Book Review – Adrian’s Undead Diary Omnibus: Volumes 1 and 2 by Chris Philbrook.

Epic!

I have finally got my life back and made a start on tackling some of the other books on my “to be read” list, after finishing the first eight books in the epic zombie apocalypse series Adrian’s Undead Diary.

I came across the author, Chris Philbrook, through the various zombie apocalypse social media groups I am a member of, and decided to give the books a go after being impressed by him when he was the guest speaker on a live Facebook writer’s event I took part in.

The books are largely written in a journalistic style and, as you might expect, tell the story of how a man called Adrian survives and thrives after a global zombie apocalypse. At first glance, Adrian appears to be an outwardly calm and capable, but otherwise remarkably ordinary, ex-military bloke who works nights as a sort of caretaker in a private residential school and lives with his long-term girlfriend, Cassie.

It turns out that our hero is not as “ordinary” as he seems. Not only is he extraordinarily resourceful and resilient, with a remarkable knowledge of guns and ammunition and a, bordering on unhealthy, obsession with recording every minute detail of his daily life during the apocalypse, but he turns out to be a central figure in the battle between good and evil and the survival of what is left of the entire (living) human race itself.

What I liked:

The addictive nature of the story. I literally could not put this down, reading for hours in the early mornings on my kindle in the dark before my husband was awake, and again at night while he was asleep. It disrupted my sleep patterns, my work patterns, my reading patterns, and my life in general. Thank goodness I started reading it in late November on a short holiday to celebrate my birthday, and that the couple of months it took me to get through all eight books included a couple of weeks over the Christmas holidays and a 10-day period of isolation due to Covid.

The journalistic style. The journalistic style was a big part of what made the book so compelling. When Adrian and his people were building up to a big event it was more than I could bear to read the start of each diary entry to find out how it went. Equally, the opening few words of each entry were the first indication of whether anything awful had occurred or not, and I always felt the need to read “just one more” to see how the group were progressing.

Adrian. I really liked (or should I say “like” as his story continues) Adrian. He was (is) a complex but likeable character. He does what has to be done to ensure his own survival, but also tries to help others when he can. He is strong and brave but not without fear. He constantly doubts himself and his decisions and beats himself up over his perceived mistakes. He is funny and irreverent and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is not ashamed or embarrassed to talk about his sexual needs and desires and even about his bowel habits, however disgusting.

The other characters. For a very long time Adrian was the only person in his world. However, other characters are gradually introduced, and we slowly get to know and love them as we see them through Adrian’s eyes. I loved the way they develop and change as they get to grips with their new reality. I particularly liked Abby and Gilbert. I love the patient way that the number of survivors in Bastion and the extended community slowly builds at first from one, to two, and then a small handful, Then, in the last few books, how it increases exponentially to around one hundred people by the end.

The surprises. I liked some of the unexpected plot twists and turns. I actually don’t want to mention them specifically here because, if you do go on to read the books after reading this review, they would be spoilers of monumental proportions. Suffice to say, there were some things that happened and some things that were revealed that I would never have expected in a million years.

The non-journal chapters. The books are peppered with chapters that are not part of Adrian’s diary. While the first one took me by surprise, I came to enjoy them immensely as they provided insight into some of the other characters and their back stories and the plot in general, sometimes giving the reader forewarning of things to come. This contributed to the addictive nature of the read. Once you have read a chapter where something occurs that Adrian does not yet know about, you find yourself rushing through the next few journal entries until the unsuspecting hero catches up. The fact that throughout the books there are things that the reader knows that Adrian does not, is a very effective page-turning and tension building technique.

The level of detail. I was undecided at first whether I liked the excessive amount of tedious and monotonous detail in the books or not. I have come down on the side of “liked” as this is a key component of Adrian’s character and his role in the “Trinity” and the books would not be the same without it. It plays a key part in the complex world building process which enhances reader engagement and immersion and makes the books come alive. Nevertheless, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I didn’t skim over some of the endless accounts of everything they scavenged from all the buildings they raided, and the pages and pages of stocktaking of food and fuel, and don’t even get me started on the guns. Pages and pages and pages devoted to descriptions and pros and cons of different guns and their ammunition, all of which meant absolutely nothing to me.

The big spiritual good versus evil plot element. Somewhere along the road the book gets very spiritual, verging close to religious. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked this, as it is an usual and controversial explanation for the zombie apocalypse. However, it was managed well in my opinion. It didn’t go too far beyond the realms of plausibility – after all, how plausible is a zombie apocalypse in the first place? It was different, interesting, and original and gave the book a very Stephen Kingesque feel at times, almost reminiscent of The Stand.

What I didn’t like.

Repetition. There is not very much that I didn’t like about these books but sometimes the amount of repetition irritated me a little. When something happened in a non-journal chapter, it was often repeated by Adrian in his corresponding journal entry. When I was desperate to find out what happened next in the story, I found myself skimming these sections in frustration. This was linked to the fact that the books are very long. Well, the individual books are probably not very long, but reading all of them in two omnibuses took a long time and there were a lot of pages which involved the detailed accounts of stocktaking and scavenging mentioned above, as well as a fair bit of repetition.

Typos. There were few typos and missing or incorrect words which was a minor irritation and distraction.

The end! I loved the end but was a little dismayed when I realised that Adrian’s story is still not over and that Chris Philbrook is still writing books about what happens to him next. Much as I’d like to, I am reluctant to read any more of them at the moment as there are other things I need to do and other books I want to read!

Adrian’s Undead Diary is at the top of the pile in the independently published zombie apocalypse category, and I would definitely recommend.

