A Sense of Perspective

In a recent post I bemoaned the fact I have a backlog of too many ideas and not enough time. Your responses were reassuring, and it’s good to know I’m not the only one who struggles with an off-kilter inspiration-to-output ratio. My first overseas trip for a few years has done nothing at all to help that situation. If anything, it’s made it worse. But in a good way.

Lisa and I managed to visit to Lanzarote a couple of weeks ago. It was a holiday we’d attempted to take three times previously, only to be derailed at various stages by pandemics, heart attacks, budget airlines and dodgy travel firms. The world of 2022 remains a horrifically volatile place, and it felt indulgent taking a holiday when so many people are struggling, but it also felt good that we were able to pause for a while and soak up new surroundings.

It’s always invigorating to be able to look at the world from a different angle. It makes me realise just how small an area our lives typically operate within. What’s normal to you in your day-to-day might seem bizarre or extreme to me, and what I think of as mundane might be the height of excitement to someone else. When I was very, very, very young I was convinced that holidays worked on some kind of exchange system – you went and lived someone else’s life for a week or two, and at the same time they came and tried out your world for size. My tiny, pre-school brain had assumed that everyone led the same kind of lives, they just happened to do it in different places. I should add, by the way, that this was just a fleeting misapprehension, and that by the time I reached school age I’d realised that swapping two weeks at the seaside for a fortnight living in our semi-detached house in the middle of Birmingham would have been a bum deal for whoever owned the caravan we’d been staying in.

My point is, we sometimes have a tendency to assume that our lives are normal/typical/as good as things get.

I think the pandemic and the various lockdowns most of us went through have further distorted this perspective. A week sitting by the pool in a quiet little resort felt at times like a trip to another planet, non-stop brain food. Who’d have thought that a coach trip through the lava fields of Lanzarote would have provided inspiration for a key scene in the upcoming AUTUMN: EXODUS?

I guess I just wanted to post this as a counterpoint to my previous post about ideas. I doubt that any writer will ever use up their entire reservoir of ideas, no matter how long and prolific their career. My beef was with the onward march of time, not my overactive imagination! Finally getting away again was a welcome reminder of the unquestionable importance to me of looking further than the end of my nose and grabbing every opportunity that comes up. Better to have a thousand unused ideas and have lived, than to have worked non-stop and be scratching around for things to say.

I watched a great video on YouTube today which happened to contain a quote from Irvine Welsh that summed up the point of this post. Unfortunately I only have an auto-translated version of a Ukrainian translation (if anyone can direct me to the source of the quote I’d be grateful), but here it is: “It’s only when you start travelling that you understand what’s wrong with the place where you were born and raised.”

An amazing new arrival

A rare personal post from me today, one which I hope will redress the gloom of my ranting last post. Something wonderful happened a week ago today – my second granddaughter was born. Here’s a picture of me (the ugly old one) with the baby. Congratulations to Katie and Steweart on her safe arrival.

You’ll never guess what they’ve called her. It’s a beautiful name, and one which has particular significance to me. Please welcome baby AUTUMN!

Memories or junk?

Thanks to all of you who got in touch following the sudden death of my mum last month. I’ve really appreciated all your comments. My brother and I have worked hard to get her estate in order over the last few weeks, and I’ll soon be back at my writing desk full-time again. Mum would have been appalled if she’d known that she’d inadvertently gate-crashed the release of AUTUMN: INFERNO. You see, she wasn’t a horror fan by any stretch of the imagination, but she supported my work tirelessly over the years and was one of my most ardent cheerleaders.

It was easy to take her support for granted. She used to infuriate me, if I’m honest. There were endless interrogations for news/gossip whenever I saw her, and I used to cringe whenever I released something new and she forced herself to read it out of motherly loyalty. She’d always report back with “it was quite good”, or “I enjoyed it (but it’s not my kind of thing)” when it was clear she’d had to force herself to finish every sentence, and I was forever telling her not to put herself (and me) through it every time I released a new book. She’d never been a lover of apocalyptic fiction, and nothing I wrote was going to change that! All that said, it will be strange when I next write a sex scene or a violent action scene filled with explicit language… I won’t be cringing inwardly thinking “Mum’s going to read this…”

As Pete and I have emptied the house, we’ve been forced to go through her most private things. Our parents’ love letters to each other, keepsakes and mementos, trinkets that meant everything to Mum, but nothing to anyone else.

