Archive | March, 2014

Character Development In Zombie Novels

31 Mar

When writing zombie novels, there can be a tendency to concentrate on making the action scenes pop and fizzle with excitement and horror. After all, that’s where all the tension comes from and that’s what people are expecting from such a story. These are also the scenes that people will talk about and debate what they would have done in the same situation.

Yet, there’s another element which, if you don’t get it right, will mean that all the effort you put into your zombie set pieces will go to waste, and this is character development. Why is character development so important? Well, it’s quite simple: if the reader doesn’t care about what happens to the characters, the rest of the story, no matter how thrilling you try to make it, will fall flat. In fact, there’s nothing worse for the reader of a zombie novel than being presented with two-dimensional, stereotypical characters that come across as little more than place-holders in amongst all the action.

Sometimes as a writer, you will spot this for yourself, but often it is easy to overlook the need for character development. This is because, you, as the author, will have spent a lot of time with your characters, and you’ll have got to know them in your own head, what they look like, how they feel, what their hopes and fears are, and so on. Yet, if you don’t actually include the character development elements into your story, there’s no way the reader can do the same.

So how do you develop your characters? I think there’s three elements here. These are character description, character building and character arc. Character description is the descriptive elements which you use to set the scene when a character is first introduced. However, you need to be careful as it’s easy to go overboard and add to much information in the character’s description, which slows the action down. What you are aiming for here is not a detailed description of everything about the character, but rather you are aiming to capture the essence of how they look and act in a few brief sentences. For example: ‘He was a tall man and despite the salt and pepper hair, he still had the bearing of someone used to hard, physical work.’ Immediately, you get the impression of an older man, but one who is likely to be quite tough and the suggestion that he’ll be able to stand up for himself.

You can also use the character description to provide some initial back story which you can build on later. For example: ‘While Mark looked like an old hippy, he’d spent twenty years in the army before finally dropping out of society to live off the land, and this meant be was better prepared than most to deal with it when the world suddenly changed.’ This sets Mark’s character up nicely to be the type of survival expert who would be able to handle a gun, find food, and perhaps become the leader of a group of survivors.

Really, you can think of the character description as the foundation on which the rest of the character development will be based. This makes it all the more important to get it right, and you might find you have to re-write it several times before you get it spot on. Similarly, even though the character description will often come at the start of your book, you might find that you can’t really write it properly until you know exactly how your character is going to develop over time, and that means coming back and editing it in once the rest of your story is written.

Once you have the character description, you can work on the character building. This is where you can let the reader get to know the characters: their background, their hopes and dreams, their flaws and blemishes, and their fears for the future. There’s two main ways to build your characters. One is through conversations between the characters and the other is through their actions.

Conversations will usually take place between the action sequences (or during any lulls there are within them), and you can use them to gradually uncover the deeper elements of your characters to the reader. Effectively, this is where the characters get to reveal their emotions and what’s going on in their heads. You could just describe this in prose, but this tends to slow the flow of the story. Using dialogue instead allows you to get a specific point across while keeping up the pace.

In many ways you can think of these a the ‘cigarette breaks’ of the story, where your characters gather and chat while they take a break from the real work of surviving. If you’ve ever smoked, you’ll know you often learn more about your work colleagues in the length of time it takes to have a cigarette than in all the other times you spend working alongside them put together

Character-building actions are the second way to build your character, and these can take place either as part of conversations, or as part of action sequences. As with the dialogue, they will reveal some important element about a character. This can include positive elements (e.g. volunteering for a difficult or dangerous task and so showing they are brave) or negative elements (e.g. turning and running rather than staying and fighting). Often, it is the actions a character takes under specific circumstances which can make the difference between a character being liked or disliked, and in particular, the way they react to the threat of zombies, or to zombie attacks, can make or break them. Specifically, they need to react in ways that the reader can understand, and even sympathise with. There’s nothing that makes a character more likeable to the reader than when they are left thinking, that’s exactly what I would have done in those circumstances.

The key to character building is to carefully interweave it into your main narrative so that your characters are gradually built up throughout the story. It needs to be done subtly so that the reader is not left feeling that something has clearly been included just to develop a specific facet of a character. However, you also need to have enough of it to make your characters come alive in the mind of your readers.

The final element of character development is the character’s arc. This is how the character changes because of their experiences within the narrative and it’s needed to show that the characters are being affected by the events which they have been through. As such, the arc for each individual character will be influenced by the overall narrative of your story. For example, you might have the meek and timid character who is forced to step up and take control, or the hardened warrior who gradually reveals a softer, more caring side.

