Archive | April, 2014

Dr Austin And The Zombie Institute For Theoretical Studies

30 Apr

'An Introductory Guide To The Science Of The Undead'  by Dr Austin of the Zombie Institute For Theoretical Studies

‘An Introductory Guide To The Science Of The Undead’ by Dr Austin of the Zombie Institute For Theoretical Studies

A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture by the eminent zombie scientist Dr Austin, titled Zombie Science: Worst Case Scenario. If you’re into zombie science and you haven’t heard of him, then you haven’t been doing the right background reading. After all, he’s the head of The Zombie Institute For Theoretical Studies (ZITS), one of the world’s most important groups researching the causes of zombie outbreaks and how to stop them.

Of course, none of this is real. Well, that’s only half-true. Dr Austin exists, and so does The Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies, but the lecture was a highly amusing interactive spoof about how to trace the origin of a zombie outbreak, work out its cause and then deal with it, all while remaining alive. A first glimpse, this would seem just like the many other similar sources of such information, like Max Brook’s very entertaining Zombie Survival Guide. However, if you examine the cover of the course manual provided at the start of the lecture, there’s two rather interesting logos hidden away at the bottom. The first is for Glasgow University. This is because The Zombie Institute For Theoretical Studies is a real academic research group based at a real university. The second is for the Wellcome Trust. Why, you might ask, is this interesting? Well, the Wellcome Trust is one of the main sources of funding for real scientific research in the UK.

By this point, you might be scratching your head and wondering what real academic institutions and fundings agencies are doing getting involved in spoof lectures about zombies. This is because beneath the jokes, and the amusing sides and videos, there was a strong scientific undercurrent. Without realising it, those attending were learning about real scientific subjects, such as genetic engineering, the importance of proper hand washing to prevent the spread of diseases, epidemiology, the challenges faced by those developing new medicines and the importance of drug trials.

These are all really important subjects in the modern world, and it’s important that the public understand them, yet most are put off learning about them because of the perception that they’re difficult to understand and boring. By presenting them in a zombie context, Dr Austin makes them both accessible and entertaining. This is important because while the lecture I attended was run on commercial basis, most of them are non-commercial and take place in schools and at science festivals, where he is helping both to educate the next generation, and stimulate their interest in science.

As those who follow this blog regularly will know, I am a big fan of using zombies to help make otherwise potentially dull subjects more interesting and accessible for educational purposes, and I even have my own little side project, Maths With Zombies, aiming to do something similar with mathematics. Dr Austin and The Zombie Institute For Theoretical Studies is a great addition to this world view, and if you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend attending one of his lectures. Even if you can’t, check out their zombie science website, where you can sit an exam to test your knowledge and earn yourself very own certificate from The Zombie Institute For Theoretical Studies. Now, who wouldn’t want one of them to hang on their wall?



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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.

When The Same Words Mean Different Things To Different People

24 Apr

Those who follow this blog regularly will know that I’ve recently sent out the manuscript for my next book (The Outbreak) out to a variety of people to get their opinions. Along with the usual issues getting this type of feedback throws up, something more interesting has come to my attention. This is that certain words of phrases have not only changed their meanings over time, but also can differ dramatically from one country to another, even if they use the same language.

This realisation came about because I’d used the word nonplussed to describe someone’s reaction to an event. I was using it in the traditional sense of the character being so surprised and confused that they didn’t know how to react. Yet, some of my readers were taking it to mean quite the opposite, in that it was suggesting the character was unperturbed by the event. Wondering where this confusion was coming from, and which of us were right, I turned to an online dictionary and found, to my surprise, that we both were. In standard English, nonplussed means being surprised and confused, but in North American colloquial English, it means the opposite. This means that North American readers are potentially going to think the character’s reaction is completely the opposite to the intended meaning, which (given that it’s a post-apocalyptic zombie survival novel) is likely to cause confusion.

I’ve noticed the same thing happen with the phrase ‘butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth’ (I don’t know while this tends to be applied to women more than men, but that seems to be the case). When I was growing up, this meant a mean, hard-hearted person who was so cold to everyone else that literally they didn’t have the physical warmth to melt a knob of butter placed in their mouth. This certainly seems to be the original meaning. However, these days, it tends to be taken to mean that someone is so sweet and innocent that they wouldn’t be able to melt butter in their mouth, let alone do anything more heinous. This is certainly the Free Dictionary definition. To me, the older meaning makes more sense, but that might just be because it’s what I always took it to mean. However, if I use the phrase when writing, different people are going to take it to mean completely different things.

