In case you haven't heard there is a #Pandemic novel based on the thirteen-year-old acclaimed board game that has just been released! We had an opportunity to speak with the author, Amanda Bridgeman, to talk about the process and story, but most importantly, how well it tied in with the beloved board game series.
Amanda has written eight volumes of the award-nominated Aurora series of near-future space thrillers, the SF police procedural The Subjugate (recently optioned for TV), and a Stephen King esque mystery The Time of the Stripes. She’s also worked as a TV and film actress. The publisher is Aconyte, the novels division of Asmodee Entertainment.
After learning about Amanda's credentials and the thought that was put into this novel, it is clear that she was the right person to bring the Pandemic board game series to life.
Patient Zero, A Pandemic Novel, is available now in paperback and ebook formats. Head on over to the publisher page below to make your purchase:
Amanda has also agreed to answer some follow-up questions. After reading the interview, leave any additional questions you have in the comments below and we will make sure those get in front of her for some responses!
1. Could you talk a little about your background and how you got to the point of being a professional writer with several books under your belt?
The desire to write stories was always inside me from a young age. As a teenager I used to write the movies in my head as novels – back then it was a lot of teen angst stories inspired by S.E. Hinton’s Rumble Fish and Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. I then studied Film & Television and Creative Writing at university with plans to enter the film industry. By the time I finished my degree, however, I was a little disillusioned about my prospects and didn’t believe in myself enough. So, I went off into the world and lived my life, usually as a spectator to others living their creative dreams while I cheered them on from the sidelines. However, at the age of 27 I moved to London (UK) and this was the first turning point in my journey to return to writing. While in London I started doing Film & TV ‘Extra’ work (you know, the actors who hang around in the background on films and TV shows), and being on set re-sparked the creativity inside and made me want to be a part of it again.
After about 19 months in London, my father was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, and we weren’t sure how long he had to live, so I moved back to Australia and continued with film & tv extra work there. Then I had a second, major, turning point. One night I was watching the Oscars and saw Diablo Cody win for Best Original Screenplay for Juno, and it kinda struck me like a lightning bolt. I thought, if she can do it, why can’t I? You gotta aim high, right? LOL. Anyway, that was the moment I decided enough was enough and finally plucked one of the stories out of my head and began to write it. There was one problem, though, I couldn’t get past the first page... It had been so long since university that I’d become a little rusty on writing screenplays. Also, I realised that I didn’t have enough of the story worked out yet. So, I decided to ‘feel’ my way through the story by writing it as a novel. That novel became my first published novel, Aurora: Darwin, which soon turned into a series.
After publishing 5 novels in the Aurora series (space opera/military SF), I started to branch out to other things. Knowing that series would eventually draw to a close, I wanted to introduce readers to the other sorts of things I could write. Around this time, my publisher closed its doors, so I got the rights back and self-published the Aurora series and my next novel The Time of the Stripes (alien contact drama). I then decided I wanted to go back to traditional publishing, and that’s when Angry Robot Books (UK) picked up my Salvation series (near future SF noir – currently being developed for TV by Anonymous Content and Aquarius Films). Soon after that I was approached to do some tie-in writing and jumped at the chance as I’d always wanted to try my hand at that – much of my early novel reading was actually film tie-in novels. And the rest, as they say, is history.
2. How did this partnership with Patient Zero Publisher Aconyte form?
The publisher at Aconyte, Marc Gascoigne, used to be the publisher at Angry Robot. He was the one who contracted my novel, The Subjugate (Salvation #1), so we’d worked together before and I was very happy to work with him again.
3. Did you have an idea for how you would write Pandemic or did the creators of the game come to you about creating something based on your work?
Aconyte worked closely with the game’s creator, Matt Leacock, and Z-Man Games to establish what they wanted from a novel tie-in series. Once the brief was established, that’s when Aconyte books sought a suitable writer. Having worked with Marc before on my original novel, The Subjugate, which is essentially a police procedural set in the near future, it was decided that I’d be good fit to write in the Pandemic world.
The Pandemic game world, lends itself nicely to the ‘procedural’ format, akin to shows like NCIS, CSI, etc, where we follow a team who tackle the ‘case of the week’. So, keeping to those boundaries and being sure to incorporate the theme of the game, which is all about collaboration, it was about building up the world and stories from there.
With each editing round I’d pass to the publisher, they would then pass this on to both Matt and Z-Man, who gave their notes on story and character. It was very important that they were both happy with the story, as a representation of their IP.
4. Could you talk a little bit about the plot and why these events/characters were the right take to be the best representation of the Pandemic board game?
The plot involves an international team, based in Lyon, who respond to a mysterious viral outbreak in South America. Right before they leave, they find their boss suddenly absent and Lead Epidemiologist, Helen Taylor, is asked to step into the role until a new leader is found. To fill her shoes as Lead Epidemiologist, Bodhi Patel is transferred from the Atlanta office, where he suddenly finds himself face to face with the ex-girlfriend who broke his heart. So, we have the characters forced into situations where they’re fitting into their new roles while also dealing with a deadly virus that is spiraling out of control.
When establishing a bible for the series, I used the ‘roles’ in the game as inspiration for the characters in the novel. Most of the characters are matched perfectly with a role in the game, except in two situations: I split the ‘scientist’ role into two roles – Lead Epidemiologist and Lead Virologist, and I combined the ‘researcher’ and ‘dispatcher’ into one role called ‘Research Analyst’. From there it was a matter of setting each character up with a backstory that is teased in this first book but that will be extrapolated in future books. The intent is that each book will see different characters as the featured lead in the story.
Keeping to the theme of the game, with the focus on collaboration on an international scale, our team is made up of characters from England, USA, Australia, Nigeria, Japan, Chile and France.
