Archive | May, 2014

My Ever-growing Book Pile …

30 May

Some light bedtime reading ...

Some light bedtime reading …

I’ve been working so hard on getting the follow-up to For Those In Peril On The Sea ready for publication that I’m getting a little behind with the other books on my ‘to read’ list. Well, this isn’t really a list, more a pile of books on my bedside cabinet which has now grown to such a height that my girlfriend’s starting to worry it might collapse on me in the night, leaving her the unenviable task of having to dig me out when she wakes up the next morning.

I should say that not all these books are ones I have to read. The medium-sized pile at the back are ones I’ve already read, but that I’ve run out of space for on any of my book shelves – which is starting to become a real problem in our house. The books at the front on the left are ones I’m currently working on in one form or another. I’m on of those people who usually has several books on the go at once, generally a mix of fiction and non-fiction books, just so that I always have something to read no matter what sort of mood I’m in at any given time. The pile on the right are ones that I’ve still to start, or that I’ve already read and that I’m planning on reading again at some point in the near future.

If you look a the titles, you’ll see that these book are a fairly eclectic bunch. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of zombie books there, like World War Z, Flu and Charlie Higson’s The Enemy, as well as some other post-apocalyptic fiction, such as The Earth Abides (for something which is meant to be a classic, this is one book I’m struggling to finish). Being Scottish, it’s also unsurprising that there are books by various famous Scottish writers, like Iain Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre (who, if you’re not familiar with him, is a kind of Scottish Carl Hiaasen). There’s also a few Ray Bradbury books in there simply because I’m trying to fill in a few gaps in my reading knowledge of what are considered classic works of fiction within their genres.

A bit more unexpected, perhaps, are the books like Antifragile, SuperFreakonimics and The Undercover Economist. These reflect my interest in what’s going on in the world at the moment and how most of us are effectively being screwed by the top 1% who then try to tell us that times are tough, that we’re all in it together, and that we all need to tighten our belts, while all the time they get richer. The sharp-eyed amongst you will also notice a book called Thinking In Numbers, which is there because of my love of recreational mathematics (this will be of no surprise to those of you who are familiar with my Maths With Zombies posts).

Then there are the biographies and travel books. The two most interesting here (from my point of view at any rate) are Fatal Passage, which is the story of John Rae, a Scotsman who explored much of northern Canada and who discovered the fabled North West Passage while trying to find out what happened to the Franklin Expedition, and Amateurs In Eden, which tells the story of the Durrell family’s life in Greece in the run up to the outbreak of the second world war. This is unlikely to mean anything to many people out there, but this was a small English family which produced not one, but two, amazingly talented writers: Gerald Durrell, the noted naturalist and author of one of the iconic books of my childhood (My Family And Other Animals), and his brother Lawrence Durrell, who I have to admit I’ve never actually read.

Finally, there’s Jon Ronson’s Lost At Sea, which is a collection of his columns and essays about the weirder side of modern life. For anyone wanting to learn about how to write these types of article, I’d heartily recommend reading Jon Ronson’s work (I’d also say if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, grab it with both hands as he’s thoroughly entertaining to listen to). You might not think you’re familiar with his work, but if you’ve ever seen the rather brilliant film The Men Who Stare At Goats, he was the one played by Ewan MacGregor (since he was the investigative reporter who wrote the original book on which it was based).

Anyway, I’m not too sure what sorts of insight this little tour of the pile of books on top of my bedside cabinet gives into my life, other than the fact that I’m a bit of a book fan (which is only to be expected of a writer), that I have a pretty eclectic taste in reading materials and that, at the moment, I run the risk of death by paperbacks each and every time I venture into my bed. But then again, I could think of worse ways to go!


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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 Kill Off Characters In A Zombie Apocalypse Novel

26 May

In a good zombie apocalypse novel, the reader should never be left feeling that any character is completely safe. After all, in a zombie-filled world, the threat is ever-present and attacks can happen at any moment, and this means that anyone could end up dead at any time. Indeed, it’s often the feeling of not knowing who will survive until the end of the story, and who won’t, that gives a zombie apocalypse story suspense and keeps the reader turning the pages when they should be doing other things, like getting up and going to work.

