The buzzard started off as a prologue, but after finishing it I could see it was a story in itself, and deserving of greater status. It’s vital to setting the scene for the rest of the book.
The next challenge (and crucial to its identity) was to decide a title. It had a working title for many months (NB: I have a principle of not revealing my daggy working titles!) and it was only after finishing my first complete edit that I sat down to resolve the critical question of what to call the opening chapter.
In the end, the decision to focus on the bird was a no-brainer. The buzzard is the first witness to the carnage, and in a sense it represents the reader – the detached voyeur. Or rather, it’s the omniscient observer who can see the entirety of the scene … though in truth, its primary interest is the biggest, scariest horror on the ground. (Again, like the reader.)
How to start a novel or short story is an art form in itself. Usually I have a vision (in Remember My Name it was seeing my heroine sitting in the window of a cafe looking out at a ruined cityscape), but in Dark Farm I sat for a while with a blank screen. What I ended up doing was thinking about how my favourite movies start, and one of the first that popped into my mind was Prophecy. Prophecy is a largely-forgotten horror movie from the seventies, about mutant monsters created by pollution. It was released in the same year as Alien and didn’t have anywhere near the same impact on me – except for the opening scene. In fact, I didn’t have to re-watch the movie to remember what impressed me … I can still see as clearly as that day I sat in the movie theatre, the dogs racing through the night, some falling over a cliff, guys abseiling down and getting mauled by something unseen.
If you know the movie, and read The buzzard, you’ll see the inspiration. There’s that sense of motion, of running towards something you know is going to be horrible, the descent, the horror (a big difference being that I reveal the horror – something I could afford to do because there are so many more monsters left to reveal in Dark Farm).
The chapter introduces Sam Morgan and Cleo Grieves from the National Security Office. They’re not the main heroes in the book, but they create a kind of backbone to the suburban lives of the Gates and the nightmare world of Wilfred Waite. I also chose to balance the officialdom of the NSO with a strong personal friendship between Morgan and Grieves. This provides a device to suggest there are going to be fun aspects in this book. If the NSO officials on the way to a slaughter are playing off each other, then it’s pretty likely the rest of the book will have some light-hearted streaks.
To be honest, I didn’t know what the monstrosities were going to look like until I got to the boulders near the creek myself. In fact, my first plan was to have only one horror. But when I got to the end, I was having so much fun I had to push it a little further. I won’t give a spoiler, but I think you’ll notice my lack of restraint … sometimes I just can’t help myself!
I hope you enjoy this first chapter. Or vomit. Either is acceptable.