Post-Apocalyptic Fascination

Ever since I watched Maximum Overdrive when I was a kid, I have been fascinated by post-apocalyptic fiction and drama. Developed from a short story by Stephen King, Maximum Overdrive explores how a group of survivors come together after machines start turning on the humans who made them. Not your usual post-apocalyptic concept, but it still explored how a small group are left when everyone around them has perished. I remember pretending it was real when I walked my dogs around the fields where we lived. I’d pretend I was the only soul left alive in the area and I’d pretend to be grossed out by dead bodies and gruesome finds, while I plotted in my head how I would continue to survive in this new world.

Image by George Tudor from Pixabay

As a huge Stephen King fan I inevitably went on to devour The Stand – a thumping great book about an apocalypse caused by a virus. I found it so fascinating I read it twice! Everything about it intrigued me. From the outbreak of the virus and the horrific details of how quickly it spread and decimated the population, to the individual stories of the people who survived and how they came together, to the rise of good people and bad people and the ultimate battle between them.

Currently, I am watching The Walking Dead for the first time and I am almost at the end of season 10. I’m utterly addicted! A zombie apocalypse is an even more gory and frightening one, but again, it is the human stories that fascinate me – from survival of the early outbreak, to the hopes and fears of groups trying to find safe places and barricade the walkers out, to the inevitable bad humans who are arguably more revolting and dangerous than the walkers, to the fascinating survival skills the humans pick up or develop along the way. I genuinely feel like should a real end-of-the-world situation arise, I would be better prepared thanks to watching this TV show!

I am also currently writing my own post-apocalyptic series and it’s been great fun but also incredibly challenging. I have delved into dystopia before, with The Tree Of Rebels set far in the future after wars have nearly obliterated the human race, but this is the first time I have attempted post-apocalyptic fiction that starts as the tragedy unravels. It’s challenging because it’s been in my head for so long and I have read and watched so many post-apocalyptic books and films, that I feel a bit intimidated. I so want to get it right that sometimes I struggle to write it at all!

I have however written the first two books and I am half way through book three. Because there is a good chance I will want to go back and alter things I am not releasing any of them until all four books are ready. But writing it, and watching The Walking Dead got me thinking – what is it about this particular genre that fascinates us so much? It’s hugely popular – you only have to look at the various Walking Dead spin-offs in action or in the pipeline, to see that the end of the world as we know it is a big business. Here are a few reasons I think the genre is so popular:

