George A. Romero was my storytelling hero. He defined a genre and provided wonderfully visceral imagery in his films. But, there was more. To cast a black man in the lead of a horror film, and then for him to survive only to be gunned down by a white vigilante group – a political statement which was hard to miss. His commentary on human nature, on subjects such as consumerism… I could debate them all day. In short, he embedded hugely important topics in his brutality. For me, he was a genius.
Obviously, I’m no Romero – who is? Below are some thoughts I was having about society when I wrote Herd. They aren’t the only inspiration behind the story, but they explain how I want to tell a story – hidden within the seductive brutality of the Vampyrus world. I hope it gives you some insight.
The modern western world had been built on the shaky foundations of sub-prime mortgages, cheap credit and the neoliberal dream of universal property ownership. Then, the banks failed. It felt like everyone was in debt, from entire countries to your next door neighbour. For many, the dream became a nightmare and ownership of property condemned people to a period of misery.
The answer, for much of the western world, was austerity. Governments quickly adopted this new philosophy and slashed spending. Austerity. It became a household word. Working class people very quickly accepted the idea. They were used to having to balance their household accounts, so it seemed only sensible that governments would do the same. Money out could not exceed money in. This oversimplification was accepted and there was less resistance than you would have imagined.
And so the economic climate was set for change. However, this was not the only climate change on peoples minds. The climate of the planet started to take hold of the imaginations of people all over the world. In short time, the topic moved from being of interest to a few kooks, to being at the centre of soiciatal discussions. We had to act and we had to act now.
Suddenly, Western Civilisation didn’t feel as permanent as it once did. For many, it felt like these problems could be the start of some magnificent collapse. Faced with existential questions, the political establishment demonstrated remarkable fluidity and the entire landscape changed. In many places, the centre ground was vacated, with people taking up positions on the left and right of the political spectrum. We had entered a new world of polarised opinions.
We soon discovered that this environment was seemingly perfect for charismatic leaders. Leaders who could inspire a following, with the sheer strength of their personality. Their solutions were radical. For some, they represented a brave new way of thinking. For others, they were dangerous and destructive ideas. The left were fearful of the right and the right fearful of the left. Each side needed a bigger personality to lead them to victory.
If you go through history, the rise of charismatic leaders often coincides with times of trouble. They are sometimes considered great, and sometimes they epitomise evil. They are never forgotten and they always leave a lasting mark on the world. It is often difficult to tell which you are going to get and in that respect, charismatic times are filled with fear.
I wrote HERD to mirror the position we find ourselves in. The story follows the great Vampyrus society, at its height during the Stone Age. Rather than an economical crisis, they are faced with starvation, as a result of overhunting Sapiens, their only food source. In place of the environmental crisis is a terrible disease called the Crumbling, tearing through their settlements. A charismatic leader has arisen. Purtian has radical ideas to solve these problems and save their great civilisation. Which type of leader will he be. The great… or the vilified.