Plot Outline:The fourth book in the series. B finds refuge with Angels, a group of teenagers who are dedicated to the task of restoring order back to the living. They are led by a mysterious, kindly doctor who can answer many of the questions that have been thrown up so far in the series -- where did the zombie virus come from? How did it spread across the globe so quickly? What sort of creatures are Mr Dowling, Owl Man and the mutants? The answers come as B trains to find out if she is good enough to serve with the Angels, but they are so terrifying and mind-blowing that B soon starts to wonder if maybe she was better off before...
Author Notes:I plotted the first three books of the series in April 2008. I had a rough idea at the time of where I wanted to go with the series, but I had by no means figured out all of the twists or turns. On the 4th of August, 2009, with first drafts and rewrites of the first three parts in the bag, and having spent a lot of the inbetween sixteen months mulling things over, I sat down and plotted out book 4.
I knew that book 4 would have to do a lot of explaining. It actually serves a similar overall function as book 4 of The Saga Of Darren Shan. In "Vampire Mountain" I had to explain a lot about vampires, their customs, how they lived. We hadn't learnt much about them over the course of the first three books, and in book 4 I needed to slow the pace down a little and fill readers in, before picking up pace again with the next book. I was worried about hitting readers with too much exposition in both cases, but fans had reacted positively to "Vampire Mountain" (I still get fans coming up to me at events who say it is their favourite book of the series), so I felt more confident this time round. Still, I did everything I could to add some action, make the explanations clear and concise, and move things along as swiftly as I could.
I'd planned to include more info in book 4 than I ended up incorporating. I realised, when I started writing it, that it would end up being a very large, facts-heavy book if I didn't change tack. I didn't want the book to be a slog, so I ended up splitting it into two, and having it spill over into book 5. Luckily there was a natural break point in the storyline which allowed me to do this and still give the book a cliffhanger -- not a very dramatic cliffhanger, true, but one that takes the story up a few levels into a very different, perplexing and troubling place. B is presented with some "facts" in this book that she finds hard to swallow, and I want readers to go on that journey of uncertainty with her. It's one of the key themes of the series -- what is true and what isn't? Who can we trust in life, and can we trust everything they say? Are people with supernatural beliefs deluded, or can they really be prophets who see layers to this world that the rest of us can't see? Religion has always fascinated me. I've touched on the subject lightly in the first three books, but here is where we dive fully in. I think if a zombie apocalypse ever did happen, many people would believe it was tied in with religion, and that was something I wanted to explore -- especially the possibility that those people might be right...
I chose to set "Zom-B Angels" in County Hall because I had an apartment in the building when I was writing the book. Not the main building at the front overlooking the river, where the Angels base themselves, but in the building behind that. I thought it would be fun to house the Angels in the complex where I was spending a lot of my time -- it certainly made it easy to do research! Before book 1 was released, my publishers held a launch event for booksellers, and they asked me if I had any ideas about where we could host it. I immediately suggested County Hall, and that's where it ended up taking place -- in one of the rooms on which the end scene of book 3 and start scene of book 4 was based. Luckily for us, truth didn't entirely replicate fiction, and it was a zombie-free event!
The County Hall setting actually ended up being a real gift, and I've made as much use of it as I can. First of all, I think it will make it easier for people who don't live in London to visualise the setting. Most visitors to London have popped by the London Eye, which sits out front of the building, and even if you have never been to the city, you've surely seen the Eye on TV or in films. There is an arcade in County Hall, so I was able to set a scene there -- it's a place where I have taken young cousins of mine bowling in the past, so I had the Angels bowl there too. (Although I had to tweak the real world a bit -- the pins in the bowling alleys are attached to strings, but I wanted them to be freestanding, so I discreetly got rid of the strings, figuring nobody would ever know the difference! But if anyone ever asks, the Angels cut them!!!) County Hall also houses a first-rate Aquarium, which i was able to work into the story. The Aquarium is very cool and well worth a visit -- for one of my birthdays a few years back, Bas (now Mrs Shan) named a piranha after me and we went in to see him swimming around with all the other little potential people-eaters! And when the London Dungeon moved into the building in 2013, it let me set a scene in book 5 there as well. Sweet!
Carrying on from the first three books, I continued naming some of the characters after people that I know. County Hall's living dinner lady, Ciara, is named after a good friend of mine. The zombie twins, Cian and Awnya, are named after my cousin John's real-life twins (although I changed the spelling of Awnya's name to make it easier for readers). The chain-wearing Shane is named after my web designer's son. One of the Angels, Ingrid, is named after the children's MD at Simon & Schuster. And another Angel, the nimble-fingered locksmith Ivor, is named after a competition winner -- who ended up being a retired teacher who has come to lots of my events over the years!
As for Dr Oystein... he was named after a fan in Norway! I was there on tour several years ago, at the Norsk Litteraturfestival. When signing for fans, I asked them to write down their names on some pieces of paper, so that I could spell them the right way. I kept a couple of those pieces of paper, and looked through the names when I was working on the character of the good doctor. There were some good ones that I could have chosen, such as Thorstein, Peder (which I used for one of the Zom-Heads in book 2, Zom-B Underground), Malin and more, but Dr Oystein seemed to have a perfect ring to it, so that's what I went for!
"Zom-B Angels" as I noted above is a grounding novel, one that lays the ground rules for what is to come. While it's probably the least action-packed book of the series (although I loved writing B's training scenes, and I think they'll give readers a kick) it sets the stage for everything that is to come. There's barely a pause for breath from the middle of book 5 onwards, so I think readers are going to appreciate this chance to pause, think about what has happened, and learn some of the reasons why. There's a chance that not everything we're told in this book is 100% true... but as book 5 is going to show, there's also a very good chance that it IS! Ultimately all of the questions will be answered before te end of the series, but for now YOU are in the same position as B, and YOU must decide what to believe and what to treat with suspicion. Then wait and see if time and the remaining eight books of the series will prove you right!
Join me again in late September 2013, when we'll be celebrating the birth of "Zom-B Baby," which is where things REALLY start to get terrifyingly strange...
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Zom-B Angels (Canada)
Zom-B Angels audio (UK)
Zom-B Angels second draft
Zom-B Angels third draft
Zom-B Angels (UK)