Lily Herne is the famed author of Deadlands, a fantasy novel about zombies, blood shed and gore. This, in fact is the first such fiction to be set in the metropolitan city of Cape Town, South Africa. Herne envisions a world completely destroyed and deserted, about 10 years after an apocalyptic war with the zombies. The dead zombies roam about freely in that world while the living humans are fenced in, in farms and shanties, on the suburbs of the town also known as the deadlands.
Herne shares with her fans what inspired her writings and also shares some thoughts on her latest book, in an interview with Books SA. “I wanted to look at what would happen when society crumbled – specifically contemporary South African society – and how the survivors would react. I’ve always been drawn to post-apocalyptic literature (such as Stephen King’s The Stand, Ballard’s The Drowned World, Saramago’s Blindness, Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, Justin Cronin’s The Passage – I could go on and on). There’s something deeply satisfying about imagining most of the world’s population being wiped out and the social structures imploding,” said Herne when asked what inspired her to write the book.
“I guess it’s also a riff on the classic sci-fi trope – that the only thing that’s going to stop us fighting and hating each other is when an outside entity arrives (ie aliens etc) and we can focus our bile on a common enemy. In Deadlands this doesn’t happen – the Rotters and the Guardians appear and after the war the survivors revert back to struggling for power and worshipping what they don’t understand.
But basically I wanted to write a fast-paced novel with strong kick-ass characters. I’m bored of the bland, passive protagonists who feature in a lot of overseas YA genre literature,” she continued.
There is a reason she picked zombies instead of vampires to add to the the popular literature of our time. “Vampires supposedly signify unfulfilled sexual desire (apparently even the sparkly ones who drive Volvos), whereas zombies are far more up front about what they stand for, which is basically death – the only thing that will happen to all of us. There’s something truly disturbing about seeing a walking embodiment of how we’re all going to end up. Simon Pegg puts it better: ‘As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster.’
Plus, they’re totally cool to describe.
There’s an assumption that when you’re writing about zombies in Africa there will be a spiritual or (I hate to use this word as it’s often misconstrued) ‘witchcraft’ element to them – a nod to the complex West African Nzambi and voudoun legacy – and closer to home the tokoloshe mythology. Certainly the Rotters (zombies) in Deadlands are not of the Ipi Zombi? variety – they may be possessed, but not by what you might expect. But really, the novel is far more about how the characters deal and interact with their world than about the walking dead that lurch outside the enclave in which the survivors live,” said Herne.