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1000 Paper Cranes

Chisako is folding 1000 paper cranes. Tradition dictates that when she is finished, her one true wish will be granted.

Well sadly, 1000 Paper Cranes didn’t get me through to the final round of the 2021 NYC Flash Fiction Challenge, but I did come 6th in my group with an ‘Honourable Mention’ and got some lovely feedback from the judges. By my rough estimate I was in the top 150 of over 4000 writers so I’m feeling pretty proud of that. The upside of it all is that I now have a completely free weekend, as I had planned to do nothing other than write on Saturday and edit on Sunday.

No rest for the wicked though … the following weekend I will find out if I got through to the next round of the 2021 NYC Micro-fiction Challenge with my little ghost story, Until Next Year. More on than that next weekend!

In the meantime, here is 1000 Paper Cranes. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, why not drop me a line and sign up for my Mailing List while you’re at it?

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1000 Paper Cranes

Chisako sat cross-legged on the tearoom floor as she watched her onee san, Chikafumi, perform the ancient ceremony with the poise and elegance that defined everything she did. Ever since the san san kudo, when they had been bound as sisters through the sharing of sake, Chisako had been spellbound by her Geisha mentor.

The open windows on two sides gave the room a light and airy feel. The clean lines and neutral tones of the walls, paper screens and bamboo mats contrasted with the lush green disorder of the gardens outside. A fountain gurgled, a wind chime tinkled, and the chirp of cicadas heralded the start of summer. Inside, the grassy scent of green tea mingled with the heady aroma of sandalwood incense, and the only sound was the rustle of silk and the murmured thanks of her clients as Chikafumi prepared and served tea, smiling, and nodding as she moved around the space with effortless grace.

As a maiko in the third stage of her training, Chisako accompanied Chikafumi to the teahouse and around the hanamachi every day, to learn the ways of a Geisha through observation. Some of the other maiko complained about the length of this stage of their training, which could last for many years, but as far as Chisako was concerned, she wouldn’t care if it went on forever. She would happily watch Chikafumi until the end of time.

To Chisako, Chikafumi epitomised not only the perfect Geisha, but the perfect woman. She was tall and slender. Only the smooth folds of her obi interrupted the flowing contours of her frame. Her classic Cupid’s bow lips and almond-shaped eyes were accentuated by the traditional bright red lipstick, black and red eyeliner, and white face powder. Her immaculately sculpted dark hair was sleek and shiny. She might have looked like a porcelain doll but for the tantalising glimpse of soft, pale flesh revealed by the low, dipped neckline of her red and gold kimono. Every inch of her was intoxicating, from the top of her cherry blossom hairpin to the tips of her white-stockinged toes.

Chisako was aware that she was mesmerised by Chikafumi in a way that went far beyond the usual respect and admiration of a maiko for her onee san. She was completely captivated by her. She adored her. Every night she went to bed dreaming of her, and every morning her face was the first thing she saw. She had had crushes before but never anything like this. Indeed, it was the confusing and unwelcome feelings that she often felt for other women that had prompted her to enter the profession. She had hoped that by immersing herself in the most controlled and feminine of environments, such feelings would fade and disappear. In fact, the reverse was true. Being surrounded by a preponderance of exquisite and glamourous young women had made them more difficult to control than ever, and none were stronger than those she felt for Chikafumi.

But her feelings were not reciprocated. Chikafumi barely noticed her, not beyond their professional relationship that was. She was unfailingly polite and personable in all their interactions, and patient and gracious in her instruction, but she remained aloof and guarded. Chisako was amazed that Chikafumi didn’t seem to feel the tingle of electricity that passed between them every time their fingers touched. She couldn’t understand why Chikafumi never held eye contact with her for a second longer than necessary. It was as if she was deliberately preventing the development of a deeper connection between them. At the end of each day when Chikafumi left to return to her private house in the hanamachi, and Chisako to the okiya with the other maiko, Chisako would watch her until she was out of sight, but Chikafumi never looked back.

Alone in her room in the okiya, Chisako was folding origami paper cranes. She had eight to do to reach 1000 and complete the senbazuru. Tradition dictated that the folding of 1,000 paper cranes would grant the person the chance for one special wish to come true. When Chisako had begun, her wish had been that she could be like other girls and no longer be tortured by feelings and desires that she could never realise. Now, as she folded the last tiny figure, she knew that wasn’t what she wanted at all. All she wished for, and would forever wish for, was for Chikafumi to notice her and love her back.

The next morning, they were alone in the teahouse for a shamisen lesson. To help Chisako get her hand position right, Chikafumi sat down behind her and reached around her body. For Chisako, the closeness of their bodies was almost unbearable. Her heart quickened and she couldn’t catch her breath.

“Here. Place your fingers, like this,” said Chikafumi placing her hands over Chisako’s. Chisako could not stop the small moan that escaped from her lips. Chikafumi froze for a moment before sighing and moving her body away. She stood up. Chisako bent her head, deeply ashamed of her momentary loss of control, fearful of how Chikafumi would react.

“Stand up, little sister.” Chikafumi’s voice was gentle. “Look at me.”

Chisako stood and turned towards her. A single tear rolled down her cheek as she raised her head. Expecting admonishment, she gasped when she saw that Chikafumi was smiling.

“Don’t worry, little sister.” Chikafumi nodded. “Don’t be sad. I know how you feel, and it is time for you to know that I feel the same.”

Chisako stepped back in surprise. Her hands flew to her mouth. A thousand emotions flooded through her. Joy. Relief. Hope. Disbelief.

“But … I don’t understand … I thought …” she stammered.

