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Hurricane Lola – Or Why Bringing A Puppy Into Your Life Is No Easy Ride!

15 Oct

A year ago this week, hurricane Lola blew into town and turned our lives upside down. Ever since, things haven’t quite been the same around here, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Before you get too confused, I should explain that hurricane Lola wasn’t an errant tropical storm, but rather a four pound ball of fur that we’d chose to invite into our lives. My girlfriend and I had talked about getting a dog for years, and now that I spend most of my time working from home, it seemed the right time to finally take the plunge, and what a plunge it proved to be.

While we fell in love with her from the first moment we saw her, raising a puppy has been far from the easy road that we might have imagined it to be. I’d grown up around dogs, but as a kid I got to do all the fun bits of dog ownership without realising quite how much work was involved behind the scenes, especially if you want to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted and well-behaved dog – and who would want anything else?

Hurricane Lola

Cute as this picture is, I still wonder where she got the pacifier from in the first place, and I really hope there wasn’t a small child crying somewhere just out of the shot!

Before inviting a dog into our lives, I’d had images of myself sitting at my desk, the dog curled up in her bed under the desk as I happily tapped away at my computer, allowing me to occasionally reach down for a quick scratch behind the ears as I re-read what I’d just written. The first night was enough to shatter that cosy little picture as Lola managed to drag the power cable for my laptop from the kitchen table and maul so badly that by the time I found it in the morning all it would do was beep plaintively (who knew a power cable could even do that?) meaning I had to immediately go out and buy a new one if I was to be able to use my computer that day. What followed was weeks of being jumped on whenever I sat down to work, being pestered to get up to let her into the back garden to wee every hour on the hour, and sometimes in between, too, and generally being drowned with constant demands for attention and play.

Under this sort of pressure, something had to give, and I’m afraid to say it was my writing. This was only right as after all, we’d been the ones to decide to take her in so we couldn’t change our minds, and the effort which we have put into Lola has been so worth it. The more time we spent training her, the calmer she became, gradually changing from a hurricane to a tropical storm and then, most recently, to little more than a gentle breeze, although, to continue the weather analogy, there are still the occasional gale-force gusts from time to time.

Now, just over a year after bringing her home, things are starting to turn out the way I’d originally hoped, and as I type this post, Lola is curled up beside me on the sofa, fast asleep after her early morning walk. Yes, from time to time she does wake up and plonk her nose on my keyboard, just to see what I’m doing, and I have to delete the resulting stream of gobbledygook, but for the most part she’s just happy just to be lying by my side. There’s still a lot of work left to do, but it’s most definitely a start.

This brings me to the point I want to make. There are certain decisions you make in life that you can’t go back on, or more accurately, that you shouldn’t go back on once you have made them, and choosing to bring a dog into your live is one of them. Too many people decide to get a puppy on the spur of the moment, having given little thought to how much it is going to change their lives, or how much work will be involved, especially in the first six months, to make sure that they end up with a happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult dog. The result is that dog rescue centres are crammed full to bursting with animals that have been abandoned or given up because people haven’t taken the time to bring up the cute little puppy they brought home properly, resulting in it growing into an unmanageable adolescent or adult.

The fault here does not lie with the dog, but rather with the owners, although it is easy to see how it happens. My girlfriend and I spent many years considering all aspects of bringing a dog into our lives, researching which breed to get and discussing who would do what, but still we greatly under-estimated the amount of work which would be actually involved, and how difficult the first year would be. The kitchen furniture has been sacrificed to teething, the laminate floor will never be the same again, and simply rolling out of bed in the morning and making a cup of tea before sitting down to read for a few quiet minutes to start the day quickly became a pipe-dream. The hard work, and it was hard work, was constant, with little room for much else, including writing and relationships. Yet, all the disruption and time and effort which we have put in, is now being repaid ten-fold as Lola is growing into the type of dog who is a dream to own, providing companionship and bringing joy into our lives.

So, if you are thinking about getting a dog, here’s my advice: think long and hard about it, and then think some more. Are you really willing to put pretty much your entire life on hold for the first year to give your new arrival all the attention and training that they’ll need to grow into a happy and healthy adult? If you’re not or if you have any doubts (and you have to be completely honest with yourself about this), then don’t do it. It won’t be fair on you, or on your dog. If you are, then go for it. Your life will never be the same again, but as long as you are properly prepared, that is not necessarily a bad thing!


