AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID MOODY
For your reading pleasure today, I am very proud to have David Moody over for a chat. David was at the forefront of the zombie revolution with his top selling zombie series Autumn, as well as the highly successful Hater series, which has been optioned for a film adaptation by….. well your just going to have to read on .
GNOH – Hi David, how are youdoing?
Hello! I’m good, thanks. Great to be here at one of the best-namedblogs on the Internet!
GNOH – How did the HalloweenHorror reading go?
It was a great event. You always have some trepidation approachingthese things, because the usual safety net you have as a writer is taken awaywhen you’re reading to a live audience – their reaction is immediate. Thenerves were clanging even more than usual because I was reading alongside twogreat authors – Adam Nevill and Gary McMahon. As it was it was a really goodevent which went off without a hitch. I think we all enjoyed it.
GNOH – So what makes you tick?
A very open question! In terms of horror, it’s easier to tell you what doesn’t make me tick than what does. I’mnot religious or superstitious, and that means that ghosts, demons, devils etc.don’t do anything for me at all. That’s not so great for a horror writer,because that’s a huge swathe of the genre ruled out. I’m more interested inhuman horror: what people will do to survive, how we cope in the face ofuncertainty, how we react when the normality of our day to day lives isstripped away…
GNOH – Can you remember whatfirst kicked off your love of the horror genre?
I get asked this question a lot, and I do have some very specificmemories. I grew up in the 1980’s, and as every self-respecting UK horror fanknows, they were dark days for horror here. Pretty much every movie I wanted tosee was labelled a video nasty and banned, and some of my earliest horror memoriesare sneaking back downstairs when everyone else was in bed to watch the horrordouble bills (usually old Universal and Hammer movies) they used to show on theBBC. My fascination with post-apocalyptic stories came from discovering War of theWorlds and Day of the Triffids in my school library (not sure what they weredoing in a junior school library, but I’m glad they were there!). Finally, myfascination with zombies came from watching Romero’s Night of the Living Deadwhen a friend managed to get hold of a copy from America.
GNOH – Your first novel StraightTo You, laid the foundation for much of your work, in that it dealt with anoncoming apocalypse. What is it aboutthis that holds your fascination so strongly?
It’s not so much that I’m fascinated by the end of the world, it’s morethat I can’t stand the monotony and mediocrity of life today – everything’s sosanitised and safe, and yet if you scratch under the surface you’ll find thingsthat are seriously screwed up. In terms of telling stories, using the end ofthe world as a backdrop means that there’s more at stake for the characters:emotions are more extreme. I think it’s incredible just to what extent peopletake everything for granted and assume that things tomorrow will be the same asthey are today, when that’s clearly not the case!
GNOH – By the time you wrote your second novel, theinternet and the whole ebook book thing was still in its infancy. How long did you fight with the decision togive your book away for free?
It was actually quite a straightforward decision. It was something veryfew people were doing at the time (unlike today), and the book immediatelygained interest because of that. I always wanted to write full-time, and inorder to do that I knew I’d have to have a decent-sized audience. I figured theeasiest way to get that audience was to make my book available for free towhoever wanted it, and that approach ultimately worked. Realistically, I’dprobably only have managed a few sales if I’d charged for the book, and aszombies were definitely not mainstream back then, I’d probably have struggledto find a publisher. I did have a cunning plan, though, to write a series ofsequels to Autumn and charge for them so, from that perspective, I was able tolook at the free download as
GNOH – Looking back at thedecision, it was the right thing to do, and a stroke of genius. How do you think it would have gone if youwere just starting out now? Do you thinkit’s possible for a new writer to make such an impact?
I think it is possible for new writers to make an impact, but it’s avery crowded marketplace now – very different to when I started giving Autumnaway in 2001. At the end of the day, though, you have to have a good book thatpeople are going to want to read. I truly believe that good stories and goodwriting will always be noticed, because they’re the books which people willchose from this massive virtual slush-pile and share with their friends.Autumn’s a story about a virus, and I played on that in the marketing approach,asking people to ‘get infected’ and help me ‘spread the infection’. And theprinciples are still the same – people tell their friends who then tell theirfriends, etc. etc. Social networking makes it much easier to share these days!
