Archive | December, 2013

Waiting Up For Santa Claus: A Cautionary Tale

23 Dec

This is the first of two festive zombie stories which I’ll be posting here over the next couple of days. If you’ve been with this blog from its very early days, you may have read this one when I originally posted it here last year. However, many of you will not have been following my work for that long, so I figured it might be worth re-posting it for those who haven’t come across it before. This is also one of the 23 stories which features in my recently released anthology titled Zombies Can’t Swim And Other Tales Of The Undead, so if you want to read it offline, you can purchase the Kindle ebook edition, which is only $0.99, and read it from there.

Tomorrow’s story will be a brand new festive tale which tells of an office Christmas party that takes a sudden, and unexpected, turn for the worse …



Waiting Up For Santa Claus: A Cautionary Tale


‘Look!’ The girl pointed excitedly, ‘It’s him, it has to be.’

The boy glanced at the clock on the wall, slightly confused, ‘But it’s not midnight yet.’

‘So?’

‘So it’s not Christmas Day, is it?’

‘But it looks just like him. And besides,’ the girl said knowingly, ‘It’s already Christmas somewhere. Maybe he’s just early.’

The two children were peeking through their curtains, trying not to be seen. Despite their mother’s frequent warnings that he wouldn’t come unless they were asleep, they’d been determined to catch a glimpse Santa Claus. They tried every year but they never quite managed it. This year it seemed they might have finally succeeded. At five minutes to twelve, they’d heard a noise and had scampered from their beds to investigate.

Outside, their front yard was covered with snow, the snowman they’d built earlier in the day still staring off into the distance. Beside him was a new figure, his red coat stretched across his portly belly. They couldn’t see his face, but curly white hair hung down below a hat edged with fur. Beside the man lay a large sack from which spilled brightly wrapped packages. He stood slouching, one arm around the neck of the snowman. The man wasn’t really moving, just swaying slightly from side to side.

The boy looked up at his sister. ‘What should we do?’

The older child scratched her head as she surveyed the room they’d shared for as long as either of them could remember. A Christmas tree stood decorated in one corner while home-made streamers were strung across the ceiling. Finally, her eyes landed on the stockings that hung expectantly from the ends of their beds and an idea popped into her head. She grinned at her brother, ‘Let’s go out and see if he’ll give us our presents now, before we go to sleep.’

‘Yeah, that would be really cool.’

‘We’ll need to be quiet though. We don’t want Mom waking up.’

The younger kid rubbed his backside, remembering how it had felt when he’d been spanked for getting into a fight at school. If she’d been mad because of that, she’d be madder if she caught them out of bed on Christmas Eve. She’d already shouted at them earlier in the evening when they were still bouncing round their room long after they should have been tucked up in bed. Twice. But this was an opportunity not to be missed. After all, how many other kids would be able to say they’d got their presents from Santa Claus himself rather than just waking up on Christmas morning and finding he’d visited them in the night?

They grabbed their stockings and crept to the door. The elder child inched it open, making sure it didn’t squeak. Once there was enough room, they slipped through and snuck down the stairs, remembering to jump over the loose one at the bottom, the one that always creaked loudly when anyone stood on it. At the front door, the girl turned to her younger brother, ‘You sure about this?’

He nodded enthusiastically.

She reached up and took the key from its hook before sliding it into the keyhole. It first turned smoothly and silently, then there was resistance followed by a quiet click that told her the door was now unlocked. The girl pressed down the handle and pulled it open, letting in a blast of frigid air. The two children shivered in their thin night-clothes. Outside the street was silent, the snow muffling the usual noises of the night. The man had moved away from the snowman and now stood on the far side of their front yard with his back to them. The snow round his feet was messed up as if he’d been shuffling through it rather than walking across it. His sack still lay open on the ground by the snowman, seemingly forgotten.

Leaving the door open, the girl stepped forward, feeling the snow crunch under her weight, the cold shooting up through the soles of her feet. For a moment she thought about going back for her shoes but that would take time and he might be gone before she got back. She’d just need to be quick. Running forward, she called out quietly, ‘Santa, don’t go, we’re here. Can we have our presents now?’

