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NYC 250 Microfiction Challenge – Corn

This year, the only NYC Midnight competition I entered was the 250-word Microfiction Challenge. It kicked off in November 2022, when 5,439 writers submitted their Round 1 assignments in 125 groups containing approximately 44 writers per group.

My challenge was to write a story in the Suspense genre that involved ‘getting lost’ and featured the word ‘sound’.

I wrote a story called Corn (which you can read below) and am delighted to say that it got me through to the next round by the skin of my teeth, coming in at 9th in the top 10 places.

So, my Round 2 challenge, which came through last week, was to write a Romantic Comedy, that involves ‘riding a merry go round’ and features the word ‘decent’. This round places the 1,250 remaining writers in 25 groups of around 50.

Romantic Comedy is possibly my least favourite genre ever. Funnily enough though, I recently had a go at a Romance short story for a JAMS homework prompt, but it’s very much out of my comfort zone.

I spent most of the day getting absolutely nowhere and had almost given up when the seed of an idea formed in my head, and I decided just to have a go. I banged it out in a couple of hours in the evening. I’m not feeling very confident, but we will see … Better to have tried and failed and all that.

Anyway, here is Corn. I Hope you enjoy it.

Corn

The impenetrable forest of corn, taller than a man, loomed all around her. Watching with a thousand unseen eyes. Taunting. Waiting with malevolent patience to draw her into its depths. Envelop her. Suffocate her. Erase her.

Fear and panic jostled for control. Her mouth was dry. Her heart thudded in her chest. Fast, shallow breaths dizzied her. Which way?

The afternoon was hot and still. The cloudless blue sky a relentless dome of heat that raised a film of sweat on her skin. Salt and dust combining to sting her eyes and the bloodied scratches that criss-crossed her bare limbs. She had to keep moving.

Ahead, the narrow uneven path forked in two. Left or right? Right or left? Her mind a confusion of indecision. A dried-out husk of corn and a couple of withered stalks lay on the ground at the entrance to the left fork. Was there something familiar about the irregular shape they formed? Had she passed that way before?

The corn whispered.

Emma went right …

The corn is angry. Tendrils reach for her. Graze her skin. Snag her hair.

And then a voice! The thrill of recognition.

“Emma! Over here.”

She rushes towards the sound. Sobbing and gasping with relief. Throws herself into his arms.

He laughs.

She cries.

As they walk to the car she turns back and reads the sign at the entrance to the cornfield.

A smiling head of corn. Yellow and green and grotesquely cheery.

“Can YOU beat the Maize Maze?”

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Viruses and Volcanoes

A Covid Diary

During what I like to refer to as, The Time of Covid, I used this blog to journal my experiences during lockdown and beyond / kept a journal of my experiences during lockdown and beyond. At the start of the pandemic, my husband had just been diagnosed with a serious lung condition which placed him in the “very vulnerable” or “shielded” category and we made the decision to self-isolate a week before the official lockdown began. We expected to have to do this for 12 weeks and then return to our normal lives when it was all over. Little did we know what the coming year would bring.

Viruses and Volcanoes tells the story of my life in The Time of Covid as a wife, mother, grandmother and daughter from the first days of the lockdown in the UK and later, after we relocated to Barbados, on the other side of the Atlantic. It takes the reader through the shock and strangeness of the early days of the pandemic, the emotional roller coaster of the prolonged lockdown and the gradual adaptation to the new normal.

Viruses and Volcanoes is a personal, unedited and unapologetic narrative of the lives of a middle-aged couple during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was written in real time and is an honest and truthful account of our day-to-day lives between March 2020 and July 2021. As such, it captures the mundane and incredibly monotonous details of the lockdown life that we all experienced at the time.

My aim was not to entertain, explain or examine but simply to record my thoughts, feelings and experiences for posterity, during what was, at the start at least, a truly bizarre and frightening time. I wanted to capture how it felt when the world changed forever overnight before we all became accustomed to it, and it ultimately became our new normal.

I’ll apologise now for the fact that at times I was angry, frustrated, critical and judgmental, but this was my reality at the time. The journal also covers some of the facts and figures about the disease, the government’s attempts to deal with it and the ever-changing beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of our society as a whole.

Viruses and Volcanoes is available in eBook and paperback on Amazon for £9.99 and on multiple digital platforms as an eBook for £2.99.

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Going Wide

The trials of publishing on multiple platforms.