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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.

Happy ‘World Book Day’ (At Least If You Live In Britain Or Ireland!)

3 Mar You're Never Too Young To Get Your Teeth Into A Good Book!
You're Never Too Young To Get Your Teeth Into A Good Book!

You’re Never Too Young To Get Your Teeth Into A Good Book!

Today is World Book Day, at least if you live in Britain or Ireland. For those of you who don’t know what World Book Day is, it’s a celebration of all things to do with books, but especially of those who read them. Most events are aimed at getting children interested in books and reading, and many nurseries, schools, libraries and bookshops will be holding special events today to help promote reading.

While, as an author, this is something I would always support, I’ve never really paid much attention to World Book Day before. This is because it tends to be more child-centred, and little of what I write is aimed at children. This year, however, things are very different for two related reasons.

Firstly, for various reasons I’ve been running a couple of little people to and from nursery most days during the week, and this has drawn me into the world of children’s books for the first time since I was a child myself. It’s become a routine with the older child, who’s four and a half (and the half is very important at that age!) to sit with him in the car, before we go in and get his sister at the end of the day, and read a book or a story together. Why do I do this? Partly because it means we get to spend some quality time together, but also because I want him to grow up to love books and reading as much as I do. He also absolutely loves every minute of it.

In fact, he loves it so much that a problem has started to emerge. He quickly gets tired of reading the same stories, and is always after something new for us to read together. Yet, browsing through the children’s section of my local book shop, there’s actually surprisingly little that will appeal to him. He’s a child of the twenty-first century, meaning reading has to compete with tablets and computers and smart phones and toys that do all sorts of amazing things. He’s a fan of Skylanders and How To Train Your Dragon, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and he knows almost every superhero that has ever existed (he dressed as Spider-Man, his favourite, for going to nursery for World Book Day today).

Yet, most books for children of his age seem to have changed little from when I was a child. Many have pastel drawings and stories that are almost inane and bland by comparison to the modern world that kids now grow up in, and they struggle to hold his attention when compared to what his favourite superheroes are up to on YouTube.

This is not to say that there aren’t some great kids books out there (at the moment he’s loving the Ten Little … series by Mike Brownlow and we’ve worked our way through Ten Little Dinosaurs and Ten Little Pirates, and he can’t wait for Ten Little Monsters to come out in the next week or so — we’ve already got it on pre-order!), but most would do little to hold his attention for more than a few seconds.

A discussion last Friday with a friend with a similarly aged child revealed that I’m not the only one who feels this way. It seems that children’s book writing, at least for pre-schoolers, really needs to do a lot to catch up with the modern world, especially if we are to get young children interested in the wonder of books from as early an age as possible.

'Zombies Love Brains' Page one.

‘Zombies Love Brains’ Page one.

This brings me on to my second reason for paying more attention to World Book Day this year than usual. Over the last year, I’ve been working with a very talented artist by the name of Mike Kloran to create my own children’s picture book (I first came across him through his Surviving the Dead blog, which is well worth checking out if you get the chance). As you might expect, given my favourite subject matter, it’s zombie-based and goes by the title of Zombies Love Brains.

Writing the book and working with Mike has given me an insider view of children’s books that I’ve never had before and it’s been fascinating, but after a little over a year, we’re finally close to the end of this process. The final result is coming together nicely, and it’s turned out to be a quirky little book that I think both parents and children will love, especially those with a slightly darker side to their reading tastes.

Zombies Love Brains is not your traditional children’s book, or even the traditional subject matter for a children’s book, and some will baulk at the idea of introducing children to the subject of zombies at such a young age (I know my own brother does). Yet, we live in a world were many will have already played Plants vs Zombies on a tablet or smart phone, or seen others play it, and to them, if handled just right, zombies are just another type of character alongside the more usual pirates and princesses and talking snowmen.

While I’m not saying that Zombies Love Brains will change children’s publishing forever (I don’t even have a release date planned for it yet – watch this space for more details), but it does illustrate the way that the world has moved on in the last thirty or forty years, and children’s publishing has to move on too, or we will lose the next generation of readers to other forms of entertainment. I think this is already well recognised in books for older children (take, for example, Charlie Higson’s zombie series, The Enemy, as an illustration of this), but most books for younger children seem to be stuck in a time warp from decades ago.