GNOH – The success of the bookallowed you set up your own publishing house Infected Books. Even in the age of The Kindle, many authors lookdown their noses at others who do what you did? How did you manage to get past this snobbery.
Infected Books was my way ofgetting past the snobbery. I hid behind the name. I’ve quite a commercialbackground, and I realised the importance of building a professional-lookingbrand. My ethos going into Infected Books was that I wanted my novels to be ofa quality indistinguishable to professionally produced books – the right look,the right content, good covers and editing… I think that adhering to thoseself-imposed standards meant that many people weren’t aware that Infected Bookswas just me working in my tiny office at home! I used to get people trying tosubmit novels to the company and all sorts!
GNOH – Do you find that you stillhave to justify yourself, or do you think you have risen above the misguidedsnobbery of some of your peers?
To be honest, I couldn’t give a damn if anyone does still look downtheir nose at me. This answer’s going to sound arrogant, and I apologise inadvance, but self-publishing has worked beautifully for me. I’ve sold morebooks than I could have imagined, I’ve sold film rights, I’m published in morethan fifteen countries. The bottom line is that my books are read and enjoyedby lots of people. I’m far more interested in what they think rather than any misguided (as you put it) peers. Thepublishing industry is changing, that’s a fact, and theself-publishing/self-promoting aspects of the business are things that allauthors will inevitably have to get to grips with.
GNOH – You have now closed downInfected Books, what was the reason for this?
I haven’t closed Infected Books down completely, I’ve mothballed it. Itwas a decision I reached with my editor at Thomas Dunne Books when theyacquired rights to republish the Autumn series, and it was a no-brainer. Theywere going to publish eight of my novels, and we agreed that to keep IB openwould have been an unnecessary distraction. When things were at their peak,running the business took a huge amount of time, so much so that I often didn’thave chance to write! I have a few older books, however, which I’m currentlyre-writing and which I’m considering putting out under the Infected Books labelnext year.
GNOH – There is a huge flood ofauthors now self publishing, and yes there is a large amount of dross outthere, but are there any of these authors that have caught your eye?
I do get sent a huge number of manuscripts, and unfortunately I don’tget chance to read them all so I’m probably not qualified to answer this. Thereare other people far better than me at spotting great writers. Permuted Press,over in America, are zombie-story specialists and I think Jacob (theirhead-honcho) must spend half his life scouring the Internet for suitablestories. They’re having a lot of success right now with writers like CraigDiLouie, Iain McKinnon, Tony Faville and many more. Those guys were eitherself-published or small-press published before catching the right person’s eye,as were zombie heavyweights JL Bourne and the late Z A Recht. I always have tomention my good friend Wayne Simmons here. Originally published by Permuted,he’s gone on to publish a couple of wonderful apocalyptic novels which I love –Flu and Drop Dead Gorgeous.
GNOH – Do you have any advice forthe new breed of authors out there?
I could probably write for hours about this, but I won’t! I’d have togo back to my golden rule with Infected Books. It’s hard to think of your finelycrafted novel as ‘product’ but, in the market-place, that’s what it becomes. Soyou owe it to yourself to produce the highest-quality product you can. Awonderful book that’s taken years to write can be tossed aside in seconds by areader if it doesn’t look professional. The editing, formatting and design isalmost as important as the writing. I’d also caution people not to expectovernight success – you probably won’t put your book online and get thousandsof visitors on day one (or even week one or month one). My first book wasreleased in 1996 and sold next to no copies. Autumn was made available todownload in 2001, and it wasn’t until 2009 that I had my first release througha major publisher. It takes time to build a following, and I’d resist thetemptation to pay for adverts in magazines and the like to try and forcereaders your way. Best to let them find you naturally, and the best way forthem to find you is through recommendations from friends.
