Thursday, November 15, 2007

My novels #2: Cursed Earth Asylum

JUDGE DREDD: Cursed Earth Asylum (Virgin Books, 1993)

Twenty years ago, the Justice Department built an asylum called Erebus to house the surviving atrocities from early experiments with cloning, eugenics and psi enhancement. The inmates were grotesque, disfigured beyond belief. One of them was evil beyond imagining.

Two weeks ago, Judge Dredd led a Hotdog Run into the Cursed Earth; the only survivor returned to accuse Dredd of murder. Now a group of Judges is sent to find him and brink him back - dead or alive.

Is Dredd a traitor? Perhaps the answer lies in Erebus, where the inmates have taken over the asylum, and madness is no longer just a state of mind.


I think Virgin commissioned my second novel before the first was even published. The company had committed itself to launching with three novels at once, to establish a presence on shelves in bookshops, before following that with fresh additions to the range every few months thereafter. They needed another Dredd novel and I was eager to write another, having enjoyed my chaotic efforts with The Savage Amusement.

Cursed Earth Asylum is the best of my early Dredd novels, and the book where I discovered I could write. That moment came when I wrote a sequence so creepy, so repellent, so skincrawlingly unnatural that I didn't know where it could have come from. The answer was simple: my imagination. I'd discovered I could tell a story, drawing on reserves of imagination I'd nevr known I had.

This is also the first of my many seige stories, all inspired by seeing the film Zulu at an impressionable age. Trust me, you can't go wrong putting your cast in the midst of a seige and seeing how the different characters cope in different ways. You shouldn't do it in every novel you write, but it's a useful set piece to find unknown corners and quirks among your creations.

Like my first novel, Cursed Earth Asylum was bashed out on a semi-electric typewriter in ninety-minute bursts at five in the morning before going to work. My memory is that I wrote the book in spring, and it wasn't so cold, dark or difficult getting up at that time to write. I was determined not to sign away all my rights on this book, and negotiated a deal to get royalties - which I did!

The book sold quite well and there's nothing nicer for an author than getting a royalty statement saying you're getting money for work you did months or even years earlier. By the time my royalties ground to a halt, I'd probably made as much money by going the smaller advance and royalties route from this novel as I did from taking a single fee and no royalties on its predecessor. Such is life.

I haven't read Cursed Earth Asylum for more than a decade [and it's been out of print just as long], but I've got a lot of affection for this book. It's where I discovered I could write, that my imagination was a disturbing and creepy place - making it a useful resource for the years and novels ahead. Nice cover by Arthur Ranson too, but it's always made me wonder: why is Dredd breakdancing?

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