Book Review: Arcadium

by quillwielder

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Arcadium is the debut Action-packed, Zombie Apocalypse thriller by Sarah Gray.

What is Arcadium? Florence knows but she’s not telling anyone, and it could just be the key to the survival of the human race.

Sixteen-year-old Florence West must journey across a disease ravaged Melbourne with her nine-year-old sister Liss, and she’ll do anything to survive. Mostly that means staying clear of all people, the healthy ones on the run and the infected ones hungry for human flesh. But when she meets a man that speaks no English and a defiant set of brothers, Florence will be forced to question her ways. Because there’s only so far you can go alone, right?

Arcadium is a heart-stopping journey of hope across a ravaged urban land where survival always comes at a heavy price.

The author Sarah Gray is actually a friend of mine. We meet a few years back while undertaking our writing course together and I’m so proud to be reviewing her debut novel.

Now I love zombie books like Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland and I was just dying to have a new one to read, thankfully Sarah released Arcadium just in the nick of time to satisfy my needs. And satisfy it does, Arcadium had me hooked from the beginning with kick-ass Florence leading a rag tag group of outcasts to the mysterious Arcadium. I have to say that Trouble was by far my favourite character; Gray wrote him very believable and funny.

The action scenes were what any good zombie novel, or movie for that matter, should have. Heaps of zombies and heaps of trouble. The momentum of the action scenes had me reading as fast as I could in order to find out what would happen next in this apocalyptic world. You feel for the characters and the bond they slowly form for one another.

I also love that the novel is set in Melbourne, Australia too (where I live, y’all). No one has done that before as most zombie novels are mostly set in America where they are guns a plenty, but to have it set in a place where the weather can change at any moment and there are hardly any guns, makes the survival so much harder when you have to rely on making your own weapons. This really gives you a new perspective on what the zombie apocalypse would be like for people outside of America. It shows how different and same it can be.

There were a few spelling mistakes throughout, but she did edit the novel herself, so they can be excused.

Arcadium is definitely a novel worth reading if you’re into zombies and a dystopian world that for once isn’t set in America.

I was lucky enough to interview Sarah about her novel and here is what she had to say.

How did you come up with the idea for Arcadium?

I came up with Arcadium on a recent trip back to Australia, on one of the many car journeys I took across the route they actually take in the book. I went back to Melbourne for five months to be a bridesmaid at my friend’s wedding. She lives in the Western Suburbs and at the time I was in the South East Suburbs so we used to make the journey across Melbourne almost twice weekly in her fancy red Mazda with the speakers blaring and singing Wild Ones at the top of our lungs. On one trip I began to wonder what everything would look like in a zombie apocalypse and everything went from there. Florence West came about because I wanted a teenage female protagonist who is strong but not in an obviously physical way. She’s just normal – she doesn’t know how to shoot a gun or wield a sword, or even where to get them from. She knows this and it makes her different from other butt kicking heroines. On top of that I gave her the baggage of a little sister and then made them walk out into this crazy apocalyptic Melbourne. And there it was.

Why choose Australia and not America for you backdrop?

Oooh, good question. America is a huge market. On Smashwords alone they make up 60-70% of the buying market. But I know nothing about their way of life really, apart from what Hollywood has shown me. There are so many YA books set in America that I decided maybe bringing a bit of Australia to a market that is rarely exposed to it could be a good thing. I’m sure I saved time by not having to create a new world, or research one foreign to me, and I think also I was keen to write something Aussie teens could relate to, using places and food and TV shows that were exclusive to the country.

Who’s your favourite character?

Trouble is my favourite. I didn’t even know he was going to be a character until he walked right into his first scene. He was hilarious to write with all his language limitations. Because doesn’t speak or understand English (well apart from one word) his friendship with the girls became strangely pure, instinctive and kind of comedic. Liss is also a little bit special because I gave her blond hair and derived her name from my own sister, Melissa, as a bit of an homage. But that’s as far as the similarities go between them, I swear!