However, handling exactly how characters die can be a difficult balancing act. Death and destruction cannot be arbitary, and you cannot simply kill off a character, especially if it is one of the main ones, completely out of the blue. This is because readers have some level of expectation as to how a story will go, and you cannot build a character up and then have them die without some hint that this might happen.

On the other hand, you also cannot end up with a ‘men in red’ situation. This term comes from the original Star Trek series, where if you ever saw an unnamed character dressed in a red top, you could be pretty sure they’d die before then end of any particular scene they featured in. This means that you have to avoid having characters where it’s clear that the only reason they’re being introduced is to act as cannon fodder (or maybe, in this context, that should be zombie chow!).

So, how do you get the death of characters exactly right? Well, there’s no firm rules on this and it will depend on your exact situation, but the following guidelines are likely to help.

1. Characters that die can’t always be minor ones: Most zombie novels have a core set of characters which the story revolves around, and often when authors are looking around for someone to die, they will reach not for one of these characters, but a more minor one. However, if it’s always minor characters that die, this will get repetitive and you will lose the element of suspense because it will quickly become clear that the main characters aren’t really under threat. Instead, you should always aim to kill off at least one of the main characters at some point within your story. This will give the reader that ‘oh my god, no!’ type of moment which helps keep them on the edge of their seat. It also leaves them wondering whether any other main characters might die, too, and it can act as turning points within the overall story arc, signifying that it will change direction from what has come before.

2. Don’t kill too many main characters: Once you accept that you have to kill off a main character, there can sometimes be a tendency to go too far in the other direction and turn the whole thing into a blood-bath with a never-ending chain of people being introduced and then killed off. Killing off a main character only really works if it is unexpected and beyond what the readers were anticipating. This means killing too many of them off will quickly become predictable. There’s nothing worse than reading a book and thinking, ‘oh here’s another character – they’ll be dead in twenty pages, just like everyone else.’ So, the killing off of main characters is something which must be used sparingly.

3. Don’t kill off any of the main characters too soon: If you are going to kill of a main character or two, or even three, you can’t do it too early in the novel. The reader will invest in the main characters and they will feel cheated if they’ve spent the whole first chapter getting to know a character only for them to die at the end of it. This leaves the reader feeling like they have wasted their time and that they are effectively having to start the book again when they get to chapter two. This is a great way to alienate them and they are just as likely to give up as carry on reading.

4. Main character deaths can neither be completely unexpected or completely predictable: Killing off a main character is a difficult thing to handle properly. It cannot come completely out of the blue, so that one moment they’re there, the next they are dead. However, it also can’t be completely predictable either (think about all those old movie clichés: the cop who’s one day away from retirement, the soldier showing off a picture of his girlfriend and kids back home before going into battle and so on). This means that you have to work up to the death of any main character, building suspense and anticipation as the reader tries to work out exactly what’s going to happen or who it’s going to happen to. Often this involves a series of seemingly unimportant decisions or actions which, with hindsight, the reader can look back on and think ‘if only they hadn’t don’t that, they’d have lived rather than died.’ This can be something as simple as forgetting a weapon, wasting bullets when they should have been conserving them or having to go after someone who has stormed off in a huff. Basically, think of The Butterfly Effect here and focus here on small, insignificant actions which have big, unexpected, but logically consistent, consequences later on.

5. Main character deaths have to be memorable and unique: There are lots of ways to end up dead in a zombie story, and many of the have been so over-used that they’ve become clichés. These should be avoided wherever possible, and when it comes to any of the main characters, their manner of death has to be both memorable and unique. This means you have to put a lot of thought into exactly how it’s going to happen. However, don’t confuse memorable with gratuitous. A character death needs to pull at the emotions, and no just turn the reader’s stomach with graphic descriptions of blood and gore. This usually means the death cannot be quick as there needs to be time for the other characters to see what’s happening and have time to react to it, or try to do something to save them. It’s also often useful to put the characters in a position where they have to make a choice of some kind which could lead to the death of either themselves or another character. For example, they might choose to close a door to keep most their group safe while leaving a straggler outside to be killed by a pursuing horde of undead. Similarly, one character might decide to throw themselves onto a zombie to save another character from being attacked, only to end up being bitten leading to a slow lingering death and feelings of guilt in the person they saved. These are the types of actions which make the reader stop and think about what they’d have done if they were in the same situation.

