How would you describe The Dead to a potential reader?
A splatter movie in book form for kids! Hmmm… that sounds a bit nuts, doesn’t it? I really wanted to get as close to a movie-like feel to it as I could. Probably a crazy aim, but it’s what I went for. It’s fairly visual throughout, with some crazy monsters and lots of destruction and a fair splattering of gore. I wanted the set pieces to be really vivid, like you were watching them on the big screen. I also wanted it to (hopefully) feel like the kind of book you’d want to hide from your parents. The closest analogy I came up with is that feeling of creeping downstairs in the middle of the night to watch a horror movie, while your parents sleep upstairs utterly oblivious to what you’re doing. You know, when you’ve got the volume so low because you don’t want them to wake up, and you’re sitting real close to the screen to hear it, and you’re super aware of all the creaks and groans the house makes at night and the thrill of the film you’re watching is a mix of excitement, daring and fear…
What inspired you to write The Dead?
No one thing inspired it really. It came out of a lot of stuff. I had a few ideas knocking around. One was about a lad whose rubbish parents are murdered and come back as ghosts to make up for their bad ways and to help him find the bad guys who killed them. Another was about a lad who notices something’s wrong with his dad, but doesn’t know what, and eventually discovers he’s been possessed by one of The Dead. Then there was this other idea about a remote village where the nightmares of the residents stalk the roads and moors at night. I still like all of those, but they kind of came together in various ways in The Dead. Then, just randomly, I wrote this crazy scene about a lad who’s home alone and finds a skinned stranger in his lounge telling him The Dead are coming and he has to stop them. This scene ended up in the book and the skinned bloke is Red! So Red started it all! And he’s just such a great character… Is he good, bad… which way will he go… Fab! I also wanted to do something that was about the dead, but not in the mindless, zombies-eating-my-brains-and-face kind of way. I wanted The Dead to be a real force to be reckoned with. Dangerous, filled with such a drive and lust to live again that they’ll do anything to experience life again. Reading this now I’m thinking, ‘Dave… are you nuts?!’ Then I found this quote by Mark Twain: ‘Pity is for the living, envy is for The Dead…’ And it was like ‘BLAM! THAT’S IT!’
Where do you even begin to start researching a book like The Dead?
First, you go to a graveyard, late at night. Then you run around trying to raise your very own zombie, while spraying everywhere in goat blood. Er… no! I don’t really know. No where and everywhere. I’m a horror fan anyway, so my brain is kind of tuned in to spewing out monsters and darkness. The relationships, the characters, that all comes from everyday life; people watching, taking note of what people are like with each other, my own relationships. Anything factual I always try to get spot on, though that’s not so important with this as it’s very fantastical. The layout of Laz’s house is based on a house I lived in as a teenager, which gives me a geography to work with. The same goes for a location I’ve used for book 2. Gives a better sense of place I think.
Lazarus Stone – great name for a main character. Along with the Fallen and Legion am I correct in guessing that the Bible has been a source of inspiration for you when coming up with ideas for the series?
Not so much inspiration as something that I simply can’t avoid. I was brought up in the church as my dad’s a Methodist Minister! I love the supernatural element of horror, and the Bible gives that backdrop in many ways. I’m not really dealing with a god issue as such with The Dead, but a definite after life, consequences and so on. As for names, the Bible is tremendous as a source! It’s great to have an interesting first name and a simple, strong second name. With Laz, though, there is a rather obvious link between his name and what he does. Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus, and he was in a stone tomb when it happened. But here I’ve got Lazarus doing the raising. Small things…
What do you see as the main influences on your writing?
The things I read and the things I watch. It’s taken years of trying and trying and trying to finally be where I am. In that time I’ve read all over the place rather than sticking to one genre. I’ve tried different styles, even blatantly copied writers at times to feel what their style was like. Eventually I think (hope!) I’ve developed my own way of putting stuff on the page. And I love the big screen. When I write, I do a lot of visualisation, imagining what it would look like in real life and as a film. I try different camera angles, try to work out what would look and sound best in the reader’s mind. And yes, I do imagine walking in to a cinema to watch The Dead on the big screen!
What is it about the horror genre that interests you so much?
I love the way a book or movie can scare you; I find that extraordinary. I went to see the theatre production of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, and that was even more amazing; hundreds of people all gasping in shock at once! I’m not one for stories that make me weep. I’m in to movies and books for entertainment; feeling sad isn’t something I enjoy that much! Fear, though, is something you can almost feel in your fingertips. Horror also explores the darker side of who we are, allows us to look at stuff so far beyond our own experience. And some horror is much like an extreme rollercoaster; you look at it, can’t believe you’re going to experience it, then you do, and you come out the other side, hair standing on end, adrenaline burning your veins… What’s not to love?
