Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Book Blogger

Review policy

PostApocalypseGirl reviews all books (e, print, audio, handwritten) on the basis of usefulness and relevance to survival. Books which contain impractical or false information, deliberate misinformation or extremist views likely to lead to endangerment can expect to receive one star. PostApocalypseGirl's reviews are impartial and cannot be influenced by donations of food, medicines or weapons.

4 out of 5 stars to How to stay online (anonymous)

This is a really useful book especially if, like me, you weren’t really a techie before it all kicked off. The instructions are fairly easy to understand, and cover key topics like choosing and running a generator and how to set up a solar panel. There’s even really basic stuff about using a mobile dongle for any real technological dinosaurs who’ve made it this far. The brilliant thing about this book is the set of maps showing mobile signal coverage from UK networks that are still functioning, and from airborne drone masts supplied by the US military. I’d have given How to stay online five stars except for the heavy-handed pro-US angle in it. Until we get to the bottom of those persistent rumours that it was a mess-up with US military biotechnology that caused this whole thing in the first place, I’m not really going for the swooning gratitude bit.

3 out of 5 stars to Fortify your home (Princess Warrior)

I had really mixed feelings about this book. There’s a lot of good information in it (yay for bricklaying! I might not have tried that if I hadn’t read this). Princess Warrior definitely knows her stuff. There are a lot of low tech ideas that you could use here, which is great if you have to conserve power like most of us do. The tripwire idea was absolute genius and doesn’t need any power to run. I also thought she made some good points about protecting your house or flat from contamination, and most of the materials she suggested using are easily scavenged. So far so good, and she’s probably saved some lives. Where the book fell down for me was Princess’s priorities. IMO it’s worth running a generator and risking the sound attracting unwelcome attention to do necessary things like run power tools. It’s definitely not worth it for a hairdryer or a ****ing foot spa!! She talks a lot about keeping up morale but frankly there’s not going to be much morale if you have looters climbing over the wall or infected people hanging around outside. Also, it’s cute that she wanted to keep her dog with her, but if it were me I’d have cut the chihuahua loose and let it take its chances. An unsecured cat flap is asking for trouble and if the dog goes in and out, who knows what it’s going to bring in on its coat? So I couldn’t really give this book more than a three star rating.

1 out of 5 stars to ESDS: A Citizen’s Guide (UK government)

I gave this booklet 1 star for trying. I suppose they had to send something out to make it look as though they were still in control, or still cared. Which was a joke after that government minister was shot trying to get into France on his private yacht! They’d all get out if they could. Probably some did, so if any of them were infected, God help the rest of the world.
Anyway, the Citizen’s Guide is pretty up itself. It never refers to "The Crumblies" – always calls the epidemic  ESDS (Explosive Spore Dispersal Syndrome), as though giving it a scientific name makes it easier to deal with.
And then there’s the section about what to do if a family member is infected. "If you hear an explosion, thump or crash from the individual’s room, DO NOT open the door. You risk infection from the dispersed spores. Instead, seal the door with duct tape or similar." Probably okay advice, although a lot of people would find that hard to do if it was their family member inside. I guess the writer realised it sounded a bit cold blooded because then it says, "You may wish to hold a prayer vigil or a short service of remembrance according to your beliefs." Actual LOLZ (and not in a good way).

0 out of 5 stars to The Herbal Cure (Witchie)

Do NOT read this book. The Herbal Cure made me so angry, if I could give it a minus star rating I would. From beginning to end it is complete rubbish, and dangerous rubbish, because if anyone relies on Witchie’s completely ****ed up ideas they are pretty much 100% guaranteed to wind up dead. OK, let me spell it out. ESDS (The Crumblies) cannot be cured by herbs taken in any combination, by essential oils, flower extracts or any kind of exclusion diet. If you want to know how to maximise your chances of not getting it, read Explosive Spore Dispersal Syndrome – a study by Dr. Asha Patel, which I reviewed last year on this blog. If you can follow the scientific lingo, you’ll understand that the only way not to die of ESDS is not to get infected in the first place. If you have been infected, the Herbal Cure is not going to help you. If someone you care about has been infected and you hang around to try treating them with herbs and flowers, you are going to die too. End of.You might choose to do that anyway, but don't do it because you think the Herbal Cure is going to keep you safe. It won't. 
I’d tell you to avoid any other books by Witchie that make it into circulation but I guess if he has followed his own advice, he’s dead by now anyway.