6. In real life, the good guys don’t always win: Zombie books need to feel realistic. This means that just like real life, the good guys can’t always win, and just because you like a character, that doesn’t mean they should necessarily make it through the story unscathed. In fact, some of the best twists in zombie novels come about when one of the good guys ends up dead just at the crucial point where the reader might have expected them to survive. While it’s widely used, the simple revelation that someone has been bitten by a zombie, and so is doomed, just when you think they’ve survived a dangerous, and possibly deadly, situation, is a great plot device. However, because it has been widely used in the past, it has to be handled carefully to make sure it doesn’t slip towards becoming a cliché.

7. Unlike real life, the bad guys should always get it in the end: Zombie novels need goodies and baddies, and while the unanticipated death of a good character can really add to the story, if a bad buy doesn’t get his comeuppance, then the reader can be left feeling cheated. This is because the reader expects the dichotomy between good and bad to be resolved, with the bad being punished, even if the good don’t necessarily win.

Of course, these guidelines are simply hints to help you understand what the reader might be expecting, and how you can play with these expectations to build the required suspense and anticipation to keep them reading. You can break one or two of them, or even all of them, within you own writing, but if you do, you need to think about it really carefully and make sure that you handle it appropriately. Yes, it’s different to kill off three characters that the reader was expecting to be able to follow through a whole book on page four, but there are good reasons why you haven’t read novel where that happens before, and that is because it will put many readers (and, indeed, agents and publishers!) off. Similarly, having the bad guy walk away unharmed while all the good guys die at the end may seem edgy and new, but it will leave the reader feeling that they’ve been cheated out of the ending they were anticipating.

Really the key take home message here is that the choice of which characters you kill, and they way you kill them, can make or break a zombie novel. Get it just right, and the readers will love it. Get it wrong, and the whole story will start to fall apart. Striking exactly the right balance of death and destruction always requires a lot of hard work, but it’s well worth the effort.


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

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

‘The Outbreak’: The Follow-Up To ‘For Those In Peril On The Sea’ Available From 21st July 2014

23 May

The Outbreak Cover Design

The Outbreak Cover Design

I received the edited and proof-read copy of my next novel, The Outbreak, from my editor (thanks Gale) earlier this week, and I spent yesterday and this morning going through all her edits (so I can avoid making the same mistakes in the future!) and dealing with her comments. This meant that by the lunchtime today, and after something like 18 months and 14 drafts, I had what is the final version of manuscript. This has now been sent off to create the galley proofs which will be independently read through by four or five people to catch any remaining typos before it will be ready for publication.

This means I’m finally in the home stretch for releasing what will be the second book in the For Those In Peril series, and I can finally announce the publication date, which will be the 21st of July 2014. This will be the date that both the paperback and the Kindle ebook will be released and so will be available for purchase. However, I should have advance copies which I will be sending out to potential reviewers and bookshops around the 21st of June. Once I know the exact date, I’ll be running a competition on this blog to giveaway some signed, advanced copies, so if you are interested in reading this book before its general release, watch this space.

While this book is set in the same post-apocalyptic world as For Those In Peril On The Sea, it features a new set of characters and explores what it’s like to be in a city as the Haitian Rabies Virus rips through it. Temporally, The Outbreak runs in parallel with the first part of For Those In Peril On The Sea and provides a different perspective on what is happening in this fictitious world. While I know many will be champing at the bit to find out what happens next to the characters in the first book, I felt I needed to tell this story before I could do that. This is because the characters in For Those In Peril On The Sea and The Outbreak will come together in the third book when their story lines finally collide.