GNOH – You are perhaps best knownfor your Autumn books. They were writtenbefore the zombie genre really exploded, what prompted you to write a zombienovel?
I mentioned earlier the effect that watching Romero’s Night of theLiving Dead had on me. I’ve always loved zombies as movie monsters, mainlybecause as well as being adaptable to pretty much any scenario, they are theultimate personification of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Initially Autumn was to be an‘empty Earth’ story where a few survivors try to make sense of a world whereeveryone else has died, but it was clear early on that it was missingsomething. The logical solution was to have the dead rise. Back in 2001, it wasrare to find a zombie novel. A very different situation than today!
GNOH – And what is thesignificance of the title?
The obvious answer is that the books begin in September and the bulk ofthe action occurs through Autumn! It’s always been my favourite season – soatmospheric and quite melancholy after the sun and greenery of the summer. Themain reason for choosing Autumn as the title, though, was because it’s ametaphor for what happens to the human race in the books. Billions of peopledie at the beginning of the series. They fall like dead leaves and are leftlying in the gutter. Lovely, eh?!
GNOH – For those readers whohaven’t had the pleasure of reading the books, can you tell us about them?
The Autumn books combine aspects of traditional zombie stories with afew key differences. I wanted to write something believable (or as believableas a zombie story can ever be!), and so I took the typical zombie mythos andtwisted it a little bit. My zombies don’t eat flesh (I could never work out whysomething that’s dead would want to eat?), and you’re either dead or immunefrom the outset, so there are no clichéd scenes where people hide the fact thatthey’ve been infected until the worst possible moment when they ‘turn’ andstart attacking their fellow survivors… I think, though, that there are twokey differences between Autumn and other zombie stories. Firstly, the booksaren’t really about the zombies – the focus is on the survivors trying to dealwith their situation, and the dead are just an ever-present threat they have tobe aware of. Second, the zombies (and I never actually call them that)gradually change throughout the series. They begin as pretty useless lumps ofdead meat, just lumbering around. But, during the course of the books, theyregain their senses and control. At the same time, however, their bodies arecontinuing to decay, so there’s this bizarre and frightening paradox when thedead are becoming aware of what they are and who they used to be, but at thesame time they’re increasingly restricted by their worsening physicalcondition.
GNOH – Do you provide an explanationfor why there are zombies, or do you just go for a leap of faith approach?
To be honest, the explanation for the reanimation of the dead issomething I’ve never gone into in great detail. There’s a cause hinted at inthe third book, but it’s never confirmed. There are a couple of reasons forthat, the first being that it doesn’t matter! As I said, the books are aboutthe survivors, not the zombies, so what caused the dead to rise isinconsequential to those who are immune. They just have to deal with the handthey’re dealt (as one character says to another: if you get hit by a car, doesit matter what colour it is?). Secondly, the characters in the novels are allvery ordinary people. I always write about normal folks rather than yourtypical heroes – super-soldiers, great leaders, brainy scientists etc. I thinkit increases the horror and believability if the reader can identify with thecharacter on such a basic level. With that in mind, the characters in my booksare never going to be in a position to find an explanation, even if they wantedto – they’re so far removed from the cause. If the unthinkable happened and adeadly plague spread around the world from, say, somewhere in Asia, then herein the UK I wouldn’t care how it started, I’d be too busy trying to make sure Ididn’t catch it!
GNOH – So should zombies run, orshamble?
Shamble. No question. They’re dead!
GNOH – Was it always yourintention to write a series?
Yes. I think I touched on that earlier. The risk of giving away thefirst book for free was less of a gamble knowing that I’d eventually have paidsequels to fall back on. Also, when you kill billions
of people on the firstpage of the first book, you’re left with an almost infinite number of storiesto tell about the few people left alive.
