"What's it about?"
Everyone asks this, as you'd expect, when I say I have just had a book published.
"Werewolves," I reply.
"Ah, you're getting on the bandwagon!" they say. "Trying to ride Twilight's coattails. Everyone's reading books about vampires and werewolves these days."
It seems that people think I wrote the book thinking about what the next current fashion in novels would be. If only! If only I could write that fast.
In reality, I started Leaving the Pack in 1990. Back then, as far as I can remember, werewolves were the American one terrorising London, or were the wolf-like beings of Whitley Strieber's Wolfen, from nearly a decade before (we'll leave Teen Wolf aside, shall we?).
So if a species of intelligent wolves could exist, why not a race of men who were like wild beasts inside, whose hormone and pheromone production was affected by the moon? No reason. It seemed scientifically feasible to me.
I wrote a novella, and slowly expanded it into a novel over a number of years as I worked on other things, too. And as the years passed, I saw werewolf books and movies appear again. It's like clothing - you don't need to worry about your wardrobe not being in style. Just keep the outfits until they come back into vogue. You write what you want and sooner or later, someone will think it's the right time for it.
Werewolves and vampires are like denim jackets: they're never going to go out of fashion for very long. Romance is like blue jeans: there are lots of cuts, but it's essentially the same thing, and it's always in fashion. Put werewolves and romance together and you have a look that has lasted since Levi Strauss was wearing pocket watches.
But just like the Wolfen, my werewolves were different to everything I had seen and read about both before and after. They're not paranormal beings. They can't infect you; only kill you - albeit with extreme ease. But they only kill you if you upset them.
In short, they're real. So real that I had at one time considered writing "an Interview with the Werewolf," where I got this whole novel from one of their kind spilling the beans on the rest of his race.
And a part of me still sometimes wonders whether I might not get a knock on my door one of these nights, now that the book has come out, from some dark strangers inquiring exactly where I got my information from. If that does happen, I hope they will consider that I've shown them in a positive light. But I'll let them review the manuscripts for the next two novels, to make sure there's nothing disagreeable. I wouldn't want to upset them.
Nobody believes in werewolves.
That's just what Paul McHew and his friends are counting on.
They and their kind roam our city streets: a race of people from whom the terrible legend stems; now living among us invisibly after centuries of persecution through fear and ignorance. Superficially Caucasian but physiologically very different, with lunar rhythms so strong that during the three days of the full moon they are almost completely controlled by their hormonal instincts, you might have cursed them as just another group of brawling youths or drunken gang-bangers. Now at the point of extinction, if they are to survive their existence must remain restricted to mere stories and legend, but, paradoxically, they also must marry outside their society in order to persist.
The responsibility for negotiating this knife-edge is given to Paul, who runs the streets with his friends during the full moon, keeping them out of real trouble and its resultant difficult questions. Having succeeded for years, he finds his real test of leadership comes when he meets Susan, a potential life-mate, to whom he will have to reveal his true identity if he is ever to leave his pack.
10% of the author's royalties will be donated to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.
Paul turned his attention to the remaining man, lying on his belly, holding his face. He rolled him over and pulled his hand away to reveal a large gash on his left cheek, running from just under his eye down to the angle of his jaw. It was deep, with ragged edges, and was bleeding profusely.
The sluice gate inside Paul shut with the force of a falling guillotine and the adrenaline immediately began to rise once more. This time, however, it was impure. Mixed with vitriolic rage, it boiled dangerously. Paul let the man's hand go and stood up, whirling around to face the pack, his face grimaced with anger. The wound was obviously a bite, and the one rule of running with the pack was not to give in to the urge to seriously damage someone, especially in a way that would arouse interest, something a bite was sure to do. Once teeth were used, it was easy to inflict a mortal wound. That had to be avoided at all costs. There was just no room for such mistakes, and the pack knew it. This had not happened in a very long time. Paul had had to reprimand two of the others in the past and it had been an unpleasant experience for all of them. This incident now, just as he needed to think about leaving the pack in James’s hands, made him furious. He could not brook this behavior. He did not intend to leave James the job of controlling an unruly mob. He had to castigate. Lessons had to be learnt, however painful that was to be.
“Who did this?” he snarled.
They remained silent, avoiding his eyes as he glared at each one of them, his rage threatening to explode into violence.
“Who was it?” he roared, trying to expend his fury through his voice and lessen the chance of unnecessary physical action.
Sebastian took a deep breath and stepped forward, meeting Paul's eyes and holding them, ready to become the subject of his wrath.
“You stupid little fuck!” Paul shouted as he strode towards him, spitting the last word out from just in front of his face.
“Don't fucking speak. Don't try to say a word.” Paul stopped Sebastian’s apology by grabbing his throat. Sebastian stood there, his cheeks turning crimson as he struggled to breathe and then gave up, relaxing himself as much as he could. Paul knew he was trying to slow down the build-up of his own aggression, his own adrenaline, which would soon reach a level at which he would have to fight back. Paul ignored this. His own fury attained an intensity that Sebastian could never reach, would rend him if he tried to struggle. He heard the whisper approach him with its appealing message, a susurrus sweeping along the street from unseen alleys, rearing up out of the black water below him, tempting him, telling him to squeeze, to place his might in the locked knuckles and permit them do as they would. “Wield your power!” it whispered. “Subjugate!”
Paul continued speaking. “What have you been told?” He addressed the whole group. “What have I said about fights? The most important thing about these days? James? What have I told them?”
“No teeth,” Paul repeated, nodding, looking hard at Sebastian, who did not show any indication that he had heard. The epin eph rine ran through Paul’s arteries like acid, scalding his every cell as they cried out in concert, screaming for action. The voice whirled around him like a tornado, threatening to tear him from himself. Seductions and temptations reached out of the wind like hands and tried to take him into it, but he blocked them out, concentrated on the centre of his being. In that place was his reality, a knowledge which outweighed any coaxing or beguiling tones, a knot so heavy that it anchored him in spite of the gales about.
“What would have happened if you had bitten him a bit lower and cut his jugular? He would be dead, of course. And I would be in trouble if there were questions about a man being bitten to death, wouldn't I? And I don't like trouble. Especially, when it's not of my own making and the source of the trouble is not getting the same aggravation as me. And why would you not be getting hassle? Because you'd be dead, wouldn't you? And I don't like killing people. So don't make me kill you, all right?”
As he said this, he released his hold on Sebastian's throat, letting him fall to his knees and gulp lungfuls of air. He shook off the voice repugnantly and it instantly vanished from his mind, its whisper swept away along the river into the gloom. The gates opened and the anger began to subside once more. All that was left was a slight dizziness at the depth of the void and a bitter taste in his mouth. He watched Sebastian for a second, making sure he was in control and not about to attack. Then he looked up at the others.
“I think we both need a drink. Let's get out of here. The cops will arrive soon.”