Darren Charlton’s debut novel Wranglestone has been thrilling readers and judging panels alike since its 2020 release.

Shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the YA Book Prize, Charlton’s story is gaining new fans all the time. If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?

Could you tell us a bit about your novel Wranglestone

Well, I’ll pinch what the Times said. ‘Part zombie epic, part gay love story, part political allegory.’ The novel’s set in a future America, where the population have survived a ‘zombie apocalypse’ by escaping to the national parks. The island homes of Lake Wranglestone are safe until winter, when the Dead can cross the frozen waters. Peter has to help rancher and love-interest, Cooper, herd the Dead from their shores before the freeze. But setting out into a wider world not only reveals more about the monsters Peter’s been reared to fear, but the joy and agonies of first love.

Debuting in 2020 was quite an experience. What advice would you give to 2021 debut authors?

It continues to be so difficult for anyone with books coming out in 2020-21. As a debut, it’s likely that you will have invested all your hopes and dreams into your book, made many sacrifices, maybe even let other work opportunities pass you by in order to bring your book to fruition, only to see it tumble off a cliff edge. I don’t know whether publishers issued statements to their authors detailing contingency plans for any books coming out during lockdown. I would hope and expect for this to be in place by now. Author’s aren’t employees who can chat to colleagues for comfort. Authors aren’t privy to any inhouse developments made by an employer. They can’t reach out to HR. Authors are at home, alone and worrying.

If nothing like this has been put in place for you, then I don’t think it’s unreasonable and would encourage debuts to ask their publishers what measures are in place to safeguard the release of their book so that it has the best shot at landing safely in the marketplace. Beyond that, take comfort from your peers and reach out to your local booksellers (your best ally and wonderful, wonderful people) letting them know about your book to see if they can stock copies for you to sign ready for when shops are open again. But really, I would encourage debuts to remember that unlike food and festivals, books don’t perish. Your book is out there and even if it takes more time, it will be found.

What is the first piece of fiction you ever remember writing? 

Oh, a Wind in the Willows knock off when I was thirteen. I drew all the illustrations and got my mum to type it out. It’s still in my toy box though, alongside all my Star Wars stuff and special things. Being able to connect to those parts of you that aren’t totally wrecked by being a grown-up are really important if you write for children, I think.  

If you could have a dinner party with three other authors, alive or dead, who would they be and why?

Probably, Carrie Fisher, Armistead Maupin and E.M Forster. As a post decriminalisation and AIDS generation, gay characters are still trying to escape doomed love narratives, but Maurice was written long before all that and led the way by showing that happiness between men could not only be found but kept. It was written in 1914 but only published after Forster’s death in 1971. I’d love to let him know it got there.

Which song would be the perfect soundtrack to Wranglestone’s opening scene? 

Skyfall (not the Adele song but an orchestral cue on the soundtrack by the same name) by Thomas Newman. It conjures an eerie sense of arrival on the misty moors of Scotland as Bond discovers his childhood home. But it was perfect for the opening of Wranglestone as Peter stands poised on the foot of his island home watching the clouds crawl down the mountains carrying the first snows of winter. I must’ve had that track on loop a hundred times.

Is there a question you wish authors were asked but rarely are?

No one asks about prose. The colour, beauty and rhythm of words is something that matters a great to deal to me. I also gave myself a real headache with this book because the things I most want to talk about, (and perhaps bloggers would like to ask) I can’t without giving away spoilers. Maybe one day.  

You can buy Wranglestone from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here and all other good bookshops and online retailers.