Interview with David Towsey
Posted October 29, 2014on:
In keeping with the theme of reading creepy books for Halloween, I’m just thrilled about today’s interview. David Towsey’s debut novel, Your Brother’s Blood came out last year, and his second novel, Your Servants And Your People will be released in the UK in early November. A very unusual zombie series, the zombies in the The Walkin’ Trilogy die, get up, and then go on with their lives as if nothing too unusual happened.
David was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his engrossing new series, what’s so fun about writing zombie fiction, and writing to the tune of, well, you’ll see!
LRR: Congratulations on the upcoming release of Your Servants and Your People, the second book in your The Walkin’ trilogy! what can you tell us about this series, and about the directions the story will go in the second book? (that is, if you can tell us without spoilers!)
DT: Thanks! It’s a funny feeling anticipating a sequel release; equal parts exciting and terrifying. The series is a post-apocalyptic zombie-western with a twist (because that wasn’t enough already, right?)
The Walkin’, the novels’ version of zombies, are able to talk and think and feel. The first book introduces the McDermott family whose patriarch, Thomas, has been killed in a civil war only to come back as a Walkin’. He battles to keep his family safe from the religious and social stigma that is rife in their hometown of Barkley. That battle continues seven later, in Your Servants and Your People, as his daughter is now a young woman and his wife is weary of a life on the run. The McDermotts join a small army caravan heading towards a remote outpost, in the hope of isolating their troubled daughter. But Barkley won’t let them go so easily.
LRR: Your books in The Walkin’ Trilogy deal with family relationships, religion, judgement, and a post apocalyptic future. What type of research did you do to develop these themes and environs within your writing?
DT: Well, in terms of the environs, a few years ago I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Arizona State University. They were holding a writer’s conference and invited some of the students from Aberystwyth, where I was studying. Between seminars I was able to see some of the surrounding countryside (though that word doesn’t really seem appropriate). The vivid reds and oranges of that landscape were so different from the lush green I was used to. It felt almost like looking out at an alien world, so I knew I had to write about it.
However, when writing Your Servants and Your People I used a landscape much closer to home for inspiration. I’m lucky enough to live very close to some stunning Welsh mountains. I have pictures up on the walls of my office as I write this, taken from walks. I’m no photographer, or keen hiker, but they evoke a strong feeling of place for me that I hope the novel manages to channel.
As for the religious elements of the trilogy, I haven’t focused too much on research – bible scholarship is right up there with hiking in terms of things I don’t do very often on a Sunday. I’ve taken liberties that only a SF/F author can when creating my religious communities. Barkley’s own special brand of fundamentalism is not trying to comment on any existing faith, but is more of a reflection of the times in which these characters live.
And as for the family relationships, my own family has given me all the research I could ever need…
LRR: Why do you enjoy writing zombie stories? what’s the draw?
DT: I like the gross-out moments. I don’t use them as often as some zombie narratives, but they’re still pretty powerful (and fun). In what other genre can you write a character’s reaction as they poke their own kidney? But more seriously, I like that I can defamiliarise some big ideas about what it is to be human through my zombie stories. Writing SF/F is such a great way to explore things from a different angle.
LRR: You mention on your blog that you listen to music while you write. Can you tell us a little more about this, how the music helps you focus or stay focused, and who some of your favorite bands and musical artists are?
DT: Novels, teaching preparation, blog posts, any time I’m typing I have to have music – right now it’s a Minus the Bear playlist. But when writing fiction, as I talk a little about on my blog, what I’m listening to is essential when creating the right atmosphere to work. It’s not so much about keeping on task.
My Walkin’ playlist has some soundtracks from modern westerns alongside tracks by artists like Elliott Smith and James Taylor to try and get me into the mind-set for bleak, dry landscapes full of hard people.
My current work in progress is more solidly in the realms of science fiction so I have some chillstep, electronica, and prog on the ’list to get me in the mood for bulkheads and asteroids. Some bands do follow me from book to book, depending on the different feelings they create for me. A favourite is Coheed and Cambria – a band telling their own SF story through music and graphic novels – as well as Pink Floyd, The Mars Volta, and Deftones to name just a few.
LRR: You also teach Creative writing at the University level. How do you help your students become better writers? What’s the best bit of writing advice you ever received?
DT: I encourage my students to try things. Experiment. So often there’s a fear of failure, even in students who have only been writing for a year or so, that stops them even trying. It’s so rewarding to see a student take to something, writing poetry for example, that they’d previously thought impossible.
University classes give a student an encouraging environment to develop their own ideas and voices, and that’s a really exciting thing to be part of.
During my years as a writing student, I was given so many great pieces of advice it’s impossible to pick the best. There is one that stands out in terms of the Walkin’ Trilogy. I was struggling with how I, a young man, could convincingly write what it was like for a mother to lose her child. My writing tutor told me to stop worrying about how a woman would feel, and concentrate on how Sarah McDermott would react. Sounds obvious now but I was pretty new to writing and it really opened my eyes. Keeping that in mind helps me write all manner of characters to this day.
LRR: Who were some of your favorite writers when you were younger? Has anyone directly influenced your writing?
DR: I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. But as a teenager I did get into fantasy and I had a handful of favourite authors – David Gemmell, Robert Jordan, and Robin Hobb for example. I think it’s fair to say I write nothing like they do. I enjoyed their scope, their action, and their pace. But in my own writing I’ve come to realise, pretty recently actually, that I’m not naturally drawn to stories about saving the world/country/city. I think that might explain why the Walkin’ Trilogy turned out the way it did.
More direct influences would be writers such as Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, and Cormac McCarthy. I like how they combine a tight writing style with large ideas and even larger characters.
LRR: Your Servants and Your People will be released in the UK in early November. What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
DT: I have the edits of the final Walkin’ book to work through, which is often an involved process. But I’m really excited to have the end of my first trilogy in place – I think it’s always going to have a special feel for me because of that.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m writing a science fiction novel right now. It’s set on an almost abandoned asteroid mining facility where things start to take a strange turn. The lone miner, Ros, is a veteran but when a younger company stooge turns up she struggles to keep her grizzled grasp on reality. It’s in the same vein as Moon and Solaris (which I had to re-read just to make sure I wasn’t re-telling a classic).
LRR: Thanks so much David!