Background

A few years ago, the idea of writing a book, let alone publishing one, was a distant, lifelong dream that verged on fantasy.

And yet, over the past few years I have made that dream come true by publishing, not just one full-length fictional book, but two, as well as co-authoring a biography.

It has been a steep learning curve and, as a complete non-technical novice when it comes to the mechanics of self-publishing, a frustrating one at times.

I started out by self-publishing on Amazon with the help of Michael Andrews from JAMS and I will be forever grateful to him for his generosity and patient support with this. However, over time I have gradually built up the knowledge and skills to enable me to do this by myself and weaned myself off my reliance on him. I pretty much managed to publish Trident Edge all by myself with just a little bit of handholding from him.

This year I decided to publish my books on some other platforms in addition to Amazon. This decision was prompted by the idea that I’d like to try and get a Book Bub deal one day. In reading around how to achieve this, it soon became clear that most books that are successful in being offered one of their, potentially lucrative, deals have to be available on a wide range of international platforms and have some evidence of sales success and positive reviews on these.

So, it was immediately clear that I was going to have to publish my books on some of these other platforms and I started preparing to go about this. After all, I had mastered the art of publishing on Amazon so how hard could it be … ?

Of course, as is to be expected for a mature, IT idiot like me, it has been a bit of a nightmare and after setting out to do this in the summer of 2022, I have only just completed the process. For those of you who are as baffled and bewildered by the challenges of tasks like this as me, I thought I’d share my journey in case it helps. For those of you that find the whole thing as ‘easy as pie’ … don’t bother reading any further.

Leaving Amazon KDP Select

The first thing I learned was that I was going to have to withdraw from KDP Select, as being enrolled in this programme means that your books are exclusive to Amazon. I was a little concerned about this as the majority of my sales at the time were coming from Kindle Unlimited and books are only available on this if the author has signed up for KDP Select. Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead with my decision. Both of my books were at different stages of the 90-day period so the first thing I had to do was wait for them to expire. Trident Edge was almost at the end of the time period but Wait for Me didn’t come off until October 1st.

Purchasing ISBN’s

The next thing I did was purchased some ISBN’s. When I published on Amazon I used their free ISBN’s but these cannot be used for books published on other platforms. Other platforms also offer free ISBN’s but the idea of having lots of different ISBN’s for different books on different platforms didn’t sit well with me so I decided to purchase my own.

For the UK, the recommended source is the Neilson ISBN Store. A single ISBN will cost £91 but you can buy 10 for £169 so it was a bit of a no-brainer to buy 10. A big expense but they never expire and given that I plan to publish more books in the future they will all be used.

Which Platforms?

The next step was to select where to publish and whether to use a third party like Smashwords or Draft2Digital. I decided I only wanted to be on four platforms other than Amazon. Remember my main objective was to be eligible for a Book Bub Deal. I went for Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google and Apple. I decided not to go with Draft2Digital or Smashwords as they appeared to be geared largely towards eBooks and I didn’t want to limit myself in this way.

Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble was a complete disaster! I still don’t really understand why. I had set up an author account while I was waiting to come off KDP Select but when I tried to log-in it wouldn’t let me. I contacted them and they told me my account had been cancelled but they couldn’t tell me why. I was advised to create a new account with a different email address. Not ideal but I went ahead. All seemed to be working until I got to the part where I had to enter my tax details and it blocked me because my tax details were already assigned to another account. I had numerous exchanges with B&N Customer Service who were extremely unhelpful. I chatted about it to other writers on social media. I spent hours of my life that I will never get back trying to work around the problem but eventually I gave up and moved on to Kobo.

Kobo

Kobo was the most straightforward to use of all the platforms. I did have a few issues with the creation and formatting of the EPUB files including downloading and using a programme called Calibre which didn’t work and seems to have messed up my computer in ways that I have still not managed to fix. Nothing serious – just annoying little things like opening my book files in the Calibre programme every time I wanted to work with them and now my computer doesn’t default to Word so I have to select it when looking at any of my text files! Grrr! However, when I did some further reading about how to prepare a Word document for Kobo to convert to an EPUB file and followed all the steps listed, everything worked fine, and my books went live quickly. Even still, more hours of my life flashed by in what felt like the blink of an eye.

