A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving the Frozen Wastes!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is the unforgiving frozen wasteland.

Siberia

Problem: Ice and cold
Goal: To not die
Description: Snow. Ice. Commies!
Difficulty: Harder than a hard pebble

It’s inevitable. You’re wandering about 1930s Russia when you happen across a vicious beat-down. You intervene heroically but find the aggressor is NKVD and he denounces you as a spy. Typical. The next thing you know, you are in a convoy en route to a Siberian Gulag. The plus side is that 1930s Gulag labour camps aren’t things to be made light of, so you won’t get that far. You find out why the gang leader sharing your prison truck has a smirk on his face the entire journey when the convoy is attacked by his comrades and, during the ensuing gun battle, you heroically beat a distracted guard over the head, take his stuff, and run the hell away into the frozen wastes of Siberia. Not particularly clever, but the beginning of a proper Hero’s journey.

So, now you are wandering through one of the most sparsely populated places on Earth. Sure, the temperature can reach about 20°C (68°F) in the Summer, but no Hero is going to have a pleasant stroll through a temperate outdoors. If you’re lucky, it won’t be the -69.8°C (-93.6°F) temperatures that are possible out here, but it will likely be around -25°C (-13°F). So what now?

Note 1: The first thing to not do is stop. And the first thing to do is not stop. It is stupidly cold – you may be a Capeetoleist pig-dog, so the Reds won’t chase you, but not far into the Siberian wilderness. They don’t want to freeze to death as you surely will. As you. Surely. Will. So keep running. You’ll get a decent enough head-start as far as hypothermia goes, as the exertion will keep your body temperature up. If you are lucky, the convoy won’t have any dogs along for the ride, and if they do, they’ll be preoccupied with the attackers.

Note 2: Hypothermia is bad. And there isn’t that big a temperature change required: The average core body temperature is 37°C (98.6°F), and the threshold for hypothermia is only 35°C (95°F). Rough milestones on the way to death are 32.7°C (91°F), where you will start to forget things, have trouble speaking, feel fatigued and confused, and start getting dizzy; 27.7°C (82°F), whereupon you will become clumsy, lose self-awareness, perhaps even try to take off clothing, and then fall unconscious; and finally 21.1°C (70°F), where you dead.

Note 3: Perhaps the Commie you looted had goggles, but if not, do as the Inuit do: make some goggles of your own. Use the knife that you definitely took from the guard to cut a piece of bark off a tree, obviously, and then cut narrow slits for your eyes. These natural snow goggles will help stop the driving snow slicing your eyes up, prevent snow blindness from the sun bouncing off the snow, and will make you look like some kind of Druid warlock.

Note 4: You won’t have much choice in the matter of clothing, but you should have been outfitted in wool for the conditions at the Siberian Gulag. This is good, as it is wicking – it draws the moisture away from the body rather than holding on to it. If you wear clothing that holds on to moisture from the snow and from sweating, you will freeze and die much quicker.

Note 5: Water supplies won’t be much of a problem – there’s snow everywhere which, with the druidic powers granted to you by the bark goggles, you can turn to water. Food, on the other hand, may be a problem. Wait at least a couple of days before starting to eat your own arms. You can’t afford to stop long enough to trap animals, and that guard probably didn’t have so much as a bar of chocolate on him, so you’ll have to survive on bugs. Grubs make a good meal – you know this from The Lion King. If you come across berries or mushrooms, your best bet is probably to not risk it.

Should you come across fresh kills, you will likely have to fight off the predator first, but then you’ll have meat. Cook it. You can use your knife to sharpen sticks into spears and javelins to scare off the predator from a distance. Unless it’s a pack, in which case you’ll be the next fresh kill.

Note 6: To cook your meat, and to warm up at night, you will have to make a fire, just as you did that time in the distant future when a bear stalked you through the wilderness. Do this before nightfall, when the temperature will decrease further and you will die quickly. If you are indeed in a snowy part of Siberia – and of course you are – you may find it difficult to locate dry wood. Wet logs will still burn, but they will give off less heat, more smoke, and you don’t really want to breathe too deeply around them. You’ll be unable to start a fire using wet logs, however.

