Starburst: Your Hater trilogy is due to end this year with the third and final book, Them Or Us. Can we expect a spectacular finish to the story?
David Moony: I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by the final book in the Hater trilogy. When I self-published Hater back in 2006, I only ever envisaged there being one sequel – Dog Blood – and those who’ve read that book will know that it ends with a big bang (literally), and with our hero/anti-hero, Danny McCoyne, learning a few home truths about the seriously screwed-up world he’s now living in. The possibility about writing a third book came about as a result of discussions I had with my editor at Thomas Dunne Books after they’d acquired the series. The more I thought about it, the more a second sequel made sense, and another editor I’d been working with in the UK summed things up by pointing out that Hater was about people falling apart, Dog Blood was about society falling apart, and a third book should show the impact of ‘the Hate’ on what’s left of the wider world.
Going back to the end of Dog Blood again though, it would have been impossible to keep ramping up the violence exponentially in the final book. I knew the story had to take a different route – to be more than just another few hundred pages of Haters fighting Unchanged. The end result is that Them or Us is a very different novel to Dog Blood, closer in tone I think to Hater.
The third book is set several months after the end of Dog Blood, when the war against the Unchanged has, to all intents and purposes, ended. Again told from the perspective of Danny McCoyne, it looks at how life pans out in this new, post-war world. Will the fighting just stop? Will everyone go back to living how they used to (albeit with a good half-to-two-thirds of the population dead!)? It’s a bloody and brutal, yet very personal and emotional story as Danny tries to make sense of the madness that his life has become.
With Guillermo Del Toro involved in the movie version of Hater, how do you envision the project going?
Very slowly! Incredibly, it’s almost five years since the film rights were acquired, but I think that’s par for the course for projects like this. Obviously it’s a huge honour to have someone like del Toro involved – hell, it’s enough of a thrill for me just knowing that he read my book and liked it! I’ve been a big fan of his for many years, since I first caught a showing of Cronos on TV. The guy’s such a visionary that I’m happy just to sit back and see where he takes Hater. I’m told that things are still moving along... last I heard a new script writer was about to be appointed with a view to production beginning in earnest before the end of 2011.
Do you have any input into it at all?
Obviously I’d love to be involved and will jump at the chance if it presents itself. I know that having the writer of the source material involved in film adaptations doesn’t always work out though. When I write I have a very definite idea of how things should look and sound – I know everything about the characters and the locations, and I like to try and get to the stage where I could effectively close my eyes and watch the whole story as a movie in my head before I actually start writing. Directors, however, equally want to put their own personal mark on the movies they’re making, so I can see that there’s potential for conflict. When we were negotiating the deal for the rights to Hater, I heard an anecdote that selling film rights to Hollywood usually goes like this: the writer and the producer meet in the middle of nowhere and stand on either side of a tall fence. You throw the book over, they throw some cash over, then you go your own separate ways. Sounds about right from my experience!
Will there be a movie trilogy or will they be trying to fit all three books into a standalone film?
That’s really a decision for the filmmakers, but I think they’d have a hard time cramming anything more than one book in per film. Some people have complained (maybe that’s too strong a word) that Hater ends where it does. But there was a very definite reason for that. Although all three books together tell Danny McCoyne’s story, each volume is a very distinct phase... Hater covers the confusion, fear and paranoia of the initial outbreak through to where Danny becomes aware of the sheer scale of what’s happening, Dog Blood is the war – the height of the fighting between the two sides, and Them or Us is about life post-war. There are literally months between each of the books, and it definitely wouldn’t work as a single movie.
Obviously to anyone reading it, the Hater series is not a zombie story per se. Did you deliberately start out with the story to show how mankind turns against itself easily, so it can be difficult to tell which side to root for?
I think Hater often gets classed as a zombie story because it’s about humans versus ‘non-human humans’ if that makes any sense. Like zombies, the Haters are inherently changed versions of ourselves and, also like zombies, they want to kill us. That really is where the comparison ends.