  1. Dissatisfaction with this world – I don’t think anyone would swap this world for one over-run by walkers, deadly viruses, or rampaging robots, but even so, I do think a dissatisfaction and anxiety about the society we live in fuels our interest in post-apocalyptic fiction. Characters in post-apocalyptic dramas tend to find a new way of doing things. Once they have survived long enough to start rebuilding, they tend to rebuild in a different way as if they have learned from the mistakes of the past, and I think we are curious about this. If everything was razed to the ground and we had to start again, what kind of society would we work to build? I think most of us would opt for a kinder, fairer more environmentally friendly one and that’s interesting to think about.
  2. Curiosity about how we would react – they say you never truly know how you would react to extreme danger, pain, fear, or the threat of death. We simply have no idea whether we would die easily or become a true survivor. Would we hide away crying, or would we come out fighting? In post-apocalyptic fiction and drama, the weak don’t tend to last long. Characters make stupid mistakes and fall victim to all kinds of terrible deaths. We like to think we would do better. We would be smarter, faster, stronger and more adaptable, but would we? Wondering about this fuels our need to watch and read the genre.
  3. Fascination with survival skills – in a post-apocalyptic world, characters are forced to go back to basics. Walking instead of driving, using horses instead of cars, building shelters, hunting animals for food, fishing, setting traps, filtering water so it’s safe to drink and so on. In our modern lives we don’t need to do any of these things and we tend not to worry about food or oil running out, but maybe we should. We used to be better connected to nature and we used to do all those things to survive. Things are far too easy for us now and we are softer because of it. Watching post-apocalyptic shows and reading the genre makes us more aware of the need for such survival skills. Anyone with these skills is going to have a better chance of survival and I think we enjoy picking up a few tips, just in case!
  4. Boredom – I think to a certain extent us humans grow bored of the society we live in. Once you are in the never ending circle of work, pay bills, work, buy food, work, work, work, you wonder if a different kind of life is possible. In post-apocalyptic situations, the characters are freed from the drudgery of the work/money hamster wheel and they can do whatever they like. Life might be dangerous, but it’s certainly never boring.
  5. Disillusion with the human race – now, I would obviously never advocate population control or the mass death of humans! But like a lot of people, I am endlessly disappointed with the human race. I am frustrated and saddened that they continue to vote for selfish, rich people who continue to wreck the planet. I hate to see our wildlife being decimated, our continuous consumption pushing the planet to the brink. If we are not careful, we’ll have a post-apocalyptic situation on our hands sooner than we think. Human beings can be wonderful, but they are also frustratingly stupid and selfish. I see this more and more around me and I weep for what we are doing to Mother Nature. I can’t help thinking she would be better off without us here. I think we enjoy the genre for this reason too. In books and films where the majority of the population have perished, we get to see what the world would be like without most of here, without us wrecking and polluting, using and abusing it.
  6. The need to go back to basics – I’ve blogged before about my strange desire for a far more basic life. If I could, I would withdraw from society almost completely. If I could live in a little house or cabin far away from humanity, with woods and fields and a stream around me, I would go in a shot. I would go off-grid and get back to nature. I enjoy watching and reading this aspect in post-apocalyptic shows and books. People living basic lives, at one with nature, far away from anyone else.
  7. Preparation for the future – sadly I think this might be one of the main reasons the post-apocalyptic genre is so popular. We are faced with climate change disaster and ecological disaster, not to mention soil disaster, and the possibility of more pandemics. Wow – sometimes I wonder how any of us get up and get through the day with all that hanging over our heads! It plays on my mind constantly. I have no idea what will happen but I have very little hope that the powerful people in charge will do the right thing. I think millions of us will suffer and die as things get worse in the coming years and for young people, the situation is even more dire and depressing. Maybe we are fascinated with the genre because we are trying to prepare ourselves for what may be coming our way.

What about you? Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and drama or is it something you avoid? Do you have a favourite post-apocalyptic TV show, film or book? Let me know in the comments!

You Don’t Have To Win At This…Clumsy Survival Will Be Just Fine

In the days leading up to the lockdown, my Facebook feed became full of well-meaning posts about how to survive. The ones I paid closest attention to initially were the home schooling ones. These were, at the time, quite reassuring so I saved them to special folder marked Home Education. But of course, schools have been just brilliant at providing everything we need to keep our children happy and learning. Mix that up with some physical exercise, some art, music and general mucking around and having fun, and I don’t think you can go far wrong.

With home schooling under control, the next thing I turned to was the influx of posts, emails and links urging people to get their businesses online and keep earning. As a self-employed person who suddenly found themselves out of work on 18th March, I started saving these too. I run a writing based business called Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. It started in 2017 but 2020 was shaping up to be my best year yet, with three new writing clubs to add to the three I already had established. Everything was going well.

Instantly I started seeing other self-employed people launching online content. I had no idea how, but surely my classes could continue online in some format? If I wanted to keep earning and keep my business going, I had to do this too, right? I started looking into Zoom and Skype and Microsoft Teams but that was as far as I got…

For so many of us, actually scratch that, for all of us humans on this planet right now, life has changed drastically. If there is one thing we can say it’s that at least we all know how other people feel because we are all experiencing this together. We’re not all in the same boat, obviously. Some of us live in mansions, some of us live in tower blocks. Some of us were already poor and struggling. Some of us never will. Some of us are safe at home while some of us are on the frontline in a variety of keyworker roles. But we are all affected by Covid19, lockdown and social distancing and by the ever present fear of one of our loved ones catching it.

I assumed I would be able to home school and keep working. I assumed I could do what everyone else was doing. I felt the pressure instantly. All these wonderful self-employed people popping up all over the internet, moving their classes online, producing quality content they could charge for, still earning! I was impressed and inspired and thought I could do it. I felt I should. I mean, the schools are closed until further notice. I have no idea when I can get back to running my writing classes!