Just as the girl reached the snowman, the figure in the red suit turned and she saw his face for the first time. She skidded to a halt, causing her brother to crash into her from behind, and stared at the face beneath the fur-trimmed hat. The man’s pale, sallow skin was splattered with red and his white beard was stained by a thick dark fluid that dripped slowly onto the snow. His deeply sunken eyes were a dull black with no spark of life in them.

‘That’s not Santa Claus. Is it?’ There was a frightened tone in the young boy’s voice. He clung to his sister’s arm. He didn’t know why but the man scared him. Maybe it was something to do with the eyes and the way they seemed to stare right through him.

‘No.’ The girl was frightened too. She tried to think of what to do next, but it seemed her brain had stopped working. She wanted to run, but couldn’t; she was rooted to the spot.

Then the man started towards them, slowly at first but becoming faster with each faltering step. Suddenly, the girl was no longer frozen with fear. She turned and fled, pulling her younger brother with her, but it was difficult to run across the snow in bare feet. She glanced over her shoulder and saw that the man in the Santa outfit was gaining on them. As he moved, he let out a moan that sank deep into her soul.

The kids were almost back at the house when the girl’s foot slipped on a patch of ice. She tumbled to the ground, pulling her little brother with her and landing heavily on her back. She pushed the boy onwards, towards the safety of the front door. As he disappeared inside, the girl rolled onto her front. The snow crumbled beneath her as she desperately struggled to get back onto her feet.

The girl yelled when she felt the man’s hand close around her leg and start dragging her backwards through the snow. But it didn’t feel like a real hand. While it gripped her so tightly it hurt, there was no warmth in it. Instead, it felt as cold as ice. She turned and saw the man’s face again, this time much closer. His red hat had fallen from his head, but he didn’t seem to have noticed or even to care. While his eyes looked lifeless, maybe even soulless, his jaw moved back and forth, causing his teeth to gnash against each other.

The girl kicked out, trying to break his grip, but even though she hit him as hard as she could he didn’t seem to notice. She heard someone screaming. It seemed distant at first, but quickly grew closer and closer. For a moment, the girl wondered who it was, then it dawned on her that it was coming from her own mouth. She struggled frantically but it was no use, she couldn’t get away. As the figure in the red suit loomed over her, blocking out the stars, the girl felt his fetid breath on the side of her face and realised she was going to die.

The man sank his teeth deep into her neck, ripping at her flesh. Although the girl could see her own blood spraying across the snow-covered yard, turning it a deep crimson red, she felt no pain. As the life drained from her body, the girl wished she’d listened to her mother. She wished she’d gone to sleep instead of trying to stay awake until Santa arrived.



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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.

The Need For Conflict In Zombie Apocalyse Fiction

20 Dec

A key element of zombie apocalypse stories is, of course, zombies. However, good zombie apocalypse stories also need some sort of conflict. Think, for example, of The Walking Dead. By series three, they seem to have got a pretty good handle on how to deal with the zombies themselves, but add The Governor to the mix, and suddenly everything is so much more difficult for the survivors because they have to deal with not just one thing, but two. The same can be seen in 28 Days Later, where Jim and his fellow survivors are caught between the infected and the remnants of the British Army.

However, not just any old conflict will do. The conflict needs to be such that the survivors have to choose between keeping themselves safe from the zombies, and dealing with the other source of danger (what every that might be). This can be seen in 28 Days Later, where in order to survive Jim must leave the safety of the stately home and take his chances amongst the infected if he is to survive long enough to be able to rescue his two female companions from the soldiers who are holding them.

Conflicts can take a number of forms. Firstly, the conflict can come from within a group of survivors. Such internal conflicts are usually driven by either a difference of opinion on how to deal with the zombie threat (e.g. stay put or move on), or by a battle for control. Sometimes both of these can be happening at the same time (think of the conflict between Rick and Shane in series two of The Walking Dead). These internal conflicts often cause the survivors to take their eye off the other ball which is in play (i.e. the zombies), usually with disastrous, and deadly, results.

Secondly, there can be conflict between groups of survivors. Such inter-group conflicts are often the result of ideological differences between either the groups themselves, or their leaders. In series three of The Walking Dead, much of the conflict between Woodbury and those in the prison is driven by the different leadership styles of Rick (listens to others in the group, and gives them freedoms to do things on their own) and The Governor (requires total control and loyalty). Clearly Rick’s way of doing things is incompatible with The Governor’s, and this results in needless death and destruction as they fight it out. Again, this lets the zombies cause more havoc than they otherwise would if the survivors could concentrate all their attention and energy on dealing with them.

