Zombies in Canal Walk shopping centre? Humanity eking out its existence in fenced-off enclaves? You’ve got to be kidding, right? But that’s the dystopian vision mother-and-daughter writing team Sarah and Savannah Lotz shared when they wrote Deadlands, a young adult novel set in Cape Town 10 years after the zombiepocalypse hits the city.
Writing together as Lily Herne, they allow readers to follow in Lele’s footsteps, as she sets out to discover the secret behind the rather intimidating and mysterious Guardians.
Now Sarah and Savannah have teamed up again with the second in the series, Death of a Saint, which offers a zombie-fuelled road trip across SA spiced with sly political and satirical undertones.
Sarah says: “As the first novel was set predominantly in and around Cape Town, we were interested in seeing what chaos the apocalypse had wrought on the rest of the country, so we decided to send our four main characters out of the Cape and on to the road.
“We had a great time coming up with a variety of different survivors’ enclaves the characters encounter – such as a treehouse-style camp (zombies can’t reach you when you live above their heads), a new-agey enclave set in the grounds of an old golf course, a prison, and a grounded cruise ship.”
While Deadlands had been written from only Lele’s point of view, Sarah and Savannah split the telling from two points of view this time around, between Lele and Saint.
According to Sarah, this allows readers to view Lele’s flaws (her stubbornness, impulsiveness and occasional lack of insight) from an exterior perspective as well as via her interior monologue.
She adds: “Lele thinks she knows the real reason why she and her friends are immune to zombie infection, but irrationally cannot bring herself to tell them.
“She also has to deal with her feelings for Ash, the leader of the Mall Rats, who is even moodier than he was in the first novel, and who is hiding his own secret.”
Sarah is no stranger to creative partnerships. She and Louis Greenberg write together as SL Grey, on the well-received horror tale, The Mall. Collaborating with Savannah has posed its own rewards and challenges.
Says Savannah: “Mum can change her mind about a scene on a whim, which can be frustrating when you think you’ve got a chapter down and polished.
“We had millions of heated discussions about her-middle-of-the-night ‘brainwaves’, some of which we incorporated, others were just too crazy to include! Although I let her have the zombie scarecrows.”
Sarah adds: “Savannah insisted we include an extra, unexpected new character in this one – a baby hyena, named (ahem) Bambi. I found this extremely challenging and annoying because although I love animals, writing them is a nightmare (you have to be constantly aware what they’re doing, where the characters are going to source food for them and so on). It was very tempting just to kill him off.”
But mother and daughter do have their favourite scenes. Sarah concludes: “Possibly the chapters set in the treehouse and golf course survivor enclaves, one of which is run predominantly by women, the other, by men (you can probably guess which!) Death of a Saint ends on quite a staggering cliffhanger (the clue’s in the title), and we decided we didn’t want to leave readers hanging for another year if they were wondering what had happened to the characters (we hate it when authors do this to us – George RR Martin, we’re looking at you), so we included the first chapter of the third novel, The Army of the Left, at the end. Both of us loved writing this – in our opinion Book 3 tops the first two (but we would say that, wouldn’t we?)”
Reader feedback after Deadlands has been positive, with its follow-up set to continue with the entertaining without being overly heavy-handed with a social message. Sarah concludes: “We received a lot of mail from readers begging us not to include a love triangle in the second book, but we’re not saying if we listened to them or not.
“Death of a Saint also has an insane plot twist that could quite easily backfire on us. We didn’t hold back – we wanted the novel to be a fun, slightly tongue-in-cheek page-turner.
There’s a serious social critique underlying it, but it’s up to readers if they want to focus on this aspect or not.”