GJ: Can you describe your journey to publishing your first novel?
TAS: Haha, it’s still ongoing really. I showed my first novel, Left Behind, to basically every agent and publisher I could find who were open to submissions in a related genre – both in the UK and abroad, and I just kept coming away with the same flat refusals. I knew from the start that getting an undead horror novel through traditional publishing was going to be a tough one, but luckily, I always had self-publishing through Amazon to fall back on. The dream is that some success there will help me get my foot in the door with an agent in the future.
So while I’m happy with the readers and gold stars that’ve come from indie-publishing, it would still be great to get myself on the shelves of a bookstore one day. The journey continues!
GJ: For those who have not yet read your novels, can you describe the premise behind your latest novel?
TAS: Emergency, my second novel so far in The Suburban Dead series, is a parallel story to Left Behind, my first. It takes place at the same time, but is connected only by a couple of phone calls and some shared characters. While the first novel is about a man trying to find his fiancée, Emergency is about the woman herself; a specialist nurse working on the front lines of the infection. We know from the first book that the hospital ends up abandoned, and we get to see that downfall first hand – that, and we explore more of how the infection works, from the perspective organisations more in-the-know than the motley crew of survivors assembled in Left Behind.
GJ: What inspires you to write about Zombies?
TAS: I’ve always been gripped by the central theme of apocalyptic fiction; that life as we know it, society as we’ve built it, could come tumbling down around our ears. I’ve read or seen stories where it’s been evil robots, natural disasters or EMPs, but out of all of them, the zombie is the threat that most appeals to that kid who sat watching his brother play Resident Evil, and who raided his DVD cabinet for Romero movies and The Evil Dead.
I think they most appeal because the zombie represents my greatest fear in a post-apocalyptic situation; that we’d lose our humanity. If it was aliens or irradiated mutants, you might be able to find some common ground, but there’s no common ground with a zed, there’s no spark of humanity left. They just want to eat you. You can’t reason with that.
GJ: Without spoilers what makes your undead apocalypse unique?
TAS: It’s almost certainly the setting. I haven’t seen anyone else doing an undead apocalypse in a fictional world before, most people stick to a place in the real world, but I found that invited too many questions. “Where’s the army? Why isn’t this geographical detail accurate? Where’d these guns come from?” – It was too restricting. So I decided to create a world for The Suburban Dead, a place with its own history and countries, loosely based on real-world places and events, to keep it grounded. People love diving into a fictional setting in sci-fi and fantasy, so why not undead horror?
Some of the other less-used aspects I’m drawing on are the use of multiple types of undead. Slow moving, fast moving…one that come with spoiler warnings, but nothing from too far-out. The “Tanks” from Left 4 Dead won’t make an appearance in my series, but one reviewer can already see something of Dungeons & Dragons creeping in with one of the “aberrant” infected.
GJ: What is the most difficult of the entire publishing process for you?
TAS: Plucking up the courage to put the book out there in the first place. Being rejected by a publisher sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t moved to tears, you get a thick skin when you go through years of asking people to give you brutal feedback on your drafts. But when the professionals say that they’re not interested, you question if it’s all been worth it. Then you stick it on Amazon because hey, you’re proud of it and your beta readers loved it.
GJ: What would you consider to be your most effective marketing technique?
TAS: Giving away copies for review, definitely. If you’re an author looking to sell some books, you’ve got to start by giving them away – preferably in reading groups, rather than just by putting the book up for free on a whim. That’s not effective. Find people who are going to read it in exchange for an honest review, and send it to them. More reviews make your book more attractive to a passing reader. You go from being an unproven indie writer, to being someone worth checking out.
GJ: What can we expect from you in 2019/20?
TAS: The third book in my undead horror series, The Suburban Dead, should be ready in late 2019. I don’t have a title for it yet, or I’d give it an early plug! But I’m still hacking through the first draft.
GJ: What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?
TAS: Having fans. Should I call them that? It still sounds wrong. Readers. Having readers has been the greatest thing. Going to a writing group, sharing a thing about my book, then having someone comment underneath, giving it a strong recommendation. There’s one reader who told me she’s read my books multiple times. Just like I do with my favourite writers! It’s a little surreal, and very, very flattering.
GJ: What advice would you give to new writers looking to writing to publish?
TAS: The same advice writers have been giving for years. Don’t stop believing. Much like that song, it’s a Journey. If that journey happens to take you to being an indie writer, don’t lose heart, it’s not the end of the road. You can still put your story in people’s hands, still bring people joy, and – let’s get cynical for a moment – still get some payment for all the hard work you put it. I’m pretty sure most writers would still be writing just for the warm, fuzzy feeling of a good review, but it’s nice to get some beer money at the end of the month.
GJ: How prepared are you for the apocalypse?
TAS: Mentally I feel like I’m ready to go at a moment’s notice. Physically, well, I’m working out lately, but that’s more toning up, and I feel cardio should be the way to go no matter what speed setting your undead are on. In a practical sense, my house isn’t ideal for it, though we do have a vegetable patch. As far as armament goes, I have my trusty hatchet, but would be a lot happier if I had a crossbow or two…
GJ: If you had your time again would you do anything differently?
TAS: Definitely. I’d throw myself into social media a lot quicker, try and network more, have a bit more of a consistent plan when it came to marketing the books! I’m not great at that.
GJ: Do you write full time? If not what is your day job?
TAS: I’d love to write full time, but like a lot of indie writers, it’s not possible at the moment. I’m a dispenser in a large chain community pharmacy, training towards a qualification for what’s called an Accuracy Checking Technician. I had quite a colourful work history though, before I got to this point. Art gallery handyman, retail, warehousing, bicycle building, and a whole lot of bar and restaurant work.
If you like nightmarish settings, reluctant heroes, and action-packed adventures, then you’ll love my spine-chilling novel, In The End which is also available from Amazon!