Tag Archives: Hadrian’s Wall

How To Build Zombie-proof Defences: Lessons From History

3 Jul

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, one possible survival strategy is to build some sort of defensive structure and hunker down behind it. In fact, you could almost argue that this would be an innate human response because ever since the dawn of time, we’ve used defensive structures to protect ourselves and our belongings.

At the most basic level, we have things like the corrals made by thorny bushes which are still used in Africa to keep people and cattle safe from lions, or small forts mounted on hilltops. More advanced are structures like the walls built by ancient Chinese and the Roman forces to protect their borders from hostile forces seeking to attack their empires. These often covered hundreds of miles and took many years to build, but they serve exactly the same function, and, indeed, they have many of the same characteristics, as the defences used to protect individual families or villages from wild animals.

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, we’d need to build defensive structures with these exact same characteristics, so we can learn a lot from history about how to build zombie-proof defences. In view of this, I want to consider four examples of structures built by our forebears and what we can learn from them when trying hold back the zombie hordes.

1. Hadrian’s Wall: Hadrian’s Wall was an ancient wall built by the Romans which effectively cut the island of Great Britain in two. It was 73 miles long, and almost 2000 years after it was built, some bits of it survive to this day. The key thing we can learn from Hadrian’s Wall is how to use natural features in the environment to enhance our defences. This is because Hadrian’s Wall was built, in part, on top of natural escarpments. This allowed the wall to tower above the surrounding countryside, giving those guarding it a view for many miles across a flat, wide valley and making it impossible for any attackers to creep up on it undetected. Just like ancient Roman walls, for zombie-proof defences, placement will be everything, and selecting just the right location to build them will determine whether it succeeds or fails. In particular, it would need to be placed in such a way that zombies can’t sneak up on it unnoticed. The greater the field of view, the better the chance of being able to kill off any zombies before they get close enough to mount an attack.

2. The Antonine Wall: The Antonine Wall is another ancient Roman wall built about 200 miles or so north of Hadrian’s Wall. The chances are, though, if you don’t live in Scotland, you’ll never have heard of it. This is for two reasons. Firstly, it was only occupied for a few short years before the Romans retreated back to Hadrian’s Wall, and secondly, because it wasn’t made of stone. Instead, it was made of turf and this means little trace of it remains. Why did the Romans choose turf over stone for this wall? Because it locally abundant and easy to work with. This meant they could build it much more quickly than if they’d tried to use stone. This was important, given that they were working in what was at the time hostile enemy territory which would only be secured once the wall was finished. What can we learn from this? Well, build your defences from whatever materials to have to hand and which allow you to throw them up as fast as possible. In this respect, I’d argue that a simple wall made of turf and earth pushed into place by a bulldozer would make much better zombie defences than concrete and bricks simply because of the speed you could construct them. Similarly, bales of straw might seem so much less secure than rock, but you can use them like massive building blocks and throw up high, secure walls in hours rather than the weeks or months it would take to build the same structures out of stone.

3. Crannogs: Crannogs are interesting little structures from the Iron Age. They consisted of an artificial island on which a single home or a small group of houses was built. What, you might be asking, can we learn from this? You might be thinking that it’s to use water as a defensive barrier, and that’s definitely one lesson worth remembering, but the more important one can be learned from how the people constructed paths out to some of these island strongholds. You see, they didn’t necessarily build causeways to link their islands to the shore. Instead, some built paths just below the water consisting of a series of stepping-stones. These stepping-stones weren’t laid out in a straight line or a regular pattern. Instead, they had dog-legs and sudden bends in them so that only those who were familiar with them knew the exact path. This meant those living on the island could race along it to the safety of their buildings, while any one attacking it would suddenly find themselves stepping into deep water and disappearing from sight. This exact same strategy is the key to making good zombie-proof defences. You have to accept that you’re going to have to leave your stronghold at some point, and if you do, you need some way of making sure the zombies can’t follow you home. I would argue that using this type of unpredictable and invisible pathway across water would be the perfect way to ensure that any pursuing zombies can’t easily chase you right up to your front door.