The original idea for Hater came about while I was thinking about all the divisions we individually use to set ourselves apart from everyone else: age, sex, race, beliefs, sexual orientation, shoe size, eye colour... it seems that sometimes we do all we can to split ourselves up. I thought it would be interesting to imagine a world where something came along – some kind of new and irreparable division – which would immediately negate all those previous distinctions.
The idea for the story really crystallized in July 2005, when London was hit by suicide bombers. In the days and weeks following the attacks, it transpired that one of the bombers worked as a classroom assistant in a primary school. I found the idea that someone could be trying to help kids grow and develop one day, could then go onto a train or bus with a bomb strapped to their back with the sole aim of killing as many people as possible. Irrespective of our own views of these people and what they did (and what others continue to do), they believe that they’re right. That’s a terrifying prospect, and it’s a theme I’ve gone back to repeatedly in the Hater books. I believe that human beings are hardwired to look out for themselves, and when push comes to shove, plenty of people would do all they needed to to ensure they survive, even if it meant others getting hurt or killed. And everybody does it for what they consider to be the right reasons. So yes, mankind turning against itself and the blurring of the lines between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ was something I deliberately tried to emphasise. By the end of the first book, it’s the so-called ‘good guys’ (depending on your point of view) who do the most despicable things, and they do them to save their own backs. I guess it’s the same kind of logic which gives us a government department called the Ministry of Defence, when all it does is attack! I’m being deliberately facetious, but you see where I’m coming from...
How was your previous experience of having your work, Autumn, made into a film? Obviously it was a lot smaller budget, although the project did interest Dexter Fletcher and the legendary David Carradine.
The Autumn movie is completely at the other end of the scale... I actually had the approaches for the Hater and Autumn rights within a few days of each other (what a week that was!). I was weighing up the pros and cons... obviously with someone like Guillermo del Toro involved, you don’t say no, but Autumn was a completely different proposition. With it being a small indie production, I thought there was a better chance of the film actually being made, and that turned out to be right. I certainly don’t regret it, but it’s one of those things where you have to take a leap of faith... everything I heard from the director before production started was positive, everyone involved seemed to really understand what I was trying to do with the book, and as you say, they got a few great people involved too. Ultimately, although it has some redeeming qualities, and the main cast did a great job, I think it was a disappointment to a lot of people. The filmmakers were really stretched by having to work within a microscopic budget, and there are places where that really shows. But at the end of the day, someone liked my book enough to want to film it, and they pulled it off. I’m still very proud of the DVD sitting on my shelf.
Is there anything you would like to change about that experience?
Regardless of the critical mauling the film received, it was a great experience having the book adapted and getting to hang out on a movie set. I had a few very cool moments during the process, particularly when I went out to Canada for a few days. I’ll never forget sitting in the director’s office and watching the rushes for the first time, seeing the situations and characters I’d created come to life. And even more incredible was being on set with Dexter Fletcher and the rest of the cast. I was there for the filming of a few key scenes towards the end of the film. They’re quiet, contemplative scenes between two main characters – Michael and Emma – after the third ‘hero’ (for want of a better word), Carl, has left their hideout. The dialogue was taken almost word for word from the novel and it was just incredible to sit and watch the scene come to life. Hard to believe that this little ebook I’d given away for free so many years before had led to me being on the other side of the world watching the guy out of Press Gang and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels play one of my characters. It’s a pathetic admission, but I sobbed like a bloody baby!
You had a cameo as a zombie in Autumn. Did you enjoy it?
Hell yes! Who wouldn’t? If someone offered you the chance to fly to Canada, get covered in zombie makeup, then stand out in the snow at 3am, dribbling fake blood and beating up Dexter Fletcher, wouldn’t you enjoy it?!
Do you have any future plans to write outside of zombie novels?
Yes! In fact, I already have (I have a couple of older, non-zombie novels – Trust and Straight to You – which I’ve ‘withdrawn’ temporarily to give them a tidy up and a fresh coat of paint). To be fair, I thought I’d done it with Hater, and it was only when I’d finished it that I looked back and realised I’d written a zombie novel from the point of view of the zombies!
At the moment I have about eight novel proposals I’m working on, none of which involve the living dead.
Where do you think our fascination with the end of the world comes from? Especially the success of zombie fiction and cinema?
