AUTUMN OF INDIE: Interview with David Moody

We catch up with David Moody, author the anti-science fiction novel Trust for a quick chat.

GS: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I enjoyed Trust, but my one query was its description as anti-science fiction. What did you intend by this?

DM: The anti-science-fiction label came from the book’s cover artist, Craig Paton, and I immediately thought it suited the novel. I can see why you’d query the description, though. On one hand, it’s a straightforward ‘first contact’ story, and from that perspective you’re absolutely right to call it as a straight science-fiction book. But my decision to call it anti-science-fiction really stems from the way the characters, Tom in particular, deal with the events unfolding all around them. Their reactions to the arrival of the aliens are shaped by their past experiences of science-fiction books and films. I’ve written a lot of zombie novels, and there’s always been an unwritten rule that the characters in a zombie story can’t have ever seen Night of the Living Dead. When it came to Trust, though, I wanted to make the novel as believable as possible so allowed the characters to embrace, and usually dismiss, pop culture references. I guess that’s why anti-science-fiction seemed so apt.

GS:You made the ordinary lives of the characters in Trust very readable, and not dull, which is not easy. Does the mundanity of life interest you? Do you take character notes from people around you?

DM: I have to admit to being an avid people-watcher, which sounds far worse than it actually is! To be honest, I’m far more interested in what ‘normal’ people would do in response to life-threatening situations or life-changing decisions than I am in what a soldier, politician, scientist or superhero would do. Writing about ordinary folks makes it easier, I think, for readers to empathise with the characters and buy in to their situations, no matter how outlandish they might be. Also, focusing on the mundane often allows me to strip away some of the parts of a story I think are superfluous. An example of this is looking for the cause of whatever Earth-shattering event I’m writing about at the time. I find that sometimes the more explanatory detail you put into a story, the more you diffuse its overall impact. The people I write about are like you and me – they’re probably not going to know what the hell’s going on, they’re just trying to deal with the consequences. With Hater, for example, I didn’t want to know why people were turning killing each other, I just wanted to focus on the characters doing what they had to stay alive.

I definitely do take character notes from people and situations all around me, though. When I used to work in banking (how dirty that makes me feel now…!), I had line manager responsibility for a large number of staff. It’s hard not to be influenced and occasionally inspired by people when you’re working with them so closely. I have to admit though, if people wound me up at work, I’d often take them home and write them into whichever novel I was working on at the time (changing their names, of course, to avoid being sued), and give them a suitably violent and graphic death scene!

GS:I liked Tom, the protagonist of Trust. I liked his cynicism. Are you a cynic? Do you think people pay enough attention to the world around them?

DM: I don’t necessarily think I’m a cynic, more a realist. I like to take ideas to their extreme conclusion in my books, to look at what I see as the worst case scenario, and that inevitably means no happy endings! And I definitely don’t think people pay attention to the world around them. We all tend to drift along from day to day, assuming that everything’s going to pretty much go to plan, and by that I mean we assume the things we rely on in our lives – the people, the places, society in general – are going to be there for us when we need them. Everything was okay yesterday, and it seems okay so far today, so why should it be any different tomorrow? Usually everything will be all right, but not always. It doesn’t take much to screw things up. Earthquakes are a prime example of what I’m talking about; one minute – normality, the next – absolute chaos. No warnings, and absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. And as I write this, vast swathes of the US are being evacuated as Hurricane Sandy approaches. Things are a lot more fragile than we give them credit for, I think, and I don’t think it does us any harm to be reminded about that from time to time. I run a lot in my spare time, and I was in a race the other week where, unfortunately, a competitor passed away. He was of a similar age to me, and by all accounts had trained hard and well… You can’t help thinking, what if? Of course, if we thought about this stuff too much, we’d be too scared to get out of bed and leave the house, but I do think life’s very fragile. As a species, we’re constantly on a knife-edge.

GS:What inspires and motivates you to write?

DM: This sounds clichéd, but I have a head full of stories which I have to get out one way or another! I always wanted to be a director (still do, actually), and I fell into writing as a means of telling the stories I had no way of filming at the time. I also find it a cathartic and absorbing experience. I get the same enjoyment from writing as I do reading a good book or watching a film, but it’s far more intense because you’re in complete control of every aspect of the story. And my inspiration can come from anywhere – dreams, my family, something on the news, watching a movie… I keep an ongoing folder of ideas. Usually it’s the end of stories which come to me first, and I then work my way back to the start.

GS: How do you write? Are you a meticulous planner? Can you only write in the evenings or in the mornings, that sort of thing?

DM: I wouldn’t say I’m a meticulous planner, but I do more than my fair share of preparation before I start a book. I usually start with the germ of an idea, then expand that into a rough synopsis, then break that down chapter by chapter, and so on and so on until I’m ready to start the first draft (which inevitably gets completely revised/thrown out by the time the book’s complete). But although I have a structure in place, writing is a very organic process for me. I’m going to get pretentious again now, but I find as I get into later drafts that I get to know the characters better, and they often dictate the way the story progresses. I’m fortunate to be able to write full-time at the moment, so as soon as everyone else leaves the house I start. The downside of working from home, of course, is that I also cop for all the chores, so the books have to take a back seat when dinner needs cooking, or there’s washing to be done, or the dog needs to be walked! It’s good to have such freedom and flexibility, of course, because I find you have to be in the right frame of mind to write. I can’t just switch it on and off.

