Archive | June, 2014

Win An Advance Copy Of ‘The Outbreak’

29 Jun

The Outbreak Cover DesignWhile my next book, The Outbreak, won’t be officially released until the 21st of July 2014, I have two signed copies to give away on this blog this week. This will give the winners a chance to read the book ahead of anyone else (as long as the postal service manages to deliver it in time!).

If you want to be in with a chance of winning, you’ll need to be quick, though, because the competition will be open for entries until the 3rd of July 2014. After that, I’ll select two winners random from all those who enter with the correct answer, and send out the books as soon as possible.

The books will be mailed from the UK, and because of the vagaries of the various postal systems around the world, I can’t guarantee delivery before the official publication date, but the winners should get the books within 7 – 10 days depending on where the in world they live (so well ahead of the publication date).

So how can you win? It’s nice and simple. Read the description of the book at the end of this post, fill out the form below, including answering the question correctly and click on the submit button. After that all you have to do is keep your fingers crossed until Thursday!

Book Description For The Outbreak:

Starting in Glasgow, The Outbreak weaves its tale of post-apocalyptic survival into the varied landscapes and cultures of western Scotland, ranging from bustling city streets to remote island communities. With its evocative use of real locations on both land and sea, and atmospheric depictions of the trials faced by those trying to survive as their world falls apart around them, The Outbreak expands the new and unusual take on the traditional post-apocalyptic genre first introduced by the same author in his much acclaimed debut novel For Those In Peril On The Sea.

While this is the second book in the For Those In Peril series, it focuses on a different set of characters to those in the first. However, the characters from these two books will be united when their storylines finally collide in the third book in the series. This is currently scheduled for release in the summer of 2015.

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 leads from the heart of the city to the safety of the sea.

Join Ben, Tom, Daz, Claire and Sophie as they flee from the infected, first by land, then by sea. Where will they go? How will they survive? Only time will tell.

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 to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

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

And The Winners Of The ‘Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training Instructor’ T Shirts Are …

28 Jun

Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training Instructor T ShirtThanks to all of you who entered the competition I’ve been running over the last week to win one of the two ‘Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training Instructor’ t shirts I have to give away.

The winners have now been selected at random from all the entries I received, and they’ve been emailed to get their mailing addresses so I can send their prizes to them.

They are:

1. James Semaj
2. Jc Loh

Well done to both of them, and commiserations to the rest of you who entered, but who weren’t so lucky.

If you didn’t win, and really want one of these t shirts, you can purchase them from the online shop, along with t shirts featuring the other designs which I’ve put together. Alternatively, you can go straight to page for this design by clicking here for the US shop, and here for the UK shop.

While I’m on the subject of competitions, I’ll be starting another one tomorrow, this time to win advanced copies of my upcoming book The Outbreak. This will give the opportunity for two of you to read it before its official launch on the 21st of July 2104 (subject to the postal service delivering them in time!).

Interested? Then watch this space because the competition will only be open for entries for a short period of time.

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 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.

Carriers: The Invisible Threat In A Zombie Apocalypse (And In The Real World, Too)

25 Jun

Many disease have a gap between the time a person is first exposed to it and the time they start showing symptoms. This is, technically, know as the latent period, and its length can vary quite considerably from disease to disease, and more importantly so can the ability of one person to infect others during it. With certain diseases, such as HIV, people can pass the infection on to someone else during this latent period, making it much harder to control. This is because the person themselves might not even know that they are carrying the disease and may fail to take measures to reduce the risk of passing it on. What, you may be thinking, does this have to do with zombies?

Well, the existence of a latent period, where a person is able to pass on the disease while appearing to be completely healthy, within a zombie-causing disease would have some dramatic implications for how it would spread and how it could be controlled. With zombie diseases, and here I’m talking of something which turns people into ravenous, flesh-hungry and violent killers, we would all instinctively know to keep away from the slobbering maniac with the crazed look in his dead eyes that’s trying to rip us limb from limb. However, what about the apparently healthy person who you meet while out foraging? With no latent period, you could pretty much assume that they’re okay and you could welcome them into your safe house or let them join up with your jolly band of survivors with little or no risk. If, however, there’s a latent period, this simple act of human kindness could be exceedingly dangerous. This is because you’d never know if they might be infected, and just not showing symptoms yet, with the risk that they will turn in the night and attack you without warning. These are The Carriers, and they’re the invisible threat in any zombie apocalypse.