4. Masada: Masada was an ancient fortress built in what is now Israel. When it was built, many thought this fortress was impregnable, as it was sited on the top of a massive rock plateau which could only be climbed using one of three narrow, winding paths. Any would-be attackers trying to storm this fortress would have to travel in single file along these paths and so could easily be picked off by those defending it. Then came the Romans, who saw this problem and worked out a way round it. They took their time and built a ramp out of local stone which they could simply march straight up and attack the fortress itself. By now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with zombies, after all zombies can’t think or build ramps, can they? No, but get enough of them together in one place and they’ll start piling up against your defences. With enough zombies and enough time, they’ll build a ramp to the top of your defences made out of their own bodies up which those coming up behind can clamber and make it into your stronghold. What can you learn from this? Simply this: no defences will be truly zombie proof unless you have way of clearing away any bodies to prevent pile ups. If it were me, I’d probably do this using fire to cremate any undead whenever it looked like a pile up might be starting, either using something like a flame-thrower, or just a flammable liquid poured over them and set on fire. However, you’d have to remember you can only use this if your defences are made of something what would burn – like the straw bales I mentioned earlier. Other options might be to use an armoured bulldozer or snowplow to physically remove any pile ups before they get too high, but such things might not be easy to come by.

So, from these examples from the past, we can see that the best zombie-proof defences will be those which use natural features in their environment to enhance their defensive capabilities, that use whatever local materials that are abundant and quick to work with so you can build them in a hurry, that have an entrance way which is not easy for zombies to follow you in, and that you have a way of clearing away bodies to prevent pile ups. If you follow these pointers, it’s likely that you’ll be able to hold the zombies at bay for as long as you need to. If not, it’s likely that your defences won’t last long and you’ll be overrun in no time at all. These same rules will apply regardless of whether you’re trying to defend a single building, an entire town, or even half a continent.

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.

Enhancing Your Readers’ Experience With An Interactive Map Layer For Google Earth

9 Mar

As a writer, I tend to set my stories in real locations. Often these will be locations that I’m very familiar with but since a lot of them are far from the beaten track, I realise that those reading the stories may have no idea know where they are. This can make it hard for them to visualise how the story fits into the local landscape. However, I’ve found a solution to this. This is to make an interactive map layer that your readers can view in Google Earth.

If you’re not familiar with it, Google Earth is an extremely powerful mapping tool that allows you to explore almost anywhere on Earth in exquisite detail using satellite and aerial photographs, and I’m sure many writers already use it during the research for their work. However, what many are not aware of is that you can also use Google Earth to provide your readers with more information about where your story is set. This is done by creating what’s called a map layer that can be displayed in Google Earth. These map layers can contain all sorts of useful information, such as the locations of specific places, and the routes that people take through the local landscape as the story progresses. You can also add bits of information to these locations that interested readers can access by clicking on individual symbols in your map layer. While it might seem a bit complicated at first, these map layers are actually very easy to create and once you post them online (for example on the server for your blog or webpage), anyone you provide the link to will be able to access them.

At this stage, you might be having trouble visualising what I’m talking about here, so the best thing I can do is to show you some examples. Recently I wrote a short story set on a remote group of Scottish Islands (the Flannan Isles). I doubt many people, even in Scotland, would be able to point to them on a map but since it’s remoteness was an important element of the story, I figured it would be useful for the readers to know where they were. This is why I created a map layer to accompany the story. Before you can view it, you’ll need to have either Google Earth (if you’re using a PC running windows) or one of the Google Earth mobile apps (if you’re using something that runs on some other operating system) installed on your device. Once you have you can click here to have a look at the map layer I’ve put together to accompany this story. This should open Google Earth and you’ll see that as well as the usual Google Earth information, there’s a red dot off the northwest coast of Scotland, like this:

Google Earth map Layer Marking The Location Of Flannan Isle Lighthouse

Google Earth map Layer Marking The Location Of Flannan Isle Lighthouse

This marks the location of the Flannan Isles, and specifically the Flannan Isles lighthouse. If you click on this red dot, it will open a window where you can read a bit of background information about lighthouse there where the story was set, like this:

Information Window For Flannan Isle Symbol

Information Window For Flannan Isle Symbol

If you’re interested in reading the story itself (it’s a zombie story called When Death Came To Flannan Isle), you can click here to download a PDF of it.

