Interview with David Moody by Deborah Edgeley

David Moody pic

Hugely successful horror writer David Moody has had many books published, including the Autumn series (Autumn, The City, Purification, Disintegration, Aftermath, The Human Condition), Trust, the Hater series (Hater, Dog Blood and Them or Us) and Straight To You. Autumn became an online phenomenon, attracting more than half a million downloads, which led on to many sequels. Within three months of the release of Hater, a major US production company were interested in acquiring the film rights. The deal was sealed and the movie is currently in production with Guillermo del Toro (Director of Hellboy I and II, Pan’s Labrinth, The Hobbit), Mark Johnson producing (Breaking Bad, The Chronicles of Narnia films) and Glen Mazzarra (The Walking Dead) who wrote the initial draft of the movie script. After the Hater deal, the film rights to the first Autumn novel were sold to Renegade Motion Pictures in Canada. The DVD of the film, starring Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine, is available worldwide.

In 2005, you formed your own publishing house called Infected Books. On your website, you say that ‘lots of authors who could get their books traditionally released choose to retain control and publish their books themselves.’ Could you please give examples of the pros and cons of self publishing for new authors, as opposed to traditional publishing houses?

I think it’s important first of all to say that I think self-publishing (or, as I prefer to call it, independent publishing), is a viable route to publication. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it can work. I say this because previously, certainly when I started releasing books this way, self-publishing was frowned upon. People thought it was a last resort for people who couldn’t get published traditionally, and whilst I’m sure that was the case for some authors, it definitely wasn’t true of everyone who chose the independent route to market. I think you have to look at where you are in your career and what you want to achieve with the book before you choose to either go it alone or try to find a traditional publisher. There are many pros and cons to self-publishing. Here are a few:

  • Control – when you self-publish, you have complete jurisdiction over your work. That can be wonderful, but it can also put you under a lot of pressure as you’re solely accountable for every aspect of your book.
  • Speed – when I self-published everything myself through Infected Books, I’d literally finish editing a book one week and have it on sale the next. On occasion I’ve waited years for my traditional publishers to release titles (for example, almost two years passed between signing the contract for Hater and the book appearing on the shelves!).
  • Money – I hate to bring it up, but it’s important! When you self-publish you get paid regularly and don’t have to wait for royalty statements and the like. It’s far easier to manage on a monthly income rather than six monthly, believe me!
  • Guidance and feedback – with a larger publisher you get to work with an experienced editor who knows the market. That’s invaluable. I’d published seven books before I worked with a dedicated editor for the first time. It was a huge culture shock, but I think my writing benefitted considerably from the experience. I think it’s vital to get feedback on every project. When I’m self-publishing (as I still do), I like to get beta-readers to read my books at specific stages in the writing process.
  • Exposure – when you go it alone, you often really are alone. When you’re working with a larger publisher, you’ll have a support network behind you (even if it doesn’t always feel that way). You still need to promote yourself and your book constantly, but it helps to have the clout of a publisher behind you. As an independent publisher, you stand very little chance of getting your books onto the shelves of Waterstones and the like.

What draws you to the horror genre?

Despite the fact I obvious am one, I try not to think of myself as a horror writer. I don’t like the label, if I’m honest. For me, horror’s not a genre, it’s an emotion… a type of reaction, if you like. If you write Westerns, then people know there’s a good chance they’ll get cowboys and Native Americans and gunfights and Sheriffs in your stories, but horror can be about anything. To qualify my point, two of the most horrific books I’ve read in years were The Road by Cormac McCarthy and We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. Both are truly terrifying in their own way, but they’re never classified as horror novels, are they? Please pardon my rant – I get asked this a lot! In terms of the type of fiction I write, I’m drawn to these stories because I’m fascinated by people and the way they interact (or not) with each other. Putting people into extreme situations is a great way of examining human behaviour. In an apocalyptic scenario, for example, when people’s lives are on the line, they’re more inclined to drop the everyday pretence and act instinctively and honestly.

How is your working day structured? Do you like to write at a particular time in the day, or are you a night owl?

I’m a firm believer than you can’t force yourself to write – you have to be in the right frame of mind. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to write fulltime for the last five years or so and I’ve developed a routine which helps me stay productive (and adapt to the complications and frustrations of working from home with a large family!). I start around 7:30am and break myself into the day by organising my diary and catching up with emails. Once the kids have gone to school and my wife’s gone to work, I start writing proper. I turn off the Internet (vital!) and write in chunks of forty-five minutes to an hour. I usually have a few projects on the go and swap between them during the day to help me stay fresh. I set loose word targets to keep myself on track with progress. Before I wrote fulltime I used to manage a processing centre for a bank, so I’m used to having to plan and allocate resources etc. It sounds clinical and very uncreative, but it helps me to work to targets and timetables. It keeps me focused. I take regular breaks through the day to run, walk the dog, do my chores (again, the joys of working from home), collect the kids from school etc. All that said, when I’m writing I’m very passionate about my stories and if inspiration strikes I’ll write at any time. As I said earlier, I don’t think you can force yourself to write. But when you are writing and the words are flowing, you have to make the most of it.

How did it feel when you were contacted by a major production company who were interested in the film rights to Hater?

Stunned. Amazed. In shock. I still am, actually, even though it’s been years since the initial deal was signed. I remember it vividly – it was late on a Tuesday evening. My wife was working nights, and I was working an office job during the day. We didn’t see much of each other – just passed in the doorway at some point between five and six o’clock each evening. The email arrived out of the blue and I thought at first that it was a joke. I even contacted a few folks to check I wasn’t being set up! But then I was able to establish that the message was genuine, and I remember looking at the screen in disbelief, thinking that my life was about to change! Things got very surreal after that. I remember trying to put the kids to bed, do the dishes and stop the dog from barking whilst talk to a major Hollywood producer on the phone!