The mere possibility of carriers means that you could never trust any new people you meet not to be infected, and just not showing symptoms. You could try asking them, but there’s a good chance they’d lie, or they might not even know they’re infected – believing that they’d been lucky and got away from an encounter with a zombie without picking up the disease. Instead, the best survival tactic would be to avoid mixing with strangers, and to drive any that come near you away before they get too close.

However, it wouldn’t just be strangers you’d have to worry about. Any time you were separated from others in your group, there’d be a chance that someone might become infected without realising it, or rather failing to mention that this might be a possibility because of how everyone else would respond. This means that every foraging trip, every scavenging run, every encounter with zombies would create the potential for someone to pick up the disease and return to your safe area, bringing it through all your carefully crafted defences.

Carriers mean that you could never really trust anyone and there’d always be the risk that someone will turn in the night, creating havoc as they run amok within your compound, and, indeed, this might be the most common way that safe zones would become overrun. The possibility that people could be infectious during a latent period, passing the disease on to others, would only make carriers all the more dangerous. Imagine the zombie disease spreading silently throughout your group before anyone is even aware that there is a risk of infection. This isn’t the blood-splattered attack of the fully fledged zombie horde which everyone would recognise as a danger. Instead, this is the invisible creeping of a disease through a community, with no one being able to do anything to stop it until it’s too late.

Therefore, the possibility of carriers is something which always needs to be guarded against by survivors in any zombie apocalypse. So, how would you go about doing this? Well, the answer is very simple, and very old-fashioned: Quarantine. That’s right, you’d simply require anyone who might have been exposed to spend a period of time in quarantine – separated from the rest of the group until you know they are safe. Luckily, under most zombie apocalypse scenarios, any periods of latency are likely to be relatively short because the disease which causes it is likely to be so voracious. This means a simple over-night quarantine might be enough to minimise the risk from potential carriers. However, proper quarantine procedures would be an important strategy for the survival of any group during zombie apocalypse, and these would need to be initiated right from the start. This means that you’d need to have a certain level of paranoia, especially towards strangers because of the risks they might pose in terms of bringing the disease into your group.

Of course, zombie apocalypse scenarios are fictional, but the possibility of carriers, and their ability to silently spread a disease through a community is a real medical threat. In traditional societies, there was a natural distrust of strangers, and often this was driven by the risk that they might bring new diseases into a group. Even in modern western societies, the risk of carriers has long been recognised. Ships arriving at a new country still have to fly a yellow quarantine flag until they are cleared for entry. Of course, nowadays this is more associated with checking passports and the search for smuggled contraband, but it’s a reminder that it wasn’t so long ago that ships arriving from far off places were regarded as dangerous because of the possibility they might bring diseases, such as the plague, smallpox and yellow fever, with them as well as the goods they carried.

In the modern, overly connected world, carriers are even more dangerous than in the age of sail. We might check passengers at airports for weapons and bombs, but people are rarely stopped to check whether they might be carrying a deadly disease. This allows older diseases, such as flu, and newly emerged ones, such as SARS, to be spread throughout the world within days or weeks, and before anyone really realises there’s a problem which needs to be dealt with. Air travel might be seen as a modern staple, but because of the existence of carriers, it actually makes us ever more vulnerable to being caught by surprise by diseases which could bring us to our knees if we’re not very careful about exactly how we handle them. And all because of that little interval in the transmission cycle of diseases called the latent period.

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 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.

Giveaway: ‘Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training Instructor’ T Shirt

22 Jun

Please Note: This competition is now closed. To find out who won, click here.

Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training Instructor T ShirtThis weekend saw the 7th International T Shirt Day, and to mark this, I’m giving away two t shirts featuring one of the quirky zombie-based designs I’ve been working on over the last couple of months.

These t shirts are black with a white design consisting of a gun sight trained on an approaching zombie (with a head shot lined up, naturally) surrounded by the text ‘Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training Instructor’.

To be in with a chance of winning one of these t shirts, simply fill in the form below. There’s no question to answer, and I’ll ship the prizes to anywhere in the world. However, you will have to tell me what size you’d want, and whether you’d want a men’s or women’s t shirt. The competition will be open until the 28th of June 2014, and two winners will be selected at random from all the entries I receive by that date. Once the winners have been selected, I’ll contact them by email to request a mailing address to allow me to send them their prize.