In the Flannan Isle example, there’s only a single symbol but you can have more than one and you can have lines and shapes as well as dots. You can see this in another example I’ve put together. This is to accompany another short story that’s set in the modern day around the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall, an ancient Roman fortification that separates Scotland and England (I posted it here last week). Again, this is a location that not everyone may be familiar with. Here’s what it looks like:

The location of Hadrian's Wall between Scotland and England

The location of Hadrian’s Wall between Scotland and England

This time the map layers contains not just a dot indicating where the story is set, but also a line that shows the route of Hadrian’s Wall itself. While you can look at it at the national level, you can also zoom in and look at it at the local level too, like this:

Close up of the location where the story is set

Close up of the location where the story is set

As before, clicking on these symbols opens up a small window that contains more information about each feature, like this:

Information window for location where the story is set

Information window for location where the story is set

You’ll see that within this information box, there’s also a link that allows anyone looking at the map layer to click on to download the story itself. If you want to examine this in more detail, you can download this map layer here and the story itself (called The Wall) here.

While these examples of ways in which the use of map layers to enhance the tale you’re telling your reader are both short stories, there’s no reason you can’t do the same for longer stories and even whole novels. I’ve done this to accompany my novel For Those In Peril On The Sea, which is set in the northern Bahamas. Since this is not a part of the world many people are familiar, the interactive map layer I’ve put together helps the reader put the story within the local landscape. In this case the map layers are more complicated with different coloured symbols for different groups of characters and a separate file for each chapter. I’ll be putting out a specific posting about this just after the book’s released in the US on the 21st of March 2013 but if you want to take a sneaky peek at how this works now, you can click here to visit the webpage where you can access them.

Not all stories and books will be as equally well-suited to having accompanying maps created for them but for those that are, it provide another way to interact with the reader and enhance their enjoyment of the tale you are telling and hopefully this posting will encourage you to give it a go.

If you’d like to find out exactly how to make map layers like this to accompany your stories, let me know and I can provide some helpful tips to get you started. Just drop me a comment on this post and I’ll provide the information in my reply.

If you’d be interested in having such layers created to accompany any of your own work, please email me at info[at]forthoseinperil.net and we can discuss it further.

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 the UK, and available as an ebook and in print in the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

Last Flight Out – A Short Story Set In A Post-apocalyptic World

21 Jan

You can download a PDF version of this story for reading on your computer or an ebook reader by clicking here.

Last Flight Out

I tapped the fuel gauge for the third time in five minutes. It made no difference, all it did was bounce on empty; I was running on fumes. One way or another I was going to end up back on the ground and it would be soon. I circled round, desperately looking for somewhere I could set the plane down. At least it meant that if I crashed, or more likely when, I wouldn’t have to worry about there being a fire. Then again, given how the world now was, fire was the least of my worries.

When I’d taken off a few hours before, I’d done it in a rush and checking to see how much fuel was on board had hardly been my top priority; instead, it was getting out alive. I’d watched the horde of infected sweep up the road from the town, drawn by the hum of the generators and decided it was finally time to bug out. It wasn’t like there was any one left to evacuate, well not anyone who really mattered. The last of them had come through the day before and all the chatter over the radio suggested there’d be no more airlifts. Not now; Not ever. Both the refugees and the infected had been working their way northwards from Glasgow and the central belt for the last few days, ever since the outbreak started, and now it seemed they were here.

I could hardly be accused of dereliction of duty for leaving when I did. I’d done my job; I’d kept the airport open, allowing as many of the soldiers and marines as possible to get out as they pulled back time and time again. The word on the ground was that Scotland was finished and all efforts were being concentrated on defending the hastily-erected blockade at Hadrian’s Wall. That was their grand plan for protecting the rest of the country. Despite the fact that there were still several million people there, all desperate for salvation, the north was being abandoned and the ancient Roman fortification revived more than 1500 years after it last served any useful purpose. If the strategy was to have any chance of halting the advance of the infection, and the infected, they’d need everyone they could get and it had been my job to see that as many of those who’d been responsible for the failed containment in the north made it there in one piece. It was Dunkirk in reverse, with everyone trying to get south rather than north. But this evacuation wasn’t by boats, it was by air, and the enemy was so much worse.

