Apocalypse Now with MR Carey and Joe Hill
East Kilbride Arts Centre
From our very own (new!) correspondent, Callum McSorley:
“There are a few reasons to be proud of coming from East Kilbride. One – it gave birth to post-punk royalty The Jesus and Mary Chain. Two – its grey and not-at-all oppressive landscape helped inspire George Orwell’s 1984 (he began writing it while sequestered in Hairmyres Hospital with TB). Three – in 1974, the 4,000 workers at EK’s Rolls Royce factory refused to repair aircraft engines which had arrived from Chile, in protest of Pinochet’s violent regime. They left the engines outside to rust in the rain and snow, likely saving many lives.
This last tale inspired a wonderful poem by Scots poet Katherine MacFarlane, who is performing at this Edinburgh Book Festival On Tour event in East Kilbride, alongside horror/sci-fi heavyweights MR Carey and Joe Hill.
The event, called Apocalypse Now, focuses on Carey and Hill’s latest books – The Boy on the Bridge and The Fireman, respectively – both set after the end of the world due to biological spores. In Carey’s case, they cause people to become ‘Hungries’ (a kind of zombie that can think and feel and is essentially human but for the unfortunate need to eat brains) and in Hill’s they give people a disease called Dragon Scale, which causes you to spontaneously combust if you become overly stressed out – just like in real life.
Besides the spores, both books have many similarities, even prompting Hill to wonder if he and Carey might be the same person. A particular point of interest to them both is that they chose to write about the infected people, rather than following the more traditional survivalist end-of-the-world zombie story as seen in The Walking Dead.
“In real life, seeing the white guy with the gun coming down the street isn’t such a great thing,” Hill says. (Hill, who is currently working with AMC on an adaptation of his 2013 vampire novel NOS4A2, jokes he’s received a text to say the show has been axed following his comments.)
This leads them to discuss the need to try and write characters outside their own (white, male, straight) experience. Carey’s book follows the story of a teenage boy with autism, while Hill’s protagonist is a pregnant woman. Hill says writers must, “Reach out with all your empathy and imagination and do the best job you can, even though you will probably fail. But it’s important to try.”
The discussion ranges from Apocalypse-by-Trump (it is pointed out that the Doomsday Clock now stands at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight), through the dangers of social media and on to comic books. Carey has worked with almost every major publisher and franchise from Marvel To DC, X-Men to Hellblazer, and is famous for writing in the comics medium long before his breakthrough 2014 novel, The Girl With All The Gifts.
Hill, for his part, has collaborated several times with artist Gabriel Rodriguez. Here he has the audience in stitches with a tale about his father, living horror legend Stephen King, who once told him a made-up Spider-Man bedtime story where Spider-Man craps himself in the Spidey suit (he ate too much chilli). To his infant son’s horrified reaction, King calmly stated: “I’m sorry, but that’s what happened.” I believe this phrase could be put at the end of almost everything King has written.
Following the discussion, the second – “cabaret” – part of the evening sees readings from Carey and MacFarlane, a performance from eighties Glasgow pop band H2O’s Ian Donaldson, and a bizarre and brilliant singalong performance by Hill and his teenage sons, who form a makeshift band and perform a couple of barely rehearsed songs – ‘Love Me Tender’ (with rewritten lyrics about zombies) and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ (about werewolves, with the new title, ‘Werewolves of Scotland’.)
Prior to getting on stage, Hill gave out lyric sheets so that everyone could join in. This feels like an odd and special moment indeed, helped by the intimate setting of the East Kilbride Arts Centre’s small theatre.
The idea behind the Edinburgh Book Fest On Tour is to bring events like this out of the city and into the new(ish) towns of Scotland – and it works! It’s just a shame the council doesn’t seem too bothered about advertising them.”