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Last week, my Lovecraftian novella Black Smokers was accepted for publication by Damnation Books. Due to this, I emailed the other 4 publishers I had sent it to to inform them I would like to withdraw it from their consideration.
In the last 24 hours, I have had an email from one publisher inviting me to send them more work. Then I received another email from another publisher asking if I would like to contribute to a new series of novels they would like to publish based around sea monsters. I said that might be something I would be interested in, and now I have this in my inbox:
Have they just asked me what I think they have just asked me?
It's all gone Bizarro world!
.... EEEEEEEEKK!!! *excited face*
To top it off, I handed in my resignation this morning. My new life starts here! ^^D
Continuing the puppet-animation based (loosely) on the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.
Having crossed the Ocean of Forgetfulness to reach the Island of the Dead, Gilgamesh re-encounters Uta-Napishti, the Distant One, who sets him a series of tests and tells the story of how death first came into the world. Part 9 of 10
On my site - http://edwardpicot.com/gilgamesh/gilgameshpart09.html
On YouTube - http://youtu.be/XR6UYCelE3U
On Vimeo - http://vimeo.com/66399202
Index-page for the project: http://edwardpicot.com/gilgamesh
- Edward Picot
Obviously the disturbing idea of a decaying corpse that is driven entirely by appetite, which cannot be reasoned with, appealed to and doesn’t feel pain, hunting you down for the sole purpose of eating you is not appealing. But why do they enjoy such ongoing popularity? More to the point what about them exactly is it that freaks me out?
Don’t get me wrong I have things that I don’t like much; slugs, that stuff wedding veils are made out of, being afraid in general. But zombies seem to simultaneously annoy me and flick the brown trouser switch. I’ll read pretty much anything but favorite areas of interest include paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi and dystopian fiction. So I can’t really get away from the buggers can I?
My other half has just lent me World War Z by Max Brooks. I’m only a third of the way through and I can say honestly that so far it is a good book, despite the lack of a continuing narrative or the chance to do more than start to get fond of characters before something awful happens to them. In that respect its right up there with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. (I have not read the graphic novels but I have enjoyed the HBO series.)
So what is it about zombies that make my flesh creep?
Try these on for size;
1) Death – it’s an obvious point and possibly the shallowest interpretation but zombies are death personified in all its icky entropic glory. Particularly for western civilization where death and the disposal of corpses is sanitized and distanced from the living, dealing with a non ambulant corpse is a mental feat for most people. If your job involves health care, forensics, funeral work or something else that crosses paths with the deceased you may be better equipped to deal with it. Speaking as a health care professional, being accidentally locked in a deserted corridor, in pitch darkness with a body on a gurney for 40 mins is not one of my top ten best memories of all time. Now add to such a scenario a corpse that is not behaving as it’s supposed to but is moving around and trying to eat you. Yeah. No dark, brooding sexy vampires here.
2) Predator/ prey dynamic – this hits a slightly deeper level of the subconscious. Let’s bear in mind that less than a tenth of 1% of our DNA has changed since we were Cro Magnon peoples living in caves. We would have been well aware of the feeling of being prey back then. Whether there is such a thing as race memory or not it’s left a deep impression on the human psyche. We rarely come up with monsters that are more terrifying or chill inducing that do not fill the predator niche, whether cannibalistic, sexual, animal or exploitative in some other way. In other words the fact that zombies are portrayed as eaters of human flesh sends huge flashing warning signals to the primitive part or our brains that remembers what it was like to be prey. (Incidentally there is some evidence that primitive peoples regularly practiced cannibalism so something human shaped eating humans may well flick a very special fear circuit.)
3) Genetics and survival – this one is largely theoretical on my part. Bear with me while I take a slight detour. Around 2.5 million years ago Australopithecus africanus walked upright. At least as far as we can tell from fossil records. Yay for Australopithecus. Suddenly tall grasses were less of an obstacle to vision allowing greater advantages such as the ability to pot predators or prey earlier (though we didn’t eat much meat then) and the development of the opposable thumb. The problem was that vertical ambulation required narrowing of the pelvis and thus the birth canal. In order to survive child birth, females were giving birth to young whose brains were not yet fully developed. Well and good – as long as your species then develops a nurturing instinct above and beyond the usual investment in their young, since otherwise the species would have been doomed. Clearly they did since I’m sat here blogging about it and you’re (hopefully) reading about it. This urge to protect and nurture our own became so ingrained that if geneticists one day discover a gene for nurturing as part of the human genome I won’t be surprised. So what does that have to do with zombies? Well there’s the question of infection. Bitten survivors of zombie attacks turn into zombies themselves, or so popular fiction would have it. (As a new species zombie are not humanoid they’re more like bacteria or viruses in their ability to reproduce.)
