❉ Combat juggling, a deadly farmer’s market, and a zombie Roger McGough – the zombie book for people who can’t stand zombies.
First comes nausea… then unconsciousness… then the hunger.
After the leafy streets of affluent London suburb Barnes are overwhelmed with shambling, bloodthirsty creatures, two uninfected survivors struggle to escape the well-dressed undead hordes, via the wobbly green towers of Hammersmith Bridge.
Featuring combat juggling, a deadly farmer’s market, and a zombie Roger McGough, Apocalypse Barnes is the new comedy horror novella from writer and actor Andrew Lawston.
Andrew’s work mostly takes the form of short stories, which have been hailed as “funny”, “quirky”, “horrific” and “twisted” – often all at once! His work can be found in various anthologies, including Obverse Books’ A Treasury of Brenda & Effie, Chinbeard Books’ Doctor Who charity anthology A Time Lord For Change, and his own collections, Something Nice and Something Nicer.
A fluent French speaker and former teacher, Andrew supplements his short story writing with French translations: Casanova’s Story of My Escape was published in 2014 to the delight of English-speaking Casanova enthusiasts around the world, and further translations of early 20th Century French novels are in the pipeline.
Hi, Andrew. What have you written so far?
The bulk of my fiction work so far has been short stories, published in various small press magazines, anthologies, blogs, and latterly self-published. I’ve also translated two French books: Story Of My Escape (Casanova’s memoir detailing his celebrated escape from “the Leads” prison in Venice in 1755), and Chantecoq and the Aubry Affair, a pulpy Arthur Bernède thriller written just before the First World War. I also self-published my MPhil thesis on the depiction of violence in the early films of Jean-Luc Godard.
Tell us about your short story collections, Something Nice and Something Nicer. How did the idea for your first short story collection originate?
The story that I tell about Something Nice is that my mum is always very supportive about my writing until she finds out about the latest demonic clown, murderous neighbour or haunted photocopier, at which point she always says “why don’t you write something nice?” which is where I got the idea for my first collection. This is all true, and she wasn’t flattered by my choice of title, unfortunately. But it really was the spark that gave me the idea to collect my fiction.
The stories in Something Nice took just over ten years to write, as the first story was written in early 2000, and the last in early 2011. But I wrote a lot of internet content and other things during that time as well. Something Nicer took just under three years, and I was a bit more focused on fiction throughout that time. I believe in waiting for the right idea to come along, and I was happy to take time out to work on translation projects and other bits of writing in the weeks and months when I couldn’t think of the next story.
Your new book is Apocalypse Barnes. Who are the main characters, and what is the story about?
Apocalypse Barnes is a comedy zombie novella set in the affluent suburb of South West London. One weekend, Barnes residents find themselves falling to a mystery illness, before rising again as savage, shambling, mindless killers. The book presents the reader with a few potential lead characters, but settles on Alan, an app developer in his early 30s, to make his way to the “safety” of Hammersmith Bridge. On the way he tries to protect Joe a young boy and fellow survivor who may or may not already be infected.
Alongside the basic survival and body horror of a zombie story, there’s a lot of humour as zombies attack a farmer’s market, an am dram group based in a church hall, and a Tesco Express. I’d like to think it’s the zombie book for people who can’t stand zombies.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
This book took four years to write, after I had a dream which inspired the closing pages. It’s a project I’ve returned to in fits and starts over the last four years, which made it very difficult to sit down and hammer the whole thing together into a coherent narrative.
I also discovered that there was a good reason why I always avoided writing stuff based on dreams. Dreams are rubbish and make no sense, even when you think they do! And my original reason behind the zombie outbreak – a virus introduced to the human foodchain through contaminated horsemeat – was incredibly topical back in February 2014, but not so much now! So there’s been a lot of rewriting on this.
In your opinion, what’s behind the zombie fad in pop culture of recent years?
I should probably do some very erudite theorising about post-millennial anxiety and eroding social cohesion, but to be honest I think they’re a bit like the Daleks – zombies are easy to imitate in the playground! Even if most zombie material is too mature for the actual playground, I think the fact we can all “do the voice” in the pub strengthens their pop culture cred. We can’t keep giving all the credit to Shaun of the Dead, it’s been 12 years and it’s been played to death on ITV2!
I’m also a bit worried that the fad might be dying down. I’m definitely kicking myself for not getting Apocalypse Barnes out a couple of years ago when you had stuff like World War Z and Warm Bodies in cinemas.
If there is a zombie apocalypse, who would you choose to help you fight them?
I’ve got my cocker spaniel, Eccleston, who could probably take out a few undead at the knees. But mostly I think I’d go with any small group of people – except the sort of people who actively plan their zombie apocalypse strategy now. There was a guy I got chatting to on my commute years back who maintained he’d chosen his flat on the grounds that it would be easy to defend from zombies, and had begun collecting blunt instruments in his garage. A gift to estate agents, but let’s face it, almost certainly a psychopath. Not someone you’d feel great standing by your side in a life or death struggle for survival.
When zombies attack, if you were bitten and had 20 seconds to save yourself before the disease spread through your body, what would you do?
I like to think I’d probably hand over the shotgun to another member of the party and ask them to give me both barrels the moment I turned. But not in the face. I’m far too pretty.
What are you working on at the minute? Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’ve got quite a few Word files open at the moment, but I’m mostly working on a cyberpunk adventure story as part of a series called Street Shamans with some other writers, and the first in what will hopefully be a series of novels about my crime-solving cat. I’m also working on a comedy space opera novella for an anthology which should be out by the end of the year.
I’ve completed a second Bernède translation (another Chantecoq novel) which is just awaiting a cover, and I have a superhero fairy tale retelling coming out early in the New Year in an anthology.
Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?
I do a bit of acting, and was briefly visible in Stephen Poliakoff’s drama Close to the Enemy last December. I also recently appeared in Puppy at the Vault Festival, a new play by Naomi Westerman which ended up as a top pick in Time Out and The Guardian, and which sold out completely. I got to play Nick Clegg, and a photo of my dog with a bra on his head ended up featuring on the poster! I’m now taking a bit of a break from the stage, but hopefully I’ll do something early next year.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
I have a stupidly ill-maintained blog up at http://andrewlawston.blogspot.co.uk, and a mailing list at http://eepurl.com/bbRpnD which (when I get over a dozen subscribers) will receive occasional updates of new releases, previews, and special offers for my books.
Where can we buy or see you work?
These links should take you to your local Amazon site:
Something Nice – $0.99 / £0.99 http://authl.it/yq?d
Something Nicer – $0.99 / £0.99 http://authl.it/2s1?d
Neil’s Farrago – $0.99 / £0.99 http://authl.it/3dy?d
Story Of My Escape (Casanova translation) – $3.49 / £2.32 http://authl.it/15k?d
Chantecoq & The Aubry Affait (Bernède translation) – $3.99 / £2.99 http://authl.it/4e4?d
Also, my Christmas short story Pantocrime can be found at http://authl.it/59j
Thank you for your time!
Thanks, it’s been awesome!
❉ The kindle edition of Apocalypse Barnes is available from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apocalypse-Barnes-Gentrified-Dead-Book-ebook/dp/B06ZXXYP43/