Archive | December, 2014

Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Microburts and Heatwaves: How Weather Can Add Texture To Zombie Apocalypose Novels

17 Dec

Rightly so, most zombie apocalypse novels concentrate on getting the zombie set pieces spot on, making them both mesmerizing and terrifying. However, in order to make a zombie novel truly riveting, there has to be more than that to them. There has to be good characterisation, there has to be conflict, there has to be landscape, and, finally, there has to be texture.

What do I mean by texture? Well, texture is all those extra additions which make a zombie novel seem real. They are little bits here and there that remind the reader that this isn’t just a fantasy story, but instead that it’s something which is happening in a real world, very much like the one they, themselves, inhabit.

One of the best ways I have found of adding texture is through the use of weather. In most parts of the world, the weather changes day by day, hour by hour, and, in some places, minute by minute, and by referencing this, you can give the reader a greater understanding of the mood of the story, and the characters within it.

Really, there’s three ways that you can use weather to add texture. The first is comparative weather. This is where the weather in a specific scene matches the feelings of the scene itself, helping to emphasize and amplify the internal mood of the characters and any conflict they are facing. This can be the use of rain or drizzle when the characters are feeling run down or depressed, sunshine when they are feeling happy or a sudden storm when their luck unexpectedly shifts. Comparative weather is very tempting to use, but it should always be used sparingly. If you use it too frequently, then it quickly becomes clichéd.

The second is contrasting weather. We’ve all experienced a time in our lives when we’ve been in the foulest of foul moods on the brightest of bright sunny days, or been unable to stop smiling, despite the fact that it’s pouring with rain, soaking us to the skin. These are examples of contrasting weather, and when used in a novel, they can really help to bring it alive. This is because while they’re at odds with the situation the characters might find themselves in, everyone can remember a time when they felt this way themselves, and this makes the characters seem more real. With contrasting weather, you can have characters breaking out into laughter in the middle of a rainstorm because they’re ecstatic at just having escaped from a dangerous situation, or downcast and depressed as the sun rises to reveal a clear blue summer sky because they have just lost one their number to the undead. Again, as with comparative weather, contrasting weather has to be used sparingly, or it will quickly become old.

The final way of using weather is perhaps my favourite, and it’s to use weather as an additional element that the characters have to deal with. Fighting off marauding zombies is one thing, but how much more scary is it to have to be fighting them off in the middle of a hurricane, when the characters also have to struggle against the storm as well? Or what about being attacked by zombies in a fog-filled forest, where you can barely see more than a few feet in any direction? That would be terrifying, wouldn’t it? You wouldn’t know if that blurred shape coming towards you was a friend or foe until it was almost too late. Then there are thunderstorms and tornadoes, which can unexpectedly tear down defences, letting zombies into otherwise safe encampments, or a ice-storm that abruptly turns the world your characters inhabit into a white hell and makes running away all but impossible. And what about heatwaves? Can you imagine being huddled together in a small, airless room with zombies hammering on the boarded up windows as the mercury in the thermometer hits 110 degrees? Or sweating away in quickly cobbled together zombie-proof armour on a scorching summer’s day as you try to both hold back a marauding horde of undead and not pass out from heat stroke? If used correctly, all of these possibilities would add to the tension of any given scene by providing that extra layer of information and visualisation.

These are just a few of the possibilities that are out there when it comes to using weather to add texture to a zombie novel, and with a bit of searching, you can always find just the right bit of weather for any given situation. There is the weird and the wonderful, things like weather bombs, or microbursts or white squalls. There are clouds of every different variety from wispy, feather-like stratus to the ever-threatening cumulonimbus or the out-right bizarre mammatus clouds that always make me feel like the end of the world is coming. There’s zephyrs, and breezes, and gale force winds. There’s sleet and snow and hail and rain (the Inuit might, or might not, have 47 words for snow, but here in Scotland we have at least twice as many for all the different types of rain you can get). Really, the options are endless.

