On Using Wright’s ‘Shaun of the Dead’
I loved, love and will always love Edgar Wright’s 2004 genre-smashing rom-zom-com ‘Shaun of the Dead’. I was just getting going as a writer and had set my sights on a novel. It was to be a grand adventure that combined all of the things I loved: rom-coms, zombies and scifi. An old creative writing tutor once told me never to borrow but to always steal! ‘Shaun of the Dead’ was ripe for plunder.
So the film became the benchmark for my first book, the genre-smashing ‘Suspended’. If you’ll permit me, I’d like to share a review I received:
‘Imagine being 14 and thinking to yourself how can I put every single action genre in a book? Well AW has come seriously close to achieving this childhood dream and with great success.Amazon reviewer
The story begins at a slow but intriguing pace with an air of humour and wit. However, within a couple of chapters seatbelts become a necessity as the book is injected with a strong dose of adrenalin and is force fed a gut full of movie action moments. Unlike most action movies the plot is far from tired and boring; it has so many twist and turns that it may even surpass an episode of ‘Lost’.
The rollercoaster ride of a book has it all; horror, sci-fi ,action, love, comedy and it all moves along at a relentless pace so much so you will not want to put it down. Highly recommended.’
A little self-indulgent, I know, but bear with me; I see this review as a direct result of the inspiration that I took from Wright’s film. So, how does a film inspire a book?
Firstly, the claustrophobia. ‘Shaun of the Dead’ has limited settings: the flats, the streets and, of course, the Winchester. No matter how often they switch between these settings there is always a sense that they’re limited, trapped, caught in a triangle, lost in confusion and unable to escape. They are suspended (see what I did there?) in their bubble. In my book, I created my own triangle: Hull to the north, the village of Never on Humber to the south and the Humber Bridge to the west. The characters bounce between these locations, trapped and never fully sure of what will happen next.
Secondly, the useless-becomes-useful male lead. Shaun, in a ridiculous epiphany, drags Liz, his ex-girlfriend, and her friends from the safety of her flat, endangering all in the process. He’s not deliberately dangerous, just a guy on the edge of losing his youthfulness, staring at his thirties and stuck in a dead-end job in a TV shop; a schmuck in love with no idea how to get love in return. At its simplest, he has no idea how to be a grown up. Look a little closer and he’s a man struggling with his masculinity, a man who, by any standards, is a loser looking for a win. The early scene when he tries to take charge of the other employees in the shop is a great example. Enter James, a man in his early thirties, both parents dead, all alone except for a dog and no idea how to be in the world. He walks the dog because he knows he should, a knowledge the dog, Tilda, shares.
Thirdly, the rom-com of the rom-zom-com. During a dog walk, Barbara drops back into James’s life and he and Tilda instantly feel more real, more alive, just like Shaun had done before Liz split up with him. Faced with a zombie apocalypse, Shaun knows that the only reason to survive is to have a life worth living. James understands this too, even before he realises the world is about to end. So, the first half of the book is James trying to get ready for a date night with Barbara. He falls in with old school friends who run their own business, a ragtag crew of builders, plumbers and electricians, good guys and bad guys, and all of them there to build James back into a real boy.
And finally, the zom. Much of the film’s charm comes at the beginning when Shaun and Ed (‘Suspended’ has its own Eddie, a physically similar but otherwise completely different character) don’t realise what’s going on. In ‘Suspended’ I make it clear that there is something rotten in Humberside. James and Barbara have no idea but plenty of charm until they’re faced with the crawling limbs, monstrous composites and alien-controlled dogs that gate crash their date night. As they start to realise the zom-nature of the situation, I take my old tutor’s advice and steal a line from the film itself. One of the monstrous composites, three torsos, half a dozen legs and arms, loses one of the latter; it falls off as it climbs the ladder to the top of James’s (you’ll have to read the book to see how fabulous James’s house is). Later in the book the same creature is climbing the Humber Bridge. ‘Ooo, it’s got an arm off!’ someone shouts.