Journal of the Plague Year: C. B. Harvey interview
5 years ago
Hello and welcome back to the second instalment of our three part interview series with the great minds of the Journal of the Plague Year. Without further ado let's pass on to series editor David Moore and author of Dead Kelly C. B Harvey.
DM: What made you decide to set your novella in Australia?
CH: I guess the main reason was that I lived in Australia for a year and a half in an absolutely amazing place called the City of the Blue Mountains, just up from Sydney (I known, it sounds like something out of Tolkien). My wife got a job in Sydney and we shipped our two kids out there, plus all our stuff because we weren’t sure how long we were going to be there. So one minute we’re in Lewisham, south London, living the urban life, the next we’re gallivanting around this absolutely breath-taking scenery on the edge of an Australian national park. We spent the first month being terrified of the flora and fauna, which is compulsory for all wimpy British people upon arrival.
While I was there I got talking to some friends about Ned Kelly, a figure who’s interested me for a long time. There’s a Wild West and steampunk vibe to Ned Kelly that fascinates me. The Afterblight novels are pretty globe-trotting so I thought why not pitch something to David Moore that’s set in Australia. The novella takes place in Melbourne as I wanted to acknowledge its connection to Ned Kelly’s mythology. But beyond the armour and the similar sounding name the connection to Ned Kelly’s story pretty much stops there.
DM: Is this your first post-apocalyptic story? What was it like working in the genre?
CH: Yes, this is the first time I’ve written anything in a post-apocalyptic setting. The hard part was anticipating which things would fall apart and which things would stay the same, and how quickly that would happen. Dead Kelly is set fairly soon after The Cull has happened, so while some things have decayed others are pretty familiar. In fact, that was the vibe I went for throughout the novella. Having never lived through an apocalypse, I’m guessing that it would be fairly surreal, so I snuck in a few strange juxtapositions to hopefully give that feeling of unease to the story.
DM: Dead Kelly is a classic revenge drama; McGuire really doesn’t have any higher purpose (or redeeming features!). How do you feel modern audiences respond to this style of story?
CH: McGuire is quite clearly psychotic, but he does have a motivation. He’s the ultimate Darwinian. He believes in himself and only himself, and he’ll make sure he survives at any cost whatsoever by killing anyone who might possibly have wronged him. And to him surviving means not just him surviving, but his legacy too. When I was writing it a certain high-profile politician had died and I was interested in the way in which this individual’s legacy was stage-managed in order that certain narratives could dominate, and others could be excluded.
Personally I really admire stories in which we’re forced to empathise with the villain or anti-hero. I think a lot of us do: I can think of quite a few contemporary examples where that’s the case. There isn’t really a heroic character in this story, but then I’m not sure a post-apocalyptic world would really need (another) hero. At the risk of sounding like Tina Turner in shoulder pads.
DM: The novella’s more than a little reminiscent of the “Ozsploitation” genre of the ’80s. Are you a fan?
CH: Given my previous comment you might have guessed I’m a huge Mad Max fan. My older brother and sister were totally obsessed by the films and that was a massive influence on me growing up (not that I was allowed to watch it at the time, you understand – I would have been far too young and that would have been very wrong). In fact, Jon Oliver name-checks Mad Max 2 at the beginning of the America Afterblight omnibus, so it’s not just me it’s influenced. Can’t wait to see what they’ve done in terms of the new film and game, by the way.
DM: You’re SFX Magazine’s first Pulp Idol alumnus. How’s that affected your life?
CH: Massively. It led to me getting my first licensed commission, a Doctor Who short story for one of Big Finish’s licensed anthologies (thank you Joe Lidster and Ian Farrington) which in turn led to a variety of other commissions. Plus, winning something like that gives you an enormous boost of confidence which, let’s face it, writers can always do with. I also work part-time as a university academic and publish a lot of stuff about pulp fantasy and shared worlds – winning Pulp Idol and the commissions that came subsequently have all fed into that.
DM: This isn’t your first experience working in a shared world. How does working within the Afterblight world compare with the tie-in fiction you’ve done?
CH: When I got the commission I did momentarily freeze and think lawks, look at whose footsteps I’m following in: Scott Andrews, Simon Spurrier, Rebecca Levene, Jasper Bark, Al Ewing, Paul Kane… I mean, that’s a pretty impressive group of wordsmiths. But once you’ve got over that nerve-juddering feeling of intimidation, you get to see the advantages. One is that the Afterblight world has been very carefully carved by these people, and that a lot of the key details are in place. Sure, they take the world in very different directions, but the building blocks are there.
At the same time, I had a lot of flexibility with Dead Kelly, more than I’ve had with the various licenses I’ve worked on. While the jumping-off point is the same – The Cull – my story is set in a geographically distant location. So early on in the story’s chronology there are some sly references to the same phenomena that have occurred in some of the other stories, because early on the Internet, the global media would still have been functioning, so I thought there would inevitably be parallels with what was happening elsewhere on the planet. But quite soon we’re on our own merry, murderous path.
Dead Kelly is the second novella in the coming post-apocalyptic omnibus collection Journal of the Plague Year out 3rd July 2014 (UK) and 12th August 2014 (US).