If you want to check out the full range of zombie-based t shirt designs I’ve created, these are now available from the shop by clicking here (if you are in the UK/Europe, you can visit the UK version of the shop here). The t shirts are available in men’s and women’s sizes (children’s sizes will be added soon), and there’s also a few other goodies, too, such as hoodies, mugs, tote bags and even baby grows, all featuring my designs.

In addition, as well as the zombie-based designs, this range of merchandise also includes ones with logos for my three books (For Those In Peril On The Sea, Zombies Can’t Swim And Other Tales of The Undead, and the upcoming, The Outbreak), so if you’ve read these books, you can now buy the t shirt!

Anyway, to have a chance of winning a ‘Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training Instructor’ t shirt, just fill in the form below and hit the submit button.

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 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 Tell Your Grammar From Your Gramma

19 Jun

The title of this article comes from an old joke which probably only works in certain British accents, but there’s a serious point behind it. We all know that spelling mistakes can put readers off, but poor grammar grates even more, and if you repeatedly make the same or similar errors, you’ll find your work is quickly projected, with some force, across the room, never to be opened again. Well, in the days of digital publication, this might not literally happen, but it certainly will figuratively (especially if you repeatedly get those two words the wrong way round!).

Now, I’m no grammar expert (as the error or two which I’m sure will have crept through my attempts at editing this article will attest to), and indeed I have very little memory of ever really being taught anything grammatical in school. Certainly, I was never taught the difference between a colon and a semi-colon, or how to use the more obscure punctuation marks, such as ellipses or em dashes, which, if used correctly, can really make your writing pop and fizzle with excitement. However, as I started out on my writing career (many years after having left school), I quickly realised that the most important thing for an author is to be able to tell a compelling story and to be able to create interesting, realistic characters. If you can’t do this, then no matter how perfect the grammar, no one is going to be interested in reading a word you’ve written.

Does this mean grammar isn’t important? Of course not. What it means is that when you’re working on early drafts of a project, you need to concentrate on getting the story and the characters right. Only once you’ve got those sorted out, do you need to start thinking about the grammar and whether you’ve got all your apostrophes in the right places, used the three ‘theres’ (their, there and they’re) correctly and worked out when you should be using ‘onto’ rather than ‘on to’. But how do you do this?

Unless you’re a bit of a natural at such things, the chances are you’ll need to resort to some sort of external advice. One option is to employ an editor, and this is certainly a great way to make sure you get everything spot on (although even editors are not perfect!). In particular, an editor can really help with the proper usage of those lesser-used punctuation marks which can really make a piece of writing stand out from the crowd. For example, many people will use commas to break up sentences into different sections. However, you can add much more variety to your writing by replacing some of these with semi-colons (;), colons (:), em dashes (double-length dashes) or even ellipses (…), and an editor can really help point you in the right direction.

However, you should never rely on an editor entirely, and if you take your writing seriously, you should do your best to both learn how to use these punctuation marks, and also how to sort out all those other grammar issues, like when to use passed rather than past, for yourself.

There’s three ways to do this. The first is that if you work with an editor, get them to use ‘tracked changes’ rather than simply providing you with cleaned up copy of your manuscript. This way, you can look through the changes they’ve made and learn from their experience. In the long-term, this will also reduce your need to hire an editor again in the future – but don’t tell them that! I’m only joking on this last point, but this is a great way to brush up on or extend your grammar skills (it’s certainly done a lot for mine).

The second is to get yourself a good reference book which you can keep by your side while you’re editing your work. Of the many which are available, the one I use is called Grammar For Grownups: Everything You Need to Know But Never Learnt In School by Craig Shrives. I happen to like this one, but it won’t be everyone’s piece of cake so the key here is find one that you like and then make sure you use it to double-check everything.

Finally, there’s the web. There are many good grammar sites out there, and these can often be found simply by typing something relevant into a search engine (such as ‘Passed vs Past’). In fact, I’ll frequently turn to the web when I want to check specific examples, rather than general rules, instead of opening my reference book. One of my favourite sources of grammatical advice is Grammar Girl, and she can usually be counted on to have an answer if I’m wanting some quick advice on a specific topic.