Google

I also succeeded fairly easily on Google Play after a bit more fiddling around with formatting again. Generally though, the changes I made for Kobo seemed to make the process easier for Google. However, I think it was on this platform that I had some issues with the cover of Wait for Me (it might have been Draft2Digital but the issue and solution is still the same). Essentially, they rejected the cover because it was in CMYK colour mode rather than RBG. I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, what it meant, and how I could fix it! I then spent more countless hours of my, now much shorter life trying to sort this one out. I eventually found a free programme that would do the conversion but was dismayed to find that they offered 8 different RGB options. I had to go through a laborious trial and error process saving the file using each option in turn, uploading it and waiting to see if it was accepted or not. Yet more hours of my life consumed before I got the right one and the books were accepted.

Apple

Apple was a bit of a nightmare too, due in part to the fact that I work on a PC and not a Mac. Creating an account and setting it all up was a distinctly unintuitive process that had me tearing my hair out at times. I did manage to wade my way through this process though and finally uploaded and submitted my books. This time they kept being rejected due to some issues with the content. Apple sent me long comments explaining what was wrong, but it was written in such inaccessible IT nerd language that I couldn’t understand it. I spent a LOT of time farting around with Apple and getting absolutely nowhere. By now, I was truly losing the will and wondering why I ever started the whole thing in the first place! Eventually, I decided that I might have to admit defeat and work with one of their recommended partners and this was what led me full circle to Draft2Digital.

Draft2Digital

Wow! I cannot stress enough how easy this platform was to use. I uploaded my books in no time at all. As well as Apple, I decided to try for Barnes and Noble with them too and it all worked like a dream. They even explained what the issue was with Apple. Because my files contained some links to some of my other publications on Amazon, Apple (as their main competitor) had set up a firewall to reject any books with links to Amazon in them. Fair enough. I removed all these links from the files and the situation was instantly resolved.

Conclusions

The big conclusion here is that if you are not super-confident with technology like me, don’t bother trying all the individual platforms. The process will steal years from your life and drive you mad at the same time. I would recommend going straight down the Draft2Digital route every time. I wish I had, and will for my next book!

P.S. D2D also provide Universal Links so that readers can purchase your books from the platform of their choice.

For more information about Draft2Digital, have a look at this Reedsy blog post about it https://blog.reedsy.com/draft2digital-reviews/

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Book Review – Intensity by Dean Koontz

Intense!

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I felt merited a full review on my blog, despite the fact that I’ve read a lot since my last blog reviews of The Living Dead by George A Romero and Daniel Krauss and Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel.

It’s a fairly long list:

Coldbrook and The Silence by Tim Lebbon

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

All 3 of the Lockey vs the Apocalypse series by Carl Meadows

I who have never known men by Jacqueline Harpman

The Stopping Place by Helen Slavin

Apocalypse by Hayeley Anderton

While I really enjoyed some of them, notably the Lockey vs the Apocalypse series and The Silence, I just didn’t feel moved to write a long review on any. Of course, I always pop a little review on Amazon, Goodreads and Book Bub for everything I read. As an author I’d feel guilty if I didn’t. But to merit a longer review on my blog a book has to resonate with me in a way that will leave me thinking about it for a long time after I have finished, for one reason or another.

I didn’t think I was going to feel like writing one on Intensity by Dean Koontz either. I wasn’t blown away by it at the start, but by the time I finished I was buzzing!

It’s an unusual book in many ways. It seems a bit naff to describe it as intense, given that that is the title, but that’s the best way to describe it. It is a very intense experience that leaves you exhausted and breathless.

The story follows two main characters over a 48-hour period in a way that is so detailed that it is almost played out “live”. We live through every single second of Chyna’s ordeal at the hands of the evil Vess, apart from a scant few blessed hours when she is either asleep or unconscious.

At first, I found the book irritating. Overly descriptive with long flashbacks and digressions into Chyna’s traumatic childhood memories, and long and detailed accounts of both characters inner thoughts. Some of Chyna’s actions in the face of extreme danger seemed unbelievable and, at times, downright stupid.

However, I soon reached the conclusion that Mr Koontz was playing with the concept of ‘intensity’. The detailed descriptions and digressions contributed to the intensity of the reading experience. Just as Vess craves an intensity of sensation and experience, this is what we are served by Mr Koontz. The book progresses incredibly slowly, creating such an atmosphere of heightened tension and anxiety that at times it was almost unbearable. I didn’t think it was going to work for me but in the end it did – by the bucketload.

Shocking, graphic, violent, terrifying, and agonisingly tense.

Well worth a read but give it time and play along!

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The End of the Apocalypse

How do you end the apocalypse?

