Author: Paul Mannering
Publisher: Permuted Press
Tagline: When there’s no more room in Summer Bay…the dead will rise!
Note: I was lucky enough to catch up to Paul on set in Bulgaria, where he was the second ‘zombie’ supervisor on ‘Cargo Loading District of the Dead 2: Deadlier Cargo’. The interview took place between shots. Definitely not by e-mail.
Note 2: There may be some spoilers, but nothing that goes past page 100 of the book.
Note 3: The 50 books Paul mentions at the end are just a small sample of the 49,000 he has actually written. The guy’s a machine.
Oli: Your main twist on the zombie genre is the idea of ‘Tankbread’ [cloned humans used as zombie food]. Please tell me you didn’t get inspiration from ‘The Island’?
Paul Mannering: One of the inspirations for the concept of Tankbread came from an old 2000AD comic. In the Future Shock series – back in the 1980’s. There was a story about an industry where comatose cloned bodies were grown for organ transplants. A caretaker – whose job was to feed these things baby food, had no interest in them as beings until one day – one squeezed his hand. He then concluded they were conscious and self aware – the story ended with him dousing the entire warehouse of clones in gasoline and burning the place down.
The story started with a vision that popped into my head one day, of the (at the time) “World’s Ugliest Dog” (a very elderly chihuaha) and a weird mental image of this dog cooked in some kind of orange glaze.
With that, came the opening line about the Asian across the table. The story just evolved from those key ideas.
Oli: No one is safe in this book. At one point, a baby is torn out of its mother’s womb and ripped to pieces by zombie teeth. Did you ever think of not slaughtering babies?
Paul: No. I wanted Tankbread to push boundaries of visceral horror. I wanted a story that made people uncomfortable.
Oddly enough I have had more angry responses over the use of the term ‘retard’ than I have about the violence against women, men and infants.
Oli: You’re from NZ and everyone knows you guys have a rivalry with Aussies. Is that why you set the story in Oz? To trash the place?
Paul: Australia is a continent and a beautiful country. They can’t help it that their rugby teams and their beer are crap. Australia gave me the scope to tell the story I wanted to write – while moving away from the standard apocalypse environment of the USA.
Oli: In the ‘Tankbread’ world, there aren’t many places where the characters can relax and feel safe. And when they do, like in Moore Park [I think that’s what it’s called], it soon gets overrun by zombies. Logically, this kind of constant threat should lead to a lack of compassion or morality from the characters, and it sometimes does, but you mostly swerve towards an ‘Us vs them’ vibe i.e. humans vs zombies and not human infighting. Was that intentional?
Paul: Humanity is presented as being very self-focused. People will cluster together for security and shared resources. The Evols are the biggest threat – though it is suggested that a siege mentality exists among the survivors and there are scenes of human vs human fighting. Cannibalism is also implied.
Oli: The Opera House is the symbol of Australian culture, and is also the place where the most uncultured, despicable things happen i.e. the manufacturing of tankbread. Did you realise you were straying into literary fiction?
Paul: No one has referred to Tankbread has Literary Fiction before. I’m touched.
I did choose the Opera House as it is such an icon of Australia. The idea of a secret nuclear power station being underneath it (even a small one) was a bit of a sci-fi idea.
Given it’s geographical location, the Opera House also has a more defendable approach – so it all came together to make sense.
Oli: ‘They’d trained for this in a fucked-up version of Stranger Danger, where instead of some creepy bastard offering you lollies, he would just tear your throat out.’ The main character gets some great lines in the narration, but not so many that it makes him unconvincing. What I mean is, he mixes the mundane, the swearing and the witty just like a normal person would. Was it hard to strike that balance?
Paul: The Courier, or ‘Bad Dog’ as some call him, started out as an outlaw character concept. I wanted to show this regular Aussie bloke – who by his own tenacity and luck had survived this long. Even in the darkest times, humour is important – so he laughs at tragedy and has a wry, observational style. His approach has always been solitary survival. Not wanting to get emotionally involved with anyone – or tied to a group – because there is always the risk of attack, disease, in-fighting. I hope he comes across as a character that people can relate to. He isn’t Military Special Forces, he has no secret abilities or super-powers – he is just a man trying to find his next meal and stay alive another day.
Oli: The problem with the zombie genre is…the zombies lack personality, obviously. You try and get around this by introducing smart zombies like Soo Yung…but he’s not the most interesting guy around. Did you want him to be? Or were you focusing on the human characters?
Paul: Zombies in all forms are more a symbolic representation of The Enemy. They are non-vocal, unstoppable, without mercy or reasoning. I love zombies because they will not stop for anything. They only crave your living flesh and they can’t be appealed to in anyway.
The Evols became an extension of that – a new species. Is it evolution? Or is it just an aberration? My focus was always on the human characters. Soo Yong could have been a human and simply working for the Evols. However, having him as a zombie – made him more interesting.
Oli: After the opening scene, the world is filled in a little more and the story really picks up. And the zombie action is, incredibly, never boring. I read ‘Ex-Heroes’ and, although I generally thought it was okay, I nearly fell asleep during the ‘killing zombies’ scenes. How did you manage to keep my eyes open when ‘Ex-Heroes’ couldn’t?
Paul: It is precisely because of the standard tropes of zombie fighting that I worked really hard on the action sequences. I wanted to give readers a sense of being in the thick of the fighting. The sounds, smells, adrenalin and pure terror of being attacked by an undead mob.
If I was writing an erotic romance – I would put a lot of effort into writing well structured, interesting love scenes. Because this was a story of violence and zombie action – I put a lot of thought into how I presented those scenes.
Oli: You’ve written two sequels to ‘Tankbread’. Are they both still set in Oz?
Paul: Tankbread 2: Immortal – is set in Australia
Tankbread 3: Deadland – starts in Australia then moves on to the USA
Tankbread 4: Black Snow – (which is now under contract and being written) continues the story from the ending of Deadland, so it continues to be in the USA.
Oli: Will there be a ‘Tankbread in Space’? And what’s all this about a ‘Tankbread’ musical?
Paul: Tankbread in Space – will be book 5 J
Though, probably not. I have so many other books to write.
The “Fat Zombie” anthology (I edited) as well as a new End of The World book called “Dead! Dead! Dead!” about bikers vs infected zombie types. That has evolved into a strong military action novel – so I have been very lucky to have a US Army veteran act as a technical consultant and co-writer. Both these books are coming out first quarter 2015 from Permuted Press.
There is also my sci-fi comedy novel, Engines of Empathy – available now, published by Paper Road Press. There are 3 more books in that series to come as well.
I will come back to the Tankbread Universe again for a 5th book. There is the rest of the world to explore.
Tankbread: The Musical was an April Fools Joke in 2013. I made a Press Release and posted it online claiming that the musical rights to Tankbread had been sold and it was going to be a Broadway musical play, with Neil Patrick Harris in the role of the Courier.
I don’t think anyone took it seriously – but the humour of it really generated some great feedback.
The movie rights are out there at the moment – and for anything to happen with those, it would be like winning the lottery twice (first sell the movie rights, then see it get made into a movie).