An interview with R. R. Haywood – Author of The Undead

undead-day-oneWhen R. R. Haywood agreed to an interview for my blog, I did one of those crazy dances they say you’re supposed to do as if no one is watching.  The cats flew out of the room like cartoon replicas of themselves. I’d scared the crap out of them since dancing is not an everyday thing for me. And there might have been some fist pumping.

The point is, it’s rare to get Haywood to do one of these and I’m gob smacked (an expression I’m using since he is very British which you will see clearly in his responses) that he agreed to comply with my wishes.

So, here’s a guy, who, four years ago, without much writing experience at all, sat down and wrote The Undead Day One. Then he wrote another book and then another one, and on and on. A couple months ago, he released The Undead Day Twenty. Mind you, there are more than twenty books, some days were broken into two parts and there are a couple of not-to-be-missed standalone books in the series, as well as other books that aren’t part of the series, short stories, some mystery … point is, from the time he started four years ago, he’s written a boat load of words. Not only has he written book after book, he’s also built a massive audience in the UK and a growing U.S. audience. That’s because the work is brilliant. It truly is.

Now listen. And this is the important part. The Undead series is in the much maligned, much ignored zombie apocalypse genre, BUT IF YOU DON’T GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE AND TRY A ZOMBIE BOOK ONE OF THESE DAYS, YOU’LL BE MISSING OUT ON SOME AMAZING WRITING!

Yes. That was shouting.

The Undead books are some of the best in the genre, not just because of the charming Britishness of it, but because the characters are amazingly realized and the suspense and tension are sustained throughout. The best part is that these books are hilarious. There are horrible moments. Of course. It’s about brain eating zombies and people die and it can be heartbreakingly sad. But when this group of people get a minute to relax, they will have you laughing out loud.

I made the mistake of starting this series when I was home sick with pneumonia. When you laugh and you have pneumonia, you break into massive, painful coughing fits.

Don’t read The Undead when you have pneumonia.

I’ll stop blathering on now. Here’s the interview…

Me: Was writing a big part of your life or was The Undead your first serious effort at writing? And how much did self-publishing and the Amazon world contribute to your decision to write?

Haywood: Reading was a huge passion from as young as I can remember and I guess I’d
always loved the idea of writing, but like so many others I assumed it was reserved solely for professionals connected to the publishing industry.

I honestly believe the ability to self-publish will become a thing that we will chart in the evolution of humanity.

evolution-quote-5It has given an ability for everyone to have a voice. To express their views and tell their stories, and what’s more, it has started to strip the elitist snobbery that infests the bubble the publishing world previously wrapped themselves up in. Right now, I am working my way through a bunch of sci-fi books by this group of Russian authors that got together and invested for translation to get their books out to the wider world. They are fantastic! So unique and gloriously different. We’re being told every day that Russians are baddies but these guys are writing brilliant works with a strong morality that goes against what we are being told about them. They are normal working class guys too, the same as me and you. Without self-publishing, so many people would never have discovered them and that would be such a shame.

I’ve learnt a lot over the last few years and one of the things that appalls me is the formulaic manner of producing fiction books. I’d noticed it as a reader – that nearly every book I was reading was the same thing, the same characters in the same setting told by the same narration. Now I have dipped a toe in that world and I can see the publishers are driven to make money. So they bank on the thing they “think” they know will sell. The folly of it is that it was only selling because that’s what people had got used to. Editors, copy-editors, proof-readers and all of those involved in the process of taking the book from the writer to being published have goals to meet. They are each under pressure to achieve, to find fault and to find reason to stay employed. So each will work to the formula that others aspire to. In turn, we were losing the individuality of books and the uniqueness of stories told by human beings –hence my current fascination with the Russian books.

Now though, with self-publishing, writers can just go for it. Yes there is a lot of low end poorly written, bland ego driven bad stuff out there, but there is also a ton of gorgeous unique beautiful wordage that gets the grey matter a fluttering and spinning.

Amazon, despite being a huge corporation, are at the front of that change. They make money, they make oodles of money, but in so doing, they are carving a new path, which is as sexy as anything.

