Archive | November, 2014

Buy Nothing Day, And Other Antidotes To Black Friday

28 Nov

Today is Black Friday, that annual apogee (or should that be nadir?) of rampant consumerism where frenzied shoppers will quite happily trample little old ladies to death, just to get a good deal on a new television that they don’t really need. If you’ve ever want to know how it would feel to be caught up in a zombie apocalypse, then being in the middle of a horde of Black Friday bargain-hunters is probably about as close as you can get (although you might stand a better chance of getting through the experience unharmed amongst the zombies!).

Living in Britain, Black Friday used to be something that only ever really appeared in the consciousness as one of those wacky ‘And finally …’ stories on the news that we would watch, bemused, while shaking our heads in a disbelieving manner as we wondered at the strange things our cousins across the ocean got up to in the name of consumerism. But now, Black Friday is slowly raising its ugly head here, too, which is really strange since we don’t even have Thanksgiving, so why do we have a sale the day after it?

For whatever the reason, Black Friday looks like it’s here to stay, but for those, like me, who’d rather face a zombie horde than participate in such an egregious outburst of consumerism that encapsulates much of what is wrong with modern western society, there are some interesting alternatives out there that can help you strike back.

For a start, there’s International Buy Nothing Day (which falls on the last Saturday in November in much of the world, but the Friday after Thanksgiving in the US). Started in Vancouver in 1992, it’s an international day of protest against consumerism and needless over-consumption. The idea behind it is simple: Challenge yourself, and indeed your friends and family, to try to go 24 hours without buying anything what-so-ever (it’s harder than you might think!). While you can just do it on your own, there are also organised events, like Credit Card Cut-ups, and even zombie walks where participant ‘zombies’ wander around shopping malls or other consumer havens with a blank stare. When asked what they are doing participants describe Buy Nothing Day.

Next on the list is to sign a Pre-NUPP with your friends and family. What’s a Pre-NUPP? It’s a pre-Christmas No Unnecessary Presents Pact. You know what it’s like at this time of year, you find yourself racing around the shops, grabbing random things to give to people because you know that at that precise moment they are doing exactly the same for you. None of us want such poorly thought-out gifts and they never end up getting used, yet still we buy them because we somehow feel obligated to do so, driven by the fear that we might be unexpectedly given a gift when we don’t have one to give back in return. So, why not get together, well in advance, and simply agree not to give the damn things to each other in the first place?

This, of course, doesn’t mean not celebrating Christmas or anything like that. It simply means that you’ll not be giving people things they don’t really want or need, just for the sake of giving them something. Remember that when it comes to presents, it’s the thought that counts, not how easy it is to wrap, and there are a lot of alternatives out there to traditional gifts. Why not try, for instance, to do something nice for them instead: Offer to babysit the kids for an evening, or even a whole day, take them out for a nice meal, or coffee and a chat, or how about helping them do that DIY task they’d never get round to doing on their own. The possibilities are endless, and they’ll appreciate it a lot more than that over-priced piece of tat you were going to get them!

Then there’s #GivingTuesday, which this year is on the 2nd of December. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is simple. It aims to encourage people, charities and businesses to donate time, money or their voice to help a good cause. The feeling you get from grabbing a bargain on Black Friday is fleeting and will vanish the moment you get home an open the box (and it will be followed by an overwhelming feeling of dread when you open your credit card bill several weeks later). The feeling you get from doing something good for someone else lasts a whole lot longer. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of eminent psychologists who study this very phenomenon. They call it Helpers High, and it really is a high because of all the endorphins which are released when you take the time to help someone else.

So, if you choose to, enjoy Black Friday, but remember that there are other options out there that won’t leave you quite as broke, and that will leave you a lot happier than fighting complete strangers for the last box on the 75% off shelf, when you don’t even know quite what it is you’re fighting over – all you know is that 75% off is a bargain you’ve somehow convinced yourself you cannot live without, no matter what’s inside. After all, that sort of behaviour is really best left until the zombies rise, and you are left fighting for life. Now, that’s something that really matters!

