Ages and ages ago, before I wrote fiction for a living, I was working on this novel, this…oh, it was a whole new genre I’d thought up, sort of…cosy horror. Soft-edged scares. I’d got maybe 40,000 words in, and I was feeling pretty good. I’d started looking at publishers, writing up query letters, getting ready to launch it on the world. Then, technology struck: the file got corrupted. It wouldn’t uncorrupt. I gave up.
Now, one of my current publishers, they give me a fair bit of freedom. As long as my books do well, I get to run fairly hog-wild. Fairly—I mean, I’ve got to stay on genre; I’ve got to write to market—but the ideas, themselves, I get a say. Halfway through each book or series, I submit three pitches for the next. Unused ones get saved, in case, y’know…in case their keywords start trending on Amazon. I’ve been tempted to pitch my cosy horror idea, only…only, if I did, it would stop being mine. They could dig it up while I was otherwise occupied, and have another writer do it. They could make me do it, but without all the good bits. They could keep it on ice forever, and no-one could use it.
So, eh, I’m going to post it here. That way, I can’t pitch it to them. I’m not allowed to send recycled pitches, so, Internet, this one’s for you:
There’s this old lady, right? She’s in an old folks’ home. She’s thinking about how seventy isn’t so different from seventeen: you’re stuck in a place you didn’t choose. You can’t wait to get out. You spend most of your time dreaming of freedom. Only this time, there’s no big goalpost on the horizon. No next stage, no eighteenth birthday, no job and college and life and adventure. There’s just the nursing wing, maybe hospice care. Death, and that.
So, she’s sitting there staring at the telly, thinking how the end’s a bit shite, and a car comes through the window, driven by a zombie. Oh, yeah: there’s a zombie apocalypse on. Not your ordinary, flesh-rotting zombocalypse, with people running about getting their brains eaten, but…more of a gentle one. The zombies aren’t aggressive. They’ve just lost all higher executive function. They go around like giant toddlers, getting in everybody’s way and accidentally killing themselves off. It’d be funny, if it wasn’t so horrible.
Anyway, one of these fuckers comes through the window. He flattens a couple of residents, but our old bird’s spry enough to get out of the way. She walks out into the garden, through the hole left by the car, and just keeps on walking. She wanted out, and she’s out. Why not, right?
Anyway, after that, it gets to be more of an ordinary survival horror book. The zombies may not be violent, but they ARE dying in droves. There are corpses all over, and fires, and a big mess, and anyone still compos mentis wants to get as far away from the disaster as possible. Preferably before the bodies start to rot.
You’d have your usual zombocalypse set pieces: an unattended nuclear reactor melting down, looting and pillaging, weird cults springing up—but because the narrator’s treating it as a new lease on life, a bit of a holiday, even—the vibe’s rather different. Light-hearted.
I’d imagine it ending with the old lady finding a family in her fellow survivors, starting a wee farm, and living out her days in peace. She’d last long enough to see nature rebound, as the zombies die off—bugs and birds, goats…I don’t know. Whatever springs up, when most of us are gone.
Anyway. That’s the idea. I’m not sure why I’m still so attached to it. Maybe I fancy something cheerful, bit of apocalypse tourism. Of course it wouldn’t sell—of course it wouldn’t. There aren’t enough…oh, there are tropes, expectations. You can’t just write any old thing.
…but you can, actually. Who’s going to stop you?