*SPOILER ALERT* This article discusses the endings of several zombie apocalypse books, movies, TV series, and games.

Stories and Sequels

It struck me today, on my daily walk when I was listening to the second in the Lockey vs. The Apocalypse series, We Will Rise (An Adrian’s Undead Diary Novel) by Carl Meadows, that in many post-apocalyptic series the first book in the series is often the best. Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that the other books in the series are any less well constructed or well-written, just that there is something about the early days of an apocalypse that is particularly interesting and engaging.

How, where and when the apocalypse begins; why it happens in the first place; where people are and what they are doing when it starts; how they react; where they go and what they do; what happens to their family and friends; whether they are reunited with them or not;  how the world and society breaks down and changes and the impact of all that; and just the sheer shock and horror of it all, is morbidly fascinating to many people, including me!

As such, the first books in an apocalyptic series, when all that initial stuff usually happens, often resonate with ordinary people more than subsequent books which take place further down the apocalyptic road. People find themselves wondering what they would do when the apocalypse comes to their town; what their world would look like after the fall; whether they would have what it took to survive or not. This can mean that readers are more captivated and engaged by the first books in an apocalyptic series than they are with subsequent books about life when the extraordinary has become the ordinary and a devastated and dangerous world has become the new normal.

This has proved to be true for my own books. My first zompoc book, Wait for Me, far exceeded my expectations in terms of sales, reviews and ratings, and feedback from friends, family and complete strangers. The sequel, Trident Edge, (which I only wrote because I had so many requests to do so) has, by comparison, been a bit of a flop. Yet, I think the second book is far better in terms of plot and writing quality than the first. I did have some reservations and regrets about the cover of Trident Edge, which for me doesn’t have the same impact as the cover of Wait for Me, but I think it’s about more than that.

I asked my best friend, and loyal fan, about what she thought of Trident Edge compared to Wait for Me, and she said that she loved them both but that she enjoyed Wait for Me more. When I dug a bit deeper to try and understand the reasons for this, she said that she enjoyed reading about the early days of the apocalypse and the zombie outbreak and how two ordinary women, Lisa and Anita, managed to survive day by day in a new and terrifying world, more than she did about their lives six months later when they had become hardened and experienced survivors and zombie killers. My case in point.

I loved the Adrian’s Undead Diaries series and I’m loving Lockey vs. The Apocalypse too. They’re great stories. But today I found myself musing, as I wandered down the leafy lanes of Solihull with Lockey, Nate and Particles fighting their way out of yet another zombie encounter and loading wood burners into trucks to prepare for the coming winter, exactly where it was all going and how it was all going to end how. In fact – I asked myself – how and when exactly does an apocalypse end?

A Satisfying Ending?

When I did my Creative Writing Course with the Writers Bureau back in 2018, I submitted a synopsis for Wait for Me for one of my assignments. One of the criticisms I received from my tutor was about the ending.

She said, “This doesn’t provide a satisfying ending to the story. What happens next? How to do the non-zombies eventually get rid of the zombie threat?”

Good question! At the time, I thought that as Lisa’s main objective was to get home and find out whether her husband Neil was ‘waiting for her’ (or not, as the case may be – no spoilers here!), that the outcome of this objective would constitute a satisfactory end to the story. Apparently, I was wrong as so many people requested a sequel.  

Defining an Apocalypse

So how do you end an apocalypse? Can you? Different definitions of an apocalypse exist that vary in their classification depending on how devastating the event has been.

The online Cambridge Dictionary talks about “total destruction and the end of the world” and uses the synonym “annihilation” but also, less pessimistically, about “great destruction and change”. Merriam Webster defines it as “the end or destruction of the world”. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary differentiates between an apocalypse which would cause “very serious damage and destruction”, and the apocalypse which causes the “destruction of the world”.

Most zompoc books and movies talk about the zombie apocalypse and rarely a zombie apocalypse, so – please bear with me here, I’m just having a little fun with the idea – my point is how do you end the end? Of course, you can have new beginnings and people adapting and changing, and maybe even incapacitating or escaping the zombie threat, or destroying the virus that caused it and so on and so on. But which of these would these qualify as the satisfying ending that my course tutor required?

Discuss!

*SPOILER ALERT*

This all got me to thinking – when I should actually have been listening to We Will Rise and had to rewind for about 15 minutes’ worth – about the endings of many of the books I have read, as well as movies and TV series I have watched and games I have played, and whether or not they had satisfying endings to their apocalypses.

