I love Alison Littlewood’s work, and rated A Cold Season back in 2013 as one of my top books of the year, so when I heard she had two books coming out this autumn, I just had to take the opportunity to interview her and review both of those books. The first, is her instalment in the successful and innovative Stephen Jones’ creation, the Zombie Apocalypse series, whilst the second book is the eagerly awaited sequel to that 2013 Judy and Richard book club selection, A Cold Silence. So, firstly, here are my thoughts on these books followed by an interview with the supreme lady of horror herself.
Zombie Apocalypse: Acapulcalypse Now
Author: Alison Littlewood
Release date: 29th Oct 2015
Page count: 309pp
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin
Going loco down in Acapulco as the zombies rise! Yes, prepare for fun and zombie goodness as Littewood brings the franchise to Mexico… Where the Hotel Baktun, shaped like a Mayan pyramid, is getting ready for its grand opening. Waiter Iktan, or Mick, as his badge says spots a stranger milling through the workmen and other crowds, whilst Celeste, wife of singer Colton Creed, has just arrived at the hotel with rich socialite Louisiana, from Leicester. Stacy Keenan arrives at the resort to run security. She was supposed to be running security for the New Festival of Britain, until her boss Moreby, distant descendant of All Hallows’ Thomas Moreby, drags her to Mexico.
When we get there, that’s when the fun really begins as a Russian luxury liner can’t let its passengers onto the island due to a food poisinong outbreak, bringing sickness to the island as some of the Russian tourists just don’t know how to stay down.
Littlewood has expertly captured the vibe, religion, culture and atmosphere of Mexico in this novel, including that of the criminal underworld, which makes an appearance. The Mayan ruins and artifacts also add a sense of Hammer-esque mystery to the book, almost a Vodoun or Egyptian vibe. The novel is interspersed with a selection of excellent and grim ‘photos’ depicting the events in the book, however, as usual it is Joe Robert’s vibrant, gruesome and fun cover art that stands out. Every cover he’s done throughout the entire series is marvellous.
When the zombie – cross that – HRV (Human Reanimation Virus) carnage kicks off, guests and staff split off into factions fighting for survival and the blood, gore, humour and action is gloriously OTT. The chapters are written in multiple points of view, which are instantly recognisable from each other; Stacy, security expert, Mick the waiter, Francisco the criminal, Ethan the teenager, adding the kind of tension and variety experienced in such cinematic classics as The Poseidon Adventure. The dichotomy of a sun-laden resort and the palpable fear and bloodshed works really well, and is emphasised by Francisco’s thoughts; “He had heard pain like that before, but here, in this open, shining place, he could not take it in.”
As the diverse groups try to escape or find out what’s happening, relationships are formed, unexpected bonds are made and the character yet interaction is fulfilling for the readEr
The short chapters, with varying narrators adds pace and tension to the novel, which increases throughout the last quarter.
For those specifically after zombie goodness, there is plenty of gore here, noses, hands, cheeks, lips, stomachs; all sorts of flesh being ripped apart. The lead up to the ending escalates the violence rapidly leading to a very satisfying conclusion. Great fun, with a hint of more to come.
Next up is, drumroll:
A Cold Silence
Author: Alison Littlewood
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Release date: 3rd September 2015
Page Count: 368pp
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin
Different in tone from the Zombie Apocalypse novel, A Cold Silence, the sequel to A Cold Season, is creepy from the start. It is a cold, winter night and Ben is walking home towards his Mum’s, convinced there are footsteps following him.
Ben had never been able to leave his mother alone for long, not like his sister Gaila. All day long his mother Cass would paint, stark wintry landscapes and snowy hills. Ben hated the snow, though he didn’t know why. When a friend dies in their old home of Darnshaw, Cass is desperate that Ben stay away from the town. But sure his Mum won’t find out, he heads to Darnshaw for the funeral.
Atmospheric and lyrical, A Cold Silence carries on with the story of young Ben, now an adult, who can’t remember what happened to him as a boy. His return to his old home following Jessica’s death is a journey for him, and there is a new evil lurking.
In every way, Littlewood delivers in this book, though I am loathe to give too much away, so this will be a short one. Suffice to say it’s a gripping book and I envisGe awards in its future. Bravo.
1) Tell my readers a bit about yourself
Well I’ve been writing short stories for years now, so I’ve been hovering around the indie presses for some time. In 2012 my first novel, A Cold Season, was published by Jo Fletcher Books and got picked up for the Richard and Judy Book Club, which surprised no one more than me! Since then I’ve kept on writing novels and short stories, and am loving it.
On a personal level, I was born and bred in Yorkshire, and still live there with my other half, Fergus, in a very old house with suitably creaking doors and crooked walls. We also have a mad dalmatian called Dexter who keeps me busy (and gets me out of the house, which is no bad thing).
2) You’ve joined the Stephen Jones Zombie Apocalypse series. How did the shared world process work?
I’d already produced a short story for Steve for Zombie Apocalypse! Endgame, one of the mosaic novels. So when he asked me if I’d like to write a whole zombie novel set in Mexico, I already knew it would be a lot of fun. I didn’t find the shared world too onerous, as the series is essentially set in our world; it was simply a case of matching up events in the zombie invasion, and occasionally touching on what established characters were doing. Steve made some suggestions in that regard, while I came up with others after a close read-through of the other books in the series.
So the process really offered massive possibilities rather than limitations! As an example, many of the zombies are the shambling variety you’d expect, but there are others who are more intelligent and provide an organising factor. And I had lots of freedom to create my own characters and scenes. Since it was set in Mexico, I’ve added onto the ZA! scenario by combining it with Mayan mythology and ancient gods. There was such huge scope in that, waiting to be tapped into.
I had a whale of a time writing the book. I’d never have thought of writing a zombie novel, but particularly combined with the Mexican setting, it just offered massive potential for scares, laughs, and indeed heart-rending moments. The first draft was pretty quick to produce – I usually hit a wall partway through writing a book, but it just didn’t happen this time round. It was even more fun that I’d expected.
3) A Cold Season got rave reviews and put you on the genre map, what inspired you to return to that world in A Cold Silence?
It was never my intention to write a sequel to A Cold Season, but after it came out, readers started to ask what happened next! It did finish in quite an open-ended way, but it wasn’t until people asked that I began to wonder myself. The problem was, of course, that I didn’t really know, and I didn’t feel I could write a sequel until I had an idea that was big enough to carry a whole other book. I’ve never written anything for the sake of it – I have to get my head and my heart engaged first, or I just wouldn’t see the point.
It took a few years, but eventually I hit on the idea of Acheron, the impossible computer game in A Cold Silence. The first book is about deals with the devil. How much easier would it be, if Faustian pact began to insinuate themselves into technology? And so Acheron puts the player into different scenarios, offering them whatever they desire, but there is a price to pay . . . one unique to each individual.
The novel is set some years after the first book. It’s essentially about the young boy, Ben, when he’s grown up, playing out the consequences of his seriously messed-up childhood. I guess that might disappoint some people, but I always knew, if I did a sequel, it would become his story; the tale has moved on, as I’ve moved on as a writer. Cass is still a presence, however, and each of the main characters has some part to play and a suitable ending to discover. I hopefully got there in the end, and did them justice, though of course that will be for readers to decide!