Wye: Road To Publication + Bonus Scene
What do I do with England once I’ve killed all the humans? That was the (admittedly dastardly) premise I began work on Wye with. A lot of post-apocalyptic books envisage the end of humanity accompanied by a kind of squalor and decay. It makes sense, we humans are a destructive bunch, if it was extreme climate change or nuclear war which saw us off the world would probably be left in a dire state.
But being a contrary sort, I wanted to go completely the opposite way with Wye. Humanity is all but finished and the England that remains is peaceful, beautiful.
“We call the countryside The Wasteland now. Not because it’s some toxic, uninhabitable slum. Far from it. It’s actually a tapestry of leaf-greens and the pleasant, pastel shades of wildflowers. We call it The Wasteland because every sign of humanity’s dominion over the land is rapidly wasting away.”
The book is told through the journal entries of a girl who calls herself Wye, and I wanted to contrast the horrors of her life with the exquisite scenery of a natural England. Of course, nature taking over means that there are no shops or supermarkets, so scavenging and hunter-gathering takes up a significant part of Wye’s time. Luckily, I grew up in rural England and I soon realised that a lot of my boyhood activities (catching fish, cooking crayfish, collecting watercress etc) would provide someone trying to survive with a means of survival. I could make Wye an outdoorsy nature geek too!
But more than that, the urge to find food allowed me to explore Wye’s survival instinct, and how that instinct was in a kind of conflict with all she knew from the civilised ‘old world’. But survival is about more than finding sustenance, it’s about staying alive and evading danger. And that’s where zombies and the monster comes in…
Spoiler Free Bonus scene:
What follows are two entries from Wye’s journal. As soon as these pages were written, Wye ripped them out, screwed them up and fed them to her fire. The reason why is unclear.
Zombies are strange creatures. We have no idea where they came from, we only know how you become one. Bodily fluids. If you’re bitten you become infected via a zombie’s saliva and, eventually, you fall ill and die. Sometime afterwards you reanimate, devoid of any aspect of your former self, wildly aggressive and desperate to feed. The same thing happens if you manage to get undead blood in you (*note, in you, not on you). To prevail, the infection appears to require immediate transmission into the blood stream. Living skin seems to be an effective barrier for preventing that, but only until it’s cut open by a zombie’s teeth, of course.
Everyone still alive no doubt knows all of that. But, before we formed our little group, there were stories of people turning without ever having been bitten, scratched, or even attacked. It happened soon after they’d contracted a different illness, or sustained a significant injury. We’ve discussed all of this at length many times and we think it’s possible that some people are infected but that the virus/bacteria/fungus – whatever causes zombie reanimation – has a dormant stage. If someone with the dormant infection experiences severe trauma, from an illness or from an injury for example, then the infection activates and turns them. We learned about this sort of thing in biology. It’s the reason cold sores always pop up during or just after a different illness. They wait for their host to be weakened by something else before they activate.
Once somebody has turned into a zombie, they wander around in an apparently random direction looking for food. The dead seem to have a wide and varied diet. We know they’ll eat humans, livestock, pets – anything that moves or draws attention to itself. If something is slow enough a zombie will chase it down and eat it alive. They never kill anything before they eat it (at least not deliberately), they just start tearing chunks from anything unlucky enough to get caught.
Zombies seem to be very resilient. They don’t have trouble retaining mobility after sustaining the sort of injury that would ground a person for weeks. We don’t think they heal either. Mr Fryers (my secondary school biology teacher) once told us that, whilst salmon are running up a river, they stop healing. It’s so they can devote all of their available energy to the effort of making it upstream to breed. Maybe that’s the zombie strategy too: devote all available energy to the pursuit of food. We know that they can starve though. We once found a skinny, motionless zombie carcass without any sign of blade or bullet. That gives me hope that it might be possible to outlast them if we can get to Emm’s cabin. I know there are prey animals in The Wasteland (rabbits, deer, wolves), but surely not in the quantities needed to sustain an army of undead indefinitely?
I remember an interview I heard on the radio. It was with a man from Sweden who’d wanted to cross the border into Norway when The Spread reached his hometown. But there had been controls in place. Not from the authorities, from panicked Norwegian citizens. The man said that he’d crossed paths with Norwegians who would shoot a potentially infected Swede rather than let them into their country. Maybe Norway was coping better than Sweden because of its smaller population, I don’t know. Anyway, the man (I can’t recall his name) decided to take his family across the North Sea to Britain. Apparently, our island faired a lot better than the countries on the continent. Well, for a time at least. The man was so scared of The Sickness that he left everything in order to take his loved ones to a foreign land where he had no home, no job, no friends, no nothing.
The man was a fisherman by trade and so he had a good boat, but the weather turned rough. He described the waves as though they were sentient, conscious and hell-bent on his family’s destruction. He said that he knew he had to keep his trawler afloat because there would be no help. The coastguard was non-existent in the face of domestic turmoil and, if they capsized, his family would drown. But the scary thing about the interview wasn’t the fury of the elements (I know how destructive storms can be) it was the lack of any safety net. It applies so entirely to our situation. In the old world, if you got into trouble you could phone the emergency services, if you injured yourself you could go to hospital and the NHS would take care of you. You can’t even pay for care now. If you get badly injured or really ill out in The Wasteland you will die. It’s as simple as that.
In an England full of zombies something much worse rises from the death and decay. And it’s hunting a teenage girl.
Through the remembered lessons of her favourite writers, sixteen-year-old Wye has been trying to make sense of a cruel new world. But it’s not working. Wherever she turns there are monsters and memories, both of them poised to devour her if she can’t find a way to live with herself. What follows is Wye’s last chance at salvation, what follows is her journal.