Page last updated at 08:11 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 09:11 UK

It's... Darcy of the Dead

By Tim Masters
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Book cover

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

It's an opening line that might make Jane Austen turn in her grave - or rise from it with her arms out-stretched.

For writer Seth Grahame-Smith has taken Austen's Regency classic and turned it into Pride and Prejudice with Zombies.

The novel, which uses the the vast majority of Austen's original text, is being touted as the first mainstream literary "mash-up".

It's a bizarre mix of genres which sees Elizabeth Bennet as a kung-fu expert dedicated to wiping out the zombie menace in the quiet village of Meryton.

The publication of the book comes amid plans for a sci-fi horror film in which aliens wreak havoc on a Jane Austen-style period drama.

Elton John's film company, Rocket Pictures, is to start filming Pride and Predator in London later this year.

Here, Grahame-Smith reveals what he thinks Austen herself would have made of all this zombie mayhem.

Seth Grahame-Smith
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is LA-based Grahame-Smith's first fiction book

I have always managed to avoid Pride and Prejudice but now you've forced me to read it by stealth. That's a good thing, isn't it?

I hope there's a lot of that going on. I hope that people who've never in their life picked up that book will pick this one up.

What's been the reaction from the literary establishment?

I was expecting to be burned in effigy to be honest. So far the reaction has been mostly positive.

Most people have a great sense of humour about it, particularly the 'Jane-ites', who must prefer this to the 60th or 70th Mr Darcy's private thoughts collection that seems to come out every year.

So how did it come about that you mashed these two genres?

I owe the title to my editor at Quirk Books. He'd been wanting to do some kind of literary remix or mash-up, and he had lists of possible books.

On one side he had Wuthering Heights and Sense and Sensibility and so forth, and on the other side he had things like pirates and robots and vampires.

And one day he called me excitedly and said all I have is a title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

It clicked with me as something that I needed to start immediately.

Why Pride and Prejudice and not some other work of English literature?

Pride and Prejudice - perhaps more than any other Jane Austen book - is engrained in our literary consciousness.

And if you read through the original book it's startling and a bit eerie how many opportunities Jane Austen left in her original work for ultra-violent zombie mayhem.

You have this sharp-tongued character in Elizabeth Bennet - it's not that big a leap to put a sword in her hand and say she's now a slayer of the undead.

And near Longbourn you have a regiment of soldiers camped out there for seemingly no reason at all, so again it's not much of a leap to say: they're there to fight the unmentionable menace.

There's all this copyright free text available - is this a new publishing trend?

I think we've started a mini-trend of literary mash-ups. I don't know that I want to follow this book up with Sense and Sensibility and vampires, because I could easily box myself in as being the mash-up guy.

It's inevitable that other companies are going to see that this book has been received with so much enthusiasm.

I'm sure that as we speak someone is poring through Wuthering Heights looking for opportunities to add whatever mayhem they can to it.

Your book has about 85% Jane Austen. Adding the zombies must have created all sorts of continuity issues. How did you cope with that?

The first thing I did was to read the book twice through - I hadn't read the book since I was a 14-year-old boy and did not enjoy that process. I actually enjoyed it when I read it again.

I got the humour and how brilliantly plotted it was and the second time through I made all sorts of notes in the margins, logistically working out that if I change something in this chapter how does it resonate throughout the book?

I always say that the characters in Jane Austen's original books are rather like zombies because they live in this bubble of immense wealth and privilege and no matter what's going on around them they have a singular purpose to maintain their rank and to impress others.

What's the latest on selling the film rights?

There has been a lot of interest in the book as a movie. There is a deal which is still in the works and should be closed very soon, at which point a formal and accurate announcement will be forthcoming.

Won't there be a clash with Rocket Pictures' Pride and Predator film?

I can't help but feel that I've been somewhat buzz-jacked by Sir Elton. I think we'll have a Dante's Peak/Volcano or Armegeddon/Deep Impact situation - two surprisingly similar movies released - and may the best movie win!

Which type of zombies are best? The ones that sprint or the ones that stagger?

While I love movies like 28 Days Later, my favourite zombies are the George A Romero zombies of the 1960s and 1970s. I like my zombies slow and I like my zombies stupid.

Finally what do you think Jane Austen would have made of all this?

I think she would have a sense of humour about it. I think that reading her again you are struck by what a sharp wit she had and how vicious she could be in taking apart the conventions of the society in which she lived.

I don't think she'd be rolling in her grave - or trying to claw her way out of it.

I think she would smile. And then she'd sue me for a billion dollars.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books) is published in the UK on 13 April.

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