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.

Libraries And Surviving A Zombie Apocalypse

17 Nov

When people think of where they’d want to hole-up in the event of a zombie apocalypse, they usually think of shopping malls, or prisons, or castles or warehouses – or maybe even getting out of the city altogether and heading for the hills, or sailing out to sea. Few would ever think of heading for their nearest library. That, I think, is missing a trick. Most library buildings, especially the larger reference libraries which can be found in most large cities, are impressive edifices, with large, well-built doors. They also tend not to have too may windows because too much direct light can damage books. There’s lots of space in them, and if you start to get bored, there’s always plenty to read. Yes, they might not come with a ready supply of food, but a few quick foraging trips should be enough to sort that out.

However, none of these are the reason why I would consider a library as one of the best places to try to ride out a zombie apocalypse. Instead, it’s because of the wealth of information contained within their fortress-like walls. Think about it. Think of all the skills you’re going to need to survive in both the short and the long-term. You might get lucky and find that within your survival group you have a surgeon, a mechanic, an electrical engineer, a military strategist and so on, but the chances of this happening are slim. Instead, it is likely you’ll be surrounded by people who have about as much knowledge as you do about the intricate workings of an internal combustion engine or the human body or a 12 volt DC electrical system. This means that if you’re going to survive, you’re going to have to learn an awful lot very quickly, and just how are you going to do that?

Now, with the way the world currently is, the chances are if you wanted to find out any of this type of information, you’d simply turn to Google and start typing, but how long is Google going to survive once the dead start to rise? My guess is not very long. Even if it does, how are you going to access it? The phone lines will probably fail within a few hours, mobile phone reception is likely to follow soon after, and the electricity won’t be far behind. We’ve got so used to having a little device tucked into our back pocket or backpack that we can simply whip out and find the answer to any question we can think of (and a lot we can’t!), that we’ve forgotten what a privilege this is. Yet, this system is surprisingly fleeting and fragile. It requires so many links in the chain, all unseen by you, to get the information you want from where it resides and into your hand so you can read it, that makes it incredibly vulnerable to even the smallest disruption, so you can imagine what would happen in the event of a zombie apocalypse. This information delivery system would collapse sooner than you could type ‘How do you start a chainsaw?’

So what’s the alternative? Well, the answer is, of course, to find somewhere where all this information is written down in an easy to access format, and this format is the book. You need no electricity to get at the information contained in a book, no servers half way round the world, no fibre optic networks crossing entire ocean basins, no wi-fi or phone lines. You just open it up and start reading. And where would you find the books which would contain the information you’d so desperately need? In a library! If you can find just the right library, it will contain a copy of pretty much every book that’s ever been written, or at least it will contain a good proportion of them. You might not know it, but book publishers in most countries have a requirement to submit, free of charge, a copy of every book they publish to a national book repository.

In Britain, this is the hallowed halls of the British Library, and within its walls, you can find all the information you’d ever need on just about any subject you could ever want. You wan to know how to develop a vaccine for a zombie virus? The British Library will tell you how. You want to build a nuclear bomb? That information will be in there, too. You want to study military strategy so you can work out how to out-flank the zombie hordes? No problem, just go to the military history section. You want to find out how to start a chainsaw? It might take a while to find it, but I bet that information will be in there somewhere too.

Now, in the age of the internet, more and more politicians are arguing that the very concept of the bricks and mortar library is an outdated anachronism that’s had its day, and that public money is better spent on more important things (like paying politicians more money to pass laws that give more power to corporations and less to the individuals who elect them!). This is, however, short-sighted. Libraries are the beating heart of our collective knowledge built up over hundreds of years. They’re the store houses of human creativity and ingenuity. Yes, we have the internet, but we need something else in case the internet ever fails. We need a backup plan in case the web collapses. In short, we need libraries. So, remember to support your local library, no matter how small, even if it’s for no other reason that, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, you might suddenly find you need it, and the knowledge it contains.

