Author of The Wrong Apocalypse
Join me as chat to Philip J Dennis about his novels and all things writing and more! To start us off, Philip, tell us about your latest novel.
Philip: My latest book is The Wrong Apocalypse. It was released back in February. It was an idea for a story I had years ago, before I had even started writing. It was simply a funny premise I had. People trapped in a sex shop during a zombie apocalypse. It’s just ridiculous enough to be funny. It wasn’t until I had been struggling with another story that this one came back to me. With the whole pandemic that I thought my zombie book was a little relevant. People trapped in doors, unable to see family and friends, communicating only through social media, only going out when strictly necessary. Throw in some references to real life and how different people handled or reacted, it practically wrote itself.
Helen: It’s weird how a pandemic can make crazy ideas seem reasonable, isn’t it? I love the fact the book practically wrote itself. The ideal type of book! How about the cover? Was that as easy to design?
Philip: When I had written my first book, Isaac’s Fall, I had no idea about cover design. I had images in my head of what I thought it should look like, but no way to pull it off. I could have paid for someone to design a professional cover but I couldn’t justify spending money on this hobby when there are bills to pay. So, I discovered Pixabay, and instead of getting an image of a person for the cover (I couldn’t find one that I liked anyway) I chose a silhouette. I used the same style for books two and three, and by the time I had completed the wrong apocalypse, I kind of felt that it was my style, my thing.
The cover of The Wrong Apocalypse was a group photo of me, my wife and some friends, edited to simple shadows with an abstract background of hues of red. It seemed to fit the tone of the book and my style of cover.
Helen: It’s actually quite eye catching, the more you look the more you see. The title sounds very apt for the novel. How did you come up with it?
Philip: The title came from the number of memes circulating during the pandemic, complaining that we were promised zombies for the end of the world. Basically, we were given the wrong apocalypse. It didn’t take long to come up with the title. It was the first idea I had and it stuck. I was opened to changing the title should I think of a better one, but I never did think of anything better. People seem to like the title. I’ve had people hear it and be intrigued.
Helen: What made you start writing? That moment when you first put pen to paper?
Philip: I started writing back in ’08, roughly. As corny as it sounded, I had a dream, a really vivid dream but just one scene long. As is usually the case when people dream, you’re already aware of the context and background. I don’t know if anyone else does it but sometimes I cast people in dreams. It might be family or friends, or in this case, Dennis Hopper was the character. Why him? No idea. I remember thinking though, at the time, I hadn’t even been watching him in anything. I told my girlfriend, now-wife, Jan, about the dream and the backstory, and she thought it was really interesting. She said that would work as a film or a book. I won’t go into the details of it, I might come back to it one day.
Anyway, I started to write it. I had no story arc, no bullet-pointed plan, just wrote to see where it took me. A little while later, Jan and I were talking. She said that she had started to write some stuff based on my dream.
I was like, “Yeah. Cool. Me too. How much have you written?”
Jan said, “Only about two pages. What about you?”
I replied, “About sixty pages.”
I never did finish it. Well, I did, but nothing that was any good. The core idea is still good. I might come back to it. But writing that book got the ball rolling. From there, I started Isaac’s Fall. But this time I knew to plot out the story first. Sometimes, you need to know where it’s going. Or at least know the next few steps. There have been some WIP that never panned out. Even though I might have felt the story was good, I didn’t enjoy writing it or that it was too big for me.
Helen: What is your work day like? How do you fit writing into your daily life?
Philip: Any writer will tell you that routine is the key. And they would be correct. But sometimes, you need to snatch those moments of peace and quiet, and of inspiration when they come. I try to do some writing on my days off from work, between household chores, and when motivation strikes. Sometimes, it might be an hour of a night after my son has gone to bed but before exhaustion kicks in.
Helen: Finding time to write is the challenge. I have notebooks all over the house for when inspiration strikes. The odd scene out of the blue, and you have to capture it before it slips away. When writing do you listen to music? Or do you prefer silence?
Philip: There’s a saying, which I’ll now butcher, about the biggest part of writing is done away from the keyboard. I walk home from work most days. In that time, I listen to headphones. Spotify. Sometimes, a lyric from a song can paint an image for something that I’m working on. I was listening to Short Change Hero by The Heavy, and the music reminded me of a western, and a lone man walking out to meet a posse of outlaws, with no hope in the world of surviving. I thought that image would work well in The Wrong Apocalypse. A lone character, walking through the centre of the outdoor shopping centre, essentially sacrificing themselves for the rest of the group. The scene was never used in the book. I couldn’t find a way to make that fit logically, and I wasn’t going to force it in just for the sake of it.
