Over the next few weeks, I will be going through each of my books in order of release, and talking about how they came to be. Day One was covered here
The Undead Day Two
The Undead Day One was out…I Was A Writer!
Yeah baby. Grow a beard. Smoke a pipe. Sit in cafes sipping coffee looking wistful. Go on social media and tell everyone ever in the world that was ever born that I AM A WRITER AND I DID DO WRITING AND MADE A BOOK SO GIVE ME INSTANT VALIDATION FOR THE THING I DID DO.
Tweed jacket with elbow patches. Roll neck sweaters. Peruse craft stores looking for the right pen to do writing with. Ooooh, I could go on forums and give advice. Yeah so, when I wrote The Undead Day One I just, you know, put words on a page and really dug into my soul for the prose and er…stuff like that.
None of that happened. Day One went live and I started Day Two. It was the writing bug you see, it was there. I was as infected as the zombie dudes trying to munch on Howie. It was like a door had been very briefly opened and then shut again, but within that split-second I had glimpsed a world of words where the only limit is the constraints of your imagination.
My writing was poor. Dreadful even in many respects, and that flaw has been rammed down my throat on a near daily basis since I started writing. Especially issues with grammar. (Even the blog piece I put out about writing The Undead Day One prompted comments about grammar.) But you know what, those comments only ever make me more determined. People are so quick to put you down, and the perception of success can make people feel weird as it reflects their own failures. That’s not said harshly but honestly, and for any aspiring writers out there who are daunted by their own lack of knowledge with things like grammar, screw ‘em. Just go for it. Haters will always hate, move away from negative people as fast as possible and keep going forward.
Anywho – The Undead Day Two was about putting words on a page and taking Howie from his family home and out into the new dawn of a post-apocalyptic morning. I kind of had an early idea that I would write seven books, as in seven Days, and with each book, I would practice and make myself try harder with learning aspects of the craft of writing, and Day Two, for me, was largely about scene-setting.
It was about taking Howie into different environments and learning how to describe them. Too much detail makes a book read like an instruction manual. Too little and the reader cannot place the character in the world they should be in. This was about transitioning and motion. From one place to another.
That was the core principle, but along with that I also didn’t like that dialogue was scaring me. I had to address that too.
The other thing that very quickly stood out is what I now refer to as ‘action / reaction’.
I am not Howie. Howie is not me. At that point, I had 13 or 14 years of policing experience and had done a great deal of stuff like riot training, control and restraint, violent person training, house entry tactics – all the gung-ho CHARRRRGE! Stuff.
Howie had not done those things, so I had to let Howie react as he would, which in turn meant stepping away and letting the character grow.
Now, years later, I can feel in my gut when I am forcing a character to do something they don’t want to do, and I have to stop and let them react how they would. Paula, Clarence, Nick, Charlie, Cookey. Ben, Safa, Harry, Miri, Mike Humber and every other character. They are not me. I am not them.
The tactic I developed quite early is to take the character towards the thing I want to happen and just let it unfold. Like watching it and describing it I guess.
The first example of that was Howie And The Strip Club. Ah man I love that scene. Even now a few years down the line I still bloody love it, and to me, that was the first point where Howie flexed his muscles and defied what I wanted.
In my mind, Howie was meant to be all passive and talk his way out of the situation, but then Howie saw Giselle and Giselle’s boobs and he was like…ooh boobs, cos, you know, that’s what most blokes are like and even at The End Of The World As We Know It they would still be like…oooh boobs….
Then Marcus comes out all sleazy and dripping with threat and snorting coke and Howie starts prickling with that first bit of anger, and in turn, he’s writing himself. It was an early lesson for me and I’m glad I listened to the instinct because Howie needed to have that reaction. He needed to fight back a little, and in truth, I think he scared himself a little by what he did.
Day Two, however, stands out in my head for one other massive reason, and that is Dave.
I have had more feedback about Dave than every other character combined. Even now, after writing him for so many years, he is still so very hidden to me.
I was scared of dialogue, so I wanted a character that was quite verbally passive that I could practise direct speech with.
There was a guy I used to work with (another copper). He’s not a big chap at all and to look at he’s quite unassuming, but he studied Kung-Fu for years and is one of the most remarkable persons I have ever met.
I recalled being in this horrible stand-off with a bloke in a house. This guy was incredibly violent and quite clearly wanted to attack us, but I saw how my colleague reacted. The way he moved so fluidly, positioning, re-positioning. Left foot back, right foot forward, hands up and ready but open and passive. It was mesmerising and so bloody effective too. He also had this HUGE voice. Like oh my god he could shout.
Those were the base influences that led to Dave, and bloody hell, what a character. His autism and Asperger issues are very important too, as I wanted to reflect that people with spectrum disorders can not only be highly functioning members of society, but they can also be intensely vulnerable. The powers that be took Dave, with his disorders, and used them to create a killing machine. Is that ethical? Was it right? Dave isn’t bothered so should everyone else be worried?
Dave is the easiest character to write, but also the hardest. I keep getting asked for more back-story on him but that will have to be in time and when it’s right to do. I’ve even tried to write from Dave’s perspective a few times, but I lacked the writing skills to do it justice and it felt wrong.
I’ve come to rely on Dave as much as Howie too. Dave can fix nearly anything, both in terms of Howie’s world, and in writing The Undead.
If I feel a comedic moment is needed to break the tension, then I simply let Dave and Howie have a chat for a few minutes.
Got loads of baddies coming at them? Sure, no worries, Dave will sort it.
Howie is passed out with a human heart stuck in his gob? No probs, Dave will sort it.
Cookey is being a knob? Dave will tell him off.
Maddox needs an attitude re-adjustment? Dave will have a word.
There is so much more to do with Dave, and I can’t wait to get stuck into him more. I love all my main characters in all my stories, but Dave is very special.
I think we all want to look at the world through Dave’s eyes sometimes. To have that absolute black and white view of things. Emotions can be messy and make life awkward and horrible.
Be like Dave.
Again, Day Two was not a big book and was duly released. I still didn’t have a cover. I can’t even remember what I used for a cover, or if I even bothered.
Nobody read them. Nobody was interested, and they wallowed in the depths of Amazon’s genre charts lurking about in the shadows.
That didn’t bother me though because I was more hooked than I was when Day One was done.
It went live. I made a brew and sat down to write Day Three.
Woohoo! I’m A Writer. Grow A Beard mofos.
If you have read and enjoyed The Undead Day Two, please leave a review. The power of reviews is immeasurable in so many ways.