I was talking to one of my daughters the other day about the transitory nature of memories. I have a cardboard box full of what can only be described as crap, but which I wouldn’t part with for the world. It’s filled with odds and ends that remind me of special times – mostly when Lisa and I first fell in love, and when the kids were born. I look in there and the emotion is almost overwhelming, but anyone else peeking in would just see junk: things like a perfectly preserved paper bag, a plastic roller skate keyring, a scrappy notebook filled with the track listings of mixtapes, a bunch of receipts for meals and gifts… To me, a box full of memories. To almost everyone else, a box full of rubbish.

It broke my heart when I found more memories in Mum’s purse. She’d been carrying these two scraps of paper with her for more than twenty-five years. They wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else, but to Mum they were clearly priceless. An invitation to the party Mum and Dad threw when my first book was released. Hundreds of friends, family, and neighbours piled into their back garden to eat, drink, and buy books. I know it started at 4pm, but I can’t remember when it finished… But it’s the receipt behind that touched me most. It took me a while to work out what it was for, then realisation struck – Mum posted the final edited manuscript of STRAIGHT TO YOU back to the publisher as I was at work, and she’d carried the receipt with her ever since. That release was the beginning of my writing career, the moment it stopped being a pipe-dream and became a reality.

To everyone else, these are just two dog-eared scraps of paper. To Mum – and now to me – they’re so much more than that.

An explanation

AUTUMN: INFERNO was released a week ago, but I’ve barely been online and I’ve not promoted it at all. I wanted to explain why.

Last Tuesday morning, my mum was taken ill. She deteriorated rapidly and sadly passed away on Wednesday afternoon. The end was swift and relatively painless for her, so we’re grateful for small mercies. It was what she wanted. My brother and I were with her at the end, and in these difficult times for the NHS, we’ll be forever thankful for that. The staff who looked after her were wonderful, and she received nothing but the best care and absolute respect and dignity.

I wanted those of you who’ve ordered signed copies of the new book directly from Infected Books or Etsy to know that all copies have been dispatched and should be with you shortly (if you’ve not already received them). I’m going to take a few weeks out to focus on my family and on sorting out Mum’s affairs, so things will be even quieter than usual around here for a while.

To those of you who’ve already picked up and enjoyed INFERNO, thank you. I’m thrilled with the reactions from folks who’ve already read it. It’s available now in all the usual places. Please don’t delay if you want a signed copy or if you have questions about an order you’ve already placed. I have plenty of copies in stock, and I’ll be checking emails and dispatching orders daily.

It’s very nearly Christmas… Happy Holidays!

It’s my last afternoon in the office before I pause for Christmas and the New Year, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to wish everyone the very best for the upcoming holidays. We’ve all had a difficult couple of years, and whilst I don’t think for a second that we’ll be completely out of the woods in 2022, I’m cautiously optimistic that – if we can hold ourselves together and resist the urge to dive down media-fuelled, conspiracy theory laden rabbit holes – things will start to improve.

Before I disappear I’d like to share an offer, a reminder, and a recommendation.

The offer – in anticipation of the release of AUTUMN: INFERNO in January, the eBook version of AUTUMN: DAWN is available for 99c/99p from all your usual eBook outlets. If you haven’t started reading THE LONDON TRILOGY, this is a great way to start.

The reminder – limited edition signed hardcovers and signed paperbacks of AUTUMN: INFERNO are available for pre-order from Infected Books. They’ll be shipping from mid-January, and anyone who pre-orders will receive a complementary ebook version of the new novel in advance of its official release on 25 Jan. If everything goes to plan at this end, you could be reading the book before the end of 2021 (ie next week).

The recommendation – have you seen ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE? It’s the best Scottish Christmas zombie musical I’ve ever seen. Cheesy as hell, but a lot of gory fun and it’s well worth a watch. The trailer is below and if you’re in the UK, you can stream the movie now on Amazon Prime.