5 out of 5 stars to The Trumpet Shall Sound (Baroque Fan)

I have to admit I didn’t get the title of this book at first! I thought the book was going to be about music, which TBH is kind of low down my list of priorities these days because even if you can find some way of playing it, you don’t know what the sound is gonna attract. But it’s not about music at all, though apparently Baroque Fan used to be some kind of classical musician. It’s from a song by a German guy called Handel, that goes The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised (that’s one thing that hasn’t happened, thank God). Anyway I guess he chose that title because the book is about dead people, either people he knew or people he’d heard about. That sounds like a total downer but actually it’s just the opposite. It’s a collection of accounts of people who did really heroic things, like the guy who stayed with his kid even though she was infected and he knew he’d die too. There was a doctor at a hospital in Oxford who tried to treat people who were infected and caught it herself, and then recorded all the symptoms up until the end in case it would help future researchers. Loads of stories like that. And then at the end there is this bit where Baroque Fan explains that he chose that title because he didn’t want these people to be forgotten, he wanted the dead to be remembered, and in that way their memory would go on living. I have to admit I cried when I read that, but not because I was sad. Reading the book, it felt good to be human.
1 out of 5 stars to The Crumblies: a cover up (anonymous)

I guess this book is going to appeal to people who are desperate to know how ESDS started – well, I guess we all want to know, but it’s kind of water under the bridge now. This is basically a summary of every theory going. It got one star instead of no stars because the biotech-gone-wrong theory was pretty well argued. There’s an interesting point too about ESDS only affecting primates. You have to wonder about that. Bioengineering? Maybe.
Personally I wouldn’t have given any time or attention to the theories about God punishing this or that section of the population. ESDS doesn’t care who your ancestors were or who you sleep with or pray to. I think that’s been conclusively proven.
However, my real objection to this book is the long descriptions of what happens to you if you get the disease. Most of us have seen that already and we’d like to forget it. We don’t need to read about people puffing up and eventually – well, you know the rest. One star, anonymous, for grossing us all out again.

5 out of 5 stars to Plague Years Diary (NewDefoe)

I really love this book. NewDefoe and his girlfriend found the most brilliant place ever to hide out while ESDS was burning through the country: an abandoned church on an island in the middle of a Scottish lake. They discouraged other visitors by holing the other boats on the lake, and then set about making the island as self sufficient as possible. It’s astonishing how ingenious they were! There are some very funny stories in the book (*spoiler alert*), like NewDefoe’s encounter with an angry swan, but also some really moving stuff, like the birth of their baby daughter on the island, without any medical help. It’s pretty amazing to think that their little girl may be the first person to be born in post-ESDS Britain (glad it wasn’t me giving birth on the island though...). The most hilarious bit was the scene where NewDefoe breaks into the ticket kiosk (the church belongs to some historic buildings organisation) and finds ten crates of soft drinks. It’s kind of like that old film Whisky Galore only with Irn Bru.
Apparently PYD has become so popular that a publisher in the States has made a print book out of it. It’s supposed to be a best seller over there. If the UK gets out of quarantine I’d love to get a print copy one day because I love love love this book!  

