Picture a country broken by a virus. Society falls apart. Nothing works now. Nobody knows what has happened. There are no answers. No knowledge. No rules. No science. No God. The only truth now is the desperate fight for survival. Imagine all of this seen through the eyes of a teenage boy with special needs.
Jake wakes one morning to find his mum has gone missing. Determined to find her, Jake is forced to comes to terms with what has happened to the world. Confronted by the horror, he initially struggles to make sense of everything.
Helped by the new friends he makes, Ellis, kind and resourceful, and the twins, Amber and Abe, Jake starts to develop his independence. Forced to confront the apparent difference defined by his special needs, Jake realises that this difference doesn’t matter anymore. This gives him the strength to keep going.
As they fight for survival, the four kids meet a wide range of other people also battling to stay alive and with each encounter Jake and his new friends learn a little bit more about themselves and each other. Ultimately, Jake’s story is one of hope and determination in the face of complete and utter devastation.
VIRO begins in Burton-on-Sea, a small, depressing seaside town in south-east England. The time period is the middle of the 1970s. VIRO is the world of my childhood. VIRO looks like those old children’s television series about weird kids hiding in quarries or public information films telling children not to play on building sites.
VIRO is also about all those ordinary spaces I remember as a child; playing fields and parks; industrial estates; ring roads and roundabouts; caravan parks and tower blocks; dark skies and black clouds; railway bridges and concrete steps; train tunnels and reservoirs; allotments and corner shops; parks, precincts and playgrounds; concrete and tarmac, stinging nettles pressed up against broken brick walls; Buddleia poking through rusty fences.
What are the colours of this world?
Grey. Black. The orange glow of lamp posts at night. The green of wet grass. The blue of a weak winter sky. Pale sunshine. Purple weeds. White moons. The red of blood and its various shades. Mud. Dirt. Dust. Debris.
The world of VIRO is dark, damaged and dirty. There is no hope. No knowledge. No cure.
All filtered through a haunted 70s lens.
This is what the end of the world feels like. This is the world of VIRO.
What does the world of VIRO sound like?
Imagine the sound of a distant howl, an anguished rage from afar. Imagine if that howl is always there, ever-present, like the quiet, gnawing pain from an angry tooth. Sometimes the howl subsides, or you focus on something else just long enough for the sound to not be heard in the moment, but the howl remains, the soundtrack to a broken world.
This howl is an electronic one, synthesised on many levels; a bass throb that stays in the mix at all times, just low enough to sometimes hear, the forever reminder of an extinction event. Another part higher and shriller; registered by human ears but mostly around and beyond comprehension – unsettling in the extreme.
At all points between the low and high, the howl vibrates, registering both distance and proximity. As they approach the howl grows louder and takes on human characteristics; despair, damage, insecurity, failure, terror, horror, tragedy, and all other things that exist to dampen and defeat the human spirit, but most of all, anger. The howl is an angry one, as every viro rages against the base unfairness of transformation. No one ever asked to be made a monster.
The howl is an analog howl, manufactured in the electronic sound department of a long-lost television studio making a children’s horror series about stones and psychics, time travel and demons, spirits and reservoirs and not playing on building sites. One that links the rhythms of a new nature with the throb and thrum of electric circuits.
The rest of the world is a broken silence, structured and defined by the analog howl; fractured by cries and screams; a silence where the whisper of your own voice can sound like a sceam; where the quiet horror of the night can be broken by the static burst of a field telephone.
This is what the world of VIRO sounds like.
The Main Characters
Jake is thirteen years old when the story begins. He has special needs and lives alone with his mother. They have recently moved to a new town and Jake has not yet had the chance to make any friends. Jake is physically very able but is very aware of his difference to other kids. He has accepted his difference even though it means he lacks confidence. Jake is ready to find himself and his adventures will allow him to do this. This is not to say that he isn’t horrified by the new world he discovers while looking for his mum. However, Jake takes the challenges presented by this new world head-on.
Ellis is the same age as Jake. She is friendly, confident and self-assured, with a high level of independence. However, she is not cocky just practical. She accepts Jake straight away and sees him for what he is; his difference doesn’t make any difference to her. Ellis saw her parents get attacked and though it may not always be apparent, it has understandably had a traumatic effect on her. Ellis invents the word ‘viro’ to describe the infected.
Amber is thirteen when the series begins. She is the eldest of the twins that Jake and Ellis meet in the railway tunnel. She is calm and mature but also prone to a sadness derived from the facts of her life. Her father murdered her mother and the twins were sent to live in a foster home. Their experience in the foster home was an unhappy one and the twins ran away. The fact that the virus broke out around the same time means that no one is looking for them.