My real interest is people. I like to write about human relationships, and how people react and interact with each other, about our instincts and how we get on (or don’t). I get incredibly frustrated with the way most people seem just to drift along in life, making just enough effort, always assuming that everything they’ve been relying on today will be waiting for them in the same place tomorrow. As a writer, it’s great fun to take ordinary people and shove them without warning into extraordinary situations. I personally love writing about the end of the world because whatever scenario you chose, your entire cast is going to be right on the edge and probably about to lose everything. It’s a great way of amplifying emotions and situations.
As a reader and watcher of far too many end of the world movies, I think that apocalyptic books and films tap into a primal fear. We love being in control, and if we’re not in control of our own destinies, we start to get scared – lots of cases of depression can be traced back to people having a lack of control over important aspects of their lives. The world we’re living in feels like an increasingly dangerous and unstable place, and I think the genre plays up to that and exploits it. I guess there’s also an element of the fiction making the fact feel better, if you see what I mean. Putting the book down or switching off the film is like the feeling of relief you get when you wake up from a nightmare and realise it was all a dream...
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My books are usually the result of lots of disparate ideas eventually forming themselves into a single narrative. As such, I get inspiration all the time. A lot of stuff comes from dreams, a lot comes from having an overactive imagination and watching normal situations around me and always wondering ‘what if...’ But to be honest, if you want to write about Armageddon these days, all you need to do is switch on the TV and soak up an hour of rolling TV news. That’s enough to scare anyone!
You come across as being quite shy in person. Do you find it difficult to make an impact in public, especially public speaking?
I’m actually not shy, but I am quiet. Like a lot of other writers I’ve spoken to, I have a crazy kind of confidence issue. No matter how many people buy my books or how many different editions are released by different publishers around the world, I still get pretty insecure about it all. It’s easy to feel like a hack, bluffing your way through an industry filled with professionals. That’s not the case, I know, but it’s just how my insecurity makes me feel. I’m supremely confident when I’m writing my stuff, less so when it’s out in the public arena.
Despite having a lot of kids and living in an increasingly busy household, I’m also quite an insular person. I think many writers are. I spend a lot of time in my own head (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious) and I actually like it there! Like many people, I like to take the easy option, and it’s far easier for me to sit a home and write than it is to go out in public and stand up and talk about my work. That said, if someone says ‘here’s an audience, tell them about your book’, then I’m fine.
I know where your question’s coming from, because we met at a convention, and I find cons to be incredibly weird events at times. I see a lot of people who are incredibly far up their own backsides at these things – people acting like primadonnas and celebrities, and that is so not me! I’m just an ordinary bloke who happens to churn out horror stories for a living!
Considering that you originally released your story, Autumn, for free on the internet, what is your stance on the publishing v ebook debate and where do you see it going?
I think if I’d have released Autumn and its sequels now instead of 5 – 10 years ago, I’d have made a lot of money! The ebook market has exploded over the last couple of years, and I don’t think there’s any going back. I don’t think printed books will ever disappear, but it’s only a matter of time before the number published reduces substantially. It’s exactly the same thing as happened with CDs and downloading, and writers and publishers alike have to embrace it. Like it or not, it’s happening! But the bottom line is, people will always want books, so authors need not be scared. And we’ll still need publishers and marketers and editors etc. etc. But I think Amazon and the iBookstore will eventually replace the vast majority of high street bookstores (if they haven’t already).
One of the most important things about this whole situation, is that it allows people to publish themselves. I know self-publishing has a stigma attached to it, but the line between a high-quality self-published book and a traditionally published book is constantly being blurred. With the media increasingly controlled by corporations (who tell you what to listen to via shite karaoke like the X Factor, then tell you which big budget, low quality sequel or remake to go and watch), this is a great opportunity for independent artists to start asserting themselves and get their work out into the public domain.
Lastly, if the worst did happen, do you think you would survive a zombie apocalypse? If so, how?
Yes I would. And I’m not telling you exactly how. But the secret, I think, would lie in a). not doing what people in the movies always do, and b). not doing what everyone else is doing!
Them Or Us (the final part of the Hater series) is out now from Gollancz. RRP £12.99