Of course, it’s not always easy to find out exactly the right answer for a specific problem, and you have to do a lot of digging to get there. One of the biggest problems I had with this was ‘onboard’ vs ‘on board’. As much of my writing is set on or around boats, I use these two options quite a lot, yet this was something which somewhat flummoxed the editor I work with, at least at first, as she didn’t necessarily get the subtle difference in meaning between the two and wanted to replace them all with ‘on-board’. It took me a while to rummage through the internet to find just the right explanation of which one I should use when so that I could ensure I got it just right (‘onboard’ is an adjective which precedes a noun, ‘on board’ is used in every other context: e.g. ‘We brought a radio on board so we could have an onboard radio’)

Similarly, there may be times when you choose to break the rules. This is particularly true with dialogue, where you might want to use colloquialisms, but you need to take a lot of care when you do this so that people understand this is intentional and not a mistake. For example, when speaking, many people will say ‘there’s three motorbikes coming over the hill’, but grammatically this should be ‘there are …’ or ‘there’re …’, and on the page most people will assume that using ‘there’s …’ in this context means that the person has a poor knowledge of grammar and poor editing skills rather than that they’re using a colloquialism.

I recently ran into this problem when creating a character in The Outbreak who speaks in my native Glaswegian dialect, which butchers English quite dramatically in places (to quote Billy Connelly on this, ‘being greeted by a Glaswegian is like being savaged by a rottweiler’). In Glasgow, the word definitely is widely pronounces ‘definately’ with the emphasis on the ‘ately’ at the end or ‘defenetely’ with the emphasis on the central ‘enet’). Yet, anyone unfamiliar with this local peculiarity would assume that either of these were spelling mistake and would quickly get annoyed by what, to them, is clearly bad editing and an inability to use a spell-checker. This meant I had to tone down the accent a little, and out went either possible spelling of definitely along with other local variants on the official English words, such as ‘oot’, ‘dae’, ‘gonnae’, ‘dinnae’ and ‘wean’. Yet, I chose to leave some others in, such as the use of the word ‘How?’ where almost every other English speaker would use ‘Why?’ (as far as I can work out it’s a shortening of ‘How come?’) and ‘Pure’ to mean very or extremely (as in ‘That’s pure mental!’, usually said with a slight shake of the head, for ‘That’s extremely weird!’). I figure I can get away with these because they can’t easily be mistaken for a typo and can probably be figured out from the context.

However, if you do choose to break the rules, you need to be aware that the results are likely to grate with some people. For example, while they are generally brilliantly written, throughout the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling consistently uses the phrase ‘to try and …’. I’ll admit this is acceptable in informal English, but for some reason it leaps out at me and each time I read it, I feel myself wanting to take a red pen change it to the more widely accepted ‘to try to …’.

So that’s my quick run through the subject of grammar and how to make sure you get it right. If you do, hopefully you’ll end up with something your readers will like, and, indeed, that your gramma can be proud of.

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 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.

Coming Of Age In A Zombie Apocalypse

16 Jun

Some of you may remember the series of posts I did a while ago under the collective title Dilemmas In A Zombie Apocalypse. In that series, I would set a dilemma and then ask how people would deal with it. Recently, I had a comment on one of these dilemmas pointing out that while I regularly referred to young children in them, I rarely considered where teenagers would fit in to any survival group within my scenarios.

This got me thinking, while many of us would consider younger children in need of our full protection in a zombie apocalypse, at what point would be start seeing teenagers as adults, and so people who would need to start standing on their own two feet? Similarly, if a zombie apocalypse went on for long enough, at what age would children start having to take part in group activities, such as keeping watch, fighting off zombies during an attack or heading out on foraging trips, either accompanied or on their own? What about taking part in any decision-making? When would a child start having the right to contribute to discussions about what should be done, or even have a right to participate in any votes?

Some might argue that there should be a hard age cut off, just as we do in normal society for many things like voting, driving, drinking alcohol, owning a fire arm and joining the military. But when facing life in a world ruled by the undead, what age would this be? Would you consider a thirteen year old mature enough to be on the frontline, fighting the zombie hordes? Would you be willing to trust the decision-making of the average fifteen year old when out on a foraging run? Would you fully trust a seventeen year old to have your back when you really needed it, or not to fall asleep while keeping guard late a night? Would there need to be different ages at which teenagers would start to participate in different tasks, just like we have for many things in normal life?

