Check out my interview with Rich Hawkins. The author of The Last Plague. (TDWS is short for The Dead War Series)
Rich Hawkins: I’ve loved horror since I was a young lad, especially horror books. At school I started writing a few short stories, but never finished them, and I drifted away from wanting to be a writer. But it was always in the back of my mind and I would often think of ideas and stories; I just never had the self-discipline to sit down and write them. And in my teenage years and early-to-mid-twenties I was more interested in getting drunk and having a good time. That changed when I met my then-girlfriend (now my wife), and she bought me a copy of Stephen King’s ‘Pet Cemetery’ for Christmas. The book, coupled with her encouragement, made me get my head down and start a novel. It was called ‘Ghost of You’, a supernatural thriller, and it was awful and never got published. But it reignited my desire to write stories…and then I went on from there.TDWS: Why write in the zombie genre?
Rich Hawkins: Ever since I saw Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ on late-night TV, when I was fifteen, I’ve been interested in zombies and how they can be used in stories. After watching DOTD, I discovered NOTLD and it went on from there. And then 28 Days Later arrived, and with the explosion of the zombie’s popularity at that time, I was absolutely hooked. The release of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead and later Shaun of the Dead, ensured I was smitten.
When I first started taking writing seriously, it never occurred to me to write a zombie novel. And later, when zombies had become mainstream, I was reluctant to write about zombies/infected, because it seemed like everyone was writing a zombie story, and I didn’t want to get lost in the horde. That changed in 2012, when I decided to write a novel about four old friends caught in the chaos of an apocalypse – I just didn’t know what would cause the apocalypse. Then I got the idea of a virus that mutates people and turns them into ferocious cannibals whose only instincts are to infect and feed, and that idea became ‘The Last Plague’.
I love zombies/virus/infected/end of the world stories, so it made sense to actually write one instead of daydreaming about it.TDWS: Let's get to your book. What's it about? Is it a series?
Rich Hawkins: The Last Plague is a novel about four old friends who go on a stag weekend (what people in the US would call a bachelor party?) to an isolated cottage in the English countryside. When they leave the cottage and set off to return to their home village on the other side of the country, they find abandoned cars and deserted houses. They have no idea what’s happening until they’re attacked by people infected with some unknown virus, and the friends realise that a horrific epidemic has hit Great Britain. They have to make the long journey home to reach their families as the country descends into chaos. The novel has recently been shortlisted for Best Horror Novel at this year’s British Fantasy Awards.
I intended it as a trilogy – the sequel, ‘The Last Outpost’ is released in September, and I’m currently writing the third novel, ‘The Last Soldier’.TDWS: As I'm sure you know there are thousands of zombie books out there right now. What makes yours stand out?
Rich Hawkins: Hopefully the nature of the virus and the hints of cosmic horror in the background of the story make it stand out a little bit. My infected aren’t zombies, as they’re still alive, and they share some similarities with the alien creature in John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’. Plus I hope the central relationship between the old friends resonates with readers.TDWS: What's the cause of the zombie apocalypse in your book/books?
Rich Hawkins: I left it ambiguous in The Last Plague, although there are a few hints. More is explained about the virus in The Last Outpost. I wanted to keep it a mystery, so the reader could relate to the situation the characters are in, and feel their confusion as they try to survive in a world that’s gone to hell.TDWS: Are your zombies the fast or slow moving type?
Rich Hawkins: They’re fast – but some of them who’ve been injured tend to be a bit slower. Varying degrees really. Some of them crawl or skitter about on all fours. They’re still bound to the limits of the host body’s condition. They’re not superhuman. I tried to mix it up.TDWS: Are you trying to make any greater point with your books or just write a good zombie story?
Rich Hawkins: My main aim is to write a story people will enjoy, with an interesting plot and characters, and hopefully give it some layers, with themes of grief, loss, death and mass extinction. Different readers will have varying views on whether I succeed with that. Different people look for different things in the stories they read, I think.TDWS: Do you have an online presence? If so where? Blogs, web sites, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Rich Hawkins: Yes, I’m on Facebook and Twitter. I also have a blog, but it’s a bit underused at the moment and I tend to announce any book news on Facebook and Twitter. Drop by and say hello!