Snow Fire Pit

To find dry wood, look for dead branches on leafy trees – these will be most sheltered from rain and snow, and drier because they are dead. Better still are entire dead trees that are still standing. Resin burns well, so you may need to betray your new Druid ancestry by wounding a tree. You will need kindling and logs. Again, wet logs will work if necessary. Make your own tinder by shaving off pieces of dry wood from dead branches, or breaking open a log to get at drier wood inside. Use the spinny stick in wood method, or locate flint in or on the ground, which will create a spark against your old, high-carbon knife.

To get the most out of your fire, if you have the energy and time, you can create a fire pit. Build up snow walls four or five feet from your fire – snow is insulating and will reflect the heat.

Note 7: You will need shelter at night. This is difficult in this environment, with few tools. There will probably not be nice grass, leaves, and moss to help keep you warm and block the wind. Again, snow is insulating – hence why igloos work so well. The inside of an igloo can reach around 40°C above the outside temperature. Sadly, you haven’t the tools nor the time nor the energy to put that much work into a shelter. However, you can build up some walls with compacted snow, just wide enough for you to fit in – you could even connect these walls to those you built up around the fire, helping the heat reach you where you sleep. Over the top of your little snow grave, you can lay branches and compact more snow over the top of these to create a shield against drafts – eliminate the wind chill. Try to make this sloped so that any snow melted by your body heat will not drip on you.

Note 8: Hygiene is important. Even a Hero can smell. But that isn’t the point. Rather, you need to ensure you keep clean to hold more serious health issues at bay, keep your feet dry to avoid trench foot, and rub against pine trees to smell nice when you are rescued by a pretty/handsome rescuer person.

Note 9: Now some bad news. The cold is dangerous, but you have got a handle on it. Now something more imminently dangerous needs to be added to your story. A predator. This could be a chipmunk, a flying squirrel, a musk deer (rub yourself against it to smell even nicer, probably), wolves, a brown bear, or an Amur leopard. This will depend on where you are and what the hell you did to be hunted by a squirrel, of all things.

Worse news. You are a Hero. The predator won’t be any of these things. It will be a Siberian tiger. The world’s largest cat, 11 feet and 320kg (700lb) of muscle, claws and teeth, is prowling somewhere behind you. It’s too good a hunter to let you see it, but you Hero senses are tingling. More bad news: within the next 10 years, hunting will have driven these tigers to the brink of extinction, so you can’t hurt it.

You should still be carrying your spears and javelins. You’ll need them – but don’t throw anything at it before it makes a move, as it will answer aggression with aggression. Like a goose. Do not run from the tiger. If you can locate its approximate position, back away from it. It will attack more readily when your back is turned. If you have some time, you can cut more bark from a tree, and fashion it into a kind of mask. If this can be fitted to the back of your head, you will look ridiculous. But you may also fool the tiger into thinking you are looking at it, causing it to be more cautious about attacking.

If the tiger does attack, try to befriend it, perhaps with a song. You have a couple of seconds to do so. Loud noises unfamiliar to it may frighten it. As a last resort, you will have to try to wound it. You’ll be hard pressed to still be a likeable Hero if you kill or seriously hurt an endangered tiger, but if you wound it enough it will retreat. Alternatively, find a bear and goad them both into fighting each other.

Note 10: The home stretch. But not really, because you’re still in Siberia and you probably don’t live in Siberia. But with the harsh wasteland all but tamed, and the man-eating tiger frightened off, your story is winding down. You’re not safe yet, though. You have to pass around villages now, full of people who will happily kill you for the bounty placed on the heads of escaped Gulag prisoners. You may be tempted to sneak into a village to steal food and clothing, but this is unwise. Doing so may turn your story into an epic trilogy. Just leave.

Siberian Tiger

Congratulations: Siberia has been conquered. Now you could be anywhere. Except places that aren’t Mongolia, China, Russia, and the Arctic Ocean. The most Hero-worthy outcome will be that you pass into Mongolia and then have to cross the Gobi desert, in which case it’s lucky you already know how to survive the desert. That will probably be the sequel, unless you are crossing the desert to infiltrate a Siberian Gulag, in which case reverse everything. Now you are stalking a tiger and demolishing shelters. Are you the villain now?

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…a thing that isn’t this thing!

A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving the Desert!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is the unforgiving desert wasteland.

