I sold a story!

My story, ‘The Village of the Cats’, has been accepted for publication in Alternative Apocalypses, an anthology to be published by B Cubed Press. It’s going to be launched at World Con!

I’m really excited! It’s been a long time since I had anything new in print, and I’ll admit, it was getting me down. The combination of PhD + illness meant that the momentum I started building around 2008-12 just kind of… stopped. In all aspects of my writing, really. But earlier this year I decided to get serious about my submissions again. I bit the bullet and signed up to Duotrope and I sent all the stories I still believe in out on submission, and I kept sending them out when they came back.

Duotrope, for those unfamilliar, is a service that offers listings and a sophisticated search engine to writers that helps them find markets relevant to the genre and pay level they want to publish at. You can also use it to track your submissions and their listings contain detailed information about response rates, acceptance rates, and sometimes interviews with the publishers about what they’re looking for. The catch is that you have to pay a nominal monthly fee.

I’m a firm believer in Yog’s Law: that money flows towards the author. I never wanted to pay that fee. Especially when a professional pay rate is only $0.08 per word, and very few markets pay that rate. The most I have ever received for my work is still the £25 Amazon voucher I got for the first story I ever sold: a piece of flash fiction that was recorded as a podcast by Radio Ryedale. Flash fiction is usually paid by flat fee rather than by word, and £25 is very good compensation compared to the $10 that I most often see offered in the market. You can see why, in this market, it’s important that the writer – the person who produces the content that makes the publication possible – shouldn’t have to spend any money before they are accepted.

I’ve been a loyal user of Ralan.com for years. Like, since the 1990s. If you click through that link, you’ll see that the website has not changed since the 1990s, and yet it has won multiple awards. That’s for a very good reason. Ralan is always up to date, and offers comprehensive listings for pro, semi-pro, pay, token, anthologies, books, flash fiction, and contests. It covers science fiction, fantasy, horror, and humour markets. It says which markets are open, what genres they accept, what they pay, what word lengths they accept, how quickly you’re likely to get a response, and how you can submit. It’s a free service and all in all it’s pretty good.

But I hadn’t had any success for a few years, and something had to change. Some of my best stories are for very niche audiences and I needed to widen my scope. So I gave Duotrope a go. There is a free trial – so it’s worth checking out just to see the extent of services on offer.

I wouldn’t have found this market without Duotrope. It also gave me the very useful perspective that most of the markets I had been submitting to had a 99% rejection rate, so the fact that I was even getting positive and personal rejections was a good sign.

According to B Cubed Press’s Facebook group, they had over 900 submissions for the anthology, which means they only accepted 3%. My story was in that 3%.

And I think it’s a really good fit. Long time readers will know that I’m a fan of apocalyptic fiction, but I tend to get frustrated with a lot of the popular tropes. I don’t think the majority of people will default to violent, tribe-based behaviour if the trappings of modern civilisation were to be destroyed. The implications for human nature in such tropes are very negative, philosophically troubling, and frankly out-dated. Humans are fundamentally co-operative, social creatures. And I don’t think enough attention is given to the ‘softer’ skills that would be needed in a post-apocalypse environment, especially farming and textile creation. The ‘Village of the Cats’ very much reflects this perspective, and it is an Alternative Apocalypse. I’m so glad it’s found a home in an anthology that’s all about offering a fresh take on one of my favourite genres.

And I’m currently planning to be at World Con, so I’ll get to be there for the launch!

Stay tuned for more details as we move towards publication.

The Apocalypse Allotment No. 3: Rhubarb

A magnificent rhubarb plantOne of the joys of adopting an allotment for your post-apocalypse life is finding plants the previous owners have planted that you can take over with a minimum of fuss. I was particularly lucky in that my apocalypse allotment came with rhubarb! Not all that surprising, considering I live in Yorkshire, home of the Rhubarb Triangle. Whilst rhubarb is native to Siberia, it does very well in the rich soils and cold wet winters of Yorkshire. And as my internet handle, ‘Rhube’, is short for ‘Rhubarb’, growing rhubarb is not only a delight, but a must!

Rhubarb is a striking plant with wide green leaves and thick, tart edible stems. The stems are mostly pink, and tend to be pinker the less sunlight they see. Rhubarb can be ‘forced’ by keeping the plant in darkness (or near darkness) so that the stems grow fast, tall, and neon pink, making for the tastiest, tenderest, pinkest eating. I’ve tried it for the first time this year, and let me tell you – it works!

