Interview with Frank Tayell, by birt.

[interview transcribed as recorded, by birt, at 08:15, August 11th, 2014]

b - Hey Frank. You busy?

F - Very.

b - Really? The screen’s reflected in the window behind you. You’re on youtube.

F - It is work. I’m trying to find appropriate music that can be played from a helicopter to lure zombies away.

b - Well, the obvious one would be...

F - No! Don’t suggest ‘Ride of the Valykries’, that’s been done so many times it’s gone beyond satire, through pastiche and out into the netherworld of ‘the expected trope’.

b - [presses play] That’s Johnny Cash.

F - Folsom Prison blues. Picture it; a Sea-King helicopter, approaching with the dawn. At first you hear the some of the blades. The zombies’ heads turn. First looking around, then looking up. Months of dust have scratched their desiccated corneas, making them next to useless. Slowly, their arms clawing towards the sound, they begin to move away from the tower block that has become the prison for the handful of survivors who had taken refuge there. And then, there is a loud crackling sound. A cheer. Then a voice. “Hello. I’m Johnny Cash.”

b - OK, that’d be very cool in a movie. A very special type of movie. In a book, though? I’m not so sure. Where does the Tower block feature in the series?

F - That would be in ‘After The Evacuation’ Book 2. I don’t have a name for it yet. Or a name for any of the books set after that first series. Essentially, having found refuge of a kind on Anglesey, the survivors now need to go out and rescue all those people trapped on the mainland.

b - That’s the plot of the next series?

F - Um... no... not really. It’s just one of the events that occur. Anyway, what are you doing here?

b - You agreed I could interview you.

F - Oh.

b - You promised me twenty minutes.

F - I knew giving you a back door key was a bad idea. Did you bring coffee?

b - Why would I bring coffee?

F - Or water. When I watch those interviews on the TV, they always give their guests water. Or that’s what they say it is. Have you noticed, it’s always in a mug? I bet it isn’t water.

b - You want some water?

F - No. Not really. I wouldn’t mind a coffee.

b - I’ll make one when we’re done.

F - That’s got to be soon, right? The twenty minutes must be nearly up.

b - [sighs] we’ve not started yet. We need to talk about your next book.

F - Work. Rest. Repeat.

b - Nice title.

F - Thanks. But it was originally going to be called ‘Death Came To All.’

b - I’ve heard that name before.

F - Most recently you read it in Book 1. When Bill goes rummaging about, and ends up reading all of his tenant’s books he discovers one called ‘Death Comes To All’, by ERK Daley. That’s a book written between the late fifties, early sixties, that’s as much an allegory on the collapse of the localism as it is a post-apocalyptic story. The whole book takes place in a Tower block in Birmingham, one built in that brutalist style, [i.e.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trellick_Tower] with each chapter being set five years apart. The technology behind how the Tower actually works is a bit ropey, borrowing as much from science fiction as it does from science fact, but there’s an underlying message that’s quite interesting. It’s about how ideas and structures that are thought to bring us closer together end up dividing us further.

[below is the passage from Book 1 that Frank was talking about]

16:00, 18th March.

I fell asleep reading a book this morning. It's called “Death Comes To All” by an E.R.K. Daley. I’m sure that the title is a quote, but without the internet I couldn’t tell you whose. Probably it's something Churchill said, either him or Shakespeare. Most quotes are. The book was written in the 1960's and is about a post-apocalyptic dystopian society surviving in a tower block and, as the story progresses, in underground farms beneath it. Each chapter advances the story five years, and at the end, well, no, I won't spoil it, you might want to read it someday.

It's an interesting enough book, an allegorical take on isolationism, but what's grabbed my attention are the ideas on farming. In the story, since the inhabitants are trapped inside with no access to land, and with their only resource being the light constantly streaming through their windows, they turn to hydroponics. They make a good go of it too, but I think only because the author wanted generations who'd never been outside, to grow old enough to rule.

