Most young 'uns have a tough time making it through those volatile teenage years unscathed. Spare a thought then for Lazarus Stone, the adolescent lead in David Gatward's new action horror trilogy, who discovers he's got much bigger problems than school bullies. The Dead are coming to our world and it's his job to send them back to hell.
"Initially, like most teens, Lazarus thinks his dad's rubbish," Gatward tells Red Alert. "He's away all the time, but then he goes missing and Lazarus discovers his dad's been living this secret life - keeping The Dead away from our world - so it's up to Lazarus to find him and send The Dead back."
Gatward is a self-confessed horror fanatic, but insists the walking corpses in The Dead aren't your average grey matter guzzlers. "I didn't want them to be the brainless, knuckle-scraping dead you generally find. They lust for life and they'll do anything to get back - all they need is a nice warm body to take over."
The first chapter in a trilogy (The Dark and The Damned hit shelves in october 2010 and April 2011, The Dead is infused with an anarchic, breakneck, heavy metal sensibility - and tons of gore.
"I'm writing what I would have loved to have read when I was younger. I'm trying to get a story that you could see as a series of action movie set-pieces, so you're almost out of breath when you get to the end. I want the gore in it to be the kind of stuff kids don't want their parents to find out about. It's very over-the-top and ludicrous, like Evil Dead violence, it's just not horrendous or malicious." (SFX)
What a week. Yesterday I'm in SFX Magazine, and today, my first copy of The Dead arrives on my desk. Astonishing.
I think I'm supposed to feel more elated than I do. Trust me, I'm amazed, stunned, excited, happy, giddy... but in my idiotic brain, I'd built this moment up so much, that nothing short of a total eclipse, lots of fireworks, and some dancing monkeys would match it.
This has a lot to do with that build-up we're all prone to giving events in our lives, but when they transpire, they're brilliant, but not neccessarily knock-you-dead. We expect one specific sliver of time to crack us one on the chin and change our lives. But that doesn't really do justice to all the work that's gone before, without which this 'moment' wouldn't even exist.
I'm seeing it now more as a crescendo of events and experiences that are taking me further and further in to a world I simply can't believe I'm a part of. From getting the chance to try out for a ghost-writing job, tolanding a major celebrity ghost-writing deal, through landing a frighteningly good agent, and then to signing the contract for The Dead, writing it, seeing it turn up in print, getting a website together, doing interviews...
Events are cool, milestones that give us a little something to wave at and take photographs of as we pass them. But it's the journey that's so important, surely. And I'm still only at the beginning of mine. Which, to be frank, is possibly the most exciting thing of all...
When I came up with The Dead, my aim from the off was to write not so much a novel, or a series of novels, but a story which had such a pace, it left the reader breathless. I wanted it to feel like a movie experience where you leave at the end exhausted. Much like I felt after seeing the new-and-improved (apparently) Dawn of The Dead movie a few years back. I came out feeling like I'd just spent two hours in a wind tunnel. Instead of a headache tablet, me and my brother turned back round in to the cinema and watched (oh wonder of wonders) Shaun of the Dead... Genius!
Anyway, that's what I wanted to achieve, still do. And a key part of that for me was to have cliffhangers that pulled your guts out of your throat.
So I did my best to start the story right off in the middle of something a bit weird, have chapters end in such a way you're forced to flip the page, and ultimately to end each book - while concluding the individual story/adventure/horror of each - with a killer cliffhanger. Something that gives the reader barely a breath between the conclusion of what Lazarus (the main character) has faced and survived... and what he's thrown in to next.
Personally I love cliffhangers. And to me they're an essential part of writing horror. I don't want my readers to get to the end of a book and feel all comfy and happy and 'Ooh, look! A puppy!' That would seriously stink.
The aim of horror is to unnerve, challenge, disturb, send shivers, thrill, excite, upset, challenge, move... and cliffhangers help with this. I've read some books that end with such a shock ending that they're not so much a cliffhanger as a knife in the back as you're kicked off the ledge screaming and kicking as you plummet down to the rocks below...
You want a book to end in a hug? Don't buy The Dead. Seriously, I'm warning you. Don't go near it. Don't even pick it up, look at the cover, walk past it in the shop.
But if you want something that (hopefully) makes your breath catch in your throat, widens your eyes to the point of bursting from your skull, your guts squirm like they're trying to get out and fast, and gives you cliffhangers than cause you to run screaming to your local independent bookshop to find out when the next installment is out...