Your Brother’s Blood is part road-movie and part zombie-western. The story focusses on a particular family, the McDermotts, and how they struggle to stay together in a strange apocalyptic landscape. Think The Road meets The Walking Dead.
How much did your MA in Creative Writing aid your now published work?
I wouldn’t have written Your Brother’s Blood if it weren’t for my MA. When I applied for the course I had to submit an idea for a novel-length project. This was a very rough starting point for the book, but with the advice and encouragement of tutors and the other students I was able to shape it into a story that has really taken off. I learned a lot about the craft of writing, and how I wanted to shape my writing, over that very intense year.
Please tell us a bit about your PhD.
My PhD is in Creative Writing, which means I had to submit critical as well as a creative research. I seem to have a preoccupation with family structures and how relationships are maintained when those structures come under strain, and this has worked its way into my academic as well as commercial writing. The novel I wrote for my PhD is set in a future society that handles divorce in a rather extreme way and follows a young man as he tries to reconnect with his father. It’s quite a jump from Your Brother’s Blood, and I’m keen to show readers something a little different.
How have you reinterpreted the zombie myths to make your book such a breath of fresh air in the genre?
I think the most striking thing Your Brother’s Blood does is give zombies a sense of individual character. In more traditional zombie fictions they are the shambling horde, intimidating and dangerous because of their sheer numbers. It’s from this we draw most of the zombie’s meaning as they become a metaphor for things like the drudgery of middle-age or the mindlessness of consumerism. It’s these crowds that the human individuals triumph over. In my work I wanted to explore what it would be like if the undead were able to think, remember, and feel. How would they spend their time? What would be important to them? The more I thought it over, the more family seemed to be the answer.
How difficult is it to a writer to avoid recycled tropes in the genre?
It’s a constant concern. Every writer wants their work to be fresh and original, which is no easy thing these days with so many great and interesting books being published. At the core of Your Brother’s Blood there is the story of an absent father returning from a conflict to rekindle a relationship with his child – something that has been dealt with in fiction many times before. What I hope the book does is present this situation in a manner that makes the reader think about the issues in a slightly different and entertaining way.
Please tell us about the character of Thomas.
Thomas is the hero of Your Brother’s Blood, though he’s cast in a pretty tragic light. He is killed while serving as a conscripted soldier. When he returns to life as a Walkin’ (the novels version of a zombie) he is faced with a difficult decision: should he go home? The driving force behind Thomas’ every move is keeping his family safe. But unfortunately, sometimes that puts them in more danger – and on some level Thomas knows that, but he can’t help himself.
You have been praised for how well-crafted the book is so is that something you paid particular attention to while writing it?
Craft is really important to me not only as a writer, but as a reader too. It’s not always an easy thing to pin-down – for me it’s more a sense of care that some writers can communicate through their prose. The best manage this without detracting from the story, and that’s what I hope to achieve every time I write. That it’s working on some level in Your Brother’s Blood is great to hear.
Was writing your debut novel anything like you imagined?
Hell no. I had no idea it would be so hard. I’d written short pieces before and just assumed it was a matter of putting in more time. I wasn’t prepared for the many re-writes, the crushing doubt, and having to pick myself up from the floor (figuratively and literally) so many times. I’m glad I kept with it; I can look back on the darkest of those days and know I came through them, and holding something worth having. It gave me hope for the next time.
What is next for you?
I’m finishing off The Walkin’ Trilogy, which Your Brother’s Blood started and will be hitting shelves over the next two years. As I mentioned, I’d like to see my PhD novel in print and that will take some work. Beyond that, I’m thinking there might be more life (sorry) in the Walkin’ world, though I want to tell a very different story. And there’s always space. That seems like a lot of fun.