Interview with author David Moody (HATER, DOG BLOOD, AUTUMN)

It gives me great pleasure to interview Mr David Moody, a writer and friend whose work has been a huge inspiration. Dave will be joining me for a special launch of his killer zombie novel, AUTUMN, at NO ALIBIS book store this Thursday (4th November 2010). Until then, here’s a few words from one of the coolest guys in the genre today.  

WS: Who are you and what contribution do you make to the sci-fi/ horror genre?

DM: I’m David Moody, and I write pretty grim books, usually about the end of the world happening in one way or another. I’m best known for the Hater books and the Autumn series which began life as a free download from my website and eventually turned into a five book series and a movie!

WS: You have been a novelist for over ten years now. However, 2009′s Hater (Gollancz/ St Martin’s Griffin) is widely considered your debut novel.

DM: My first novel, Straight to You, was published traditionally in 1996. I thought I’d hit the big time but I was very wrong and I didn’t even sell out the first print run of 500 copies! When I’d completely my second book, Autumn, I didn’t want to just jump onto the same submission > rejection merry-go-round again and so I looked for an alternative route to publication. I decided that the most important thing was to get the book to as many potential readers as possible, and the simplest way of doing that was to give it away. I made the novel available as a free download via my website and in the 7 years it was online, it was downloaded more than half a million times. I’d always planned to write (and charge for) sequels to Autumn, and so built up a kind of cottage industry. In 2005 I was made redundant from my job and I used the time and money to set up Infected Books, a small press. I used print-on-demand technology to produce paperback versions of my books and managed to generate some pretty healthy (for a small press) sales figures. Things were going well with Infected Books, so I continued to write and release novels. In 2006 I published Hater and, a couple of months later, I had an approach from a production company in LA who were interested in acquiring the film rights. Once that deal had been made, I had an offer from Thomas Dunne Books in the US to re-publish Hater and its two planned sequels, and that offer subsequently expanded to include the Autumn books too. All of the Infected Books editions were pulled from the shelves and so, when Hater was re-released in February 2009, people assumed it was my debut!

WS: What I like best about your work is the grounding of your supernatural stories within very natural environments, populated by very natural characters. Is this a conscious decision?

DM: Definitely. I think any that any horror author should strive to freak out their readership and play with their minds, and I think that quite often the best way to achieve that is to ground your horror in an environment or a situation which people can relate to. As a fan of serious horror and science-fiction, I get turned off by characters that are too perfect (i.e. brain surgeons, square-jawed soldiers, all action presidents etc.) and situations which I can’t identify with. Ultimately, what I like to do is stick ordinary people into extraordinary situations – basically, slightly screw up their realities! I find it far more interesting to write about average, fallible people than it is to write about superheroes!    

WS: Would you describe your writing as character-driven, plot-driven or a mixture of both? What comes first when you’re writing – the plot or the characters?

DM: I think my books are a mixture of plot- and character-driven stories. Generally I’ll come up with a basic premise first (often deciding on the ending and working my way back to the start), but it’s the characters who define how the story progresses. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true – the longer I spend on a novel or on a series, the better I get to know the characters involved. Again, I think it helps maintain a level of believability if you work that way. It’s easier to successfully let a character develop and follow them through your plot rather than trying to shoe-horn them into situations. 

WS: Your work to date deals solely with end-of-the-world stories. Where does your fascination with the apocalypse come from? Would you like to write outside of this sub-genre?

DM: It’s an odd fascination, I know, but the more people I talk to, the more I realise I’m not alone! Contrary to what you might think, I’m actually a really happy man! I do get very frustrated with the rest of the world though, and it seems to be getting worse as I get older. I’m in quite a weird position in that I spend a lot of my time alone in the house working, and these days the Internet is like having a window onto everything else. I’m very conscious that the world is powered by increasing levels of lies and bullshit, and it’s quite hard to stomach at times. Politicians have always been self-serving liars, advertisers have always tried to manipulate people, etc. etc., but these days people seem to roll over too easily and take everything they’re told for granted. I think the worst example of what I’m talking about is that fact that, here in the UK, there are an increasing number of empty, vacuous ‘celebrities’ who have no discernible skills or talents, they’re just known for being known – people are effectively told to like them, to buy their pictures, watch them on TV etc., and they do it! What I try to do in my fiction is make people question what’s around them. We float through our lives and just assume that what we had yesterday is the same as what we’ll have tomorrow, and quite often that won’t be the case. Things change – often dramatically – and I like to try and examine what might happen in those kind of circumstances. The end of the world gives endless opportunities to sit back and watch chaos ensue! I do have a number of other, non apocalyptic projects in mind, I just haven’t been able to get to them yet!