The secret here is to make sure that any changes that character undergoes are consistent with both the with the foundations of the character laid down in the initial description and with what is revealed as part of the character building. Of particular relevance to zombie novels is how the characters respond to killing zombies, from their first stuttering blows that leave them on all fours retching at what they’ve been forced to do to survive to becoming a hardened zombie hunter who can smash in the heads of the undead without batting an eyelid.

So these are the essential elements of character development, but when do you start incorporating them into your story? Well, different writers will do this at different points in the writing process, but personally, I find the best approach for zombie and post-apocalyptic novels is to first work out the overall plot and the major action scenes in the first draft, and then go back and work on weaving the various elements of character development during later re-writes. The reason I find this works best is that there are times when I don’t actually know how a character will need to develop until I have the entire plot down on paper. In addition, this allows me to insert the character development sections throughout the story in such a way that it doesn’t slow the pace of the action down too much.

However, this does often mean that in the first few drafts of a novel, I find that I don’t really have any emotional connection with the characters and that I don’t really care what happens to them. When I first started writing, I found this a bit worrying, but now I’ve learned that this is okay, and that once I go back and build up the characters, I’ll start developing the feelings towards them that I need to make the story really reach out and grab the reader by the throat.



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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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Hiding From Zombies In Plain Sight

26 Mar

Most zombie survival plans involve trying to hide behind zombie-proof defences. While this might seem like a good idea, there’s two problems with it. The first is that the zombies will inevitably be drawn to your presence and will eventually overwhelm your defences once their numbers become sufficiently great. The second is that you’ll eventually run out of food then be forced to go outside to find more and the zombies will be there, waiting for you.

But what would happen if you could somehow protect yourself so that you could simply walk amongst the zombies? I know what you’re thinking: that’s pure madness, it would never work. Yet, there’s a number of precedents out there, with good scientific justifications, which suggest it might be possible.

The first is to build zombie-proof armour which would mean that even if they attacked you, they couldn’t actually bite, injure or infect you. I’ve already provided instructions on this blog on how to built makeshift zombie-proof armour using duct tape, and there are many other possible options based on Kevlar, space suits, diving gear etc. The only problem is, the zombies will still know you’re there and you risk getting pinned down by a horde of the rotters, and if that happens you’ll either be suffocated by the weight of the undead piling on top you, or you’ll starve to death because you can’t move. Either way, death won’t be quick, but it will be inevitable. So zombie-proof armour might work in the short-term, but it’s not a good long-term solution.

The second option is to try to act like the undead. Shuffling slowly towards them and moaning might fool the zombies into letting you passed (it certain worked for Shaun and his friends in the film Shaun of the Dead), but this relies on a number factors. The first is you’d have to be a good enough actor to be convincing, which I suspect few would be able to do. The second is that you’d need to keep it up for long periods of time, and the chances are eventually you’d slip, leading to a painful and messy end. Thirdly, it requires that zombies only recognise humans by sight and not by other senses such as smell (see this post for more information about how zombies know you’re there). This approach is probably only best used for short forays into areas where you might encounter the occasional undead, just like Bill Murray when he wants to go out and play a round of golf in the film Zombieland. However, as Bill Murray found out, there’s also the risk you’ll be mistaken for a zombie by other survivors and killed (damn those great acting skills of his!).

The third option is to try to disguise your presence by covering your scent. Effectively, if you smell the undead, then you may be mistaken for them and be allowed to pass. This is a tactic used in an early episode of The Walking Dead called Guts, and it has even led researchers for the American Chemical Society to look into its feasibility. Surprisingly, as the video below shows, this might actually work from a scientific perspective, and one researcher has even produced her own ‘Death Cologne’ containing pungent chemicals called Purtrescine and Cadaverine which we start to produce soon after death. The best advantage of this approach is the chemicals can be produced very quickly and in advance, so they could be stockpiled, just like we stockpile Tamiflu in case there’s a flu pandemic.




The final way to hide from zombies in plain sight which I’m going to consider here comes from the film World War Z. Here, the main protagonist realises that the zombies only attack healthy humans (which makes sense if the zombies are caused by a disease looking for a viable host), so if you can produce a vaccine which makes it appear that you have some fatal disease, they’ll leave you alone. This might take time to develop, but it’s one of the most novel and interesting approaches which come across to the problem of how to live amongst zombies.

