Archive | February, 2014

Useful Resources For Zombie Authors

27 Feb

You might think that writing a good zombie novel is as simple as coming up with a good idea and then getting it down on paper, but there’s much more to it than that. In particular, one of the most intriguing and spine-tingling aspects of many zombie stories is that they take place in a world not too different from the one the reader lives in, except for the zombies of course, and that leaves them feeling like it could happen to them. This means that you need to work hard to make sure that the zombie-filled world you create still feels real, and you need to make sure that you don’t have survivors doing the physically impossible, that you don’t have guns which can fire an infinite number of shots without having to be reloaded, cars driving vast distances without ever stopping for more fuel, and so on.

You might think you can gloss over the details, but you’d be wrong. It’s the little things that can make the difference between a story working really well, and it falling flat on its face. It doesn’t help that if you make even a minor mistake, someone somewhere will spot it (and there’s a good chance that, one way or another, they’ll let you know!). For example, if you have a character using a specific model of gun, you can guarantee that someone will be counting the bullets which it fires before the character stops to reload, and they will be quick to point out if it’s more than that specific weapon can hold.

So how do you get the details right? Well, sometimes, you can fill in the details about things from your own experiences (like how hard it is to kick a door down – much more difficult than they make it look on television!), but many other times you’ll need to do a bit of research to make sure that you get them right. This means you need to become an armchair expert in things as diverse as guns, car mechanics, geography, survival skills, medicine and first aid, epidemiology, and even human anatomy. For the first time writer, working out where to find all this information can seem daunting, but it’s not as hard as it might at first seem, especially in a world where you can google just about anything and come up with an answer. Of course, you also have to remember that just because it comes first in a search engine, it doesn’t make the information contained on a website right.

With this in mind, here’s a few resources which zombie authors are likely to find useful. I’ll start with two general ones:

1. Wikipedia: Wikipedia is often my first stop when looking for information on any subject, and it generally proves reliable (although not always in-depth enough). If you find it useful, or if you use it regularly, consider making a donation to keep it going, and advert free.

2. Google Earth: This is a great, and I suspect greatly under-used, resource for writers. You use it to check up on the layout of cities, to work out how long it would take to get from place to place, to plan out escape routes and search for great places to hide out. If you want to make sure that your zombie story fits neatly into an existing landscape, this is the resource for you.

Now for some more topic-specific ones:

1. Diseases: If you’re going down the route of having your zombies caused by a disease, you’ll need to make sure your disease plays by the rules. This means tracking down information about how diseases spread and how they affect people (especially if you’re going to base your zombie disease on a real disease). For this, I’d recommend checking out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website as it has lots of helpful information (although you may have to dig around to find just what you’re looking for). They also have a web portal of toxic substances which might also prove useful.

2. Military Hardware: if you’re going to have a strong military element within your zombie novel, you’ll need to make sure that you know your howitzers from your hand grenades. One of the best places to find out more about military hardware is through the Military.com equipment guide. It will tell you all you’ll need to know about almost any type of weapon you can imagine (and possibly a few you can’t).

3. Vehicles: Vehicles can be tricky. How far could you drive on half a tank? Would you really be able to take it off-road and keep it in one piece? How full could you cram it with people or gear or cases of spam raided from the nearest warehouse before it refuses to go anywhere? If this is what you need to find out, try the car specifications data base from Carfolio.com. They claim to have technical specifications on just about everything that’s ever been produced.

4. Vehicle maintenance: If you need to have your characters fix cars or cannibalise them for spare parts, you’ll need to know about mechanics. For specific vehicles, one of the best places to start is the relevant Haynes manual. This will show you how to take your vehicle apart and put it together again, and help you include just the right details when you’re writing about it.

5. Survival Skills: For years, the place to find out about survival skills was the SAS Survival Handbook, and I think I still have my old copy floating around somewhere from when I was a teenager. Nowadays, much of the same information can be found online. One good source of information is the Wilderness Survival Guide where you can find lots of handy hints about how to survive in the wild (although it doesn’t cover how to fend off marauding zombies – a bit of an oversight on their part if you ask me!).