I recently saw on Twitter that there had been an item about YA books on BBC Breakfast. They asked a group of kids what they will write when they grow up. "Horror" they shouted in almost unison! What do you think it is it about horror that is so appealing to young people?
I think perhaps that it has more of a sense of danger and the forbidden than other genres. That’s what it was for me, anyway. It’s like that thing of always wanting to watch a movie that’s actually classified as too old for you. I have vivid memories of everyone talking about ‘X-rated’ movies back in the early 80s, like The Exterminator and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Goodness knows how these kids had seen these movies, but because of the playground, everyone had either seen them, or wanted to. Or that’s what we all believed! I’ve seen many of those old ‘banned’ movies, and compared to what we can see on the screen now, it’s pretty tame. In many ways, the violence is actually in your mind, and only really suggested on the screen. Horror novels have just that same sense of danger. It’s a statement to the world to be seen carrying a King or a Herbert or a Ketchum novel, isn’t it? A badge of being daring, of actively exploring and being in touch with your darker side.
The description of Red when Lazarus first meets him is pretty gruesome. How did you gauge the right level of gore in your writing?
I didn’t have a list of do’s and don’ts. With gore, I think it might have more to do with the context and tone, rather than just a simple equation of how much blood and guts you can show. Take Tom and Jerry; pretty darned violent, eyeballs bursting out, guts being pulled, bodies being crushed and frazzled and mashed… But it’s funny! I needed the gore to give that shudder and gross-out factor, to make The Dead over-the-top hideous, so that they jumped out of the page, as if you were watching it in 3D. It wasn’t page after page of people being tortured, focusing on individual pain and terror. Watch Evil Dead; despite the certificate, it’s pretty hysterical! That’s the kind of what I was aiming to do. Hope it worked…
Who are your greatest literary influences?
Every writer I’ve ever read, I guess. I can’t pin any particular name down. My aim has always been to write how I write, rather than how another writer writes. You can’t help but pick up ideas, approaches, that kind of thing, but in the end, what any writer wants is to sound a little unique. Most inspirational book is Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.
Are you a fan of horror literature? Do you have any favourites?
I didn’t really get in to horror literature until later on. As a genre, I was in to the movies really. However, over the past few years, I’ve become a bit obsessed. I’ve read everything from King to Simon Clark (Blood Crazy), Barker to Ketcham. I’ve delved back in to weirder, older stuff, like Lovecraft, his Tchthullu mythos stuff, and Ron Howard’s stuff that he based on this (Howard is more famous for Conan). I’m currently reading Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts. He’s astonishingly good.
Do you remember the first horror movie you ever saw?
Well, the movie that got me in to horror in the first place is, I think, not a horror movie at all! It’s an 80s fantasy movie called The Sword and the Sorcerer! It’s cheesy, silly, bloody… but I still totally love it. I was eleven or twelve when I saw it (late night, parents didn’t know…) and it blew me away. I’d never seen anything like it in my life! Suddenly, from a world of family movies of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, I was thrust in to a world where hearts burst from the chests of witches, coffins had screaming faces, swords not only had three blades, but could cut a man’s head clean in half! OK, so perhaps I was a little young to watch it, but I wasn’t completely grossed out by it or affected in a bad, evil way. It made me realise how vivid a movie can be, and thus it begun. Then, when I was a little older, I trawled the 80s horror movies, from Poltergeist to Nightmare on Elm Street, through The Thing and on to Evil Dead, Aliens, Hellraiser… Now, I generally don’t go a week without watching at least one horror movie. This week I watched a rather amusing flick called Evil Aliens! Favourites over the past while include: City of The Dead; May; Devil’s Rejects; Psycho II…
The early (and bloody) scene featuring Red reminded me a little of the Hellraiser movies. Are these particular favourites of yours?
This was actually the first scene I wrote for the book and hasn’t changed all that much from what I initially wrote. It’s something I often do when trying to work out an idea; just bash out a scene with a couple of characters to see what happens. As for Hellraiser, yes, a big favourite! It completely turned my view of horror on its head. These weren’t just monsters; something was driving them, the whole pleasure/pain thing. I loved that motivation (which was why that quote from Twin really hit me). They weren’t just in it for the killing, or to be ‘evil’, as such, there was much more too it. Neither were they simply monsters to run away from. That fact that it is essentially us who calls them… Love it! And Pin Head! WOW! Considering it’s an 80s movie, the whole thing is astonishing. And it’s littered with great dialogue. Has anyone yet to better, ‘Tears are such a waste of good suffering…’ and ‘We’ll tear your soul apart!’