Thirdly, the conflict can come from the need to get somewhere. In these stories, staying locked away in a nice safe place would be the best for all concerned, but instead, for some reason or other, the survivors must leave the place of safety and head somewhere else. This is essentially the conflict in movies such as Zombieland and Shaun Of The Dead, and also in the TV mini-series Dead Set.

Finally, there are conflicts with the environment. Sometimes, it’s not just the zombies but landscape they are in which causes the survivors additional problem. For example, in Dawn Of The Dead, the shopping mall creates a conflict. At first, it seems to be the perfect place to hole up, keeping them safely locked away from the zombie threat. However, as the movie progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the shopping mall is also a trap, and it’s one they will have to leave at some point if they are to survive in the long-term, and that will mean facing the zombies. In fact, by apparently attracting the zombies, the shopping mall is actually making their inevitable departure more and more dangerous as time goes on.

We, as humans, find these types of conflicts, where you have an increased risk of dying simply because the conflict is present, regardless of how you respond to it, naturally intriguing, and we will continually discuss what we would have done in the same circumstances. This may be because these are the types of decisions are brains evolved to have to cope with. In fact, they are something which many animals have evolved to cope with, and there’s a whole field in ecology devoted to studying them. Most notably are starvation-predation trade-offs. These are created when animals are hunted by bigger predators. This means animals face two choices: they can carry a lot of extra energy stores (in the form of fat), meaning they’re less likely to starve if they run into problems finding food, but they’re also more likely to be caught by their predators because it makes them less manoeuvrable. If, however, they choose the make themselves slimmer so that they can better escape from predators, they risk starvation if food supplies run low.

If fact, many zombie stories can be viewed through this exact same ecological trade-off lens, with the conflicts being between the need for finding food and safety, and the need to avoid being killed by ‘predators’ (in the form of either the zombies, or other survivors). This was something I noticed when I was writing For Those In Peril On The Sea, and there’s even a specific reflection by one of the characters on the fact that they’d find it easy to survive if it was just one threat they we up against, but not when it was two or, in this case, three, each of which required conflicting responses in terms of how they live their lives (this is surreptitious reference, for those who know me in my other life as an academic, to a paper I was working on at the same time).

Of course, a lack of conflict doesn’t mean that a zombie story won’t be any good. In fact, in short stories, adding such conflicts can just disrupt the flow. This is because short stories only really have room to explore a single theme rather than complex interactions between different themes. However, in films and full length novels, a conflict of some kind it needed to drive the story forward. Without it, the story will quickly become boring and repetitive as the survivors run from one zombie attack to another. With it, the story will become much more compelling, leaving the reader wondering how exactly the conflict will be resolved as the story builds to its final conclusion.



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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.

How Outbreaks Spread … Or Why I’m Moving To St. Helena Just In Case There’s A Zombie Apocalypse

16 Dec

For there to be a zombie apocalypse, the disease which turns people into zombies must spread. Traditionally, it’s always been assumed that diseases spread geographically, and that the closer you are to the source of an epidemic (whether zombie-related or not), the sooner you are likely to encounter it. For most of human history this was, indeed, the case. However, in the last fifty years or so this has gradually changed, and now things are quite different. This is because, thanks to the ubiquity of modern air travel, the way the world is connected has changed. This has led to a disconnect between the geographic distance between any two points on the planet and the transmission distance (which measures the ease by which a disease can get from point A to point B).

This means it is now easier for a disease to spread from London to New York, despite the several thousand miles of water between them, than between London and Cape Wrath at the far northwestern tip of Scotland, which is only a few hundred miles away on the same island, but which has no direct connections of any kind to London (the two are not even connected by road). Indeed, a disease might find it easier to get from London to Sydney, Australia, on the other side of the world, than from London to Cape Wrath because of the way airlines now connect the world.

