Plot Outline:The second book in the Zom-B series. Waking up in an underground military complex, months after the zombie outbreak, B has no memory of the last few months. With no idea what has happened in the outside world, B is forced to focus on life underground. As B learns more about the zombies held in the complex, and the scientists keeping them captive, unease settles in. Why exactly was B saved? What are the soldiers and scientists planning? And is there anyone left in the world to trust? For B Smith, death is not the end...
Author Notes:First of all, going back to Book 1 (and you REALLY should not read on unless you have read the first Zom-B book, as there are HUGE SPOILERS ahead!!)...
As many of you screeched with disbelief when you finished the first book: "B is a GIRL?!?!?"
Well, yes, of course -- whatever made you think that she wasn't?!?
Heh heh! That's just my little joke. Of course you were meant to think that B was a boy! I wrote the book very carefully to work in that twist. I knew from early on that I wanted the main protagonist in my zombie series to be a girl. At the time I wasn't sure why, exactly (although that becomes clear over the course of the series -- you will find out that it couldn't have worked the way I wanted if B had been a boy). I just knew that my gut instinct was telling me that B was a girl, and that I would be a fool to doubt it.
I also knew that I didn't want readers to KNOW that B was a girl until near the end of the first book. I had read a book like this when I was at university, The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler, by Gene Kemp, and it had stuck with me. It wasn't a case of me thinking, "Oh, that was a good idea, I must use it one day." But I knew that my zombie books were going to serve as warnings in many ways -- along with lots of action and exciting plot twists, I was basically going to be saying to readers that they should be careful about who they trust and what they believe. The key message was going to be: Always ask questions, always doubt your first assumptions, always search for the truth. What better way to get them to do this than by showing they were wrong to even assume that the character they were reading about was a boy? The twist about B's gender sets the tone for the rest of the series -- we all make basic assumptions about things in life, but sometimes those assumptions are WRONG. We must never trust in what we assume, only in what we KNOW.
It's very difficult to disguise a character's gender, as many reviewers have realised when writing a review of Zom-B! Writing in the first person definitely made it easier, as it allowed me to say "I did this... I did that..." rather than trying to find a way not to say "She did this... She did that..." I could have made it work if I'd written the book in the third person, but I think most readers would have guessed something was up, as my avoidance of the main character's gender would have attracted attention. By doing it in the first person, I neatly sidestepped that problem, and based on the feedback I've received, hardly anyone realised that B was a girl until THAT scene near the end!!
And then, of course, there was that OTHER scene right at the very end, where B dies staring at her ripped-out heart! Again, I knew from early in the process that B would die at the end of the first book. I had no interest in writing a standard series about survivors running and hiding from zombies. That's been done too many times. I wanted to go in a very different direction, the way I did when writing about vampires, by taking readers into the mind and world of the walking dead. That wouldn't have been possible with ordinary zombies, because they're unthinking killing machines, but as we start to see in Book 2, my zombies were going to be far from ordinary!
The origin of the zombies was crucial for me, and I spent a few years trying to figure out where the undead would have come from, how they would have been created, and why. I wanted (needed) thinking zombies in order to give me something to identify more closely with and write about, but I didn't want to just throw them into the mix. Many zombie books and films don't explain where the undead come from, and in most cases that's fine, as it's not necessary to the story being told. But in this case it was vital, as I was looking to write about conspiracies and the abuse of power. Without giving too much away, these zombies aren't the random result of an experiment gone wrong. There's a very good reason why they exist, and why some of them regain the use of their mental faculties. And over the course of the next 10 books, we're going to find out!!
I was a bit concerned about setting the story of the second book in a single complex, given that most of book 1 took place in a school. But I had a lot more fun with the story than I anticipated. The confined setting actually worked in its favour, letting me create a claustrophobic atmosphere, and I think it heightens the sense of mystery -- we have no idea what is going on in the world above, and I think that's a good thing at this early stage. All we know is that B has fallen, both physically and metaphysically, and the question is whether or not she can rise again and start searching for the redemption that she craves after what she did in Book 1. Ultimately this is a story about one person's quest, not to right a terrible wrong (since she can never put right what she did to Tyler), but to try to do something that at least partly atones for it.
We didn't get especially close to B's friends in the first book. That was deliberate -- I wanted them to serve primarily as zombie fodder. But the zom heads are different, and I give them more time and space to develop. I actually named a few after people I know. Cathy Kelly is a good friend of mine, and for years she has pestered me to include her as a leather-clad character in one of my books -- this is her reward! And Rage is named after another friend of mine, who is every bit as bulky and clever as the character in this book -- only nowhere near as mercenary (I hope!!). And Danny is named after real-life Rage's brother. And Gokhan is named after a lovely Turkish guy who is married to one of my cousins (I used her name in The Demonata -- she was the witch, Mrs Egin, in Demon Thief -- and their children, Jordan and Yasmin, have featured in other books).
Sticking with names... I wrote the first draft of the book while the Cirque Du Freak movie was being named, so Josh Massoglia is a combination of the names of its two leading teenage actors, Josh Hutcherson and Chris Massoglia. Reilly, mais oui, was named after John C Reilly, a brilliant actor who I felt was perfect as Mr Crepsley in the film. And Dr Cerveris was named after Michael Cerveris, who did such a wickedly wonderful job as Mr Tiny.
And then there was Mr Dowling...
The world's creepiest clown was actually named after a bookseller in Ireland, who used to work for Hughes & Hughes. Her surname was Dowling. (I think her first name was Sarah, but I might be wrong about that.) She drove me around to events a couple of times years ago. On one of the journeys, she told me that she was afraid of clowns, and I began to immediately play around with ideas for a freaky clown. As one quickly formed inside my head, I chuckled and told her about him, and said that I would use him in a book one day, and in her honour I would name him after her. And so I did!!!
Join me again in March for more of my author notes, when we leave the Underground behind and venture forth into the zombie-strewn streets of Zom-B City...
View full covers gallery
Zom-B Underground UK third draft version 1
Zom-B Underground UK first draft
Zom-B Underground (Korea)
Zom-B Underground (USA audio)
Zom-B Underground UK third draft version 3