Yet, this is the critical time for getting kids interested in books. If we lose them then, we may never get them back, and this means we need to cater for children with all sorts of different tastes and experiences. Yes, there will always be kids that love the traditional children’s books, like The Gruffalo (which, incidentally, my favourite four and a half-year old happens to love alongside his superheroes and Ninja Turtles, and, indeed, Zombies who love brains!), but there are also many others who crave something much darker and edgier, even from a young age, because that’s what they’re already familiar with from the other entertainment sources in their lives.

This shouldn’t be interpreted as me thinking that children should be forced to grow up before their time, or that their childhoods should be cut short. Rather, I think we need to remember that children are people too, and this means that they have as broad a range of likes and dislikes as any older reader, and we really need to cater for this in the books we write, publish and read to them.

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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.

Now Available: The Little Book of Zombie Mathematics: 25 Zombie-based Maths Problems

4 Dec

9781909832213-frontcoverSeveral years after I first came up with the idea, I’ve finally completed a curious little project called The Little Book of Zombie Mathematics. This is essentially a print version of my Maths With Zombies blog, although it includes an additional scoring system so that you can work out how well your maths skills will help you survive in the event of a zombie apocalypse that is only available in the book.

For those of you who are no familiar with the Maths With Zombies blog, it provides zombie-based scenarios which can be solved with a little mathematical knowledge (or, since multiple choice answers are provides, you can just guess!), and it aims to unite my twin interests of zombies and recreational mathematics.

If you’re stuck trying to work out what to get the zombie-lover in your life, then this might just be the kind of quirky little present that will score you top brownie points!


From the back of the book:

Your machine gun can fire 57 bullets a minute. There are 200 zombies staggering towards you and they’ll reach you in three and a half minutes. Do you have the fire power to kill them all before they get to you?

Mathematics can be oh so dry and boring. All those numbers floating around; and then there are the letters: what on earth are they doing in there? Shouldn’t they be in the English classroom helping people read?

But wait, did you know you can do maths with zombies? That sounds more exciting, doesn’t it? When maths becomes the key for surviving in a world where the dead hunt the living, it’s so much more fun. This is the premise behind The Little Book of Zombie Mathematics : make maths fun by adding the undead. After all, everything’s better with zombies.

And you never know, if a zombie apocalypse were ever to happen, knowing how to do maths with zombies might just save your life!

Oh and if you’re wondering what the answer is to the problem above, it’s no you don’t. To find out why, just read this book.

You can purchase The Little Book of Zombie Mathematics: 25 Zombie-based Maths Problems from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, your local Amazon site, or almost any other bookshop.



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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.

Ten Rules For Using The Internet – Some Advice For A Young Internet User

9 Jul

As a person who spends most of his days sitting in front of a computer, I’ve gradually become the resident ‘tech support’ for most of my family and friends, and it is because of this role that it has fallen to me to teach my 12 year old nephew how to use his first tablet computer so that he can do his own research for his school homework on his own.

Previously, he’s been restricted to using his father’s laptop from time to time to Google for information, but from today onwards he will have the whole internet at his finger tips whenever and wherever he wants. Well, not quite the whole internet, I’ve ensured that various restrictions are in place which should limit what he can actually access, but these are never perfect and it’s a bit of a scary prospect to think of all the information, good and bad, and all the other stuff, he could now potentially gain access without any adult supervision in the privacy of his own bedroom.

This was something that people of my parents generation never had to think about. Information was much more limited, and it was so much harder to access, and quite frankly, the level of effort required to find certain things made it just too difficult for all but the most dedicated, until you were old enough to do it legally, if you so wished to do so. Yet, now, kids can potentially access almost anything at the click of a button or the tap of a screen, so how do you stop them from doing something that could potentially screw them up, damage their future prospects or even get them into serious trouble?

One option is to ban them from accessing the internet, but that’s both unfair, and just not feasible. There will always be friends’ houses and unsupervised computers, so they will still be able to get online whether you like it or not.

Another is to just to let them head off into cyberspace unsupervised and unhindered, while keeping your fingers crossed, and let them work things out for themselves. While it’s a strategy that a lot of parents seem to follow, that, too, is unfair. The internet has a long memory, and, in my opinion, it’s not right to let kids go out and potentially do things that could haunt them for the rest of their lives without providing them with some warnings and advice before they do it (after all, would you like the stupidest thing your did on the spur of the moment when you were a teenager to be the first thing that pops up when a prospective employer types your name into Google just to check you out?).

