You may be aware that I am currently running a feature every Sunday here at the blog that allows writers to tell the story behind the story. So far there has been great pieces by Andrew David Barker, Stephen Kozeniewski, Alan Baxter and more recently Betty Rocksteady. With the ‘Bleak Week’ running all through the 26-30 September, I thought It would be rude not to invite Rich Hawkins to the party.
Rich wrote about my novel of 2015 ‘The Last Outpost’ – an apocalyptic tale of dread and despair set in a country overrun by a hideous plague. ‘The Last Outpost’ was my favorite novel from 2015 and I’m very happy that Rich decided to write about this one. Thanks to Rich for wanting to be a part of this feature.
The Last Outpost
The Last Outpost’s first aborted incarnation – an abandoned manuscript of approximately forty-thousand words – frustrated the hell out of me. I’d just finished writing my novella Black Star, Black Sun, and I’d been thinking about a sequel to The Last Plague; something much bleaker and character-driven, to show the effects of the alien plague on the world and, in particular, Great Britain.
But instead I wrote forty-thousand words of crap, and I shelved it. It wasn’t even called The Last Outpost. I think its working title was The Huntsman. And I’m really, really glad I did toss it into the dark crevice of my ‘spare parts’ file in my laptop, because otherwise I wouldn’t have written the book of mine of which I’m most fond.
The novel’s protagonist is a man named Royce, a lone survivor wandering the countryside. A desperate, terrified soul trying to stay alive. His life has been reduced to mere survival, haunted by the memories of the old world and his dead family. Exhausted and half-starved and burdened by guilt, he roams from village to village, house to house, scavenging for supplies and seeking shelter. The Infected hunt him; they stalk the land in groups numbering from small packs to great swarms. There is no respite from the hunt, no hiding from the horrors of the plague.
I envisioned him as a hopeless man at the end of the world, a witness to extinction. Or so he thinks.
Because then I gave him some hope.
Aside from my family and Tottenham Hotspur FC, there are two other things that I love: Cheddar cheese and post-apocalyptic fiction. I grew up watching stuff like Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, The Omega Man, Planet of the Apes, The Last Train, and The Postman (I know) – and my interest in PA films, books and TV series only increased into my twenties and onward (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is possibly my favorite novel of all time). And now I’m writing about the end of the world. I always wanted to write what was, to me, a stripped-back tale of survival, loss, and grief for the old world, filled with a cast of traumatized characters just trying to stay alive for no reason other than a biological imperative. This became The Last Outpost. And I know there’s loads of apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction out there, with more zombies than ever before, but that didn’t matter to me at the time, and it still doesn’t bother me now; it’s a crowded marketplace, but all you can do is write your best and hope it works out.
The novel, like The Last Plague and the final book in the trilogy, The Last Soldier, was published by Crowded Quarantine Publications in September 2015. I can’t thank them enough for taking a chance on me.
It’s strange, because once I finish a story and it’s sent away to the publisher and eventually published, I find myself disliking it, as if it’s something deeply flawed, like a spotty illegitimate child that no one particularly likes. But it was different with The Last Outpost, because although it has its flaws, as any sane writer would think about their own work, I think it’s the piece of writing that’s come closest to embodying what I try to aim for in my fiction. It’s a story straight from my withered black heart. I just hope that the people who’ve read the novel enjoyed it for what it is. And I hope that any future readers enjoy it too.
Well, as much as someone can enjoy a story about the all-consuming death of our civilization…
Pick up a copy of ‘The Last Outpost’ from here.