OWEN QUINN: REDEFINING THE ZOMBIE SUB-GENRE
Trevor Kennedy catches up with Belfast-based author Owen Quinn and discusses his new book, Zombie Blues 2, and lots more.
Trevor Kennedy: Owen, it’s always great to chat with you. Your new book, the sequel Zombie Blues 2, obviously concerns the hordes of the undead, but could you tell us a little bit more about it please, for the benefit of the readers of Phantasmagoria? What sets your Zombie Blues series aside from the rest of the sub-genre?
Owen Quinn: Zombie Blues is the world viewed from the inside of zombies’ heads. They are not zombies by choice and they are not happy about it!
It’s a question that came to me watching the Walking Dead. Why did the little girl stop to lift a toy bunny rabbit in the very first scene? Why did Morgan’s wife try to open a door as a zombie? I began to wonder if there could be something left of the original person in that shuffling corpse and what if they held the answer to the apocalypse origins? And more importantly what if they hate being zombies and trying to tell us something. Hence Zombie Blues was born. We meet several individuals with their own stories to tell of life pre=zombie and what happens in behind those dead eyes. Hopefully readers will find them fun, happy and maybe shed a tear at some of the stories. Throuhg their undead stte we may just learn a few life lessons before our own ends.
TK: You’re obviously a big fan of zombies, but what are your favourites? For me, you just can’t beat George Romero’s original Night/Dawn/Day of the Dead trilogy.
OQ: Those are where it began for me so that trilogy will always be on the list. Believe it or not, zombies were never my favourites; it was werewolves for me. My true appreciation of zombies really began with the Walking Dead. In the first 45 minutes of that show I totally and completely fell in love with zombies. I came out of the first episode felling sorry for the zombies and seeing them as the victims rather than the monster. That for me was huge from a story point of view because we forget these were people with lives full of hopes and dreams that had been ripped away with the apocalypse.
I often base my villains on a simple line from the Time Warriors. Creatures like zombies want to stop parents singing lullabies to let their children sleep soundly at night. If the darkness wins the world will fall silent and normality will be ripped apart like a tissue. But like everything in life, zombies aren’t as simple as that.
TK: Do you prefer the older style more slow, slumbering zombies (who always catch up with their victims anyway!) or the modern ones who can run extremely fast, as we have seen in the likes of 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead?
OQ: I hate 28 Days Later lol. They are just rabid animals. They’re not zombies. I love what they did in the remakes of Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. Those guys really tried hard to come up with something fresh while honouring the originals. Shaun of the Dead and Cockneys vs Zombies I adore. Even the 80s flick The Supernaturals was a clever idea restricted by budget but solid zombie story. I love them.
The whole scare point of a zombie is how slow they are as was done brilliantly in Cockneys Vs Zombies. That scene with Richard Briers on a zimmer frame is hilarious. But this slowness is what makes zombies so deadly. We can run but we get tired. Zombies don’t. They keep coming even when you’re on your knees gasping for air. When we get tired we get sloppy. Four zombies could take a weakened person down easily. It’s when they come en masse that the true threat of the zombies is felt. Individually they can be handled but in a herd very little can stop them. They just keep coming. For me it’s a metaphor for death itself; we know it’s coming and can stay ahead of it through exercise and healthy lifestyle but it gets us in the end.
TK: What would you say to the naysayers who claim that we have been over-saturated with zombies in recent years?
OQ: Bollocks. I could say the same about Star Trek and superhero movies but as long as writers come up with good stories no franchise should become stale.
TK: Will there be a Zombie Blues 3 at some point in the future?
OQ: I’ve already started lol To be honest when I wrote the first one I never thought I’d go for a second never mind a third because of the Time Warriors books. But I find working on both franchises at once allows me to jump between projects if I’m stuck on one.
TK: Moving on to your other literary works, you’ve also penned the popular Time Warriors series. Are there any more adventures for the team currently lined up?
OQ: There are and right now I’d need a clone to help me out to put them on the page. I will be releasing The Belbridge Mystery along with or shortly after Zombie Blues 2. Following that I will be releasing The Return and hopefully by 2121 I will have completed Vengeance which I’m really excited about. In between that will be Zombie Blues 3 somewhere.