Most animals will drive away members of a the group exhibiting signs of infection. Rabbits will drive other rabbits with myxomatosis out of the warren for example. Humans tend not to do this in general. In a sense the very behavioral and genetic quirks that allowed us to become apex predators ourselves by working cooperatively, are being turned against us by the ‘Z factor’ in zombie infection. If I could accuse a virus of brilliance I would applaud the mythical Z factor. It’s genius. Infect one member of a group of gregarious creatures that naturally care for their sick and wounded, to the point of helping to conceal cases of incurable infection, incubate quietly, take over the host and have the host pass on the infection to others, who then pass it on further. It’s a chain letter that actually works and it’s utterly chilling because in it robs us of the very things that we would use to describe ourselves as human. Or at least humane.
As for the why zombies/ the infected/ the body snatchers/ the T virus remain so popular, I personally believe it is because they make a great vehicle for telling a story. Usually a very bleak and dystopian story; hopefully one of ultimate survival. Rarely are they anything but a vehicle * so they do not detract from the journey of the characters and how they change and adapt (or don’t) to new selection or survival pressures. It’s when humanity’s back is against the wall that we can put it under a microscope and examine the best and very worst of it without blame. At least in fiction.
So if you’ve read this far thanks for allowing me to share my disturbing thoughts with you. I know I’ll sleep better tonight ;)
*Isaac Marion’s book Warm Bodies is a notable exception with the story being told from the zombies POV.
I swear. This is true.
Jannings, Dicksworth and I. Our burgeoning interest in the opposite sex had driven us to observe Sister Immaculate Lobster, Sister Mary Napalm and Sister Barnaby Goebbels at their ablutions.
A glass skylight in the flat roof over the nun’s washroom adjacent to the vicarage provided the room with its only source of light, and us with an ideal vantage point.
I vividly recall Dicksworth’s reaction the time we climbed up the drainpipe, hoisted ourselves onto the roof and peered down into the steam-filled void below. Sister Immaculate Lobster was shaving her legs with a potato peeler while Sister Mary Napalm, whose prosthetic leg was leaning against the tin bath, chastised her nipples with nettles dipped in holy water. Sister Barnaby Goebbels was obscured by the roiling steam issuing from the sauna cabinet. (It was said that Sister Barnaby only agreed to transfer from the Vatican Inquisitors if certain stringent conditions were met; the sauna being one such. Others mentioned included: a bedside shaving socket, electric wimple heater, premium thumb-screws and a matched set of silver-plated scourges).
On reflection, Dicksworth – still wearing a tea towel on his head and quite recovered from his spell in hospital after the bicycle pump incident – should probably have been excluded from this early foray into a world the cretin wasn’t yet ready to in habit.
Jannings, the bells on his father’s morris dancing costume tinkling every time he moved, nudged me and pointed down at the figure of Sister Barnaby emerging from the steam. In his excitement, his jaw buried itself in the bitumen roof-covering. The sun was doing a pretty good job of heating it up and the boiling tar stuck to his chin. When it started to burn, he tried rubbing it off but only succeeded in spreading it further up his face. I tried to help but my fingers stuck to it and I had to stop pulling when he squawked in pain.
There we were then. Jannings and I glued together on the roof of the washroom. Only Dicksworth could extract us from the mess we’d gotten ourselves into. But it wasn’t to be. The sight of Sister Barnaby, stark naked, all twenty-seven stone of her slick with sweat, had turned him from a cretin with delusions of Bedouin ancestry into a raving lunatic. His eyes narrowed; tongue flopping out of his mouth like a land-locked haddock. Gurning and twitching, his fingers clawed at the skylight and he gibbered in tongues. His later assertion that a true son of the desert could only gain satisfaction in the arms of a woman of Zeppelin-esque proportions sounded as feeble to me then as it does now.
All my organs turned to mush and I panicked. I wrenched a hand from Jannings face and reached out to try and quieten the cretinous Dicksworth. Jannings shrieked, tripped over the edge of the skylight and pulled me down on top of him – and Dicksworth.
They say a man’s life flashes before his eyes in his dying seconds. At the age of twelve, I hadn’t had much of a life to flash – unlike Jannings who had once exposed himself to Angela Pringle and received a nod of approval in return.
