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Author Interview – James Downs

James Downs

James Downs

As part of the Raus! Untoten! PR drive, I have been interviewing the authors, the first is with James Downs,  author of Shadows in the East, a story that I believe is truly unique.

Unlike most of the authors who were sourced from Facebook, James Downs came to the Raus! Untoten! project through a call for submissions in Writer’s Digest.

Based in a lovely Devonian village called Thorverton (yes, they do actually exist), he will still get honorary membership of the Exeter SciFi Writer’s group.

Taking the time out from moving house, was kind enough to do an interview with me.

Naturally I wanted to know what attracted him to the project and why. The answer was nice and straightforward, “I’m a huge fan of old films and had long been familiar with the ‘Nazi zombie’ movie genre, but had never tried writing a short story on this theme. When I saw the call for submissions to the Raus Untoten anthology I saw it as a challenge.”

The last sentence is crucial because, as the editor of these books, I didn’t want stories that were focused on just Nazis and just Zombies. Why is that? Because they’ve been done to undeath and there are far worse things out there than zombies. As such, the submission guidelines were explicit  in that the authors had should avoid the stereotype and write stories that involved Nazis and Undead of all sorts.

Part of the writing process starts with inspiration, and I was interested to see what inspired James to write his particular story. It turns out he was already working on the perfect subject, “In connection with other research, I had been studying the history of German film studios during the Third Reich era, and I thought this would make an unusual backdrop for a story about the undead.

However, it didn’t stop there and I believe that he came up with an idea that was truly unique,  “I wanted to use this idea of an undead ‘actor’ on a film set as a mirror to reflect other concerns, such as the enormous loss of German life at this time, the preoccupation of German romantic writers with the supernatural, and the use of science in crimes against humanity.”

There is something that appeals to everyone when it comes to zombies, and everyone has something about them that they find scary. My wife, for example, finds the idea of being eaten alive horrific, which is a zombie’s main raison d’être.

For James it wasn’t that simple, “The state, or condition, of being ‘undead’ raises all sorts of unsettling questions about consciousness, the psychology of freewill, the relationship between the body and soul, and the nature of human existence. I find it frightening to be confronted with a being who shares our humanity but at the same time belongs to another world altogether…as if there was only a thin veil separating us.”

With a brief to avoid just Zombies, I was interested to know why he decided to stick with Zombies and the approach he took to avoid the usual stereotypes,  “Writing a straightforward war action narrative did not appeal to me, and I wanted to approach the topic from a completely different direction.

“The undead in my story is perhaps more to be pitied than feared; he may be a horrible creation, but in the context of concentration camps, mass killings on the eastern front, and the living nightmare of a totalitarian regime, he is only one horror out of many. Given the reality of what went on at this time, there’s no need to overdo graphic descriptions – I wanted to write something more subdued and personal.”

Sometimes, writing a summary of one’s story in X number of words can be hard. Which is just what I asked James to do, in under 100 words. “Shadows in the East is set in a Berlin film studio towards the end of WWII and concerns the use of the undead in a propaganda movie. His condition presents practical problems for the film-makers but also increases the tension between the director, whose son has recently been killed on the eastern front, and the boorish producer. The cameras roll, but inevitably, it is not long before events take a tragic turn.”

Being an author myself I follow a lot of other authors on Twitter and Facebook, usually so that I can live vicariously through them as they garner more and more awards, but also to ridicule them when they start moaning about said success and their insecurities (I like to think that I’m a caring soul), so I asked James what the hardest thing about being an author was for him. I was heartened to learn that he shared the same problem as me,  “My head is filled with characters and ideas, and it can be hard finding enough time to get even a fraction of these onto paper, far less developing a story to a standard that satisfies me. Scenes from stories are often very vivid in my mind, and I am often concerned that I have not conveyed this well enough, that the readers’ experience will not match my own.   With Shadows in the East, perhaps this is just as well!”

With a brain full of ideas begging to be captured, I asked him why he actually wanted to be an author, “Living without writing would be, for me, like belonging to the undead.”

My final question was a bit more political. Fringeworks is a new, independent publisher and relies on Kindle sales more than it does hard copies, so I thought I’d ask what his thoughts were on ebook versus hardcopy.

“As a former rare book librarian and archivist, I have a passion for books as physical objects – everything from the feel of old paper to the smell of the glue in the binding. Although I can understand why many people have taken to e-books, it is a medium that leaves me cold.”

Dead cold no doubt.

If you’d like to know more about the man, head over to http://silverscript.weebly.com

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7.



  1. Pingback: What Could Be Worse Than The Undead? | Nassau Hedron - October 2, 2013

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