Chikafumi took both her hands in hers and looked into her eyes.

“We must be careful, little sister. Patient. Can you do this? Do you understand?”

“I can,” Chisako whispered. “I do.”

“Then let us resume the lesson for now, little sister.”

My first book signing.

News update.

A lot has been happening in my writing life since Trident Edge was published so I thought I’d do a short post to serve as a bit of an update.

Last night I did my first ever book signing event, to coincide with the launch of Trident Edge. It was held at the Ale Hub in Dickens Heath, a local craft beer pub. Attendance was lower than we hoped for, but it was still my best day ever in terms of book sales, so you could say it was a success. My fellow writer, Andy, compered the evening and lots of friends and family came along to support. We started with an author interview, followed by a reading from Wait for Me, and an open Q&A session.

Sales of both books are still steady, and the positive ratings and reviews are still trickling in.

A few weeks ago, I took part in a live Facebook event with the author of Adrian’s Undead Diaries, Chris Philbrook, giving lots of advice to other aspiring zombie writers at various stages in their career. The session marked a big turning point for me and made me realise that my books are not going to sell themselves and that I really need to ramp up my marketing programme.

I think I’ve been suffering from a bit of “imposter syndrome” in terms of thinking of myself as an author and having an author page, a newsletter and (God forbid) a fan base. The session got me to wake up to myself. I’ve published three books now and two short stories and contributed to three flash fiction collections. It’s official –  I am an author!

As such, I have added an author page to my website and created a newsletter function. You can sign up to my mailing list below. I promise not to bombard you with junk and only to send out a newsletter when I have some actual news! I hope you will join so that I can keep you up-to-date with forthcoming events and developments and any new or pending publications.

Today, Wait for Me is going to be announced as the subject of a group read in a zombie Facebook Group with over 1000 members. I am both excited and nervous in equal measure about what their feedback is going to be!

On Sunday, along with my fellow JAMS members, we will be attending the Henley-in-Arden Book Fair at a book fair in Wootton Wawen Social Club. It’s usually a great event that didn’t take place last year due to Covid so we’re hoping for a good day in terms of networking and book sales!

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From Venice With Love

Still in the game – NYC Midnight.

Last weekend I found out that I had done enough to qualify for the next round of the 2021 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. You might recall that in round 1 I came second in my group of around 50 writers with The Buttonologist and scored 14 points.

For the next round, I was given the challenge of writing a thriller, set in a canal, and featuring a headlight. It was M who came up with idea of setting the story in the canals of Venice and I used a recent fake news story, about Covid-19 originating in Italy, for inspiration. My story was called From Venice with Love and, while it didn’t score as highly as The Buttonologist, it came 10th in the group giving me another 6 points. This brought my total to 20 which was enough to place me in the top 5 of my group overall, and progress through to the next round.

You can read From Venice with Love at the end of this post.

My next challenge was to write a romance, set in a teahouse, and featuring a crane! I cogitated for a while then wrote a story about unrequited love in a Geisha community that featured the folding of 1000 origami paper cranes. We’ll have to wait until the 11th of December to find out if it takes me any further in the competion. It’s a big ask! Only 600 of the 4500 (approximately) participants made it through this far, so even if I don’t, I’m proud of what I have achieved so far!

From Venice with Love

“New research reveals that the novel coronavirus was detected in samples in Italy as far back as September 2019” (News International, 2021)

The boat’s powerful headlight illuminated a wide fan of water in front of them, momentarily bathing the ancient, stony-faced buildings, which disapprovingly witnessed their reckless passage, in harsh white light. The other boat was caught in the furthest edge of the beam. Ernestine could see the black headscarf and beige jacket of the woman with the briefcase standing in the stern. She was facing ahead, and she too was gripping the handrail as she was thrown from side to side by the violent twists and turns of the vessel.

Ernestine knew that the fate of the entire world depended on what happened in the next few minutes. She clung to the cold steel of the handrail as they bounced through the wake of the speeding boat ahead, each wave hitting the bottom of the hull with a terrifying thud. They hurtled through the network of canals that criss-crossed the old city in a way that would never have been possible during the day, when the waterways would be choked with drifting gondolas and other slow-moving pleasure crafts.

“Faster! Faster,” Ernestine pleaded with Marco, the lab night security guard, who was at the helm. “We can’t let them get away!”

“We’re at top speed, Signorina. We can’t go any faster.”

Then, a sharp crack echoed across the water, and she caught a whiff of cordite as something whistled past her ear.

“Get down! Get down!” Marco shouted. “Guns. They have guns!”

Ernestine dropped to the floor and curled into a ball, struggling to make sense of what was happening. What was she doing? She was a scientist for God’s sake! Not a spy, or a member of the militia! Just ten minutes earlier, she had been at her lab bench, working late as usual, when she had heard the tinkle of breaking glass from across the corridor. As she had gone out to investigate, she had seen a woman with a briefcase walking towards the front entrance but thought nothing of it. There were lots of people in the building at that time of night. It was part of the ethos of the place. High expectations that yielded equally high rewards were a strong motivator to burn the proverbial midnight oil.

The door to the sample bank was ajar. The hairs on Ernestine’s neck bristled and her skin prickled with alarm. The room was always kept locked. Only a few high-profile people had the access code. She cautiously pushed open the door and, when nothing stirred, she stepped inside and flicked on the lights. Her heart lurched when she saw the broken test tubes on the floor and the open fridge door. This too was always kept locked. Now her heart was racing, and her breathing was shallow as she looked inside at the empty space where the tray of experimental viral samples should be.

