I recently had the fantastic opportunity to interview one of my favorite horror authors, David Moody. Moody is the English horror author of the Autumn series, initially released online and going on to become an international phenomenon that spawned the sequels that horror lovers know and love today. Moody is also the author of the Hater series, Trust, and Straight to You. Originally published in the 90's, Straight to You is Moody's latest (re)release.
Moody took the time out of his busy day in order to answer my questions and give us a personal look into his work, his personal life and what the future holds for him. Enjoy this exclusive Horror Metal Sounds interview and make sure you head over to his official site to stay in the know, follow him on Twitter and give him a like on Facebook.
HMS: David, first off I’d like to thank you so much for this opportunity to pick your brain. I’m a huge fan of your work and this is a lovely chance for me to ask you some questions that I, along with I’m sure the rest of your fans, want to know the answers to!
DM: Well it’s lovely to be here, thank you!
HMS: Tell me a little bit about your newest release, “Straight to You.” What inspired the story and what do you feel sets this novel apart from the rest of your work?
DM: Straight to You” has a long history... It was actually my first published work, but this is a completely rewritten version. It makes me feel old when I say this, but I originally wrote the book back in 1994 and it was published in 1996. It sank without a trace at the time, and in retrospect I actually think that was a good thing! The relative failure of the book actually proved to be a blessing in disguise for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it led to me finding a new publication approach for my second book, “Autumn” (I gave it away for free online... that’s nothing new these days, but this was long before Kindle and iBooks etc., and I owe my whole career to that decision). More importantly, though, “Straight to You” wasn’t as good as it could have been. The concept was great, but the original execution was lacking. Twenty years later I think I’ve learned enough about writing to be able to finally do the story justice! The premise is that the sun is dying: the world’s heating up by the hour, and it won’t be long before all life on Earth is extinguished. Steven Johnson becomes separated from his wife and has to get to her before the end of everything. I write a lot about various different apocalyptic scenarios, but this one is different in that the outcome is sealed and there’s nothing anyone can do about what’s coming. The focus of the book is how we deal with that, and how things change when every decision matters and every new morning might be our last. Heavy, eh?!
HMS: Can you tell me about the book’s main character Steven Johnson? What were your ideas behind creating this character? What sort of trials and tribulations will we see Steven come up against on his journey?
DM: Well, in the original version of the book, Steven was pretty much a cardboard cut-out hero figure – the kind of bland hero I’ve since grown to hate. In the new version, he’s a much more rounded individual, with real issues that affect how he reacts to the situation he finds himself in. He’s a typical bloke, really – stubborn, has trouble expressing his emotions, delays doing things until he absolutely has to do them... When I first wrote the book I was a young kid just out of school, but now I’m a husband and a dad, and I’ve been through some difficult stuff. All that helped make the character much more realistic second time around. In terms of what Steven has to go through in the book, well he’s up against it in a number of ways. There’s the obvious physical difficulties of trying to get cross country in unbearable heat whilst the world is falling apart around you! Throughout the duration of the story, though, he’s also having to reassess his priorities and decide what really matters in his life... “if I do this, I’ll never see this person again, but if I don’t do it, I’ll never see that person again...” You get the picture! He starts off as a very image-conscious, materialistic guy, but is forced to reassess everything along the way.
HMS: What’s been your favorite novel(s) to work on and why?
DM: That’s a great question! I’d have to pick two, I think: “Them or Us” (the final “Hater” book) and the last book in the “Autumn” series, “Autumn: Aftermath”. As the final books in what had been successful series that had taken years to write, it was really satisfying to bring both stories to a close. I couldn’t choose between them. I think the satisfaction with “Them or Us” was bringing the hero, Danny McCoyne’s story full circle, because he went on a massive journey from being a lowly office nobody to being someone who had real influence during the crucial moments of a war which would decide the future of what was left of the human race. “Aftermath”, though, let me explain more about my zombies and the approach to the living dead I’d taken throughout the books. Unlike most zombie stories -in “Autumn” - the dead are constantly changing... gradually becoming more self-aware as their physical bodies are deteriorating. There are a few twists at the end of the series which took a lot of folks by surprise, and it’s always satisfying as an author to be able to do that.