6. Medical Skills: Writing about medical skills and procedures, and getting it right can be difficult. Generally, my advice would be to find a friendly doctor and ask their advice on anything medical, but if you don’t have that option, you can try The Wilderness First Aid Handbook for information about how someone with only basic first aid training might be able to deal with accidents and injuries in a realistic manner. If you need something that is a bit more technical, especially related to injuries likely to be suffered from guns and other weapons, and how characters might deal with them, you can try the Emergency War Handbook to see if it has any useful tips. It will also help inform you about what levels of injury are survivable and what aren’t.

7. Human Anatomy And Physiology: If you want to find out anything about the human body and how it works, the best place to start if Gray’s Anatomy (no, not the overly-schmulchy TV series, but the book which it stole its name from). For the last 150 years, it has been the book on what humans look like on the inside. Yes, it can be a bit technical in places, but it will have the information you’re looking for.

8. Military Strategy: Many zombie novels strongly feature military reactions and/or strategies in the response to a zombie apocalypse – either through the conventional military, or militias set up by survivors. Either way, knowing a bit about military strategy will help you to make things as realistic as possible. If you want a case in point, read Max Brook’s World War Z. Almost all the military strategies and set pieces he featured in that have been lifted straight out of real military history (it’s just that he’s applying it to fighting zombies and not badly behaved neighbouring countries!). A good starting point to learn more about military strategy is a books called (perhaps unsurprisingly) Military Strategy: Principles, Practices, and Historical Perspectives by John M. Collins.

9. psychopaths: Within zombie good zombie novels, the struggles between survivors can be just as important as the struggles against the zombies. Think, for example, of The Governor in The Walking Dead. Yet, getting the bad guys just right can be difficult. This is because it is too easy to slip into stereotypes and leave the villans feeling a bit one-dimensional, especially if you’re aiming to portray them as somewhat psychopathic. If you want to get these types of characters right, a good starting point is to read a book called Without Conscience: The disturbing World Of The Psychopaths Among Us. It’s written by Robert Hare, the world expert on psychopaths, and reading it will help you get your baddies feeling just right and true to life. I’d also recommend reading this so that you can learn to spot any psychopaths you may run into in your everyday life (and with psychopaths making up 1% of the population, this will happen more often than you might expect).

Finally, there’s the zombie forums. A lot of these have sections specific to topics like selecting a vehicle, what weapons would be best for killing zombies and how to survive. They offer the opportunity for you to ask questions about even the most unusual zombie-related subjects and get an answer back from people who really know their stuff. Some also offer you the opportunity to discuss plot ideas, and get feedback on your novel as it progresses, which can be really useful when you’re stuck on how to get a specific scene to work and you just can’t see a way forward on your own. Of those available, these are amongst my favourites:

1. The Zombie Squad Forum: A great forum with separate message boards covering everything from weapons to survival skills, bug out bags, zombie biology and zombie combat tactics.

2. Homepage Of The Dead: The HtoD forum also covers a wide range of topics, but probably of most use is the Fiction Discussion section where you can discuss all things to do with writing zombie stories as well as sharing ideas or asking for help with problems.

3. Post-apocalyptic Forum: Not directly zombie-related, but still post-apocalyptic in nature. One particularly board is called Apocalypse Now where people post photos and links to real examples of what the world might look like once the zombies take over. Always good for a bit of inspiration when want to really get into the visual description of life in a post-apocalyptic world.

4. Permuted Press Forum: The Permuted Press Forum (publishers of a number of zombie books), provides a number of boards of interest to zombie writers. This includes their board about writing and the publishing business. It won’t really help you fill in the details, but it will help you with your writing in general.

These are just the resources which I use while writing, and I’m sure that there’s many others out there too which would be of use to zombie writers. If you have your own favourite and it’s not covered here, feel free to post it in a comment on this article with a brief note about what it is and why you find it useful.



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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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If You Became A Zombie, Would You Ever Want To Become Human Again?

21 Feb

I’m working on a short story at the moment which is inspired by the movie ‘Awakenings‘. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s the true story of one doctor’s attempts to reach people who’ve become locked in a catatonic state by a disease they caught as a child. Decades later, he found a drug that managed to awaken them (hence the title), but their rest-bite was only brief and soon they slipped away again, but all the time knowing what was happening to them.

What, I wondered, would it be like if someone became a zombie (of the still-living infected kind rather than the traditional risen-from-the-dead kind) and we discovered a drug which could make them human again? How would such people manage to cope once they found out what they’d done while in their zombie state? What if they’d killed strangers? Or friends? Or relatives?

