ZombieMutts – Could you please tell us a little about your latest release Remains of the Dead?
Ian McKinnon – Remains of the Dead is my follow on novel to Domain of the Dead. The thing is it’s not a sequel it’s a concurrent story. In the first chapter of Domain of the Dead half the characters are abandoned in an infected city and left to their fate. In Remains of the Dead we follow those poor souls left to fend for themselves in the infested ruins. The novel follows the two stranded soldiers and the civilians in their care as they try to stay alive for the few short hours it will take for the rescue chopper to return.
You have produced an interesting short called The Dead Walk . Is directing or script writing another project you would like to dedicate more time to?
I’ve made a few shorts, stuff for myself as well as for David Moody and Remy Porter like Dead Beat. As fun as they are they need cash. With writing you don’t face the same obstacles and the limitations of funding. Unless you’re James Cameron, filming puts barriers between the creator and the audience. So until someone throws a pile of cash at me I’m sticking to writing.
You and I have two things in common I’ve learned. We were both traumatized by a Romero zombie movie when we were younger (I was 7 years old) yet here we are today with a high interest in the genre. Has any other movie, zombie film or not, had another significant impact on your life?
Star Wars. For good or bad my childhood was dominated by Lucas. I remember queuing around the block to see it and being utterly enthralled by the opening sequence of the star destroyer running down Tantive 4.
I’ve seen that film over 100 times (help in no small part of a daily dose during the summer holidays when we first got a VCR).
I also have to say Sean of the Dead and the remake of Dawn of the Dead. It was seeing those two films that spurred me into writing my first zombie novel Domain of the Dead.
The other thing we have in common is not being able to touch cotton wool. If I open a bottle and see it in there I have to have someone else take it out. Nasty stuff!
Oooww stop it! I can feel it crawling over my flesh. It’s a bizarre dislike I liken it to the way some people can’t stand the noise of fingernails being dragged down a chalkboard.
I’ve been on NLP courses where they claim they can change any dislike or phobia and none of that works on me. I’m not phobic I don’t run screaming from the stuff. I can pick it up and use it if I have to. But anything with that soft rasping texture gives me the hebejebes.
How prepared is the world for a fatal and highly contagious outbreak to hit?
It’s not prepared at all. I studied the 1918 flu outbreak and have drawn a few parallels from that. I wrote a short piece for the zombie research society about it. In 1918 27% of the population caught the flu and about 10% of the people who caught it died. Not as high a mortality rate as you might have expected but it still meant that 25% of people didn’t turn up for work.
If 25% of the work force didn’t turn up for work in this day and age our infrastructure would grind to a haul with in a month.
Now the 1918 flu lasted 18 months (although it came in two major waves lasing about 6 weeks a time).
There’s no way we could maintain basic services in the modern world in the face of this.
And what if things were worse than the 1918 pandemic? I’m not even thinking zombie apocalypse here (hell who’d got to work if you could end up being eaten to death?) SARS had a similar 10% mortality rate but there are things out there like Ebola that has a 90% mortality rate. Superimpose that on the 1918 template and you’re looking at 6 billion dead.
When the rates of illness increase and the infrastructure collapses you’d have civil unrest and a breakdown of law and order. When you consider your local supermarket only has 3 days of food stocks we could see our world in flames in less than 72 hours. Your fellow man could prove more dangerous than any bacillus.
Philosophical question. Are Zombies evil?
Zombies are the least evil manifestation of horror there is. It’s not like a Mummy unleashed by revenge for disturbing its eternal rest. It’s not like a vampire tortured by the remorse of its mortal life or the lust that drives its killing. It’s not like a werewolf controlled by the waxing of the moon or a ghost trapped by an echoing misdeed in the past. Zombies are not malicious they don’t intend harm. They are like a wild animal that attacks out of fear or hunger. There is no intent in their actions, they are driven by a contagion and pure instinct. The zombie is the ultimate Tabular Rasa for a number of reasons. There’s nothing there it wasn’t born with and there’s nothing evil about it other than what you project onto it.
Being a family man yourself and considering the brutality of the apocalypse, do you push them out of your mind when writing? Or do you use some of the emotions that imagine you would feel in such a situation. Or is it neither of those?
If you’ve read Domain of the Dead or Remains of the Dead the answer to that will be obvious. There are moments in both those books that my readers time and time again single out as being the most disturbing.
These are the moments that if I didn’t have the fear of losing the most precious people in my life I would never have thought of.
When I was younger I feared dieing and becoming a zombie now I am a father there are infinitely worse things that could happen regardless of my fate.
Having recently been to America for ZomBcon, how do you compare fan interest to what you see the United Kingdom?
Same people with a sick and twisted love of the macabre, just different accents.
You describe your work as Sci-fi but personally I felt like Remains of the Dead was something more like a Psychological Thriller considering how well the characters played off each other. How much of your psychology background did you use for this?
Psychology is everything. Faraday said that Physics was the one true science, all the others were just stamp collecting. I would retort that Psychology is the only universally useful science as everything you ever do will involve people – even if it’s just you.
Zombie novels are not about zombies. They’re about the character’s fears and in turn the reader’s fears. You don’t need a degree in psychology to know that people act differently but I find it helpful that I can look back at my degree and pull out examples of how people really behave in extreme circumstances.
To make any kind of writing believable you need to draw out the reader’s own experiences, lay the foundations in the reader’s mind, and then build on it taking them beyond what they know but keeping it grounded in reality.
In doing a bit of background research I read that you have dyslexia. Clearly that hasn’t stopped you from working. What gave you the inspiration to fight through that challenge as you set your mind to writing?
You really need to ask my editors that one, they do all the hard work.
I started writing as form of therapy, getting my angst down on paper rather doing anything that would end up with a custodial sentence.
The dyslexia was secondary and I’m lucky that technology came along that compensated somewhat for my bad spelling and atrocious handwriting.
If you ever see a first draft McKinnon novel it’s just a sea of wavy red lines with the letters jostled together like so much debris after a tsunami.
No doubt you’ll pick up a few mistakes in this interview.
But on the whole my Dyslexia has been a gift. You see the part of “normal” people’s brains that handle spelling is usurped in Dyslexics. Dyslexics use that part of their brain for spatial acuity. It means we’re better at manipulation three dimensional shapes in our mind, it means we’re better at judging distances, it means we don’t get lost, it means we can park our cars in ridiculously tight spots, it means we’re better at planning.
A lot of people tell me that reading my work is more akin to watching a movie. Dyslexics have told me they struggle reading other authors’ books but have no trouble reading mine and accomplished readers will often say they read my book in one sitting.
I think its fair to say if it wasn’t for my dyslexia I wouldn’t be the writer I am.
What do you want people to take away from your stories?
Enjoyment. If you’ve enjoyed my story then I’ve succeeded. I try to weave a few moral threads in there, toss in the odd metaphor but I don’t want to ram my ethical views down people’s throats As long as you walk away thinking “I enjoyed that” I’m happy.
Thank you for your time, Iain!
Iain Mckinnon was born in Scotland in the early seventies and lived a happy well balanced childhood, with the exception of being forced to wear flares and the 1978 World Cup.
Aged 18 he saw George A Romero’s Day Of The Dead and from then on zombies crowned his list of irrational fears.
In 2005 he wrote the screen play for the 10 minute zombie film The Dead Walk in an attempt to confront his fear and get a restful night’s sleep.
Unfortunately although his plan worked and he lost his fear of the undead at the same time his wife gave birth to their son and he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since.
Iain currently lives and writes from his home just outside Edinburgh. At the moment he only has one irrational fear but he does still keep a survival kit and crowbar close at hand just in case.