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The Cabinet of Dr CaligariIf you follow any writers online, you’re probably already familiar with ‘The Next Big Thing’, an interview meme that was being passed around from blog to blog last year. It was designed to help writers promote their next release whilst allowing readers some insight into their inspirations and processes.

I wrote about my current novel-in-progress at the Impossible Podcasts website, after the gauntlet was passed to me by the exceptionally talented Carole Johnstone. Now that I’m approaching the end of my final draft and I have an online home to call my own, I’ve decided to republish my answers, with a few revisions.

I appreciate that, for a blog about ‘Reading, Writing and the Life Inbetween’, there’s been precious little of the first two in evidence so far, but bear with me. I’m still new to this blogging business and need a little time to get up to speed, but I’ve got some very exciting stuff lined up for the coming months.

Until then, here’s the interview…

1. What’s the working title of your next book?

‘An Unwanted Miracle’

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?

I’ve always been a zombie fan but it’s easy to forget they weren’t invented by George A. Romero in the ’60s, as so many of the stories out there follow his model – society crumbles, leaving a small cast of characters under siege from the flesh-eating hordes. That can be great fun but the zombie has very different origins.

Bella Lugosi and friend in 'White Zombie'They weren’t usually dangerous in themselves, but were more often tools of some more calculating force, operating in secret. The element of horror came, not from the threat of death or being torn limb from limb, but from the loss of self-will and the subversion of established morality by some malignant, external influence. Films such as White Zombie, Plague of the Zombies or The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (which isn’t even a zombie story in the modern sense) are great examples.

Those pre-Romero stories can be problematic though, as they’re absolutely steeped in colonialism – white, upstanding Christians come under attack from dark skinned foreigners and their sinister Pagan ways.

So it’s a model I wanted to both revisit and subvert, at the same time as grounding it in a thoroughly modern setting.

3. What genre does the book fall under?

Horror/crime/thriller. I figure at least one of those has to sell!

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Olivia Colman can do no wrong, and she’d be perfect in the role of Shona, the principal female character. Chiwetel Ejiofor will have to be in there somewhere and there’s a small but key role – the part of a disgraced charismatic preacher – that I can see being played very well by Lenny Henry. Although he’s principally known as a comedian, he’s been stretching his acting muscles lately. And I think that if you can do comedy well, you can do anything!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When his wife’s body disappears, a grieving father enters a web of deception, betrayal and murder that threatens his family, his faith and his life.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

There are increasingly strong arguments in favour of both. But as I’m currently juggling a day job, a family and the novel, I simply don’t have the time or experience to commit to formatting, publishing and promoting the book myself. So it’ll be going out to agents at the end of the summer.

Tottenham riots

The novel is set in post-riot Tottenham

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About a year, give or take.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Let the Right One In. I hesitate to mention myself in the same sentence as greatness, but John Ajvide Lindqvist does a brilliant job of placing the supernatural in the midst of the mundane and making it feel utterly real. He also doesn’t fight shy of the truly horrific – it’s a brutal read but utterly compelling and that’s the tone I’m aiming for. If I produce a book even half as good as his, I’ll consider it a success.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The real spark of inspiration was a story recounted to me by a friend. He swears blind it’s true, but judge for yourself…

A newlywed Christian couple of his acquaintance moved to London, to work for a local church. They rented a flat from a member of the congregation – a kindly old woman who one day arrived on the doorstep with a brown paper parcel that she asked them to store in the attic. The parcel contained old love letters from her late husband, she explained, but her own attic had developed a leak and she wanted to keep them dry for the few months it would take to get it fixed. They agreed, of course, stashed the parcel away and thought nothing more of it.

I Walked With a ZombieBut in the days and weeks that followed, they found the tide of life turning against them. They both fell ill. Sleep eluded them and they both began to suffer minor but inexplicable accidents. The flat seemed to be against them too – the plumbing and electricity acted up and, on one occasion, they awoke to find a small fire in the kitchen.

Things got steadily worse until, one night, the wife shook her husband awake. ‘It’s the parcel,’ she exclaimed. ‘I saw it in a dream. We have to get rid of it.’  They confronted the landlady who finally confessed that the parcel had been given to her by her neighbour – a man notorious in the local African community as a sorcerer and witchdoctor. It seems the local churches had been warning people against him and he had decided to strike back.

The parcel was carried into the back garden and burned. They chose not to open it, but I’m told that, as it went up in smoke, it stank of rotting meat…

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

A necrophiliac meets a zombie. Hilarity ensues…