GNOH – There are currently fivenovels in the series, will there be any more, and can you tell us about
Kind of a convoluted answer for you here… I originally conceived thebooks as a trilogy, and published them through Infected Books (Autumn, Autumn:The City and Autumn: Purification). During the writing of Purification, Istarted putting together a whole load of short stories which added morebackground to the characters and to the series as a whole (the collectionbecame known as Autumn: The Human Condition). In 2006 I had an idea for a verydifferent kind of Autumn story and I started writing a fourth novel which,apart from being set in the same world, had only a tenuous connection to theprevious books (Autumn: Disintegration). The deal with Thomas Dunne Bookshappened in 2008, before I’d had chance to release Disintegration, and so thebook remained unpublished until this year (it’s out in the US in November, andhere in the UK at the end of December). I signed a five book deal, and thatgave me opportunity to write a final novel (Autumn: Aftermath) which wraps upthe series and ties up all the loose ends from the previous books. Aftermath isout next year. In the meantime, all the short stories I’d written are graduallybeing made available (along with some brilliant artwork) at www.lastoftheliving.net – theofficial Autumn website.
GNOH – What would say sets thesebooks apart from other zombie novels?
As I said, they’re about the survivors rather than the zombies. I thinkit’s a very human view of the apocalypse, and I hope I achieved what I set outto do to write a believable zombie story.
GNOH – Do you read other zombienovels, and if so which are some of your favourites?
It’s part of the job! Recently I’ve read a lot of great zombie books:Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse by Max Brallier, Flu and Drop DeadGorgeous by Wayne Simmons, Tooth and Nail and The Infection by Craig DiLouie,and Remains of the Dead by Iain McKinnon. All very enjoyable stories.
GNOH – There is a film adaptationof Autumn, staring Dexter Fletcher, what do you think of the film?
That’s a hard question to answer, actually. There’s no denying I wasdisappointed with the finished product for various reasons, but I’m also stillproud of certain aspects of the movie. How could I not be? The late DavidCarradine played a character I created, and I got to go to Canada and be azombie! I think the film-makers had an ambitious vision, which was impossibleto meet with their small budget. When Carradine died in June 2009, anunfinished copy of the movie was leaked online and the film was absolutelysavaged by hundreds – thousands probably – of ‘reviewers’. At the end of theday, the film-makers approached the project with 100% conviction andenthusiasm, but that wasn’t enough to carry them through with limited resources.
GNOH – How much input did youhave in the film making process?
I wrote a spec script for Autumn before I’d even been approached, justto see if I could write a script, and that formed the basis for theirscreenplay. Other than spending a week on set in December 2007, I had prettylimited involvement. That’s par for the course for a writer having a bookadapted, I’m led to understand.
GNOH – Are you psychic, yourcareer as a writer seems to see you making moves into markets just before theyexploded, ebooks, zombies? If so willyou do my football coupon?
If I was that good a psychic, I wouldn’t need to write for a living –I’d guess the lottery numbers and retire!
GNOH – You are also well knownfor your Hater series, can you tell us about these books?
People class the Hater books as another set of zombie stories, butthey’re not really. The idea for the series came from looking at society andall the ways we differentiate ourselves and set ourselves apart from otherpeople – we divide ourselves by age, sex, race, beliefs… the list goes on. Ithought it would be interesting to consider a world where all those divisionswere rendered irrelevant, because a new division had arisen – the Hate. Thebasic premise is that one third of the population (the Haters), are suddenlyunable to live with the rest (the Unchanged) and have to kill them because theybelieve they’ll be killed if they don’t. It starts small with isolatedincidents of violence, but the situation steadily worsens until we’ve reached astate of all-out war. Then things get really unpleasant.
GNOH – Who or what exactly arethe Haters?