While this might be intuitively obvious once someone points it out, it’s only recently that this has started to be incorporated into our understanding of how diseases spread. Of particular interest here is the work of theoretical physicist Dirk Brockmann, who, along with a number of colleagues, has created a mathematical model of how the connectivity resulting from modern air travel affects how diseases, such as SARS, swine flu or (in theory at any rate) a zombie virus, spread around the world, but you don’t have to understand maths to be able to see what’s going on. This is because he’s used his model to produce some really beautiful and interesting videos, like the one below, to show what’s going on.

The video below starts with an outbreak of a disease in Atlanta, Georgia, and shows how it rapidly spreads around the world along the air routes which radiate out from this air hub.

For those of us interested in creating zombie apocalypse stories, these new models of how diseases spread in the modern world can help us create more realistic scenarios for how a zombie epidemic caused by a disease might be transmitted around the world. For those who worry that it’s only a matter of time before a zombie apocalypse actually happens, it can also be very informative as it highlights where in the world you’d have your best chance of avoiding being caught up in the outbreak.

For this reason, I’ve been looking around for possible places to relocate to just in case there’s a zombie apocalypse looming over the horizon, and based on the connectivity suggested by the above model, I think I have the perfect place: the small tropical island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. It has no airport and is two days by sea from the nearest airstrip (on Ascension Island, which, in itself, is hardly a major air hub!). I think I’d be pretty safe there. As it happens, I’ve also been there as part of my day job as a marine biologist, and I can tell you from experience, it’s a really nice place and I could think of a lot worse places to hole up while waiting for the world to come to an end.

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If you want to find out more about Dirk Brockmann’s research on how diseases spread, click here.



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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.

New Zombie Anthology: Zombies Can’t Swim And Other Tales Of The Undead

14 Dec

Front Cover For Zombies Can't Swim Anthology

Front Cover For Zombies Can’t Swim Anthology

I’m pleased to announce that my zombie anthology, Zombies Can’t Swim And Other Tales Of The Undead is now available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback from Amazon.

It consists of 23 stories which explore a variety of zombie and post-apocalyptic related themes in tales ranging from ones short enough to fit in a Twitter posting, through flash fiction to full length short stories. They take their inspiration from subjects as disparate as the real life mystery of Flannan Isle through dilemmas you may face in a zombie apocalypse to why you shouldn’t try waiting up for Santa Claus (a nice little seasonal read given the time of year!).

Those of you who regularly follow this blog will have seen all but one of these stories before, since they were originally posted here at various points over the last year (and have also been available as PDFs on my main website). However, to give a bit of added value, there’s one brand new story, called The Black Heart Of The Sea, which will only ever appear in this anthology. I’ve also taken the opportunity to do a bit of editing where the stories needed it, and to add some author’s notes to the end of most of the stories which provides information about where the story ideas came from. Finally, there’s a nice wrap-around cover design which I created specifically for this anthology.

The paperback costs $7.99, while the Kindle ebook costs just $0.99, and would make the perfect stocking-filler for the zombie-lover in your life who hasn’t already come across these stories via this blog or the For Those In Peril website.

The stories which have been included are:

The Bookshop
I’m With The Band
Zombies Can’t Swim
Last Flight Out
Waiting Up for Santa Claus: A Cautionary Tale
Nightwatch
The Watcher
Leaving
The Lighthouse At The End Of The Road
The Wall
The Girl At Little Harbour
A Plague On Both Your Houses
When Death Came To Flannan Isle
Family
Three Men In A Boat
The Emergency Room
Survival Skills
The Custom Of The Sea
Winter’s End
When The Comet Came
The Labyrinth
Apocalypse Apartments Incorporated
The Black Heart Of The Sea



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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.

Reviews All Great And Small…

11 Dec

As all writers know, their books can live or die based on the reviews they receive, and at one time, only a precious few ever got to write them. Now, with the growth of the internet, and of social media, anyone can write a review. This allows light to be shone on works which would once have lain undiscovered.

This system where anyone can review anything at any time is, however, also open to mis-use and abuse. Some of this is pretty shameless, such as authors creating false accounts to write positive reviews about their own work or to trash the work of others.

Yet, there’s another, more mischievous side to the mis-use of reviews, and they can be highly amusing. This is when people en-masse start leaving reviews for other purposes than to simply provide a review for others to read, sometimes for the most mundane of products. In some cases, they are providing social commentary, sometimes they are tales of woe, sometimes they hilarious, and sometimes they’re all three.