This was a subject which was touched upon in the great TV series ‘In The Flesh‘ which aired last year, but I’ve been thinking about it again because of the short story I’m writing. I guess the question here is whether, if you became infected with a zombie disease, would you want to become human again if that choice was available to you? Yes, you would have your life back, but you’d have to live with the knowledge of what you’d been and what you’d done. It’s also very unlikely that your friends and family would treat you as being the same person they’d always known and loved. Some might shun you, or treat you as a second class citizen. Even those who didn’t would still treat you differently, they wouldn’t be able to help it, and would you be able to live with those changed relationships? The mother who can’t bring herself to hug you, the partner who jumps every time you roll over in the night, the children who run away and hide when you approach.

What about if it wasn’t a cure that brought you back, but simply a way to keep the disease at bay, meaning you’d have to take medication for the rest of your life. Would you want to become human again then? Would you want to live with the responsibility of knowing that if you ever forgot to take your medication, you would once again turn and be a danger to all those around you?

What if it was only temporary? What if you knew the medication would only make you human again for a few weeks, or days, or even just a few hours? Would you want to take it just for a few moments of once again being who you’d once been?

Then again, the decision to start treatment wouldn’t be yours, would it? It would be your doctor’s or your family’s, or it might even be forced on you by the government. If a zombie disease arrived and you wanted to make sure you were never brought back if you caught it, would you need to sign a ‘Do Not Dezombify’ statement like the ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ statements which exist today?

Personally, if something like this happened to me, I’d probably not want to be brought back. I might if there was a straight out cure, although I’d have difficulty living with the knowledge of what I might have done in my zombie state. I certainly wouldn’t want the responsibility if I’d have to keep taking medication on a regular basis (sometimes I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on, especially when I’m writing, let alone remembering to take a pill three times a day). And I definitely wouldn’t want to come back if it was only temporary because I’d permanently be looking for signs that it was coming back and worrying that every little thing might be the first step on the steep slide back to zombism.

Yet, the temptation for loved ones would be to give you the medication, just so that they could spend more time with you, and get to say good-bye to you properly – to get the closure that would be so rare in any zombie outbreak – even if it wasn’t necessarily what you would want for yourself given the circumstances.

So, where am I going with this? Well, there are some quite serious issues here and they are ones we are increasingly have to think about and deal with in the modern world. Yes, zombies don’t exist (not yet at any rate!), but medicine has now reached the point were we can keep people alive in states that even a few years ago would have meant certain death. People are also living longer and that means more and more people are developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Together, this means we now live in an age where we ever more frequently face having to make decisions about the lives and deaths of those we love when they lose the capacity for doing it for themselves, yet we rarely speak to each other about it until it’s too late.

This might be a depressing thing for a Friday afternoon, but these are the types of conversations that we need to have with those around us in the world of modern medicine. We need to know what our friends and relatives would want to do in such situations, and we need to tell them what we would wish to happen to us. It sounds morbid, but it at least means we’re prepared if the worse were ever to happen and we end up in a state trapped between the living and the dead, unable to make decisions for ourselves.

Oh, and if there’s ever a zombie disease outbreak, please remember, it I could do it for myself, I’d tick the ‘Do Not Dezombify’ box.



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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 To Start Zombie Apocalypse Novel

17 Feb

A while ago, I did a post looking at the various ways you can successfully end a zombie novel. In this post, I want to look at how to start one. Here, the main issue is where along the time line of your particular zombie apocalypse do you drop into the lives of your character(s) and meet them for the first time?

There’s four broad possibilities here, three of which I think work quite well, each under different circumstances, and a fourth which doesn’t – or at least it’s very much harder to get it to work well. These are: 1. Finding the world has unexpectedly changed; 2. The descent from normality; 3. The zombie-filled world, and 4. The flashback. Each of these plays on slightly different aspects of the human psyche and will elicit different feelings and emotions in the reader.