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.

Monsters Of The Deep – The Real Ones Are Far Weirder Than Anything You Could Ever Imagine

14 Nov

As an author, I’m always trying to come up with something new, but it often seems that no matter how hard writers try, when it comes to weirdness, the monsters which they dream up are no match for those that already exist in nature.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at this rather brilliant parody of Under The Sea from The Little Mermaid and see some of the creatures that really exist down in the depths of the ocean. I’ll bet they’re far weirder than anything you could create in your imagination!

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.

What Do Halloween, Movember, Christmas Parties And Selfies Have In Common?

10 Nov

This time of year seems packed full of events which cause me all sorts of problems, and all of them have the same thing in common: they mean I struggle to recognise anyone. You see, unlike most people, I don’t recognise people by their faces. Instead, I use all sorts of other cues, like hairstyles, facial hair, how they stand or walk, the way they usually dress and the place I usually see them in. This means that when people start dressing up in costumes, or growing moustaches for charity, or putting up their hair and donning their Sunday best for the annual Christmas party, many of those cues I rely on to recognise them suddenly disappear, and I’m left standing amongst strangers, even though I may have known the people concerned for years.

When I bump into someone I usually see in jeans and t-shirts in a suit or cocktail dress, I can be talking to them for a good five or ten minutes before it finally dawns on me who they must be. Even then, I still don’t recognise them, and I’m not infrequently completely wrong, and that can be very awkward, especially when I end up saying the wrong thing to the wrong person because I’d mistaken them for someone else (I once asked after a colleague’s husband only to given a cold stare as I was told in no uncertain words, ‘He’s still shacked up with his graduate student!’ – I’d thought she was someone else completely, and if I’d recognised her I wouldn’t have raised what was such a touchy, and scandalous, issue).

Now at this point I should explain something. I’m not as crazy as this can make me sound. Rather, I have a condition called Prosopagnosia. This is something that, as far as I know, I was born with, and that I didn’t even know I had until I started writing my first novel. It’s strange to suddenly find out in your forties that your brain doesn’t actually work the same way as everyone else’s, and that something that you never knew was even possible, everyone else does in a split second without even thinking about it. You see, Prosopagnosia is also known as face blindness, and it means that in my brain, the part which others use to recognise the faces of people they’ve previously met in an instant, even if it’s years later, just doesn’t function the way it should. It’s not that I can’t see faces, or judge whether someone is good-looking or not (I get asked that one a lot), it’s just that the moment someone turns away, I’ll have little or no recollection of even the basics of what they look like. And it’s not just a matter of me not paying enough attention, I can stare at their face for minutes (now that can freak people out!), desperately trying to commit it to memory only for it to vanish the moment they’re gone.

This coming week, my abilities will be tested and found wanting yet again when I teach my annual class at my local university. I’ll have fourteen students in the small seminar room I use and I’ll have to do some pretty fancy manoeuvring to make sure that I don’t end up calling anyone by the wrong name. I have a few tricks up my sleeve to try to minimise the chance of this, like getting them all to introduce themselves to each other at the start as I quickly scribble down who is sitting where. The only trouble is that students have a tendency to change places, and I can hardly force them not to (they are grad students after all, and they probably wouldn’t appreciate being treated like first graders). This means I’m having to constantly update my diagram as they trade seats after every break. This is fine if I notice, but if they do it when I’m out of the room, I’ll have no chance. It doesn’t help that over the course of the several days I’ll be teaching them, they’ll change their clothes, or suddenly decide to wear their hair differently, making a difficult problem so much worse.

Of course, to some extent, I can get away with it by simply not referring to any of them by name, but that won’t stop the next problem I’ll have. This is the annual departmental Christmas party which will be held in a few weeks time. Those same students who I’ll be teaching next week will be there, mixed in amongst the faculty, research fellows and PhD students, some of whom I’ll have taught in previous years, and I won’t have a hope of recognising any of them, even though one of them is my own brother. I know this sounds extreme, but, then again, I struggle to recognise my own face in a mirror or a photograph, and when I close my eyes, I cannot summon up any sort of an image of what my face looks like beyond a vague blur.

