Plot Outline:The third book in the series. B explores the streets of London, where we get our first glimpses of what has happened to the world in the wake of the zombie attacks. It is a city of the dead and undead, but there are survivors at large too -- some of whom are more dangerous than the zombies. B wishes to help the living, but there are forces at work that might make that impossible. Send in the clown!!!
Author Notes:It's been a long time since I read Stephen King's "The Stand" and I've forgotten most of the details. But I do remember vividly many of the early scenes, describing the desolation of America, especially one chapter set in New York. I remember similar scenes in "Day of the Triffids" and the movie "28 Days Later," where characters move in a daze through the eerily deserted streets of major cities and towns. A plot must always kick in, of course, for the book to develop, but those early, grounding scenes are often the most potent in a post-Apocalyptic tale.
That's why I was looking forward to "Zom-B City" so much, while worrying about it at the same time. Looking forward, because this would be my chance to show a world laid waste. And worrying, because what if I fudged it?!?
I wrote the rough plot outlines for the first three books in the series on April 7th, 2008. I didn't know much of what would happen after that, but having a guideline for the first arc of the story was enough to give me the confidence to start writing. I knew book 1 would be set mostly in B's school. Book 2 would take place in an underground complex. And book 3 would be where the action opened up and we finally got to see what had been happening while B was locked away.
It was almost a year later, in February and March 2009, when I set down to plot out book 3 in detail and start writing. I had spent much of that time wondering what to show, and how to pepper the book with action and suspense. I didn't want it to be a book where B wandered the streets aimlessly. I knew there would be some parts of the book that were self-contained, that wouldn't drive the main plot forward, but I wanted most of the elements to be instrumental, to introduce some characters and plotlines that I could return to later and develop. For me that's the most important part of a long series like this, setting up the players and storylines, then carefully weaving them all together over the course of the series.
So, although I could show anything I wanted in the corpses-strewn city of London, I thought long and hard about what I would focus on, and how to link what B sees in this book to events in later entries. I knew I would be exploring religious themes in later books, so I wanted to get that ball rolling here. I knew it was important to have human survivors as part of the ongoing story, so I needed some of those. I wanted to show how "ordinary" zombies acted and hunted, and how the other type of zombies in this series would get by in the new world. I wondered what the army would do to try and restore order. I felt it was time to re-introduce some familiar faces from the first book. And, of course, I was keen to show a bit more of everyone's favourite clown from book 2, the oh-so-loveable Mr Dowling!
Continuing on from book 2, I named many of the new characters in this book after people I actually know. Coley, Essex and Tag were all named after friends of my girlfriend Bas (Essex and Tag are women, but I changed them into men!). Another of Bas's friends, Clare, used to work for a company that made snacks (sweets), and so her friends used to call her Snacks Clare -- which is where I got Sister Clare Of The Shnax from!!!! Real-life Clare's boyfriend when I was working on the book was a guy called Sean, so I included him too. The brutish mutant, Kinslow, was also named after one of Bas's friends, a female teacher. Finally, the artistic Timothy Jackson was named after a couple of artists whose work I admire, both of whom I've been lucky enough to meet, Tim Shaw and Philip Jackson.
I also worked other familiar elements into the fabric of the book. For instance, the hunter, Barnes, is named after a place in London where the university I went to was situated. The hat B sports is based after an Australian slouch hat that I own and often wear on holiday! When B walks from London's East End to the centre, it's past an area where I used to live, and many of the streets and landmarks are familiar to me. St Thomas's Hospital is where I was born. And the reason I had B wind up in County Hall is because, when I wrote the book, I had a flat in there!!!
One of the real places I mention in this book (and it will crop up again further down the line) is the London Dungeons. I've always loved visiting this place, and in the early drafts of the book B described walking past it on Tooley Street, where it had stood for as long as I had remembered. Then, shortly before my final draft was due, I heard that the venue was moving -- to County Hall!!! It was a wonderful opportunity for me to include it in a bigger role in the books, but it also made me aware of a potential problem -- because London is an ever-changing city, there's a danger that some of the references to real buildings might date. If I'd released Zom-B City just a year earlier, I would not have been able to change the Tooley Street reference, and it would have become an anachronism.
I've tried to limit this danger as much as possible, by being as vague with references as I can, but when you base a story in a real city like London, it's an unavoidable trap. I've already have another near-miss with Battersea Power Station, which features in later books -- I had originally described it as a run-down wreck, which it has been for all my life, but recently I read about plans to develop it, so I've had to tweak my description. In other places I might not be so lucky, so if you're reading these books 5 or 10 or 20 years from now, I hope you'll make allowances!!!
Zom-B City ends with one of my most enigmatic cliffhangers. Join me again in June, when I'll be talking about that, and revealing all sorts of secrets about the Zom-B Angels...
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Zom-B City (UK)
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Zom-B City audio (UK)