1. Finding the world unexpectedly changed: In this option, a character, or group of characters, is somehow isolated from the world, and while they are no longer in touch with it, it changes in an unexpected manner (such as being over-run by zombies). Stories which start in this way feature the disconcertion and discombobulation of encountering a world which you both know and don’t know at the same time. Think, for example, of the start of 28 Days Later, where Jim wakes up to find himself in hospital, an unexpected enough event as the last thing he remembers is cycling along a road, but then as he progresses further and further from the bed he woke up in, he finds that he’s somehow been left alone in an apparently deserted city which should be teeming with life. The opening sequences are truly disconcerting for anyone familiar with London as they will never before have seen its streets so devoid of people. Indeed, this is the emotion which finding the world unexpectedly changed starts to play on, and indeed on the nagging worry in the back of people’s minds whenever they go to sleep that there’s no certainty that the world will be the same when they wake up. There is a similar nagging worry whenever you leave home, that there is a risk that it could all change in your absence. Really, I think that it boils down to humans struggling to deal with the fact that, in their absence, the world carries on without them and this means they are not the lead character – but rather just a bit player among millions on a larger stage.

The biggest problem with starting novels in this way is how you create a realistic and novel isolation scenario. The waking up in a hospital bed approach was done so well in 28 Days Later, it’s difficult now to use it without the reader instantly thinking you’ve copied the idea (even then, it wasn’t an original idea in that movie – it was ‘borrowed’ from the 1950s post-apocalyptic novel The Day of the Triffids). The Walking Dead also used this approach, and would invite further charges of plagiarism if you used it. Of course there are other possible scenarios which you could use: A prisoner being held in isolation, a group of people locked in a bunker for a military exercise, a spaceship returning to Earth after a long mission, or (and this was the scenario I used in For Those In Peril On The Sea), a boat coming back to shore after a long voyage. They key here is to make sure that your scenario can realistically explain why your character(s) don’t know what’s happened, such as a break down of some kind with the communication equipment.

If you do deploy this opening for a novel, you will need to fill in the back story as to exactly what happened at some point (because the reader will expect to be told). This is usually done through conversations with other survivors your main characters meet up with once they are over their initial shock at finding themselves in a world that’s suddenly changed. However, this has to be handled carefully and it cannot seem too much like a plot device to allow you to explain exactly what happened.

2. The descent from normality: In a descent from normality beginning to a story, you get a glimpse of what normal life is like for your character(s) before everything starts to fall apart. This can either be slowly (with little things just seeming a bit out of place at first, and then things getting progressively worse and worse – Max Brooks did this very well in the World War Z novel) or it can be very quickly, with everything going to hell pretty much in an instant (as occurred in the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead). Either way, the main emotion being played on here is the nagging worry that people have that, at some point , something will go wrong and their world will come crashing down around their ears. This means the reader can empathise with the characters as this happens, and wonder what they would do if they found themselves in a similar situation.

The descent from normality option is probably the easiest for the novice writer to attempt as it allows them to use a relatively linear narrative, and no need to have too much back story in conversation with others. However, care must be taken to make sure that you strike the right balance between having just enough of the non-action scenes before the start of the descent for the reader to get a handle on what the character’s normality is, and not so much that the reader is left wondering when the apocalypse is ever going to start (after all that is why they are reading a zombie apocalypse novel in the first place!).

As a general rule, the more normal the character(s) lives and situation is, the less you need to reveal of their normality before you can start in with the zombies. This is done really nicely in both Dawn of the Dead (someone returning from work and going to bed) and in Shaun of the Dead, where we get a brief glimpse into a normal day in his life (so we can see he’s stuck in a rut so big, it will take nothing less than the fall of civilisation to jolt him out of it). However, if you are setting your zombie apocalypse story in a quiet different from the real world (such as some alternative future version of Earth) or with characters whose daily lives are more unusual, you may need to provide a longer lead in so that the reader becomes familiar enough with their normality that they can understand the effect of the descent upon it, and those who live in it, when things start to change. Indeed, this is probably the biggest mistake that people make when using the descent from normality opening as there is a tendency to jump into the zombie action too quickly (e.g. having the opening line of: ‘It was a normal day for Bob, until he saw the zombies swarming up the street towards him’ – a good opening line to a short story, but probably not for a novel).

3. The zombie-filled world: In this type of start to a zombie novel, you drop in on your characters in a world already over-run (or being over-run) with zombies, usually at a point when something has changed in their life. For example, it might be a new character arriving in a group, a safe house being over-run, being force to move to a new location because of some threat, or something about the zombies changing (maybe getting more intelligent, or the disease which creates them spreading in a new way). The emotions you’re trying to elicit within the reader here is thinking about how they would survive in a world which is very different from the one they live in, and one which they don’t have the experience or the skills to handle, and you’re doing this by throwing them in at the deep end of just such a world.