This is where my dislike of selfies comes in. Selfies, almost by their definition, exclude all the elements I use to recognise people as they are usually little more than a face with nothing else in shot. Worse, most are shot from a high angle looking down, an angle I will almost certainly never have seen someone at before, and that means I’ll have little chance of working out who it is I’m looking at. To me, selfies, are pretty much meaningless shots of complete strangers, no matter how well I know the person involved and even if I’m told who it is that took it.

Of course, there are plus sides. When I write, I tend to be really good at describing how people are standing, or moving around, they way they play with their hair when they’re nervous or the little mannerisms that make them them. This is because, to me, it is this, rather than their faces, that makes people individuals. I do need an editor to remind me to put in at least some facial descriptions every now and then, but the other details really help to make the characters come alive within the readers head.

This is not to say that I don’t sometimes wish that I was better at being able to recognise people from their faces alone, just like everyone else, because there are times when I do, but as I’ve never known what it’s like to be able to do this, I can’t really miss it. It must be worse for people who develop face blindness because of an illness or accident (which can happen), because they’ll know they can no longer do something that they used to be able to. For me, it’s just normal (well, normal for me at any rate).

So, if you happen to bump into me at some special occasion over the next few weeks, and I seem to ignore you, ask yourself is it because I’ve forgotten you? Or that I’m blanking you? Or that I’m simply being rude? Or it is, and this is much more likely, because you’re wearing a fancy dress costume? Or you’re all dressed up for a good night out? Or that you’ve suddenly decided to sprout a moustache for the month?

Of course, the chances are that if you smile at me and talk to me as if we’ve known each other for years, I’ll smile back and shake your hand, and say, ‘It’s nice to see you’. This I’ve learn is a perfectly neutral response that you can say to anyone even if you don’t know whether you know them or not. Say ‘It’s nice to meet you’ to someone you’ve already been introduced to or, worse, know quite well, and they’ll feel slighted that you’ve forgotten them. Greet a stranger that you’ve never met before like an old friend, and they’ll think you’re crazy. Or that you’re after something. But say ‘It’s nice to see you’ and the old friend will be quite happy thinking you mean it’s nice to see them again. The complete stranger will be happy to because they’ll think you’re just pleased to make a new friend. It’s not a perfect solution, but at least it means I can get through most social functions without accidentally insulting too many people.

It is, however, easier just to avoid such situations in the first place, and maybe that explains why I only teach one class a year (and a small one at that – I’d have no chance in a class of 30, or 60, or 100), and maybe that’s why I only go to social functions filled with lots of people if I really can’t avoid them. It certainly explains why I don’t grow a moustache for Movember and why, unlike what seems like everyone else on the planet, I’ve never taken a selfie in my entire life. After all, what would be the point of taking a selfie when there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t even be able to recognise myself in it?

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 Zombie Apocalypse Approach To Minimalism

3 Nov

Last Monday, I went along to an event held by a couple of Americans who were in town promoting their book on Minimalism. Minimalism, for those of you who have not encountered it before (and I only did so recently thanks to my girlfriend, who is really into it), is an approach to life that suggests it can be greatly enhanced by concentrating on only having things in your life (possessions, relationships and so on), if they actually add value to it. This isn’t value in the monetary sense, but in terms of making your life better.

When you start thinking about things in this way, it’s amazing how much stuff you have in your life which not only do you not need, but that actually makes your life worse. Think of the last gadget which you bought on a whim, when was the last time you actually used it? Does owning it actually improve your life in any way? Does it make you more content? Couldn’t the money you spent on it have been put to a better use?

