1) The Last Girl is about a girl, Danby, caught in an apocalypse event sparked when all of humanity suddenly gains the ability to hear each other’s thoughts. If that power switched on today, how much of book #2 could I gleam from your mind?
You’d glean the whole book, start to finish. It’s called The Last Shot, it’s written and it’s out in March next year – so only it’s only can’t-do-the-maths-number-of-sleeps until it’s on shelves. If you read my mind you’d see it sends Danby into a dark place where she really has to draw on all her intuition and courage. It’s psychological thriller up front, slam-bam action-adventure out the back. So, a mullet of a novel,
maybe? I think of it as my Empire Strikes Back.
2) If you got to choose which apocalyptic event you had to be stuck in, which would you choose? Zombie? Asteroid? Super virus? Evil robot? Alien attack? Super volcano?
Can I be a bit serious and boring here and say none of the above? Writing – and reading – apocalyptic fiction lets us experience all that shit safely and vicariously. I think that’s the point – to offer cathartic release from our very real end-of-the-world fears, be they atomic, environmental, economic or extra-terrestrial in origin. Writing The Last Girl, I studied and thought about apocalyptic scenarios a lot and realised
that what’s often not explored are the epic fires that’d break out in the immediate aftermath of rapid societal breakdown. This is why the first half of The Last Girl sees Danby trying to get out of her suburb before it goes up in flames.
What’s literally too close to home now is that my family and I have just done something along those lines. We live in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains of NSW, which, as I type this, is under threat from the biggest bushfire in living memory. We left on Monday. It’s a sobering and horrible feeling having to make that “Well, we’ll take some clothes and the photos” decision and leave everything else behind. But at least we’re out safe. My thoughts are with those who may be in danger – and the brave firefighters who’re gonna be putting their lives at risk in hellish conditions.
Short answer: no real-life apocalypses for me.
3) The Last Girl is set in Sydney, Australia. It was nice to read about a familiar landscape! We’re there any complexities or issues with using this setting?
I loved setting my novel in Sydney because it’s where I have lived most of my life. We sometimes see it in a quick global-round-up sequence in apocalyptic tales set in the northern hemisphere but it hasn’t had too many of its very own Armageddons. I mean, hey, we’re a world-class city so why can’t we be an end-of-the-world-class city?
It also allowed me to riff on what I know. So I went to various locations, hung out and took notes and photos, soaked up the vibe and then headed home and threw Danby into all of those places. Being able to visit real places also gave me a lot of ideas and sent the story off in new directions. I’ve spent time in every location across the entire trilogy and love discovering details that I can incorporate. But because of the subject matter – it’s a pretty brutal apocalypse – I have renamed and re-imagined the smaller locations. I didn’t want people who actually live in certain communities to read one of the books and say, “Hey, that fucker’s writing about my destroyed house – and… is that supposed to be me dead on the lawn!?”
What I also loved was not doing the obvious by making it all set in the city of Sydney or in the famous beachy suburbs. So while there is a big scene involving a world-famous landmark – what’s an apocalypse without one? – most of the first book takes place in the western suburbs, places like Parramatta, Blacktown and then in the lower Blue Mountains. In future books, we’re off to other parts of the country.
4) The events of your novel seem to be triggered by abundant use of technology. Maybe even a little critical of it. What are your thoughts on the use of technology today?
I think technology’s a real double-edged sword. The internet and our devices are amazing and have enormous potential for our personal and social and cultural development. But it’s all in how and why we use them. I love the the Reddit question of what you’d find hardest to explain to a person from 1950s and this awesome answer: “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.”
We spend so much time splashing around in the shallows and trading away our privacy for reflections of ourselves. And stuff like bullying campaigns – “hatestorms”, I’ve heard them gleefully described by the assholes involved – just makes me despair for humanity. It’s nastiness for its own sake and completely divorced of empathy or concern for consequences.