5. There are several Pandemic games, and then the more story-driven Season 1, season 2 and season 0 legacy games, how did you approach taking the universe and turning it into this novel?
I was asked to focus solely on the original game when writing the series, so that’s the only one I drew inspiration from. As mentioned above, I used the game’s ‘roles’ to help establish the characters, as well as some locations on the board itself. The game was great in that it gave a good starting point for a novel series that wasn’t too constrictive to inhibit where each story could go. Once the organisation and characters were established, story-wise, authors writing the series can go just about anywhere.
This was definitely approached as the first novel in a series, but with the intent that the series would be made up of stand-alone novels, written by a variety of authors. You won’t have to read them in order, but this first novel, Patient Zero, does give a good introduction to the organisation – the Global Health Agency, all the different characters and the possible drama/conflicts that may arise in future books.
6. Did you feel that working with a book publisher owned by a major board game company, Asmodee, that is behind the actual creation, marketing and distribution of the actual Pandemic series, made the book creation and publishing process any different from your other books that may have been published on separate subject matters or with other publishers?
From my experience of writing both original and tie-in novels and short stories (I have a Marvel X-Men short coming out in the School of X anthology in December and a Warhammer 40k short coming out in an anthology next year), everything ran very similar to my original publishing experiences. The only difference would be the pitching process at the start. With original works you are given a contract on an already completed piece of writing. With tie-in work you must first pitch, then when that is accepted, write a synopsis, and when the synopsis is accepted, you are then given a contract and then need to write the work.
7. Do you like to play board games and did that help/hurt your creative process?
I do play board games occasionally, but not as much as I’d like due to lack of time! I definitely think board games can inspire all sorts of ideas. A good writer will find an idea anywhere!
GaryVit 16 months ago
Who had more notes Z-Man or Matt Leacock? What types of things did they have to say?
Atlas 16 months ago
All the notes were passed through from the Publisher, so I have no idea who said what. Thankfully the notes were relatively minimal. From memory, the biggest note was about Helen’s character and making her speech a little more formal than what I had in the original version. Occasionally in early drafts my relaxed Aussie style can sometimes creep through – but that’s what edits are for
SKJess 16 months ago
Question - When did you see the book cover and what was your reaction, like "these are not my characters"?
JVant 16 months ago
Looks like they want Rosamund Pike or Radha Mitchell to play the lead in the inevitable tv show.
Atlas 16 months ago
I saw the cover art a few months before the original release date, so it would’ve been early 2020, I think. I originally thought the cover would feature artwork like the game but understood the need to appeal to a more ‘adult’ market – the kind who would see the book in an airport bookstore and buy it for a hop across the Atlantic. At the end of the day, I’m just the writer-for-hire and the cover is the publisher’s (and IP holder’s) decision.
BenjaminK Moderator Level 116 months ago
Great interview! Very interesting. I knew this was happening, but I didn't know it was out until I saw it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble a few nights ago. I have written a lot of short stories (and a novelette) inspired by various board games, so it's awesome to see novels coming out of it as well!
Wellington 16 months ago
Was any of the writing inpired by the climate of the last two years or was the novel finished prior to March of 2019?
Atlas 16 months ago
(*March of 2020 not 2019)
I originally wrote the novel in 2019 – submitting it to the publisher early November 2019. I was doing the structural edit for it in January 2020 when news was breaking of what was happening in China. After everything went down and the book’s release was pushed back, later in 2020 I was asked to do another light edit to add in references to COVID, otherwise when the book was released it might’ve been a bit weird if it didn’t mention it at all – given it was a book about a pandemic! So, in short, only light references to COVID were added in after the fact. The rest was written before the pandemic started and yes, a lot of what I wrote was hauntingly similar in some respects, but I guess that just shows how much research I did for this novel (it’s the most research I’ve ever done for any novel I’ve written!), and how much I got right. Although I did, of course, use creative licence in places.
Board Game Halv Moderator Level 116 months ago
Which was your favorite pandemic role to write for/about or which one do you feel is most crucial to the team?
Atlas 16 months ago
I actually enjoyed writing all of them! And the truth is, every single role/character is crucial to the team as they each play such an important part in helping to hunt down and fight against these viruses. None of them can fight this fight on their own.
Real Cat Lady 16 months ago
Wow, it is so inspiring to hear your story and how you made it happen for yourself!
When you were an unknown writer, how did you get your first novel in front of publishers in a sea of so many people trying to get published?
Atlas 16 months ago
My first novel, Aurora: Darwin, is a space opera/military sci-fi, so I did a lot of research into what publishers were publishing science fiction, then I pulled together a list and began submitting my manuscript to them. I eventually received an offer from a new digital publisher in the UK, however they wanted me to hand over my copyright which is a big no-no for a writer.
Around this time I saw a new publisher had opened – this one based in Australia, the digital arm of reputable Pan Macmillan Australia. So, I contacted them, knowing it was cheeky to ask, but told them I had an offer on the table (which I did) but that I’d rather be published by them. They agreed to look at my manuscript and came back a week later saying although they hadn’t quite finished reading it, it was exactly what they were looking for and made me an offer. And the rest as they say is history.
So, the key is to do your research and see who is a good fit for you. Many of the big publishers require a writer to have an agent, so I’d probably start there first – looking for an agent. But if you look carefully enough there are some publishers out there who don’t require an agent or do regular ‘open submission’ windows, where you can apply without an agent. So, keep an eye out for these and have your novel polished and ready to go. However, always do your research on them before you sign anything!
EstherTT 16 months ago
I had no idea there was a Pandemic Novel or that Asmodee publishes books but ok makes sense. Respect to Amanda, she seems like great author and yes women can do it!