GS: Is writing a lonely occupation?

DM:Not really, though it can be at times. When I’m deep into a novel, I like the solitude. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I need the solitude, my HQ to process my thoughts alone, my military base. So the actual writing process can be solitary, but pretty much all the other aspects of the job most definitely aren’t. There’s a huge amount of interaction with people online, and I make sure I get out to plenty of events throughout the year – signings and conventions etc. (I’m actually doing an ad hoc ‘tour’ with fellow author Wayne Simmons – the ongoing ‘Never Trust a Man with Hair’ tour – see www.djmoody.co.uk for dates!). One thing I miss from my old jobs is the constant interaction with other members of staff, so I think it’s crucial to get out and about regularly. How can I expect to write accurately about people if I cut myself off from everyone else?

GS:Your novels are generally horrific. Does your writing infect your dreams or do your dreams infect your writing?

DM:That’s a great question. Again, at the risk of sounding corny, a lot of the endings of my books come from dreams. I have to force myself to remember them, and I scribble notes down on a bit of paper by the bed so I don’t forget. I think a person’s most vivid dreams often reflect what frightens or concerns them most, so it stands to reason that dreams make good fodder for horror novels. I know I’m onto a good idea for a book, though, when the reverse happens. It’s always great to be woken by a nightmare about the stuff I’m writing about!

GS:What made you want to update Trust? Are creative works ever finished or does George Lucas have a point?

DM: Trust was a very early novel and though it had been reasonably popular with people who knew my work, I was never completely satisfied with it. The characters weren’t deep enough or believable enough, and it skimmed over sections of the story I thought needed to be expanded. In the time between the original and the re-write, I learned a huge amount about writing. When I first wrote the book I was a single guy living with my parents and I didn’t have a huge amount of responsibility. Fast forward almost twenty years, though, and my life now is very different. I’ve experienced much more, and I’ve written much more too. I’m a dad and a husband with all that entails, and I feel far more qualified to write about people. I’ve also had the benefit of working with a number of excellent editors who’ve helped me hone my writing, so it seemed an ideal time to go back and look at Trust again with fresh eyes. As far as George Lucas is concerned, I think he should have stopped a long time ago. You can argue that a creative work can always be developed further, but my bottom line is this: if that work has been a success in the way Star Wars originally was – loved and watched by millions, does it really need to be updated/altered? Profit should never be used as a justification for going back and rehashing any piece of art, Star Wars included. I guess that’s also my argument with remakes in general – it’s all about profit. Trust wasn’t a huge success when it was first released and that, coupled with the short-fallings I identified in the story, made it a prime candidate for a re-write.

GS:You made your name with Autumn and publishing online, but then was published by Gollancz. You’ve self-published Trust. Why? Where do you see publishing heading in the future? What do you think of people like Cory Doctorow letting fans remix their books online?

DM: That’s the big question, isn’t it! I think Doctorow’s great, and there are plenty of people trying to take books in new directions. Thing is, though, I’m not sure everyone will want that. People often just want to read a story, so there will always be a market for straightforward novels. It’s how those novels end up in the hands of potential readers that’s really interesting. I just fell into self-publishing at the beginning. It was about ten years ago, and very few people were doing it at the time. I’d had a book released through a traditional publisher which sold bugger all, so when I’d finished writing Autumn I sat down and reassessed my priorities. What good’s an author without any readers? I knew I had to get my books to as many people as I could, so I began by giving the book away and hoping to interest enough people who’d want to read my other stuff. And that was what happened. I then went on to sell eBooks at very low prices (long before the days of Kindle etc.), then moved into print with print-on-demand. My involvement with major publishers like Gollancz in the UK and Thomas Dunne Books in the US came about when Mark Johnson and Guillermo del Toro bought the film rights to Hater, another one of my books. Those publishers enabled me to reach a massive audience, but I know of self-published authors today who are reaching similar numbers of readers under their own steam. Ultimately, I think the industry is going to have to continue to change in response to the new ways in which people can get hold of books. Previously it was the publishers who held all the aces, but now their grip is slipping and you get the feeling that the real power now lies with those who facilitate the delivery rather than the production of books – Amazon, Apple etc. Reassuringly, though, from my perspective, one thing remains unchanged: you’ll always need people to write the stories!

I decided to release Trust myself for a couple of reasons. Firstly, and most practically, because I have a lull right now. The Hater and Autumn series are both complete, and it’s going to be a little while before any new books see the light of day. Publishing Trust myself and serialising it online (www.trustdavidmoody.com) helps me keep my name out there. Second, I guess I just wanted to see what would happen. The market has changed so dramatically since I gave half a million pdfs of Autumn away – we have Kindle, iBooks etc. etc., and attitudes towards self-publishing in general have changed – so I thought I’d satisfy my curiosity and see how people would react to an independent release from me.

