DARKMATTERS - The Mind of Matt

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Darkmatters Interview: Michael Carey - author of 'The Girl With All The Gifts'

Matt Adcock meets Michael Carey

original concept poster

The Girl With All The Gifts (formerly known as 'She Who Brings Gifts') is the Darkmatters tip as one of the films of 2016 you will need to see...

This is for two reasons:

Firstly, it's based on the excellent novel by M. R. Carey (@michaelcarey191) 'The Girl With All The Gifts'

Secondly, Darkmatters Editor Matt Adcock (@Cleric20) is in the film as one of the 'Hungries'

"Matt Adcock with Michael Carey on set of The Girl With All The Gifts"

MA: What was the initial inspiration for The Girl With All The Gifts?

MRC: Both the novel and the movie grew out of a short story, Iphigenia in Aulis.

I’d been invited to contribute to an anthology of dark fantasy and horror edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner. It was the latest in an annual series of themed anthologies. Every year they would come up with a very innocent, seemingly harmless topic and ask authors to produce a dark riff on it. Previous books had centred on home improvements and family holidays. In this instance the theme was school days.

But having said I’d write a piece for the book, I couldn’t come up with any good ideas. The deadline was getting closer and all I had in my head were bad Harry Potter rip-offs.

Then I woke up one morning with the idea of Melanie in my mind. There was no story, to start with – there was just the image of this little girl sitting in a classroom, writing an essay about what she was going to do when she grew up. Only she was never going to grow up because she was already dead and didn’t know it.

Everything flowed very smoothly from that first image. I wrote the short story in the space of four days, and sent it in. Charlaine and Toni were very happy with it. It was nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe award and for the Derringer short fiction prize. I sat back for a while and basked in the glory.

But I kept going back to the story in my mind. I knew there was more to Melanie than that, and more to her world than that. So I pitched it both to Little Brown as a novel and to Golden Arrow as a movie. And to my amazement they both said yes!

"Fantastic novel - read the Darkmatters Review"

MA: Where did the idea to set Hotel Echo at Henlow come from? And use the Hitchin area?

MRC: All the settings in the book are places where I’ve lived or worked. Camille Gatin, the producer on the movie, was highly amused when she found this out. She called me up one day and said “You basically set the zombie apocalypse in your back yard…”

And it does sound a little weird when you put it like that. But it was a habit I got into back when I was writing the Felix Castor novels. I had an idea, on the basis of no evidence at all, that if you’re writing speculative fiction – sci-fi or fantasy or horror – it’s crucial to get the real world stuff right as far as you can. Then when the fantastic elements come in the audience are more likely to accept them.

Having said that, I was chewed out at an event in Waterstones Piccadilly one time by a Stevenage resident who felt I’d got the geography of that town profoundly wrong. You can’t please all the people…

"shot from The Girl With All The Gifts"

MA: How do you feel about the name change for the film version?

MRC: I follow the logic. There have been a LOT of movies in the past few years that use the word girl very prominently in their titles. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels lead the pack, but we’ve also had girls leaping through time, girls on trains, gone girls and so on. The aim was to distance ourselves from existing properties and franchises.

I do love the alliteration of the book’s title, though – and the fact that it keeps up a certain ambiguity about those gifts. Are they qualities that Melanie possesses, or presents she’s offering to us? There’s a subtle difference there that might inform how you respond to the ending of the story.

"Gemma Arterton as Helen Justineau"

What are your thoughts on the casting of the main characters?

MRC: I’m in ecstasy! I guess if you went through the entire roster of actors living and dead you might be able to come up with a stronger cast, but you’d really have to work at it.

I had the privilege of watching a lot of the filming, and it’s hard to describe the pleasure of watching your dialogue spoken by such gifted people. The chemistry between the five core characters was perfect, and enthralling. There was no relationship that didn’t work, that didn’t convince.

Glenn Close as Caroline Caldwell is detached and chilling when she deals with the children on the base but also passionate, intelligent, convinced of the urgent necessity of what she’s doing. So convinced that she almost convinces us. Paddy Considine is a care-worn Sergeant Parks who genuinely looks out for the soldiers he commands, and whose changing feelings about Melanie are mesmeric to watch. Gemma Arterton as Helen Justineau is an inch away from breaking right from the start of the story, but always finds the strength within herself to keep faith with the little girl who depends on her. Fisayo Akinade as Gallagher is well-meaning, brave, and heart-breakingly gentle underneath his veneer of stolid manliness. And Sennia as Melanie manages to combine innocence and ruthless determination in a way that’s utterly plausible.

So yeah, I’m happy!

MA: Any plans for another book in the 'Girl WATG' universe?

MRC: Conversations have been had. Are being had. There’s certainly room for another novel in there, although I doubt very much that it would be a sequel. The ending of the original novel – and of the movie – changes the situation so drastically that a sequel wouldn’t even be in the same genre.

But I’m curious about things like how the Breakdown occurred, and what (apart from the obvious) happened to the crew of the Rosalind Franklin…

MA: Will there be a graphic novel / comic adaptation?

Again, I’ve talked about it. I would love to see what an artist like Mike Perkins (who did the adaptation of The Stand for Marvel comics) would make of a graphic version of Girl. But we’re not likely to make any decisions about that until the movie comes out. One adaptation at a time!

MA: What are your favourite zombie / horror films or TV shows?

MRC: I’m a big fan of the George Romero movies, especially Land Of the Dead, where the anti-capitalist satire of some of the earlier movies was ramped up to a theoretical maximum. How do you suppose he pitched that? “This is a movie about the real estate business after the zombie apocalypse…”

I also loved Zombieland (Darkmatters Review) and Warm Bodies  (Darkmatters Review) – both really original and entertaining hijackings of the genre tropes.

And Sarah Pinborough’s novel The Death House, which came out this year, was amazing. Very, very affecting.

"Matt 'Hungry' Adcock"

MA: Thanks so much for your time - anything else you'd like to add?

MRC: My next novel, FELLSIDE, is coming out in April 2016. It’s a ghost story set in a women’s prison.

Also coming up next year are two comic book projects: Rowans Ruin, for BOOM Studios, and Highest House, for Editions Glenat. That last one is going to come out in French first, but an English language edition will be available later in the year.

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