The image of the woman with the briefcase walking briskly down the corridor flashed into her head, and suddenly recalling things that had registered only in her subconscious, she knew immediately that it was her. The way she hadn’t turned her head but quickened her pace when Ernestine had entered the corridor.  The smart briefcase. The black headscarf. The tailored beige jacket. Most of her co-workers dressed casually in jeans and tee-shirts and carried well-worn backpacks suitable for a daily commute on foot or by bike.

  Ernestine ran down the corridor. She reached the front entrance just in time to see the woman stepping off the dock into a boat with its engine running. A man dressed in black was helping her aboard and another was at the helm. Ernestine shouted to Marco, who was sitting with his feet on his desk, scrolling through his phone.

“Marco! That woman! She has the viral samples! Quickly!”

Marco jumped up. Startled. Confused.

“But … chi? … come? She had a pass! Dio santo!” he muttered as he ran towards the lab’s boat moored at the other end of the dock.

Ernestine followed him. Once they were in the boat, she fumbled in her jeans pocket for her phone, considering calling the Carabinieri, but Marco looked at her and shook his head. He was right. Too many questions. The fallout would be disastrous. Not just for them as individuals but the for the organisation as whole. They were going to have to do this alone.

“They’ve entered the lagoon!” Marco shouted, snapping her back to the present. “Their boat is fast. They’re picking up speed!”

Ernestine got warily to her feet.

“It’s alright. We’re out of range,” Marco reassured her. “But they’re getting away.”

“Oh no! God help us.” Ernestine put her hand to her mouth. “God help us all.”

“It’s ok. They’re heading for the airport. It’s not too late.”

***

As Ernestine entered the terminal building, she was temporarily stunned by the bright lights and the crowds. She frantically scanned the space. A sea of heads. People moving in all directions. The soft rumble of luggage wheels. The collective murmur of a hundred voices. Cell phones ringing. Automated announcements in Italian and English ringing out over the tannoy.

Then, over by the departure gates, a flash of beige. The now familiar black headscarf. Ernestine pushed her way through the crowd, trying to keep her target in her sights. But the woman was moving further and further away. Ernestine felt as though she was wading through treacle. She finally reached the gate just as the woman passed through and out of reach. Her black head bobbed into the distance. Never looking back.

In desperation and dismay, Ernestine’s eyes ran down the list on the departure board. There were two flights about to depart. One to Paris, France, and another to Wuhan, China. Ernestine knew instantly which one the woman would be on. She dropped to her knees and wept.

Trident Edge Release

New book release.

So, the long-awaited sequel to Wait for Me is here at last and I managed to publish it, on target, at the start of Halloween week. I started writing it in Barbados soon after I got a few reviews for Wait for Me that said people wanted to find out more about what happened next to Lisa, Neil and Anita.

And now they can. You all can!

The book picks up with the trio six months after the start of the UK zombie apocalypse and follows them on their next adventure, when they have left the relative safety of their small enclave in the Midlands to travel north. Their destination, Trident Edge, is purported to be a highly secure military base that is taking in survivors and transporting them to safety. The journey is longer and more perilous than they could ever have imagined, forcing them time and again to question their decision. But Lisa has a secret.  A secret that makes it more important than ever that she gets there … whatever the cost.

Trident Edge was written during my time in Barbados and there are a number of subtle tributes to the small Caribbean island contained within its pages, not least in the title, Trident Edge. The trident is the national symbol of Barbados representing both the country’s strong links to the sea and also the three principles of its democracy – government of, for and by the people.

I should stress though, that Trident Edge is an entirely fictional location inspired by a real RAF Base in Yorkshire called Menwith Hill. Menwith Hill is jointly run by the USA and the UK and is said to be one of the most important intelligence and communications monitoring sites in the world. It hosts a spectacular cluster of enormous white golf-ball satellites and is surrounded by mystery and speculation about what goes on behind its high fences.

Early feedback from my beta readers is that Trident Edge surpasses Wait for Me in terms of pace, drama and excitement. I’m really pleased with it and I hope you enjoy it!

Trident Edge is available on Amazon in both Kindle (£2.99) and Paperback (£9.99) forms.

If you do read it, and can find the time, please, please leave me a review on Amazon. Ratings and reviews makes such a difference to an independently published author in terms of visibility and sales.

Book Review – World Departed by Sarah Lyons Fleming

Can’t wait for the sequel!

I’m always on the look out for a good zombie apocalypse book as, all too often, they are badly written, cliched and overflowing with gratuitous blood, gore, violence and testosterone-fuelled machismo. As an ‘older’ woman, who also happens to be a zombie fan, I can never identify with the characters in these books and always find myself left with the same question – “What would an ordinary woman like me do when the zombie apocalypse comes to my town?”

Over the years I have discovered some satisfying reads. The Girl with All the Gifts and The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey, World War Z by Max Brooks, and Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion are all up there among the best for me. All of them contain imaginative and interesting plots and authentic and sympathetic characters who react in believable ways to the end of the world as they know it and the threat of being eaten by dead people. I have also played some great games that have given me some sense of how I might fare in the apocalypse, the best by far of those being The Last of Us and The Last of Us II.

I even took part in a reality TV show called I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse that aired on BBC3 in 2015. A cross between Big Brother and The Crystal Maze, this involved a dozen or so members of the public being locked up in an abandoned shopping centre with a troop of zombies – courtesy of Scare Scotland – and having to undergo a series of survival type challenges. The basic premise was that if you got caught you got eaten and were out of the show. My strategy, which involved literally zero machismo behaviour, was to try and make myself indispensable to the other survivors by cooking and cleaning in the vain hope that this might dissuade them from sending me out on missions. I made it to day 6 of 7 before being killed in a freezer by a super-zombie called the Abomination.