To give you an idea of what The Outbreak is all about, here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

He was only in the city to meet an old friend, but within hours of his return, Ben’s running for his life …

As the world watches in horror, Miami falls to the infected, and with it America. Britain seals its borders hoping to prevent the newly-mutated Haitian Rabies Virus reaching its shores, but it’s too late. Somewhere in Glasgow is the man who started it all and coursing through his veins is the virus he accidentally created. When he finally turns, the city doesn’t stand a chance.

Minutes later, a small group of survivors find themselves trapped between the ever-increasing hordes of infected and the soldiers seeking to contain them. The roads are barricaded, the skies patrolled, and the only way out is the river which the leads from the heart of the city to the safety of the sea.

About The Author: In his debut novel, For Those In Peril On The Sea, Colin M. Drysdale focussed on four strangers thrown together by chance on a small boat with no hope of ever returning to land. In this, the second book in the For Those In Peril series, and starting in his native Glasgow, he explores how another group of survivors reacts as their world falls apart around them.

Now this book is finally out of the way, I’m starting to turn my attention to the third book in the series. This has the working title of The Island At The End Of The World, and I’m looking forward to revisiting Rob, CJ and the others from the first book, and seeing what happens to them when they finally reach their intended destination (if you’ve read For Those In Peril On The Sea, you’ll know where I’m meaning). I’m also looking forward to working with the characters from the second book again too. In fact, there’s a couple of the characters from this second book which I’ve really become quite attached to, and I really want to find out what they’re going to do next.

As well as starting work on the third book, the next couple of months will be spent creating a companion website for The Outbreak, doing some publicity and running a few promotions here and there so it will be a busy time. It doesn’t help that I’m also rolling out some merchandise for the For Those In Peril series which will consist of t shirts, hoodies and other clothing based on some custom designs I’ve been creating over the few weeks (the first ‘proofs’ of these designs arrived in the mail today and look great!), but more of that later.


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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.

Steadfast Stanley – A Short Animated Zombie Film About One Boy And His Dog

21 May

Every now and then, a short zombie film comes along that is truly different from anything that has come before. A year or so ago it was the rather brilliant Cargo (if you haven’t seen it, watch it now!), but now there’s a new one called Steadfast Stanley.

It’s a rather sweet animated short about a dog’s search for his owner after they become separated during a zombie outbreak. In my humble opinion, it’s fantastic in terms of the story, they way it’s told and in terms of the animation itself, and it represents that most difficult of things to do in the zombie genre – something that’s completely original! So with no further ado, enjoy!

Steadfast Stanley from John Cody Kim on Vimeo.



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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 I Write First Person Narratives

20 May

Those familiar with my writing style will have noticed that I almost always write in the first person, rather than the more usual third person. That is, I tend to write from the point of a single person as if they telling someone about the events they were experiencing. In this post, I want to go into some of the reasons why this is.

First and foremost, it’s because I primarily write what would be considered post-apocalyptic fiction (mostly with a strong leaning towards zombies, but every now and then I’ll do a zombie-free piece). As a fan of the writing of John Wyndham, and particularly his two most famous post-apocalyptic books, The Day Of The Triffids (which is basically a zombie story without the zombies) and The Kraken Wakes (which is about an alien invasion of sorts), I’m of the opinion that post-apocalyptic stories are best told from the first person perspective. This is because it allows the reader to live the events directly through the eyes of narrator, and know exactly what they are feeling about it. This isn’t to say that I think that it’s impossible to write a great post-apocalyptic novel from the third person perspective, just that I prefer ones written from the first person. Since this is what I prefer to read, then it’s perhaps unsurprising that this is the style I have chosen to primarily work in myself.

Secondly, for me, post-apocalyptic fiction is all about the emotions and reactions of those who find their world suddenly turned upside down, and the best way to experience this by viewing it from inside the main character’s head. That way, you can feel their panic, live their tragedies, ride the emotional roller-coaster with them as they swing from despair to hope and back again. For me, it always seems a little wrong when you read about the emotions someone is feeling from a third person perspective because it leaves me wondering how someone looking at the situation from the outside would be able to know this. It’s like when you hear someone talk about themselves in the third person, it’s not technically wrong, but you know instantly that this is probably someone you don’t want to get cornered by at a social gathering.