So there you have it, four ways you could potentially stay safe in a zombie apocalypse without having to lock yourself away in some hidey-hole waiting for them to break through your defences, and believe it or not, almost all of these have precedents in nature. Porcupines, pangolins and hedgehogs all rely on armour so they can walk amongst their predators. Stick and leaf insects rely on acting like something they’re not to avoid being eaten by other animals. The larvae of the Large Blue butterfly gives off a chemical which allows them to live in ant’s nests rather than being torn apart as any other caterpillar would be, while using one disease to protect yourself from another is the basis of vaccinations (which first came about when it was noticed that being infected with the less dangerous cow pox protected people from the much more deadly small pox).

Of course, all this assumes that you’re up against zombies which are the re-animated corpses of the dead. If you’re up against still-living, humans infected with a disease which makes them act like zombies, the chances are none of these approaches will work. So, make sure you know what you’re up against for trying any of these methods for hiding from zombies in plain sight.


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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 Long Would You Survive In A Zombie Apocalypse?

25 Mar

Have you ever wondered how long you would survive if a zombie apocalypse were ever to really happen? What am I saying, of course you have, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this post!

So, how do you find out?

You could spend hours arguing over it into the small hours of the morning with your friends, or you could just do the ‘How Long Could You Survive THe Zombie Apocalypse?‘ quiz from the nice people over at Qualtrics.com.

My score’s shown below, see if you can beat it …

Zombie_Apocalypse_Survival_Test

… Anyone who does, wins a place on my zombie apocalypse survival team!



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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.

A Comparison Of Indie Music And Indie Publishing

24 Mar

When I write, I often do it while listening to my favourite radio station, the digital channel Six Music (Radcliffe and Maconie is probably my favourite show to work to – although it’s also the most distracting because it’s so good!). This is a channel which primarily plays indie music, or a least it concentrates things other than mainstream pop, rock and R&B (it’s most certainly a Beaunce and Bieber free zone).

It was while listening to an interview with a band (I can’t quite remember which one) that I realised something interesting. In indie music, having your own record label to put your music out on is seen as a really good thing to do. It gives the artist greater control over both their music and their careers, and with modern technology, almost any band can record their own music and get it out there for the public to buy. They can promote it directly to their fans and that way they get a much greater share of the returns. In fact, it sometimes seems that in the music industry, if you’re good enough, and willing to work hard at building up your fans, then there’s no need to let a traditional record label get their grubby little hooks into your work. Instead, it’s only the bland, interchangeable pop stars that really need a record label to promote them.

Contrast this with the publishing industry as it currently stands: Indie publishing, or self-publishing, is generally frowned upon, at least by reviewers, critics and industry bigwigs, and it’s seen as the route for those without the talent or the dedication to get a real book deal. The only route to success (in terms of money, sales and reputation), they’d claim, is with a traditional publishing deal, preferably with one of the ‘big six’ mainstream publishers. Yet, is this actually the case? Can it not be that self-publishing is actually a way for authors to get their work out there to their fans while retaining control of it? Doesn’t this make it just like an indie band setting up their own record label to produce and distribute their music? Yes, good self-publishing can be difficult since you have to take all the responsibilities of employing an editor, doing the formatting, getting a cover designed at all that, but this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Exactly the same things apply to indie bands putting their own music out, and that is not seen as a second-rate product. So, if it works for indie bands, why shouldn’t it work for authors?

Well, the answer is that it can and, indeed, it does. For those interested in self-publishing, a recent report from authorearnings.com makes for very interesting reading, especially those working in what is considered genre fiction (which zombies most definitely fall into). Around a quarter of the best-selling ebooks on Amazon are self-published, and in genre fiction, it can be even higher. Self-published books, however, tend to sell for less, so you might imagine that the self-published authors earn less than those sign up by the big six. Yet, this isn’t true because the self-published author gets a higher proportion of the sale price. Similarly, there’s no evidence that self-published books are judged poorer by the people you actually read them (at least based on the five-star rating system which Amazon uses).

So in the modern publishing world, are there any actual advantages of being signed to a publishing house rather than self-publishing? Well, not really. You still have to spend a lot of your time promoting your work regardless of which route you go down, and you still have to put in the work to write something good in the first place. There’s even an argument that unless you are signed by one of the big six, and are heavily promoted by them (something that isn’t guaranteed just because they’ve signed you), you’ll earn much less by being published by a traditional publishing house (especially a smaller one) than by going down the self-published route. This seems odd at first, but when you really think about it, it’s not, and if it works for indie bands, why shouldn’t the same business model work for writers?

