Mike Kirkbride recently sent us a copy of his novel to read and we were lucky enough to get a chance to interview him as well! Check out Dave’s review below of Game Changers of the Apocalypse and then the interview where Mike and I chat about his influences and what’s next.
The apocalypse has come. Two people remain. Just when they thought it could not get worse, it does.
Greg is having a bad day: wakes up to a fight and break-up with his fiancé Polly, locks himself out of his temporary pad at his friend Simon’s place, loses his job after some choice words with his boss, then a catastrophic storm strikes as he wanders around a London park. It couldn’t get worse, right? He has no idea how bad it can get.
Greg wakes up feeling horrible. Did he get struck by lightning? He isn’t sure what happened, but he does notice one thing as he gathers his wits: no one is around. Not like it was a slow day at the park either. No one on the streets, shops, tube stations; everyone, gone. Rushing back to the apartment he shared with Polly, he can’t shake the feeling that he is being watched. Was that CCTV camera following him? What was that mysterious figure on the TV screens in the shop? Polly is not at their place; maybe she went to her parents. On his way to Polly’s folks’ place, Greg finds a cryptic message written, “You are not alone”. He soon realizes the truth of that statement being woken up by something strange; something he cannot believe is real. Unfortunately, Polly is not at her parents’ house, so Greg borrows a car (no one needs it any more) and continues his search.
Greg’s prayers are answered when he encounters another car, which takes off trying to avoid him. Greg follows through the streets of London, ending in Greg flipping his car. The other driver stops to check on him. Looking up, Greg sees his angel, Polly. (Ex)lovers reunited, they begin to investigate the strange occurrence – why are they seemingly the only two people left? The couple do what any people would do when being the last people on Earth; galivanting through the city until Greg has a sobering thought as he looks at a fly he smashed – “… what if there’s a being as far removed from us as we are from these flies? How would they regard us”, to which Polly answers “with contempt, I guess?”
Searching his memories, Greg remembers strange things happening the day of the apocalypse – his familiar office building seeming to change from moment to moment and a cryptic fax he received with “Sweet Nightmares” written on it. Returning to his office building, the two discover another fax sending them on a journey to find answers. The answers Greg sought were not there however, only more strangeness and a reminder of the relationship lost. After more exploring, Greg comes to one conclusion: there is someone or something pulling the strings and he has to figure out a way to stay ahead of the changes happening in this new world.
Waking one morning after being reunited again, Polly sees that people have returned. Not everyone, but a few are wandering the streets. Greg has a bad feeling about this and they decide to investigate a little before they meet the new neighbors. Greg’s suspicions turn out to be correct – the dead have returned. All of them. Greg and Polly go on the run for their lives, but the entity seems to know their actions before they make them, sending hoards of the un-living to correct the anomaly – to kill the survivors of the apocalypse. Can they find a way to avoid the inevitable? Will their love be rekindled, and will it survive the apocalypse? Will it be enough to defeat the author of their torment?
Game Changers of the Apocalypse is a different take on the zombie apocalypse survival story. It immerses the reader in rich detail of the environment and explores the human response of being the last people on Earth. It shows the inner turmoil of Greg trying to figure out what is happening and his inability to right a wrong with Polly. It also explores how the characters react to increasingly difficult situations and an unknown, seemingly all-powerful, almost omnipotent nemesis. Game Changers also looks at the effect of catastrophe on relationships and if redemption can be had, even if it costs them their lives.
The deep attention to detail firmly places the reader into the story. Throughout the story, the reader will be sitting in the various vehicles Greg and Polly acquire, experiencing the London streets, architecture, and surrounding country side. From the top of the Shard’s observation decks to the tube stations of the underground, the reader is along for a wild ride on a vivid journey.
Game Changers sets the tone early and maintains the tension throughout. From the very beginning, the reader knows Greg is going to have a bad time. The strangeness shows up subtly early – minor changes in the office from moment to moment, the cryptic faxes – and only progresses from there. Just as the reader begins to rejoice for Greg and Polly’s victories, they experience the characters’ frustrations as each one is thwarted. The tension is not only limited to the characters and their struggle with the author of their fate. The frustration can be felt as Greg bumbles almost every attempt to reconcile with Polly. Throughout the book, readers will ask: will Greg and Polly live happily ever after when faced with insurmountable odds? This made for a quick read and a good story.
Now check out our interview with author Mark Kirkbride:
What was the major inspiration for this story?
I had the idea a long time ago, late one night, but put it aside. Eventually it just demanded to be written.
How did it feel tackling such a big part of the horror genre...zombies!
I had a lot of fun with the zombies returning to their old ways of life, in between snacks. It was good tackling something that so many writers have done and then putting my own individual spin on it – the long-running spat between Greg and Polly while the world falls apart and how the zombies are really a proxy for the malevolent entity putting them through their paces.
Do you ever plan on doing a short story collection?
Yes, I definitely plan on putting together a short story collection at some point. I’ve several stories ready, some published, some not, and will keep adding to them until I’ve enough.
What’s next? Anything you can tease?
The next project is a novella about a man who goes to confront God about the death of his wife and ends up being caught up in the war between heaven and hell.
What was your first horror memory?
When I was small, we had some friends who ran a small local hotel and we used to go there for a meal in the evening sometimes. Before we’d get called to the table, we’d sit in this room that had comfy sofas and a bookshelf. I was always drawn to the bookshelf, and one book in particular. I don’t remember the title or the author but I can still see the skeletons in a graveyard on the front staring back at me. Sometimes you don’t choose things; they choose you.
What’s your favorite genre outside of horror?
My favorite genre after horror is definitely science fiction and the two fit together so well. There are so many books classified as sci-fi that could just as easily be horror.
Do you love watching horror movies, if so, what are some of the films that inspire you?
I don’t watch every horror movie that comes out. The last one I saw was The Nun. I think I’m inspired by books more than movies but some movies I’ve really enjoyed are The Innocents, The Haunting, Pan’s Labyrinth and Drag Me To Hell. (You can check out our full review of The Nun here)
Finally, if you’re stuck in an apocalyptic scenario, would you rather be a conscious zombie aware that you’re eating humans, or the only survivor in the whole world?
I’m not sure I’d enjoy chomping on brains, so I think I’d rather be the only survivor left in the world. But, for what it’s worth, I’d miss you all!
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