Who/what in your opinion is the ultimate horror movie monster?
One film really creeped me out. It’s neither gory nor modern. It’s the black and white classic, The Innocents, staring Deborah Kerr. It’s based on The Turning of The Screw. The creature in aliens is a tremendous monster. Pin Head is just wonderful. Jason is relentless and Freddy is (for me anyway) just too much of the clown to be taken seriously. But in the Innocents, the horror comes from a woman’s gradual discovery that the children in her care are possessed by the ghosts of a man and a woman who were in love when they were alive, and are now using the bodies of the children. Much of the terror is down to Deborah Kerr’s reaction to what is generally happening off screen, what she is seeing, rather than we the viewer. The movie also has possibly the bleakest ending I’ve ever experienced. It took my breath away and, as the credits rolled, I sat there feeling totally cold. It’s a work of complete brilliance. I would recommend it to everyone.
If you were to have a Halloween meal with any three people from the glorious history of horror literature and cinema, who would those three people be?
George Romero (his zombie movies changed everything), Stephen King (I’ve read his ‘On Writing’ book, and it was just so inspirational, so it’d be great to meet the man and hear first hand about his life, his approach to writing, where his ideas come from), and Sean Pertwee (a great British actor, who’s had roles in some of my faves, notably Event Horizon, and more importantly, his blistering performance in Dog Soldiers). If I could have someone turn up uninvited, I’d want Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Maniac Cop, Bubba HoTep) – the man is a legend and has had some of the greatest lines ever in cinematic history…
Have you ever come up with anything so wild that you scared yourself?
Not yet, but I hope to some day…
Do you listen to music whilst you write? What songs would appear on your ideal The Dead soundtrack?
I’ve actually put a list on my website of the stuff I was listening to while writing book 1, and I’m doing the same for all the books I write! I love music. Sometimes I listen to it when writing, sometimes I don’t. It helps me come up with ideas, get a mood right for a particular scene. I visualise everything I’m writing, even down to thinking what music would be playing for a particular bit of the story if it was made in to a movie! Is that crazy? Dunno. But it helps. I listen to a really fab radio station on the internet: Doomed on Soma FM! It’s dark, dark, dark music, and is the perfect soundtrack for writing horror, trust me! As for book 1’s soundtrack, you can see the full list on my website at davidgatward.com
What books/authors did you read when you were younger?
Oddly, for one so in to horror now, I didn’t read it as a kid! But then it was my interest in movies that got me in to the genre. So my reading was taken up with: Alan Garner (Weirdstone of Brisingamen); Willard Price (his Adventure series); Tolkein (Lord of the Rings); The Dragonlance Chronicles; Asterix; Oor Wullie; Clive Cussler…
I love the cover artwork for The Dead, The Dark and The Damned. How did you feel when you first saw them?
I was utterly astonished. I was sitting at work, doing my civil service work, and I got sent them to have a look at by the fab people at Hodder. I was gobsmacked. There, in front of me, was the first tangible proof that I wasn’t actually making it up! What I was writing was going to be published, to end up in an absolutely stunning cover. It also made me realise just how much Hodder were in to what I was doing. I did and I do feel very, very lucky. Mel Grant, the artist, is an amazing talent and to have him do the covers is a real scoop. He’s done album covers for Iron Maiden (seriously!) and for another very well known indeed horror writer! I still look at them and feel rather shocked, have to pinch myself…
Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect from your next book in the series, The Dark?
Well, it’s got two shocking revelations in it, both of which threaten to send Lazarus over the edge. And you get to meet a new character who, if I’m not careful, could steal the show! And yes, we do go to the Land of The Dead… but not Hell though… not yet, anyway…
As you know, I personally felt that The Dead could have been a little longer. Will The Dark be a longer book?
Yes! And I agree, it is too short. The Dark is about 10,000 words longer, and I think that’ll be the same for book 3. So it’s a fair criticism and I’ve already rectified it!
I noticed on your blog that you are currently thinking about books 4-6 in the series. Do you know how many books you hope to have in the series?
I have this crazy idea of doing 18, comprising three sets of six… giving me the very silly 666! I’ve a feeling that might be a bit nuts. I would like to do nine. Books 4-6 are already pretty much there in the planning so a further three would be great. I just love writing this stuff, so if people love it and want more, it’d be fab to be able to do it for a while anyway.
Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of this blog?
I really hope you enjoy The Dead… If you don’t, they’ll be round your house ready to steal your body and drain it dry… Just thought you should know.
Thank you to David for taking the time to answer my questions. The Dead is scheduled to be released on 1st July and it is well worth you pre-ordering it. You can find out even more about David and his books on his website.