Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Calculations on the Size of a Zombie Horde

Zombie hordes feature prominently in Surviving The Evacuation. I never intended this to happen, but the more I wrote, the more logical their inclusion was. The undead are attracted to noise. In a dead world, with no machines, few animals, and fewer people, the loudest sound would be that of the living dead. They would gravitate towards one another. One or two, or one or two hundred, might become trapped behind some drystone wall out in the wilds of Lancashire. Their numbers would grow until even that rigid barrier broke. Thousands would drift across the countryside. As they did, shoes and feet would kick at stone, chipping away at sole and skin as much as they wore down masonry, but eventually the wall would be ground to dust. All it would take is time. And over time, that thousand zombies would meet another thousand, and another, and another, and more still until, with their trampling feet louder than a storm, they slouched through the countryside, turning all to mud and ruin.

But how big would a horde get? Well, it may help if you imagine yourself as a zombie. Wherever you are right now, at home, at work, out in the street (especially if you are out in the street), pretend to be one of the living dead. Stagger a bit, paw at the air, snap your teeth. And as you are doing that, notice how your arms are waving around. Notice how far you are moving. (It might help if you affix some kind of powder to the soles of your shoes. If you are at work, why not try toner from a copier.) Now keep going, staggering back and forth. Go on. I’ll tell you when to stop.

No, not yet.

Keep going. Keep those arms waving and pawing, those feet stumbling and tripping, almost but not quite, about to fall. A little longer - well, actually a lot longer. Keep it going for another hour or so (thinking about it, this could be the next get-fit craze. Zombi-cise. I must remember to trademark that). Okay, so stop pretending to be a zombie (and apologise to any passers-by or co-workers you have hopefully terrified) and let’s imagine there are two of zombie-you. If your left arm collides with the other creature, and remembering that you are devoid of all thought and reason, you’ll knock this other creature to the left or yourself to the right, in line with the Newton’s Third Law of Motion. And thus is the direction the horde travels decided.

Most of the horde can only see the decaying back of the creatures in front. They can only hear the deafeningly loud, irregular stamp of necrotic feet, but they think that there is prey ahead. They are a great undulating mass of death, with about... check the area on the ground now covered in toner. It’s an irregular circle with a diameter of about 12 feet, right? (This is the average I got in my many, many experiments.)

When there is no prey, the undead squat or stand motionless. But remember that the horde isn’t stationary, they act in pursuit of this unseen prey. The laws of physics tell us* that they will form a great undulating, pulsating mass of death, pushing and shoving at one another as they heedlessly slouch across the countryside.

An irregular circle of 12 feet in diameter is approximately 452 square feet. Of course, as we’ve stated, this is an irregular circle for one of the creatures. The area that they occupy will overlap with their neighbours, so this is only giving us a rough estimate. Caveat over. How big is the horde?

There are 27,878,400 square feet in a square mile. Dividing that by 452 gives us 61,677. 87. Now, technically speaking you can have a fraction of a zombie, depending on how much of its body has been crushed, battered, or broken. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s round it up to an even number. 61,678 zombies per square mile. That’s the best-case scenario, and assumes the undead are all being respectful of one another’s personal space. The sad reality is that it is likely to be closer to twice that number. And that’s just in one square mile.

* For the record, the above is why I don’t teach physics or maths.

Monday, 30 March 2015

How not to publish No. 2 - Word Frequency.

This is a quick tip I discovered when writing Book 5, and should be useful to anyone who uses Microsoft Word. The find and replace function in MS Word [Edit > Find > Replace...] gives a count of the number of instances of a word within a document. If the word occurs less than 100 times, it will provide a list with each instance. By clicking on the word within the list you can jump back and forth and see what pages they occur on, and so check that said occurrences are evenly distributed within the book.

We want to use as varied a dictionary as possible when writing (the above paragraph notwithstanding). It avoids attracting a readers attention to some minor detail (say the coffee table the book’s on) when they should be focused on a major detail (say the Orwellian bookmark within said book).

