By Marty Mulrooney
Alternative Magazine Online reviewed Defender earlier this year, describing it as “a highly impressive debut that will make you seriously question your own thoughts” and 2017’s “first great novel.” The first of a planned four-part series, it is set in a future where the majority of the population has gone insane due to the ‘voices’ in their heads. It’s thought-provoking, exciting and scary. AMO is therefore thrilled to present an exclusive online interview with the book’s talented British author, G X Todd!
Hi Gemma, thank you for your time and welcome to Alternative Magazine Online! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself please?
34/F/West Midlands. Well, it says I’m thirty-four in the author bio in the back of Defender and I’m sticking to it.
When did you first realise that you wanted to become an author?
It was during the six-week summer holidays the year I turned fourteen. My dad brought a work laptop home and I decided to be productive with my time and write a fantasy novel. It was the first time I felt like I was doing something worthwhile with my life.
Defender is your debut novel and, as I’m sure you could tell from my recent review, I absolutely loved it! How did this exciting project come together?
This is actually a really hard question to answer, because Pilgrim, one of Defender’s main protagonists, really is the origin to this whole story. He appeared in my head fully formed. As did Voice. Without Voice, Pilgrim would have no one to speak to and that would become very boring, very quickly. Then I pretty much just followed Pilgrim along his journey. The biggest development in the project came when I landed on the idea of using inner voices as the catalyst to the world breaking down. Then everything took off from there.
How would you describe the premise of Defender?
I’d describe it as a road trip through a land where paranoia and fear rule, where people still hear the voices that, seven years earlier, incited the rest of the population to commit suicide, murder and mayhem. And the voices aren’t finished with them yet. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road vs Mad Max vs John Wyndham’s Chocky.
Where did the central idea of the ‘voices’ come from? I found it both highly original and extremely frightening!
It came from thinking about what kind of coping mechanisms a person might develop to cope with intense loneliness. Like kids creating imaginary friends to play with, or how people who live alone talk to themselves. Then I read about the Bicameral Mind theory by Julian Jaynes and it all kind of gelled together. We all hear voices in one form or another, whether it’s our own critical voice or someone else’s. It’s always there.
How would you describe the two main characters, Pilgrim and Lacey?
Pilgrim is a world-weary loner. Lacey is an excitable, naive teen. They are the polar opposite in every respect – from gender to age to life experience.
Although you’re British, the events of the novel take place in America. Why did you decide to set Defender in the US and how did you manage to capture the many different locations so authentically?
It’s a matter of personal taste – all the books, movies and TV shows that I love are American-set. All my holidays are spent in the US, and 90% of the places featured in Defender (and in book 2) are places I’ve visited. They may not always be accurate in terms of location (I often transpose spots to different areas), but the scenery and feel are all authentic.
How much research was involved?
Not loads, but learning about the psychology of inner voices and the theories surrounding human consciousness – through suicidal ideation, mental illness, audial hallucinations, etc. – are all so fascinating I probably researched more than I’d initially intended.
Did you have any particular influences when writing Defender?
A friend of mine recently asked me to pick three movies that most influenced Defender and I cited Psycho, Leon and True Grit. Of course, my favourite authors are always going to have an influence, whether I intend them to or not, so Wyndham, Matheson, King and Vonnegut played their parts, too.
G X Todd looks awesome on a book cover! Why did you decide to use your initials instead of Gemma Todd – was it a publisher decision?
In all honesty, my agent suggested I go with initials. You don’t want anything to discourage someone from picking up your book and, unfortunately, for the genre I’m writing in, there are still some readers out there who would choose to only read male authors. I see this with library borrowers, too. You’d think we’d be past this gender bias by now, but nope. It’s still alive and kicking.
I consider myself a very casual gamer. I’d like to be a hardcore one if I had the time, but I can go months and months without picking up a controller. And yes! I have played The Last of Us. I confess I never completed it, though, because those damn echo-location zombies kept killing me over and over and over again. And it drove me nuts.
How else do you like to unwind when you’re not working or writing?
LEGO. God, even I’m getting tired of talking about LEGO. I go on about it a fair bit, but I just find it’s the perfect hobby to switch off and relax. I follow the instruction manual, make my perfectly-engineered LEGO building/vehicle and take great delight in a job well done.
Defender is the first novel of a planned four-part series. Was this always the plan?
It went from being a standalone to a trilogy to being four books. Mainly because I wrote Defender, thought ‘Crap, I’m nowhere near done with these characters/this world,’ and again had the same thought when planning the three books. There’s just so much stuff to fit in. Doing it in three books would have been tight, man.
Are the remaining three novels all planned out? Can you perhaps give us a little teaser for the next instalment?
They’re partially planned out, and by that I mean I know the major plot points I want to hit, and the overall series’ conclusion, but everything in between is anyone’s guess. The characters will show me the way once I set out on the next leg of the journey with them. As for teasers, I think the title for the next book says it all. HUNTED.
How do you feel now that Defender is on people’s bookshelves and is getting such great reviews?
Relief, mostly. You always worry about the reception your book will have and I’ve been very fortunate in getting excellent reviews so far. Every time an email comes through from a reader, it’s just magic. It makes my day. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted, right from the start when I was fourteen and typing on my dad’s work laptop during my summer holiday – for people to read and enjoy my stories.
What’s next for you Gemma?
I still have a whooooole lot of work to do on the Voices series. I’m finishing up edits for book 2 as we speak, and then will be moving straight onto writing book 3, which I’m very excited about. If I find some time, I’d love to revisit a crossover YA book I wrote a few years ago about a teenager who ‘sees’ the murder of a pregnant girl in his town and has 24 hours to solve the crime before it happens. I had a lot fun writing that one.
Thank you for your time, I couldn’t put Defender down and I can’t wait to read your next novel!