Some people treat kids with kid gloves. But not Nick Cutter who, in his horror novel The Troop, subjects a bunch of scouts to an unspeakable horror you wouldn’t wish on someone twice their age. Though in talking to Cutter — whose real name is easily found online — it’s clear this Canadian writer actually likes children…well, when it comes to his books, at least.
Let’s start with the basics: What is The Troop about?
Well, it’s basically five Boy Scouts and their leader marooned on an isolated island off the coast of Prince Edward Island. Being that it’s a horror book, there’s something rather nasty sharing that remote island with them.
Where did you get the original idea from?
I was at the Royal Ontario Museum here in Toronto. My fiancée and I walked through an exhibit called “Water.” Y’know, how humans use water throughout the world, that kind of thing. There was a darkened room set off the side of the exhibit, with a video playing on a loop. The subjects of that video ended up being the de-facto villains in my book.
So were you a Boy Scout, or whatever the Canadian version is called?
Yep. A Beaver, a Cub, then finally a Boy Scout. I was a piss-poor scout, sadly. We used to meet in the gym of a local high-school, and one of my fellow scouts and I nearly lit the trampoline on fire playing with matches underneath it. We melted a giant hole through it, these flaming melted strands of goo falling down on us. Our folks had to pay for it.
Why did you decide to make the book about kids, as opposed to some teenagers who had gone in the woods to drink and fuck or adults whose car had broken down by the side of the road?
The book I’d written prior to The Troop was written from the vantage of kids about the same age. I discovered that I really enjoyed writing from that perspective, that cusp where you’re still a boy but you can see the working outlines of the adult world, and those outlines aren’t so cheery.
Were you at all concerned that, by making it about some kids, you might turn off some potential adult readers?
I’ve gone into this at length in other interviews, so I’ll just say that yes, I was concerned. I was concerned how readers might react to them being kids, to what happens to some animals in the narrative, and by a lot of things. But, ultimately, I’m not writing this or any book to please other people or meet their needs. If it does, great, I really hope so. But you can get yourself so tied up in knots about that — Am I going to piss off so-and-so? Will this or that demo be displeased? — that you end up not writing a damn thing. Paralysis by analysis, as the saying goes.
The book jacket has a quote on it from Stephen King, who said, “The Troop scared the hell out of me….” If you’re writing horror, it’s safe to assume that you count King among your influences, but I’m wondering what other scary writers you think are an influence on your style as well?
I’m a horror junkie. Always have been. My first love. So King, Barker, McCammon, Simmons, Blatty, Herbert, Koontz, Lansdale, the Splatterpunk movement, T.E.D. Klein, John Shirley…it goes on and on. I was an omnivorous horror reader and remain so to this day. Joe Hill’s writing some dynamite stuff. Ben Percy. Mark Danielewski’s first novel. Those are some recent faves.
What about writers who aren’t scary, are there any non-horror writers you think had a big impact on the way you write?
Thom Jones, the short story writer. Douglas Coupland. WC Heinz. Leonard Gardiner. Don Carpenter. Dennis Lehane. Cormac McCarthy. You’re probably picking up on a trend, here: pretty masculine prose stylists.
The book has been compared other books and movies, but the one reference people seem to make over and over is William Golding’s The Lord Of The Flies. Do you think this is a fair comparison, or one people just make because, like Flies, your book is about a bunch of kids?
It was a big influence and touchstone while writing, along with the Japanese novel Battle Royale and probably The Hunger Games a little, too…along with Stephen King novella’s “The Body,” The Ruins, and some other books. Now I don’t know if people who liked Lord Of The Flies will dig The Troop, or potentially vice-versa, that’s a different question. I think publishers need to signpost upcoming books for readers: “If you liked book X you gotta try book Y.” It’s part of the business.
What’s interesting to me is that the comparisons are always “The Lord Of The Flies meets…” and then a horror movie — Night Of The Creeps, The Ruins, 28 Days Later… — as opposed to another novel. Do you think The Troop is especially cinematic?
I’ve been told I have a cinematic writing style. In my other life, writing under my real name, I’ve had books optioned for film, and had a movie made of my first book. So it’s cinematic in principle, yes…but again, to reference your early question, it’s about kids. Does the movie going public want to watch that kind of thing happen to kids? Do moviemakers want to bet twenty million on that possibility?
Would you say those movies were an influence on what happens in The Troop?
Those specific movies? Not really. I’ve seen and enjoyed all of them, but they weren’t front-of-mind when writing the book. Scott Smith’s book, The Ruins, was definitely an influence however. Movie-wise, John Carpenter’s The Thing ran through my head a few times; the isolation, the creeping paranoia amongst the characters. Or the entire filmography of David Cronenberg and Brian Yuzna, for the gooey, gory, body-horror type of stuff. The idea of bodies in collapse, of bodies changing against the wishes of their owners…I dwelled on films with those motifs.
Have you been approached by anyone about making a movie out of The Troop?
Yeah, there’s been a few feelers put out. A pair of screenwriters whose work most readers would recognize are working on a script, I’ve been told. But so far nothing beyond that. As I’ve always thought, film stuff is gravy: you write the book, you get paid for the book, that’s all you can count on. Hollywood is a place I understand nothing about, so I never count on anything happening beyond that which I can — partially, at least — control.
If The Troop is made into a movie, you won’t have any say in who they cast. But if you did, who would you like to see in the main roles?
In a perfect world…this is where it’s tough. Tim Riggs, the adult? I think someone like Patrick Wilson would be great. The boys would probably be relative unknowns. The boys in Stand By Me were pretty unknown at the time, too. Maybe Justin Bieber will have fallen on hard times by then. He’d make an interesting Shelley. The audience would likely be rooting for something dreadful to happen to him.
As we’ve discussed, Nick Cutter is not your real name. Why did you feel the need to use a pseudonym?
That was my agent’s suggestion. I admire and trust my agent, so I went with his guidance. But as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m proud of my work as Nick, as proud as anything I’ve written under my own name. My agent just thought it was best to separate those two entities: horror-guy and more literary-writer-guy. But it doesn’t take much Google bloodhounding to discover my real name at this point.
Did you intentionally name yourself after one of the characters in the TV show Primeval?
Ha! No, totally unaware at the time. Nick is an homage to my son, Nicholas, while Cutter was borne out of a sense that horror writers need declarative, punchy names. Jack Hacker or Hank Slasher would’ve done in a pinch. Or Harmony St. Cloud. It’s an inexact science.
Well, except that Harmony St. Cloud sounds like a stripper. Normally, when I interview an author who’s written other books, I ask them which of them they’d recommend to someone who likes the book that the interview is about. Since we can’t do that with you without revealing your real name, I’ll ask you this: What other scary books would you recommend to someone who likes The Troop?
Well, in a stunning coincidence, Mira Grant recently released a book that features the very same critters who infest my own book. So there’s a great start. Beyond that, yeah, any kind of body-horror stuff. Clive Barker’s work, J.G. Ballard’s work, John W. Campbell, Madeline Ashby. Film-wise, try Dead Alive by Peter Jackson, Altered States, Slither, Tetsuo, Cabin Fever, and anything that bears Cronenberg’s or Brian Yunza’s fingerprints.