TK: Of the Time Warriors stories that I’ve read so far I’ve always found them to be rather heartfelt, positive and hopeful, despite all the nasty monsters and aliens they encounter. Was this intentional when you first created the series? What were you trying to say when you wrote these books and what inspired them?
OQ: I was inspired by the fact Doctor Who didn’t want me as a writer lol But then again I was only a kid and it was Colin Baker’s era. I wrote an entire story with cover called Wail of the Banshee. I got a lovely letter from then producer John Nathan turner turning me down. I decided then to write my own series and so was born the Time Warriors. I just wrote stories of what I wanted to see on television and the movies.
But anyone can write a story with outer space monsters eating people in a small ton on Earth. But for me every story needs to have a connection to the reader. Time Warriors is sci fi with a heart. I deal with all sorts of subjects like bullying, unrequited love, loneliness and the death of loved ones but all wrapped up in a sci fi story. That’s what I want with all my stories is to speak to the individual and let them relate to the characters and stories.
Everything I have ever experienced inspires me. My parents inspired me in ways I never knew until they were gone. My mother, Josie, introduced me to this sci fi world through Doctor Who and Star Trek and I have never stopped loving it. In the years when I was being badly bullied I immersed myself in movies and television. Sci fi and horror is a part of me that will never die and I’m as passionate about it as my dad was about football. As a kid I was bullied as I said for years leaving some scars but I turned those scars into my characters and stories. The story ‘The Survivor’ in book 2 of the the Time Warriors: The Voalox Horror’ is a result of that. I truly hope that any kids being bullied read that and find the strength to rise above it and know there is hope. That sounds so corny but I totally mean it. I care about people and helping them; if that is done through a story then fantastic. My job is done.
I was writing my own stories all the time. I finished my French O-level in twenty minutes (it was a two hour test) and spent the rest drawing a story featuring the Doctor and the Daleks. (I got an A; just saying lol)
TK: At the recent Dublin World Con 2019, I was part of a panel discussing the fantasy/sci-fi/horror scene in Northern Ireland. As expected, that tired old chestnut of “How do we incorporate The Troubles into our work?” cropped up. I gave my usual answer to this question, in that generally I don’t and try to steer clear of it as much as I can, as it has been done to death anyway and my creative works are a form of escapism from The Troubles and lots of other things too. What’s your own take on all of this though, Owen?
OQ: While it is an important part of our history I think we need to break the stereotype. The fact you were asked this means people still see the North in those terms. We have come so far and I truly believe this generation will not allow us to go back to those times. Our culture is diverse and wonderful and we as a people should be proud of what we have around us. There is so much to see and for anyone that doubts that ask yourself why the world claims to Irish. I’ve made one of my lead characters a black girl born and raised in Belfast post Troubles. I did this on purpose to break the stereotypes just as Gene Roddenberry did with the Enterprise crew. If readers can see themselves reflected in your characters you have them engaged.
TK: Do you feel there is enough help and support out there for local “Norn Iron” writers like ourselves?
OQ: No, I was just discussing that today. It’s shocking and anyone out there is all money, money, money. It feels like everyone is splintered. We are the land of saints and scholars yet there is nothing for writers to platform their stuff except social media. They fund it themselves although I believe there may be grants available for certain things. There are groups etc which hold readings etc but no real unity that I’ve experienced.
I always said that if I made it then I would set something up to help writers here to get noticed. I sincerely hope I can make that happen some day.
TK: Creatively, what’s your plans for the future, Owen?
OQ: Keep healthy after my transplant for one lol Keep writing, enjoy every moment and try something new as often as possible. Live is for living and you’ll be surprised at just how much of that goes into your stories. As Mark twain once told Captain Picard, read my books, what I am is pretty much there! Captain Sisko once told his son Jake, a writer has to lift his head up once in a while or the world will pass you by (I’m paraphrasing). It’s true though, you have to find the balance between living life and writing, the legacy of you will be lost forever if one outweighs the other.
TK: Owen, I look forward to hearing more from you and about your works in the future. Thanks for the chat!
Zombie Blues books are available on Amazon by clicking here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Zombie-Blues-Owen-Quinn/dp/1717802257/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=zombie+blues+Owen+Quinn&qid=1608268267&sr=8-1