There’ something I’ve been waiting for, both eagerly and nervously, for the last week or so, and it’s the first proof copies of The Island At The End Of The World, the third book in my For Those In Peril series of post-apocalyptic survival novels. Then, today, it finally arrived. It was with great anticipation, and more than a little trepidation, that I tore open the package to get my first glimpse of how it looked, and even if I do say so myself, I think it looks great. The cover looks brilliant, with the profile of an island against a black and red apocalyptic sky, and while it’s a little skinnier, it fits nicely on the shelf along side the other books in the series.
Flicking through it, I can tell you that the layout inside is great, too, but seeing how everything looks and feels is only one of the reasons why I get proof copies printed out at this stage of the novel-writing process. This is also the first version of the book that I’ll share with my carefully hand-picked cohort of readers (well, actually it’s a rag-tag bunch of friends, former students, colleagues and relatives whose arms I can twist into reading my books before they’re finished). These readers are ones I trust to give me honest feedback on what they like and what they don’t, on what works and what falls flat, on whether they care if the characters live or die.
Over the next few days, these lucky (or possibly unlucky, depending on your point of view) few will find a small package drop through their letter boxes, and then it hopefully won’t be too long until I find out exactly what they think. Although this is the third time I’ve gone through this process now, I’m still rather nervous about what their responses will be. This is because The Island At The End Of The World is a quite different beast from the first two books in the series. It’s less about surviving, and more about how to start rebuilding a life and a community with some semblance of the luxuries the world used to have (like electricity, flushing toilets, and warm and cold running beer!). The infected still play an important role, but they are more of a residual background threat than the ever-present, fear-inducing creatures they were in the first two books (at least at first at any rate, but more than that I cannot, at this stage, say).
There’s also the fact that the narrator of the third book is neither Rob (the narrator from the first book in the series, For Those In Peril On The Sea) nor Ben (the narrator of The Outbreak, the second book), but instead, while it’s someone who readers of the first book will already be familiar with, it’s also someone who some readers will find quite unexpected. You see, the book is told from the point of view of CJ, the nineteen year old British girl who was one of the original crew of the catamaran from For Those In Peril On The Sea, along with Rob, Bill and Jon. Choosing to write from this perspective was a difficult decision to make, but looking back, I think it was the right one as it gives the third book a feel that is very different from the first two, without being so different that it doesn’t feel like it’s part of the same series.
Of course, as a forty-something man, writing from the perspective of a teenage girl, even one that would be considered an adult, was, I have to admit, tricky, but it’s been interesting to have to look at the world I’ve created for the series through a very different set of eyes than the older male characters that I’ve used to tell the first two books. For them, I could rely on my own experiences, but, as you’ll undoubtedly not be surprised to hear, I have absolutely no experience of being a teenage girl, let alone one caught up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
Worse than that, I’ve never even known many teenage girls. Certainly, when I was a teenage boy, I lacked the social skills to talk to the few girls I vaguely knew, and by the time I was old enough and confident enough to do so, I was well beyond my teenage years, and so were the girls I was mixing with. This meant that I’ve pretty much had to rely on inferences, and hints and suggestions from my girlfriend as to how a teenage girl might think or act in certain situations.
This was certainly the situation when I started writing The Island At The End Of The World, but then an opportunity arose that means I now know much more about how a girl around CJ’s age might react to the situations I was placing her in. This opportunity was teaching my best friend’s daughter how to drive. While I’ve known her since before she could walk properly, for various reasons (mostly to do with me moving to a different city for close to a decade and just not being around as much as when she was younger), I hadn’t spent much time with her in the last few years. Now I’m back living in my native Glasgow, it seemed only right that I should make the effort to spend some time with her again, and driving lessons seemed an opportunity that would suit both (any awkward silences, and there was likely to be many, could be filled simply with talking about driving, and occasionally me screaming at her to stop – although thankfully those situations are now much fewer and farer between than when we started out!). The end result is that we’ve been going out for driving sessions two or three times a week for about nine months now, it’s been fun to reconnect with her and see how the child I once knew so well is developing into the adult she’s well on her way to becoming.
However, there’s also been a happy side-effect of these driving lessons which I’d never intended to happen when I first offered to teach her to drive. This is that I now know a lot more about how someone like CJ, and especially a girl of her age, would see the world and respond to it. This is not to say that CJ’s character is based on my friend’s daughter, which she isn’t (although, and I’ve never actually told her this, there are more than a few elements of her from her younger years in Sophie, one of the main characters from the second book the series who also plays an important role in this third one), it’s just that these experiences have hopefully allowed me to create a much more believable view into CJ’s mindset than would have been possible without them.
So, now the book’s been written, I’ll spend the next couple of weeks wondering what people will think of it, and whether they, too, will think that I’ve got CJ’s character and point of view right or not. Once I get their feedback on this, and on all the other elements of the different characters, the plots, the twists and, of course, the zombie set-pieces, which are one of the most characteristic parts of the For Those In Peril series, then I’ll be ready to enter the home straight. This will involve working through the book again, incorporating their thoughts and suggestions where I agree with them, or amending the text where I don’t, but where it clearly needs work to get what I’m trying to say across. After that, it’ll be off to the editor I work with for a final proof-reading before sending it off to the printers. All this takes time, but at the moment, it’s looking like it will be on the shelves and ready to purchase by mid-September, and I’ve got the autumn equinox in mind as the actual release date (when you read the book itself, you’ll understand exactly why I find that such a fitting date for it to finally be published).
Hopefully, during this time, I’ll also find the time to get back to blogging on a more regular basis, and I’ll even see if I can get back to writing the odd short story or two. There’s been a growing pile of ideas for these that has been building up since last Christmas, and I’m looking forward to a point where I can get the time to dive into them so I can see how they’ll develop.
There’s one idea in particular that’s a spin-off from The Island At The End Of The World that I’m really keen to work on. Just like The Girl At Little Harbour (a short story spin-off from the first book in the series), it’ll fill in the back story of a character who, while dead by the time their paths cross with the characters in the book, still plays an important role in how it develops. It’s a back story which I think is just dying to be fleshed out (no puns intended there), and it’s one which I think will be both fun and interesting to write. Of course, once it’s written, I’ll be posting it here, so if I’ve piqued your interest, then just watch this space.
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.