Are you an optimist or a pessimist, or a mixture?!

Despite what you might think when you read my books, I’m actually an optimist. I just write about pessimists, I guess! It would be more accurate to say I’m a realist. In terms of my own life, my family and so on, I’m eternally optimistic. I find it much harder to be positive about things over which I don’t have any control (i.e. the rest of the world!). We’re subjected to a never-ending tirade of bullshit and spin and it’s difficult to stay positive when every face you see on TV seems either to be lying or not quite telling the truth!

You love films. Have you written any film scripts yourself? Which film do you wish you had written?

I do love films, and script writing is something I’m actively trying to get into (plenty of ideas, not enough time!). I’ve written a short horror movie which we’ve been trying to get into production for some time. Although it seems that particular project might not come to fruition, I’ve learnt an invaluable amount during the writing process. Which film do I wish I’d written… that’s a great question. I’d have to say Children of Men which is one of my favourite movies. From a writing perspective I’ve always admired Slumdog Millionaire – a wonderfully constructed narrative.

Have you kept books from your childhood? Were you a comic fan? If so, who was your favourite superhero and why?!

My favourite books as a child were The Day of the Triffids and War of the Worlds and yes, they’re on the shelf here in my office. The book which had the biggest impact on me as a writer was James Herbert’s Domain. I remember finishing reading it and thinking, I want to write books like this. I was honoured to meet Jim and interview him twice last year, and I was devastated when he passed away unexpectedly. I’m very proud to have had him sign my ancient copy of Domain, and that sits proudly on my shelf too. I was a comic fan, though I wish I’d taken greater care of them! My comics used to get read then thrown out, which seems sacrilegious today. I had some early Thor, Iron Man and Fantastic Four, as I remember. Hulk was my favourite, though. For some reason I felt like I could identify with him (maybe because I was a really fat kid with a really short temper!).

What scares you?

See question 5. The rest of the world. In particular, all politicians and company directors.

Tell us about the moment you realised that writing would be your vocation. Was it a surprise to you, or have you always wanted to be a writer?

I always wanted to be a film director (still do, in fact). When I left school, though, I had no relevant qualifications and no immediate way of getting any. These days you can grab a camera and editing software and produce something of a professional standard with relative ease. Back then you definitely couldn’t! I’d always been able to string a few words together, so I tried writing some of the stories I’d always hoped to film. After a few false starts it worked, and I managed to finish my first novel, Straight to You (currently in the process of being re-written twenty years later, as I went back and re-read it and realised it was bloody awful!). The moment I realised it might be my vocation was the first time I let people read the book. I thought they’d hate it, but they didn’t. To my surprise they seemed to really enjoy it.

Do you get time to read much with your busy schedule? What are you reading at the moment? Do you prefer paperback or ereader? Do you read other genres, apart from horror?

I don’t get anywhere near enough time to read, unfortunately. And when I do, I rarely get to choose books – I’m usually reading things I’ve agreed to provide blurbs for (something which I’ve had to cut down on doing recently). I’ve just read two novels, Meat and Garbage Man by Joseph D’Lacey, a fellow horror author who I know well. I tend to read horror or science-fiction because that’s why I enjoy, though I’m sure I’d read in other genres if I had more time. Paperback or ereader – I like both. I love having shelves full of books, but I enjoy the convenience of ebooks. I personally don’t think people should have to choose. When you buy an Infected Books title in print, I’ll send you a free download code to get an ebook. Similarly, when you buy a print version I’ll give you a discount on the paperback or hardback edition. It seems only fair to me.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Have a little more faith in yourself, mate.

Have you a favourite quote by a famous author?

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Douglas Adams

How will you be spending Halloween?

I’m usually working (it’s a busy time in my trade!), but I’m not sure yet this year. I’ve had a few invitations but I also have some family duties (a daughter flying back late from a school trip abroad), so I might just spend it at home, hiding from trick-or-treaters, curled up with a horror movie or two!

What’s next in the pipeline for David Moody?

I’ve nothing under contract at the moment, which is both liberating and scary. Bizarrely, though, I seem to be busier than ever. I’m working on three novels right now: Strangers (the closest thing I’ll ever get to a vampire story), the new version of Straight to You, and 17 Days (a man who’s always kept himself to himself finds himself playing out the last seventeen days of his life in front of the entire world). As soon as they’re done I’ll be moving onto a novella I have an idea for, then the first novel in a new six book horror/science-fiction series – The Spaces Between. Think Quatermass meets Dragon Tattoo and you’ll be halfway there!

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Oh, and also…..

Ink Pantry are doing a Halloween feature. 

Could you please give us some advice on this?

The power of suggestion. In my experience, the kind of things that won’t scare a reader are over-used clichés, an over-abundance of gore, shock tactics (i.e. intentionally breaking taboos) and so on. I think it’s far more effective to imply rather than tell. Instead of talking about what you can see, talk about what you can’t see, if that makes sense. After saying don’t rely on clichés, here’s one to prove my point: the anticipation of what the monster under your bed might look like is often far more frightening than the monster itself.

Also, I think readers are more easily scared when they fully buy into your story. Write about real people like them – have someone like your next door neighbour as the main character in your story, not a typical Hollywood, square-jawed hero. Set your story in a realistic location. Don’t be afraid to talk about the mundane and boring parts of your character’s lives – it’ll lull the reader into a false sense of security and make the horror so much more effective when it finally arrives!

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