one. But something happens while they’re holed-up which forces a sudden change of tactics, and … I don’t want to give too much away! You will be seeing the survivors from book one again, though, I’ll tell you that much!
DC: Your first book, Hater, has been optioned by Guillermo del Toro. Any further progress with that project? And how did it feel to have del Toro want to tackle a book of yours? Any news about Dog Blood being optioned? And how did these two books come into being as their “problem” is much more similar to the rage virus that Danny Boyle introduced?
DM: I’ve known about his involvement with Hater for several years, but I still can’t believe that Guillermo del Toro has read the book, never mind that he’s going to produce the movie adaptation! Unfortunately the project seems to have stalled a little, not least because del Toro seems to be the busiest man in the world right now, but hopefully there’ll be some news about the film in the near future. There’s actually a clause in the agreement which allows them to option Dog Blood, but I think that’ll be dependent on a) the Hater movie being made and b) it being successful.
Incidentally, Hater was actually not my first book, but it was the first book of mine which was released by a “proper” publisher. It’s often labeled a zombie story, and although there are some similar themes, it’s really not one at all. I got the idea for the story from looking at all the divisions we use to split ourselves up from other people: age, race, beliefs, sexual orientation, etc., etc. I thought it would be interesting to think about what would happen if a new division came along which made all those other pointless splits in society disappear. You’d have families splitting apart, parents turning against their kids, etc., and I guess that’s similar to the way that, in zombie stories, the world is simply divided into the living and the dead. The division (called the “Hate” in the books) is never fully explained, but it makes people turn against each other and the Haters feel they have no choice but to kill the “Unchanged”.
DC: Who would you say are your biggest horror influences? Who do you continue to read now, and are there any new horror authors that you would recommend?
DM: My biggest literary influences are John Wyndham and HG Wells. Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids had a profound effect on me when I first read it. It’s just an incredible story in which the world is turned upside down overnight. Wyndham’s books were famously called “cozy catastrophes”, and that really appeals to me. I like to write about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations, and that’s something Wyndham was an expert at. Wells’ War of the Worlds was another book which had a huge impact on me when I was younger. I can only imagine the impact it had on unsuspecting readers in the late 1890’s!
I don’t get time to read anywhere near the number of books that I’d like to these days. I’ve been friends with a horror writer from Northern Ireland – Wayne Simmons – for some time, and I’ve just read and enjoyed his most recent zombie novel, FLU. I’ve been on a bit of a zombie fiction kick recently. I also really enjoyed Tooth & Nail by Craig Dilouie. Dilouie’s approach to the genre is unique but also strangely familiar at the same time. The story’s not so new, but the way he tells it certainly is.
DC: What are some of your favourite horror films of all time? Have you seen anything recently that impressed you?
DM: I don’t have time to list them all! I’m a massive horror film fan, and I’ve got a decent-sized collection which I never get time to watch! Romero’s original Dead trilogy was, of course, hugely influential on me, and as I’ve already mentioned, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg are two directors I greatly admire. If I had to single out a film by each of them I’d go for The Thing and The Fly. Other classic horror favourites are Alien and An American Werewolf in London. Seriously, I cried when I heard they were planning to remake American Werewolf. There’s just no point. You can’t improve on that film.
As far as more recent movies go, I absolutely loved Let the Right One In. I think my favourite film of the last couple of years, though, was Moon: not horror, but bloody brilliant all the same.
DC: What is your opinion on the state of horror, both film and books, today? With the Twilight phenomenon, the “True Blood” series and the romantization of vampires in general. Zombies seem to holding up well (no pun intended) and werewolves seem to be struggling to make a comeback. Where would you like to see the horror genre headed?
DM: I have a real problem with many aspects of media at the moment in that, more than ever, it’s all about cash. People will only produce what sells, even if people are buying shit. Remakes are a prime example – generally they’re unnecessary and they add nothing to the original, but they sell tickets and merchandise so they’ll keep being made. I mean, how tragic is it that unfunny spoofs of uninteresting genres (Vampires Suck – sorry, I’m not a vampire fan) can take so much money at the box office? I think there’s a real danger that the quest for maximum profit is resulting in reduced risk taking by executives and publishers, etc. Books are going through a revolution in terms of self-publishing and eBooks. etc. I’d like to see the film industry go the same way because if it doesn’t, I don’t know how any original movies will be made. Before we know it, we’ll be sitting in the cinema watching franchises on their fifteenth sequel or remakes of remakes!
DC: Is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t asked you?
DM: It’s just worth mentioning that, in case people didn’t realise, Autumn was actually made into a movie a couple of years back. It was a really low budget Canadian production, and it was pretty badly mauled in the press, but it stars Dexter Fletcher and has David Carradine in one of his final roles so it’s worth looking out for.
DC: What is one thing no one knows about David Moody that you think they should?
DM: I’m not saying!
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