Today, author and illustrator Carmen Gray has stopped by to discuss the creative process behind her debut children’s series Zombiefied.
Hi Carmen, welcome to The Unfinished Bookshelf!
What was the inspiration for Zombiefied?
A while ago I noticed that my two sons (who are now 11 and 13) were really into zombies. Even though the undead are generally depicted as evil, my boys seemed to love them which made me wonder if I could write a book in which a zombie was the hero.
You also illustrate the series. What’s that process like?
Sometimes I quite enjoy having a break from the writing but other times, I find it annoying to switch between the two. Over the last couple of years, I’ve made the transition from drawing in hard copy to working on a tablet. Now, I don’t have a physical copy of the illustrations until I see them in the books.
Does the writing fuel the illustrations, or will you write something with a particular image in mind?
I usually don’t think much about the illustrations until I’ve finished the text. I don’t want to twist the story in a particular direction because I’m determined to include an illustration. I see the pictures as serving the story and not the other way around (maybe that’s why I haven’t done a picture book). Very occasionally, if an illustration pops into my head as I’m writing a scene, I might make some notes in the margin to remind myself about it later. But most of the time, I decide on what to draw once I’ve finished the text. And an awful lot of illustrations are actually determined by layout (an unromantic yet practical aspect of creating books).
What was your journey to publication like? How did you go about finding your publisher?
A friend of mine – the writer Mark Svendsen – sent my work to ABC Harper at the same time that I was looking for an agent. I was very happy when both my agent, Sheila Drummond, and the publishers at ABC expressed interest in my work. So I went from working anonymously in the far reaches of Central Queensland to having an agent and a publisher almost simultaneously! But it all came after many years of writing.
How does it feel to have your first book published?
It’s a strange feeling because by the time a book is published, the author’s job has been finished for months. This was certainly the case for me with the first book in the Zombiefied series which hit the shelves as I was completing the second book. It’s still a fantastic moment but there is this sense of distance which means it is probably the perfect time for proof-reading but of course, it’s far too late for that!
What books have left their mark on you as a reader and a writer?
I grew up in a house where there was no TV or radio. We lived in a very small, wet town (Hokitika, the setting of the 2015 Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton) where there wasn’t an awful lot to do except read. So a lot of my earliest memories are of burying my head in a book while the rain drummed on the roof outside. I read everything: fiction by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and C. S. Lewis along with comics like Tintin, Asterix, and Footrot Flats. Later, I moved on to Terry Pratchett and T. H. White. They were all great and no doubt they have all influenced my style.
As a writer, I think every story you create leaves its mark. Even if the words don’t come together in the way you hoped, and the manuscript gets shoved in the bottom drawer, the act of creating a story still shifts something in you so that next time you write, it’s different and hopefully better.
What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment, I’m writing the third book in the Zombiefied series. There will be one more after this and then I will have a little break before moving on to something else. I have a few ideas for other projects but they are in the very early stages and I am trying not to get too interested in them until I have the time to write them!