Why the word Arcadium?

I remember seeing this play in high school written by Tom Stoppard called Arcadia. I always loved the title and on top of that the play deals with the notion of order vs chaos. I wanted a made up word to convey mystery, to make the title stand out and hopefully be strange enough to be memorable. Arcadium kind of popped into my head when I was writing the first chapter and it stuck.

How long did Arcadium take to write and edit?

I wasn’t working when I wrote Arcadium and so I set myself a challenge to see how long it would take me to write a novel if it was my sole focus. In the end I finished it in a month, after a lot of long days and even longer nights. The editing took maybe four months, but I’d also decided to edit along the way. Every time I sat down to write I made myself read everything I’d done the day before and fix the silly errors, so that when the time came to edit the whole thing it wouldn’t be such a daunting task.

Did you do everything yourself to get Arcadium where it is now?

Almost. I wrote and edited it, designed the cover, fussed over a blurb, read books on ebook publishing, and then finally published it. But I was never entirely alone. My friend, Karissa, drove me across the route taken in Arcadium a million times (or near enough!). Dianne and Stefan housed my crazy writer self for the duration, not judging me when I barely left my room for a month. My parents, Pam and Brian, helped with the editing, reading the manuscript multiple times and picking out errors that my eyes/brain could no longer locate because I’d read it so much. I did think about getting Arcadium looked at by an editor but an in-depth read and report would have cost on average two grand (in British pounds) and six hundred for a light proofread, and since I earn six pounds an hour it wasn’t an option. I know there is a chance errors may still be in the manuscript and they are my fault entirely. I did as much as I could and then moved on. During the cover design phase I had help from my graphic designer friend, Clare. But it soon became apparent, after a massive brainstorming session, that I had no idea what I wanted, and needed to spend more time on it. In the end I made the cover, using a font I purchased, and a trial version of Pixelmator. I read the Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker, the Publishing on Amazon Kindle Guide, and How to Publish an Ebook on a Budget by Stephanie Zia, before releasing Arcadium on Smashwords and Amazon. I chose the indie publishing route because I thought I could learn so much from doing it myself and also that traditional publishers wouldn’t have much use for a book that needed to be published now, on the popularity wave of dystopia, rather than in three years time. I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting my work out there, and so that’s what I did it.

Are there plans for a sequel?

Mmm, I wrote it as a standalone novel because I was frustrated with some long YA series that seemed watered down in an effort to stretch the plot across as many books as possible. I know series are great for securing fan bases and selling more books but I thought I’d focus all my ability on this one book and see what happened. When my dad said recently, you could make a great sequel to that! A series even! I replied, Nah, dad. Just… nah. But then I couldn’t help think of what would happen if I did Arcadium 2 and perhaps I came up with a few possibilities. For now I’m working on other projects but you never know.

Who are your inspirations?

When I was a teenager I read a lot of John Marsden. I remember reading the last book in his Tomorrow Series, being reduced to tears, and wondering how a book could affect me so much. I then decided that I would like to do this to other people (well… not make them cry specifically, because I am not evil! Just to move them in some way). I think Australian author, Matthew Reilly, and his rise to fame through self-publishing back in the days when ebooks didn’t even exist is a huge inspiration. And more recently I look at the heroines Jane Austen created and think she was an inspiration female writer just kicking ass back then in such an intelligent way.

What’s your next project/s?

I am looking into releasing Arcadium as a Print On Demand paperback for those who haven’t embraced the whole ebook thing. Other than that I have three finished YA novels in quarantine at the moment, waiting until I’m ready to edit them. The Night of Never Ending Stars is a YA drama about a girl with a terminally ill father, who leads a destructive life along with her three best friends. My plan is to release it independently and then give my other two stories (both untitled YA novels, one fantasy and one romance) a chance with the traditional publishers first.

You can find Arcadium on Amazon here and also check out Sarah’s blog here

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