Thirdly, I like the idea that different people, even if they go through the same events, will have very different experiences and responses. With the first person perspective, it leaves open the option of revisiting the same events and looking at them from another point of view. This is something which I did in two connected short stories, Rendezvous and The Need To know, each of which told the opposite sides of the same story about two people who become separated during a zombie apocalypse. This is also something which is going to be an important element in the For Those In Peril series of books which I’m currently working on. Each individual book will be narrated by a different individual, so that the world will be seen and experienced through different eyes in each one (even when they are following the same groups of characters). The common theme which connects them, and makes them a series, is, therefore, the world in which the events take place, and the common timeline experienced by each individual as they struggle to survive within it, rather than necessarily the characters themselves (although they will all come together eventually).

Finally, and this is probably quite an important point, I, personally, find the first person perspective much easier to write in. It allows me to keep the story line more linear, and I don’t have to worry about keeping track of who know what. The narrator will only know what he has seen or been told in the story, and nothing more. In addition, I find it easier to work out emotional reactions and responses if I can put myself in the place of the main character, and that is easier when working in the first person.

This having been said, writing from the first person perspective is not necessarily straight-forward and it’s easy to get it wrong. In particular, it’s easy to fall into the ‘we’ trap, especially when talking about the actions of a group of individuals. This trap is where you simply refer to an action as ‘we did this’ and ‘we did that’, rather than describing exactly what went on, and falling in to this trap will leave your story feeling flat and underwhelming. However, handled properly, the first person perspective can be absolutely gripping, more so than almost anything written in the third person.

So, hopefully this provides, for those who might be interested, some insight as to why I write so much from the first person perspective. If you’re a budding writer and want to try working from this point of view for yourself, you can find some handy tips (including how to avoid falling into the ‘we’ trap) can be found in an earlier post on this blog, which you can read 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.

The Official Zombie Cook Book

14 May

While the follow-up to For Those In Peril On The Sea is off with my editor for a final proof-reading, I’ve had some free time, and I’ve been putting this to good use developing some designs for a range of quirky zombie-themed t-shirts to promote the companion website to my books (www.ForThoseInPeril.net).

I’ll be launching these officially in the autumn, but here’s a sneak preview of one of the draft designs I’ve put together so far:

The Official Zombie Cook Book T-Shirt Design


The t-shirts will all feature a white design printed on a black/dark background and once they are finished, they should look something like this:

T Shirt Mock Up


I’m still working on the logistics of this, but once I have that sorted out, I’ll launch the t-shirts through this blog (with a free give-away of a few special customised limited editions). There should be around 12 different designs in the final range, all of which will hopefully provide something a little different from what’s already out there. I’ll post more on this as things progress, so if you’re interested, 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.

The Indie Author Manifesto

14 May

I don’t ususally re-blog the posts of others (in fact I don’t think I ever have before), but this one seemed to fit within the spirit of this blog, and it seems like a worthy set of ideals for those who self-publish to try to live up to (especially numbers 8 and 10).

Indie Hero

Indie Authors.

Each and every one of us should post this on our websites, blogs, etc.

THE INDIE AUTHOR MANIFESTO by Mark Coker @ Smashwords:

Indie Author Manifesto

THE INDIE AUTHOR MANIFESTO


We indie authors believe all writers are created equal, that all writers are endowed with natural creative potential, and that writers have an unalienable right to exercise, explore and realize their potential through the freedom of publication. 

I hold these truths to be self-evident:

  1. I am an indie author
  2. I have experienced the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from self-publishing
  3. I have a right to publish
  4. My creative control is important to me.  I decide when, where and how my writing graduates to become a published book.
  5. Indie does not mean “alone.”  I choose my partners.
  6. I shall not bow beholden or subservient to any publisher. In my business relationships, I seek partnership, fairness, equity and mutually aligned interests.
  7. We indie…

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