There’s other words, too, which can have very different meanings in different places. I remember when I was living in The Bahamas calling a friend’s young daughter a ninny because she was being a bit daft, using the meaning I’d alway used for it of a fool or simpleton. In Bahamian English, though, it means something quite different, and a little bit rude – and judging by the looks of those around me, certainly not something you should be calling a child, or indeed anyone else, in polite company.

And then there’s the whole pants and suspenders confusion again. In North America, this is normal male attire. In Britain, it most definitely isn’t, and it paints an entirely different mental image if you describe a man as wearing them to a party!

All this leads to an interesting conundrum for writers. Do yo try to avoid all ambiguity, and only use words and phrases with one, well-accepted meaning? Or do you use the words you want regardless whether they may be mis-construed by some readers? If you choose the former option, you’re restricting yourself to a much narrower range words than if you choose the latter, and in many cases this means you cannot be as descriptive or interesting in your writing. In addition, the meaning of words change all the time, and you can never future-proof your writing against such changes, so why restrict yourself now?

For my current book, I’m going to take the second option and stick with using nonplussed based on its original meaning, and I’ll just have hope that it won’t confuse too many potential readers. In addition, hopefully from the context, it will be clear which meaning I’m intending, but the worry remains, are there any other words I’ve use which mean something quite different in other parts of the world?

In the age of regional publication, this was less of an issue as separate editions could be produced for different markets with slightly different word usage. For example, the first Harry Potter book was titled Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone in the UK, but Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone in the US, because of how people would interpret the word ‘Philosopher’ in different markets (it was felt it might put US readers off). However, in the age of global publishing, where a single edition (often an electronic one) may be available worldwide, this is becoming a more important issue. This having been said, though, authors shouldn’t necessarily let such issues dictate the way they write, or the way they use their words, but is something they should at least be aware of.


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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.

Working With Readers To Improve Your Book …

21 Apr

About a month ago, I found I’d finally reached the stage with my follow-up to For Those In Peril On The Sea where I was going to have to try it out on a few people so I could get their feedback to help with the production of the next stage of manuscript development before I send off to an external editor to do the final grammar and spell-checking. This part of the writing process always leaves me feeling rather nervous because it’s the first time the book is exposed to the real world and I get to find out if I’ve really done as good a job as I thought I had. Sure, my girlfriend has been reading various drafts and working her editing magic on it, but this is the time when I get the first indications of how the story is likely to go down when it’s finally released.

So with intrepidation, at the start of April, I got a small number of draft copies of the book printed up and bound, and then pestered five people I know to read it and let me know what they think. Who are these people? Well, they’re a mix of friends, ex-students and work colleagues, ranging in age from late twenties to early fifties, and really all they have in common is that I know I can trust them to give me an honest opinion. I have said this before, but it’s worth saying again, this is the most important criteria when selecting readers at this stage in the writing of a novel. There’s no point in giving it to your mother, as she’s likely to tell you she loves it regardless of what she really thinks, and likewise, partners and friends might hesitate in being completely honest for fear of damaging their relationship with you.

This is one area where I find coming from an academic background useful. In science, people are used to giving and receiving honest, sometimes brutally honest, feedback. If someone thinks that you have done something wrong, or have not been completely clear in what you’re meaning, they will tell you without mincing their words and regardless of how well you know them and often in the public forum of an academic conference in front of several hundred people.

Now that a month has passed, which I’ve spent waiting with baited breath for each of them to fit reading my draft book into their busy lives, and I’ve got all the comments back. What, might you ask, is the verdict? I’m happy, and relieved, to be able to report that in general it has gone down very well. There were the usual little slips and errors (only to be expected at this stage), but in general everyone loved the plot and the new set of characters which are introduced in it. In fact, only two major issues have raised their heads. One concerns a character’s name, which several of them thought just didn’t fit with who he is. Looking back, I can see they are right, and I’m now hunting round for an alternative – although I’m struggling to come up with one. However, this will sort itself out eventually.

The second was potentially more serious and involved the way the book ended. I have to say, this was already troubling me and so, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to find out that people didn’t like it. It was just too abrupt and hopeless, and didn’t seem to lead anywhere which might take it towards the third book in the series. In fact, I’d probably violated my own advice on how to end a zombie apocalypse novel and ended it on too much of a cliff hanger. Having this confirmed by my readers was exceedingly useful, and one of them even suggested way to deal with it (nicknamed the ‘Jaws’ ending – although there are no sharks involved!). This has allowed me to go back and re-work the end by adding a few additional paragraphs which just wraps everything up in a much nicer fashion while removing the cliff-hanger element and providing a better lead in to the next book in the series (where the characters from this book and the first book will finally come together).

