Interview with C. B. Harvey (Journal of the Plague Year: An Omnibus of Post-Apocalyptic Tales)

Journal of the Plague Year is a collection of three dystopian novellas set in the shared world of the Afterblight Chronicles that will both enthral and terrify. The incredible trio of authors skilfully draw the reader through the desolate landscape of Afterblight: from the isolated space ship of Cross' Orbital Decay, to the lawless Melbourne of Harvey's Dead Kelly, and into the anachronistic monastery of Tchaikovsky's The Bloody Deluge.

Today we're fortunate enough to have C. B. Harvey, author of Dead Kelly, join us to talk about the project.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, C.B. For those who aren't familiar with your name (but who are likely fans of your work), please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect from your contribution to Journal of the Plague Year.

Thanks for having me! Well, I live in South London and divide my time between writing fiction and working as an academic. My contribution to Journal of the Plague Year is entitled Dead Kelly. It's set in Australia in the months following the Cull, the virus that sweeps the world in the early years of the 21st century. My protagonist is Kelly McGuire, a gang leader who's hiding out in the Bush following a botched armed robbery when the Cull hits. When he finds out what's happened he heads for Melbourne, intent on taking revenge on his fellow gang members for betraying him (those of them that are still alive at any rate). In the process he finds Ned Kelly's armour and decides to wear it as a way of co-opting someone else's mythology. McGuire's revenge isn't simply revenge for the sake of it: he wants to eliminate any potential rivals so he can build himself an empire.

Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing, and sometimes the transition from one media to another is even longer. When did you begin writing, and what has the journey to publication with Abaddon been like?

I've been writing for as long as I can remember, right back to when I rewrote the Doctor Who story Pyramids of Mars at the age of eight (having never actually seen the story I based my plot entirely on the cover of the WH Allen adaptation – I hadn't read the book either at that stage). My breakthrough was winning SFX Magazine's first Pulp Idol award, their new writing competition. As well as giving me a mammoth boost of confidence as a writer there was a practical outcome too: I was directly approached by Joseph Lidster at Big Finish, who asked me to contribute to one of their Doctor Who short story anthologies. It's gradually grown from there. In fact, I would really encourage anyone starting out to think about competitions as a means of breaking in.

In terms of Abaddon, it was a publisher I've long admired: pulp-flavoured shared storyworlds are absolutely up my street, as Dead Kelly probably indicates. When I heard they were having a (highly unusual) open submissions round I pitched something to them. David Moore liked it but not quite enough to commission it, but he was open to me pitching to their other existing ranges.

Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

I'm quite good at titles, I think. I have the punning gene. The name Dead Kelly was the thing that came first, and the thing I constructed my pitch around. I guess I find opening paragraphs and closing paragraphs challenging. At the beginning you want people to be intrigued, to want to come on this journey with you, but you don't want to give too much away. So it's knowing how oblique to make it. The same is true at the end: you want to give people enough to join the dots without spoon-feeding them (did I mention I have a PhD in Mixed Metaphors?). Dead Kelly jumps around a little in terms of chronology, too, and knowing how to signpost where we are in the story can also be hard work. Fortunately David Moore is an absolutely brilliant editor: he knows exactly when to cut to the chase.

Q: You've written audio adventures for the likes of Dr. Who and Highlander with Big Finish, and several videogame narratives for Sony. How different was it moving into the realm of a printed novella?

The novella was challenging because it's the first extended prose-based project I've done. It was also daunting because I'm following in the footsteps of a group of writers I really admire: Rebecca Levene, Jasper Bark, Si Spurrier, Al Ewing, Paul Kane and Scott Andrews. On the plus side, it does mean that the Afterblight storyworld is really well-established, and also I had a good idea where I was going with the story.

In terms of the other media I've had experience of, I guess the thing is to write for the medium. I wrote loads of design documents for Sony (and I mean loads), outlining narratives based on ideas (sometimes just slithers of ideas) given to me by designers. The narratives had to be constructed in such a way that gameplay could naturally emerge, and then feed naturally into the next bit of narrative. The real clever bit involved moving the story on during the gameplay.

The challenge writing the Highlander audio for Big Finish was translating something that's inherently visual into a non-visual medium without it sounding crass and clunky (“I say, you're holding a gun!”, that sort of thing). I specialised in audio drama as an undergrad so having that background helped. I did some Doctor Who short stories for Big Finish but I've yet to do a Doctor Who audio (not that I wouldn't love to, of course).

