Delightfully described as a dystopian Bridget Jones with a touch of Shaun of the Dead, Bethany Clift’s debut novel, LAST ONE AT THE PARTY tells the story of a woman who manages to survive a virus (called 6DM or “Six Days Maximum”) that wipes out most of the human race, leaving her to explore London as her personal playground while she searches for survivors. “Super-gory, but a testament to the human spirit,” LAST ONE AT THE PARTY sounds like just the pandemic-time beach read horror fans will be hungry for come summer.
To celebrate the release of her splashy debut, we invited Clift to list a handful of works that inspired it!
Horror is a funny old genre. This isn’t a joke, I am deadly serious. Horror is a funny old genre. Let me explain…
Comedy is universal; someone slips on a banana skin – it’s funny, everyone laughs. You got a runaway train and a super soldier trying to save the 500 people on board? Then you got yourself an action movie. Dead body in a locked room? Murder mystery. Cop with a deep-seated emotional need and a terrible crime to solve? Police procedural. A couple that hate each other but love the same dog? Give me a call Working Title, I’ve got a romcom pitch for you. But horror? Horror is profoundly personal and undeniably unique to the person consuming it. One person’s stuff of nightmares is another’s walk through a sunny park. Different things scare different people and, whilst we can all probably agree that watching someone saw their own hand off is never going to be considered family viewing, there will be people who do not classify that as ‘real horror’.
When I was about nine-years-old I had a terrible run of nightmares about…jam. Hand on heart, swear on the lives of those I love, my nightmares were about being in a jam factory, trapped on a conveyor belt and then having a bucket of jam poured over me at the end. These dreams went on for months. I have no problem with jam now, whack it on some toast, stick in a sandwich, put it on a scone – yum yum. But every now and then I still get a short, sweaty memory of the absolute terror I felt each evening before drifting off to sleep at the prospect that I might be visiting the jam factory that night. If someone had made a horror movie about a jam factory, I would have shit in my nine-year-old pants. A lot.
So, I’ll be honest, the first time I read a review that classified my debut novel Last One At The Party as a horror I was a little bit shocked. Sure it has a pandemic that kills everyone in six days in it, plus lots of dead bodies, and killer rats and something extremely frightening that lives in the woods at one point; but a horror? Really? I had thought of it more as a dystopian, feminist, black comedy. Okay – very, very black comedy, with some extra dark moments. And this is just my point – horror is a funny old genre; we don’t always agree on what horror is or even how it should make us feel – scared or defiant or panicked or angry or something harder to define?
I was asked to put together a list of the five horror movies or books that most influenced Last One At The Party and they are below. Are they really horror? Is Last One At The Party really a horror novel? I don’t know. Take a look at my list, maybe have a read of my novel and let me know what you think…
The Road (by Cormac McCarthy)
This is a true dystopian horror masterpiece. It is dark (literally) and filled with pain and unrelentingly bleak. There isn’t even hope at the end, the misery just continues with a different set of characters. There is no light, no levity, no rest or reassurance in this novel, it is just awful. It contains one of the most horrific scenes of pain and suffering I have ever read (the basement) and it is only because Cormac McCarthy is a God of modern fiction that I continued to read the book after that. If this were by any other writer I would most probably have put the book down and walked away. But I couldn’t. I had to know how it ended. It is magnificent.
Alien (Dir. Ridley Scott)
Again, a modern horror classic and one of my favourite films…but that is not why it is included in my list. It is included because Ripley is a badass. I love her. I wrote my dissertation about her, I cut my hair like her, every single time I am in a elevator on my own I re-enact her elevator scene from Aliens. She is a feminist icon and W.W.R.D is one of my life mottos. My main character in Last One At The Party is not like Ripley. She is the opposite of Ripley. When the going gets tough she doesn’t rush to save anyone; she gets drunk, takes drugs and masturbates. But, she and Ripley do have one thing in common – they don’t pet the dog. They don’t make themselves likable or pretend to be something they are not or act in a way that will get the reader to root for them. They are who they are and if you do don’t like it (which some of my reviewers haven’t!) then, well, f@*k you.
The Stand (by Stephen King)
OBVIOUSLY! I mean, I tried not to be predictable but…! The Stand was the first post-apocalypse, road novel that I read and the first one that I loved and has remained in my top five ever since. It is a beast. But it is a beast that holds your attention from the first page until the very last – all 823 pages later. It probably influenced my actual writing and structure more than anything else on this list. It taught me how to do a road novel well, how to get your pandemic over and done with so that you can get on with what your novel is really about and how to write about death without making it the entire focus of the story. Stephen King is a master of popular fiction; who better for me to read and learn from?
Children of The Dust (by Louise Lawrence)
The first post-apocalypse novel that I read. I was eleven or twelve and working my way through the library reading a book by an author from each letter of the alphabet. Children of The Dust was my ‘L’, I didn’t even read the back page blurb before I dove in. It is a YA book and not classified as a horror, but it absolutely terrified me. It is about the aftermath of a nuclear explosion and is disturbing and horrifying and deeply, deeply sad. It is the first book that had an emotional impact upon me, that I couldn’t stop thinking about, that I begged other people to read. I read it again a few months ago and it was just as brilliant as I remembered it being.
The Waiting Rooms (by Eve Smith)
Okay, I’m playing very fast and loose with the parameters of this list by including The Waiting Rooms because it hadn’t even been published when I wrote LOATP but, if it had, you can bet your bottom dollar that I would have been hugely influenced by it. The Waiting Rooms is set in a world where antibiotics have all but stopped working and infections run riot. You don’t think that a lack of antibiotics would affect you? Oh you poor, innocent idiot. It would profoundly change our world and every human life on it…for the absolute worse. I have read Eve’s website and I know that The Waiting Rooms is incredibly well-researched and entirely rooted in reality – the events that initiate the horror in the novel could happen. For me, that makes The Waiting Rooms all the more petrifying, because the world of the novel could soon be the world that we live in. Pure, unadulterated horror. Read this novel and I promise you that you will never take unnecessary antibiotics again.
Bethany’s debut novel, LAST ONE AT THE PARTY, is available now from Mobius Books and your favorite retailers. Consider purchasing through Indiebound or Bookshop and help support your local and independent bookstores.
“Horror is a funny old genre; we don’t always agree on what horror is or even how it should make us feel – scared or defiant or panicked or angry or something harder to define?”