The reason you need to have this start at a point of change in the characters’ lives is simply so that you have a fixed starting point to work from. From this point, you can then move forwards and backwards to fill the reader in on how the world came to be the way it is, and what’s then happening with the characters. Although not zombie stories, this is used very well in Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Road and the TV series Falling Skies.

The main difficulty which you will face if you wish to use this type of beginning is that you will have to make sure you build your world in your reader’s mind, and it can be quite difficult to explain the rules of how your world operates to them. In particular, you don’t have the luxury of having an essentially naive character who needs everything explained to them as you do in the first option.

4. The flashback: In a flashback beginning, you join a character during a tense scene or at a given point of action, often close to the end of your story arc, and have the character questioning how they ended up in that situation in the first place (this is also the emotional response which you are aiming to illicit in the reader, that of how someone can end up in a very bad place because of seemingly inconsequential decisions they have made in the past). This type of opening allows you to go back to the beginning and fill in everything that happened. This way you can show each of the decisions and why they lead the characters to end up where they did, hopefully with the reader screaming at them not to do something because they know that it will end up badly for the characters and they’d save if they just made a different decision.

This can be an effective ploy for a short story, but in general for a full length novel, it (in my opinion at any rate) can be very difficult to pull off successfully. This is because the reader will either have forgotten the flashback situation after a chapter or so, or will be aware that a specific point will be reached at sometime, and will be expecting it to be resolved with every turn of the page. This means it is difficult to integrate the reveal of what happens to end the flashback scene with the back story action. This can be done by moving back and forth between the character’s past and present, and it is often successfully done in movies. However, this is because you can use visual elements (clothes, hairstyles, locations etc.) to passively inform the viewer which time frame a given scene is in. When writing, you need some sort of similar ‘signpost’ for the time frame, but this often leads to the writing becoming rather clunky as it disrupts the flow.

So these are the basic options for starting a zombie apocalypse novel, but which one is right for you? Well this depends on your characters, your story arc, the world you’re aiming to create and what emotions you’re aiming to elicit from your readers. Really the key here is to pick one which works for your specific plot and fits with how you want to reveal your characters to your readers, but be aware that you shouldn’t try to shoe-horn a beginning to your novel which doesn’t fit with how the story will develop. Each type of opening promises the readers some very specific types of resolution and if they don’t get it, they will feel ripped off. For example, if you’re using the first option, you need to reveal to the reader at some point what happened to the world or they will quickly become frustrated at not being told. Similarly, with option 3, they will expect some back story to explain how the characters ended up in their new world and how they learned to cope with it, and if this is not done, they’ll feel cheated.

Personally, I like stories which start with the first type of opening, and that was one of the reasons why I chose it when writing For Those In Peril On The Sea. However, when I started work on the next book in the series (The Outbreak), which follows another group of survivors, I realised I could use this opening again without it feeling very same-y. For this reason, I’ve gone for a descent for normality option for this one, and it is likely that I’ll use the third option the for next book in the series because it will see the characters from the two books united in the pre-existing zombie-filled world. If I ever get round to a four book, I might be brave enough to try a flashback opening, but only because the rules of the world in which I’m writing should be firmly established by then in the readers’ minds, and it will use an existing character who is looking right back to the events which started my particular version of a zombie apocalypse. If I was starting a brand new series set in a very different world, I wouldn’t have these options and so wouldn’t even consider it.



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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.

Of Love And Zombies…

14 Feb

I’d be the first to admit that being a zombie author can sometimes be a bit all-consuming (pun intended!), especially when I’m deep in writing mode, or working up a new idea which has just come to me. In particular, when I’m writing an intense zombie set piece, I can disappear into my work for hours at a time, leaving my log-suffering girlfriend feeling like a bit of a laptop ‘widow’ as I hunker over the keys, tapping away like crazy (well more like thumping the keys as I don’t have the lightest touch, especially when lost in the action I’m writing!).

She also has to put up with me constantly running half-formed story ideas past her (some of which can be pretty weird and dark) and having to work her editing magic on what, even I would admit, can sometimes be quite poor first drafts, especially if I’m just trying to see if something works or not before writing a more complete version.