We also take for granted just how much we rely on a vast industrial and technological network for everything from food and water to information and employment and meaning. The Last Girl riffs on all of that. It imagines a scenario that’s like social media truly going viral in the sense of an unstoppable outbreak. Privacy evaporates. Secrets spill out. We lose control of everything. Chaos and destruction follow.
5) what could you absolutely not live without in the event of an apocalypse?
Assuming my family was safe and I had books to read, then I’m gonna say my Decapitator 2000. The patent application is in so I guess I can tell you the basics without fear of being ripped off by other industrialists (side note: that happened to me with the iPhone *shakes fist at sky* “Damn you, Steve Jobs!”). Basically, I’ve taken one standard leafblower, an old Commodore 64 joystick, a bunch of speargun rubber, a handful of machetes and MacGyvered them all together with chewing gum and paperclips. In the trials I’ve conducted, it’s capable of up to 22 ZBPM (zombie beheadings per minute) under favourable wind conditions. And when the undead are no longer a threat, it simply dazzles dinner guests as a snazzy kebab delivery device!
6) There’s at least one character who is borderline terrifying. Without giving too much away, what was it like writing them and their interactions with Danby?
I loved writing Jack because he doesn’t see himself as a bad guy at all. And maybe he’s not. What he has is a plan to save the world and the power to put it into action even though his means seem ruthless. But, like he tells Danby, God didn’t say to Noah, “Hey, beardy, get all the animals” – he said get two of each. Jack thinks it’s important to save people with skills to rebuild the world rather than try to save everyone. I think if you got access to government emergency plans, they’d have similar sort of ideas on the books. If you’re an author, sucked in. If you’re an engineer, we’ve got your Ark berth all made up. Jack’s point is also that circumstances have allowed him and Danby to create a new world from the ground
up. There are no billionaires or politicians or celebrities to get preference over ordinary folk. Being able to explore his complexity – and Danby having to admit that he makes sense – made him feel very real and their relationship a joy to write. Those themes are picked up in the second book. Danby might not be as all-knowing as she can think she is. Or is she? Whaaaaaaaat?
7) You’re stuck on a desert island with three authors. Who are they and why?
Who’d be the tastiest, do you think? Thomas Harris with fava beans and a nice chianti? George R.R. Martin brushed with a little oil, rosemary and garlic? A rich little terrine of E.L. James – or would that be food porn?
Hmm, it’s a great question. I adore Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, so I reckon she’d be terrific to keep the sense of humour going – and we could talk tons of crap about movies and TV. Stephen King – I could pick his brains figuratively about each of his books and threaten to pick his bones literally if he didn’t come up with a sequel to Misery. Bear Grylls – he’s written a few books and when all the fun of the island
ran out he’d make a boat out of conch shells and whisk us all back to civilisation. Or, at the very least, he’d entertain us with enthusiastic consumption of his own wee.
The Last Girl is published by Allen & Unwin and is now available at all good bookshops and online. The Last Shot will be available in March 2014.
The end of the world happened quickly. The sun still shone, there was no explosion – just a tsunami-sized wave of human thought drowning the world in telepathic noise as everyone’s inner-most secrets became audible. Everyone’s thoughts, that is, except sixteen-year-old Danby.
Everyone looked like bad actors in a poorly dubbed movie. Their expressions didn’t match their emotions and their lips didn’t sync with what they were saying. But they were all so loud.
The end of the world happens in the blink of an eye.
When The Snap sweeps the globe, everyone can instantly hear everything that everyone else is thinking. As secrets and lies are laid bare, suburbs and cities explode into insanity and violence. What might have been an evolutionary leap instead initiates the apocalypse.
Sixteen-year-old Danby Armstrong’s telepathy works very differently. She can tune into other people but they can’t tune into her. With only this slender defence, Danby must protect her little brother and reach the safety of her mother’s mountain retreat. But it’s 100 kilometres away and the highways are blocked by thousands of cars and surrounded by millions of people coming apart at the psychic seams.
Danby’s escape is made even more dangerous by another cataclysm that threatens humanity’s extinction. And her ability to survive this new world will be tested by a charismatic young man whose power to save lives may be worse than death itself.
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