5 out of 5 stars to EVACUATION! (United Nations)

It’s got the ugliest cover I’ve ever seen (fluorescent orange, anyone?!) but OMG this is the one we’ve all been waiting for!! If you see a copy of this fluttering down anywhere near you, PICK IT UP. If you don’t see one, there’s an online version. Just read it NOW!
*Spoiler alert!* (LOL) Someone’s developed a test for ESDS so infection can be picked up at the very earliest stages, even before the person knows they’ve got it. Surviving members of the UK population are going to be tested, so look out for the guys in hazmat suits! There’s still no cure, but anyone’s who’s clean is going to be airlifted out! Personally I’m hoping for a resettlement station somewhere warm – if I never go through another British winter without heating it’ll be too soon.
Make sure you read the whole booklet and follow all the instructions. Most personal belongings can’t be taken with you, so upload all your records and photos to cyberspace. Don’t leave surviving pets confined. And good luck!

This was PostApocalypseGirl's last review. I’m certified ESDS-free and shipping out tomorrow! :-) Thanks for reading my blog, and big thanks to the many people who commented. Knowing that the reviews have helped other people has given me a reason to keep going this long, even when things seemed hopeless. I guess it just goes to show, no matter how bad things are, books can make it a little bit better.
Signing off,

PostApocalypseGirl  x

Landing near you very soon: Book Blogger

Later today I'm going to try something new for me, and post a piece of short fiction on this blog (I'm still checking for typos etc lest I offend your eyes, dear reader).

I've had short stories published here and there, in the brilliant Supernatural Tales, for example, and in anthologies like the recent Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows volume 2, and hopefully that's something I'll be doing in the future too. However, there can be quite a long time lag between my writing these stories and them actually appearing in print, so I thought I'd put this story out there on my blog. It's inspired by the phenomenon of book blogging, and as the launch of my recent books has been very kindly supported by a number of bloggers, I wanted to post the story now in recognition of that, and as a thank you. You know who you are!

The story also reflects my great love of apocalypse fiction, to which I confessed in a recent piece for the Scottish Book Trust. I do like a good bit of doom! In fact, I so enjoyed writing this story that I could have gone on considerably longer. That's all I'm going to say for now. I'll be posting the story a little later.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Setting your story in the "here and now"

It's no secret that my books are inspired by real life locations and history. I've set three novels in the German Eifel and three in Flanders, and my ghost story locations include real places in Slovakia, France and Germany. If I'm going to write a scene set in a specific place - the top of a bell tower, a deserted factory, a sewer - I like to visit that place to soak up all the little details. I find real life locations inspirational - the idea for my first book, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, came to me spontaneously from the experience of living in Bad Münstereifel (pictured), where the book is set. But there are other advantages to using real places as settings. If you are familiar with the place you choose, it's unlikely you will make continuity errors about the layout and other details. When I have invented an important location in one of my books - such as the church in The Glass Demon - I have had to sketch out the layout in a notebook so that I won't make mistakes. It's hard to maintain the tension in a dramatic scene if the reader is distracted by noticing some error, eg. that the stained glass windows appear to have swapped places or the door now faces south, not west!

As well as using actual places in my writing, I also like to use another kind of landmark: key calendar events. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden begins with a terrible accident at an Advent dinner. The book also features Karneval, a celebration with carnival floats and parties that takes place early in the year, and St. Martin's Day (pictured), at which a local man dressed as the saint rides around the town accompanied by local people carrying flaming torches, and then re-enacts the story of his most famous act of charity. 

The reason the idea of using real seasonal events as the backdrop to fictional action came to mind today is that we are approaching Walpurgis Night, which features in another of my books, Wish Me Dead (the gorgeous cover art for the Latvian edition of the book is pictured below). 

Walpurgis Night is the last night of April. I didn't really know much about it until we moved to Germany in 2001. I am a great fan of ghost stories and creepy legends, whether "true life" ones or fictional, so when we moved to Bad Münstereifel I asked a few people whether there were any attached to the area. As it turns out, there are a great many local legends there, which were collected and retold by a Catholic priest, Father Krause, in the early 1900s (you can read versions of some of them in The Vanishing of Katharina Linden). However, the first few people I asked about local stories either weren't aware of those, or else didn't like to mention them. After some pressing, one person did reluctantly say that "there was Walpurgis Night." That was all I could get out of him. 