Movies

Let’s start with the grandfather of the zombie apocalypse, George A Romero. His first movie, The Night of the Living Dead ends when the main character, Ben, an African American, is mistaken for a zombie and shot and killed. While many people have interpreted this as reflection of socio-political issues at the time, it doesn’t represent the end of the apocalypse. Indeed, Romero went on two make his other two classic movies, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. The original cut of Dawn of the Dead ends badly for all the survivors who are seen to perish in some harrowing found-footage material. Subsequent cuts see Fran and Peter survive but we never find out what happens to them after their escape. Similarly, in Day of the Dead, three characters escape by helicopter to a desert island, but we never find out what happens to them in the long term either.

Another couple of my favourite movies are 28 Days Later and the sequel, 28 Weeks Later. In 28 Days Later, Jim, Selena and Hannah are spotted by a fighter jet but we never know whether anyone comes back to rescue them. The zombie threat clearly continues as in 28 Weeks Later things are as bad as ever. This movie ends with the revelation that the virus has spread to mainland Europe but again, who knows what happens next? I’m still waiting for the making of 28 Months Later to find out.

Finally, World War Z the movie. Now this does have a slightly more satisfying ending that might meet with my tutor’s approval. At the end of this blockbuster, not only has Brad Pitt’s character discovered a vaccine to shield people from rampaging zombies but he and his family are all reunited in a safe zone well out of harm’s way. Aww! Nevertheless, the war against the hordes of undead that have taken over the world continues, but we are led to believe that things are looking good for the living survivors.

TV Shows

Moving on to some of the more popular zompoc TV series, The Walking Dead is apparently close to reaching its conclusion with the second half of Season 11 due on our screens any day now. I’m waiting with bated breath to see what that looks like but it’s already evident from all the spin-offs from that show (Fear the Walking Dead, Tales of the Walking Dead and World Beyond are all out already with yet more to follow), that this apocalypse is far from over.

As for Z Nation and the prequel Black Summer. (I have to admit I never finished Z Nation – it started to get on my nerves.) I believe the end involved Murphy eating Sun Mei’s brain to get the cure to the virus but honestly, I don’t really care. I did enjoy Black Summer on the other hand, but we never really reached a satisfying conclusion to this series as everything went to hell in a handbasket at the end of the Season 2 and so far, it doesn’t look as if there will be a Season 3.

Games

I’ve played a lot of zompoc games, but my favourites are Resident Evil, Dying Light, Days Gone and – my all-time favourite by a country mile – The Last of Us. (Can’t wait for that TV show to come out next year!) Most games end in a kind of satisfying way usually involving defeating the baddie, or “boss” to use gaming terminology. I might be wrong, but I don’t think many “end” as such as the manufacturers always like to leave things open for another day (and another dollar of course).

In The Last of Us Joel chooses to save Ellie over saving the world and the stage is set for The Last of Us 2. The end of The Last of Us 2 is all about the people and their relationships and less about the apocalypse itself. Can Ellie forgive Joel and move on? Can she even forgive Abby? Will she and Dina be reunited? I’m assuming we will get some answers to all of these questions and more in The Last of Us 3. I hope so anyway!

Books

And so, to books. My absolute favourite media! While it is acceptable and almost expected that TV Series and Games, by their very nature, will be unlikely to have a final completely satisfying ending, books, like movies, always should.

World War Z, one of the first zompoc books I ever read, has an ending that I think my tutor would approve of. Ten years after the fall, humanity is winning the war, but the costs have been high. The world has taken a big step back in terms of living standards, life expectancy and quality of life and the planet itself has been forever changed, but there is hope for the future.

The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey is another favourite of mine. At the end of this book, we are left with the thought that the second generation “hungries” are the future and that it is only a matter of time until all humans are infected, and they are able to take over and rebuild. I kind of like that ending. Especially as Justineau appears to be going to help them prepare for this day.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion is essentially a love story. Now this story does a have a proper ending! Basically, love is the cure for the zombie virus and it is highly likely that everyone will live happily ever after! It might be a “proper” ending but honestly, for me, it’s all just a bit naff!

I enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Mary has left the safety of her village to find the ocean and so she does at the end of the book. However, it is not quite what she was expecting and there is no attempt to bring about any sort of conclusion or resolution to the zombie problem. In fact, there are two books which follow The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places. Neither of them live up to the promise of The Forest of Hands and Teeth in my view, and The Dead Tossed Waves ends in a place that compels the reader to go and buy The Dark and Hollow Places to find out what happens next, as it leaves us after Gabry and Catcher escape from the Recruiters and set off on their journey to the Dark City. I suppose the trilogy has a semi-decent ending in terms of it being more about the characters and their relationships than trying to overcome the zombie threat and it all works out for everyone in the end (well more or less).

And so, to Adrian’s Undead Diaries by Chris Philbrook. What a great series! In terms of zompoc series it has to be up there as one of the best. And it does have an ending where the zombies are destroyed! Yay! My tutor would be delighted. After an epic battle between good and evil the “good” living human beings survive. There is still a lot of work to be done to eke out a survival in a devastated world, and there are still conflicts with other groups of survivors to be resolved, but Adrian and his friends are free to get on with that without the threat of being chomped by a zombie as they do so. Great ending!

I could go on but I’m going to stop here. I’m getting a bit bored with the potentially endless list of examples that could be discussed and so I’m sure you are too.

If you have managed to read to the end of this essay, well done and thank you for indulging my ramblings! I’m currently writing my 3rd zompoc novel, Amenti Rising, and this time I think I have come up with a solid and satisfying ending. Well, I hope I have! Only time will tell …

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best way to end an apocalyptic tale in your opinion and about the some of the best endings to zombie apocalypse stories that you have come across.

Drop me a line or, better still, sign up for my newsletter and keep the conversation going?

THE END …

OR IS IT …?

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Book Review – The Living Dead by George A Romero and Daniel Krauss

Dreadfully Disappointing

George A Romero is the father of the zombie movie. The godfather of the dead. An icon of modern American media, a pioneer of the horror film genre, an outstanding filmmaker, writer and editor and the creator of the image of the zombie in modern culture.

The zombie horror genre is my genre. It has been a personal fascination, bordering on obsession, since I first watched Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead back in the 70’s, followed by Day of the Dead in the 80’s. Since then, I have watched pretty much every zombie movie or TV show that has been made, read every book, and played every game.  I’ve played a zombie in a scare event and was a participant in the reality TV show, I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse. I now write zompoc novels myself. (Wait for Me. Trident Edge).

I don’t fully understand my unusual interest in zombies and the concept of the zombie apocalypse (neither do my friends and family) but I think it’s something to do with humans being the real threat to humans, not just in terms of being flesh-eating monsters, but also in the way that the survivors react and behave towards each other when the world as they know it ends. All illusions of civilisation and humanity rapidly melt away leaving people who are barely distinguishable from animals. It’s shocking how quickly society disintegrates and falls apart.

I’m also intrigued by how strange and unfamiliar familiar places become in an apocalypse of any kind. Busy streets, deserted and quiet. Bustling shopping malls and city centres, empty and silent. Survivors free to explore and scavenge wherever and whatever they want – barring zombie threats of course. Nature reclaiming the land. The end of all the services we rely on and and take for granted like water, power, mobile phones and the internet. An upside down, inside out world that is still the same place as before, but at the same time different and changed for ever.

I don’t have the same affinity for other sci-fi and fantasy monsters like vampires, werewolves and aliens. They just don’t do it for me in the same way as zombies do. Maybe it’s because the living dead seem more realistic to me than these other fantastical beasts and creatures. I know that sounds crazy!

I’ve established that I am a massive fan of Romero and all his work. So, imagine my excitement when I heard that he’d written a book, albeit posthumously completed by Daniel Krauss. Not just a book but a humungous 700-page epic that promised to chart the zombie plague “from the first rising to the fall of humanity … and beyond.” It was showered with amazing reviews from the start: “a horror landmark”; a work of gory genius”; the last word of the living dead”; everything you could have hoped for” …

Imagine my disappointment when it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

The first part of the book told a lot of individual stories from the very start of the apocalypse. It was interesting and I did enjoy the start of the book. But even here, there were some stories I enjoyed and some I didn’t. I liked some characters and absolutely hated others. Some stories particularly grabbed and held my attention, and I was irritated when the narrative jumped to another story. I had to stop myself flicking through the pages to get back to the story that had engaged me.

At some point, some of the stories started to get weird. Very weird in a way that just wasn’t believable. I know, for many people, the zombie apocalypse itself isn’t believable but the behaviours and reactions of the characters usually are. At this stage of the book, I started to lose interest and wonder where the whole thing was going, but I soldiered on. In some ways, it reminded me of Stephen King’s The Stand, and I was expecting the various characters all to come together at some point in a satisfying way. And (SPOILER ALERT), they did, but much, much further down the line in, for me, a very dissatisfying way.

