We’re Taking A Trip To ‘Redhead Town’ with award-winning horror author, Deborah Sheldon

We’re Taking A Trip To ‘Redhead Town’ with award-winning horror author, Deborah Sheldon

by Robyn O’Sullivan

Deborah Sheldon’s latest novella is best described using the Australian vernacular: it’s a ‘pearler’! Although Redhead Town is set in an Australia that doesn’t exist, its depiction of a life-choice that can plummet you into a situation beyond your control is entirely relatable. The raw emotion – anger, guilt, despair – and reactive behaviour of protagonist Mark Murphy are palpable and real. Deborah’s masterly writing holds you in thrall from the first sentence to the last word. It has been my privilege to speak with her about how she created such a realistic and frightening narrative.

What a story! My first question is a classic. Where did the idea come from?

My adult son gave me the initial concept. One day, back in late 2019, he said to me, “Hey Mum, here’s a story idea: vampires, except they’re like meth-heads.” My scalp started tingling as the writerly part of my brain fired up. I said, “That’s a terrific starting point, but what’s the plot?” Smiling, he shrugged. “That’s your problem, not mine.”

Unbeknownst to my son, I’d been closely following in the newspapers the plight of Melbourne residents who live near one of the State Government’s recently opened ‘legal injection centres’. Heroin addicts are given free needles and medical care, making this inner-city suburb a magnet for every imaginable kind of drug dealer and user. The residents and business owners receive no compensation. They endure increased crime, devalued property rates, dirty needles and excrement in the streets, users shooting up outside the local primary school, users passed out on footpaths and in private gardens, and countless other issues.

So, my son’s concept and my concern for a blighted Melbourne suburb synergistically came together in my dystopian-vampire novella, Redhead Town.


Your vampires are created through a viral infection. A Covid influence perhaps?

Actually, I started writing Redhead Town around Christmas 2019, before Covid blew up. (If I recall correctly, Covid was still confined to Wuhan and surrounds, according to news reports.) Plotwise, I chose to blame my worldwide spread of vampires on a virus, and thoroughly researched the 2002–2003 SARS pandemic for verisimilitude.

However, once Covid hit and the lockdowns started, I knew I had to rework my whole novella from the ground up. Who would want to read about a pandemic after living through one? Besides, the literary market would soon be flooded with pandemic stories before mine was even finished. And personally, after enduring Melbourne’s lockdowns – amongst the longest in the world – could I even face writing about a pandemic? No! Absolutely not.

I deleted all my work. And started again.

Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Reducing the onset of the vampire pandemic to a scant few paragraphs allowed Redhead Town to blossom into a story about government overreach, societal breakdown, and the helplessness of a husband and father trying to fight the system for the sake of his family. It’s a much stronger story for losing its pandemic plotline.


I’m intrigued by your style of vampire. Tell me a bit about them, and what made you decide to create a type that’s so different from the traditional norms?

The vampire, a staple of horror fiction since the early nineteenth century, has gone through many variations in style from scary to funny to sexy to sparkly and more. This is why I felt comfortable creating my own kind of vampire. Somewhat contrary to my son’s suggestion, my vampires don’t act like ‘meth-heads’; more like heroin or fentanyl users. My ‘redheads’ nod off and sleep during the day. At night, however, they become energised, sky-high, powerful, superhuman.


You release works through a variety of publishers. Can you talk about some of your latest books?

This is my first publication with, and also my first long-form title with an American publisher. Until now, most of my works have been released by Australian presses, mainly IFWG Publishing and Severed Press.

My latest release through IFWG is my collection Liminal Spaces: Horror Stories, which was shortlisted for an Australian Shadows Award. I’m also working on another anthology for IFWG titled Spawn 2: More Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies, due for release November 2024. Its predecessor, Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies, was shortlisted for six awards and won two of them, including the ‘Best Edited Work’ Australian Shadows Award.