Forcing Rhubarb

Rhubarb with a pot over it

Forcing Rhubarb

Rhubarb farms keep rhubarb in massive, dimly lit barns, but in the apocalypse we don’t have that luxury (or the need for quite that much forced rhubarb!). The small subsistence farmer can achieve the same results on a more manageable scale by placing a large tub or other container over the plant just as the leaves begin to poke from the soil.

To the right, you can see that I have used a very large plant pot, but you could also use an up-turned bin or other container. As you can see, my rhubarb patch is very large, and I was never going to be able to force the whole clump, so I’m just covering one section. These photos don’t really reflect scale, but that is a very big plant pot. Rhubarb grows very big. Note also that I have weighed down the pot with rocks, this is partly because the weather is very wind here, but also because rhubarb grows fast and tall, and I don’t want the rhubarb forcing the pot off itself too easily.

The result, within a couple of weeks, was very pink stems, ready to be picked!

Forced rhubarb

Note how much greener and larger the leaves are on the unforced patches of the clump. It’s perfectly possible to pick and eat unforced rhubarb (and I intend to!) but the forced stuff is pinker, less tough, and more flavourful. I mean, all rhubarb is pretty flavourful, but if, for instance, you want to make bright pink jam, instead of muddy brown jam, forced rhubarb is the way to go.

Finding Rhubarb

By May you’re not going to have any trouble figuring out if you have rhubarb in the land you’ve usurped, but in February, March, and early April you could easily miss it. Rhubarb becomes completely invisible in the winter months, retreating below the soil and lying dormant in its massive roots. This is what rhubarb looks like just as it begins poking through the soil:

Baby Rhubarb

Keep an eye out for the small, wrinkly green leaves. These leaves, which start out tiny and tightly packed, will inflate into the huge leaves seen above.

Separating Rhubarb

As mentioned above, my patch is huge and old. The advantage of finding rhubarb someone else planted is that you can pick it as soon as it’s ready. If you’ve looted* a rhubarb plant from a store, you need to give it a year to establish before you start harvesting. It’s much better to check out what other people have left behind and take over a plot with an already established clump. Every year I harvest more rhubarb than I can possibly eat – this is a plant that will give you plenty to trade, or to preserve in jams for the winter!

The disadvantage to having an old, well-established rhubarb clump is that the clump gets pretty crowded. The large flower spike shown below looks impressive – good enough to frighten a triffid!

Rhubarb with a flower stalk


Unfortunately, a rhubarb that is flowering is a rhubarb that is diverting energy away from growing those lovely edible stems. The rhubarb plant grows this when it’s getting too crowded and wants to spawn young somewhere else. The reality is that the seeds are likely to  fall around the plant and make it more crowded. It’s basically not ideal all round. If you see a flower spike, break or cut it off at the base. Sometimes it will just snap off, but rhubarb plants are tough, and you may need shears.

The best solution to overcrowded rhubarb is to split up your clumps every five years, preferably in early spring when the plant is dormant or just starting to grow. I’ve had my allotment for five or six years now, and I don’t think the old guy who had it before could have had the strength to split this stuff up, so it had gotten waaaay overcrowded in my clumps. I had to do something about it.

Here’s what you do: loosen the soil all around your rhubarb with a fork, then, if possible, lift up the whole clump. This was not possible with my ancient clump. Rhubarb roots are huge and all tangled up. Some of the roots were nearly as thick as my wrist. I had to just lift it up as much as I could, and then move on to step two.

Step two is to get a spade and chop your rhubarb down the middle, or wherever is convenient to split it up. I wish I had taken photos of this, but it was some of the toughest physical labour I have ever engaged in and I was kind of busy. I also made the  mistake of trying to separate my rhubarb using only a fork. Don’t do that. Use the sharpened spade you keep around for decapitating zombies. The fork got stuck. Me and my friend used feet and hands and fork and everything wrestling the clump apart. It was hard work, let me tell you!

I had two friends who had wanted rhubarb of their own for years, and I don’t have room in my allotment for more rhubarb – my rhubarb is already overcrowded! So I separated off two chunks, which they took and put in some mud. A lot of mud. Rhubarb needs a lot of space, and if you do decide to grow it in a pot, make sure it is a HUGE pot. I still had a clump left over, which, because I had nowhere to put it, I left on the surface of the soil to… deal with later. Two weeks later, it looked like this:

A tangled ball of rhubarb roots, still growing

I have neglected this poor thing to high heaven, and it’s STILL GROWING. Friends, this is a survivor. Keep this thing in your land just for inspiration, tbh.

