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Darren Charlton

Look out for twists and upsets in an action-packed story that will challenge your perceptions and expectations!

Author DARREN CHARLTON answers our questions about WRANGLESTONE

Q: In one sentence - what is Wranglestone about?

A: It's a love story, between two boys set in the American wilderness 15 years a after a zombie apocalypse.

Q: What's with the zombies?

A: When I met my agent, I was way too preoccupied exploring themes than I was telling stories. I needed a commercial hook and a plot-driven narrative to hang my preoccupation with the folly of adulthood, onto.

But I love monsters in fiction. Fin de siecle ones like Shelley's Frankenstein and Stoker's Dracula were all about humankind's anxieties as it reached the end of the century and zombies are the best metaphor for the human condition of them all, I think. Plus, I wanted to drag them out of horror and back into the realm of science fiction as social allegory; the kind that makes Richard Matheson's I Am Legend still so powerful.

Q: ...And how have you given your post-apocalyptic zombies a fresh twist?

A: Well, first of all the book isn't set in the wake of the event. It's 15 years later so that already challenged me to come up with something better than one survival scenario after the other.

I also wanted to avoid cure narratives. But between this and the sequel, which concludes the story, the focus of the plot is the Dead. For Matheson and George Romero also, they're a spectre of humankind, not a backdrop, so I wanted to return to that because the Dead are us, or at least a version of us we want to disassociate ourselves from. They're 'other'. They're an existential nightmare.

Q: Why did you decide to set your story in a US national park, 'Wranglestone'?

A: Well, because I'm greedy and wanted to wallow in a world of pine trees and snow. But, actually, the protagonist, Peter's, growing relationship with the wilderness via love interest Cooper, is a theme and as someone says in the book, the Dead can take everything away from us, but not what truly matters; love and the natural world. And I've never been anywhere that highlights the fact we live on a planet more, than those vast spaces of America.

Q: Wranglestone is a refuge, cut off from the world, where its inhabitants are focused on survival against the 'Dead'. How well do you think you would have done in Wranglestone?

A: Oh, I'd be dead by sundown.

Q: Can you tell us how your main character, Peter, developed? What was it like creating a character who had never seen the world as we know it?

A: Well, Peter kind of came fully formed. I knew him. I think I was most likely a bit like him when I was young. And in the book Peter is obsessed with our world, the 'old world' and its apparent comforts, and there's some exploration as to whether he would've thrived in that world as he sees it, more comfortably than the rugged outdoors world of the book, the one Cooper so clearly soars in by comparison.

In a way I grew up feeling that way, of being softer than other boys. I was into the arts and other boys were into sport. Here that's maxed up to Peter's homebody ways V the wild. But of course, Peter doesn't really know his world either. And like all good journeys, he has to step away from home (here the confines of the lake) to discover it in all its wonder and danger.

But in the end, the reader lives in the world Peter fantasises about and only they can say if his fantasies of a 'better' time in our history are founded. Perhaps we're the ones who live in the dystopia.

Q: Why did you decide to put the romance between Peter and Cooper at the centre of the story?

A: Well, romances predominantly exist in hero narratives so the reader can invest in the journey the hero has to take. But, as soon as I had Peter and Cooper in place, I fell in love with them. And whilst their relationship does serve a plot function, the plot has nothing to do with coming out or discovering sexuality, so pretty early on I knew I had a shot at offering teenagers a first-love relationship between two boys but in a mainstream adventure story, so I wanted to make sure I placed that centre stage.

And whilst there will always be a place for coming out and issue-based narratives, this angle of casual inclusion but with another story to tell was everything to me. You know, because I happen to be gay, but many other things interest me.

Q: As the plot develops, you raise lots of questions about how different groups / outsiders are treated by the community. How did these 'shades of grey' develop?

A: Well, as I said monsters, in particular the Dead, are a great metaphor for humankind and it was always my intention to explore issues around othering in society as well as what it means to be alive. I mean, no other animal means more harm to its own kind than humans do. It's crazy to me.

So, from the earliest draft, the Dead, and the use of that subgenre, were always a springboard to get to that stuff. But that's what's so great about genre. You get to explore themes in disguise and hopefully in a more timeless way.

Q: At the end of the book, you acknowledge your teachers 'for helping a young boy on his way' during the years of Section 28. Is this book in part a response to that legislation?

A: I've not been asked that before. In terms of deciding that a group of people don't exist simply by making it forbidden to talk about them? I see what you mean. Not consciously. But you know what, seeing such lovely handwritten reviews from pupils in a school as I have done a little bit now, is the best middle finger to Thatcher I can think of.

Q: What would you like your readers to take from reading Wranglestone?

A: Well, the enjoyment of being whisked away and told a good story. And, hopefully one they find some beauty in. But for any young LGBTQ kids out there? I want them to see themselves in a story and know the world is their's too.

Q: Wranglestone concludes, but there are also questions left hanging - will there be a sequel? (hope so!)

A: Yes. If all goes to plan, the concluding sequel will be out next February. It carries on almost exactly where the last one left us and will resolve the threads left hanging.

Q: Where is your favourite place to write, and what are you writing now? (that sequel...?)

A: I sit at a makeshift desk on the landing next to the loo beneath the bookshelves. After the sequel I'll be off contract drafting and submitting again. I really want to write my neo-western with a female lead. A contemporary True Grit.

Q: Where is your favourite getaway from everything? City or country boy?

A: Aw, country boy through and through. I hate city life now. I try get out to Chamonix Mont Blanc by myself every year now. I stay in a dirt-cheap backpacker's hostel and take the first cable car of the day up the mountain, so I'm just alone with the mountaineers, and go trail hiking before sun's up. The sheer scale and permanence of the mountains really puts the small stuff into perspective. It puts me in my place.

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