HMS: As an author, a creator, what do you find to be the hardest part of writing your books?
DM: The writing is the part I enjoy! Seriously – it’s the greatest job. You get to make up stuff for a living, for crying out loud! So in terms of the creation of my books, I love the process from start to finish... the spark of an idea which you might mull over for years before committing pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), gradually turning that idea into a cohesive story, developing that story into a proposal/outline, the sheer bloody agony of writing the first draft, revising that draft and re-writing then re-writing again... honestly, I love every moment of it. The hardest part, I think, is letting go of your book, then waiting for a response. Be it from a reader or an agent or an editor, the time between you finishing writing and you actually getting to hear what people thought of the book is absolutely horrible. Of course, once someone says they like it, you immediately feel fine again!
HMS: Let us in on the David Moody writing process. How do you work through your initial ideas and finally put the “pen to paper”? Do you have any rituals or specific surroundings you prefer to write in?
DM: I don’t do rituals or anything like that, but I do have something of a process. When I’m writing a novel, for example, I’ll often have been working on the basic idea for some time. The book I’m writing at the moment – the first in a new horror/science-fiction series called “The Spaces Between” is something I’ve been developing since mid-2010. Once the idea’s crystallized, I’ll then outline a story, and once I’ve got the basic outline nailed (though everything inevitably changes later on), I’ll write scene-by-scene then chapter-by-chapter breakdowns. I then write the first draft, which is where the story really starts to take shape – the plot details become clearer, and the characters turn from sketches into something resembling real people. After the first draft it’s a case of revising the manuscript over and over until it’s done. I do that until I’m satisfied everything has been explained. If I have any more questions about the book once I’ve edited, then I know it’s not finished. I usually write in my office at home, though I’ll go out and about with a laptop occasionally for a change of scene. I listen to music (I have a work playlist which is about 7 hours long – perfect for the working day), and I work in hour long chunks. I switch the Internet off, write for 45 minutes, then take a short break, review my progress, and start again.
HMS: I’ve heard the rumors of “Hater” being brought to the silver screen. Any chance you have any information on this that you’re able to share? How do you feel about your books being adapted for film or television?
DM: Film and TV adaptations are something I’m very keen on – I wanted to make films before I started writing books, and I still have plans to diversify. I sold the film rights to “Hater” and “Autumn” at the same time to very different organizations. “Autumn” was filmed in 2007 (released 2009) by an independent Canadian outfit. They really worked hard on the film (which starred Dexter Fletcher and the late David Carradine in his last role), but it wasn’t particularly successful. The “Hater” rights went to Mark Johnson (producer of “Breaking Bad”) and Guillermo del Toro. It almost went in front of the cameras back in 2008/2009, but the project stalled and has been stuck in development hell since then. There’s still plenty of interest in the movie, and I am hopeful of having some news to share before the year is out. I’m also planning a movie project of my own, but can’t say anything about that just yet (sorry for the tease!).
HMS: Explore the apocalypse with me. What draws you to this genre? What are your fears for a real life apocalypse scenario? What are your pet peeves when reading or watching other people’s works of post-apocalyptic fiction and what do you find the most delighting?
DM: I’m fascinated by apocalyptic stories, but probably not for the reason you’d expect. I think it comes from growing up in the 1980s, when it felt possible (probable?) that a nuclear war might start at any moment. I’d say things have changed since then, but if things deteriorate in Eastern Europe... Anyway, I realized my fascination is actually about people. I’m an avid people watcher. That makes me sound like some kind of pervert, but I’m honestly not! I’m just fascinated by the way people interact with each other... how they get on (or more likely, don’t), the choices they make, their priorities and relationships etc. I’m also increasingly frustrated by the sheer amount of bullshit we’re subjected to each day: we’re constantly lied to and manipulated by the media and politicians, people hide behind their online profiles, and so on and so on. The apocalypse presents a scenario where all that bullshit gets stripped away and people have no choice but to act honestly, with their every decision having potentially vast implications. I love gritty, realistic apocalyptic tales, and my pet hate is the belief that, when the shit hits the fan, we’ll all turn into action heroes. Some might, but the fact of the matter is, most won’t.
