Save the Zombies by Alice Nuttal
'It's really sparky - an original idea and an original talent. I liked the environmental message too' - Cressida Cowell, Children's Laureate
'A really clever take on the zombie concept. I felt I was in the hands of an incredibly competent writer' - Chloe Seager, Literary Agent
'Loads of action and loads of agency - I zipped through it. The plotting was like a sort of invisible joinery' - Imogen Russell-Williams, Literary Critic
Excerpt from the winning manuscript
Merian woke up to a zombie tapping on the window.
Tink. Tink. Tink.
It was a familiar noise – the clack of bone on glass, with a wheezy moan as a backing track. Grumbling, Merian rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.
Tink. Tink. Tink.
“Go away.” Merian glared at the window. The zombie stared back with one cloudy blue eye. The other had been gone for a long time, judging by the number of maggots squirming around the empty socket. Its jaw flopped open, showing a row of broken yellow teeth, before snapping shut again.
It was a fascinating specimen. But her bed was warm and comfy. Merian snuggled back down under the covers. Maybe if she ignored it, it’d go away.
“Merian! Can you deal with that, please?”
Sighing, Merian sat up. Zombies gave up after a few hours. Her mother didn’t.
She clambered down from her bunk bed, scrubbing her eyes with the back of her hand as she went, and grabbed her glasses off the nearby table. The cabin she shared with her mother was tiny, crammed to the roof with all the equipment that you needed to be Dr Gwen Hope, top scientist in the highly specialised field of death-flies. There was a worktable covered in pages of scribbled notes. Shelves full of sample jars took up an entire wall, while the one opposite held a huge map of the dead reserve, bristling with coloured pins. Soft dawn light flooded through the window, accompanied by birdsong, and zombie moans.
“Is there only one?” Merian asked her mum as she pulled on her overalls. Long sleeves, legs tucked into socks, no exposed skin.
“I think so.” Gwen was sitting at the table, squinting down at a page of scribbled figures. Her short black hair, cut in a bob just like Merian’s, was sticking up in messy points. Dark circles gathered under her eyes. She looked tired enough to swap places with the shambling dead outside.
Tink. Tink. Tink.
The zombie snapped at the window. Its crusted lips left a smudge across the glass, and Merian wrinkled her nose. No prizes for guessing who’d be cleaning that later.
“Can you take care of it?” Gwen nodded at the window. “I’d go myself, but...”
“No direct contact with the dead on less than six hours’ sleep,” Merian finished. That was Rule Two. “No problem. I can deal with one, easy.”
She ran through the checklist in her head as she got ready. Glasses clean and on. Stout boots. Gloves. Cat.
Where were the cats? Merian looked around the cabin, trying to spot them. Ollie was almost invisible under the lower bunk – just two green eyes staring out from the shadows. But Jack was sitting bolt upright on a chair, his ears pointing forwards and his tail swishing as he stared at the zombie.
“Jack!” Merian patted her shoulder. “Jack hup?”
With a “prrt!”, Jack jumped onto her shoulder and wound his tail around her neck like a scarf. Merian went to the door, taking one of the catch-poles from the corner as she passed.
“Back in a minute,” she called to Gwen, and stepped outside.
How I did it
My doctorate was on the representation of Native American characters in fiction, including the werewolves in the Twilight series. So I’ve read a lot of myth and fantasy and children’s literature.
In my early 20s I wrote a YA fantasy epic, about teens travelling between worlds – it didn’t get anywhere. More recently I wrote a novel for young teens, about Loki’s wife in Norse mythology, and paid for feedback and workshops at the Golden Egg Academy, which helped sort out its ‘soggy middle’. That didn’t get taken up either – there were a lot of Norse books around then, so perhaps the timing was wrong. And for 20 years I’ve been writing YA comics with my friend Emily Brady. It’s a very different art, but it’s helped me with dialogue and writing in scenes.
Zombies have always fascinated me – I loved The Walking Dead, which started out as a successful comic series. And I enjoyed Mira Grant’s Feed, set 20 years after the zombie apocalypse. It made me interested in the philosophical and political aspects of the zombie myth. I began to imagine a world in which zombies are normal. That’s the premise underlying Save the Zombies – they are a natural part of the human life cycle, and vital for the survival of pollinating insects. It became my fun project when I was editing my Norse novel. I always try to have a serious project and a fun project going at the same time.
I decided I wanted an assertive and knowledgeable protagonist, someone a bit spiky who’s not afraid to talk back. I wasn’t like that at all when I was young, but some of my friends’ children are outspoken in that way. My problem was sustaining the middle, so I used the five-act structure I learnt at Golden Egg, and the idea of ‘the midpoint twist’ to help me through that part of the book
ALICE NUTTALL works in a library; at a pharmaceutical company; and with anti-harassment group Our Streets Now. Her children’s stories have appeared in Aquila Magazine and she writes and self-publishes comics.
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