The total cost of printing up the drafts and sending them out to my chosen readers was about £125, and for that price I’ve been able to get honest input from five very different people, some of whom wouldn’t normally read post-apocalyptic fiction. This means that it’s substantially cheaper than the alternative option which would be to send it off to one of the many commercial operations which offers to give budding writers a critique of their work. I’ve never used the services of any of these companies, but I can’t see how it can give any better a service than just getting people to read your book for you and give you feedback. After all, these are your potential customers, and who better than them to tell you if your novel works or not? Of course, you have to work hard to get your manuscript ready for sending out to your readers (after all you can’t just send them your first draft – it needs to be close to the finished article), but that’s all part of the writing process.

So, what’s the next step? Well, I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and I finally feel that I’m edging towards the finishing line, but there is still some way to go. I need to take the comments and suggestions from my readers, and incorporate them into the next draft. After that, I’ll give it one further read through just to check I’m happy with everything and then it’s off to the editor for proof-reading. I’ll get it back at the end of May, and then I’ll need to do a final read through just to catch any last issues. Then, and only then, will it be ready to get sent to the printers for the first print run. These will go out to various reviewers to give them time to read it and get their reviews ready for the date of publication (which will be in mid-July). At this stage, I’ll also be running a competition on this blog which will give a few lucky people who follow this blog the chance to read it before it’s officially published (if you want to be one of those people, watch this space!).



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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.

ZeeTech Incorporated – A Dystopian Short Story About The Dark Side Of Corporate Power

10 Apr

‘So this is what it’s all about.’ I picked up the thin black tile which had been placed in front of me and flexed it back and forth, watching the numbers on the meter it was connected to change as I did so.

The man smiled at me. ‘It sure is.’

I watched the numbers again. It was impressive, electricity being generated with no moving parts, nothing to wear out, nothing to break. Yet there was an obvious problem. ‘But that’s hardly anything. You couldn’t even electrocute an ant with that.’

‘Ahhh yes.’ I saw a glint in the man’s eyes. ‘But it’s all about scale. That’s just a few square centimetres. Imagine how much you’d get if you had a square kilometre of the stuff.’

I did a quick mental calculation. ‘That would be enough to power an entire city.’

‘Now scale it up again to 100 square k.’ His eyes gleamed with anticipation.

I thought about it for a moment. ‘That could power the whole country!’

‘Exactly. And with no moving parts, there’d be almost no running costs once it’s all set up. We could under cut almost everyone else: solar, gas, coal, wind, nuclear; they’d all be way more expensive. We’d have a complete monopoly on power. We’d make a fortune.’

I could understand his enthusiasm, yet I could see a problem. ‘In theory, yes, but you seem to be forgetting something. To generate the electricity, you need to have something bending the tiles.’

‘I know, but we’ve got the perfect solution to that, too. We use people.’

I shifted uneasily. ‘Then you’d have to pay them. No one’s going to work for free.’

He grinned. ‘Now, that’s where you’re wrong.’ The man turned and headed for the door. ‘Come, I’ll show you.’

I followed him out into the narrow corridor and down a flight of stairs to where there was a security door with a yellow biohazard warning sticker on it. The man pulled out an ID card and swiped it through the reader. The door buzzed and he pushed it open. Seeing my hesitation he laughed. ‘Don’t worry, there’s nothing dangerous in here, not for you at any rate.’

Nervously I stepped inside and followed him as he set off once more until we came to a glass window set into the wall. He stopped in front of it and pointed inside. ‘There. That’s where we get the power. We created the technology ourselves and we own the patent. No one else can do it; just us.’

Curious, I peered into through the re-enforced glass and saw to my horror that there was an elderly man shuffling around inside. He was naked and hairless, and there was a strange green tinge to his skin. The floor was covered in the same black material I’d been shown upstairs. A digital display on the wall showed how much electricity was being generated by his movements.

I stared, aghast. ‘You can’t use old people like that!’

The man smiled at me. ‘That’s the beauty of it. He’s not just old: he’s dead!’

I recoiled. ‘But if he’s dead, how’s he still moving?’