Others might argue that since every person is an individual, you couldn’t have a single age cut off, where you consider someone not sufficiently mature to do a task one day, but able to participate the next just because they’ve reached a specific anniversary of their birth (indeed, how would you even keep track of the days so that you could do this?). Instead, you might have to consider each young person separately, and accept each one’s participation in specific activities on his or her own merits. Certainly, there are some thirteen year olds I’ve met over the years who seemed much more grounded and trustworthy than many university-age students, although I don’t know if I’d go quite as far as trusting them with my life (then again, I’m not so sure I’d trust every adult my own age with it either!).

Of course, in all these considerations, we need to think about what the teenagers themselves feel about taking more responsibility in the face of adversity. I remember many times when I was growing up where I objected to being treated as a child when I felt like a grown up. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I can also say with absolute certainty that there were many times when my teenage decision-making skills were distinctly poor even though at the time I considered them perfectly sound. Similarly, while I’d never have admitted it to anyone, there were also times when I wanted nothing more than to be relieved of the burdens of being considered a grown up so that I could behave like a child again.

My feeling is that in a zombie apocalypse, children would be forced to grow up fast and they would be expected to contribute more to the group than we might expect even college students to do in our current world. Of course there’s an argument that some of us, especially in the west, let our children be children much too long these days, with them not really taking up adult responsibilities until well into their mid-twenties or even older (something that would be a considered a unachievable luxury by many throughout the world), but that’s another matter.

In a zombie-filled world, children would probably be expected to start taking part in things like foraging in relatively safe zones, cooking or keeping watch during the daytime from the ages of ten or eleven onwards. By the time they were thirteen or fourteen, they’d need to start taking some responsibility for their own personal safety, and by fifteen or sixteen, like it or not, most would have to be fully functional members on any survival group they are part of, and so have to share in both decision-making and unpleasant or dangerous tasks. This would be little different from how thing are in many traditional societies, even today.

However, while they’d be forced to take on these duties, we’d also need to remember that just because a zombie apocalypse would mean they’d need to grow up fast, this doesn’t mean there’s not still a part of them, deep inside, that doesn’t quite feel fully grown up, even to quite a late stage of teenage-dom (and, indeed, if my own feelings are anything to go by, well into supposed adulthood!). After all, a zombie apocalypse won’t change human biology (or at least not the parts associated with being a teenager). This means that teenagers would still need to be given the chance to be children, at least every now and then, and we couldn’t forget that while teenagers are no longer kids, as such, they’re still not quite fully fledged adults yet either. In short, we’d need to be prepared to cut them a little slack from time to time, especially when they’re trying to cope with all the stresses associated with life as a teenager on top of everything else the world (and, indeed, the zombies) might have to throw at them.

Of course, all this doesn’t just apply to life in a zombie apocalypse, and many adults could probably do with being reminded that goes for the real world, too.

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 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 Knotty Post-apocalyptic Survival Skill

12 Jun

Tying proper knots seems to be becoming a bit of a dying art. At one time, every boy scout (and presumably girl scout, too, but as I was never one of those, I can’t say for sure) knew how to tell a sheet bend from a sheepshank and would never be caught tying a granny knot instead of a reef knot. However, in the age of video games, bungee cord and duct tape, I suspect few people nowadays could even name a single type of knot let alone know how to tie it properly. At the most, they might know how to tie their shoe laces, but few will know it’s called a bow knot.

Now, you might well ask, does this really matter? Does your average man (or woman) on the street really need to know how to tie a knot properly? After all, when is he or she ever likely to need to do it? The answer here is, emphatically, yes. Why? Because one day it might just save his/her life. We never know what’s just around the corner, or when civilisation might come crashing down around our ears, and if that were ever to happen a knowledge of knots will prove incredibly useful and will help you live while those around you die. Okay, maybe I’m over-stating things a little there, but knowing how to tie knots properly is definitely an important survival skill, and not just in a post-apocalyptic world. Knowing how to tie knots properly can come in pretty useful in real life emergencies too.