Take the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer, for example. It’s just a simple piece of plastic for, you guessed it, slicing bananas, yet it’s gathered just over 4,500 reviews on Amazon.com, and reading these reviews you get the impression that few of them are meant to be taken serious. Take this one for example:

‘I tried the banana slicer and found it unacceptable. As shown in the picture, the slices is curved from left to right. All of my bananas are bent the other way.’

or this one:

‘For decades I have been trying to come up with an ideal way to slice a banana. “Use a knife!” they say. Well…my parole officer won’t allow me to be around knives. “Shoot it with a gun!” Background check…HELLO! I had to resort to carefully attempt to slice those bananas with my bare hands. 99.9% of the time, I would get so frustrated that I just ended up squishing the fruit in my hands and throwing it against the wall in anger. Then, after a fit of banana-induced rage, my parole officer introduced me to this kitchen marvel and my life was changed. No longer consumed by seething anger and animosity towards thick-skinned yellow fruit, I was able to concentrate on my love of theatre and am writing a musical play about two lovers from rival gangs that just try to make it in the world. I think I’ll call it South Side Story.’

If banana-slicer based comedy is not your thing, what about the reviews of a book called Cooking With Pooh… Now, the title is literally correct, since it’s a Winnie-the-Pooh-based cookbook, but you can also see how it has left itself open to scatological-based humour in the reviews, like this one:

‘A refreshingly simple entry into the cookbook publication industry, this book brings affordable gourmet cooking to the masses by focusing on a single inexpensive and abundant ingredient. It finally answers the nagging question of “how much sugar does it really take to make my food re-edible?” It also teaches us valuable lessons about the beautiful and endless cycle of life.’

Want a bit more social commentary in your reviews? What about the ones for the $40,000 Samsung UN85S9 85-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D Smart LED TV (yes this is a real product and a real price), such as:

‘I was going to fund my daughters wedding in Hawaii, but I figured this Samsung TV would last much longer.’

or

‘I bought it just to watch the garbage man struggle pitifully as he attempted to fit the box into the back of his recycling truck. Worth it.’

Then we start venturing into the world of the surreal with the Proporta Elephant camouflage kit (which apparently was on sale for a cool £1,000,000 on Amazon.co.uk). One review reads:

‘This stuff is brilliant. I too have made my herd of elephants invisible to the human eye. I’m sure you know what’s coming next.

I have no flipping clue where my elephants are. Only by carefully inspecting the butter dish can I tell when they have been in the fridge. For all I know they have left the country or are carrying out a series of bank robberies. Keep ’em peeled, folks.

So 5 stars for effectiveness but only 1 for utility. I can’t for the life of me even remember why I wanted to paint my pachyderms in the first place.

I am now in the market for a cohort of zebra as I have invented a giant bar code reader and I want to try it out. Can exchange for some roller brushes (used once); some fencing which is almost certainly not elephant proof, but to be honest I have no real way of knowing.’

Finally, I’m going to end with those telling a cautionary tale, and that highlight why men should always be forced to read the instructions before using a product (and indeed to read other people’s reviews properly before buying a product!). These are reviews of Veet For Men Hair Removal Cream, on both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Oddly, there’s only 31 reviews on the first site, and almost 750 on the second. I think this tells you something about the differences between the US and the UK, but I’m not quite too sure what.

Many of these reviews follow a similar, rather hilarious vein, and many are worth perusing, but the one I’d particularly recommend reading is by a certain Mr A. Chappell, and can be found here. Men, you might wince a little (or more likely a lot!) as well as laugh when you read it; women, you’ll just laugh your head off at the stupidity of men. Either way, the lesson to learn is always read the instructions AND do what they say, and if you don’t, you can always post a review to help others avoid your own mistakes. Not that they’ll heed your advice…



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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.

Learning To Write

8 Dec

Recently, I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought about how people learn to write, and in particular how they learn to write fiction. You might assume that this is something which they learn at school, but I think in many cases this is not true. Instead, all school teaches you is a few of the most basic rules about the English language and then leaves you to get on with it. For example, despite them being important to writers, I don’t think I was ever shown how to use a semi-colon or colon by any of my teachers. In addition, while I might have been taught the mechanics of how to put a sentence together (all that stuff about having a subject, an object and a verb to tell you what the subject was doing to the object or visa versa), I was taught little about how to do it in a way which would have any sort of impact. So, if writers aren’t taught how to write in school where do they pick it up from?