I barely had time to register the sound of wood cracking beneath us and heave Jannings off, before the skylight fell open and Dicksworth plummeted into the judiciously placed tin bath below. A tsunami of water erupted from the bath, engulfing the screaming nuns and extinguishing the candles on the makeshift basin-altar. Only Sister Barnaby Goebbels remained unaffected by Dicksworth’s unexpected arrival. She grabbed Sister Mary’s prosthetic leg and began beating him about the head. At least she may have thought that was what she was doing. In point of fact, Dicksworth had hardly touched bottom before he was out, and off through the back door of the vicarage like a scalded cat.
No. It was the unfortunate Sister Immaculate Lobster who bore the brunt of Goebbel’s assault. From where I watched, she was flopped over the rim of the tub in a religious ecstasy. She may have believed the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived early and was anxious to welcome its representatives. Either way, she hardly noticed Sister’s ministrations.I don’t recall how Jannings and I regained terra firma - or how we managed to coax Dicksworth out of the coal bunker. All I know is; that evening started the circuitous journey to manhood for all three of us.
Another time I lay in a hospital bed, all by myself, jacked up on morphine, looking at a blue left arm that was the size of my upper thigh. I watched as they tested the anti-venin on me, and in very serious tones told me that if they used it on me, I would die- which I would probably do without it when the venom reached my main artery. I remember thinking how absurd the situation was, this being the second time, in the span of ten years and five days, that I lie alone in a hospital facing death from a snake bite. How utterly absurd! And the fact that I had reached out on my own and caught this animal, knowing how deadly the bite was from firsthand experience, made me feel even more foolish than afraid.
But this time, this incident I endured on the evening of May seventh- at the hands of people I entrusted my life to- this scares me. I was dying, right here on this stretcher, in front of my sick and crazy Daddy, while being held down and shot full of a deadly drug by people who were supposed to be helping me...no, this took the cake , and continues to take it even as I write of it. In fact, I'm not sure if I can tell you about it- or if ,legally, I should. Because somehow, on some level, what that doctor did to me had to be wrong. My scarred mind that flinches away from bright lights thinks it was wrong, as do my bruised arms where the six interns held me down during the convulsions that followed the injection. Convulsions and contortions that lasted over one half of an hour, and were so violent that I actually kicked my walking cast off of my broken ankle- a cast that was strapped on by 5 broad velcro straps, so tightly that the ankle was kept immobilized. Or at least it was until the Doctor on duty decided I was overdosing and shot me up with an opiod antagonist called Narcan, even though I had told him and his staff repeatedly that I only take my opiod pain medication exactly as prescribed, and was only sleepy. As I lost control of my body and my head kept bashing itself off the stretcher, my legs and arms flailing, kicking and punching, back arching until I nearly snapped in two, I remember thinking that my heart was going to burst, and that I would never see my brother again. And I was so, so sad that they had called my poor sick daddy to the room, that he had to see what they had done to me. I begged them to make it stop, I cried out, "Why did you do this to me?", I screamed to them to ," Get my Dad out of here, he has Alzheimers!", while my body writhed and exposed my tattooed breasts for all to see, including the father I adore. I begged them to pull up my pants, as I lie panting and heaving under their 6 bodies, nightmare flashbacks of other times, other hands and other hateful faces leering above me. Only these faces weren't looking at me, but at each other, at their watches, at the clock- anywhere but at my contorted , snot covered, begging face. begging someone to tell me what they did to me, why they were killing me, why wouldn't they make the pain stop, the fear stop, the thrashing, and pounding of my heart stop... Why did they make me die there in front of my dad, calling me an overdose, when it was them who shot me up with some dope from Satan? As my eyes rolled up in my head the questions seemed less important, and just the sadness remained, the betrayal, the exhaustion, and the knowledge that if they had just believed me, they wouldn't have had to kill me.
When I came to, in the blackness, I did not know where I was , or why. I just knew I was sick, and alone, in pain, and tied to a stretcher.
Welcome to my May 7th.
Cook & Write Retreat - 6 nights from 8th November to 14th November
A retreat featuring workshops and cooking sessions with writing prompts to help you think about using food in your writing, lots of writing time and opportunities to get ideas and inspiration from other writers.
The lovely Debi Alper will be running a workshop at this
retreat, which will take place at the secluded and
beautiful Voley Farm in Exmoor National Park. As well as
holding a workshop on Psychic Distance, Debi will be staying for
the whole retreat and holding daily 1-1 sessions for writers to
have their work reviewed.
Cathie Hartigan of Creative Writing Matters will also be running a workshop but you will get plenty of time do your own thing as well.
Voley Farm has three holiday cottages set withing 45 acres of
farmland and ancient woodland and the retreat will fill them all.
There is also communal space to get together for workshops and
Find out more here. Hope to see some Cloudies there!