‘A simple little microchip placed on the back of the neck, sending signals into his spinal column. Get it in the right place, and program it correctly, and you can get a body to do most simple tasks. There’s a tiny solar panel on it which gives it all the power it needs. You need to get them fresh, of course, before rigour mortis kicks in, but after that it’s pretty easy. You irradiate them to kill off all the bacteria in their body, then fill them with a special fluid which stops them rotting and which can carry oxygen to the muscles. Next, you inject this strain of algae we came up with just under their skin. It makes them look a little odd, but it lives there quite happily, generating enough oxygen and sugar from light to keep the muscles going. Humans don’t really need much when all they’re going to be doing is shuffling around.’

I was horrified, not just by what I was being shown, but also by the excited tone being used to describe it. ‘But surely it’s illegal to do that with a corpse …’

‘It used to be, then last year we got the law changed. Cost us a lot of money and favours, and it was hard to keep it quiet, but it was worth it.’ He pointed through the glass. ‘This is now an officially acceptable way to dispose of human remains. It’s called a living burial. Sounds nice doesn’t it? That’s why we chose the name. It’s just two words slipped in as an amendment, but it means we can do this to any body we want as long as we have the next of kin’s permission.’

I frowned. ‘How on earth did you get that?’

‘Well, in his case, his body was donated for research, but we’ve got others; come I’ll show you.’ With that he turned and moved further down the corridor. As he walked, he carried on talking. ‘Remember that other law which was changed last year? You know, the one that caused all those protests and riots, but that was passed anyway?’

I nodded. The Body Ownership Law was a simple enough piece of legislation, but it’s implications were mind-bending. It’s supporters claimed its intension was to provide more organs for medical transplants and research, a righteous enough aim, but it seemed overly heavy-handed. under this law, the moment you died, your body passed into state ownership. If your family had enough money, they could buy it back, but if they didn’t, then the state could do anything it wanted with it. In effect, it meant that after death, only the rich now had the right to their own bodies; for the poor it was the final degradation after a lifetime of poverty.

‘You see, we were behind that, too. We’ve got the contract for disposing of the bodies the government doesn’t, and that’s most of them. At the moment, we’re still cremating them and sending the ashes back to the families, but as we get the facilities built, ones like this one, we’re shifting over to living burials.’

He paused to swipe his card through another security door before opening it and stepping through. ‘Here, you can see for yourself.’

I followed him and gasped. I was standing on a metal gantry that lined the walls of a room which was about half the size of a football pitch. Bright lights shone down onto a sea of naked humans, each with the same strange green hue as the old man I’d seen minutes before. I could only see the small chips sticking from the necks of the nearest ones, but I presumed they’d all been fitted with them because there was a constant milling as they shuffled around, bumping into each other and off the walls.

I ran my eyes over them: Men and women, young and old, black, white, Asian. All naked, their hair removed, their skin green by the algae they’d been injected with. Each had a bar code stamped across its back. The man explained its purpose. ‘Just in case we ever needed to identify a specific individual. You know, sometimes a rich person’s body ends up here by accident, sometimes it takes a family a while to get enough money together to buy a loved one’s body back. We need to be able to return them if that happens. After all, you wouldn’t want a relative to end up here if they didn’t have to, would you?.’

I looked back at the milling people. Some were so fresh, they looked like they could be sleep-walking, but others had clearly been in the room for a long time. These were the ones with missing fingers, or even arms, snapped off when they collided with the walls or each other. Some had other wounds, too, and these oozed the thick blue liquid which had been used to replace their blood. A few had ragged and roughly sewn up incisions where organs had been removed before the bodies had been sent here for disposal, but all had the same dead, lifeless eyes and slowly nodding head, set in motion as their bodies lurched around aimlessly.

They were so densely packed that I could only catch the occasional glimpse of the black tiles, just like the one I’d held in my hands, which lined the floor and the lowest five feet of the walls. High above them, a large display showed exactly how much electricity was being generated by these re-animated corpses and it was phenomenal. My companion saw me looking at the meter. ‘It’s enough to power this entire neighbourhood!’ There was excitement in his voice. ‘This is our new vision for cemeteries for the 21st Century. Up above, we have a nice green area, with a few trees and plaques and things like that for the relatives to visit, but they won’t know that below, we have rooms like this, hundreds of them, all generating electricity which we can then sell cheaper than anyone else and still have massive profit margins. And there’s no carbon dioxide produced, that means we can say it’s green so our customers get a happy feeling from thinking their doing something good for the world.