Below, I’m going to show you (with the help of some rather useful videos from, how to tie five knots which I would consider essential to know. Yes, there are others, but these five will cover about 99% of all the possible knots you’ll ever need to use. However, before I do that, I want to consider how you tell whether a knot is good for using in any given situation or not. There are three parts to this.

First, a knot shouldn’t slip in any way unless you want it to. This means that (for most knots), once they are tied they shouldn’t move along the rope no matter how much pressure you put on them. This is particularly important if you are tying a rope around yourself where any slipping can result in serious injuries, but more of that later.

Second, a knot shouldn’t come undone either under pressure or when pressure is removed from it. That is, the knot should remain tied for as long as you want it to. It’s surprising how many tied knots, even if they are tied properly, will eventually work themselves free if you use them in the wrong situation (as anyone who has tripped over their own shoelaces will be able to testify!).

Finally, and this will seem odd at first, you need to be able to untie a knot quickly and easily when you want to. Why? Well, knots, by definition, are temporary structures and are designed to be undone when needed. After all, if you wanted to do something more permanent with a rope, you’d use a splice rather than a knot (but that’s another matter altogether). Instead, knots are meant to be a short-term solution which allows you to use a rope for a specific purpose, and then undo them again so you can use your rope for another purpose afterwards.

The importance of being able to untie knots again was brought home to me when I was about 20 and was sailing off the coast of Labrador in Canada. We were towing a heavy motorboat and as the seas around us rose as a we entered a storm, we needed to lengthen the tow rope to stop the motorboat plowing into the back of our yacht. The only problem was I’d been a bit sloppy with my knot tying and had accidentally used the wrong knot to secure the tow rope to the yacht. There was a frantic twenty minutes as I wrestled with the knot, as the motorboat alternated between threatening to sink and threatening to crash into us, before I finally got it undone and we were able to lengthen tow rope so that the motorboat remained far enough away that we could safely tow it. Needless to say, the bollocking I got from the yacht’s captain for my mistake meant that ever since that moment, I’ve always made damn sure that I get my knots right!

So, what are these five essential knots?

The first is the bowline. If you need to tie a rope around yourself for any reason whatsoever, this is the only knot you should use. This is because it is the only one guaranteed not to tighten under pressure and accidentally crush your internal organs to a pulp or, indeed, slice you in half! You might think I’m being over-dramatic here, but I’m not and many an inexperienced knot user has come to a grizzly end because they didn’t know how to tie a bowline properly. So here’s how to tie one:

The second is the sheet bend. The sheet bend is a charmingly simple knot that is amazingly strong. In addition, unlike many other knots, it doesn’t require both sides of the knot to be made from ropes of the same diameter. This makes it my go-to knot for joining two lengths of rope together.

The third knot is round turn and two half hitches. This is actually a combination of three separate knots (as the name suggests, a round turn and two knots known as half hitches!). If you need to secure a rope to something, like a branch, or to tie the a boat to a pier to stop it floating away, this is the knot you should use. This having been said, I would generally recommend three half hitches rather than the standard two, just to be on the safe side, and you can even add a fourth if you’re really paranoid. You should, however, never tie this knot around your body because at its heart it’s a slip knot, and it can, and will, tighten under pressure.

The fourth knot is the good old-fashioned reef knot (which is also known as a square knot). This is perfect for joining two ropes of equal thickness, or joining two ends of the same rope together. Again, it’s a deceptively simple knot, but one which is easy to get wrong. If you do, you’ll end up with either two half hitches, which will mean the ropes will separate under pressure, or a granny knot, which is almost impossible to get untied again, especially in a hurry.

The final knot isn’t really a knot as such, but is exceedingly useful. This is the square lashing. With square lashing, you can tie two poles together, and from there you can make a lean-to to give you shelter from the elements, a stretcher for emergencies, secure supplies to roof racks, build a raft and many other useful things. Thus, knowing how to do box lashing properly comes in useful on a surprisingly frequent basis. Here’s how it’s done:

So, that’s knots for you. If you don’t already know how to tie them, get practicing now, and if you do, you can start developing your skills further. How about doing them blindfolded, or in the dark? How about doing them as fast as you can? Or with only one hand? Can you, for example, tie a bowline one-handed? These little tricks might not help you impress potential partners at parties, but they might, one day, save your life!

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 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.