Of course, as with any literary device, weather has to be use sparingly. After all, what you are writing is meant to be a zombie novel and not a weather forecast, but get it just right and it will bring a level of reality and believability to your story that you will find difficult to generate in any other way.

So how to you get it just right? Well, there’s no hard and fast rules here. What you are looking to achieve is having just enough references to the weather to paint the right pictures in the readers head without them ever consciously noticing what’s going on. This means that weather references need to be subtly woven into the rest of the story until they seem such an integral part of it that the reader couldn’t imagine a scene without it. This is not always easy to achieve, but if you can get it right, it can pay off big time because of the depth and the texture it brings to your writing.

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

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

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Why, As A Writer, I Donate To Wikipedia

12 Dec

As a writer, I spend almost as much of my time researching my books, stories and blog posts as I do actually writing them. Over the years, I’ve needed to check out things like the population of Miami, the year The Day Of The Triffids was published, the names of characters in the film 28 Days Later, how hurricanes work, what a pneumothorax is and how to treat it, how diseases are transmitted, what the symptoms of rabies are and how long they take to develop, what a pyrocumulonimbus cloud is , how to use a medieval weapon called a pike (which, I found out, is potentially very effective against zombies!), and many other weird and wonderful things.

Like many writers, when I need to find out something new, or remind myself of something I’ve forgotten, I often turn, in the first instance, to Wikipedia. In the last few years, it has gained a reputation as the place to find out anything you need to know, or at least to provide a starting point for looking deeper into things. I also routinely link to Wikipedia articles within my blog posts when I want to point people in the direction of more information on any given topic.

One of the main strengths of Wikipedia is that it is completely independent and is self-funded by donations from its users. This means that there’s no commercial bias, no distracting advertisements, and no risk that it will ever push information to the fore simply because someone has paid them to do it.

This is not to say that Wikipedia is perfect, I would be the first to admit it has its faults, but its funding model keeps its information free to anyone who wishes to access it, and as untainted by commercialisation as it is possible to be in the modern world, and this is important to me as a writer. I need to known that the information I find during my research is as unbiased and accurate as I can get. Only then can I go on and write the articles, blog posts, short stories and books that I want to be able to write, while still having a firm foot in the factual. I also need to know that if I point people towards a web page or site for more information, that it will give them that information rather than try to sell them something.

In many ways, Wikipedia has become the living embodiment of the concept created by Douglas Adams in the 1970s of an electronic guidebook that contained information on anything you could ever want to ask (and a few things you mightn’t want to!). It might not have the comforting message of Don’t Panic! on the cover, but none-the-less Wikipedia has become our generations very own Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Indeed, Douglas Adam’s went as far as creating his own version of this type of universal, user-driven database of knowledge, H2G2, launching it two years before Wikipedia was even founded.

For these reasons, once a year, around this time, I make a donation to help support Wikipedia and help keep it running on its current non-commercial basis. The amount I donate depends on exactly what type of year I’ve had, but I feel it’s important that in some way, I give back to this resource that has given me, as a writer, so much over the previous 12 months.

If as a writer, you use Wikipedia as part of your research on a regular basis (or indeed if you’re not a writer, but regularly use Wikipedia never-the-less), I would ask you to consider doing the same. It doesn’t have to be a lot, and in some ways the giving is more important than the amount, but consider giving back to this resource which many writers, and indeed many other people, rely on so much to provide them with unbiased, accurate information about almost any subject they wish to learn more about.

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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 Rebuild The World After A Zombie Apocalypse

8 Dec

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about how it might be possible to re-build civilisation if it were ever to collapse. This has been inspired largely by the fact that I’ve been spending a lot of time working on The Island At The End Of The World, the third book in my For Those In Peril series.

The first book concentrated on the discombobulation brought on by returning to civilisation and finding it has, for some reason, disappeared, while the second focussed on what it would be like to suddenly find yourself in the middle of an ongoing apocalyptic event.