In 2021 I attempted to answer the question by writing my own book, Wait for Me, set at the start of the zombie apocalypse in the UK. The main character, Lisa, an introverted and overly analytical forty plus woman, is on a train on the way home from London to Solihull when a devastating, bio-terrorist attack occurs. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, which turns 90% of the population into zombies, she decides to try and get home to her husband and sets out on the most difficult 20-mile journey of her life.

World Departed is the first book I have read in a long time that looks at how ‘ordinary’ people would react in the zombie apocalypse. It is also the best ‘quality’ zombie book I have read in a long time in terms of the writing. I came across the book in the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards where it was 19th in the horror category. I finished it yesterday and I loved it! So much so that I have looked up and downloaded the first of all her other books (Until the End of the World) which I am now about to binge on in chronological order. Hopefully, by the time I have finished, the sequel to World Departed, World Between, will have been released.

What I liked:

For me, it was all about the characters. All of them were, authentic, flawed, complicated, and very, very ordinary. Most were likable to the point of being adorable and even the unlikable ones were described and explained in a way that made their behaviours and motivations at least understandable. They way that they developed and grew throughout the course of the book was well-handled and convincing.

The quality of the writing was excellent. An light and easy read, it was heavily dialogue-based but with enough description and action to give the story atmosphere and pace.

Despite the seriousness of the situation the book was sprinkled with humour. The banter between the characters was sharp and witty and at times that I laughed aloud while reading.

I loved the location. What a perfect place to survive the apocalypse. I have just finished playing the zombie game, Days Gone which was set in the wilderness of Oregon and at times I wondered if the game had been inspired by Sarah Lyons Fleming’s writing, or even if she had contributed to the script for the game. There were also some scenes in the book that were reminiscent of some in The Last of Us. E.g., trying on hats in the museum.

There was a fair bit of romance going on between several of the characters. In fact, most of the key characters had some sort of developing love interest. Looking at the blurbs and some of the reviews for her other books, it seems that this is a key feature of the authors’s writing. You could even go so far as to say that she writes romance novels set in the zombie apocalypse. I wouldn’t normally go for a romance read myself, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.

Didn’t like:

There was truly little that I didn’t like about this book.

Of course, I didn’t like Ethan and his ‘friend’ Eva, but I don’t think I was meant to.

I was a little disappointed with the ending. It wasn’t really an ending for me. It made sure that I would buy the sequel to find out what happens next, but I prefer my books to have a beginning, a middle and an end in their own right. I felt a little bit as if I were left ‘hanging’.

For me, some of the characters settled in a tad too quickly to their new way of life to make it completely believable. I’m not sure that ‘real’ people would be laughing and joking just a few days into the zombie apocalypse. I think they might have been a bit more shocked and distressed than they appeared and that it would have taken longer than it did for them to adapt and recover. Nor would they be thinking about getting romantically involved with someone else quite so soon after their wife and son had been killed in the most horrific away imaginable.

Finally, it was a tiny bit predictable in the sense that, after the first couple of chapters, nothing bad happened to any of the key characters. When I finally realised that none of them were going get killed or seriously injured it took a little of the suspense out of some of the action scenes.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed World Departed and can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

World Departed on Amazon

Book Review – A Girl Called Ari by P. J. Sky

An easy and enjoyable read.

As a self-published author myself, I try to read books by other “indie” writers from time to time. Sadly, it is sometimes a disappointing experience. However, every now and then you come across a little gem. Happily, this was the case with A Girl Called Ari.

I first noticed this book on Twitter where the author noticeably works harder than most (not always an indicator of quality) to promote her work. Then when a friend, who also came across it on social media, recommended it as something I might enjoy, I decided to give it ago. I am after all, a sucker for a good dystopian tale!

The book tells the story of Starla, the daughter of the mayor of Alice, a fortress, futuristic city in the midst of a barren and dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland. Starla is kidnapped (I’m still not entirely sure why and by whom) but escapes and is trying to make her way home. She comes across Ari, a girl of similar age but very different circumstance. Ari lives in a cave and, in contrast to the life of luxury and excess that Starla has enjoyed, has barely any possessions other than the clothes she is standing in. Ari is gritty and strong and knows better than most how to survive in the wastelands. However, we learn that this was not always the case as she too lived in the city at one point in her past.

And so, Ari gives up her cave, her horrible but sustaining job in the salt mines and her meagre possessions to help Starla get home, in the (vain?) hope that she will somehow enable Ari to re-enter the city.

What I liked:

I loved the imaginative but believable world-building and the contrast between the glittering riches of the city and the bleak barren wastelands which is mirrored by the starkly contrasting lives of the two girls. I assumed the book is set in Australia, due to the references to Alice and a location that sounds like Uluru (Ayers Rock). The rough dialect of the people of the wastelands could, to me, have been broad Australian and some of the characters the girls came across felt aboriginal to me. However, I could be wrong as the author is British. It might just have been my imagination that carried me down that route as the location is never made explicit.

I liked the main characters. Starla is irritating at first but, as the spoiled daughter of the mayor she knows no better and she does soften and become more likeable towards the end. Ari is great! I loved her and I can imagine her being an icon for young adult readers along the lines of Katniss from The Hunger Games or Beatrice from Divergent. I’d love to read more about her adventures and will make time to read the sequel, Ari Goes to War.