It felt as if we missed out on decades of the lives and experiences of the different characters until we meet them in the final section, battle scarred and changed forever. We are told the stories of these missing years in the form of interviews, but this inevitably resulted in a lot of “tell” rather than “show” and as a result they lacked depth and were completely unengaging. It was almost as of the fast forward button had been pressed and we had skimmed rapidly through a huge chunk of a movie. Sadly, with a few exceptions, by the end of the book I just didn’t care what happened to most of the characters and I just wanted to get the book finished and move on to something more enjoyable. (Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel was calling me from my to-be-read pile.) Some of these fast-forwarded stories of the missing years were frankly absurd. Stories of warring zombies with prosthetic limbs. Fantastical tales of unlikely survival. It just didn’t ring true for me.

The main problem with the book was that it was just far too long. It wasn’t a terrible book; it just wasn’t as good as I hoped and expected it would be. The trouble was that when it did drag on it dragged on for so, so long. God, it felt like a slog at times, and I have never been so happy to finish a book.

All that said, I would recommend it. It was a good read in parts, and it took the zombie apocalypse to a place far away down the line where some sort of ending had finally materialised and there was hope for those survivors that had made it that far. It touched on some interesting and currently very relevant socio-political concepts as “causes” of the apocalypse. It just wasn’t brilliant! Just be warned it’s a long hard read and you’ll need some stamina to make it to the end!

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Book Review – Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Gloriously satisfying.

I bloody loved this book. I picked it up a few months ago as soon as I knew it had been released and added it to my, very long, post-Christmas to-be-read pile. I’d read Station 11 in 2020 and adored it, so have been waiting excitedly for Sea of Tranquility to arrive. After battling through a very disappointing The Living Dead by George A Romero and Danial Krauss, I was in serious need of a reading treat so surreptitiously moved it to the top of the pile. I’m so glad I did. What an amazing book. Satisfying and delighting in every possible way. I devoured it in two days while on holiday in Devon and found myself lovingly stroking the cover long after I had finished reading.

A beautifully written tale of time travel, mind-boggling meta-physics, wonderful characters, elegant connections and coincidences, love, kindness and humanity, Sea of Tranquillity takes us to the moon and back (literally) and spans a period of 500 years. Emily St. John Mandel is a gifted writer. Her plots are clever. Her writing is pure. Settings and characters sing on the page and yet she is skilfully economical with her words and descriptions. I felt every emotion her characters experienced. I worried for them. I exalted with them. I smiled. I laughed out loud. I cried a little. I had some enormous “Ah!” moments as connections and plot twists gradually revealed themselves.

There were some themes that echoed those of Station 11, namely pandemics and people connected by past encounters and relationships, and material objects. Like Station 11, these connections gradually revealed themselves in heart-warmingly startling ways.

I love the way the subject matter is technically pure sci-fi and yet in reality is totally “ungeeky” and utterly believable and every day. She makes living in a dome on the moon and flying about in supersonic hovercraft and airships seem entirely normal.

One character, a writer called Olive Llewellyn, receives some feedback from a reader to the effect that her book was a confusing collection of narrative strands that never came together. This is not true of Emily St. John Mandel. What begin as an apparently disparate collection of narrative strands, flow comfortably through the book and weave naturally together at the end of the story. There is no confusion. There are no unanswered questions. Just glorious resolution and clarity.

Maybe that’s not entirely true? There is one enormous question that runs under the surface of the book and lingers on at the end, not for the characters who know the answer, but for the reader themselves. But, I’ll leave you to discover and ponder that one for yourself.

Needless to say, I’ve just bought and started reading The Glass Hotel.

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The Lost Virtue

NYC Midnight 100 Word Microfiction Challenge 2022.

You might recall that, in June, I got through to the second round of the NYC Midnight 100 Word Microfiction Challenge 2022. This time, I was in the mix with the remaining 1,770 writers of the original 6793. My challenge for the round was:

Genre: Fairy Tale/Fantasy

Action: Popping a Bubble

Word: Bitter

Completely and utterly out of my comfort zone, I managed to come up with a piece that I was relatively pleased with in The Lost Virtue.

Sadly, I didn’t get through to the next round but I did get some positive and encouraging feedback.