Q: Well, we can definitely say your books are NOT among the poorly written variety. When you wrote Undead Day One, did you have any idea that the series would extend so long? And now that you are on Day Twenty and with several stand alones scattered in there, do you see an end to the series or do you think you will continue with it for some time?

Nope. I had no idea at all. I started The Undead to learn to write. Day One is a simple narrative of one character dealing with zombies. Zombies don’t speak. Easy, no dialogue. Placement, setting, scene construct and flow. Then, Day Two, meet Dave. Then, Day Three. Meet more characters. Get them moving more. Get them going places to practice that placement, setting, scene construct and flow and start building in emotional reactions and deeper layers of thinking. Day Four, more characters, split POV with storylines converging. Day Five. Again multiple perspectives to converge storylines and still practicing all the other things. Character building. Nuances of behavior. Ease up from layering it on with a trowel and start thinking about subtleties of writing. So on it goes with each Day a way for me to enhance and develop my skills.

I kind of had it in mind to write seven days and leave it at that but by the end of Day Seven I was hooked and had to keep going. Up until Day Eighteen there were only parts of my books that I liked and was happy with. Day Eighteen was the first one for me, that I could read from start to finish and feel okay about the whole of the book.

That it has become successful is just amazing and I am truly humbled by the readership it has gained.

Me: I’m not only impressed with the way you taught yourself these skills, by also by how methodical is seems as you describe it. As a reader, I did feel your skills improve through each book, but it felt like a natural part of the story. Amazing.

Fans of the series are die hard fans. They read the next book and then wait with baited breath for the next one. (I know because I’m one of them.) Some writers might find that level of following and begging for more a little stressful. Others might simply love it. Where in the spectrum do you fall? Do you feel pressure from their desire for more?

Haywood: Gosh, good question. Yeah of course there is pressure. Tons of it but then a huge amount of that is self-imposed pressure, or pressure built from perception. The truth of it is that The Undead is self-published. There is no publisher imposing deadlines or telling me what to write and when. I can drop it, leave it, come back to it or do what I want.

However, having said that, it has become an ever-present part of my life now. I adore it. I am addicted to it so I cannot imagine ever not writing it. Whether that be the current storyline, characters or different things within that universe.

The other thing is that I have learnt that it is impossible to write for the whole of the audience. The Undead’s following is too big now for my tiny brain to comprehend (I struggle with numbers over ten). I only ever write for a few people, and with each book there is someone in my head that I aiming to please, to make laugh, cry or cheer.

I recently had a conversation with a reader who was really into Roy and his use of bows. We had a great chat about it. When I wrote The Undead Day Twenty and had Roy discovering the longbow I had that sole reader in mind and hoped he would enjoy it, and that method is reflected throughout the whole of the series.

It is terrifying when I think about the size of the audience now. That this thing written on my dining table at home will go to so many people.

crack-on

I keep getting chewed up for grammar, punctuation and mistakes and there are times when I have been bombarded with criticism because of the failings, but then with a bigger audience so come more critics, and it’s easy to criticize isn’t it? It’s easy to pick something apart and poke holes in it. That’s fair enough. If people take pleasure from doing that then crack on but they must also realize, and I say this respectfully, that I am in no way beholden to listen to them. No writer is beholden or forced in that way. I’ve used editors and proof-readers before. Paid services and people trying to help out and unfortunately it hasn’t worked out for me, so I choose, at this time now, to go it alone. My pre-readers are great and help enormously with guiding me to make each book better but ultimately, the product is my responsibility.

So yes, I do feel the pressure but it doesn’t bother me to the extent I dry up or become frightened of it as I push the size of the audience out of my head when I’m writing it.

Me: From what I’ve read, you are a bit of a recluse, perhaps not because you don’t like to be around people, but that you’re simply dedicated to your writing. Have you always been that way or is it just the writer in you that feels reclusive? And why is it we can’t find any pictures of you anywhere?

