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 sequel 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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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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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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My Green Jumper

My Winning Poem

So last night I won the 54th Solihull Writers Workshop Annual Poetry Competition with my poem My Green Jumper. I was both honoured and astonished to be the recipient of the award as the standard of all the entries was so high.

I have been sharing the news of my success on social media and several people have asked if they could read the poem – so here it is!

I’m not a poet. I think this is the second poem I have ever written as an adult. I was inspired by the current humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and by the thousands of people donating their clothing to help people in need.

My Green Jumper

My green jumper

Old and familiar

Soft and soothing

Warm comfort

Scented with love

Threaded with memories

Sofa snuggles

Cosy cuddles

Winter walks

Kitchen talks

Safe and secure

My green jumper

Tossing and turning

Nestling and glowing

In bags and boxes

By road and rail

Over land and sea

To get to you

Explosions and Gunfire

Fire and Flame

Fear and Heartbreak

Blood and Pain

I cannot touch you, but my green jumper can

Put it against your skin

Let it sooth and calm

Let it warm and comfort

Let it talk to you

About my love

My care

My sorrow

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All About Audio

Exploring the world of audiobooks.

The first few months of 2022 have been all about audiobooks for me. When I first published Wait for Me just over a year ago, I had a few enquiries as to whether it was available on audio. I’ll be honest, back then I was just delighted just to have finally published the book and hadn’t even thought abut this. More importantly, I didn’t have a clue where to start.

After I published Trident Edge in October I took a break from novel writing and did a little research on how to go about creating an audiobook. I was daunted and almost gave up a few times. It seemed so complicated and, lets face it, expensive.

However, I kept going and spoke to a few other authors about the different options for an independent author like me. This was how I learned about ACX, Amazon’s audio platform. I’m delighted to say that I discovered it was not only affordable but also accessible to a terrified technophobe on a budget.

It’s as simple as creating an account, selecting one of a few different options depending on your budget, choosing a narrator and uploading your book. I went for the Royalty Share option which allowed me to create an audiobook without spending any money at all. The narrator and I receive 20% of the royalties each and Amazon get the rest. I’ve outlined the process in more detail below.

The upshot of it all is that Wait for Me and Trident Edge are now both available in audiobook formats.

If you are not a member of Audible you can join and purchase the book via this link in the US

and this one in the UK

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ACX Audiobook Process.

Go to ACX.com and create an account and a profile.

Add your book (this pops up automatically if your book is on Amazon).

You will have to upload a square version of your cover.

Submit a script for auditions and submit then sit back and wait.

When the auditions come in select the one you like and make them an offer.

You can communicate with the narrator about any character voices or pronunciations etc.

There is a 15 minute checkpoint for you to make sure you are happy with how it’s going.

Once the narrator has submitted the full recording you get a chance to request any changes before you accept and the book goes live.

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.

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

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.”