Plot Outline:The 9th book in the series. After being betrayed and captured by the most heinous survivors of the human race, B Smith lands back in the clutches of a fiend she had hoped to never see again, someone who is intent on making her suffer in the most tortuous ways. Discovering the fate of loved ones from B's past adds to the agony and calls into question just how much B is willing to sacrifice in the name of justice.
Author Notes:I started Zom-B Family on 14th March 2011 (although I'd figured out the main plot and written a brief synopsis of it a year earlier, in April 2010) and finished work on it on 11th January 2014.
I knew this was going to be the hardest-hitting book in the series, since a large section of it was going to have to focus on Dan-Dan's torture of B. With the first draft, I had to let him do far more to her than you read about in the finished book. To know exactly what was going on, I had to write about it in detail. I knew that I would have to cut out a lot of what I was writing, and that my editors would demand I tone it down in places, but it was important to map it out as carefully as I could in the beginning.
I actually had an easier time with my editors than I'd imagined. They could see that the torture wasn't for show, that it was a vital part of the book -- indeed, of the entire series, as the plot of the next book could only work if B ended up in a broken, isolated state. Although, having said that, B isn't really broken. Physically crushed, yes, but her fiery spirit remains bruised but intact, and I think this is why the book proved such a hit with readers -- it shows that no matter what the world does to us, we can overcome anything if we stay true to our convictions and refuse to bend to the iron hand of our would-be oppressors. The short message of Zom-B Family is that you can kill us, but you can't destroy us. There's a lot more to humans than just their skin and bones.
So, while my editors certainly urged me to trim down the violence, and draw back from some of the most shocking scenes, they afforded me a lot more room to manoeuvre than they might have. I think this is where I got to reap one of the advantages of being an established author. If this had been the work of a beginner, they would have been more worried, and might have demanded more cuts. But I've been around long enough for readers to trust me, to know that I don't throw in gore and bloodshed just for the hell of it. There have been hardly any controversies about my books over the years, because readers can see the moral underpinnings. If Zom-B Family had been the work of a first-timer, people might not have been so willing to go along for the ride -- it might have read as a bit of evil, twisted "fun." But those who've been following my work over the course of the series (and before) knew there was nothing salacious about this, that I was taking them down this dark path for a very good reason, and that there would be light (of a sort) at the end.
Although I trimmed a lot of the book, I only made one key change in response to an editorial suggestion. It regarded the death of Dan-Dan. In the early drafts, B let the children whom he had tortured kill him. This seemed like poetic justice to me, and it was something I had planned for a long time. I was pleased with how it read, but my editor argued that B had changed over the course of the series, and while she might have let something like that happen earlier in the storyline, by this stage she would want to do all she could to protect the innocent. I reflected on that and decided that my editor was right. B had outgrown my original vision of her, and it would have been wrong of her to allow the children to become killers. So I changed it. Having said that, I liked the original scene a lot, so here it is, in all its chilling, cynical glory!
* * * * *
“This creep’s mine,” I tell Rage, ready to fight to the death if he tries to rob me of the pleasure.
“I wouldn’t dream of getting in your way,” Rage purrs. I grin tightly and move forward. “However…”
“What?” I roar, turning to glare at him, ripping a knife from its holder in the belt and pointing it at his head.
Rage doesn’t flinch. He simply smiles and says, “I know you’ve suffered a lot and want this more than anything. But don’t you think that lot are more deserving of the honour?” He nods at the children gathered around the balcony.
I stare at the kids, then at Rage. “You can’t be serious,” I croak.
“We’re tough bastards, you and me,” Rage says softly. “We can take any sort of torment in our stride. But they were innocent before he got his filthy paws on them. Can you imagine what it would have been like if you’d fallen into Dan-Dan’s clutches when you were a normal, young girl?”
“But… no… it would be wrong to make them…”
“I’m not talking about making them do anything,” Rage says. “If they don’t want to soil their hands, fine, you’re more than welcome to him. But I think they’re due their revenge if they want to take it.”
