INTERVIEW: Tim Lebbon on COLDBROOK, Zombies, and the Multiverse
Tim Lebbon is the author of nearly thirty books, including The Island and, with Chris Golden, the acclaimed Hidden Cities series. He is the winner of numerous British Fantasy Awards and a Bram Stoker Award. He lives in the Welsh countryside with his wife and children.
His brand new book, Coldbrook, just came out from Titan, and since I loved the book so much, I was thrilled to ask Tim a few questions about it!
Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on the new book, COLDBROOK! I absolutely loved it. I hesitate to call it a zombie book, because it’s so much more, but what was your inspiration for it? Where did the idea come from?
Tim Lebbon: Initially, from a long conversation with my good friend (and brilliant writer) Adam Nevill, in which he said, ‘You could write an amazing zombie trilogy’. At the time I’d already destroyed the world several times (a guy’s got to have a hobby), but I’d never written an all-out zombie novel. And the idea appealed. But I wanted to make it my own, and give it a few surprise angles and twists that would steer it away from more traditional zombie stories. So it’s a story of survival, but also of the fight to find a cure, the efforts to halt the spread, and the exploration of alternate Earths that might or might not also be infected.
KC: The book starts off with a quote about quantum mechanics, so I had a bit of an idea as to what was coming, but there are so many theories involving the multiverse. Will you tell us more about the one you chose to go with, and why?
TL: I read quite a lot about it, including a fascinating book by Michio Kaku called Parallel Worlds. To be honest a lot of it was waaaaaaay beyond me (I also love the quote attributed to Richard Feynman that goes, ‘Anyone who says they understand quantum mechanics does not understand quantum mechanics’. It’s probably an altered version of what he actually said, but then it says a lot). I don’t recall the names of the theories, but one postulates that there are an infinite number of universes existing within the same ‘space’ (although space here isn’t as we know it), and another that says there are an infinite number of universes beyond our own, the next one being so far away that there isn’t enough space in our universe to write the distance down. Er … wow. So even if you drove a really fast car, it would take a long time to get there, and you’d have to take lots of cds to pass the time.
The multiverse in my novel comprises an endless number of alternate universes, with more created at every moment. So there are some where the zombie contagion is going on, some where it happened a while ago. And I kind of like the idea that in my version of the multiverse, somewhere, Coldbrook is a true story.
KC: COLDBROOK also gets pretty involved when it comes to how a contagion spreads. What kind of research did you do for the book and what was one of the most interesting things you learned?
TL: I wanted the contagion to spread quickly, so I made sure it was an aggressive contagion, one that those infected are driven to spread. That’s their prime aim. It’s like an intelligent virus. The research consisted reading about Ebola and some of the other ‘hot viruses’. And I also looked into ultra rare conditions when I was coming up with a disease for Jayne, but what she ended up with is fictional, a combination of several other conditions I read about. Some of those hot viruses … they’re scary.
KC: Your characterizations in Coldbrook are very, very good and I love how some actually surprised me quite a bit, since they changed so much from the beginning to the end, because of these horrendous events. How much of a challenge is it to take a not-so-likeable character and make them into a character to root for, and do it realistically (I bet you know who I’m talking about, too)?
TL: Yeah. Well, whether I’m writing a book like this––or perhaps a fantasy novel––it never interests me to write about completely good or bad characters. There’s no good or evil, just varying shades in between. That makes characters more human and realistic, and frankly makes it a lot more fun for me to write about. I wrote a Star Wars novel recently, and my main character, a Je’daii (soon to be Jedi) wasn’t all good. She had her shadowy side. A lot of people liked that, and I think it’s because it made her human. So yes, it’s hard to make readers root for someone who’s done something so unforgivable. But then we see it all the time on TV. My favourite show of all time is The Shield, and from episode one Vic Mickey, a cop, is also a murderer and corrupt to the core. Yet I wanted him to triumph. That’s the power of great writing.
KC: I loved Jayne’s character, and I couldn’t help but compare her, just a little, to Swan from Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. Was there a particular inspiration for Jayne?
TL: No real inspiration, I just wanted to make her brave and courageous, and yet very vulnerable too.
KC: With a couple of characters, in different ways, you explore the theme of faith as it relates to science in Coldbrook. What interests you about this topic?
TL: Issues of faith find their way into a lot of my fiction. I’m an atheist, and have one friend who’s a bible literalist (he thinks the Earth is seven thousand years old), and he and I often have fascinating conversations. I love it! I think he’s deluded and he thinks I’m misinformed, but at the end of the night we shake hands, respect each other’s outlook, and get on well. If only everyone could be like that. The relationships––and sometimes conflicts––between faith (eschewing proof) and science (the seeking of proof) have always interested me, and I like to write about what I find interesting.
KC: Which character(s) did you enjoy writing about the most in Coldbrook?
TL: I really like Jonah Jones, the grizzled old Welshman, and the Inquisitor that becomes his nemesis. But I like all my characters, otherwise I couldn’t write them well.
KC: Everything “zombie” has been wildly successful in the past few years. Why do you think readers/moviegoers/etc are so drawn to that type of story?
TL: Zombies are scary because they’re us and yet … so other. I also think that apocalyptic fiction has always been popular, and destroying the world with zombies is a metaphor for what humanity is doing to the planet (or to ourselves … I don’t think we’ll harm the planet one little bit, in the long term). And yet in a lot of books and TV shows, as in Coldbrook, the stories aren’t really about the zombies at all, but the people struggling against them. The walking dead in the The Walking Dead are the survivors.
KC: Ok, the question I’ve definitely been dying to ask is…will there be more books set in the Coldbrook “universe”?
TL: There’s nothing planned yet, but I’ll never say never.
Filed under: Interviews
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