*This post may contain spoilers for both the books*
This event was chaired by Stuart Kelly. Stuart started the event by saying that “both these novels redefine the possibility of what novels can do.”
Each of these authors then read an extract from each of their novels.
Colson described his novel as paying tribute to horror and sc-fi movies. Zombies are used as a prop within his novel; they are used to critique capitalism. This novel is Colson’s own personal take on the horror genre. Zombies are a way to talk about people in a truthful way. “Monsters are in fact people who have stopped pretending.” In a way I believe this to be true; monsters have no fear and are not afraid of the consequences of their own actions. In a way they are free from the constraints of society.
Ben described how he got the idea behind his novel. “I had to find a crisis that I could really care about and then build a novel around it. The two things, I couldn’t imagine living without are my children and language. For me, it needs to be personal so I am able to write about it.” Children and language are the core ingredients of Ben’s novel.
Stuart then asked both the authors about the moral architecture of their novels.
The main male character in The Flame Alphabet is trying to invent a language that doesn’t make anyone sick. Unfortunately as Ben explained, these languages had to be tested out on human test subjects. “The Flame Alphabet explores the fact he has to cross certain lines in order to invent this new language. When does this become immoral or possibly evil?”
Whereas Zone One focuses more along the idea of using the novel to tap into the universal idea of trauma. Colson said “there is a fine line that divides who you are now and who you are after. How would a zombie apocalypse change who you are as a person? I invented a kind of zombies called Stragglers and these creatures are a way to talk about memories. These zombies will go back to a place that is familiar to them and will stay in that place until they eventually rot away.”
Stuart’s next comment was about how the best American literature is reuniting the genre with the theory.
The audience then found out that Ben does not like the idea of genre. In fact he suggested that “we should reclassify book stores with a numerical ranking of how abrasive a book is to a human being. In fact my book has been classified as an Medical Thriller and I didn’t even realise this was a genre. I just like to plead ignorance to genre classification.”
Colson takes a different approach, he has a story to tell and has to figure out the correct tools and genre to tell this story. Everyone is too hung up in their “genre ghetto.” Colson likes to break out of the “genre ghetto” by trying to make each book different from his last one before it. “Novels are like zombies they keep walking on, even when technically they should be dead.
There was time left for one question from the audience:
Do you have advice for young writers?
Colson’s advice was simple write what you want to write and read how you want to read. Don’t conform to what everyone else wants, most of important of all find your niche.
Ben’s advice was similar, write exactly what you care about the most. Also do an insane amount of writing in order to devour language.
With that the event drew to a close. This was a truly enjoyable event and I am looking forward to reading to reading both books.