Rage reaches out and takes the belt from my unprotesting fingers. He removes the knives and flicks them at the floor in turn, so that they stick in it lightly, heads embedded in the soft oak boards which Dan-Dan probably had installed, hilts and handles quivering hypnotically. “Take them if you want,” he tells the wide-eyed children, then looks to me for approval.
“Yeah,” I mutter weakly. “But decide quickly. I’ve got to be out of here. There are others who need help too.”
Dan-Dan’s darlings gaze solemnly at the knives. Then one of them steps forward. It’s the boy who kept on singing that first day when I was being tortured, the one who seemed afraid of the nightmares that sleep would bring. He picks up a knife, nods grimly at me, then turns to face his captor.
The other children follow suit. There aren’t enough knives for all of them. Those without a weapon hook their fingers and bare their teeth. Not one of the kids holds back. All are hellbent on following this through.
“Please,” Dan-Dan weeps as they advance. “Little ones… darlings… you know I love you. Be nice to Dan-Dan.”
One of the youngest girls screams. The rest of them take up her anguished howl. Then they fall on him in a pack, stabbing, plucking, tearing. Dan-Dan screams as well, but not for long, disappearing beneath them. The last thing I see of him is his beloved sailor’s hat, torn in half and tossed away as a rag by one of his rabid darlings.
I watch the slaughter numbly, a monster coolly observing a monstrous act. I don’t feel as much satisfaction as I wish, or as much shame for having turned these children into killers as I should. This is simply the way of things in this brave new world, and the most emotion I can muster is a dull sense of gratitude that I don’t have to worry about Lord Wood… Daniel… Dan-Dan any more.
“The fleet has sailed, sailor boy,” I whisper, throwing a mock salute his way, even though he no longer has eyes to see me with. “Bon voyage!”
* * * * *
Dan-Dan's torture of B provides the backbone of the story, but of course this book isn't really about the child-killer at all. What it's really about is family and racism. I knew, back when I was writing the first book, that B and her father had unfinished business, and that I needed to further explore the issue of how racism warps your view of the world and leads you to commit horrific acts. We knew from our initial encounter with him that B's dad was a nasty piece of work, but I wanted to take that further and show the end results of unrestrained racist behaviour. Intolerance can have cataclysmic consequences -- World War II taught us that, and one would have thought that it was a lesson we'd never forget, but recent global events and the turn in many countries towards extremism and xenophobia, shows that sadly the human race taken as a whole has a short memory.
It was important for me to not turn B's father into a complete monster. He's even more of one than he was when the story began, but he's still capable of bravery and sacrifice. For me that's the most troubling thing about racists -- if we could dismiss them as pantomime villains, they would be relatively easy to deal with, but they come wrapped in all manner of contradictions, the same as most people. To confront and defeat evil, it's important to full understand it, and what I was trying to show in this book was that haters will sometimes have their positive, even admirable points -- but it's vital to never let that blind us to the hate at their core. B's dad was made of noble stuff in many respects, and if the racism had been stripped from him, he could have been a hero. But he made hatred of other people the centre of his universe, and that reduces him to the level of Dan-Dan, Justin Bazini and their like -- a potentially good man, lost forever to the darkness.
In terms of the overall story, Zom-B Family is the real turning point of the series. Things have been building to a head over the course of the last couple of books, and from this point there can be no turning back. B has been betrayed, ground down, and abandoned. The fight hasn't been knocked out of her -- the scene in the cage, where she tries to save Vinyl, is proof of that (and, by the by, is probably my favourite out of all the fight scenes that I have written) -- but she has been weakened and stripped bare of many of her strengths. Her rescuer is a man far more dangerous than those who came close to annihilating her in this book, and who knows what he has planned for her -- maybe the worst is yet to come. One thing's for sure -- we're about to find out, as book 10, Zom-B Bride, sees us delving into the home and lair of everybody's fave psychotic clown -- Mr Dowling!! What happens next is going to shake B -- and you -- to the bone. Things are about to take a very strange turn indeed...
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Zom-B Family (USA)
Zom-B Family UK 2nd draft
Zom-B Family UK 1st draft
Zom-B Family (USA audio)
Zom-B Family (Canada)