So, I’ve chosen to take a middle path, and provide a set of basic rules that I hope will help explain how the internet works, and what is good to do, and what isn’t, without making him scared of using the internet in the first place. This, then, is how I’ve come up with my ten rules for using the internet which I will share with him. You may agree with some, and disagree with others, or even want to add your own (and I’d be happy to hear any suggestions that you might have), but they seem to me to be a good starting point for introducing young people to the power of the internet, without being too explicit or specific about what might be out there, waiting to trip up the unwary.

 

Ten Rules For Using The Internet

1. The internet contains an incredible amount of stuff. Much of it is good, but some of it is very, very bad. Make sure you stick to the good bits, and don’t get drawn into the bad bits. If you want to know whether something is a good bit or a bad bit, simply ask yourself if you would be happy with anyone looking over your shoulder and seeing what you are reading or looking at. If you would not be happy with someone seeing what you are reading or looking at, then you probably should not be reading it or looking at it in the first place.

2. Never assume that anything on the internet is private. It is not. It might not always seem like it, but the internet is a public place, just like a town centre, and you should not do anything on it that you would not be happy for others to see or to know about. As a general rule, if you would not do it in your local town centre, then do not do it on the internet.

3. A very large amount of the stuff that is on the internet is untrue (or, at least, it is the opinion of other people rather than being facts – no matter how strongly they claim that they are facts). This means that you always need to use your commonsense to filter what you read, hear or see in photographs and videos. Remember that photos and videos can be edited to show very different things that they originally contained. As a result, do not uncritically believe anything you come across, and always look to back it up with additional information from a truly independent data source. This is true of life off the internet, too.

4. Just as in real life, if something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is, so do not click on links which are offering things that seem to be too good to be true. Nothing is for free, even on the internet, and you end up paying one way or another.

5. Don’t watch videos unless you are very sure that you want to see their content. You cannot unwatch videos once you have watched them, no matter how much you would want to. The same goes for looking at pictures, you cannot unview them once you have looked at them, and they can stay in your head for a very long time.

6. Never give out your home address, name, age or phone number to anyone you have only met on the internet, and never arrange to meet anyone who you do not already know in real life. This is because people on the internet are not always who they seem or pretend to be. Similarly, never give out your personal details to people who are offering you money. This is always a scam of some description or another, and it can get you into a lot of trouble.

7. Never click on a link in an email which asks you to put in your username or password, no matter what. These are always spam, or attempts to steal your identity. Instead, if you have an account with a specific company, always visit the site directly. As a general rule, if you are in any way in doubt about the validity of an email, do not click on a link in it. Instead, ask someone else for a second opinion.

8. Never send or post someone a photograph or video of yourself that you would not be happy with everyone in the world being able to see – forever. It might seem like a bit of harmless fun at the time, but once you post something on the internet, you no longer have control over it and it is almost impossible to get it back or get it taken down. As a result, always think twice about what you post. As a general rule, if you think, ‘My parents would kill me if they ever saw this …’, then don’t post it on the internet or share it with anyone else. Better still, do not take the picture or the video in the first place!

9. Always think twice before posting, messaging or emailing anything to anyone, and never send or post anything in the spur of the moment if you are angry. Once something is sent or posted, you cannot get it back. Similarly, never post anything on the internet that you would not want everyone else to read or to know about you (now or in the future), and never post anything about someone that you would not say to their face.

10. You are allowed to have a ‘get out of jail’ free card. This means that you can call me up and say, ‘Uncle Colin, I think I have screwed up …’. As long as you are honest about it, I can help you sort it out, and no one else necessarily needs to know about it. The important thing is that if you get into an awkward situation, that you never feel that you do not have a way out of it.

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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.

Six Unexpected Ways That E-Books Are Changing The World

23 Jun

I’ve yet to join the e-book revolution. This is primarily because I spend most of my days staring at screens of one form or another, meaning that the last thing I want to be doing when I’m trying to relax at the end of the day is to be looking at another one.

There’s also the fact that there’s nothing I like better than opening a honest-to-goodness real live book and feeling the crispness of the pages as I thumb through them, reading a sentence here and there, until I work out where I’d stopped the last time I’d put it down so I can start reading again. E-books just don’t have the same tactile stimulation and swiping left just doesn’t give me the same flutter as flicking through the pages of a new purchase, or an old friend, with a sense of anticipation building as I locate the first page and read the opening sentence.