The development of the relationships between the two main characters is captivating. Its begins as one based purely on mutual need and both girls are participating in the arrangements because they have something to gain from it. However, it develops into a stronger relationship that verges on friendship throughout the various twists and turns of their journey.

Some of the descriptions of the environment are vivid and beautiful and at times I was totally immersed in Ari’s world.

Even better if:

The plot was predictable. It does have some surprises but, on the whole, I kind of expected everything that happened. (Starla getting bitten by a crocodile was a bit of a shocker though!) However, the book is aimed at a young adult audience and as such is arguably necessarily formulaic and slightly cliched at times.

Some of the big moments of the story and some of the action sequences were muted. They lacked that element of drama and impact that they could have brought to the reading experience. For example, “Then a huge gaped mouth, lined with a serration of jagged white teeth, emerged from the water and clamped down on Starla’s leg.” and “What is happening, thought Starla? It feels like an earthquake.”

There were sections of the book that dragged on and didn’t add value to the story either in terms of plot, word-building or character development. Some sections left me downright bemused and confused. For example, the message from the “dish”. This hinted at providing some background and some answers but fell just a little short of the mark for me in this respect.

I wanted some satisfying answers or explanations to various threads that were contained within the text. I accept that some of these may be addressed in later books in the series, but I was left with a lot of unanswered questions. For example, why was Starla kidnapped in the first place and was it an inside job? Could Ari be Starla’s half-sister? What was the significance of the broken piece of pottery with the blue bird on it? What sort of event caused the apocalypse – there is mention of both disease and a meteor and the strange star, Vella Stella?

All things considered, a fast-paced, easy and enjoyable read and a super first book from a talented (young?) writer. I look forward to seeing the development of her writing and so I’ll definitely be giving Ari Goes to War a go!

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition – The Buttonologist

A taste of success!

Trident Edge Update

Its’s been a while since I wrote about my writing! Since we got back from Barbados I have finished the first draft of Trident Edge (the sequel to Wait for Me) and it is currently with my editor (Get It Write UK).

Prior to that, I went on a road trip with my fellow writers in JAMS to check out some of the real-life places that feature in the book. We visited Fineshade Wood, RAF Coningsby, Kirkham Priory and RAF Menwith Hill, all highly significant locations in terms of the plot, but you’ll have to read the book to find out more!

After that I made a few tweaks and sent it off to my beta readers who, as ever, gave me some great feedback that I incorporated before finishing my final edit. It should be ready for my final edit in early October with a view to publication in time for Halloween.

Short Stories

In the meantime I have been working on building up a “bank” of short stories and entering a few competitions. I’ve been working through a book called The Very Short Story Starter by John Gillard. It contains some exercises and ideas and 101 Flash Fiction prompts. I also did a week long Short Story course with Arvon. So far, I have written seven short stories, some of which I like considerably better than others!

I am also starting to think about my next novel. I am pulling together all my Covid-19 blog posts into a non-fiction journal style book called Viruses and Volcanoes and that is an ongoing project. However, I’m starting to think about what my next fictional book will be. I think my Zombie Apocalypse series has reached a natural conclusion and I’m ready to start something new. My options are; to stick with the post-apocalyptic theme but do something different with the genre; or to pick up my original idea from years ago, The Ice Factory; or to have a go at something else entirely. I’ve bought a workbook called Ready, Set, Novel and so far it seems to be taking down the post-apocalyptic road but this time in a climate change scenario. So, we will see …

The Buttonologist

One of the competitions I have entered is the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. For round 1 my genre was Comedy, the location had to be a Meet and Greet, and the story had to feature a Diploma in some way. I came up with a piece called The Buttonologist and was delighted (especially as I don’t think I’m very good at being funny – not intentionally anyway) when it came second in my group giving me 14 points to take in to round 2!

Here is my (almost) winning story. I hope you enjoy it!

The Buttonologist

Peter pushed his small, round, wire-framed glasses up his nose. He squinted again at the flyer that he’d picked up from the counter in his local grocery store. It was advertising an opportunity to meet Maximus G, one of the country’s leading buttonologists, and to receive a signed copy of his latest book. He checked the address on the flyer against the street name and number on the signage above the smoky, mirrored glass frontage of the large, modern building. A glittery, rose gold logo on the door read B Hub. It wasn’t quite what he’d been expecting, but he was definitely at the right location.

He looked up and down the street. In his experience, button collectors, or buttonologists as serious collectors now referred to themselves , tended to meet in locations that comfortably mirrored both their personalities and the nature of their pursuit. Small, aging, unobtrusive buildings, tucked away in quiet, lonely corners of narrow, cobbled side streets that, when you entered, were bursting at the seams with a cornucopia of ancient miscellanea.

B Hub, on the other hand, was big and tall and shiny and minimalist, and located bang in the centre of the busiest street downtown. While this was highly unusual, and mostly made him feel wary and decidedly uncomfortable, a small part of him was pleasantly surprised and tentatively hopeful that his field might finally be beginning to emerge from the shadows into the warm light of mainstream concerns.

He took his diploma out of his briefcase and smoothed out the plastic document folder. He smiled as he traced his finger over the elegantly hand-inscribed calligraphy on the delicate, creamy parchment:

The World Society of Buttons

has awarded to

Peter Anderson Wilmington

The Diploma in Advanced Buttonology

Maybe it hadn’t been the ‘big waste of time and money’ that his parents kept telling him it had been. Maybe it wasn’t always going to be something that everyone who heard about it laughed at. Maybe this was the day he would at last meet someone who felt the same as he did about buttons. Maybe this would be the first step towards finding a job that would allow him to do what he loved and actually get paid for it. Maybe this was the day when his obsession might finally start to become a blessing and not a curse.  Maybe this was the day when his dyslexia and hypernumeracy would start to work for him and not against him. Maybe this was the day when it was finally all going to come together.

