I have a strange obsession. It's been with me from the age of around 11. My older brother rented some dodgy VCRs from our local video library (hands up anyone old enough to remember VCR?). I was only eleven so my parents (very sensibly) did not allow me to watch them. However, I sneaked out of bed in the middle of the night, slipped a black, chunky video cassette into the recorder and watched it with glee (with my face pressed up to the screen with the volume down low so no one would hear and wake up). Life has never been the same since!
The video tape was entitled The Dawn of the Dead.
My day job is a Vicar, I am in charge of two small churches in South London. I spend my time leading services, running various community projects and being 'professionally nice' to people.
My congregation know I have 'another life' but generally they are too polite to mention it. Every day I get up three hours before Morning Prayer and write grisly horror novels.
My novels are not simply horror, they are that least-respectable and most-maligned sub-genre of horror: zombie novels!
I've written (and out of kindness for humanity, kept hidden) short stories and aborted novels about vampires, demons, aliens and evil vegetables, but I can't keep away from zombies. Zombies are the most horrific creations of the horror genre: If you become a werewolf you can lead a relatively normal life (apart from at the 'wrong time of the month'); if you become a vampire you get to live forever as a cool super-powered goth; but there is no good side to becoming a zombie.
Zombies just rot and feed. They are mindless, sacks of decaying meat that make a mockery of the life they once lived.
Horror's most enduring creations survive because behind the scares and the gore they offer us profound reflections on the human condition: Werewolves make us reflect on the violence that lives in the human heart, Vampires reflect our lust, and zombies show us the drudgery of a life lived without purpose (or should I say ‘unlife’).
This is the real danger to our souls in our 21st Century consumerist society! As long as the mindless pursuit of wealth and security dominates our lives we are all at risk of becoming zombies! Zombies warn us that if we don't start living the rot will set in. Literally. (Is that a trace of a sermon creeping in to my writing? Sorry, it's an occupational hazard!)
The other factor in making zombies so terrifying is that there is no escape: If you encounter a werewolf you can leave the woods; if you encounter a vampire you can leave the neighbourhood; but zombies want to eat the whole world - they rise and the world ends. What could possibly be scarier than that? As a zombie-writer there can be few pleasures greater that describing places you know being overrun by the living dead. I've had zombies run amok through Bexleyheath, Rochester, Central London and Greenwich Park. Next stop has to be my home town of Belfast. (Watch out Northern Ireland - the zombies are coming!)
As a postscript (post-crypt?) it's also worth noting that Romero's seminal 1968 film Night of the Living Dead was the first mainstream movie (that was not about racial issues) to have an African American lead actor (Duane Jones), and strong female leads featured in the sequels (Gaylen Ross and Lori Cardille in Dawn (1978) and Day (1985) of the Dead, respectively). Romero's films demonstrate racial and gender equality that puts the Church of England to shame (and are no more horrific than many passages from the Biblical book of Joshua)! My church struggles to appoint women as bishops or to permit equal marriage for gay/lesbian couples - it is a sad reflection that sometimes the horror genre can be ethically superior to the C. of E.!
If you want to explore the zombie apocalypse (and are over 18) try The Wild Strawberry Trilogy (Book One: Descent; Book Two: Life in Hell; Book Three: Ascent).
For the under 18s I have also written the entirely Zombie-free novel The Parliament of the Dead (it's about ghosts, evil priests and a feisty teenage girl).
T.A. Donnelly is Vicar of the Church of the Ascension, Blackheath, @TrevorDonnelly on Twitter