Distribution of vocabulary is also important. Personally, I tend to latch onto a word I like the sound of and then overuse it. Slouched is one of my favourites. It’s laden with such significance that you can’t help but think of that ‘rough beast’. So, the above is a quick way of checking that the undead aren’t slouching too often, and that when they do, it’s heralding some impending peril.

Up until I discovered this MS Word function, I was using prowritingaid.com. It’s a (paid) piece of software that will analyse your work, and provide an automated editing summary. It’s not perfect for fiction, and completely misses alliteration, but it is handy for checking how many consecutive sentences (or paragraphs) start with the same word. “She aimed. She fired. She missed.” <- that’s quite good. “She stopped. She aimed. She fired. She missed. She reloaded. etc. <- not so good.
It’ll also check the ratio of English to US English, and that your spellings are consistent.  This software also has a free online version.

There are other similar automated editing packages, but I’ve not used them, so can’t recommend them. I’m not affiliated with prowritingaid, nor with Microsoft. I have, however, wasted spent a lot of money on ‘how-to-write’ books, and found no mention of either the above two tips.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Book 5: Reunion - On Amazon (woohoo!)

Surviving The Evacuation, Book 5: Reunion. Now (and hopefully forever) on Amazon. on sale at 0.99 for the next three days.

UK US Canada Australia Germany France Spain Italy Netherlands
Japan Brazil Mexico India

Sorry about all that, there's a whole technical gumpfery behind all of that, which really doesn't matter beyond the one simple rule we should all remember: It's always good to complain.

More later, but for now, happy reading!

Amazon Update - Technical Fault (theirs, not mine)

Bad news. There's some kind of technical fault at Amazon (and apparently only with my book.) It may not be corrected until 1st April (Wednesday). And that's as much as they will tell me. I've suggested re-uploading the book. They say no - this may effect whatever it is their technical people are doing. If it changes, or if they get back to me with anything more useful than that, I'll let you know.

(This is the page it should be on https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00VAKI4D4)

In the meantime, .mobi (this is the kindle file type) versions are available here:

DriveThruFiction: http://www.drivethrufiction.com/product/146769/Surviving-The-Evacuation-Book-5-Reunion

Smashwords: (with this coupon - HP77G)

Libiro: http://www.libiro.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1649

Epubs (the file type for Ibooks and... well, pretty much every tablet and phone that isn't made by Amazon) are available from the above, but also from:




I am sorry about this, and can only say that I am as thoroughly put out by it as you are.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Surviving The Evacuation - Book 5: Reunion - Out today

Book 5: Reunion out now on Google & Kobo & Itunes & Drivethrufiction (this has both .mobi/kindle and .epub file types) & available to borrow from Scribd & Libiro

I'm expecting it to be live on Amazon later today, the paperback out on Sunday, and other retailers over the weekend. Book 5 will be available for £0.99 (inc VAT) for the first few days. Happy reading!

Surviving is easy. It’s the next part, living, that’s hard.

Zombies. It is seven months since the outbreak. The world is in ruins. Britain is a radioactive wasteland peopled by the undead. The few survivors cling to the hope that they might wake up tomorrow. For most, that is all they have left. But Nilda has something more; the chance that her son is alive. At least he was, months before.

She and Chester set out from Penrith, searching for her son. During the journey, Nilda learns more about this self-confessed criminal, Radio Free England, the conspiracy behind the outbreak, and how Chester was involved in it all. As they near Hull, she realises it is too late to change her travelling companion. She will need his help to escape the zombie infested city, and find her son.

Fleeing from the last remnant of the old government, Tuck and Jay head south in search for survivors. When they rescue a wounded man, their quest becomes one for medical supplies. That leads them to a rooftop city, and to the realisation that surviving out in the wasteland is easy compared to forging a new life from the wreckage of the old civilisation.

The fifth novel in the Post-Apocalyptic series ‘Surviving The Evacuation’. (100,000 words)

Click here to buy from:

I'll be adding more links here as I get them. Amazon should appear some point this afternoon/evening.