Walpurgis Night is the eve of the day of Saint Walpurga (1st May), and according to German folklore, it is the night when a great coven of witches meet on the Brocken mountain, the highest in the Harz range. As Walpurgis Night is not a tradition specific to Bad Münstereifel itself, it did not find a place in The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. But I was still intrigued by it. I liked the idea of a spooky date that was less well known than Hallowe'en, and therefore more mysterious. It became the starting-point for Wish Me Dead, as a group of teenage friends decide to visit the ruins of a notorious witch's house, because they have nothing much else to do and it's Walpurgis Night - just the right time to try a little magic of their own...

I feel sure that there are a great many other sinister calendar dates that could be used to advantage in creepy stories. Friday 13th has probably been overused by now, but how about 29th September, feast of St. Michael (pictured), the angel of death? 

Of course, there is also a whole world of possibilities in dates that are associated with resolutely un-spooky things, because of the opportunity to contrast terror with the cosiness of the chronological setting - hence our fondness for ghost stories at Christmas. It might be fun to set a scary story amongst the red satin hearts and roses of Valentine's Day, too. 

Stuck for inspiration? Look through your calendar...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

An A-Z of UKYA for UKYA Day 2015!

Sunday 12th April is UKYA Day, organised by book blogger Lucy Powrie. You can check out the schedule for this brilliant online event here:

As a UKYA author, I wanted to contribute something special to UKYA Day. So here's my A-Z of UKYA! 

A is for Amsterdam, setting of Keren David’s new novel This is not a love story!

B is for Blogger. How we would know about all the wonderful UKYA books without them?

C is for Chat. Look out for #ukyachat on Twitter to join in!

D is for Debut, and here’s one to check out: Seven Days by Eve Ainsworth.

E is for Emma. I can think of at least two Emmas who write UKYA: Emma Pass and Emma Haughton. So I’m putting them both in, for added value!

F is for Five Star Review. The rating that says, “Someone really loves this book.”

G is for GlassLisa Glass, whose UKYA novel Blue is being made into a film! Hooray!

H is for Historical, such as the brilliant Sawbones by Catherine Johnson.

I is for Ivory! Rhian Ivory’s YA debut The boy who drew the future is out in September; meanwhile Rhian tweets and retweets like fury about UKYA!

J is for Jess, heroine of Jane Casey’s UKYA crime novels How to fall and Bet your life.

K is for Kitty, the heroine of Keris Stainton’s Starring Kitty! Also kissing, which happens quite a lot in UKYA.

L is for LGBT. Check out This Book is Gay by James Dawson. “Frank and funny” said Now magazine.

M is for Malorie Blackman, the Children’s Laureate!

N is for Nottingham, where the next UKYA Extravaganza will be held!

O is for Ormand: Kate Ormand, author of Dark Days.

P is for Paperbacks. In the age of eBooks, some of us still love ‘em. Especially those of us who like to read in the bath…

Q is for Queen of Contemporary, Lucy Powrie, who organised UKYA Day!

R is for Reading, our favourite thing!

S is for Silent Saturday, the book that introduced De Jager, my nastiest serial killer ever.

T is for Twitter, the place to find @UKYAX, @yalc_uk and lots of other brilliant accounts bursting with UKYA news and views!

U is for UKYA. Obviously.

V is for Verity, from heart-stopping WW2 novel Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. V is also for vlogging, and we’re seeing more and more of that!

W is for Win! Enter the Scottish Book Trust’s competition and win a free signed copy of Urban Legends.

X is for eXtravangza UKYA Extravaganza, brilliant regional events for authors, bloggers and readers! The next one is on Saturday 10th October!

Y is for YALC, the YA Literature Convention that first ran in 2014 and is back again in July 2015.

Z is for Zoë Marriott, author of The Name of the Blade, a Japanese-inspired urban fantasy trilogy.