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An Interview With Colin M. Drysdale, Author Of For Those In Peril On The Sea


Alex Grant: Firstly, thanks for making the time to speak to me today.

Colin M. Drysdale: No Worries. Glad to be able to do it.

AG: So, your first novel For Those In Peril On The Sea has just been published. How long did it take you to reach this stage?

CMD: I think it's about four years from when I first wrote something down, a rough outline of the first couple of chapters, just to see if it would work, but I only started working on it in earnest at the start of 2012. I think I finished the first draft in February.

AG: That's quite impressive, that you managed to go from first draft to a finished book in a little ten months, especially for a first time author.

CMD: While this is my first fiction book, I'd had plenty of other stuff published before, including a couple of technical books, and I think coming from an academic background means that I've already developed quite a good set of writing skills in terms of making sure I get stuff done. It was simply a matter of shifting these skills across to a slightly different discipline.

AG: Did you find it difficult to do this?

CMD: At first it wasn't easy, and my style was way too formal. Also writing dialogue was something new to me, but after a while I started to get the hang of it. I think the key thing I could bring in from academia was knowing that the first draft wouldn't be perfect, or indeed the second or the third. This meant that I didn't get trapped into thinking that I had to get everything perfect first time round, I just had to get something down that I could polish later.

AG: So how many drafts did you go through?

CMD: Whenever I start a new draft I tend to save it as a new file with a number after the name. I got up to nineteen, so that's probably about the number of drafts.

AG: Nineteen, that's quite a lot. What sort of changes did you make?

CMD: Things like shifting around which characters were in specific scenes, what they do, how people escape from tight spots, that type of thing. It took a while to get some characters right, and also to get some of the action scenes to work.

AG: Can you give me any examples?

CMD: Yeah, the scene in the container changed a lot between different drafts. They were originally going to be in there for several days, and then get rescued by the parents of the young girl Rob finds dead on the beach, but it just didn't work. It was too complicated. The new people needed too much back story to explain where they came from and how they'd been surviving. In the end, I had Rob and the others in there for just over a day, and had some of the existing characters rescue them, and just left the origin of the girl as a bit of a mystery.

AG: What about changes to the characters? Did you have any problems with them?

CMD: Yes. CJ especially gave me a lot of problems. She came across as too weak and stereotypical at first, and I had to fiddle with her character a lot to try and get the right balance between her being a bit naive at first and her coming across as a complete wet blanket. Hopefully, I got this right in the end. David also caused me a few problems, he was just too one dimensional at first, but I think he fleshed out well.

AG: Speaking of the characters, where did your inspiration for them come from? Are any of them based on real people?

CMD: No, none of them are based on real people. Bill is an amalgamation of a number of yacht captains I've sailed with over the years, while Jon, if anything, is based on how I was when I was his age, a bit arrogant and thinking that I knew everything, when looking back now I can see I knew very little. Some people who know me well have said that there is a lot of me in Rob, but I don't really see it. Rather, I see him as being a fairly typical type of character you find in academia, especially his original description. Some of those bits come straight out of conversations I had or overheard in academic coffee rooms. Elements of CJ came from a few people I've run into over the years, mostly at people working as volunteers on various research projects I've been involved in, while Jack and Andrew are just the usual types you find living and working places like Abaco. The inspiration for David's character has been a few people I've met and worked with over the years who really reacted badly when they didn't get their own way and who were very disruptive to others trying to work together as a group, but he's not really based on any one, just the effect that I saw these people have on those around them.

AG: Speaking of Abaco, your descriptions of it are very evocative. You must know the area very well.

CMD: On and off, I spend about seven or eight years out there in the 1990s.  I had my own boat that I used for my research, and we pretty much explored everywhere that was within the range of our fuel tanks. We had a runabout like the one they find in Man O' War. It was great to be able to revisit it all in my mind when I was writing the book. I always thought it would be a great setting for a novel, its got so many really distinctive places to use as backdrops, places like Hole-in-the-Wall, and Hope Town. In most novels, you have to be careful about using real locations in case it seems like characters are based on specific people. However, in this one, because it's set in a world turned upside down, and was based on boats, I was freer to use real world locations.

AG: You also describe the hurricanes as if you had been through one. Is this right?