This doesn’t mean I don’t see the advantage of e-books, or that I don’t appreciate how they’ve changed the world. They’ve led to a publishing revolution that has broken the strangle-hold that traditional publishers had on book production, and allowed people like me to become, in effect, their own publishing companies which connect direct with would-be readers. This is well-known, and widely recognised, but I think e-books are changing the world in other ways, too, and these are much more unexpected. What are these ways? Well, here’s six which give me the greatest pause for thought:

1. Book-burning has always been a rather pointless and, to me, sacrilegious, activity, but in the world of e-books, book burning is increasingly anachronistic. After all, who’s going to throw their brand new Kindle onto the pyre just because its got the latest volume to earn the ire of whichever self-appointed zealot has decided to get offended by it today? What will they do instead? Get together, with their placards and shout for mass deletings, urging each other on as they click OK to confirm that, yes, they really do want to remove it from their device? It just doesn’t quite have the same impact does it? Will they remember to also remove it from their cloud? If they don’t, it’ll simply re-appear on their electronic bookshelf each and every time their device is synced, haunting and taunting them no matter how hard they try to get rid of the offending article. Maybe that’s a good thing, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll eventually learn to love the written word and not to fear it.

2. With an e-book, no one knows what you’re reading. It used to be that you could sit on a train or in the park and judge the intellectuality of all those around you just by looking at the book clutched in their hands. Book covers are distinctive, and some you can spot from a mile away even without being able to read the title. My girlfriend and I play an occasional game of spotting the Harry Potter books on the shelves of people on property shows, and their unmistakable covers pop up so often, I’ve sometimes wondered whether the producers carry a set around with them so they can be taken out and used to fill in otherwise boring backgrounds. I’m not saying that such judgementalism is a good thing, but it is, nonetheless, rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

3. You can’t casually leave an e-book out on your coffee table, just to impress you friends with what you’re reading (or, more than likely, pretending to read). It used to be that you could get all sorts of social kudos by having just the right book laid out with just the right level of disregard to make it appear as though you’d only just put it down to answer the door and let them in. It might be A Brief History Of Time, or War And Peace, or even, to give a more recent example, Piketty’s Capital In The Twenty-First Century, depending on exactly who you wanted to impress, and why. In my student days, there was a certain type of man (not me, but I knew a few), who’d go out of their way to find out a girl’s favourite author, just so that they could have an appropriate book laid out when she came back to his place for coffee at the end of a date, hoping it would increase the chances of it leading to more. For better or worse, you just can’t do that with an e-book.

4. Gone are the days when you’d lend a friend a favourite book, only for it to come back spine broken, corners dog-eared where they’d turned them down instead of using a book mark or pages wrinkled from when they’d dropped it in the bath. Such offences signify a lack of respect for the property of others, and of the written word itself, and I wonder how many friendships were irrecoverably damaged by such careless treatment of borrowed books? This could never happen with an e-book, but then again, neither can lending a book in the first place, and that is a far greater shame. As I child, I remember the glorious feeling of an older, wiser someone pulling one of their precious tomes from their bookshelf, before thrusting it into my hands and saying ‘Read this.’. How many times did just the right book being lent at just the right time change how I viewed the world for the better? I don’t know, but I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it hadn’t happened when it did. This is, I think, one of the main reasons I cling to the printed word, keeping it within reach so I can do the same for the next generation, although by the time they’re old enough, they may well sneer at the quaint, old-fashioned idea of reading an actual book rather than its electronic counterpart. I hope not, but that does seem to be the way things are going.

5. Coming across other people’s notes in the margin in a second-hand book will no longer happen. I’m in two minds about this one. I’ve never been one for defacing books with scribbled thoughts alongside the author’s intended text, but I know the vicarious thrill of coming across the carefully penned note of another and feeling a deep connection across time and space with the unknown writer because it was exactly how I felt when reading those self-same words. Yes, you can add notes to e-books, highlight text and so on, but they aren’t passed on when you pass them on. In fact, the very concept of the second-hand book is alien to e-publications for they are all perfect first editions, every single one of them. They never age, they never fade, and they never get sold on so they can lead a second life in the hands of another.