Last week I had to admit defeat and let people who were waiting know that I won’t be doing anything online any time soon. I felt horrible doing this, like a total failure, but once I’d done it the pressure was off and the relief was immense.

We are all dealing with this differently. I’m an introverted homebody who isn’t really missing the outside world, or shopping, or traffic very much at all. I am generally loving home schooling my 5-year-old and I am spending so much time in the garden, its really having an impact. But this is still getting to me. The anxiety doesn’t really set in until my little one is in bed and then it’s just bizarre. I think everything I try to avoid thinking and feeling in the day hits me all at once.

I am exhausted by the time I get on the laptop. Of course, with the four kids here 24/7 there is no time in the day for my own writing, let alone working on anything business related.

I had every intention of keeping my business going. I wanted to create online content and videos but I just can’t, and I am learning to be okay with that. First I had to admit that as much as I knew I ought to, I just didn’t want to. And there were many reasons for that…exhaustion being one of them, lethargy, anxiety, take your pick. I feel bad about it but then I realised you can only do what you can do. You can only deal with one thing at a time and this is a weird old time. It’s bound to mess with our heads and our hearts.

The thing is in our society we have been led to believe that we can and should ‘do it all’. This is not just felt by women, but perhaps the childcare element often still falls disproportionately on their shoulders… Before lockdown, we were all running around like headless chickens. No time to stop and chat, forever apologising for not seeing friends or relatives enough, driving from here to there and back again, grabbing coffees for fuel, pumping our little metal prisons full of poisonous, expensive gas, pulling our weight, doing our bit, working hard, paying taxes and bills and rents, doing what we were told, being good citizens, breaking our backs and drinking too much wine. Sound familiar?

On top of that we were trying to reduce our carbon footprint, drive less, eat less meat and dairy, get enough exercise and look after our mental health as well as raise happy, confident and adaptable children, all while working at the same time, don’t forget!

Was it too much? I think maybe it was. And now? We are being asked to stay at home and stay safe, yet there on the internet gleams the ever present expectation that we should also be winning at this. Learning new skills, new languages, reading the classics, doing yoga, keeping fit, entertaining and educating the children, making meals from scratch on a reduced budget, training the dog, planting a garden AND getting our business online so we can keep earning!

Just today I scrolled my Facebook feed and felt a wave of guilt at the sight of so many motivational videos and tutorials urging people like me to create online content and sell it. I have read some of these. I have watched some of these videos. And then I have turned it off and gone to find out why my 5 year old is peeing off the side of the trampoline.

I just can’t do it. At least, not yet.

I don’t want to win at this. I just want to survive. Maybe I’m just not that driven by money, maybe I’m just not that ambitious. Maybe I am just really tired.

I want my kids to survive and I want their mental health to survive. I want my garden to survive and my sanity. However clumsy it may be, survival is fine. Winning is not required here.

Maybe you are feeling the pressure in other areas. Home schooling is another can of worms if you let it be. There is so much advice. So many posts and links and articles. So many well-meaning people suggesting this and that. If it stresses you out or makes you feel like a failure, ignore it. You are doing fine. Again, you don’t have to win at this. You won’t get a certificate. You just need to get through this and come out alive. It’s not a competition. Some of us are barely holding it together but we will come out smiling, I swear.

So if you would rather dig your garden than watch a tutorial or webinar on how to build your online business I salute you.

If you would rather lie in the bath and drink wine than join a Zoom coversation, just go right ahead. Guilt free.

If you would rather do Just Dance with a 5 year old than PE Joe, don’t you worry about it. If you want to let your small child play with the hose by themselves until the garden is mud, I’m not going to judge you. And if that same child is offered the x-box as a bribe so that you can sit on the doorstep and enjoy a cup of tea in peace, you’re just human and surviving the best you can.

We won’t all come out of this as winners, and we shouldn’t aim to if that stresses us out in an already stressful situation. Survival is all that is required.