CMD: I think I went through about five or six during the times I was out in Abaco. There were a couple in particular that I used as the basis of the ones in the book. The first was called Dennis, and it was a pretty small one, small enough that we could be out running around in it, looking at what was going on. The second was called Floyd, it was much, much bigger and I think it was the only one where I really thought I was going to die. At one point, I was hunkered down in a bathroom with three dogs, a cat and my research assistant while we could hear the windows blowing in and the glass shattering against the other side of the walls. We did go out when the eye passed over though.  It lasted about ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and it was a pretty unique and surreal experience.

AG: I don't think I can think of any other post-apocalyptic zombie books that are set on boats, at least not in the way that you've set it. Where did this idea come from?

CMD: There's really two parts to this. The first was the feeling of detachment from what's going on in the world that you can get when you are at sea. I managed to miss a number of big events because I was on boats, and most of the media coverage had moved on by the time I got back so I didn't really know much about them. This was things like the Marchioness disaster, the bombings on the London tube in 2005 and also when Jill Dando was shot. That last one was really big news in Britain when it happened, but I only found out about it about six months afterwards when somebody mentioned it in passing and assumed I knew about it. It was only a short leap from these types of things to thinking about what would happen if the world came to an end when I was at sea and didn't find out anything about it until I got back to shore. The second was discussions with a number of people over the years about what you'd do in the event of a zombie outbreak, I mix with people where this type of conversation is quite common. I was always arguing that a sailing boat would be the best place to survive it. I pretty much started writing the book to prove my point.

AG: That's not the way it comes across in the book. In fact, I'd say that you pretty much show boats wouldn't be particularly good places to be.

CMD: Writing the book meant I really had to think about it, and think through every possibility. My view now is that while boats might be good in the immediate aftermath of a zombie outbreak, they'd be a pretty poor option in the longer term.

AG: You've mentioned zombies a couple of times, but the ones in your book aren't traditional zombies, and you refer to them as infected.

CMD: Yeah, I think the zombie genre can be split into two basic groups. Those that are written as horror books, and that feature traditional, risen-from-the-dead, eat-your-brains zombies. The second are better classified as post-apocalyptic science fiction. Since they are science fiction, they tend to provide more back-story as to where the outbreak comes from. These tend to assume that it's some kind of infection, often as a result of bio-engineering, scientific experiments or something like that. I think coming from a science background, this was the type of story I both like reading better, and that I wanted to try and write, but I still think you can class these as zombie books even though they don't technically involve zombies.

AG: You mention reading other books in this genre. What are your particular favourites and have any influenced your book?

CMD: I liked World War Z in parts, although I did find it a bit bitty, but I think the biggies for me have to be The Day Of The Triffids and I Am Legend. The Day Of The Triffids, in particular, I think has had a big influence on the post-apocalyptic genre as a whole, and even after something like 60 years, it still reads very well. It's almost the perfect example of how to write a first person, post-apocalyptic novel. There's also films like 28 Days Later where they use infected rather than zombies that have had an influence.

AG: You mentioned World War Z, in the preface to the book, you mention that you worked as an extra on it. How did that come about?

CMD: It was all just a bit of luck. The scene was in was set in Philadelphia and meant to be filmed in there, but some local politicians there thought they could get more money out of the film-makers by fiddling with the tax rules as they figured they could hardly go elsewhere.  It turns out that Glasgow has a very similar layout to Philadelphia and similar buildings, and the council were very welcoming, so the film came to Glasgow. When I heard they were doing a call for extras I figured when would I ever get the chance to work on a big Hollywood movie again, especially a zombie one so I went along.  I think I was very lucky to get a part. Apparently, I look just like a typical Philadelphian street cleaner.

AG: So you've got your first book out there, what are you going to do next? The end of the book certainly leaves room for a sequel. Is there going to be one?

CMD: Yes, there is going to be a sequel, well really more of an equal than a true sequel.  I've made some rough notes for it already, and have a few of the set pieces laid out in my mind. It's still set in the same world as For Those In Peril On The Sea, but it going to be based around a group of people trying to get out of a city in the immediate aftermath of an outbreak. It's more about the tension between the army who are trying to contain the infection, and survivors who are trying to get out.

AG: Does this mean that it won't have any of the same characters in it?

CMD: It's going to be a new cast of characters, but I do have plans to revisit Rob and the others at a some stage. There's still a few loose ends there that need tied up at some point.

AG: Do you know where you're going to set the next book?

CMD: It's going to start off in Glasgow and then move onto the west coast of Scotland.  It's another area I know really well and like Abaco, its got great iconic locations that can act as backdrops of the action.

AG: Well I think that just about covers everything. Thanks again for making the time

CMD: Always happy to make time for anyone who's interested in my book.



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Last modified: 03/14/14