Desert

Problem: Sand and heat
Goal: To not die
Description: Sand. Sun. No Surf. Possibly Jawas
Difficulty: Difficult

The Sahara. The Mojave. Most of Australia. As a Hero, sooner or later you are going to find yourself in a hot desert (which have subtle differences to colder deserts such as the Arctic and Antarctica). Perhaps you are drifting through in your cool drifter way and stop for the wrong hitch-hiker; perhaps you’re unlucky enough to have another plane crash; perhaps your brother’s killer has a cattle ranch in the middle of Texas. Whatever the case, it’s going to inevitably end up with you stranded in the middle of a sea of sand, uncomfortably warm. If you are going to make it back to civilization to go on a rampage against your evil twin/traitorous hiking guide, you’ll first need to survive the harsh harshness of the desert.

This naturally being the worst desert a Hero could find themselves in, it will probably be about 3.5 million square miles and 45°C (113°F) during the day. The sand itself will be somewhere around 80°C (176°F), so you’d better hope your evil nemesis didn’t swipe your sandals. First, brush up on your Hero’s Handbook of Sand, and then set to.

Note 1: What are you wearing? White clothing will reflect more heat, but black will better protect against those UV things the sun throws at you. What is your clothing made of? Wool and some synthetic materials are wicking – they draw moisture away from the skin. This is not what you want in an environment where dehydration will kill you. Wear that nice, wide-brimmed straw hat you brought, as well as gloves and sunglasses. Cover as much skin as you can – particularly your head and neck.

Note 2: Your eyes are going to be subjected to a lot of bright light and you don’t want them to get damaged. If you don’t have sunglasses, cut – or tear in a manly or womanly, but above all Hero-y, fashion – a strip of material from inside your crashed plane or wrecked Jeep. Cut two very small slits in this for your eyes and wrap it around your head like a Ninja Turtle. Failing this, simply wrapping material thin enough to see through over your eyes will be better than nothing.

Note 3: In the unlikely event that you want people to find where you went (not very Hero-ish of you) or to backtrack, arrange stones into arrows now and then as you go, or carve into the ground. Build a smoky fire, maybe by dropping a grenade through your wrecked car’s window.

Note 4: Move at a steady speed. You don’t want to dally and you don’t want to dilly, but you also don’t want to walk too fast, overheat, and work up a sweat. If you sweat, you dehydrate; if you dehydrate, you die. Don’t sweat it! …Literally. Also breathe through your nose and only eat small amounts of food to avoid becoming more thirsty. Don’t bother rationing water – drink as much as you can, whenever you can. Don’t drink urine, but do use it to wet whatever you wrapped around your head to avail of evaporation’s cooling effect.

During the day, create shade with the pop-up Bedouine tent you have in your bag of holding or mini-Tardis. Otherwise, try to find other ways to create shade, or shelter in a cave. If you are in the kind of desert that has caves, be careful entering, lest it already be home to something. If possible, sleep on a platform raised off the ground – remember how hot the sand gets?

Note 5: Unless absolutely necessary, do not travel during the day. It is more cinematic, but a lot hotter. Nights in the desert can be very cold. The temperature could even fall below 0°C. Travelling will keep your body temperature up, but now is also the time to wear the warmer clothes you packed in your unexpectedly-stranded-in-the-desert kit. Wicking fabric is preferable in low temperatures when sweating, as the sweat will lower your temperature, but any sweating will, again, dehydrate you. So continue to not sweat.

Note 6: To find water, your options are limited. If you see any kind of vegetation, head towards it. If there is water around it, like an oasis, do not immediately drink it. Build a fire and boil it if possible, as it will most likely be highly contaminated. At the absolute minimum, filter it through sand. Don’t bother trying to cut open a cactus – they are not packed full of water.

Desert Oasis

Rainfall is unlikely, but if you get lucky and there has been recent rainfall, you may still find pools and puddles that are uncontaminated and have yet to evaporate. In low areas where rainfall may have absorbed into the ground, you can try digging. Don’t exert yourself, as you might not even find water. If after a couple of feet, you still don’t feel damp ground, give up. If you do, you can wait for the hole to start filling with water, or dig some more. Place material in the bottom to absorb it and wring it into a container (or your mouth).

Bar running into people, the only other ways to find water are fauna. Look for animal tracks or birds circling. Just hope these aren’t signs of a giant desert tigerlion.

