We're extremely pleased that author Scott Andrews took the time to answer a few of our questions this week. Not only did he thoughtfully address our gibbering queries, but also treated us to a few scoops.
Previously in the Afterblight series, readers had been exposed to the Big, Apocalyptic Picture.
But, in School's Out, you chose to drill down to the disaster's impact on an isolated - essentially inconsequential - location. What lead you to focus like this?
Partly the old dictum of 'write what you know', partly an deep affection for the original BBC series Survivors.
I know about boarding schools and all their little madnesses, as I've suffered in them as both student and teacher - there's an awful lot of autobiography in School's Out and a lot of therapeutic bloodletting as I took great pleasure in killing people from my youth!
Also, the thing that worked for me about Survivors was that these were people who were not directly involved in events - they didn't know anything about the plague, they weren't special, they were just ordinary folks trying to deal with the consequences of somebody else's fuck up. That appealed to me. That sense of trying to live through a huge event but not having any sense of the big picture, of what the hell is really going on.
The big question, of course... why kids?
Because they're far more vicious than adults. Crueller, nastier, less predictable and more morally flexible. Just watch kids bullying each other in the playground. It's horrific the way they gang up, scent weakness and strike. I think adults can become monstrous under pressure, but mostly they've had the rough edges smoothed off by experience and it takes a bit more for them to revert. But kids are not fully formed personalities yet, they're still pushing the boundaries of social conventions and trying to define themselves, so they do the most awful things sometimes. And the most wonderful, of course.
Over and above his young age, Lee seems to frequently have bouts of consciousness over his evolution into a killer. This runs contrary to genre conventions, in which a character's progress to lethal competence is generally seen as "advancement". Why can't Lee just accept that he's a badass and run with it?
Because I don't believe those characters. Hardened killers with no conscience are either psychopaths or sociopaths. Guys who kill while being in sound mind and for the 'right' reasons are either very damaged by it, or they wrestle with their conscience a hell of a lot. Even Jack Bauer stops and has a good old cry every now and then.
I read an interview with a British Army sniper last week - a cold, calculating, methodical killer, but definitely one of the good guys. And he's killed many, many very bad men. He seemed to be okay with it, but at the end of the interview he revealed that he hadn't kept score and he didn't actually know how many men he'd killed. And I thought that refusal to keep a tally said a lot about the psychological pressure he must be under. You can't tell me he hasn't had some long, dark nights of the soul.
Lee is, I suppose, like me in so far as I think I would have it in me to kill in those circumstances, but I know that I'd be a bloody wreck before, during and after the act. It just seemed more believable somehow. By the third book, which I'm writing now, the people around him are actually scared of what he might do in a fight, because they reckon his PTSD is so bad he might either flip out and go psycho or, worse, get them all killed. So the better he's getting at killing, the more fucked up he's becoming. That has to come to a head at some point.
Your father (noted folk musician Harvey Andrews) has also written quite a bit on the power of war and violence (albeit in a slightly different creative form). Has that had any influence on your work?
Definitely. I don't see how he couldn't really, as he's the best storyteller I know [Learn more about his work at www.harveyandrews.com]. If you listen to "Soldier", or "Somewhere in the Stars", those songs evoke a strong sense of people caught up in violent times who are kind of bewildered by how they got there and unsure how things got that bad. All they want is to go home and live an ordinary life. And that's exactly who Lee and Jane are.
The key sequence for me in School's Out is where Lee says that he just wants to be able to find somewhere quiet and read a book, have a normal day. That's what he's fighting for - the right of people to be left alone to do nice things like play football and bake cakes and stuff. I could never make a hero out of a character who's fighting for power or glory. Those people are monsters.
In the end, I think that even though my Afterblight books are extremely violent, blood and thunder tales, they're essentially anti-violence. Which is having my cake and eating it I suppose. But the characters are all extremely reluctant warriors who want to stop fighting but find the world won't let them. The books don't glory in violence, or at least I hope they don't.
Our interview with Mr Andrews concludes tomorrow, with a preview of Lee & Jane's continuing adventures, some exclusive gossip about his upcoming projects and a little insight into Dawson's Creek.