Just as my first novel, Deep Level, began with a nightmare, so did this one. Actually, scratch that. The journey to Frenzy Island began with a series of them.
There were four, and they came over successive nights. The first depicted a shipwrecked party of cruise liner tourists washing ashore on an island with a long beach and a jungle, where they were set upon by a pack of freakishly tall, naked, hairless, blue-skinned savages. It was carnage. I wasn’t ‘in’ this dream, as it were. I was observing it, like a movie.
I did, however, have a starring role in the second nightmare. I was hiding in a dilapidated warehouse while the blue-skinned savages from my first dream hunted me. Weird.
Dream numbers three and four were both off the charts in the terror stakes. I was ‘in’ both of these and during the last one actually called out during my sleep. My girlfriend had to wake me up in order to snap me out of it. However, I can’t tell you anything about these last two without giving away major plot points in the novel, so I’ll keep schtum.
I quickly realised that by putting these four nightmares together I would have the basis of a story, and a damn compelling one too, not least because this story would involve a subject I have long been interested in: UFOs and aliens. Inspiration had struck!
However, I couldn’t make this story work with the shipwreck survivors being cruise liner castaways. Holidaymakers have money, passports, insurance and, most importantly, people who will demand that they be found and rescued. There could be no convenient rescue for my protagonists on this hellish island, and that’s why I decided to make them not tourists but refugees.
That the world doesn’t care about refugees is a refrain repeated throughout the novel.
For authenticity, I wanted an African country with a genuine crisis from which my protagonists could be fleeing. Also, this crisis needed to be something that was going on in 2018, which is when my novel is set.
Enter Burundi. Or rather, exit Burundi.
Burundi is a small, landlocked country bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An attempted coup in May 2015 led to a humanitarian emergency that unfolded over the following few years, with thousands of citizens fleeing violence, arrest and torture, among them my protagonists: nurse Esperance Watara, her schoolteacher sister Godriva and Godriva’s baby son Buki.
They are escaping to South Africa where Godriva has friends. Knowing that wherever you go in the world, there will always be a need for nurses and schoolteachers, she and her sister are hopeful that they can build new lives there. But thanks to tropical Cyclone Ava, which battered eastern Madagascar in January 2018, they never make it.
Meanwhile, half a world away in Arizona, lowly monitoring station employee Cynthia Dowley is clocking into work in the hope that her shift will be a quiet one. However, it’s not to be her day. When she hits the button to allow three refugees – our sisters and baby from Burundi – into a scientific facility that she watches over, she becomes unwittingly embroiled in a conspiracy that could change the course of human history. But unwilling to abandon two young women and a child to a fate beyond the worst nightmares of any reasonable person, she comes up with a plan.
Cynthia was a delight to write. She’s in her mid-twenties, is into heavy metal, has multiple tattoos and piercings and sports a magnificent mohawk. She used to play bass but it fell to the side when she bought a games console. She has an appalling diet and sleeps in her clothes. Also, she has a cat named Mashed Potato and an on/off girlfriend called Alison.
Basically, she’s not someone her employers take seriously. That turns out to be a big mistake on their part because boy is she smart!
So, why Arizona? I chose that particular state in the US as Cynthia’s home because I’m fascinated by it. Among other things, I’m intrigued by the desert landscape, the mind-boggling temperatures and the fact that so many rock stars live there. As Cynthia recounts to a hot dog seller during a scene in the novel, “We got Alice Cooper, Rob Halford from Judas Priest, the bassist from Megadeth, that dude from Tool.”
The abandoned facility Esperance, Godriva and Buki retreat to is owned by Cynthia’s employer, Texan billionaire oligarch Byron Wurd. Every story needs a bad guy, and he’s ours. Never seen without his trademark Stetson, he made his fortune in toys before moving onto search engine technology and eventually commercial space travel. He’s an absolute bastard and the inspiration for him came in an entirely separate dream.
The dreams I have are rarely pleasant.
The refugees initially believe that they are safe in the deserted compound, but soon discover that they are trapped in there with something far more terrifying than the blue-skinned savages beyond the stainless steel fence. There is something lurking below the ground, trapped. Something that should not be there. And in the skies above, strange things are happening. Looking up at night, Esperance and Godriva see things that do not belong in our galaxy.
When I was pitching Frenzy Island to publishers, I described it as, “Jurassic Park meets Close Encounters by way of Stephen King.” Both Jurassic Park and Close Encounters have elements of horror in them – people being eaten, the boy being abducted from his home by aliens – but when writing Frenzy Island I decided to dial the terror up to 11. The situation the refugees are in is nightmarish and claustrophobic. They are trapped on all sides, with blue-skinned savages surrounding the facility, mysterious objects in the sky above and a terrifying entity below ground. And in Arizona Cynthia is falling ever deeper into a web of conspiracy and lies.
Can she save herself AND the refugees half a world away? On Frenzy Island no one is safe and there is no guarantee of a happy ending.
Oh, and just so you know, there is actually a rational explanation for the existence of giant, blue-skinned savages on that mysterious east African island, but to find out what it is you’re going to have to read the book. But be warned, it’s going to be one hell of a trip!
Frenzy Island is out 25th October 2022 and can be pre-ordered now from Waterstones, Foyles, Barnes & Noble, Forbidden Planet and Amazon. It is also available direct from the publisher, Cranthorpe Millner.