General Rhubarb Care

Rhubarb doesn’t need a lot of looking after, it’s pretty hardy. It comes from Siberia, for God’s sake! The main thing is it likes a lot of water. Look at it. It’s HUGE. But at the same time, it has giant roots and can survive dry periods pretty well. If you live in a desert climate… no, OK, this isn’t going to work, but rhubarb is ideal for temperate or cold climates.

Keep it watered. Pull stems from the moment they look long enough until June. Don’t pull too many stems at once – make sure you leave the plant enough leaves to photosynthesise with – and it will keep on producing for you. There will be stems on into the summer, but if you stop pulling in June you allow the plant to top up its energy reserves for the winter.

You’ll have a great crop of rhubarb for use in pies, crumbles, jams, and even just eating raw with sugar. But remember – the leaves are poisonous, so only eat the stem!

*Remember! Only loot after the world has ended!


Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 7: Who’s Next?, by Tom Lehrer

Everything was a bit bleak last week with Barry MacGuire’s protest song, ‘Eve of Destruction‘, so here’s the wonderful Tom Lehrer to brighten up the nuclear bunker.

Released the same year as ‘Eve of Destruction’, 1965, ‘Who’s Next?’ makes for an interesting contrast in terms of ways to respond to tragedy and impending doom. Where MacGuire’s song looked on nuclear proliferation and the state of global politics with bitter anger at the inevitability of destruction, Lehrer’s laughs at the morbid ridiculousness of the escalating arm’s race. Each country that gets the bomb has it’s own justifications – that their possession of the bomb will somehow make the world a better place:

First we got the bomb and that was good
‘Cause we love peace and motherhood!

Each verse brings a shift in key as new countries ‘up the ante’ by getting the bomb, increasing the sense of things spiralling out of control. Tom Lehrer’s warm-but-slightly-nervous laughter forms the perfect accompaniment to his lyrics. He captures both the fear at watching events you can’t control and the humourous absurdity – laughing because, well, what else is there to do?

The atomic bomb is not the present threat that it seemed to be in the Cold War. Arms reduction treaties have seen a dramatic fall in the number of nuclear weapons possessed by both the USA and Russia. But they still each have about 5,000 nuclear warheads currently, and seven other states are known or believed to have nuclear weapons. It’s estimated that it would take less than 100 – maybe as little as ten – atom bombs to destroy the world. It’s estimated that there are currently 16,000.

You have to laugh.


Rather frustratingly, I haven’t been able to find a legal digital download for this. You can buy it from US Amazon on the Tom Lehrer Collection CD, but that’s it. If anyone knows a way to legally obtain this as an mp3, please do provide links in the comments!

Otherwise… you can always listen to it as a part of the Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse playlist on YouTube.

Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 6: Eve of Destruction, by Barry McGuire

Content note: there is no official video of ‘Eve of Destruction’, as it was written in 1965. The most popular video on YouTube for it is featured below, but please note that it contains numerous distressing and graphic images from warfare.

As an alternative, I have also included a fanmade video that mixes up the Barry McGuire version with a version performed by the character Larry Underwood in The Stand – the mini-series. I discuss both versions below.

Barry McGuire version:

The Stand fanmix:

‘The Eve of Destruction’ is a powerful protest song written by P F Sloan in 1965 and most famously performed by Barry McGuire. Under the threat of atomic warfare, with American youth drafted into the war in Vietnam, and with the unrest of the civil rights movement responding to racial violence, this song was written for a time of turmoil and pain. McGuire reportedly recorded  this most famous iteration in one sitting, and the building bile, anger, and disgust in his tone speaks to an immediacy of emotion that evokes a visceral reaction in the listener.

The lyrics tie the song to specific events of the time. ‘You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin” speaks to the draft for the Vietnam War. ‘Even the Jordan river has bodies floating’ speaks to the conflict in the Middle-East. Lyrics such as ‘marches alone can’t bring integration’ and ‘Think of all the hate there is in Red China/Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama’ refer to both the Selma Voting Rights Movement marches and the violent response to them, especially by police (as well as to the ideological tensions between a capitalist USA and Communist China). The narrator of the song calls attention to the hypocrisy of white, middle-class America maintaining a pretense of normalcy in the face of such tumultuous times:

You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace

It’s a call to action and a call to awareness. It’s tempting to see the reference to the ‘Eve of destruction’ as a metaphor, likening events to apocalypse times, but I feel that ignores the very real fears laid starkly bare in the song. The atom bomb is real. The threat of conflict with China is real. The war in Vietnam is real. The racial violence in America is real. There is a wealth of truth and pain hidden under words like ‘racial tensions’, which can be used to sanitise very real violence, dissuade real action. There is a temptation amongst comfortable classes to handwring in the face of such events and say ‘What can we do?’, hoping it will go away, which is reflected in lyrics such as:

Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

(emphasis mine)

Expressing distress and then going  back to living your life doesn’t change laws. The (literally) visceral simile ‘my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin” stands in stark contrast to the lack of action of those in power referenced later in the verse. And it’s a challenge to this listener. It takes familiar metaphors like ‘blood boiling’ and uses a less sanitised description to force a confrontation with how accustomed we have become to injustice. To say your blood is boiling isn’t enough. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. Whilst at the same time the narrator rages at his own hypocrisy – he’s just sitting here contemplating whilst the world disintegrates. The song’s building pace of anger hits a wall of lack of resolution that drives the listener directly to the stalling frustration the song describes.

How can we not literally be on the eve of destruction when so much is wrong and there are no solutions?

[How can you] tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction

One of the most powerful and frustrating aspects of the song is its continued relevance. The lyrics tie directly to specific events happening right then in 1965. It is galling to find them still so relevant now.

This year sees the release of Selma, the film that deals with the events referenced in this song. And the film finds itself relevant not simply as an echo of the events of the 60s – the US has again been torn by racially motivated violence, police brutality, and nationwide protest. Whose blood does not boil in this, black history month, to find that a town named ‘Ferguson’ has become synonymous with protest and brutality, just as a town named ‘Selma’ was fifty years ago?

Whose gut does not sink as ISIS rises as a response to intervention by the US and its allies in an unjust war? Who does not look to Russia’s expansionist efforts with concern?

How are we back here again?

Are we not on the eve of destruction?

I enjoy apocalyptic music. I enjoy apocalyptic fiction. But there are two sides to that enjoyment. One is an escapist fantasy – wipe the world away with all its wrongs and leave me in peace. One is the tapping into very real worries, fears, angers. It can sometimes feel as though the first side is a cheap cashing in on the second. There is so much real pain and anguish and destruction in this world, how could one selfishly fantasise about more?

I first met this song not as a protest song, but in its cameo appearance in The Stand, the mini-series based on the Stephen King book, featured above. Larry Underwood is shown singing the song whilst perched on a broken down car in a traffic jam caused by people who died of the plague as they attempted to flee the city. Behind him, Des Moines burns. He is a man who was a successful musician before the apocalypse, and his success came from cultural appropriation of ‘brown sound’ – African American music and culture. Yet he had been unhappy in his success; there is an extent to which he is freed by this disaster. This formerly somewhat slimy individual will go on to become a hero.

As a teenager I loved this novel and the mini-series adaptation intensely. But as an adult I do recognise its issues. Women support men who go off to war. They take care of and tolerate the men who try to claim them sexually. A magical black woman, Mother Abigail*, enables four white men to go off and save the world. And the ‘saving’ is a rebuilding of the old structures, presented as good, in opposition to the satanic figure of Randall Flagg and his vision of sin and sexual freedom.

The fiction we love can be problematic sometimes. And sometimes the reason we love a thing can be as problematic as they are important to us. Sometimes we can desire destruction in our distress at current pains. Can apocalyptic fiction, art, and music be problematic? Yes. But I think part of its appeal is in the confrontation of our own conflicting desires. I don’t wish anyone dead, but sometimes I wish the rest of the world could be made to go away. Especially when it is hard and painful and its problems irresolvable.

‘Eve of Destruction’, by Barry McGuire is available from Amazon and iTunes.

Listen to the full apocalyptic playlist on YouTube – new songs added every Tuesday lunchtime (ish).

Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 5: Don’t Fear the Reaper, by Blue Öyster Cult

This one is an apocalypse classic. Whilst not strictly mentioning the end of the world, the spirit of racing against death, laughing in the face of death, is strong with this one. It is perfectly suited to the idea of living life to the full in a dying world, its minor key and memorable uneasy riffs conveying the sense of bitter sweet abandon – fear and rush.

Which is no doubt why it was chosen for the opening of the cult classic mini-series adaptation of Stpehen King‘s The Stand. After a deadly super-flu, Captain Tripps, is accidentally released from a top secret research facility, ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ plays as we scan over the bodies of scientists, children, and guards, and we know: the race against death has begun.

