Church bells chime in the dusty streets. A lone wolf howls, and a tumbleweed rolls by.
No, I’m not talking about the aftermath of one of my jokes, but the setting of author David Towsey’s debut publication from Jo Fletcher Books. David was kind enough to contribute a guest post, talking about the process behind writing his debut work entitled ‘Your Brothers Blood’ (review at the end of the week) and the Zombie/Western genre blend.
So without further ado, over to David.
The genesis of Your Brother’s Blood is not a particularly easy thing for me to pinpoint. Ideas seem to snowball for me – as I’m sure they do for many writers. But the way in which the novel blends genres and incorporates a slightly strange future that resembles the past (reminiscent of Firefly) means the question is an interesting one.
A little while ago my girlfriend joined an organisation in our town called ‘Transition Town’. I wasn’t overly keen on joining myself – it’s a bit of a character flaw, but I’m immediately wary of groups that are self-governing and have a mandate for do-goodery. I’m a cynic. It’s not a pretty or productive thing to be, but there it is. I’m sure there’s much more to Transition Town than I realise, but as I understand it the group aims to prepare communities for a predicted change in our lifestyles – for example the effects of peak oil. My girlfriend would come home from a meeting and describe discussions about skill sets such as growing vegetables, fishing, mending clothing, gathering edible roots, etc. I started to think perhaps the modern era might end in a gradual decline, rather than anything apocalyptic. That perhaps in a hundred years our landscapes and cities be closer to those of the end of the nineteenth century than the images of shiny futurisitic urban sprawls we often see in SF. Historically this was a landscape dominated by the horse and the pistol. So I came to the conclusion I’d write a Western set in the future.
This decision had a few liberating features that are worth mentioning. The first, and most important, was that a future setting allowed me to avoid engaging too heavily with the clichés associated with the Western genre. Or, more precisely, to avoid those clichés that I didn’t like. I didn’t want my characters to speak in a John Wayne-esque drawl. I like my dialogue to be clean and clear, and largely free of accent – especially for main characters that do a lot of talking. Many of the characters do spit, sometimes for a dramatic pause, but more often because I felt there’d be so much dust and dirt in the air it would be necessary. There are plenty of wide-brimmed hats, again out of necessity. But there are no spurs and no swinging saloon doors. Choices – as an author I make a lot of them.
Secondly, I could make some fairly radical world-building decisions without worrying too much about issues of historical accuracy. I’m not by nature a historical researcher. I know plenty of authors who relish the opportunity to lose themselves in dusty manuscripts and piece together a narrative. For them there seems to be a real thrill in discovering people at a specific point in time at a specific place, often with the aid of old maps. I know a lot of them utilise artistic license for their fiction, but I still find this consideration to be restrictive. I like to be in complete control of my narratives – the god-like image of the author that some people enjoy wheeling out when I’m asked why I write. I tend to play down this nugget of pop-psychology, but it’s probably truer than I want to admit.
When deciding what kind of people to populate my future Western with I also had another major trope of SF dominating my though process: the issue of eternal life. Why is hard to say. I can’t remember reading any novel in particular that dealt with the idea, which in fiction is often more of a curse than a blessing. Like those other stories, I wanted my eternal-lifers to be complicated. So I came up with the Walkin’. This is the term I use in Your Brother’s Blood for the zombie characters. I’m certainly not the first to rename the zombie, and other writers do it for all kinds of reasons. Often human characters shy away for the z-word as if denying the reality of their situation. In my novel, it was more of an authorial decision to distance the reader from pre-conceived notions of the zombie. The Walkin’ talk. They think. They feel – emotionally, not physically. They are in a kind of suspended animation, in exactly the state they died in, and without outside interference would continue to live on indefinitely. They don’t eat brains. Or anything. The more eagle-eyed blog reader would have noticed I used the term “zombie characters” – and that’s because my zombies are characters. The reader sees the world from their point of view and is privy to their motivations and decisions. As a writer, this gives me a wide scope for playing with ideas and character interactions; some of which would not be available in a tradition zombie narrative. Purists might turn away from this kind of re-imagining, but I hope many zombie fans will find something interesting in Your Brother’s Blood.
With these two main strands in place – the future Western setting and the presence of the Walkin’ – I was ready to find my narrative. How I ended up at Your Brother’s Blood, and the two novels that follow it, is a whole other blog post involving short stories, an MA degree, and more beta-readers than I can ever thank. But I hope this post has suggested where this genre-blended world came from and why I made some of the major decisions for the trilogy.
Thankyou so much David. ‘Your Brothers Blood’ is released on 29/08/13 from Jo Fletcher Books, so pre-order your copy now! David can be found on Twitter @D_Towsey and also on his website http://davidtowsey.blogspot.co.uk
Check back here at the end of the week to read my review of ‘Your Brothers Blood’.