Note 7: The sun is far from the only danger. You may find that this desert is completely devoid of life, but don’t count on it. Spiders, snakes, and scorpions could hunt you for miles, looking to make a name for themselves by taking down a fully-grown human Hero. Though the majority of stings and bites aren’t lethal, even ones that make you a little unwell in the middle of the desert might as well be.

If looking for lizards or insects to catch and eat (always cook meat first), turn rocks over with a stick, never your hands. If you take your shoes off to sleep, shake them out after and check that nothing took refuge inside them. If you place anything on the ground, turn it over with a stick and inspect it carefully before picking it back up. If you placed your stick on the ground, you are going to die.

Note 8: As well as animals, the unliving can prove fatal. Not zombies, in this case, as they don’t like the heat. More notably sandstorms and flash flooding. Sandstorms are something everyone associates with the desert: gigantic tidal waves of sand and dust surging through the desert with the speed and power of a sandblaster. They can carry larger debris, like rocks, and can cause you all sorts of damage. Shield yourself behind boulders or a convenient camel. Use a backpack to cover your head. Moisten cloth and wrap it over your face. Do not try to take cover on the sheltered side of a sand dune, as it will bury you. Do not take cover in a ditch as there is the potential for flash flooding to accompany the storm. The best ways to die in a sandstorm are choking or being hit by flying debris. Try not to do either of these.

Flash flooding is not something people normally associate with the desert, but it is a possibility. If you have found a band of vegetation, then you have probably found a riverbed. In the case of flash flooding, the good news is you have found water. The bad new is you may drown. Do not sleep or take cover in a particularly low-lying area. Desert ground is hard and doesn’t allow water to soak in. This means that you may see no signs of rainfall, yet be suddenly hit by flooding that started a long way off. Surprisingly, more people are killed in the desert by flash floods than by dehydration or heat. This is not a fitting end for a Hero.

Another potential danger is quicksand. You find this most commonly at the bottom of sand dunes. Don’t try to climb dunes anyway, as you could cause a small avalanche and be buried. If you find yourself in quicksand, lie backwards and ‘swim’ out of it.

Note 9: There are less natural ways to die in the desert, too. Not just the giant tigerlion or aliens. Depending on where you are, you may encounter nomadic or settled tribespeople. There is no reason to think that because they are not like you they’ll attack. But they will. They will probably be cannibals and slavers of some kind,  the likes of which no one has ever encountered, because how else are you supposed to be heroic?

Possibly, these won’t be the main villains of your story, and therefore will be normal people. Still approach with caution, as you don’t know what their customs are, their beliefs, the value they put on life (particularly that of outsiders), etc. Particularly if you find water or fruit-bearing trees nearby, do not help yourself, as they will own these.

Be prepared to go on some kind of heroic journey to free these people’s best hunters or something, who have probably been captured by evil white gold-miners or treasure hunters (possibly Nazis), and subsequently win the hand of their leader’s daughter or son and live in the desert forever.

Note 10: You might have to defend yourself against the people, though, who have evilly and maliciously claimed their land around where you stand, albeit many years earlier. They are definitely in the wrong here.

The problem is, any weapons you have in the desert will be hot and sandy. If your signature weapon is a javelin, the sand won’t matter, but the sun may have heated it to the point that it burns your skin on contact.

Should you be more old fashioned and favour a gun, you have a few issues. The sun will again have heated it. Your bullets will also have been heated, and it isn’t ideal to have a lot of tiny explosives in your pocket, getting hotter and hotter. Keep the gun well covered, in a sealed bag if possible, or else it will need regular cleaning and oiling because of the dust. To keep sand and dust out of the barrel you can also cover it with one of those balloons you get in pub toilets.

Sandstorm

Congratulations: You have escaped the desert, found a new, nomadic family, or possibly stumbled across a hidden paradise guarded by desert yetis. Sand is no match for you: you glue it to paper and smooth wood with it; you contort and deform it and bend its form to your will with a plastic bucket. You might stay out of the sun for a while, but the desert will know better than to go after your family again. Or whatever.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…a different situation!

Book 3 Cover Taster

Book three of NEXUS is slowly creeping closer, though working seven days a week until midnight is slowing down its progress. The cover is ready, but I don’t want to reveal it until I know when the book will be released.

I will probably also start putting out brief character spotlights as the release gets closer and, obviously, announce that release when I know it. Until then, here is a little square of the cover. Look, it has a foot! A sci-fi foot!