Haywood: Haha! I am a total hermit recluse mad idiot knobber hiding from the world. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, lots of people have told me it’s a bad thing, they still do but I just don’t seem to need people the way others do. I’m comfortable in my own company but it’s not sad, there is no sadness within it either. That’s the misconception I think. That I am solitary so therefore I must be sad. Not at all. I have four dogs. I live in a town. My family are nearby. I know loads of people and there is always someone to chat with, phone up, natter and gossip with, meet up or whatever. I’m fiercely loyal and protective over those I consider dear to me but I just don’t need to have daily contact with them and I’m happy to have lots of days on my own with my dogs. Weirdo!

The pictures thing stems from working as a police officer. I wanted to keep those two worlds separate for as long as I could. I’ve also got an inbuilt reaction to being anti to anything I am expected to do! That’s not always a good thing mind. There is an expectation to follow the mainstream and do as everyone else does. Have a profile picture where you can stare wistfully, or make it black and white so you look edgy and distant. Have a bio. Have a website that is formulaic. Be formulaic. Express the opinions of others…Ah no no no!!!! Don’t do it. Be different. We need more people to be bold and say bollocks, I’m not doing that otherwise it all becomes dull and ubiquitous.

Me: I can testify to the fact that there is nothing formulaic about you or your books. Does writing get in the way of life or does life get in the way of writing? What is your writing routine like? Do you set aside time each day or do you simply write when the moods hits?

Haywood: I was writing full time and working full time for about four years and had to learn to juggle all of those commitments. It was hard going but totally worth it. Before I stopped work in March 2016 writing was done whenever I had time. Before work, after work, on days off. Whenever I could really. Now, for the first time ever, I actually have a routine which is so weird. I’ve got a body clock too after umpteen years of shift work. It’s all new and shiny at the moment. I get up about 5 a.m., walk my dogs for two hours, then feed them, eat, shower and I’m at my desk for about 8 a.m. I’ll work through to about 5 p.m. depending on what I’m doing. If I’m mid-flow on a book then that working day will be extended until I can literally not write another word.

Mood is very important but mood can be manipulated by external factors. What you eat and drink. How much sleep you’ve had and the environment you are in. Music helps. I have playlists to try and create certain moods. Lighting is effective – but, and this is important to anyone considering writing, you have to be able to write standing on one leg in a broom cupboard. It’s the urge to write. The need to write. Of course I want to write in a nice place in warmth and comfort but we have to be able to do it wherever and whenever.

Me:go-mad I never would have guessed that you were a police officer but now it makes sense. Do you miss having work to go to, or is full time writing the dream job you’ve always wanted.

Haywood: I love it! Writing full time is just incredible and I’ll never take this opportunity for granted. I loved being a police officer and I might go back to it one day. I do miss work. I miss the gossip and having a laugh with my colleagues. I miss the work too strangely. It was far more rewarding than I realized it was while I was doing it. This is the right path for me now though. It feels right and yeah, like I said, I love it.

Me: As a writer, I don’t usually tell the people I work with on a day to day basis that I write. Part of that is the constant feeling of being an impostor…the impostor syndrome is real. Considering the popularity of your books now and the new contract you have with a publisher, do you feel like an author? If a writing convention, ComicCon, or some other organization wanted you to make an appearance and talk about your experiences as a writer, would you do it? If you don’t want to do public appearances, why?

Haywood: Do I feel like an author? Do you? You should. Your work is beautiful. You should be proud of what you have created and made.

What is an author? If I self-publish a book does that make me an author? Does that thing only happen when I sell a few? When I get reviews? Maybe only those with publishing contracts can say they are authors.

That’s all arse. The whole of it. Those perceptions can sod off and do one. You have to make your own way in life. You set the rules and say what you can do. If you write a book and invest yourself emotionally into those characters and you go at the process to tell the story instead of just trying to make money then yeah, you are an author.

If you feel that angst and worry, that soul searching awfulness when the words dry up and the elation that comes from a stonking day of 10000 words or more then you are a writer.

The labels are for other people so they can put you in a box with a neat title. I don’t feel like an author. I don’t feel like anything other than what I am and I won’t be told what to feel or think either. Not by anyone. Be you and let other people be who they are.