There’s lots of good stuff coming up from me, so I hope to see you soon in 2022. In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

Joe McKinney

So sad to hear of the passing of Joe McKinney. Joe was one of the first fellow zombie authors I got to know well, though I hadn’t spoken to him for a number of years. Way back when I was starting out (when the zombie sub-genre was first starting to become established, actually) Joe’s books were everywhere, and rightly so. DEAD CITY, FLESH EATERS and his other novels were hugely popular. Our paths crossed quite a few times, and I was honoured to write the foreword to DEAD WORLD RESURRECTION – an outstanding collection of his zombie short stories.

Rest in peace, Joe. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

This accelerating rate of change

The title of this post is part of a line from an old PETER GABRIEL song, and the fact I’m thinking of it as an old song just highlights the point I wanted to make. The song’s called ‘Downside Up’, if you’re interested, and the full line is “The only constant I am sure of, is this accelerating rate of change”. It was released over 20 years ago, but it doesn’t seem 5 minutes. All of a sudden, time seems to have sped up rapidly in my little corner of the world.

I’m telling you this for writing-related reasons, so bear with me.

A couple of weeks ago was the one year anniversary of my heart attack. Last November I turned 50. In March I became a grandfather for the first time. Now, I don’t feel any older or any different than I did at the beginning of 2020, but clearly time is marching on!

Long story short, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reassessing; working out what I want from life for me and my family, and what I’m hoping to achieve. The first step happens this week, when I return to full-time writing for the first time since 2014. Those of you who’ve been following me for a while might remember that I had a bit of a ‘falling out’ with writing back in 2014 and I got myself a real job because I was in desperate need of a) human contact, and b) a reality check. I happened to find a job that I really enjoyed and that was suited to my skills, and in what felt like the blinking of an eye, the 12 months I’d planned to spend in employment somehow became 6 and a half years. I continued to write throughout, but the time I had to promote and talk about my work dried up. I love what I write, and I’m very proud of the body of work I’ve so far produced, but I regret not being able to make more of a noise about it recently.

That all changes with AUTUMN: DAWN. The book is going to be released on 31 May 2021 as a paperback, ebook and limited edition hardcover. Limited edition pre-orders will be opening within the next week, and ANYONE WHO PRE-ORDERS THE HARDCOVER WILL BE ABLE TO DOWNLOAD AND READ THE EBOOK VERSION OF THE NOVEL STRAIGHT AWAY!

Seriously, I can’t wait for you to be able to dive into the new trilogy. I’m planning on doing a Facebook Live thingy (or similar) shortly before release so that I can answer your questions about the new books.

Please follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to make sure you don’t miss any news. There’s a LOT of stuff on the way.

Stefan Cush (The Men They Couldn’t Hang)

Some sad news to share. STEFAN CUSH from THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG died suddenly last week from a heart attack. He was 60. As many of you may remember, TMTCH made a memorable appearance in the first HATER novel. While I was writing the book back in 2006, I was in touch with Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers from the band who’d enjoyed the AUTUMN books. We got chatting and he made an off-hand comment about adding him as a character in a future book. I’d just written the scene in HATER where Danny and Lizzie are at a rock concert and all hell breaks loose when one of the band members starts attacking the others, mid-set. Cut a long story short – the band in the book became TMTCH, and it was Swill who did the attacking, but the rest of the lads were very accommodating and they all made an appearance. I was lucky enough to see the band a few years later, and they were magnificent.

Stefan Cush performing live in 2017 CREDIT: Lorne Thomson/Redferns

There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think about how lucky I am to still be alive after my heart attack last April. Since my illness, I’ve been in contact with many people who’ve either had a heart attack themselves or who’ve lost loved ones. Very sadly, a member of my family passed away unexpectedly last weekend after suffering a massive heart attack. Without wishing to preach, I’d urge everyone to be aware of their own heart health. I know that health services around the world are under unprecedented strain right now, but please do seek advice if you have any concerns. If I’d not received such brilliant treatment from the NHS last April, I doubt I’d be here today.