GS:You’re clearly interested in the end of the world. Why? Is it a result of working in financial services?

DM: I think I touched on a couple of the reasons earlier. Primarily, the end of the world is a great device to use when writing about people, because all the layers of bullshit we surround ourselves with each day are stripped away when our backs are against the wall. It takes away a lot of the pretence and boils everything down to straightforward, black-or-white decisions: fight or flight, sink or swim, survive or don’t. As I also mentioned, the fragility of society interests me, and how easily our lives can be turned on their heads. It’s interesting that you mention financial services, though. When I left school and started working in a bank, it was a very respectable career and I’ll be honest, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would (because of the people – the customers and the staff – not the nature of the work itself). But now, looking back, I can clearly see traces of the vile behaviours we all know about today, were present even then. As I climbed up the ladder (and believe me, I didn’t climb up very far…) I came into contact with more and more ruthless, rich, and generally bloody horrible people. And I had a few glimpses into the opulence of the highest levels of management, and it strikes me the industry has always been rotten to some extent. And politics today is much the same – a privileged few dictating how things will be for everyone else, often for their own benefit more than anyone else’s. If I’m honest, I do find it truly frightening. It sometimes feels like The Matrix, you know? Like we’re only being told a fraction of the whole story. If you peel away the surface a little, what’s going on under the surface is often not what you’d expect (a case in point, the ever-deepening Jimmy Savile enquiry).

GS:Do you see it coming? Which would you prefer to live in between economic collapse, supernatural apocalypse or alien invasion?

DM: I’d have to say yes, I do feel it coming. I write about this stuff with such glee I probably make it sound like I’m looking forward to it, but I’m not. At the risk of repeating myself, I think things feel quite precarious at the moment. My money (excuse the pun) is on total economic collapse. We keep hearing about these hugely important ‘last chance’ meetings in Europe where, it seems, make or break decisions need to be made… but nothing happens. They keep papering over the cracks. We’re a species driven by the need for individual self-preservation to a large extent, and the disconnection between those people pulling all the strings and everyone else is truly terrifying. Very inspirational for a writer of post-apocalyptic fiction though!

My Armageddon of choice… well, I don’t believe in gods of any size, shape or form, and I don’t go for ghosts, demons and the like either. I’d hope it’s not aliens, because any species with the ability to visit us would inevitably have the ability to crush us like ants, so I guess I’d have to go for a good old viral apocalypse if I had to choose! I’m thinking BBC Survivors, that kind of scenario!

GS: Do you think aliens will come to visit?

I think it’s inevitable that aliens will visit us or we’ll visit them. I think in a universe of apparently infinite size, the chances of there not being other intelligent life out there are slight.

GS: Which end of the world book or film do you wish you’d written (not your own) and why?

DM: I think Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham or War of the Worlds by HG Wells. Triffids was my first real exposure to post-apocalyptic literature, and it had a huge impact on me. As for War of the Worlds, I can only begin to imagine the effect Wells’ story would have had on readers in the 1890s. Similarly, I’d have to mention George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead too. In my opinion it redefined horror movies on many levels and certainly takes much of the credit for the genesis of the zombie sub-genre as we know it today.

GS: Zombies. Slow and supernatural or fast and infected? Why?

DM: Slow and infected, just to be awkward! I think a viral contagion of some sort is the only plausible (plausible – we’re talking about animated dead bodies here! Nothing’s plausible!) explanation for reanimation. And they’re dead – they shouldn’t even be able to walk, so they’re definitely not going to be able to run!

GS: Thanks very much for your time. Final question, what next for David Moody?

DM: I’ve got a number of different projects in development right now. I’m just entering the final stages (I hope) on a new novel – 17 Days – which, for once, is not about the end of the world! When that’s complete I’m moving onto The Spaces Between – a five (possibly six) book science-fiction/horror series. Think Children of Men meets Quatermass, and you’ll get the idea of the kind of vibe I’m hoping to go for with that one. A very British dystopia! I like to have a few books on the go at the same time, so I’m also working on another couple of novels. First there’s Strangers – a quick, dark and dirty horror story and also Straight to You – a re-working of my first book which I’ll probably release in a similar way to Trust. Oh, and in 2013 I hope to be filming Isolation – a low budget independent horror movie I’ve been working on with a few other guys.

DM: I’m a big fan of Geek Syndicate, so it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for having me!

David Moody was born in 1970 and grew up in Birmingham, UK, on a diet of trashy horror and pulp science fiction books and movies. He worked as a bank manager and as operations manager for a number of financial institutions before giving up the day job to write about the end of the world for a living. He has written a number of horror novels, including AUTUMN, which has been downloaded more than half a million times since publication in 2001 and has spawned a series of sequels and a movie starring Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine. Film rights to HATER were snapped up by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) and Mark Johnson (producer of the Chronicles of Narnia films). Moody lives with his wife and a houseful of daughters and stepdaughters, which may explain his pre-occupation with Armageddon. His latest novel, TRUST, is currently being serialised free online at: www.trustdavidmoody.com.

Read our review of Trust here.

Reporter: Ian J Simpson

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