Book 3 Tease

You may have noticed my Facebook and Twitter (oh, and G+…) banners change. That was your first taste!

So until I know more, I’ll try and put out more guides for surviving unlikely situations you’ll definitely find yourself in should you happen to be some kind of Hero.

A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving an Avalanche!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is the icy wrath of the mountain.

Avalanche

Problem: Really fast snow. Like, stupidly fast
Goal: To not die
Description: White. Cold. Malevolent.
Difficulty: You’ll probably die

It’s just one of those freak occurrences: You’re out for a leisurely stroll through a supervillain’s mountaintop laboratory – where he/she/it is experimenting on kidnapped homeless people and puppies – planting explosives willy and perhaps nilly, when one of the seemingly infinite supply of henchmen (or henchwomen, if the supervillain is a fan of equal opportunity) spots you. A frantic shootout takes you back through the sterile white corridors – a sure sign of evil – to the exit and a convenient pair of skis and, finally, a heroic escape down the glittering alabaster slopes. But (dun dun DUNNN), the henchindividuals are on your heels, shooting at you and throwing grenades in flagrant disregard for the hazard signs; but that’s okay, because you still have that detonator in your hand. Inevitably, the mountain roars and angrily vomits at you in response.

So with a million tonnes of snow barrelling down the mountain behind you at over 100mph, how do you intend to not die? By being intimately familiar with the Hero’s Handbook of Mountaineering, of course (in which case you’ll know that the sound of those grenades didn’t cause the avalanche – that’s a myth). Failing that…

James Bond, Parachute

Note 1: Pull your parachute and use your momentum to glide to safety. Do so before the wind pushed ahead of the avalanche reaches you or it will cause complications. If said parachute has your country’s flag printed on it, get +2 to your speed modifier.

Note 2: If you don’t have a parachute, determine what kind of avalanche is it. Dry snow or wet snow? Wet snow avalanches will travel much slower – perhaps 20mph. The good news is, you can ski at around three times this speed, so you should be able to outrun the avalanche. Do so at an angle to get out of its path. The bad news is, as the Hero, it will be a dry snow avalanche chasing you. These average at about 80mph, but can reach speeds of over 100mph. You will not outrun it. While you have (very limited) time, you could try skiing to the side, but the avalanche could be extremely wide.

Note 3: If you have equipment with you, such as a snowmobile and even your skis, discard and move to the side of it so it doesn’t kill you and to minimise the weight pulling you under the snow. Sherpas do not count as equipment – do not discard. Unless you are ten feet from entering woodland and the avalanche is still way up the top of the mountain, don’t try to make for the trees – better to be prepared for the avalanche hitting you than for its speed to catch you by surprise.

Note 4: A fast-moving avalanche will push hurricane-force winds ahead of it, so be prepared to get hit before the snow actually reaches you. Don’t try to take cover behind rocks, trees, or vehicles – not only will the power of the avalanche almost certainly simply crush you with your choice of cover, but anything of that kind could cause some degree of slowing of the snow around it, and therefore cause it to pile up deeper over you. That said, if you can position yourself downhill from a tree, it may just protect you from some of the larger debris carried in and ahead of the avalanche. Alternatively, it may add to that debris and crush you. In the latter case, attempt a Michael Bay style snow-motion scene where it flies over your head, narrowly missing you.

Note 5: You are about to be enveloped by snow. The good new is you might get hit by debris first and die quickly. The bad new is it’s going to be loud, frightening, confusing, and painful. Crouch low, perhaps on your side to avoid being thrown like a rag doll, facing away from the incoming tidal wave of death, and cover your nose and mouth. Keep your mouth closed lest snow inappropriately invade your person.

Hand in Snow

As the slow builds up over you, move you arms to a position over and in front of your face to create an air pocket. Take a deep breath as the snow settles in around you, so as to give your torso some breathing room. Once the snow has covered you and doesn’t seem to be moving too much around you, extend your arm upwards. If you are near the surface, this will make it easier for someone to find you, and will give you a better chance of pulling yourself towards the surface.

Note 6: Now that the snow has covered you, waste no time in starting to dig yourself out. Don’t wait for it to stop moving – once it stops and starts to properly settle, there will be very little you can do to save yourself. If you still have that magical katana blessed by the gods, use it to melt the snow around you and carve your way out. Otherwise, if the snow is loose enough, trying ‘swimming’ out. Spitting is one way you can determine which way is up, and also a filthy habit. You are unlikely to have any light, so you may have to spit on your own face to see which way it runs. Don’t mention this part in later heroic tales.