My deepest condolences to go out to Cush’s family, friends, fellow band members and fans. A Crowdfunder drive is currently running to support his children with funeral costs. You can find the details here.

Missing in Action

When the lockdown began, I promised visitors to this site more regular updates. Things started well, and I gave away a load of audiobooks and ebooks and recommended a decent short film. And then it all came to an abrupt halt. I wanted to write a brief post to explain my sudden absence, and to thank the people who’ve helped me through it.

Two weeks ago today, I had a heart attack.

It came out of the blue. My dad suffered years of heart-related problems at the end of his life, and I was determined my life would take a different route. I did everything I should – I sorted out my diet to reduce my cholesterol and lost weight, I exercised several times a week, I took steps to sort out my high blood pressure… At 8:00am on Tuesday 14 April, I can honestly say I felt in better shape than I ever had. Ten minutes later, though, it was a very different story.

I’ll cut to the chase. My family are incredible, and our NHS is second-to-none. Within an hour or so of suffering the attack, I was in hospital and undergoing treatment. Within three hours I was sitting up in bed in the coronary care unit of the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, feeling well enough to be able to send my wife and kids the picture below.

I’m doing well now, all things considered. Because of the quick response time, there’s barely any damage to my heart, and I’m hopeful that within a few months I’ll be back to normal (whatever normal is these days). But there’s no question that this has been a life-changing experience. I was very fortunate, but when something like this happens, it’s easy to think ‘what if…?’. Things could have been very, very different. The outcome could have been much, much, much worse.

So I just wanted to let you know I’m still around and I’ll be back at work soon. The real purpose of this post, however, is to publicly thank some folks. Firstly, to my wonderful wife Lisa and my amazing kids. I’m a very lucky man. I put you all through hell that morning, and I’m sorry. Thank you from the bottom of my (now improved) heart for your love and support. I pride myself on usually being able to string a few words together, but I could never express how much I love you all. Also, to my extended family and friends – I will never forget the outpouring of emotion and the deluge of good wishes I’ve had from so many folks. It’s enough to bring a tear to this grumpy old bugger’s eye. Actually, who the hell am I kidding? I’ve been reduced to tears on many occasions since my ‘mishap’ (as my youngest daughter Zoe has labelled it).

I also want to pay tribute to everyone at the QE hospital, and to the NHS as a whole. I received incredible care, delivered at astonishing speed. In normal circumstances that would be remarkable enough, but I had a heart attack at the peak of the most serious and wide-reaching health crisis in living memory. I am simply in awe of the NHS and will be forever grateful for the treatment I received.

So there you go. It’s been a tricky couple of weeks. If my 2020 was a novel, no one would publish it because it would be too far-fetched! In all seriousness, though, wherever you are, please give your loved ones a hug and also show your appreciation for the many thousands of healthcare workers keeping us all safe and well at this unprecedented time.

The longer, the better (sometimes)

All my recent talk of book launches and anniversaries has left me thinking about what I’ve achieved as a writer and what I still want to achieve. If I think of my career in terms of how a farmer manages their fields, then I’d say I’m currently in a fallow period after a couple of pretty decent harvests. I caught the crest of two waves originally when I a) started publishing independently before most others, and b) wrote about zombies just as the living dead became massively popular. And then, a few years later, I enjoyed another prolonged purple patch when Guillermo del Toro somehow stumbled on a copy of HATER and, for a time, everyone wanted a bit of me.

But writing is a fickle, unpredictable business. Just ask my friend Joseph D’Lacey who recently posted this brutally honest piece about his career.

For those of us who just happen to love writing and who hate self-publicising with a passion, being an author is not the easiest of career choices. You keep doing it because you can’t stop, and with every page you write you convince yourself that this could be the next big thing, even though you know that competition to actually be the next big thing is impossibly fierce. And then when you’ve finished writing and you hand your work to someone else to read, all the confidence you’ve built up evaporates and turns to crippling self-doubt. Well it does for me, anyway.

A frustrating amount of this is completely out of the writer’s control. You don’t control the market, you have no influence on current trends, you can do little to make sure yours is the right book seen in the right place at the right time… and yet, we keep at it. Sometimes even the very thing you’re trying to write can conspire against you.

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