March Indie Book Of The Month; Black Storm by Mark Gillespie

Each month I highlight the best indie book I read, and for March, let me introduce to you the tension-packed first book in a highly promising post-apocalyptic series. Black Storm by Mark Gillespie. 

I’m working my way through Mark’s Future of London series, so I knew I would not be disappointed by this survival thriller, and I wasn’t. It ticked every box for me as a reader; a fast-paced story with a believably flawed and likable protagonist, tension that clings to every page, action, drama, and emotion. I was hooked on the dangerous journey Cody chooses to take in order to get his young daughter out of a world gone crazy. I’ve posted the blurb and my review of Black Storm below. Look out for an interview with Mark in the next few weeks!

Blurb;

“A wild ride…Reminiscent of Stephen King.” 

These are the last days. The Black Storm – a permanent state of darkness has engulfed the Earth, plunging the world into eternal night.

Out of the Black Storm comes the Black Widow. A ghostly figure, she walks the Earth triggering an epidemic of despair – suicides, mass murders and arson attacks. Nobody knows why it’s happening. But it is happening.

Ex Hollywood actor, Cody MacLeod, is a burned out recluse living in Texas. He’s got one chance to protect his young daughter Rachel from the Black Storm.

A plane is taking off at San Antonio International Airport, piloted by Cody’s friend. But to get there in time, Cody and Rachel must drive through the darkness together. But the road is a dangerous place where desperate people are lurking in wait.

And the Black Widow is always close by.

Black Storm is a post-apocalyptic survival thriller about a father trying to save his child from the end of the world. What would you do to protect your child in exceptional circumstances? Grab a copy of Black Storm if you love apocalyptic, dystopian, horror and supernatural thrillers!

My Review;

I’m already a fan of this author’s fast-paced and tension-packed novels, so I knew I would not be disappointed by the first book in a new series. I am working my way through the Future of London series, so had an idea of what to expect from Black Storm. A flawed yet believable and likable protagonist, twists and turns, jump out of your seat drama, and tension that clings to every page. The drama starts on page one, no hanging around. Cody, a faded Hollywood star is about to leave his house with his 10-year-old daughter Rachel. We learn quite a lot in the first few pages. Rachel’s mother, also a former star, is dead, and a deadly black storm has enveloped the world. The black storm has wrapped the world in darkness and from this darkness, the mysterious black widow emerges. People are going crazy. Killing themselves and each other. Cody has a chance to escape the madness, and a plane waiting at the airport if he can only get there in time and in one piece. What follows is a race against time and a risky jump into the unknown. Cody and Rachel face numerous dangers on the road trying to get to safety. This story is a brilliant and energetic introduction to what promises to be a nail-biting series. I was really pulled into Cody’s dilemma, as a parent trying to decide what risks to take in order to protect his child. Brilliant stuff!

Have You Got What It Takes To Go Indie?

Life as an indie writer is not easy. It is a hard slog, full of ups and downs. It is a journey often plagued by a gnawing self-doubt as well as the added burden of feeling like you constantly have to prove yourself. Not only do you have to make all the key decisions about your book, with regards to editing, front cover, and how to market and promote it, you also sometimes feel like you have a shadow hanging over you. You have to fight harder to be seen, try every trick in the book to prove yourself, and all with the nagging question that just won’t seem to go away. Are you really good enough?

Sadly, since I started my own journey in 2013, I’ve seen indie author’s announce they are quitting on a regular basis, stating that they just can’t do it anymore. There are just so many of us out there now, all searching for the same thing. The Holy Grail. How to succeed as an indie writer.  It often feels like a step forward, followed by two steps back. Many give up when their books refuse to sell. Many become disenchanted when they fail to find an audience. Many become exhausted by the endless choice and costs involved in promoting their books.

So what does an indie need to survive? What sort of person to they need to be to get through the inevitable highs and lows? I believe survival comes down to four main things, four personality traits you are going to need in bucket loads, if you are going to stick with the indie life and not give up when the going gets tough.