I think I’ve just answered that! But one of the really interestingthings about the story is that it’s all about perspective, and the label‘Hater’ is irrelevant. To deal with the Hater menace, the Unchanged authoritiestry to isolate and eradicate them. The Haters then strike back. Then theUnchanged try and take control… and before you know it we’re on a dangerousdownward spiral. I guess one of the messages of the book is that everyonebelieves what they’re doing is right and just, no matter how repellent it mightseem to everyone else.
GNOH – Are you using these books as a way to holdup a mirror to your personal fears about the way society is going?
Very definitely. I think we’re in a seriously terrifying place rightnow, and I don’t see things getting better. It’s interesting how the books havestruck a chord. Back in the summer when there were riots up and down the UK, Iwas getting a constant stream of emails, Tweets and Facebook messages frompeople who’d been looking outside their windows and seen things which wereuncomfortably reminiscent of the books.
GNOH – You are about to releasethe latest instalment in the series, can you tell us what to expect in thisinstalment?
Them or Us is the final book in the series, out on 17 November. There’sa scene in the first book which has a substantial effect on how you see the restof the overall story, so it’s difficult to say too much about Them or Uswithout ruining Hater and Dog Blood. I’ll be vague with details and say thatthe war between the Haters and Unchanged is almost at its end, and there arevery few people left alive. A brutal dictator is in charge of one of the lastremaining settlements in the country, and it’s increasingly clear that whathappens in that settlement will have a massive effect on everyone who has sofar survived. Like most horror stories, it ultimately boils down to who isgoing to survive: will it be them, or us?
GNOH – You use real locations forthe first time, what is the reason for this?
I’ve always been vague with locations, because I like readers to beable to identify with my stories and put their own mark on them. I’ve tried notto be too specific and use actual place names because that might affect the waysomeone relates to a story. What I mean by that is, I don’t want to write a keyscene based around a landmark like, for example, the Rotunda in Birmingham,because one day it might disappear. Does that make sense? It sounds strange,but until Them or Us, it was how I’d always written my books. Things happen inDog Blood, however, which make the last remaining people scatter to theextremities of the country (again, I don’t want to give too much away!). I knowLowestoft well (my mother-in-law lives there), and it seemed like the ideallocation for the book because it’s out on a limb (it’s the most easterly pointin the UK) and it has something of a bleak, post-apocalyptic feel to it. And ifI’m honest, I can’t help thinking of Armageddon when I’m with my mother-in-law!
GNOH – Why do you think there issuch a market for these types of books?
I think you touched on it earlier. These stories say a lot about thestate of the world right now and they play on people’s fears. And as Imentioned, zombies (and Haters) are a blank canvas which can be adapted to anysituation.
GNOH – The novel has beenoptioned for a film adaptation, can you tell us how this is going?
The Hater movie is the other extreme to Autumn which was a small,independent production. The Hater rights were bought by Mark Johnson (producerof the Narnia films) and Guillermo del Toro (who needs no introduction). It wasfrustratingly close to going into production a couple of years back, but theproject stalled. It’s still alive, though! I’m talking to the productioncompany regularly and I’m hopefully there will be some movement very soon.
GNOH – So what do you like to doin your spare time?
I don’t get much spare time, to be honest. I’ve got a lot of projectson the go, and we also have a large family. I work from home and my wife goesout to work, so I have to fit a lot around the family’s routine. Apart fromwatching as many movies as I can and reading, my two other passions are livemusic and distance running. I train a lot and I’m fortunate in that writing isone of the few jobs you can do while you’re exercising – I plan a heck of a lotwhile I’m out running.
GNOH – Other than the new Haterand Autumn novels, can you tell us about any other future projects?
I finished the final Autumn book a month or so back, and so this is thefirst opportunity I’ve had for years to write something that’s not Autumn orHater related. I’m working on a few major projects right now: a short moviewe’re hoping to shoot next summer, several new novels, and the
reissue of twoof my older Infected Books releases.
GNOH – Many thanks for popping over David.
Thanks for the great questions, Jim. I enjoyed that!
You can find out more about David by going to his website
And you can buy his books by clicking the links below