The third book, the one I’m currently working on, has, for its main theme, rebuilding lives, communities and civilisations after the immediate danger from an apocalyptic event has passed, and it’s a theme that raises a lot of interesting issues.

In the modern world, it is very rare to find one person who knows how to make something from start to finish. A mechanic, for example, might know how to put the parts of an internal combustion engine together, but he’s unlikely to know how to make the parts in the first place, or how to extract ore from the ground and turn it into the raw materials you need to assemble before you can even think about making the parts. It is also unlikely that he’d know how to make the fuel you’d need to run an internal combustion engine, or the oil to stop it ceasing solid the moment you turned it on, or the battery you’d need to start it.

Making pretty much any modern item requires complicated, inter-connected networks reaching across half the globe, and such networks are highly fragile, so if the world were to fall apart tomorrow, whether from nuclear war, disease, asteroid strike, or, of course, the resurrection of the dead, how could ever hope to re-create anything like the world we currently live in?

The chances are we couldn’t, but could we even recreate a simplified version of it? How many of us actually know how to do even the most basic things like starting a fire without matches or lighters? Or how to turn the fleece of sheep into a nice warm woolly jumper? Or animals into a nice tasty meal and a rather fancy fur coat?

What about antibiotics and medicines? How would we ever survive without things we take so much for granted, like Penicillin? Or asthma inhalers? Or artificial lenses to deal with your failing eyesight?

Then there’s our recreational loves, how would we get our daily caffeine kick (would you even know where to start making your own coffee, or, for that matter, how to milk a cow to get that creamy foamy head you like so much on your favourite cappuccino)? What about cigarettes to feed your nicotine addiction? Or a cold beer at the end of a long day?

These are the thoughts that have been exercising me of late, and I’ve been coming to one conclusion: if you want to be able to start re-building society after an apocalyptic event, you’d really couldn’t do better than have an experimental archaeologist  in your survival group. What, you might wonder, is an experimental archaeologist? Well, it’s someone who explores how people made and used tools in the past to do various things, like making knives from lump of flint, or extracting metal from ore. They know all sorts of handy things, like how to make basic medicines from native plants, or turning barley into ale, or converting animals into sizzling hot steaks with nothing but pile of tinder and two sticks to rub together.

The other person you’d want to have in your survival group is a bloke by the name of Lewis Dartnell. Why this guy? Well, it just happens to be the author of a rather interesting book on this subject called The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World From Scratch. It aims to provide all the key information you would ever need to rebuild modern Western society (or at least all the technological parts of it – hopefully we wouldn’t make the same mistake of inventing lawyers and politicians and advertising executives again, after all we’d hopefully be trying to build a better society than we lost, not re-creating it exactly, mistakes and all).

Of course, if you can’t get hold of your very own Lewis Dartnell, you’ll just have to get a copy of his book instead, and you better make sure you get a printed copy. After all, the batteries in your e-reader will only last so long once the power grid goes down.

It’s also a book that’s worth reading for its own merits. By looking at what information we’d need to rebuild the world, it sheds a spotlight on the society we currently live in, and how it is potentially vulnerable because of the level of inter-connectedness we now all take for granted, and that is always interesting.

Politicians and business-leaders are always telling us that globalisation is a good thing (and that’s why they are in the middle of secret negotiations to try to make the world an even smaller place, although the exact details of what they are trying to do are pretty scary for the ordinary man on the street), but is it, if it is making us more vulnerable to the vagaries of a highly connected world?

After all, just look at the global financial system: someone decides to play the system by giving mortgages to people who can’t really afford them in the northeast US, and the next thing we know is that half the world is plunged into a recession so deep that it still hasn’t recovered. Wouldn’t it have been better if what happened locally, stayed locally? Maybe then the banks would have had second thoughts about offering the catastrophic sub-prime loans in the first place, and the whole world would have undoubtedly been better off if that had happened.

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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.