And then there’s the times when we’re out and about, and my eyes glaze of over, and she’ll give me a weary look and say, ‘You’re thinking about zombies again, aren’t you?‘ – and she’ll be right.

Luckily for me, she’s into the whole zombie thing, too, and also my rather dark sense of humour. How do I know this?

Well, this was the Valentine’s Day card she gave me this year, and I love her all the more for it!

Zombie Valentine's Day Card

It’s almost as good as last year’s one, where the strapline was: ‘I love you but if zombies chase us, I’m tripping you‘.

Both of them came from the same small craft company (Dream A Little Dream Crafts), and while it might be a bit late for this year, remember them next year for the zombie-lover in your life. You can find their full range 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.

Death From Above: Will It Be The Humble Bat Which Finally Start The Zombie Apocalypse?

6 Feb

Most of us probably don’t spend much of our time thinking about bats. We might see them flitting around from time to time in the growing darkness, or occasionally encounter one which strays, mistakenly into our house, but beyond that, bats don’t really make much of a dent in the collective consciousness of humans except as stereotypes in B list horror movies and around Halloween.

Yet, it turns out that bats have a much darker side than anyone ever suspected, and it is this dark side which means that it could be them, rather than some mad scientist hunched over his test-tubes and giggling maniacally, that triggers the zombie apocalypse. Well, okay, I’m taking things a bit too far there, but they could certainly trigger a worldwide pandemic which could bring civilisation crashing to its knees.

Why do I say this? Well, because it almost happened once already. How many of you remember the global panic triggered by the SARS outbreak in 2003? If not, here’s a quick reminder. SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome sprang out of nowhere and spread rapidly from Hong Kong to 37 countries across its nine month reign of terror. It killed almost 800 people, but more frighteningly it had a death rate of almost 10% (so one in ten people infected ended up dead). It also went airborne and leapt easily from person to person, and it was only a prompt worldwide response which finally brought it under control. When scientists started looking into where it came from, it quickly became clear that it was a zoonotic disease (that is one which leapt to humans from another animal species), and eventually the source was traced back to bats.

Now, you might think that this was a one-off, but it is far from it. If you want another example of a disease outbreak which originated from bats you need look no further than the much feared Ebola virus. Here’s a true nightmare disease that in some forms is 100% fatal and that basically causes your insides to turn to liquid and pour out through every orifice in your body.

Then there’s MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. That’s a new disease which is doing the rounds at the moment, killing a large proportion of people it infects, although it doesn’t seem to have gone airborne yet. It, too, is thought to have come from bats (albeit via camels).

This is just the start. There’s also the Hendra Virus (killed two in Australia), the Australian Lyssa Virus (a relative of rabies), the Nipah Viruus (it killed 50% of the 229 people it infected) and possibly the Marburg virus (a cousin of Ebola). Thus, bats are often the prime suspect when an emergent virus suddenly appears out of nowhere to devastate human populations large and small. And of course, bats are also a regular source of that old favourite of zombie authors – Rabies, so maybe the title of this article isn’t quite as far-fetched as it might at first seem.

So far these would-be epidemics have flared up and then died, some burning more brightly than others, but there are likely to be many other viruses out there lurking in bats, ready to jump to humans, and we never know when one of these viruses might have the killer combination of being highly contagious, kill a high proportion of those it infects and have airborne transmission from person to person and the luck to make it into our inter-connected system of flights and airports.

Normally, diseases have to trade-off virulence with the risk of extinction, because it they kill off too many of their hosts they risk killing themselves off too, but not zoonotic diseases. This is because they will continue to thrive in their primary hosts (non-human animals often referred to as the disease reservoir), so they can afford to wipe out any secondary hosts they leap into (like humans).

But, you may ask, why are bats so often the source of these outbreaks? First, and I must stress this, this is not because bats are some kind of disease-ridden pest. They are far from it. They probably carry no more diseases that humans do, it’s just that they are diseases we have not evolved to cope with. Similarly, they carry diseases which are no more inherently dangerous than those in many other animals, but they are ones we’ve never been exposed to before and this means we have no defences against them. In fact, the real risks comes from the actions of humans and not bats. Humans are impinging ever further into what was once pristine forests and wild lands all over the world and are destroying it at an ever-increasing rate. While many species perish, some bats can actually thrive quite well in or around human habitations. Indeed, many will quite happily roost in the buildings we construct, and this can bring humans and bats into ever-increasing levels of contact, an in ways which simply doesn’t happen with other animals.

