In the first in a new series where authors share the inspiration behind their latest works, Helen Marshall talks to us about five books that inspired her debut novel The Migration. You can also delve deeper into the background of The Migration by reading our recent interview with Helen Marshall.

M. R. Carey, The Girl With All the Gifts

“It’s long been acknowledged that there is a connection between popular culture and the anxieties of the generation that consume itM. R. Carey, who penned the successful post-apocalyptic zombie novel-turned-film The Girl with All the Gifts, cites fears of nuclear annihilation prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s as one such manifestation. Many contemporary zombie films feature an infection or virus that threatens doom for the human population, and his tale is no exception. It follows the story of a group of surviving military experts and scientists as they make their way across a disease-ravaged England. Yet among the crew is ten-year-old Melanie, a ‘hungry’ whose mother was pregnant when she was infected by a deadly fungus. Her unique status holds the key to finding a cure, yet it also positions her between both species, torn between the old generation and the new, her loyalty to the humans willing to sacrifice her for their cause and the beginning awareness that only with their destruction will a new race thrive. Clearly inspired by Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, it asks the reader to see the apocalypse as offering the possibility for an awakening of a new consciousness.”

Joe Hill, The Fireman

“A similar theme emerges in the work of Joe Hill who claims that much of human existence ‘has taken place against a backdrop of chaos and collapse.’ Hill too takes an unexpectedly optimistic look at the end of the world. Faced with the onslaught of a deadly pandemic called Dragonscale which causes infected hosts to spontaneously combust, nurse Harper is terrified to discover she is pregnant. As the world collapses around her she teams up with a group of the infected who have learned to control the flames. Writing in 2016 as the dangers of internet bubbles became more apparent, Hill clearly drew upon Twitter as an inspiration as Dragonscale enhances social connections leading to strengthened group identities – for better or worse. The novel tackles issues of mass hysteria and the dangers of social media ‘piling on’ through its metaphorical lens. Yet for all that the story puts a positive spin on the end of the world as small communities find ways to pull together and pick up the pieces.”

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Stephen King, Pet Sematary

“Unlike many of my contemporaries, I didn’t grow up reading Stephen King. But as I began to write I found myself increasingly drawn to horror for its radical potential to explore grief and trauma. Pet Sematary is a novel that does that in spades (so to speak). King was apparently reluctant to publish this tale because it struck so close to home, echoing ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ with its focus on the genuine horror of a loved one coming back in some changed form. As James Smythe says about it, Pet Sematary – unlike other works by King – is not concerned with questions of good and evil so much as questions of ‘wrongness’, what is natural and what is unnatural. In so doing it questions the nature of mortality and how it shapes human experience.”

Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb

“The other novels I’ve mentioned thus far are explicitly horror stories, dealing with familiar tropes such as zombies, epidemics, and the return of the dead. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a very different sort of novel, offering a stunning exploration of disease and personal choice. The premise may seem familiar: it begins with an epidemic causing pregnant women to die before they are able to bring their babies to term, threatening a quiet breakdown in society which Rogers’ explores in detail. The story revolves around a teenage girl, Jessie Lamb, who decides to undergo an experimental procedure that would allow her to bring a child to term but would cost her life. Ultimately, it is a story that explores one woman’s decision-making process and the personal sacrifice she decides to make. But what I love about this novel is the warmth of the narrator, her sense of humour, and her connection to her family and friends. It rewards re-reading because it poses a genuinely complicated moral and ethical dilemma.”

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

“Lastly, this apocalyptic novel opens with a performance of King Lear at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre (which appeals to me as a Canadian!). It investigates the breakdown of society in the wake of a plague, but concerns itself as well with the notion of reconstruction, how objects move through times of disaster. It provides its readers with a fascinating and moving meditation on what culture is and how it binds people together. To me, the notion of how we rebuild, what we feel survival means, is often ignored or sidelined in apocalyptic narratives or used as a grace note to provide a sense of resolution. As the novel itself says, ‘survival is insufficient’ – and perhaps we need more stories about people coming together, not just people torn apart.”

The Migration written by Helen Marshall is published by Titan Books and Random House Canada. Buy the book.

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