HMS: You’re an incredible international success. What’s the one thing you could attribute your success to? What is the greatest piece of advice you could offer me and all the other aspiring writers in the world?
DM: Well thank you! There was no great plan to this success, and I guess that’s what I’d put it down to – I wrote books because I wanted to tell stories. I wrote them to the best of my abilities and worked hard to get them in front of as large an audience as possible. I guess the business decision I can attribute everything to was my decision to give “Autumn” away as a free download back in 2001. As I’ve already mentioned, free books were a novelty back then, and there was no eBook market as such (just a handful of nerds like me, reading PDF files off their screens). But I kept plugging at it and gave away somewhere in the region of half a million copies of the book over the following few years. I then started writing sequels (which I charged money for – my kids have to eat!) and opened Infected Books, my own publishing house. I moved into print as well as eBooks, and just kept writing and publishing, and it was in 2007 when I got my big break and sold the “Hater” movie rights. Everything changed then – I sold the rights to my books to Thomas Dunne Books of New York who then sold them on to numerous other publishers around the world. My one piece of advice: DON’T STOP. Don’t stop writing, reading, or talking about your book. Success doesn’t come overnight. It took fifteen years from when I started writing seriously to when I had my first book published by a major press.
HMS: What’s a typical day in your shoes like? What do you do for fun? What do you find yourself doing in your downtime?
DM: I don’t get a lot of downtime! I guess that’s one of the perils of working from home (that and having to do a lot of the household chores too... I just had to stop answering the last question to empty the washing machine!). I absolutely love it, though! I start around 7:30am and work through to around 2:30pm when I head out to pick the kids up from school. I’ll maybe fit a couple more hours work in later if it suits the family. For fun (and my sanity) I run. I try and get in around 100 miles a month – a mix of races and training (anything up to half-marathons). I’d go crazy without running. It gets me out and about, and it’s also great for helping me work – I’ve come up with some of my best plot decisions while pounding the pavements! In all seriousness, it’s the only time my thoughts don’t get interrupted. Other than that, I love live music and comedy, and I have a voracious appetite for film. Anyone who works in a creative industry has to feed that creativity, I believe, so I’m reading and watching whatever I can, whenever I can.
HMS: Any chance we could get some info on what your next book(s) might be?
DM: Well I actually have a couple of completed novels with my agent at the moment. One is “Strangers” and that’s probably as close to a vampire story as I’ll ever get. The other is called “17 Days” and it’s a real departure for me. A guy finds out he’s probably got just 17 days left to live, and thanks to the wonders of social media and 24 hour news channels, he ends up acting out the rest of his life under the gaze of the rest of the world! I’m currently working on a new horror/science-fiction series called “The Spaces Between” which is set in a dystopian future UK, several years after London has been wiped off the map by terrorists. The displaced population are living in sprawling, crime-ridden new cities, and... and I’m not going to say anything more just yet!
HMS: And now for my signature question... the zombie apocalypse has just begun! React quickly! The object directly to the left of you is your only means of defense! What is it?
DM: Honestly, I think I’m screwed. It’s a rubber Morph figure, holding a “Hater” pen. If you’re not in the UK, you won’t know what Morph is, so here’s a Wikipedia link and I’ll attach a photo so you’ll know I was telling the truth!
HMS: Thank you again, David, from all of us at Horror Metal Sounds. It’s been a pleasure. Good luck in your future endeavors. As a big fan and a writer in the genre, from one dystopian nut to the other: keep spreading the apocalypse.
DM: Thank YOU! It’s been an absolute pleasure. Always great to meet someone who’s equally passionate about the end of the world!
Stevie Kopas, Associate Editor HMS
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