This, then, is the basis of Minimalism, and in a world where we are increasingly judged by what we have rather than who we are, it’s becoming ever more popular. However, the pursuit of stuff is so ingrained into our daily lives that it can often be difficult to work out where to start hacking away at all the things which make our lives worse so that you can concentrate on the things which make it better. This is where a zombie apocalypse approach to Minimalism can help.

So, what is the zombie apocalypse approach to Minimalism? Well, it’s quite straight forward, just ask yourself this: If there was a zombie apocalypse tomorrow, and I suddenly found myself fighting for my life, what would I actually miss about my current life? You really have to think about this, and be honest with yourself, I mean would you really miss the 42 inch plasma TV which you bought on your credit card and which the payments for are slowly bleeding you dry? What about your work colleagues who you spend most of your time socialising with out of mere convenience rather than because you actually have any sort of a meaningful relationships with any of them? What about your job? Your partner? Your poky little flat that cost a fortune (which it is, incidentally, no longer worth) and that you have to work yourself to death for just to pay the mortgage? What about your weekly trip round Ikea, buying things for your house that mean nothing to you, but which you have to spend several hours dusting each and every week ?

When you look at your life this way, it quickly becomes apparent that most of the stuff in your life not only isn’t essential to it, but you wouldn’t actually miss if it was all taken away from you tomorrow. If this is the case, then why do you insist on having it in your life in the first place?

Minimalism isn’t necessarily about not treating yourself or not buying something you really need or giving all your stuff away (although some choose to do this, but that it up to them). Instead, it’s about living a simpler, less complicated life which is filled with things that add to it, rather than things you think you should have.

Sub-consciously, I think I’ve always known this, and I think this is one of the reasons I both read and write post-apocalyptic fiction (my short story, When The Comet Came, is a prime example of this, with its rant against the ills of modern life). In this genre, all the trappings of the modern world are stripped away, and the reality of life is laid before you. Finally, you can see what is important, and it’s not having the latest i-phone. Instead, it is about surviving and making sure that those you love survive alongside you. It’s about coming together, creating a community, working with others to build a better life. It’s about the thrill you get out of doing something and not just owning something. Minimalism has simply put a name to something I think I have always felt.

One of the things which has brought this to my attention recently is the time I have been spending teaching a friend’s daughter how to drive. For the past few years, I have spent a lot of my time writing (both fiction and non-fiction) and building up a small business to pay the bills so that I can spend more time writing, but this has come the cost of not spending much time with friends and relatives. In fact, I’ve probably been very neglectful of them all, which I can only apologise for. Now, the accepted view by many in Western society, would be that this is not only right, but that you need to concentrate on earning money, so you can buy the stuff that lets everyone else know how successful your life is. After all, that’s what’s important in life, being successful, isn’t it?

However, taking time away from work to teach someone to drive has reminded me that success isn’t about how much you earn or how much stuff you have. Instead, it’s about doing good in the world and leaving your mark upon it. If I take the time to teach someone to drive, then that’s a skill they’ll have for life. Surely, that’s a far greater mark of success than having enough money to buy the latest ipad the instant a new one is released? It also let’s them know that I think they are important enough to me to make the effort to do this in a way that just paying for them to have driving lessons does not. Finally, seeing the look on someone’s face when you teach them a new skill, and then when they finally succeed in doing it for the first time on their own, is priceless. It’s the type of thing which you know you will look back on when you’re in your dotage and it will give you a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside. Will thinking back on any of the stuff you buy ever do that? No. And the chances are that you won’t even remember you ever owned it in the first place!

Of course, Minimalism isn’t for everyone, but it seems to me that those who adopt it, in any of its myriad of forms, are much more content with their lives than those who don’t. I certainly know that making more time for friends and family, and doing things with them (or for them) rather than just buying them stuff they don’t really need every Christmas and birthday, not only makes me happier, it makes them happier too.

So, if you have a few minutes to spare today, why not sit back and have a think about your life: If a zombie apocalypse were to happen tomorrow, what bits of it would you actually miss? If you’re really honest with yourself, you might just be surprised by the conclusions you come to.

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.