When the last transporter left the day before, I was promised they’d come back for me but when I’d put the call in, all I was told was to hold my position, just in case. Just in case of what, I didn’t know, but that was when I realised I was being sacrified for the greater good along with everyone else north of the border. Right there and then I started looking round for other options. It was only a small airport so I had a choice of just three planes. The fact that I could only find the keys to one of them meant the decision was made for me. It was a little four-seater Cessna, the kind where the wings were fixed above the windows.

I’d just starting to inspect the plane when I became aware of a noise in the distance. At first it sounded like insects scurrying over fallen leaves, but as it grew louder it resolved itself into the sound of a multitude of feet pounding on tarmac. It took me a few minutes to get the plane going; by then the infected were at the gates. There were thousands of them all pushing and tearing at the chain link fence surrounding the airport. It was the first time I’d seen them in person rather than just on the news but I’d heard the soldiers, the ones who had been on the front lines, talking about their wild eyes that seemed to burn with hatred and anger; about how they could be on you in seconds, tearing into you, ripping you apart, spilling your guts across the ground while you screamed in agony. They wouldn’t stop until you were dead. This is what the virus did to you, the one that started in Haiti and that was now spreading around the world. It was worst when it was someone you knew, so the soldiers said. I heard them talk about it; about how they’d made pacts to finish each other off if they became infected and couldn’t do it for themselves. They’d rather die than become one of them. Yet, some of them had. I could see them in amongst those that were now surrounding me, easily visible in khaki uniforms that were stained with blood. The fence swayed and shuddered; it wouldn’t hold, not for long at any rate. I revved the engine as the first section fell and they started to surge through. As I raced along the runway, the infected pursued me, the nearest almost reaching me just as I lifted off. I was safe and now all I had to do was make it far enough south to cross the barricade. Then and only then would I be beyond their reach.


As I circled, I tried to work out exactly where I was. Off in the distance, I could just make out the newly resurrected fortifications of Hadrian’s Wall. I wondered if I could make it but it seemed too far. Instead, I turned my attention to the road directly below me, the one I’d been following for the last 30 minutes. It was the M74, the main artery that, until a day or so ago, connected Scotland and England. The one carriageway was jammed with the cars of people who’d tried to flee south to escape the outbreak but the north-bound one looked pretty clear. It was wide enough that I’d be able to set the plane down but then what would I do? In amongst the cars I could see figures moving back and forth. From this height, they could have been mistaken for normal people but while I couldn’t quite work out what it was, there was something about the way they moved that told me they were infected. I’d just decided to try for the wall after all when the engine spluttered for the first time. A minute later it spluttered again and I was certain I wasn’t going to make it. I was going down on the wrong side of the wall whether I liked it or not.

With a final cough the engine died and I was left gliding towards the ground. The silence was disconcerting as I looked around, trying to pick out a landing zone. I settled for a point on the road about a quarter of a mile ahead and tried to prepare myself for the impact. That was when I noticed them; a group of about twenty tracking my movements as my altitude dropped. I watched as more and more of them emerged from amongst the jammed cars on the other side of the road. I hoped I could out-pace them and land with enough grace that I could make it out of the plane. If that happened, I was probably fit enough to make it to the wall before they got to me. I believed it. I had to, it was my only chance.

Sooner than I expected, I felt the ground effect lift the plane ever so slightly. It told me I would be on the ground in seconds. I squirmed in my seat, trying to judge how far behind me the infected were. I figured it was about 300 yards. The wall was about a mile ahead; so close and yet so far away. I wondered how I was going to make it. I was fit, but I had little idea whether I really could out-run them over any sort of distance. Yet I had no choice. I pulled back on the stick and felt the rear wheels touch followed by the front one. The plane bounced once and then again. As it settled down I saw a pothole ahead of me. I twisted the stick to the left, but with no power I had little hope of avoiding it. I missed the hole with the front wheel but the one on the left hand side at the back struck it, sending the plane spinning towards the central reservation, and the steel crash barriers that lined it. I slammed on the brakes but it was too little too late. There was a sickening crunch as the front wheel buckled, sending the nose crashing into the ground. My head smashed into the dashboard and I blacked out for a second. When I came to, I could feel blood dripping down the side of my face. It took me a moment to work out where I was. Then I remembered the infected. I glanced out of the left-hand window and saw them appearing over the brow of a small hill to my north. I tried to open the right-hand door, but it was jammed. I put my shoulder to it and found it wouldn’t budge. I tried the other one. It swung open easily but that was when I realised I couldn’t move: my legs were trapped.