WS: Hater and Dog Blood tell the story of a sudden, global change in mindset, withint half of the population, resulting in a complete meltdown of modern society. The story is often told from the perspective of ‘haters’, remorseless and lucid killers who believe their actions to be the result of some sort of epiphany. What inspired this story? 

DM: I’d been thinking for a long time that it would be interesting to write a story in which all the divisions we use to keep ourselves separate from everyone else – age, sex, hair colour, religious beliefs or non-beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. – suddenly counted for nothing. I realised the only way to make this feasible would be to introduce a new criteria – something which people either had or didn’t have which would take no account of preferences or existing relationships. Initially I tried a range of different things such as the appearance of half the population changing dramatically, but the story was still missing something. And then, in July 2005, London was attacked by suicide bombers. One of the bombers turned out to be a classroom assistant in a primary school, and terrifying footage was shown on the TV of this person interacting with school kids. I found it impossible to understand how the same person could demonstrate such extremes of behaviour, and that idea became the basis of the book. The division between people was the Hate – or rather the belief that they had to kill other people (the Unchanged) before they killed them. 

WS: Dog Blood, in particular, contains a brutal and violent narrative heavily relayed from the hater’s POV. Was it difficult to write so intensely from this POV? 

DM: It was frighteningly easy to write. I don’t imagine for a second that I could do any of the things that my characters are capable of, but it was easy to allow the main character in particular to develop in such a way that his behaviour seemed acceptable for him. I guess this goes back to my earlier answer. The character just grew with the book. I’ve made no secret of the fact that Danny McCoyne was based on me at a particular time in my life, and so it was easy to imagine myself in his shoes. It’s worrying how quickly we become accustomed to increasing levels of violence. Once Danny has experienced a few horrific events, they seem to become the norm and he’s no longer shocked or bothered by what he has to do. And that’s a really scary prospect. It makes me wonder how much violence anyone could carry out if they found themselves in such a situation.  

WS: Your novel Autumn (to be re-released through Gollancz and St Martin’s Griffin this week) was made into a film starring David Carradine. The screenplay was co-written by your good self. Hater is set to be filmed by the team behind recent supernatural hit, The Orphanage. What is it like to see your characters on the screen? 

DM: It’s a bizarre feeling. Very nerve-racking, actually! As a writer I plan my novels very visually, to the point where I can almost watch the story as a movie in my head before I start writing. A by-product of this approach is that by the time I’ve finished a book, I have a very definite idea of how the characters look, talk and move, what the locations they inhabit are like, etc. It’s sometimes a little jarring to see someone else putting their mark on something you’ve created. I guess that’s why writers and directors often don’t mix well! As far as Hater is concerned though, the sheer calibre of the people involved in the movie is incredibly exciting. I can imagine watching the film and thinking, ‘wish I’d thought of doing it that way’! 

WS: Have you any more screen-writing coming up in the future? 

DM: Nothing in the immediate future, but I have a couple of projects in the early stage of planning. As I said, I plan my books very visually, so anything I realise could, theoretically, be adapted for film. I am a frustrated film-maker, so I’d like to both write and direct something in the near future. 

WS: What writers/ film makers have inspired you over the years?

DM: I don’t read anywhere near as many books as I’d like, and if I was to mention the authors who have influenced me most, I’d have to go back to my youth when I read a lot of HG Wells and John Wyndham. War of the Worlds was the first post-apocalyptic tale I really remember, but it was Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids which really inspired me to write the books I do. Triffids is just such a unique, beautifully told vision of the end of the world. Film-wise, like just about everyone else who writes about zombies, I was inspired by Romero and his original three living dead movies. I’m also a huge fan of the original Universal monster movies from the 1930′s, B movies of the 1950′s, and golden era (Dark Star to They Live) John Carpenter. But I think my favourite director has to be David Cronenberg.  

WS: Finally, what’s next for David Moody?

DM: Well I’m still revisiting my past right now, and will be for the next year at least. I’m working with the US and UK publishers on the re-issues of the Autumn series, and then I want to go back and rewrite a couple of my earlier novels. I have a few other projects in development, but it’ll be a while before they see the light of day!

Autumn is available now from St Martin’s Griffin (US) and will be released through in the UK through Gollancz this week. Visit Dave online at http://www.djmoody.co.uk/

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