Well, I think the answer here is from reading other people’s writing, and working out what you like and what you don’t, and then applying these rules to your own work. I think it’s no accident that most writers are also avid readers, often from an early age, and that it’s this experience with other people’s books which inspired them to become the writers they now are. This means that the only way in which you can hope to become a better writer is to read lots and write lots. Yet, this is not how we’re taught, at least not in British schools. Instead, at least in high school, we were generally assigned maybe one or two books a year which we would read and critique in detail, seeking out meaning in the most minor and mundane of details. And to be honest, most of what we were assigned to read was by dead white men (some of whom had been dead for a very long time) and were things which were considered classics.

Yet, these weren’t the books that interested me, or the type of thing I might actually want to write myself. The result, and I think this is the same for many people, I pretty much lost interest in creative writing, and indeed in reading fiction at all. Instead, throughout much of my teenage years and into my early twenties, pretty much all I read were non-fiction books (primarily biographies, travelogues and popular science books). It wasn’t really until my late twenties when I was spending a lot of time on boats, where sharing your books around is the social norm, and to not do so would be considered rude, that I started picking up fiction books again simply because that was what was available. Except these weren’t the dry ‘classics’ of my youth. Instead, they tended to be what my teachers would probably have called (using air quotes and a derogatory tone) ‘popular’ fiction. I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on (when you’re sitting on a boat waiting for the weather to clear so you can get to work, you get bored very quickly without a book to read), and while I’d be the first to admit that a lot of it was pretty bad, there were some hidden gems in there too which have been really influential on my own writing style. Things like the work of Carl Hiaasen, the novel Spares, and, indeed, the Harry Potter books (which I first picked up as a last resort because I’d read all the books written for grown-ups). Later I got into the works of writers such as John Wyndham, Iain Rankin, Christopher Brookmyre and the late great Iain Banks.

Through this, I started to learn what I liked and what I didn’t, and also things like how pull a plot together, how to develop characters and so on. This was all the stuff I should’ve been taught at school if my teachers had really wanted to inspire me to love the English language rather than alienate me from it, and I think it’s no coincidence that it was also at this time in my life that I started writing short stories for what was probably the first time since I was in little school.

My point in all of this is that our education system seems to have it all wrong when it comes to teaching kids how to write. It tells them read this book, and only this book, which the education system has deemed acceptable and if kids don’t like it, the aren’t provided with an alternative. As a result, many simply choose not to read. Yet, there’s no reason to think you can only learn to appreciated what’s good writing and how to do it by reading classic literature. Instead, I would argue that you can learn this from reading almost anything. This means what we should be doing is letting kids choose what they wish to read, and if they don’t like it, then get them to think about why they didn’t like it before allowing them to move on to something they like better. The key thing here is to make sure they keep reading, and exploring literature in all its forms rather than telling them that it’s the classics or nothing. In this way, we would be giving them the tools to write if they want to (or not if they don’t – and there’s nothing wrong with that) rather than leaving them with so little knowledge that they can write their name and little else simply because they were put off learning about English because of the books which were forced upon them.

It may be that it’s different in other countries, but I suspect it’s not. And I suspect the reason for this is because of a fundamental problem with education. This problem is that it assumes that every teacher is capable of teaching every pupil, and that everyone can be inspired by studying the same set of limited texts. Yet, this fails to recognise that not everyone’s brains work in the same ways, and nor does it take into account that all humans, even teachers, have personalities. This means that not everyone sees the world in the same way, and it can be very difficult for some one who sees the world one to teach, or be taught by, someone who sees the world differently. This is, after all, why one person will absolutely love a particular book while another will absolutely hate it. And this is why each writer has their own set of books and stories which have inspired them to write.

So, learning to write isn’t about learning a set of rules, or about learning what someone else thinks some long dead author meant when they were writing a book which has, possibly more by chance than quality, survived long enough to be considered a classic. Instead, it’s about reading everything you can get your hands on (whether classics or not) so that you can learn what you like and what you don’t, and then apply in to your own writing. Of course, this is all just my opinion, and if you see the world differently, feel free to disagree with me.



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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.