I turned back to the infected. They were closer now and I could hear them. The noise was something between a roar and a growl that sank deep into my soul. I looked at my legs. While the right one wasn’t badly trapped, there was no way I was getting the left one free; a large piece of metal had pierced my thigh and blood poured from the wound. Even if I could pull it out, I’d bleed to death before I got more than anywhere near the wall, and I’d never be able to move faster than the infected.

I pulled the door shut again and flipped the latch. I closed my eyes and listened. Over the sound of my heart pounding in my ears I could head the infected as the raced towards me. With panic bubbling up in my stomach, I tried to work out how many there were. I couldn’t get an exact number, just the impression that there were a lot. I opened my eyes and stared down at my legs again; then an idea came to me. It was a trick an old medic had once told me about. I looked around for something I could use. The only suitable thing was the seatbelt. I felt around for my penknife and then used it to cut the seatbelt into a long, thick strap. I wrapped it round my leg, higher up than the metal and tied it as tight as I could get it. Next, I took a screwdriver from amongst the tools that had spilled into the floor of the plane in the crash and pushed it between the strap and my leg before twisting it to tighten the makeshift tourniquet as far as it would go. I gripped the metal and took a deep breath. The pain as I pulled it free was so blinding I almost passed out but some how I kept it together. I looked at the gaping hole it had left behind as it slowly filled with blood. No gushing. No spurting. Just seeping. That was about as good as I could hope for. It looked like the tourniquet was doing its job, at least for the moment.

There was a sudden bang on the side of the Cessna, somewhere back near the tail. I glanced up. The first of the infected had reached me and there was no longer any chance of escape. I felt the plane start to rock as others arrived. Then the first one drew level with the window. He stared at me for a moment. He was tall and thin, and dressed in a light grey suit that was now little more than rags. He’d lost a shoe somewhere and his face and hair were caked with dirt. He looked human but there was no hint of humanity behind his eyes; instead they burned with rage. He screamed and threw himself at the glass, pummelling it until his knuckles were bleeding. More and more appeared with every passing second until I was surrounded. Some climbed onto the nose and started banging on the windscreen. It had already cracked in the crash and they would be through it in no time.

I felt for the holster that was strapped to my side. Finding it, I pulled out the pistol a departing soldiers had given me as a thank you for my help. It felt heavy in my hand. I lined it up with the first of them; a young woman, maybe in her early 20s. She showed no fear, or hint of recognition that a gun pointed at her head, she just kept pounding on the windscreen. I’d never fired a gun before but at this range I could barely miss. I paused for a moment, trying not to think about what I was about to do, and then slowly tightened my finger on the trigger. The noise inside the confines of the cockpit was deafening and the gun almost jerked from my hand. As if in slow motion, the girl’s head exploded as she fell backwards off the plane and crumpled to the ground. I felt sickened by what I’d done but knew I had no choice. None of the others seemed to care or even notice. Gripping the gun more firmly, I lined up the next shot and fired again, and then again. For a moment the windscreen was clear, and it fleetingly crossed my mind to try to scramble out, but before I could move another clambered up, followed by a second and a third. My ears were ringing from the shots but I could still hear the infected as they hammered on the fuselage all around me, making it jump and shudder.

I heard glass breaking and turned to see the window on the left had given out. The man in the tattered suit was desperately trying to clamber in, his grasping arms reaching towards me. I fired twice, missing him both times. The third time I finally hit him and he slumped where he lay half in and half out of the window. I left his body hanging there in the hope it might stop others following him in. The windscreen shattered and two infected tumbling into the cockpit. I stared at them, frozen with fear as they scrambled to get to me. Then a realisation washed over me: there was only one option left. As I pressed the barrel against my head, I felt their hands tearing at my torso and their teeth biting into my flesh; I was surprised about how little it hurt. My hand shook and I hesitated, but I knew it was the only way out. I took deep breath, knowing it would be over the instant I did it, and pulled the trigger.


This short story is set in the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea by Colin M. Drysdale. If you liked it, you may like to read the book too.

There is a sequel to this story called The Wall, which tells the story of a soldier who’s standing guard on the re-constructed Hadrian’s Wall. You can find it here.

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 the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.