Science Book a Day Interviews M R Carey


Special thanks to M R Carey for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – The Girl With All The Gifts

Mike Carey is a British writer whose work spans comics, novels, film scripts, and TV shows. After writing shorts for British sci-fi comic 2000 AD and a few one-shots for Caliber Comics during the 1990s, he was offered DC/Vertigo’s Lucifer — henceforth the longest running and most successful Sandman-related spinoff to date. While continuing to work with DC on Vertigo series like Crossing Midnight and graphic novels like God Save The Queen, he took over as lead writer for Marvel’s X-Men (now X-Men: Legacy) in 2006. His work includes DC/Vertigo’s Hellblazer, Marvel’s Ultimate Fantastic Four, the Felix Castor novels, The Steel Seraglio (with Linda and Louise Carey), and DC/Vertigo’s The Unwritten (with Peter Gross). – From Mike’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for The Girl with All the Gifts?

I’d been invited to contribute a short story for an anthology of dark fantasy and horror.  It was the latest incarnation of an annual collection edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner.  Every year they would come up with a deceptively innocent, everyday theme and ask authors to produce a dark riff on it.  In this instance the theme was school days.

But having said I’d take part, I couldn’t come up with a single decent idea.  The deadline started to loom, and everything that came into my head was sort of a grimdark Harry Potter riff – not the slightest bit original, and not very appealing either.

Then I woke up one morning with the idea of Melanie in my mind.  There was no story, to start with – there was just her.  This little girl sitting in a classroom, writing an essay about what she was going to do when she grew up.  Only that was never going to happen because she was already dead and didn’t know it.

Everything flowed from that first image, and it flowed really quickly.  I wrote the short story, Iphigenia In Aulis, in four days, and for two of those I was in Norway for the Raptus comics convention.  It was one of those rare situations where the story obsesses you so much that you use every spare moment to write some more of it down.  I was sneaking away to the hotel room in between panels to add a few more paragraphs, and writing in bed before I got up to shower.

Then when it was done I kept going back to it in my mind.  I knew there was more to Melanie than that, and more to her world than that…

#2 – Many have called your novel original and powerful. Has the zombie-genre done everything it can do? Was it important to you to do something different?

I don’t think there’s ever a point where you san say “this genre is finished now, it’s done all it could possibly do”.  All genres develop in a way that seems organic and even directionless at the time but which is actually a sort of endless process of accommodation with the changed experience of its writers and readers.  Genres don’t stand still because the world doesn’t stand still.  And genre fictions, however much we pretend, are always about the world.

So zombies when they first appeared were the mindless slaves of Voudun priests who raised them from the dead on an individual basis.  If there was a theme in those early zombie stories it was loss of autonomy, loss of self.  Those are primal fears and there’s mileage to be had in playing on them.  But the zombie genre didn’t really find its footing until the first of the zombie apocalypse movies was released.  It’s in that form that zombies have conquered the world, mostly I think because it’s such an incredibly open and ambiguous signifier.  Zombie movies can explore consumerism, slavery, relations between social classes, the threat of a global pandemic, almost anything.  There’s no reason to think that the metaphor has lost its power or its relevance.

As far as The Girl With All the Gifts goes, I was definitely trying to push the genre in what felt like a new direction.  Not just by having the main point-of-view character be a zombie but also in having the appearance of the “hungries” be a speciation event.  I wanted the ending to come as a huge shock but then to seem fairly inevitable in retrospect…

#3 – Did you draw inspiration on any previous dystopian novels?

I’m beholden to The Day Of the Triffids.  I think almost all post-apocalyptic fiction is.  In a different way I’m also pushing off from I Am Legend, although that wasn’t in my mind when I was writing.

Possibly, in a different way, I’m indebted to Daniel Keyes’ wonderful Flowers For Algernon.  I’m thinking here of how the whole book depended, ultimately, on finding a way to present Melanie’s perspective on the world.  That was the breakthrough, really.  I know I said earlier that everything flowed from the vision of Melanie in the classroom, but it had to be something we were seeing through her eyes.  I had to get across both the vividness of her perceptions and the limits to her understanding of how the world works.

#4 – What has been the response to your book?

Extremely positive.  I’m both amazed and humble, and more than a little bit baffled.  This was my tenth novel, if you count my two collaborations with my wife Linda and our daughter Louise.  I don’t know what I got right this time that I didn’t nail all the other times.  Or rather, I sort of do but I’m amazed that it made such a huge difference to the novel’s reception.

Having said that, the process was very different from the way I normally work.  Not only because I was expanding a short story into a novel but also because I was working on the novel and the movie screenplay at exactly the same time.  That definitely had an effect on both, and I think it was a good effect.

Now here we are a couple of years later.  We were in the James Herbert shortlist, and now we’re in the Clarke shortlist.  We’ve got sales way into the hundreds of thousands and the movie about to go into production.  I have a career as a screenwriter that I could never have anticipated a few years back, for all that I’d done TV work back in the noughties.  It’s been, and continues to be, an astonishing experience.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

Well, I’ve just delivered the final draft of my next novel, which has the working title Fellside.  It’s a ghost story set in a women’s prison, on the principle of write what you know.

I’m also doing a lot of screenwriting at present.  Most of those projects can’t be announced yet, but one of them is a movie adaptation of Jonathan Trigell’s novel Genus, for Matador Pictures.  It’s a very frightening near-future story about genetic modification and how it might impact on the social order.  A wonderful book, and I hope I’m doing it some kind of justice.

And I have a new raft of comic book projects on the slipway.  Highest House, a fantasy series which will be another collaboration between me and Peter Gross, who was the artist on both Lucifer and The Unwritten.  That will be published by Editions Glenat in France, and will get a US publication next year.  The Hexchange, a horror miniseries which I’m doing for BOOM Studios with Mike Perkins.  Houses Of the Holy, for the Madefire app, which has amazing art by Dave Kendall.  And probably a series for IDW, which I’ll co-write with Arvind David.

I feel like I’m sort of at the limits of what I can cope with, work-wise, and I’m comfortable there.  That which does not kill us makes us strong.

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