Q: When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

Hmn. I can say with certainty that I'm not writing for reviewers. I guess I'm writing for myself, but trying to second-guess myself as a reader. For instance, in one of the earlier drafts I'd included a twist which was thoroughly predictable given the genre I'm working in. When I stopped and thought about it I realised there was another direction entirely I'd could take it in, and which would hopefully come as a much bigger surprise to readers. Keeping things unpredictable without going totally off the rails is essential but hard work as a writer.

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

A few people have mentioned Mad Max, which has always been a bit of an influence on the Afterblight storyworld. I guess in my case that's not such a big surprise, what with the Australian setting. Plus this very much isn't the John Wyndham-style variety of middle class apocalypse. (Not that there's anything wrong with Wyndham – Chocky and Triffids were required reading for me and my big sis when we were kids). In fact, now I think of it, my original pitch even included a joke about Mad Max. But I like that people draw that comparison with the Mad Max movies: that's very fine company to be in, in my opinion.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

There are loads. My Dad was into pulp science fiction so I grew up reading paperback books by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Poul Anderson. In terms of contemporary writers I'd mention Lauren Beukes, Jeff Vandermeer, Adam Christopher, Gareth L Powell, Dan Abnett, Claire Corbett (a brilliant Australian novelist)… I mean there's loads, and that's just in terms of books. There are plenty of writers working in other media that I admire too. The other big one I have to mention, the one that really transformed my life, was Douglas Adams. My most prized possession is my copy of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Original Radio Scripts given to be my late Dad, and I read the novels over and over as a youngster.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the speaking roles, were your work to be optioned for a Big Finish audio drama?

I'm guessing you mean if Dead Kelly were made for audio by Big Finish? Blimey, now that's tricky. Hugh Jackman? Is he doing anything these days? Or possibly someone very like Hugh Jackman? Needs to be someone tough and growly, I think. Although talking through a helmet on audio will prove a particular challenge.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another novella yet to be told, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?

Well, I have a novel with a small American publisher about to come out which is pulpy and fantasy but about as far removed from Dead Kelly as you can get. So that's completely different. But I also have something else on the go which is even more completely differenter.

Awesome! Thanks for joining us today Colin!


About the Author

CB Harvey won the first Pulp Idol award, jointly conferred by SFX Magazine and Gollancz Publishing. Since then he's written for the Doctor Who and Highlander ranges produced by Big Finish. He's also authored numerous videogame narrative design documents for Sony. His forthcoming work includes stories for the American pulp publishers Moonstone and Airship 27, narrative design work for the British games publisher Mongoose and a Commando comic. His academic publications include an Italian book about Grand Theft Auto and articles about transmedia storytelling, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman. He has a PhD in videogame storytelling. No, really.


About the Book

Journal of the Plague Year: An Omnibus of Post-Apocalyptic Tales
by C. B. Harvey, Malcolm Cross, and Adrian Tchaikovsky
Expected publication: August 12th 2014 by Abaddon

The new omnibus from the Afterblight series, following the break out successes of both School's Out Forever and Hooded Man.

The Cull swept the world in the early years of the twenty-fi rst century, killing billions and ending civilisation. Only a fortunate few, blessed with the right blood type, were spared. In the chaos of the Afterblight, scientists, priests—even armed robbers—may become leaders, or heroes. Three incredible writers, including the bestselling author of the Shadows of the Apt series Adrian Tchaikovsky, lead us into the apocalypse.

In Malcolm Cross's Orbital Decay, the team in the International Space Station watch helplessly as the world is all but wiped out. Exiled from Earth by his blood-type, astronaut Alvin Burrows must solve the mystery of the “Pandora” experiment, even as someone on the station takes to murdering the crew one by one...

In C. B. Harvey's Dead Kelly, fugitive and convict “Dead” Kelly McGuire returns from hiding out in the Bush to the lawless city of Melbourne. McGuire has three jobs to do: to be revenged on his old gangmates, to confront some uncomfortable truths about his past, and—ultimately—to discover his own terrible destiny...

In Adrian Tchaikovsky's The Bloody Deluge, Katy Lewkowitz and her friend and old tutor Dr. Emil Weber, fl eeing the depredations of the so-called New Teutonic Order, take refuge among the strangely anachronistic survivors at the monastery of Jasna Góra in Western Poland. A battle of faith ensues, that could decide the future of humankind...