Of Lighthouses And Zombies …

12 Aug

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been copy-editing the anthology of short zombie stories which I’m aimig to have on sale before the end of this year, and it occurs to me that I have a slight obsession with lighthouses. They feature as the backdrop for three of stories which will go into this anthology, and lighthouses also play a key role within my novel, For Those In Peril On The Sea. Where this mild obsession with lighthouses came from, I’m not too sure but I think it in part comes for growing up in Scotland. Modern lighthouses as we currently know them originated in Scotland at the start of the nineteenth century and in particular are associated with one family: The Stevensons. Across three generations including the then fledgling writer Robert Louis Stevenson, the Stevensons were responsible for building many of the lighthouses which still dot the Scottish coastline. Some of these are on headlands or larger islands, but others stand on what are little more than rocky reefs which are only visible above the surface when the tides are low.

When you consider that these lighthouses are designed to withstand winds which can blow at over 100 miles an hour for weeks at a time and waves reaching over 50 feet in height, it’s probably not surprising that they are incredibly robust buildings. To me, this means that lighthouses have a lot of potential as safe houses in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Add to this their remote locations in areas with few people and the become even more appealing because when the dead start to rise, fewer people will mean fewer zombies. While they would be difficult to get to, the ones which stand on uninhabited rocks far out to sea would be almost impregnable both to zombies and to any marauding bandits looking to steal your supplies after the world falls apart. Of course, you’d probably get cabin fever pretty quickly as there’d be little to do but to alternate between staring at the walls and the sea.

For similar reasons, lighthouses also form the perfect background for zombie stories which are a little different from your traditional ‘escape-from-the-city’ type of tale. The rugged landscape in which they tend to be set combined with the towering structures themselves open up the possibility of all sorts of interesting set pieces between zombies and survivors. Then there’s the history of the lighthouses. There are stories of lighthouse keepers going mad and attacking their colleagues, or just disappearing all together which form a rich seam for story ideas. The most famous of these is probably the mystery of Flannan Isle, where three keepers vanished into thin air in December 1900 never to be seen again. I couldn’t help using this as the basis for a short zombie story called When Death Came To Flannan Isle.

While working on the sequel to For Those In Peril On The Sea, I need to be constantly on guard not to drift too much towards using lighthouses in any of the zombie set pieces. This is because they formed such a key role within the first book, it would be very difficult to include them in the second without it coming across as a bit samey. I’m sure one or two will sneak their way in in the background, but for the time-being they are off limits. This is a shame as there are some truly spectacular lighthouses on the west coast of Scotland which would make stunning backdrops for battles with zombies.

I’m not the first writer to be inspired by lighthouses (Robert Louis Stevenson used the places the visited while working in his family’s lighthouse building business as inspiration for several of the novels he wrote later in life) and I’m sure I’ll not be the last. I do, however, need to make sure that this slight obsession with them doesn’t sneakily grow to the point where it hijacks my writing. The occasional lighthouse-based zombie story is one thing, but too many of them and I know it will become repetitive.

Yet, if a zombie apocalypse were ever to happen and I made it out of the city in one piece, there’s a good chance you’d find me holed up in one. I haven’t quite decided which one yet, but there’s a few I’ve definitely got my eye on!


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

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2 Responses to “Of Lighthouses And Zombies …”

  1. RStorey 13/08/2013 at 01:01 #

    Lighthouses have always been a beacon of safety, and so that feeling of security have become engrained in our society. When one is the setting of disturbing tale, it is unsettling.

    • cmdrysdale 15/08/2013 at 23:06 #

      That’s an interesting way to look at it.

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