I’d love to know what you think of my effort.

The Lost Virtue

Seven years since Dozumoth had captured the virtues of the realm of Ebruven and Sarander had begun her quest to free them.

Seven bitter years of fear and chaos.

At last, Sarander stood in the high clearing and plucked a thorn from the bush where they dangled in fluid, shimmering bubbles.

Time was short. The sky darkened.

Sarander pierced the first. Prudence. A soft, blue mist blossomed and swirled.

The next. Justice. Green.

Fortitude. Red.

Temperance. Yellow.

Thunder cracked. Lightning flashed. Dozumoth rose.

Sarander reached for the last. Tolerance.

Dozumoth struck. The thorn fell.

Sarander wept dead tears for Ebruven.

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Book Review – Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

Breathless and Shocking.

This book has been on my ‘to be read’ pile since Christmas. I wish I’d got to it sooner. I devoured it in two sittings.

The story follows two women over a period of just a few hours during an outbreak of a lethal, rapidly spreading rabies-type virus. Natalie, who is eight months pregnant, has been bitten and Ramola, her best friend who is a doctor, is trying to save the lives of Natalie and her unborn child.

Survivor Song is a high-speed roller coaster of trials and disasters, fear and tension, shocking violence, societal breakdown, love and loyalty, pain and loss, desperation and heart wrenching decisions. It’s not a ZA novel but in many ways, it feels and reads as one. It’s not deep or pretentious, just a damned good story.

What I liked.

The pace. The race to save Natalie and her baby never slowed or stopped and neither did I.

The characters. I laughed out loud at Natalie’s scathing sarcasm and dark humour in spite of the terrifying situation she found herself in. I adored Ramola for her unfailing loyalty to her friend that pushed her past terrible limits she could never have imagined.

I really liked the “Bill and Ted” duo they met on their journey with their creatively quirky hydrophobia test.

The book was a well-written easy read.

In certain scenes the style and structure of the book ‘broke with convention’ but this served to create a vivid picture of the extreme shock, fear and confusion the character was experience.

Something I might steal in my own writing!

The echoes of or own recent experience during the pandemic including PPE shortages, overwhelmed healthcare services and unprotected workers were very relatable.

What I didn’t like

… nothing …

I absolutely loved this book and would definitely recommend it if you are into dystopian survival horror – and even if you’re not! I have just bought Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts and can’t wait to get started.

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Wet Paint

NYC Midnight 100 Word Microfiction Challenge 2022

It’s that time of year again. The NYC Midnight challenges for 2022 have begun. This year I’ve only been able to enter one – the 100 word microfiction challenge – as I have too many other things going on when the others take place.

Telling a story in 100 words is harder than you might think and is even harder when you have to write to a set brief under a tight timescale of just 24 hours.

In April, 6,973 writers were divided into 118 groups of around 59 per group and set their first challenge. Mine was:

Genre: Comedy

Action: Waiting for a Train

Word: legal

I was on holiday in Nice at the time and didn’t want to spend too much time sitting indoors on my laptop so I felt a lot of additional pressure with this one, especially as my partner was waiting for me to finish before we could get out and enjoy the French sunshine.

After many more “empty head” minutes than I care to remember, I came up with a little ditty called Wet Paint. I wasn’t particularly happy with it but when I read it to my partner and he laughed out loud at the end I decided just to submit it and hope for the best.

I’m happy to say that Wet Paint squeezed through to Round 2 at number 14 of the top 15 qualifiers in my group! This morning I have been writing my entry for the next stage of the competition. This time 1,770 writers were assigned to 27 groups with approximately 66 writers per group. My challenge for this round was:

Genre: Fairy Tale/Fantasy

Action: Popping a Bubble

Word: Bitter

It’s a little little encouraging that I wrote my first ever fantasy piece last month and it got great feedback from my peers! I’ll let you know how I get on at the end of July.

In the meantime here is Wet Paint for (I hope) your amusement and entertainment.

Wet Paint

The station was a riot of football noise and colour. Edgar’s brand-new England shirt was a white beacon in a sea of blue and white stripes.

He regarded the Greek sign on the empty blue bench. He couldn’t read Greek. His train was in fifteen minutes. He needed to rest.

Edgar removed the sign and sat down. It couldn’t be legal, not to sit on a bench. What was the worst that could happen?

The station was a riot of football noise and colour. Edgar’s brand-new, Greek shirt melted into the sea of blue and white stripes.

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