Friday, 20 March 2015

How not to publish No. 1 - Ellipses And Spacing

I don't have much advice to offer on publishing except of the 'don't do what I did' variety. Since I've done quite a lot, I thought I might start recording some of the mistakes I've made and the lessons I've learned.

Lesson one is about ellipses, em–dashes and spacing. There are many different style guides all offering differing opinions on whether an ellipse should have a space before and after. It's important to remember that these guides were written in the days when type was actually set – either digitally or in the form of shaped lumps of metal. With an ebook, there is no set sentence length. The number of words (and characters) will depend upon the device, and the font-type and size chosen by the reader. Hence, if you put a space before an ellipse, the ellipse could carry on to the next line.  Personally I don't like this. The ellipse is a way of showing a sentence trailing to off etc, so you need it attached to the preceding word.

And on a similar note. I've just realised (browsing through one of the books) that it doesn't matter whether or not there's a space before an Em dash. If there are too many characters it will be carried over onto the next line. I've no solution to this, since it's not as if you can stop using them, but it is something to be aware of.

So, be mindful of spaces before ellipses within ebooks, and Em dashes. Lesson over. 

Surviving The Evacuation - Now on Google Play

I've finally relented, and the series is now available on Google:

Zombies vs The Living Dead 
Book 1: London
Book 2: Wasteland
Book 3: Family
Book 4: Unsafe Haven
Book 5 - Well, probably next week.

I was reluctant to do this up until now due to Google's pricing policy – they will occasionally make a book free without asking an authors permission. Doing this would have messed up my marketing plan. Since I decided to ceremonially burn my marketing plan on Tuesday (I dressed up in robes) I figured, why not put it on Google?

Some things to note - due to this odd discounting policy you may find books on Google Play cheaper than Amazon by as much as 30% or so. Usually Amazon will match the price – they have 'a never knowingly under sold' policy, but that can sometimes take a few days, so if the budget is tight, they might be worth a browse.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Whilst you're waiting...

Two years ago (two and a bit, actually, it was March 6th), I gave up on the latest draft of my comic fantasy epic (which had been begun when I gave up on my murder mystery, and that was only after I'd abandoned the near-future space opera, and that...). I stared at the page I'd just written. The only thing about it I liked was the character with the broken leg. I went for a walk. I imagined I couldn't because my leg was broken. I drank some tea.

Zombies, I thought. That was what was missing. And so, I sat down to read some zombie books. I'd read some before, but this time I read a lot (about 60, or though it would be closer to the mark to say I started a lot and abandoned many.) and did it systematically. There are a couple that immediately stick out, so if you're looking for something to read whilst you're waiting for Book 5 (it's due back from the editors any hour now, I've got to make a few changes to some of the directions, make it clearer exactly where Marylebone is - and make a few similar changes for readers who aren't familiar with the UK - and change a paragraph at the end, but then it's off to the proofreader. So we're talking days, not weeks), I can recommend these.

Newsflesh by Mira Grant - It's a couple of decades after the zombies rose up. Humanity stumbled on, civilisation didn't collapse. Journalists were replaced by bloggers, and its from the perspective of two of those that this story is told. It's equal mix 'how the outbreak happened' and 'how to live now'. Utterly brilliant.

Allison Hewitt is trapped by Madeleine Roux -This is a journal written as a blog by someone trapped in a book store with a handful of other employees when the outbreak hits. Tensions rise, tempers flare, and there's still the undead outside to be dealt with.

It was going to be a longer list, but two other titles don't seem to be available, and one (for some baffling reason) costs close to £10 for the ebook. So, since all lists need to have at least three items to qualify, I'll add one I bought a couple of weeks ago and have been saving for my next long-distance train journey. 

Sanctuary From The Dead by R. J. Spears

"In a small southern Ohio town, Joel, a twenty-something underachiever finds himself holed up with a group of survivors as they take refuge in a church. Fighting the undead in a desperate attempt to survive, they try to maintain some semblance of what makes us human."

