Science fiction author Jon Wallace’s debut novel Barricade, set in a post-apocalyptic Britain, is coming soon from Gollancz. We talked to Wallace about writing the end of the world, going from short stories to novels, and Mad Max.
How would you pitch Barricade?
The fast and furious tale of a taxi driver in post-apocalypse Britain.
Narrator Kenstibec is a member of the ‘Ficial’ race, a breed of merciless super-humans. Their war on humanity has left Britain a wasteland, where Ficials hide in barricaded cities, besieged by tribes of human survivors. Kenstibec earns his keep driving an armoured taxi, running high-octane sorties from city to city.
The trips are always brutal, but this will be his toughest yet: His guide is trying to kill him. His fare has heavy luggage. And that’s just the start of his troubles…
Post-apocalypse Britain feels like it’s a somewhat underexplored landscape. What drew you to it?
The great thing about a post-apocalypse setting is it’s the ultimate blank canvas. By burning away the structures of modern existence you can make Britain a wilderness, and turn its people to freaks, warriors, mystics and mutants – with as much scope for adventure as the Wild West or an alien moon. The physical scale isn’t the same, but a trip down the M6 gets pretty epic if you have to fight your way past every junction.
It’s also partly just that, as a near-future story, I wanted to start with settings and voices I know and love. It would be cool to write a novel set in Sudan or Brazil, but I think I’d feel that I was reaching. Besides, as you say, future Britain feels under-explored – yet it’s a packed treasure chest of accents, rituals, and landscapes. You just need to look at it with a different tint to your specs.
Barricade was conceived as a novel from the start –but I guess it was the characters that drove the longer format. I liked the trio at the heart of the story more and more, and enjoyed exploring how they dealt with these insane events and bounced off each other. I had too much fun to stop at a short story. Plus I felt like Kenstibec’s personality had potential for a real arc.
The phrase “post-apocalyptic road trip” tends to conjure up the image of Mel Gibson barrelling around the outback in Mad Max; were those films an inspiration at all?
It was rarely in my mind, but I guess Max probably had some influence somewhere. I tend to love scenes in those movies as opposed to the whole thing: for instance, the Dr Dealgood speech in Thunderdome is awesome, but the rest of a film is a snooze (to me anyway).
Max certainly didn’t influence the character of Kenstibec. K’s much more the result of my Raymond Chandler reading: Marlowe’s laconic, emotionless delivery always seemed a little inhuman to me, so I thought that dialogue style would be a good influence on K’s speech.
The ruined future is always a good way to comment on our present. Were you conscious of wanting to include social commentary?
Yes, it’s a great chance to poke fun at society, and Barricade certainly has that – but when writing the book I tried to focus on story above all other things, and keep any commentary to the occasional nudge, not constant blows to the head. You want it to help colour the story rather than rule it.
How did you find the transition from writing short stories to novels?
To be honest it’s not been a problem. The main challenge for me was a simple matter of finding a rhythm: sitting down every day after work and doing the writing. Of course now, signed up to Gollancz, I have real deadlines to work to. That makes you get your skates on better than anything.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I am working on the third and final book in the Barricade series, which is moving along nicely. I have another series I’d like to write as my contribution to space opera, and a fantasy novel I’m chomping at the bit to get started on. Hopefully you’ll see it soon.
Finally, if you could pick out one major influence on your writing, who would it be?
George Orwell, no question. I read everything of his at a very impressionable age, and he’s stuck with me ever since.
Barricade by Jon Wallace is on sale 19 June from Gollancz, and is available as an eBook at the special price of £1.99 until 26 June at Amazon.co.uk.