Even then, many of the leaps of diseases from bats to humans come through accidental contamination, for example from farm animals eating fruit dropped by foraging bats, or getting infected from droppings of bats roosting over their heads in barns, and it is these animals which actually pass them onto humans. Occasionally, you get infections from direct contact. A few of these will be when someone, often a child, picks up a sick bat they find on the ground and are either scratched or bitten; more often, though, it comes from humans hunting and eating bats.

So how can we reduce the risk of diseases leaping from bats to humans? The answer is not in culling bats or trying to wipe them out, that would wrong on so many levels and it has been shown not to work. Instead, it is about modifying our behaviour and our buildings. We need to stop our continued destruction of untouched wilderness which brings us into contact with bats with new and frightening diseases in the first place. We also need to stop hunting and eating them for food. We need to make small changes to our farming methods to stop bats and farm animals coming into contact, and we need to educate people not to pick up sick or injured bats which they find on the ground. With these changes, we need not live in fear of bats, and instead we can live quite happily alongside them, and even share our homes with them.

So that’s it. while you might never suspect it to look at them, bats may carry within them the power to bring down humanity by infecting us with some terrifying new disease, but it is only our actions that will make it happen. This means that if there’s a zombie virus out there lurking in an unknown bat population in some as yet unexplored and unexploited rainforest, and it makes a leap into the human population, bringing the world as we know it to its knees, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

For more information on bats and human diseases, 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.

Why Should You Try To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse?

3 Feb

Most zombie stories are about the fight for survival in a world filled with the undead, but suppose a zombie apocalypse were ever to happen, should you try to survive, or should you just give in and let the walking dead win? If you were to look at the situation logically, you’d see that you’d be vastly out-numbered by a terrifying, and, some might say, unbeatable foe, and you would know there’s no way you could win. If that were the case, you might as well give up there and then. After all, struggling to survive would only be delaying the inevitable, and possibly making it an awful lot more painful and frightening into the bargain.

However, that’s only what logic says, and, despite what you might think, we humans are far from logical creatures. Instead, we are hard-wired to keep ourselves alive for as long as possible, regardless of the odds we’re facing or the chances that we might not succeed. As long as we think there is even a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, we’ll carry on, and it is this innate instinct that will push us on and keep us going, even on the darkest days of a zombie apocalypse.

I think this is a quality which we can all relate to, and I think this is one of the reasons that we find post-apocalyptic literature so appealing. We can empathise with the characters as they do all they can to keep themselves alive; and we can think about whether we’d have done the same, or whether we’d have done it differently when faced with the same situation.

Of course, there’s another innate instinct which most of us have, and this can cause a conflict with the drive to survive, no matter what. This is our natural inclination not to harm those we know and love. And, again, this conflict is part of the attraction of post-apocalyptic stories. We can be shocked when someone choses their own life over that of another, even when it means condemning them to certain death; or we can think someone stupid for risking their own life to save someone we might deem less worthy. We can also recognise when a character makes the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of the group, and while we would wish that we would do the same if faced with the same situation, we shift uncomfortably in our seats, knowing that in reality, most of us would put our own survival first and this would stop us doing anything so heroic and altruistic.

This, then, lies at the heart of surviving in a zombie apocalypse. We would find ourselves pulled in different ways by our instincts, and our conscious mind would become frozen as it tries to decide between the two. However, in end, for almost all of us, the desire to survive would win, and we would do whatever it takes, no matter who we’d end up hurting. Of course afterwards, we would do our best to justify our actions to ourselves, and claim that it was the only thing we could do, but deep down, we’d always know we could have done more, if only we hadn’t put ourselves first.

Or am I being too pessimistic about true nature of the human spirit?



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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.

And The Winners Are …

2 Feb

Thanks for all of you who entered the competition I posted a couple of weeks ago to win signed copies of For Those In Peril On The Sea and Zombies Can’t Swim And Other Tales Of The Undead.

I’m pleased to announce the following winners (who should have received an email confirming this by now). They are:

1. mtnfeath
2. Lance Mohesky
3. Jonas Waldenström

So congratulations to those three winners. For those who didn’t win, I’ll be running another competition in a few months.



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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.