I do understand what you mean about feeling like an impostor, like a fraud, like it’s a silly thing. The very nature of writing means your work is there to be reviewed, critiqued and pulled apart and it invites others to do it gleefully. There are some that will take delight in doing it to your face too and tell you the flaws of what you have tried to create simply to hurt and create negativity. Fuck ‘em. Learn from it and grow stronger, work harder, work smarter and keep trying. Don’t be cowed by idiots who only know how to be negative. Go mad, write and write and write more and compare what you have written to great works and see where you are going wrong. Listen to those who have knowledge but always remember they are not always right. Perfection lies within imperfection and there is no story told that couldn’t be told another way by someone else.perfection

After saying all that I can admit I’m very shy and private. I’ve had publishing contracts amended to remove any clauses that required publicity too. I’ve been asked to do appearances, visits, talks and attend book clubs, writers groups and conventions. I’ve been invited on radio and had requests for interviews and all sorts but it’s just something I’m not comfortable with. I’m not saying I’ll never do it but the choice will be mine and not something forced on me.

 Me: {{{Did you hear that? He said my writing is beautiful…Jeeze, did it get hot in here? Ahem. }}}.

There is so much in that answer that inspires me and makes me nod my head in agreement. But, considering how much you avoid it, let me take this opportunity to say again, how much I appreciate that you’ve chosen to do this interview with me. {{{That sounded calm, didn’t it?}}}

One of the things I love the most about The Undead is your ability to tell the story from so many diverse perspectives. From a council estate black youth to a career police officer, to the prudish a-sexual accountant type character, you manage to tell these stories in a way that has authenticity, emotionally real and without cliché. I think, part of the popularity of the series is that, no matter who reads it, they will find someone they can identify with. Does this insight into different personalities come naturally to you? Do you feel the need to research any of the characters you write?

Haywood: People have always fascinated me. The absurdity of life is absorbing. The way we live. The things we do and keep doing. The beauty and brutality side by side in such stark contrast. We’re all the same, we have the same desires, fears, needs, wishes and messed up issues. We’ve got world leaders pushing us in directions none of us want and manipulating our senses, controlling what we see and hear on the news in order to gain support for ludicrous actions. We’re wrapped up in layers of lies and deceit forced on us but at the same time we’re capable of staggering acts of kindness and sacrifice. We’ll kill each other one day yet rush to each other’s aid the next. When you look at the whole of humanity it’s baffling as anything, so to break it down to the individual, and to see the impact an individual can have on many others is totally absorbing. Horrifying too, and rarely done for the benefit of the whole.

I’ve seen the very worst of people. Death, murder, suicides, road accidents with multiple fatalities caused by a single seemingly innocuous act. Horrendous life changing injuries born from spite and anger and often without real remorse or care. I’ve seen bitterness and jealousy destroy lives again and again. Controlling manipulators that seek to validate themselves by dominating those made weaker by their actions.

At the same time, and often during those same events, I have witnessed and been part of acts of courage that make your mouth drop open. Acts of faith and belief too. The kindness of strangers that made me stop and reassess what I thought I knew of this world.

In amongst all of that, there is the mundane, the ordinary, the mums and dad’s raising children, the people going to work to earn money to live. The snatches of conversation overheard in cafes and supermarkets, the people you meet fleetingly that leave an impression.

All of that is incredible and that’s what I love about writing. To try and capture that essence of a person and draw them in a way that is real. Characters carry stories. Let the person tell the tale. It’s not always achieved, often it fails badly and it seems crass and fudged but every now and then it’ll work and it shines, and that feeling is the best ever.

Me: Your characters are so deeply layered. Your answer is a demonstration of the life experience you bring to your writing and why it can be so powerful.

You have a large portion of your blog dedicated to short stories by other authors and you often promote the writing of others. Why do you do that?

Haywood: Because our industry is so bloody hard to break into. Self-publishing is soul destroying at times. You need so much self-belief to carry you through, skin thicker than a walrus and more patience than a saint who has lots of patience.