Does this mean every author should be self-publishing their work? While I think more and more will do so over the next few years, leading to a dramatic change in the publishing industry as a whole, it doesn’t mean that self-publishing is for everyone. Some authors will want the prestige of being signed to a publisher – especially if it’s a big one, while others won’t feel comfortable with being in charge of things like finding a free-lance editor to work with, formatting the finished book, commissioning a cover design and sorting out the publicity. Yet, if you’re starting out as an author now, it’s worth taking the time to learn how to do these things, effectively setting up your own imprint for publishing your work, just like many indie bands do with their own record labels for their music. It’s a steep learning curve, but given the results of the report by Authorearnings.com, if you’ve produced a good book, you’re just as likely to do well if you self-publish as if you spend years trying to find an agent or a publisher. And in all that time, you can be writing more books, gaining more fans and earning more money – as long as your work is good enough in the first place!

Self-publishing will no doubt always be looked down upon by some, but from an author’s point of view, there’s no longer any reason to view it as being the second-best option or that it’s a last resort for poor quality writing, or that going down the self-publishing indicates some sort of failure. Instead, it should be viewed as an alternative, but equally valid route, and one which may well pay off just as well as the traditional route. It may even be that in a few years time, the publishing industry will have followed in the footprints of the music industry (just as it has in terms of electronic downloads replacing physical formats), with work which is good enough being self-published and being sought out by would-be fans, while only the bland, mass-market, airport novels will still need the re-assurance and support of a traditional publisher to get any level of success.

All in all, there are some interesting years ahead and authors, both established and would-be, should watch this space very carefully…


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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.

Would Knowing The Zombies Are Coming Make A Zombie Apocalypse More Terrifying?

21 Mar

When it comes to zombie fiction, there’s two basic themes. The first is best illustrated by the start of 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead, where you have a character who has no idea what’s going on. Here, all the tension is developed by the unknown. The character (and indeed the viewer or reader) knows something has changed, but they don’t know what. Suspense is built as they (and, by proxy, you) move through a world filled with some unknown threat which is eventually revealed. The second theme is where the characters know exactly what’s coming, through past experience, or through news broadcasts and the media, yet they’re powerless to do anything about it, but fight or flee. Here the suspense comes not from wondering what’s out there, but how to escape its clutches.

The question is, if it were really to happen, which would be scarier? Would it be the unknown and the unexpected? Or would it be knowing exactly what’s coming, yet being powerless to prevent it? Personally, while I like the first in my zombie fiction, the second would be much, much worse to have to endure for real. If you don’t know what’s out there, you can at least persuade yourself that it might not be as bad as you imagine. If you do know, then you’ll know exactly what you’re up against, and when it comes to zombie hordes that would be truly terrifying.

Indeed, if a zombie apocalypse were to happen, the chances are most people wouldn’t be faced with the unknown, especially in the modern, highly-connected world. The moment the first dead started to rise, or the disease starts to spread, the 24 hour news channels would spring into action, doing their best to capture the story as it develops in full technicolour and high-definition, while Facebook and Twitter would be inundated with out-of-focus pictures and shaky video as people posted what was going on outside their front doors.

In short, pretty much everyone would know exactly what was coming to get them as they barricade the doors or take to the streets to run for their lives. They’d see it on their screens from every possible angle and they would be frightened beyond measure. Yet, this is rarely portrayed in zombie fiction. Instead, we seem to prefer the single, somehow ignorant, character point of view as they face the unknown. I’m not quite too sure why this is, but I think it might be to do with that childhood fear, when going to sleep at night, of whether the world will still be there, unaltered, when you wake the next morning or whether it might all change as you slumber.

From a writer’s perspective, there’s possibly also something more appealing about writing about someone dealing with the unknown. It’s easier to build suspense and create tension when the reader doesn’t know what’s waiting for them out of sight, but just around the corner. The reader also gets that vicarious thrill when they follow the characters as they do something they clearly shouldn’t, given the situation (you know, those moments when you want to scream out advice, like ‘Don’t open that door!’ or ‘Don’t go into that basement!’).