I was a teenager when I first heard that song whilst watching these opening titles. I had recently read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower* and was on a real King fix. And the apocalypse? That had always been my bag, but not least for a lonely girl who wished, as many a lonely girl had before her, that the rest of the world might just be swept away. A mercurial mix.

I still get chills listening to this. It makes you want to be the one who doesn’t fear the Reaper, who takes someone’s hand and runs away to live in the moment whilst the rest of the world goes to hell.

Don’t fear the Reaper, dear readers. Listen to his music instead.

‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ is by Blue Öyster Cult, and it’s available for download from Amazon and from iTunes.

Listen to the full apocalyptic playlist on YouTube – new songs added every Tuesday luntime (ish).

*The first three novels of, that is. They were all that existed at the time.

Christmas Music for the Apocalypse playlist!

Here it is! Your complete Christmas Music for the Apocalypse 2014. Great to listen as the ash falls like snow on your presents, or even if your Christmas just feels like the end of the world and you have an aggressive urge to subvert tradition.

Track listing is below, along with the post for each track, which contains links to where you can buy/download it.


  1. Christmas at Ground Zero – Weird Al Yankovic
  2. Chiron Beta Prime – Jonathan Coulton
  3. Carol of the Old Ones – H P Lovecraft Historical Society
  4. A Post Apocalyptic Christmas – Art Elliot
  5. Death to the World – H P Lovecraft Historical Society
  6. Christmas with the Devil – Spinal Tap
  7. Post Apocalypse Christmas – Gruff Rhys
  8. Stop the Cavalry – Jona Lewie
  9. Zombie Christmas – Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler
  10. Old Men’s Brains (A Zombie Christmas) – TooFarTV
  11. Jingle Hell – Christopher Lee the only video containing the full song got deleted. You can watch the official video here.

You might also enjoy the Christmas Music for the Apocalypse list I did a few years ago for Girls Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. It has some overlap, but there are a few songs there that aren’t here and vice versa (quite a few more H P Lovecraft Historical Society tracks).

Rhube’s Christmas Music for the Apocalypse, No. 10: Old Men’s Brains (A Zombie Christmas)

‘Old Men’s Brains’, by TooFarTV, is another favourite of mine from the niche genre of zombie-themed Christmas songs. Probably the most graphically gory song in the list, it’s hard not to love a song with lyrics like:

They will eat your face

Gargle with your phelgm

They will not stop until

We’re all undead like them.

The sweet, distinctly Christmassy tune (based on ‘Old Toy Trains’, by Roger Miller) pairs perfectly with the cheerfully violent tale of survival in a zombie apocalypse.

And you can download the song for free!

Rhube’s Christmas Music for the Apocalypse, No. 9: Zombie Christmas

Apologies I missed posting the last couple of days. The trouble with freelance work is that sometimes you have to drop everything and work until the thing is done. Anyway, by way of apology, today is going to be an apocalyptic Christmas bumper pack, starting with ‘Zombie Christmas’ by Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler.

‘Zombie Christmas’ is my real find this year: original, indie work that’s been professionally produced with a great zombie-themed video to boot. Any song with lyrics like ‘Christmas has time has come/Oh man you’d better run, run run’ is alright in my book.

Buy it from iTunes.

Rhube’s Christmas Music for the Apocalypse, No. 7: Post Apocalypse Christmas

Gruff Rhys’s ‘Post Apocalypse Christmas’ somehow mixes bleak with chipper for this apocalypse themed Christmas number. It comes from his three track secular album, Atheist Xmas EP, and while I remain puzzled as to why ‘secular’ seems to have been interpreted as ‘bleak’, it’s a fun little song for the apocalypse survivor.

You can buy Atheist Xmas EP from Gruff Rhys’s website or from Amazon or iTunes.

Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 3: It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

It’s way too early in the apocalypse to get maudlin. Keeping it up beat with REM, ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ launches us into the abyss with abandon.

How does the world end? Earthquake, hurricane, fire, a government for hire, low flying planes, overpopulation, the Rapture – you name it, this apocalypse has got it. The pounding stream of consciousness lyrics that release into the slower refrain of the title perhaps capture the appeal of the apocalypse to the modern consciousness – that the hecticness and relentless slog of life in an uncertain world, attacked from all sides, is something we fanatise about being released from. However civilisation collapses, if you can come out on the other side freed of civilised burdens, maybe you’d be just fine.

You can get ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ from Amazon and iTunes. It’s also on the Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse playlist on YouTube.

P.S. watch out for the Christmas Music for the Apocalypse count down starting tomorrow!