A woman brushed past him, her elbow colliding with his and almost knocking the diploma from his hands.

“Hey, be care …” he started. But the words froze on his lips as his gaze came to rest on what had to be the biggest backside he had ever seen in his life. No, that wasn’t right, it wasn’t the biggest, it was just the most … pronounced, and it was grossly – no, magnificently – out of proportion with the rest of her lycra-clad, athletic frame. It appeared to have a life of its own, each buttock moving independently of the other and the rest of her body, as she sashayed towards the door.

Her movements were slow and exaggerated, as if she knew he was watching her and was luxuriating in his attention. When she reached the door, she placed her hand on the glass as if to push it open but instead, turned to face him. His mouth, already slack-jawed in astonishment, dropped open even further as she gave him a full-on, languorous wink.

“Come on, Baby. Don’t be shy,” she said, her voice as sweet and rich as honey. Then she opened the door and slipped inside, her backside entering the room several milliseconds after the rest of her.

Peter scurried after her. This was going to be even more interesting than he had hoped.

The interior consisted of one vast, high-ceilinged industrial space. The walls were lined with mirrors making the small crowd of people queuing to meet Mr. Maximus appear like a multitude. Harsh strip lighting illuminated every detail of their features and clothing. Like the woman outside, they were all wearing bright shades of skin-tight lycra that clung to every inch of their finely honed physiques. There was a preponderance of well-defined buttocks and above the buzz of general conversation he heard words like ‘glutes’, ‘implants,’ ‘squats’, ‘enhancements’ and ‘lifts’. As well as ‘maximus’, people were talking about ‘medius’ and ‘minimus’.

He looked down at his worn, baggy corduroy trousers. He was suddenly aware of his own concave gluteal muscles and his generally puny frame. Something wasn’t right. He pulled the flyer out of his pocket and looked at it closely. He read the words again:

Sunday October 6

10 till 4

at

B Hub

17- 23 Reede Street

Meet and Greet and Book Signing

with

MAXIMUS G

The Country’s Leading Buttologist

Book Review – A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A struggle!

A Little Life purports to be about a diverse group of four young men, all recent graduates living in New York, who are about to begin their adult lives. The book follows their development into a group of, sometimes troubled, but ultimately immensely talented and successful men. However, what the book is really about is the life of Jude, a mentally and physically damaged and severely traumatised individual.

I found it a deeply disturbing and depressing read.

The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2015 and has won countless awards and received multiple rave reviews from a variety of sources. Yanagihara has been compared to Donna Tart, one of my favourite writers. I feel as if I ought to have enjoyed it, or at least appreciated it, and expected to. But, honestly, I struggled to finish it, let alone enjoy it. It was a relief when it was finally over.

Maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m just not worthy or intellectual enough to “get” a book like this. I feel slightly nervous about sharing my opinions, which are in such stark contrast with those of so many literary experts, but that is what they are. Just my honest opinions. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it. However, for what it’s worth, it did leave me weeping.

What I liked:

I loved some of the descriptive prose and beautiful scene setting.

I loved the loyalty and kindness of Jude’s friends and family.

What I didn’t like:

The length – it was way too long in my opinion. I don’t mind a long read. In fact, if I’m really enjoying a book, I often don’t want it to end. But A Little Life was long in a rambling, repetitive way. It almost felt self-indulgent at times.

The chronology – The book twisted and turned in time and space, leaving me lost and confused on multiple occasions, as to who was talking and where and when they were. Sometimes I would be drawn into a scene that was interesting and intriguing, then it would drift into the past or the future for so long that I couldn’t remember whether the scene I had been enjoying had been concluded or what its meaning or relevance was.

The style – the book was very much all tell and no show. It broke all the supposed “rules of writing” about showing through dialogue and action, and being concise. When it did show, it did so largely through thought and memory. We always seemed to always be inside the head of one of the characters and never present in the moment itself.

The message – it was just so damned bleak, miserable and depressing. I can’t wait to read something more fun and uplifting.

I know I must seem shallow, irreverent and controversial, and maybe I am, but A Little Life just wasn’t for me.

Thursday, July 8th, 2021, Year 2 in The Time of Covid.

They think its all over …

Leaving Barbados

Well, we’ve been back in the UK for exactly a week today! Last Thursday we landed at Heathrow at 11 am. We had a good flight and, apart from an almost anticipated 2 hour delay at immigration, a pretty straightforward transit home. The car picked us up at 1pm and we were home by 2.30pm.

Flying in the Time of Covid is different from before, but not dramatically. You get the usual meals and drinks etc. after departure and before arrival, but for the majority of the time you don’t really see much of the cabin crew. If you want water or anything else during the flight you have to ask for it and obviously masks are mandatory throughout.

Our thoughts are very much still with Barbados. Tropical Storm Elsa upgraded to a hurricane just as it hit the country, wreaking devastation across the island. Thankfully, it appears that no lives have been lost but hundreds of trees are down, houses have been damaged and destroyed, roads blocked and many people have been without power or water for several days.

The airport was closed for a few days due to storm damage and, once again, we can’t believe quite how fortunate we have been. We missed it by just 24hours and would have had to change our flights and re-do our Covid tests etc. if it had hit before we left. Our whole Barbados trip has been marked by an uncanny series of lucky coincidences; when we first arrived we missed the need to quarantine in a hotel at our own cost by 4 days and when we departed, we missed the need to quarantine at home for 10 days by 24 hours, and that was only because Virgin moved our flights back by a day!