 

b - And that’s the theme of ‘Work. Rest. Repeat?’

F - No, not really. ‘Work Rest. Repeat.’ is set sixty years after The Great Disaster. The world has been destroyed by a series of wars and famines. Humanity has been reduced to 300,000 people living in three cities about as far from each other as they can be. There is the City of Rights to the west, The People’s City to the east and The City of Britain, where the story takes place. The world outside the cities had been turned to a desert, then fifteen years ago the rains started. Whether the rains caused the sea levels to rise or the encroaching oceans caused the rains, no one knows, but the waves are now lapping at the city walls. The only place still above ground is at the launch site, where three of the first great colony ships are being constructed. Humanity’s only hope is to leave Earth and attempt to colonise Mars. And, when the story begins, it looks like they might be able to do it. A launch date for the first ship has been set for one year hence. There is hope. And then, there is a double murder.

b - And what, other than “Death comes to All,’ was the inspiration

F - It was something you said over Sunday lunch, back on June 8th.

b - It was? What did I say?

F - Honestly? I can’t remember. Sorry, I wasn’t really listening to you.

b - Oh, thanks!

F - I was tired. I’d just published book 3 and wasn’t happy with the notes I had for the next book. I was looking for some spark of inspiration, and then you said something...

b - which you can’t remember.

F - Right, but then I started wondering about a world that was so crowded a home would be used by multiple families. I don’t just mean that you’d have people sleeping on the sofa’s and floors and wherever else. I mean that multiple families would share the same house, the same beds, wardrobes, picture frames and so on. One family sleeps, whilst another is at work or school, yet both call it home. That was the starting point. Years ago, there were a brand of work boots, I think it was Tuff, though it might have been someone else, and they offered a lifetime guarantee. Labourers would often share their boots on a day shift, night shift system. The manufacturer only found out when they sent someone to investigate why the shoes were wearing out at twice the normal speed. Of course hot-desking is commonplace, and hot-bunking is common enough on submarines, so this isn’t a new idea. What I needed was a motivation that would cause them to abandon many aspects of society that we take for granted. There would be no despotic rulers, no opiates to keep the masses subdued, just a shared belief in the pursuit of that phrase we here far too often, ‘The Greater Good’.

b - It doesn’t sound like there are many jokes in this one.

F - No.

b - So, you started it on June 6th...

F - June 8th.

b - OK, but it’s two months on, why’s it not finished yet.

F - It started out as a novella. I was aiming for around 30,000 words. But that turned out not to be enough words to explain how the city works.

b - And do we get to see the colony ships?

F - The story is set in the thirty six hours leading up to the election. It’s mostly set in Tower 1, where the components for the colony ships go through a final round of testing before being taken to the launch site for assembly.

b - And then there’s a murder?

F - Yes, but this one’s more of a detective story than a murder mystery. The only reason for that is that I spent the first half of this year writing a draft for a detective novel set somewhere in middle England. That book has been put on hold for now. Let’s just say I had detectives on the brain at the time.

b - Is this the start of a series?

F - No. Not really. There won’t be a sequel. But it is part of a very loose series of books that are all completely unrelated, except that in each there will be a homicide. I’m calling it ‘Murdering The Genre’. Next year there will be a First-Contact novel about the first ever inter-species homicide, but before then there will be ‘A World of Magic’, that’s a comic fantasy featuring the trials and tribulations of a newly elected Prime-Minister in a world very similar to ours, except where magic is real. That’ll be out before next year’s election.

b - That sounds utterly amazing. Far better than anything else you’ve been writing. In fact, you should abandon everything else and get to work on that right now.

F - You’re just saying that because you’re helping to write it.

b - It’s still true.

F - Well, why don’t you go and get on with it then. I’ve still not seen the first three chapters you promised. Then I can get back to rescuing survivors from the ruins of Newcastle.

b - Get back to watching youtube, more like.

F - I heard that.

b - but I’m writing this up, so I get the last word.