Abe is younger than his twin sister Amber by three and a half minutes and this makes him competitive and prone to bursts of anger. Like all boys his age, Abe is capable of being sensible and foolish simultaneously. Abe is impetuous and keen to prove himself. He accepts Jake for who he is but as their relationship develops, he starts to see Jake as a real rival for Ellis. This later threatens to derail the gang’s survival.
Vinnie is Ellis’s brother. He is eighteen when the series begins. Vinnie is mature and intelligent and once he is reunited with his sister, Vinnie becomes the conduit between the friends and the adults that they encounter in their search for Jake’s mum. Vinnie is brave and resourceful. He is very supportive of Jake and quickly comes to value his contribution to their survival, especially when he realises the key role Jake played in keeping Ellis alive. Vinnie fully understands that the only rationale now is for everyone to simply stay alive as long as they can. He knows there is no other choice. Vinnie can also drive and this proves to be very useful.
VIRO – An Explanation
It is Ellis who invents the word VIRO to describe the infected that have overrun the world. There is no single explanation about the source of the virus and the series is permeated with conflicting stories about source and origin. The facts of there being no explanation is central to the horror of the series.
No one ever asks to be infected. The moment that you are, that moment before you turn, must be full of a lifetime remembered and about to be forgotten. That pain is brief but final. A forever pain.
There is anger. Despair. Hunger, of course. But also a notknowingness. Suddenly all thought is replaced by only instinct. Yet at the very heart of the creature there must still be the very slight and occasional reminder of a life before the virus. The twitch of an eye. A stare into space. The splinter of a fragment of a stab of a broken memory.
This is not a solitary life. Creatures gather together, swelling and swarming, driven by a collective urge to hunt and bite and rip and tear, boosting the ever-growing ranks. Swarmlike in their tendencies, they move like clouds of angry insects, their numbers forever swelling as they congregate and consume and then congregate once more. The habits of the infected are one and the same, restless and repeating, spreading, never-ending, only onwards towards the only goal, infection.
The viros look like anybody and everybody. They look like you and me. They are fully clothed. They are naked. They are ripped and ragged. Clean. Dirty. Filthy. Smeared with blood, especially around the mouth. The virus causes multiple physical reactions in its victims and this creates a wide range of possibilities for their portrayal. Aside from the blood smears, there are some common characteristics; twitches and other facial tics; a vocal range from roars to whispers to sighs and screams, all of which combine to create the chorus of some kind of horrific choir.
The VIRO series has been very well received and here is a sample of reviews:
‘I absolutely loved this book. Powerful and poignant, ‘Viro’ packs a punch. Sad and haunting, ‘Viro’ is a new take on the zombie genre. The characters are dynamic and interesting, finding strength despite their horrifying circumstances. Jake is a character that will stick with you long after the final page. The action sequences are thrilling. I was on the edge of my seat!’
‘The writing style is beautifully compelling, and after the first couple of pages I couldn’t put it down. The author very skilfully creates a world and characters through deceptively simple prose that draws the reader right in. It is a fascinating blend of one-after-the-other edge-of-the seat scares, alongside a haunting narrative about what it is to be human.’
‘A fascinating premise drives the narrative in VIRO. How would a zombie apocalypse unfold behind the eyes of a child? Jake, the central protagonist, embarks on a simple quest. He wants to reunite with his mom who has not returned home from work. From there, the reader sees the terrors of an increasing zombie infestation as Jake unites with Ellis, Abe and Amber on his journey to find her.’
‘VIRO does a good job of capturing the voice of an older child reacting to the horrors unfolding around him. His thoughts and actions are simple and emotional and age appropriate. The developing friendships and relationships between the children drive the story. You get a clear sense of each character and become emotionally invested in them and their journey.’
‘This book takes the zombie story in a different direction and that’s refreshing. It is much more unsettling to see children deal with the horrors of a zombie apocalypse than adults.’
‘This book grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. It’s fast paced and superbly thrilling! The narrative is poignant and heart-breaking as Jake’s unique voice draws you in. Highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys zombie stories. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Jake and the gang!’
‘Dark, twisted and disturbing… I can’t recommend it enough!’
‘This series is incredible. The action grabs you buy the throat and doesn’t let go. Stays with you long after the final, thrilling moments.’
What’s the future for the VIRO series? Firstly, a new revised version of all four books in the series is currently in development. Secondly, Book Five is looming on the horizon and I hope to have more news about that very soon. Thirdly, I am currently working on converting VIRO into a television screenplay, complete with a series bible and a working script.