‘Once we get a room like this up and running, there’s almost no on-going costs since we generate vastly more electricity than is needed to power the lights. We need to change the occasional bulb and of course they,’ he waved his arm in the general direction of the mass of people shuffling below us, ‘wear out eventually, but it’s easy enough to throw in some more to replace them. We don’t even need to remove the old ones because … well look.’ He pointed to where the badly-damaged corpse a teenage boy shuffled unsteadily as it was jostled by those surrounding it. After one collision too many, he fell, but none of those around him noticed; they just kept on shuffling, buffeting his body within their feet. Within minutes, the teenager’s head had become detached from the body and was being kicked around the room by the others as if they were playing a grotesque game of football. I looked back at the body: it was quickly being broken apart by the constant movement all around it. ‘That’s the beauty of the system, no matter what, they just keep on going until they fall apart, and that can take years. The whole floors on a slight slope and we can flush it out whenever it looks like things down there are getting a bit choked up with broken parts. Each time we do that, we strain out the chips so we can re-use them and all the rest is ground up and used as fertiliser in the gardens up on the surface.

‘Now we’ve proved the technology, and we’ve got all the laws we need in place and all the government contracts to supply the bodies, we’re ready to go nationwide.’ He turned to me. ‘That’s where you come in. We’re offering a small number of hand-picked investors the chance to get in on the ground floor, and that’s why we invited you here for this exclusive behind the scenes tour. We want to offer you the opportunity to invest.’

I stared out at the horrific vision for the future which ZeeTech Incorporated were trying to sell. A vision where only the rich were allowed to rest in peace after they died. The rest would be forced to work on, continuing to line the pockets of people who already had too much money while getting nothing in return. It was a modern form of slavery. but yet it wasn’t illegal because the dead have no rights. It was all being carried out behind the scenes: all the public would ever see would be the well-maintained and landscaped grounds above, they’d never be allowed in here; they’d never get to see how the bodies of their loved ones were being exploited for corporate gain. I could see the company was going to make a fortune, as long as they could keep what they were actually doing with the bodies they were contracted to dispose of hidden from the public.

I smiled and shook the man’s hand, knowing what my role in the company’s future would be as I heard a voice in my well-hidden ear piece. They’d received my transmission and they had already posted the video on the web. I knew exactly what the camera hidden in my left contact lens had captured during my tour of the facility, and now, so would everyone else.

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This short story grew out of a previous post on new technologies that could help you survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Here, I first introduced the subject of ‘kinetic pavements’ and how they could be used to build a zombie power station.

It was meant to be a fun little throw away idea, but for some reason it stayed with me, and gradually developed into a much darker critique of western civilisation and how much control the rich and the corporations have over the rest of us. What, I wondered, would happen if they started seeing our bodies not as something we own, but as a commodity which they could exploit for commercial gain?

At some point, I’m going to develop this into a full length novel – something along the lines of Coma meets All The President’s Men, mixed with elements of Spares. When this will happen, I’m not too sure, but it’s an idea I keep coming back to again and again.



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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.

Checking The Facts …

7 Apr

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working hard on the manuscript for The Outbreak, getting it ready to be sent off at the end of the month to the editor I work with do the final checks on things like grammar and spelling.

As part of this process, I’ve been checking over various facts just to make sure I have them right. This, however, means that the search terms I’ve been entering into Google have been pretty odd, and taken together they might suggest I’m up to something a lot more nefarious than writing a novel about survival in a zombie-filled post-apocalyptic landscape.

Here’s a few examples (and I promise they were all just for fact-checking purposes!):

1. Is the island of Handa uninhabited?

2. Is morphine a clear liquid?

3. How big is the crew of a Royal Navy frigate?

4. How quickly does a tank move?

5. How much morphine would you need to kill a child?

6. How many bullets does a semi-automatic handgun hold?

7. On which side of a plane does the pilot usually sit?

8. How many people live in Miami?

9. How does a fuel-air bomb work?

10. Where is Hunterston Nuclear Power Station?

I just hope there’s no one out there keeping too close a track!



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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.

Win A Signed Copy Of ‘Zombies Can’t Swim…’ From Zombiegift.com

5 Apr

The nice people over at Zombiegift.com are currently running a giveaway of three signed copies of my anthology of short zombie stories called Zombies Can’t Swim And Other Tales Of The Undead. If you want to enter, you can click on this link here to take you to their page, but be warned it ends on monday the 7th of April 2014.

I’d also happily recommend that you either regularly check out their blog or follow them on Facebook as they have a lot of interesting zombie-related posts and giveaways on a regular basis.


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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.