Yet, there are also many interesting possibilities to explore when people know what they’re up against. The tension can come not from what’s coming to get the characters, but from when it will arrive, and whether they will survive. The plot devices which you can employ have also been used less often, so it’s easier to be original rather than ending up with something which reminds the reader of something else. For example, there’s only so many times you can have someone waking up in a bed in an abandoned hospital before it starts becoming a cliché. Similarly, the emotions which you can explore aren’t the usual confusion and disbelief, but rather the fears and horror of knowing exactly what’s happening just outside the door while being powerless to stop it. This means if you’re going to write a zombie story, it’s worth considering whether ignorance really is bliss, or whether a little knowledge would be a much more dangerous, and terrifying, thing.


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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.

First Review For ‘Zombies Can’t Swim…’ Anthology

19 Mar

Zombies Can’t Swim … got its first official review yesterday from the nice people on the ZombieGift.com, where it got 4.75 brains out of a possible five.

Here’s a few of my favourite quotes from it:

‘The majority of the terse tales in this collection are so well written and so engaging they leave you yearning for more.’

‘I found these stories more realistic than many zombie novels I’ve read. I really liked the fact that Mr. Drysdale acknowledges the fact that the good guy doesn’t always win, especially when it comes to the apocalypse and the days of the undead roaming the earth. Things don’t always work out for the best. Sometimes the most logical or easiest conclusion to a zombie story isn’t always the prettiest or most desirable for the protagonist.’

‘A collection of short zombie themed stories is perfect for busy zombie fans that don’t have a ton of time to read. This is also the ideal solution for those with a short attention span. I loved being able to pick up this book and read a short story or two when I needed a break from my daily activities.’

‘The end of most stories in this book features an “Author’s Notes” section. It’s a very cool little blurb where Mr. Drysdale provides some deeper insight on things such as why a story was written, how the idea came about or simply a way to provide more information on a topic.’

If you want to read the whole review, you can find it here. Even if you don’t, it’s worth checking out ZombieGift.com for regular zombie-based giveaways (including signed copies of Zombie’s Can’t Swim … at some point in the near future).



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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.

Yet Another Prediction Of The End Of Civilisation – But The Source Will Surprise You!

17 Mar

We’re used to stories popping up in the news from time to time, where someone or other claiming the end is near because of some prophecy or the writings of a long-gone ancient civilisation. In the last few year, there’s been the rampant speculation based on the end of the Mayan calendar, the appointment of a new Pope and even the occasional comet streaking across the heavens. There’s also been the fears of Swine Flu, H5N1, SARS and a few other diseases that have spluttered out rather than bringing humanity to its knees – despite the glaring headlines predicting doom and gloom. For this very reason, I take almost all end of the world predictions with a very large pinch of salt.

Today, something different happened. I first became aware of this new prediction as a headline claiming western civilisation as we know it might come to and end within the next 50 years. I was just about to ignore it when I noticed where this prediction had come from. It wasn’t from some lunatic fringe; it wasn’t a conspiracy, or the ravings of some over-zealous religious group: instead, it had come from NASA – Yes, THAT NASA! Now, NASA aren’t exactly known for making wild claims, so I thought I’d give them the benefit of the doubt and read on.

So why are NASA predicting the collapse of civilisation? It’s down to this: there’s simply too many people on the planet and we depleting its resources faster than they can be replaced. Add to this the ever-growing inequality between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, and you have the perfect storm for pushing western society over the edge.

This might seem like idle speculation, but it’s actually rooted in some pretty hard facts. When we look at past civilisations which have collapsed, such as the Roman empire, we see exactly the same warning signs occurring before the final fall, and all NASA are pointing out is that the way we’re going, we’re heading in exactly the same way.

Now, they’re not saying it’s unavoidable or inevitable, just that we need to start doing something to stop things getting much worse. In many ways, I agree with them, especially when on the same day the NASA report came out, there was another in Britain that pointed out that just five families had the same financial worth as the poorest 20% the population. That is the type of imbalance which the world cannot maintain without the people at the bottom rising up and doing something about it.

So, is the end of the world coming? Probably not, but if those in power don’t start doing something to limit the way that the rich are asset-stripping the planet, leaving the rest of us to pay the price, we’re likely to see some massive upheavals which will mean that much of what we currently consider western civilisation will disappear. In the end, it’s not going to be zombies that bring our world down around our ears, but the greed of those we let run our lives.

The worst thing is with the way the western political system is set up, there’s little we, as individuals, can do about it, and it’s unlikely that the rich will stop lining their own pockets at our expense if someone doesn’t force them to stop. Maybe NASA’s predictions will be the catalyst to change all of this, but I wouldn’t count on it. There’s a certain inevitability to it all. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. The only question is what will our world look like when it happens to us?



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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.