I’m excited to present an interview with Bethany Clift this week, who has made a splash with her debut novel Last One At The Party, a post-apocalyptic tale with true character growth and a front cover that is somewhat provocative in the genre.
1. Tell us about who Bethany Clift is?
Hi Dan, firstly, thanks so much for inviting me on to talk about Last One At The Party 😊 So, I am originally from London, went to university in Nottingham, travelled the world for about five years, settled in Leeds for seven years and then moved back down South again. I currently live in the lovely Milton Springsteen (Keynes) and am very much a fan of roundabouts. I am married with two kids and a six-month-old Jackawawa puppy called Pickle. I had worked for the NHS for eleven years but then I became a full-time writer last year.
Dan – I’m so pleased to have you. I grew up in Nottinghamshire and my parents met at Nottingham University. And who doesn’t love a roundabout 🙂
2. What was the first thing you wrote that made you think I’m a writer?
The first thing I actually wrote that made me think I could write well was a poem about bullying that I wrote when I was eleven-years-old. It was done for a Blue Peter competition and I won a certificate of excellence for it. But, to be honest, the certificate didn’t matter – I knew it was good. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. They presented me the certificate in school assembly and, after that, I started to get bullied – ahh, the utter irony.
Dan – I too have a Blue Peter badge. Mine was for a recycling poster competition. Ah bullying: if you can survive school you’re probably set for life… wait a minute, there is a good premise for a horror story in there. Stephen King might have got there first though.
3. Describe your writing style…
Haha! Goodness – this is a tough one! I would love to say I am the bastard love child of Steven King and Margaret Atwood, but, I am absolutely positive that they would not like me to say that and I am 100% sure that that is having FAR to high an opinion of my writing! So, instead, I will talk genres and say I like to think I combine horror and comedy pretty well in this book.
Dan: Heck! I’ve got a reference to Lord Byron in my bio so you’re okay with King and Atwood.
4. Set the scene for us on your debut novel
Last One At The Party is a about the last woman left alive after a global pandemic has raced across the earth.
The novel starts in December 2023, and the world as we know it has ended.
The human race has been wiped out by a virus called 6DM (‘Six Days Maximum’ – the longest you’ve got before your body destroys itself).
But somehow, in London, one woman is still alive. A woman who has spent her whole life compromising what she wants, hiding how she feels and desperately trying to fit in. A woman who is entirely unprepared to face a future on her own.
Now, with only an abandoned golden retriever for company, she must travel through burning cities, avoiding rotting corpses and ravenous rats on a final journey to discover if she really is the last surviving person on earth.
And with no one else to live for, who will she become now that she’s completely alone?
Dan: I love this premise. It’s born out of character, which makes for a richer read, for sure. Plus, you added a dog, and anyone who has read one of my novels knows I love a dog, by the fact my first four novels all feature hounds in various small and big parts.
5. Where did the idea come from
In 2018 I was driving home through the English countryside late one night and I became lost. I had no idea where I was, no phone signal and there hadn’t been a road sign for miles.
I pulled over and got out of the car.
It was the beginning of January, about 10.30pm, the air was crisp and clear and the sky a celestial bedspread of stars. I became aware of the utter stillness around me. There were no houses, no cars, no airplanes buzzing overhead. I couldn’t hear road noise or any other human-made sound. It was so quiet I could hear the cows loudly chewing grass in the field next to me.
I was completely alone.
And then I thought, what if I wasn’t just the only one here? What if the reason it was so quiet was that I was the only one anywhere; that I was the only one left alive in the whole world. What would I do next?
I didn’t know it at the time, but this became the idea for Last One At The Party.
6. What was life like prior to your deal?
Hard work! Lots of juggling kids and ‘real’ work and writing and trying to have a tiny bit of a life amongst it all! I had worked for the NHS for eleven years before becoming a full-time writer last year.
7. Any big surprises about becoming an author?
How incredibly kind and supportive the online writer and blogger community is. I wasn’t actually involved in the community that much before writing LOATP (which is probably a good thing as I am not sure how much actual writing I would have managed to get done!) But since joining in 2020 I have met the most wonderful and kind community of people. The discovery of this like-minded, creative tribe of writers, reviewers and bloggers has been the most surprising and joy-filled gift of the publishing process and I feel very fortunate to have made some great friends and mentors within this space.
8. Best thing about being an author?
That I now get to write for a living! Writing has always been my side-hustle, fitted in as and when I can, around a ‘real’ job that pays the bills. For the first time writing is my ‘real’ job and I am absolutely bloody loving it!
Dan: it is the dream. I’m glad you are living it and well done.
9. Now, what’s the worst thing about being a writer?
That I now get to write for a living! The writing is great, the being paid for writing part is great but there is a huge amount of pressure attached that is taking a bit of getting used to! Writing is now my job, which means I have to do it well, so for the first time I have to write things that I think the audience will enjoy rather than writing whatever the hell I want. This is also the first time that I have worked for myself and I am having to learn to separate ‘work’ from ‘home’. It’s hard because I find myself constantly thinking about writing and my current novel and my next novel and the novel after that and the TV show I had a vague idea for in the bath the other week. I need to learn to shut that side of me down and relax already!
Dan: Ah! The double-edged sword.