6. E-books mean no more second-hand book shops. Yes, there will still be businesses selling books from the pre-electronic age (although most of those are probably as virtual as e-books these days, rather than consisting of bricks and mortar), but that’s not the type of shop I mean. Instead, I’m talking about ones selling battered paperbacks that have clearly seen better days, but that can be purchased for less than a buck, and yet still contain all the same power of the author’s carefully selected words as the did when new. They are places to loiter on rainy Sunday afternoons, or when, as a student, you’re avoiding lectures for classes you’re failing. They’re quirky places to take someone on a second date, or an alternative to the pub to meet would-be soul-mates in the first place. Such second-hand bookshops always have the same feel to them, no matter where you go in the world, and yet each has its own unique character, brought to it by the people who work there and the books that inhabit its shelves. I don’t know about you, but, for me, the world would be a much poorer place to live if they were to disappear forever, yet whether they can cling on in the age of the electronic books remains to be seen.

These are just few of the ways that electronic books are changing the world, and I’m sure there are many more, but these are the ones that make me stop and think.



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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, I am ashamed to say, 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 Thing That Arrived In The Mail Today …

21 May

The Island At The End Of The WorldThere’ 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.



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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.

Is Being Naked Better For You? Not In A Zombie Apocalypse, It’s Not!

13 May

I was struck by the title of a blog post today in a way I haven’t been for a while. What was the title? Is being naked better for you? Being zombie-minded, my instance mental response was: Not in a zombie apocalypse! After all, the last thing you’d want to be when being pursued by a horde of undead, hell-bent on tearing you to shreds, would be to be naked. That was my immediate response, but thinking about the implications of this post further, two other of my personal interests were piqued.

Firstly, until reading that article, I’d never realised that there was both a Naked Gardening Day AND a World Naked Bike Riding Day. I’m not too sure about either of them, and both sound like they could go horribly wrong, but it does fit into my general interest in the fact that everything seems to have its own dedicated day these days. I’ve covered this before on this blog, so I won’t go into details here, but I think I’m much more likely to take part in International Talk Like A Pirate Day than either of the above.

Secondly, and this is something I’m planning on touching on in the upcoming third book in the For Those In Peril series (called The Island At The End Of The World – watch this space for further details!), in a post-apocalyptic world, what on earth would we all do for clothes? For a while, we’d be able to scavenge from the existing stocks (or should that be socks?), but eventually these would run out and our last pair of pants would finally fall apart. What the heck are we all going to do then? Gardening naked might be fun to do once a year (and I’m guessing it must have been established by someone in the northern hemisphere so that it was early summer rather than the middle of winter), but it would be hell to have to do all year round!

I’ve argued before that knitting is a core post-apocalyptic survival skill, but knitting is only part of the process of making fleece from sheep into something warm and wearable. You’d also need to know how to get the fleece off the sheep (and, indeed, how to catch the sheep in the first place in order to do this) and how to turn it into yarn (which is not nearly as straight-forward as you might think and involves a whole heap of specialist tools you’ve probably never even seen before, let alone know how to use) before you could even get going with your knitting needles. Do you know how to do any of this?

Animal skins might make an alternative to clothes made from yarn, but again, how many of us actually know how to turn an animal inside out in just the right way so we can wear it as a jacket, or a nice warm pair of trousers, that doesn’t end up stink of rotting meat after a couple of days? I tried this type of thing once as a child, and it was a long, slow and rather disgusting process that required a lot of things you probably wouldn’t have close to hand in whatever post-apocalyptic world you found yourself in.

So what’s left? Not much really. This is one of those occasions where I don’t have a smart answer, and really, if the worst were to happen, we might find that acquiring the just right clothes to keep us warm and dry would actually be almost as critical as finding enough food, especially in the longer term. After all, as anyone who has ever gone camping with small children, or teenagers for that matter, knows, there’s nothing that saps morale faster than continually being cold and wet.

The only solution, really, is to start pulling the knowledge together now so that if you ever do find that you need to, you’d be able to make your own clothes from scratch. That way, if civilisation ever collapsed, you’d undoubtedly find your skills in great demand, and you’d probably never have to risk your neck going out and foraging amongst the marauding zombies ever again. After all, if you’d been out in the woods for many, many weeks, living hand-to-mouth, what wouldn’t you give for a nice pair of warm, clean woollen socks to keep your feet warm and toasty for the first time in what would seem like forever?

And with that, I’m off to learn how to turn sheep into woolly jumpers. I may be some time!
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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.