Home at Last

The past week has been a whirlwind of seeing friends and family and getting the house and our lives back to normal. Various pieces of equipment are revolting in an expression of their disgust about having been left unloved and unattended for 9 months; the shower in the ensuite and one of the radiators in the spare bathroom have both sprung a leak; the printer isn’t printing properly; the motor for the power shower has blown; the back gate, which was sticky before, is now refusing to budge; the gas and electric meter isn’t working; and the whole of the garden and outside space is in need of a good jet-wash and tidy up. I can’t remember where anything is in my kitchen and I have a list as long as my arm of admin type things to attend to. My priority was to do our accounts for 2020/2021 and I finished these yesterday and am slowly getting through everything else. By Monday, I think we should be on top of things.

It’s a weird feeling being back after being away for so long. It’s almost as if we’ve just been on holiday for a couple of weeks, but then it isn’t. In some ways it feels as if nothing has changed – we are seeing the same people, driving around the same streets in the same car, shopping in the same shops, watching the same TV, sleeping in the same bed, seeing the same views from our windows etc. etc. – then, every now and again, something takes us by surprise – new shops and bars on our village high street, a humungous new Marks and Spencer’s at the end of the road, new houses that have sprung up all over the place and grandchildren that have grown by several inches!

It is wonderful to be back though. So many people have taken the time out to stop and welcome us home. I’m enjoying our lovely kitchen with all my amazing gadgets and my big shiny range cooker; our gloriously comfy cozy bed; and my writing desk with my huge monitor that doesn’t give me eye strain and neck ache. I can’t believe I wrote a whole novel with my laptop balanced on my knee on a cushion!

Covid Today

With regard to Covid, it all feels vastly different from the dark days when we left the country last September at the start of the second wave. People seem to be going about their normal lives with just a few restrictions still in place. Table service has become the norm in bars and restaurants, indoor mask wearing is generally adhered to (although we have both noticed a distinct lack of rigour in regard to hand sanitising and contact tracing compared to Barbados, and absolutely zero temperature checks) and there are restrictions on the number of people you can have inside your home. It very much feels as though these restrictions and Covid itself have become part of everyday life and something that we all just have to learn to live with.

This is largely due to the fact that despite the increasing numbers of infections, that indicate the start of a third wave, for the first time this is not being matched by increases in hospitalisations and deaths. Essentially, the vaccine is working! I have to admit that we feel much safer in the knowledge that we are “double vacced”. To an extent, it feels as if we have re-started our lives to where they were at the start of the outbreak back in March 2020, and I must admit it feels good!

Summer of 2021

We have a long summer to look forward to. We have lots of things planned with friends and family; Sunday lunches with our kids and grandkids; lots of catch-ups with friends over a coffee or a glass or two of wine; numerous belated birthday celebrations; a trip up north to see my parents and sisters; a trip to Sweden to see my son and his girlfriend (no quarantine for double vacced travellers returning from amber countries announced today!); a Trident Edge road-trip with my fellow writers to check out the locations that I have used in the book and see if I have adequately captured them in my minds eye; Granny play-dates with my friends and their grandchildren; and a weekend in Stratford on Avon with some friends. On top of all that we have an endless summer of sport to enjoy; Euro20 -deferred to 2021 – (football) is currently underway with England progressing to the final just last night; the British Lions (rugby) tour of South Africa is also in progress; we are entering the second week of Wimbledon (tennis); the Tour de France is almost half-way through; and the Tokyo Olympics start on the 23rd of July.

I have lots of writing projects on the go as well; after the road trip I’m going to edit and write the second draft of Trident Edge then get it beta-read, edited again, proofread and edited again before publishing; I’ve entered the NYC Flash Fiction competition the first round of which starts tomorrow; I’m preparing a submission for the fall edition of the First Line Literary Journal; I’m going to turn this Time of Covid blog into a book; and I also have an idea for a new non-fiction project called I’z a Bajan.

The Final Chapter

All of this, combined with the fact that the government is going to lift all restrictions from the 19th of July, tells me that this is good place to end this particular blog project. It started as a lockdown diary back in March 2020 and then evolved into an account of our Covid experiences in Barbados. My intention was always to bring all these posts together into a book, so that one day our youngest grandchildren will be able to read all about what it was like (for us at least) at the start of The Time of Covid.

It’s been a crazy 14 month rollercoaster of experiences and emotions; fear, disbelief, anxiety and confusion at the start; boredom, frustration and isolation in lockdown; hope and disappointment about ever falling and rising numbers; anger about the behaviours of governments and people (remember the covidiots?); making the big scary decision to leave the country; stress and tension about whether we would even get to Barbados and get there safely; taking risks; having the adventure of a lifetime; being overwhelmed with joy and relief when we got there Covid-free; relishing the warmth, the sunshine, the sea and the beaches and the overwhelming feeling of safety; experiencing a Bajan lockdown, a volcanic eruption, sargassum and a super-storm (which has since been dwarfed by Hurricane Elsa).

Who knows whether Covid-19 will ever go away, and who knows what remnants of our new way of life might persist into the future lives of our grandchildren. I know it’s not going to disappear overnight and that we are all almost certainly going to have to learn to live with it for many years to come, if not for ever. But, in terms of our lives and this diary, we have reached point that definitely feels like a natural point of closure, if not an end.

Keeping with the football theme from last night, forgive me if apply the words of BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme (when England won the World Cup in 1966) to the Time of Covid,

“They think it’s all over,”

– who knows when we will ever be able to complete the comment –

“It is now.”