10. Have you any strange writing habits?
I have to watch a movie trailer on IMDB before I can write a single word! It’s a strange impulse that I cannot, and never have, ignored. I do it every time I write. I used to have a writing mug as well that I always used but my son smashed it (!!) so now I just have my IMDB movie trailer ritual. I always listen to music when I write, and it always has to be set at volume 13 and each new novel I write has a new soundtrack. For LOATP I listened to Nick Drake for my current novel I am listening to Philip Glass. I write on an ancient laptop that I have had for years that could give up the ghost at any moment, so save each day’s work afresh and e-mail it to myself at the end of the day. When I handed my final edit of LOATP in I was on version 426.
Dan: I love this. I’ve not heard of anyone with an IMDB movie trailer habit. I love watching movie trailers on YouTube but for me they’d be a rabbit hole down which work disappears.
11. What’s your favourite horror Tv show, and why?
My answer to this question has changed recently as I have just finished watching The Terror on BBC iPlayer and it was truly terrifying and exquisitely entertaining. It is based on the book by the same name by Dan Simmons and is the fictionalised account of the lost expedition by the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to the Artic in 1845-48. It is brilliantly acted, beautifully shot and an incredibly powerful portrait of pride, prejudice and pure evil. Plus it is scary! I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Dan: I loooooove The Terror as a novel and my wife and I both enjoy the TV adaptation. I thought they did a superb job of what is such an epic book.
12. Favourite horror novel?
I can’t pick one! Don’t make me! If I absolutely had to pick – I have two. Firstly, The Stand by Stephen King – I know that is incredibly 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. I loved the world, I loved the characters, I loved the structure – Stephen King is an absolute master of popular fiction. Secondly, and more recently, it would be The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The Road 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 such an incredible writer that I continued to read the book after that. If this were by any other auhtor 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.
Dan: both excellent choices. I’m reading Swan Song at the moment and it is also stunning as a classic post-apocalyptic tale. My favourite end of the world story is probably On the Beach. It’s so touching and full of tragic beauty.
13. What book / story wish you had written
I would have to say The Handmaid’s Tale. It is such a brilliant and prescient book, so starkly told and yet so moving. Margaret Atwood weaves so many strands together to create a world and society that seems both horrific and entirely plausible. I am in awe of how simply and subtly she builds her world; but when you think about the knowledge you have of the society by then end of the novel – the past, the coup d’etat, the rules and laws and roles of women and social structures – it seems incredible that she has managed to pack so much into 311 pages! The novel is still as relevant today as it was when it was written and I cannot see a time when it won’t be. I first read The Handmaid’s Tale as part of an anthology that I brought in America. The day that I started reading the novel we drove to The Grand Canyon and I can remember staying in the car to finish my chapter whilst everyone got out to look at the view. Margaret Atwood wrote a story so good I missed the Grand Canyon – how could I possibly not want to have written that!
14. Who would you cast in LOATP TV show, who would direct, song?
I am absolutely over the moon because the TV rights to LOATP have been brought by Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free, and the series is currently in development. So…I am not going to answer this question in case I jinx it! Also, I have always been very clear that my MC is an everywoman – she could be me, my next-door neighbour, the woman next to you on the bus. It was a conscious decision not to name her in LOATP because I didn’t want to influence the reader as to what she might look like or how she might act. So, I would never say who might play her because, once more, that would influence reader’s image of her and I want her to be whomever my reader needs or wishes her to be.
Dan: Okay, I’ll let you off, and that is incredible news. Congratulations. Ridley Scott’s production company also produced The Terror as well, I believe.
15. Spookiest life experience?
When I was in my very early teens I woke up in the middle of the night and saw someone crawling across my floor towards my bed. I was frozen solid with fear, couldn’t breath, couldn’t call for help, completely petrified and paralysed. Who, or whatever, it was lifted it’s head and looked up at me and…I never saw its face or what its eyes were like because I fell instantly to sleep – like someone had turned a switch off inside of me. I remembered that moment the next morning like it had just happened – the fear, the paralysis, the movement of ‘its head as it looked at me… there is no way I would have just fallen asleep if it had simply been a dream or something not real, I was far too fucking scared. Whatever ‘it’ was made me fall asleep.
I think about it sometimes and it still scares the goddamn bejesus out of me.
Dan: that is a good one. I’m creeped out just hearing about it.
16. Scared you as a child?
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.
Dan: I don’t think I’ve heard of a horror novel set in a jam factory, but I can see that working.
17. Scares you as an adult?
Not being there for my kids when they need me. The idea that I won’t be there for them when they need me or that I will leave their lives before they are ready for me to go is more terrifying than any horror I could invent. There is a scene in The West Wing where Mrs Landingham talks about her sons dying in the Vietnam War and she says that it is really hard for her because they must have been so scared and would have wanted their Mother and she wasn’t there; even typing this now my heart is in my mouth. Aaron Sorkin is a manipulative genius.
Dan: same with me. We had kids and my view of the world shifted in the same way.
18. Current work in progress?
I am working on my second book for Hodder which is a romance that involves Quantum Computing (of course!). I am polishing The Bride – a horror-comedy movie about a group of women on a hen night, have started work on my third book which involves time travel and I’m hoping to start on the sequel to LOATP early next year. So not much happening really – I might have to get a part-time job to keep me busy!
19. How can people stalk you… I mean connect respectfully?
Please do stalk me in a friendly fashion on Twitter @Beth_Clift and on Instagram @beth_writes_stuff
Dan: Thanks Bethany, it was brilliant to talk. I’d encourage everyone to read Last One At The Party and here is the link to it on Amazon: