Entertainment & Arts

Alex Scarrow's virus thriller inspired by 1950s B-movie

Alex Scarrow

An eyeball stares in terror. A crab-like creature flexes a menacing claw.

Welcome to the terrifying front cover of Remade - author Alex Scarrow's latest young adult thriller, about a virus that wipes out most of humanity.

"The idea originally sprang from something I saw as a toddler," Scarrow says when we meet at his publishers in London, in a room adorned with freshly printed copies of his new book.

"There was a film I saw called The H-Man - a classic 50s B-movie where radiation zaps a guy and everyone he touches they liquidise. I saw that as five-year-old, and it stayed with me every since."

Remade tells the story of teenager Leon and his younger sister, Grace, who are adjusting to life in London after moving from New York with their mother when reports of a virus in Africa begin to fill the news.

"As I was writing it there were Ebola outbreaks in West Africa, and I did wonder whether I should dial it back a bit," says Scarrow. "You should see the first draft."

As the virus spreads rapidly across the world, turning people into pools of sticky liquid, Scarrow does not skimp on the horror.

Some images - such as one involving a man melting in a toilet cubicle - are likely to haunt the reader long after the book is finished.

"When I had this concept mapped out, I thought there is no avoiding those scenes," Scarrow says, "which means leaving you with images that are going to trouble you."

'Film nerd'

Formerly a rock guitarist and computer games designer, Scarrow had his first adult book, A Thousand Suns, published in 2005.

But he is best known for Time Riders, his series of nine young adult novels about a group of teenagers recruited to a secret agency to prevent time travel destroying history.

Its various nods to The Terminator are further evidence of the strong influence of film culture on Scarrow's work.

"For a number of years, I was trying to break into the movie industry," he says. "Before books, I was writing scripts, and my background is computer games, so visual mediums are in my DNA.

"I was writing Time Riders for my son, who was 10 at the time, like me a bit of a film nerd but not a great reader.

"So I was looking for hooks that would encourage him to read."

Scarrow estimates his readership for Time Riders is a 50-50 split between boys and girls.

"Getting boys to read is a really tough gig, and, so, you have to play every trick in the book," he says.

"In Time Riders, I was deploying a lot of my games-design tools - for instance instant rewards and short chapters.

"You've got to make it as visual an experience as possible, which is hard because it's like making a chocolate milkshake taste like a strawberry milkshake. But it can be done."

Image copyright Macmillan Children's Books

Scarrow, who lives in Norwich with his family, likes to write his novels in one of the city's coffee shops.

"I used to write at home, but I got terribly lonely," he says.

"My routine tends to be a large cappuccino and a triple chocolate muffin, and, by the time both have gone, I've usually written 1,500 words - and then it's back home to put up a shelf."

Remade will be a three-book series. Scarrow is already half-way through writing book two and says he had the entire story mapped out from the start.

"I know other writers who can wing it, but, me, I'm a meticulous planner. I can't do anything without knowing exactly how it all goes."

He spent two years plotting Time Riders - which equals a lot of frothy coffee and cake.

"I actually wrote the last chapter of the last book before I started writing Time Riders because that way you've got a direction of travel," he says.

"It's bit like coding. You need to know what the structure is before you write that first line of code."

'Fan fiction is a gateway to writing'

Scarrow reveals that although the Time Riders came to an end with the publication of The Infinity Cage in 2014, he may not be finished with the series.

"I deliberately left book nine as the last of the series with the door open partly because one thing I really wanted to encourage was fan fiction," he says..

"I think it's a great way to get writers into writing - start with someone else's idea and run with it, and, then, pretty soon, you'll have your own ideas.

"Fan fiction is a gateway to writing. I wanted an ending that would stimulate fans to go and write their own book 10 or 11."

He says the fan fiction started as "a slow trickle" but now he gets "a few every day" posted on his website.

"The quality varies, sometimes it's bad and sometimes it's so good I think I need to raise my game," he says.

"Now, 18 months later, I'm coming back and thinking, 'I want to write that fan fiction now,' and write book 10 and perhaps even set up a new series."

Both Time Riders and Remade seem obvious candidates for screen adaptation. Scarrow says there are "interested parties" but is tight-lipped on detail.

"All I can say is, 'We are in conversation with...' - it's like trying to herd cats," he says.

"There's the finance to raise, talent to find, and trying to get all these things to line up like stars in the sky."

Having spent 10 years playing in bands, does he ever regret not being a rock star?

"The obvious answer would be yes, but actually no," Scarrow says.

"I was watching something on TV about band reunions. If I'd made it, here I would be in my 50s with shelves of DVDs and videos of me when I was young and beautiful.

"How agonising must that be? I think I dodged a bullet.

"I'm really lucky to have success late in life rather than early. I'm old enough to appreciate it. I'm grateful for life dealing me that hand."

Remade, published by Macmillan Children's Books, is out now

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