You need to have an immense passion.You must believe in your stories. You might be good at writing, but you are going to need more than talent to survive the bumpy road ahead. Never mind your writing abilities or creative talents right now. Ask yourself this; do you truly have a passion, a deep and possessive passion for the stories? Do these stories keep you up at night? Are these stories begging to be told? Do they plague your daydreams and interrupt your ordinary life? Do you have something you desperately want to say and share? Is this idea driving you crazy? If yes, then you‘ve got the passion. But that is only half the battle. You have to keep that passion, especially when times get tough, as they inevitably will. It helps to have a lot of unwritten material sloshing around inside of you. A host of characters chattering away, urging you to get on and give them their turn. A desire to get it all out,whatever it takes, to keep writing and writing, no matter what.  The passion to write is perhaps the most important thing you will need. It will ensure you keep writing, because you have to write, because absolutely nothing is going to stop you.

Self-belief. In truth, for any writer, self-belief comes and goes. There are times you have lots of it and feel genuinely proud of your last paragraph or your final, finished product. But there are equally as many times when a first draft is anything but perfect. In fact it is ugly and clumsy and utterly different to how you envisioned it in your head. Quite simply you think you should give up and never write another word. This is quite normal, and I’m sure even the most successful and well known writers are regularly plagued with bouts of crippling self-doubt. There are days you just can’t write properly, nothing comes out the way you want it to, you compare yourself to others and feel you fall woefully short. This is all fine. But in order to succeed as an indie writer you need to have a rather solid foundation of genuine self-belief.You may not want to brag about it or declare it to the world, but deep down inside you must believe that you are good. You must believe that you can write. You can tell a story and make it work. You can make people care. You deserve this and can hold your head up with the best of them. Otherwise, the hurdles to come are going to knock you off course pretty quickly.

Hope. I think this applies to the indie more than any other writer. The indie needs passion and self-belief, in order to get that idea down on paper. They need talent and determination to edit, rewrite and perfect that work until it is ready to publish. They need to become an expert at marketing, promotion, an entrepreneur even, and in many respects a businessperson. But they also need to be an optimistic and hopeful kind of person in order to survive. Why? Because hope keeps you going through all the hard times, through the low sales and no sales, through bad reviews and no reviews, through feeling totally alone and out of depth and not to mention being penniless! You have hope that you‘ll become a better writer, that you will get better with every new thing you write. You have hope that your small following will continue to grow,and that fans will spread the word for you. You have hope that you‘ll one day land a nice big, traditional publishing deal, (if that’s what you want, and let’s face it, most indies would love to hand at least some of the control over to an enthusiastic professional!) You have hope that you‘ll make it. You‘ll succeed and realise your dreams, and achieve whatever level of success you are aiming for.

And finally, I believe you need to be a realistic dreamer. By that I mean, you need to dream big and aim high, but at the same time, you need to keep your feet on the ground and be realistic. I think perhaps too many writers jump into the indie game with their expectations too high. I know I was guilty of just this at the start of my journey. I sort of expected things to just take off. I thought all my friends and family would buy and love my book, would leave plentiful glowing reviews, and would then encourage all of their family and friends to do just the same, and my book would somehow just tumble forward, picking up speed until I made it! Oh how that makes me laugh now! No, I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen like that. In my experience, people mean well, but when they say they will read or review your book, it does not always happen. People are busy. They have their own lives and interests, and they may not want to read your book for fear of offending you if it’s not their kind of thing. in truth, many of them are just not going to be interested at all. The indie journey can therefore be a lonely one at times, not to mention frustrating. Expect too much, and you are going to get disappointed. Be realistic. Recognise that it is not a race, but more a journey of development and discovery. The fact is, you will get better at all of it. You will get better at writing, and at marketing, and you will realise you don’t need your family and friends to push you forward. You need to find your own audience, and finding them, is quite simply part of the package you sign up to. Getting reviews and exposure, gaining readers and fans, winning awards and so on; all of these things are down to you.

I believe that if you have enough passion, self-belief and hope, you will be able to maintain longevity as an indie writer. Keep your feet on the ground and your expectations realistic, while not ever giving up on the dream. They may all get dented and bashed about from time to time, but as long as the reserves are deep, you should be able to keep going. Who knows what is around the corner as long as you don’t give up your dream?