But I’ve listened to different bands depending on the book. Isaac’s Fall, I listened to Slipknot. Harmony’s Choice, I listened to Evanescence and Noel Gallagher’s Highflying Birds. They become a, sort of, internal soundtrack to the books, helping to set the tone.
Helen: Some interesting choices, thank you for sharing them. Where do you find you are most productive, where you write the most?
Philip: Best place to write is not actually at a desk or a table. I spend my workday at a computer, at a desk, I don’t want to do the same when I get home. For me, it’s on the couch, feet up, laptop on my knee. As comfortable as possible for as long as possible. The last thing I want to have to do is get up because my back is aching or I start getting a crick in my neck. If there are some snacks in reach or a cup of tea or coffee within reach, then even better.
Helen: Having written a few books, have you found yourself writing in one genre?
Philip: I don’t want to stick to writing in one single genre. Why limit ourselves? The Wrong Apocalypse is a horror/comedy. The trilogy I wrote is more of the thriller/supernatural genre, and I wrote a children’s book for my son, featuring him as the main character, which falls into fantasy/fairytale. I mentioned earlier about struggling with a story/ that was in the genre of a fictional biography, if that genre exists. I’d like to finish that one day, but I don’t know if it will happen. I don’t think I would want to deep-dive into sci-fi but maybe splash in the shallow end a little. The very first story I mentioned, that was a sci-fi thriller.
Helen: Most writers are great readers. What have you enjoyed reading recently?
Philip: I’m a very slow reader. My wife Jan inhales books. But because I’m a slow reader, I can be a bit picky with what I’m going to spend my time reading. I’m currently reading Ready Player Two, having read the first last year. I’m less than half way through but enjoying it. The film was very different from the first book, and I knew this going into the book. I’d seen the film first. But the book still holds up and it made me want to see how the author built on that world, and where he would go with it. Was it going to be a natural progression of the story or a cash-in given the recent Spielberg film? I haven’t finished, so I can’t say yet.
Helen: Is there a book you recently finsished that you would recommend?
Philip: I would certainly recommend Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights. I’m not a biography person. I had only ever read Bryan Cranston’s biography before this. Greenlights is positive and funny and inspiring. I had heard some reviews stating it was too self-involved. I think that someone needs to explain the purpose of a biography to those particular people. My only regret with Greenlights was that I should have listened to the audiobook instead. Years back I had tried to read Corey Taylor’s Seven Deadly Sins. A book of stories and rants. I never finished it. The audiobook, on the other hand, is much better. Sometimes, hearing people tell their own stories or going on their rants is the best way.
Helen: I have Greenlights on my tbr pile, which is much too high! Who is you favouite author?
Philip: Hands down, Neil Gaiman. American Gods is probably my favourite book. Good Omens is also fantastic. Coraline, The Graveyard Book… He’s written comic books… Sandman… This is an author who doesn’t stay within a set genre. His writing style can be simple and to the point or detailed and layered, depending on the story. If people haven’t read any of his work, that should be the next thing they do, or maybe right after they read The Wrong Apocalypse.
Helen: Sounds like, if you like Neil Gaiman, you’ll like Philip J Dennis! It has been a pleasure chatting with you today; thank you for sharing your authorlife with us. Just to finish, what advice would you give other writers?
Philip: I barely consider myself a writer but if I had to give anyone advice, it would be to do it for the enjoyment, for yourself first. Some people want to write to be rich, to be famous, and, sure, we would love for that to happen, but you’ve got to love what you’re doing first. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that, I’ll admit it. Not even the money side of things, really, but just to know that people are reading my work, that they are enjoying it. Everyone needs acknowledgement. It’s basic human behaviour. But you need to recognise this and remember that your own enjoyment of writing is paramount.
About the author:
I am 39 years old. I live in Liverpool, England, with my wife Jan, and 4-year-old son Jacob. I currently work in a contact centre, though this is not for much longer due to redundancy. I’m currently taking a copywriting course in the hopes that this might lead to something interesting, new and enjoyable.
I started writing about 13 years ago but only published my first book just over four years ago. The only person that knew I was writing was my wife Jan. Why only Jan? Simply put, it’s better to fail without an audience. It’s a very pessimistic outlook, I know.
I’d love for my books to become big enough to be a sustainable income, but at the end of the day, I enjoy writing, and if there are some people who enjoy reading them, then that is great too.
You can find more about Philip via:
You can purchase Philip’s novel from Amazon:
The Wrong Apocalypse
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