What I remember about writing from school

I’ve been wracking my brains on this and initially I started a list, but after half a couple of hours there's only one thing on it:

Don’t use the word ‘nice.’ 

That’s it. That’s the only thing I can recall. The teacher stood at the front, and said... and I can’t actually remember the exact words, though he did have a tendency to spit the word out with scorn. It was only when I read Messers Pratchett and Gaiman's 'Good Omens' that I came to understand the words real meaning, and how wonderfully useful it is to a writer

I like to use the word, partly in defiance of that now mostly-forgotten teacher, but mostly because in our world there are so many things that are nice. Not great, not earth-shattering, just nice. A hot cup of tea on a cold morning, that’s nice. An acorn-carrying squirrel dashing across the road, that’s nice. Taking out a summer coat to find a five pound note crumpled up amidst the faded receipts from last year, that’s nice. And as such, I vow to use the word in every book henceforth (or until I forget).

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Book 5 - Almost there

Book 5 has come back from the first bout of editing, been beaten up, down and into shape. I sent it off yesterday for the second batch of editing. After that I've got to go through it once more, then it's off to be proofed. One more read through after that, and then I click publish. So, it's coming so-oo-on. Definitely this month.

After Book 5, There will be a Book 6. This is set on Svalbard and Anglesey, and takes place after Book 3, featuring Bill, Kim et al, and during Books 4 and 5. 

Book 6 is very much about how to create a functioning democracy amidst an undead-ridden planet. That will be followed by a Book 7 (I've no title for this one yet) and Book 8: The End. Which, from the title, you can guess is the end for the series, or at least the British part of it. There will be some spin offs, but one book at a time...

Where are all the Easter eggs?

Extract from Book 1: London

Day 59 - Woolwich London

It’s definitely not my reduced mobility. Nor is it boredom or even loneliness. No, it’s that I’ve become more systematic in my looting methodology, more experienced if you like, more professional. That’s what I’ve been telling myself as I’ve gone through the house room-by-room, drawer-by-drawer. Whatever it is, it isn’t nosiness. Honestly, it’s not.
Okay, who am I trying to fool? I mean, I don’t even believe it myself. The jury’s still out on whether I’m lonely, but I am definitely bored and confined to moving around very, very slowly. Whatever the reason, my prying has paid off. You won’t guess what I found. No, you have to guess. Go on, try. Three guesses. Give up? See, I knew you wouldn’t get it.
Easter eggs. Small ones, but bone fide, honest to goodness, thirty percent cocoa, milk chocolate Easter eggs. You remember the kind, the ones they marketed to kids, the small hollow eggs in the big cardboard boxes with mazes on the back and the tips on the side about how to organise your own Easter egg hunt? Well I found six of them. And no, before you ask they weren’t hidden. They were in a carrier bag in the dresser in the front room.

Some parts of these books are based on my own experiences. One of which is to stock up on Easter Eggs the first week they appear in the stores. Usually this is as soon as they clear away the unsold Christmas stock. But this year? Nothing. Well, not nothing. There are Easter eggs, (and carrots and footballs and toolkits and pretty much every shape that chocolate can be moulded into), but no £1 Eggs.

The important part of this ritual (for me) is that I’d always buy extra, ‘just in case there were unexpected guests’ on Easter Sunday. Of course, when these guests never turned up, I’d get to eat the ones left over.

No £1 eggs, means no excess, which means no personal excess the week after Easter. It’s infuriating. Or it would be if I’d not just discovered that the chocolate in these eggs actually tastes of rust. No, no, it’s true. This is all to do with the global chocolate shortage, and the different variety of bean that is being used to combat it. Planet Money did a very interesting show on it:

After listening to that, if you (like me) have been put off chocolate, I’d recommend The Nut Hut or Treasure Island Sweets as two alternatives (I’m not affiliated with them in any way, but I can strongly recommend them. Particularly the Turkish Delight.)