There didn’t seem to be anything like that when I was starting out. Not that didn’t have a cost attached anyway. It was all very cliquey too with groups of authors that were hostile to other writers as though they posed competition or something. I don’t see it like that. Not at all. We’re readers first, writers second. I want to read new stuff and have that excitement at finding a gem and now I am in the truly honored position of being able to tell a few other people about it and if that gives the author a boost then that’s brilliant.

Me: Now, what everyone wants to know. What are you writing now? Will we see Day 21 soon or something else beforehand?

Haywood: I have been working hard on a new time travel novel,  EXTRACTED, which will be my first book published by a major publisher. At the moment this is a two book deal. The second has been written and we’re just about to start the editorial process on that. I’m really excited about Extracted. I love the whole concept of time travel and being able to stomp about with new characters in new settings, plus it’s been an amazing experience working with editorial staff and the processes they go through.

The next episode in The Undead main series will be coming as soon as I have time to get stuck into it. The other project I have waiting is the follow up to Blood at the Premiere. This was published by an e-book publisher called Canelo and we’re currently debating whether to continue the Henrietta Swallow storyline or maybe embark on a new Undead adventure. On top of that, Eddy the illustrator and I have another couple of things on the go that I cannot say much about now, but hopefully it will be awesome!

Me: {{I was lucky enough to read an early copy of EXTRACTED. It is amazing. Haywood brings the same brilliance we see in his Undead series to a whole new genre, and it works.}} I can say with the utmost confidence that your readers will love the new series . But, now onto the more serious questions. Batman or Superman? Alien or Predator? Star Wars or Star Trek?

Haywood: Batman! He’s real and doesn’t fly about with a cape and laser eyes and being all weird. He has ingenuity and er, also a cape…but his cape is black, which is way cooler than the red one Superman has.

Predator. I love those movies.

I’m a bit embarrassed about this but I’ve never actually been into Star Wars or Star Trek. Pitch Black – awesome film. Matrix – best ever. I like sci-fi to have an edge.

Me: Agreed to it all except for Alien. The second one with the galactic Marines was awesome. I do love Pitch Black too. Matrix … not so much. Okay, Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or some other?

Haywood: I love strawberries but not things that taste of strawberry. Other than actual strawberries of course. I mean other things that taste of strawberries. Um, like ice cream or…or some other stuff. Chocolate is nice but I’ve got to be in the right mood for it. Vanilla is awesome but my favorite is coffee flavor. Mocha ice cream with toffee…

Me: Yum. Love toffee and caramel. What about spring, summer, fall or winter?

Haywood: Oh without doubt the best time of year is spring to summer. That shift in the darkness as the mornings become lighter and the evenings longer. The warmth and color that comes back after the bleakness of winter. Spring brings hope and hope is one of the most powerful things a human can possess. Spring tells us the world moves on from darkness to light and that warmer days will soon come. That’s all very clichéd but it’s true. Winter is great for writing though. It’s moody and dark, bitterly cold and barren. Autumn heralds a change that has it’s own unique essence but nah, you can’t beat spring and summer.

And you can’t beat a nice, meaty conversation with R. R. Haywood. It’s been fun to pick your brain (picking brains … zombies…get it? Haha). Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions. It’s been enlightening and an absolute joy!

If you’ve enjoyed this conversation as much as I have, please leave a comment. On Nov. 5, I will hold a random drawing of all those who have commented and offer an R. R. Haywood ebook of your choice to the winner.

9 thoughts on “An interview with R. R. Haywood – Author of The Undead

  1. Great interview! Its awesome that he is able to have success and avoid publicity that he doesnt want. Seems so unlikely in this social media dominatedw world!

    Like

    • Thanks Jilly1
      Glad you liked it. I don’t think reclusive is the same as lacking in publicity, but I get what you mean. I think R.R. has an army of folks on social media (literally) and they keep is work in front of readers. I think they also respect his desire to have a personal life.

      Like

  2. Really enjoyed that, thanks to you both. Nice to get an insight into the mind of an oftimes reclusive author, and possibly get inspiration! Any idea who the Russian authors are, by the way? Would love to read their stories 🙂

    Like

  3. Pingback: At least the books were good | M. L. Doyle

  4. Pingback: A chat with the author of Chaos Theory, Rich Restucci | M. L. Doyle

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