My latest release through Severed Press is Cretaceous Canyon, an action-packed horror novel that many readers describe as ‘unputdownable’. That was my central aim while writing, so I’m happy to have delivered!


You are a master at effectively situating a story in its surroundings so that it’s engaging for the reader. Is this done on purpose?

As a reader, I love fiction with a strong sense of place. Show me the streets and houses, let me feel the weather on my face, smell the air, hear the slang and idioms. I guess that’s why setting is so important to my writing. You could say that setting is always one of my main characters. I’m Australian, so I write Australian stories. My hope is that creating an authentic sense of place will ring true for readers and enhance their enjoyment of my fiction.


The Murphy family relationships and interactions are so normal and believable, despite the extraordinary world they live in. How did you manage this?

For the central relationships in Redhead Town – the family unit of Mark Murphy, his wife Bernadette and their son, Nathan – I drew upon my own experiences over the years. I think having only one child crystallises your memories and sets them in amber. Remembering my son in primary school, with his Grade One concerns and problems, helped me shape the character of Nathan Murphy. To me, Nathan is the linchpin. Mark – ostensibly the main character – and Bernadette are always reacting to Nathan, making their decisions based on what they feel is best for their son. Their desire to be good parents is what drives the plot.


Are you a writer who ‘wings it’, or have you devised a set of steps or rules that you always follow? 

With flash fiction and short stories, I usually cogitate for a while, then write from start to finish until the piece is done. For long-form projects like novellas and novels, I use plot-points to keep myself from floundering in aimless circles. But nothing detailed; a jotted note or two for each chapter, just so I know what I’m working towards and trying to express.

The bulk of my brainstorming for plot-points is mostly done away from the keyboard. For example, when I’m showering, cooking, trying to sleep, can’t sleep, coming awake in the early morning, or even watching a boring show on TV. 

Throughout the writing process, my creative brain churns over a story relentlessly. I get epiphanies in unlikely places, such as while I’m washing my hair. I’ve often had to wrap myself in towels and race for a pen.


This novella is being published in a post-pandemic world. Did your Covid experience shape the writing in any way?

Living through Melbourne’s succession of hard lockdowns shaped Redhead Town more than I probably realised. Feeling at the mercy of a government’s daily whims gives you a sense of helplessness that can feel suffocating and numbing at times. 

If Covid had not happened, who knows what final form Redhead Town would have taken? I don’t consider it an allegorical novella, although readers might draw parallels. I only wanted to write a story about a small, isolated and close-knit family that is trying to weather a terrible storm raging around them. And that storm happens to be a vampire pandemic.










In Australia, vampires are a protected class.


Twenty-two towns are picked to siphon vampires, aka ‘redheads’, out of capital and regional cities. When polled, most Australians agree with this strategy. But most Australians don’t live in a ‘designated area’. Don’t have to step over drowsing redheads during the day. Or live in terror of marauding redheads during the night.


Mark Murphy is a nightshift worker in the designated area of Oleg’s Creek. His house is now worth nothing, and he can’t afford to leave. He’s heard rumours of The Refusal. Desperate, will he risk a grab at freedom?


Written by award-winning author Deborah Sheldon, Redhead Town is a dark tale of government overreach, societal breakdown, and one man’s love for his wife and son.






Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. She writes short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. Her award-nominated titles include the novels Body Farm Z, Contrition and Devil Dragon; the novella Thylacines; and the collections Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories and Liminal Spaces: Horror Stories.

Her collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Collected Work’ Award, was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and longlisted for a Bram Stoker. Deb’s short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Aurealis, Midnight Echo, Andromeda Spaceways, and Dimension6, been translated, shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, and included in various ‘best of’ anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror.

She has won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Edited Work’ Award twice: for Midnight Echo 14 and for the anthology she conceived and edited, Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies.

Deb’s other credits include TV scripts such as Neighbours, feature articles, non-fiction books (Reed Books, Random House), stage plays, poetry and award-winning medical writing.

Visit her at http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com






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