Note 7: If you cannot reach the surface before the snow sets, your goose is cooked, your bucket is kicked, your dust is bitten, and your chips are being cashed in. Breathe as normally and as calmly as you can and pray. At least you died a conquering Hero. Unless the supervillain got away or you forgot to evacuate all the homeless people and puppies, in which case perhaps this is better than returning a failure.

Of course, if you earlier had a blazing row with your sidekick, now is when he or she will plunge his or her hand into the snow and pull you out with no indication as to how the hell he or she found you or got to you in time but who cares.

Note 8: Honestly, you’re probably dead at this point (RIP), but if not, yay. Being the Hero that you are, you probably dragged yourself through the quickly setting snow and burst through the surface layer just as it became like concrete around your ribcage. As soon as you feel fresh air on your face, you can start heroically and gruffly calling for rescue (don’t do this if you are still buried, as the snow will muffle the sound and you’ll waste your air). Again, the idea of noise causing avalanches is a myth, so don’t worry about that. Unless you’re in a film.

Note 9: If you were not alone when the avalanche hit, you’d better get to rescuing. Ignore the henchpeople who shot at you – they quite literally brought this on themselves. It will be difficult to pinpoint the last place you saw your companion/s, as the landscape will have changed and you’ll have no idea how far you have been moved by the snow. However, do your best to gauge where they were last and carefully work your way just downhill of that spot. Look for their equipment, as they will almost certainly be in line with it.

Note 10: If you don’t both have probes and transceivers, chances are you won’t find your chum, but at least you kind of tried. Then again, using your powers of heroism, you will probably happen to dig in just the right place. If you can hear them, dig frantically – just below them and in towards them rather than on top of them and straight down – throwing the snow downhill. If you can’t, it means they are buried too deep. Or dead. Or somewhere else. In this case, dig quickly but steadily, expending as little energy as you can so that you can dig further before collapsing of exhaustion – this will be about the same time as you uncover their face and one of you delivers a witty one-liner. Be careful not to accidentally kill them with your shovel.

Once everyone is pulled from the snow/left for dead, carefully make your way sideways and off the settling avalanche, avoiding ambush by Yetis. Seek some kind of rescue type people if you want or need, or stumble across a secret mountain civilization and learn the secrets of immortality and kung fu.

Avalanche Sign

Congratulations: The cold superiority of the mountain has been sneered at; its million tonnes of snow and ice are nothing compared to your foetal position head sheltering. You lived to tell the tale, reluctantly, to the younger generation who speak in whispered tones of your heroic exploits. And you’ll think twice about skiing again.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…another thing!

A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving the Wilderness!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is surviving the deathly grasp of nature.

Mount Baker

Problem: The great outdoors
Goal: To not die
Description: Wild. Scary sounds. Outside
Difficulty: Difficult

Disaster! The private jet carrying you and your promising but ruthless protégé has flown through a swarm of angry ducks, blowing out the engines! In a terrifying blur, the metal tube has plummeted to the ground and crashed in the middle of Endor/a large forest, a hundred miles from anywhere. Upon waking, the first thing you see is the dead pilot (because when do they ever survive?); the next is your protégé running at you with the fire axe that all jets definitely have aboard. A minute of dodging, screaming, and appealing to what little humanity still resides in this rabid stockbroker/your daughter’s gold-digging husband leads you to a fall over the inevitable cliff edge into the even more inevitable fast flowing river. Thrashing, swimming, and not breathing water eventually saves you and you emerge from the water miles downstream with one singular thought: you have to get the holy hell out of there; also why do jets have axes; and also are there bears in this forest; additionally, did you remember to insure the jet.

The bad news is, yes, there are bears in this forest. Of course there are bears in this forest. The good news is the jet’s insured and there aren’t any tigers in this forest.

Note 1: You are wet. In your fright and rush of adrenaline, this might not seem too terrible. It is. It is terrible. Night will soon come and even if you are lucky enough to have crashed somewhere decently warm during the day, wet clothes at night will be bad.

Note 2: First things first. Drink plenty of water from the clean river and collect any if you happen to have a container. Take a swig from your hip flask you think is secret but everyone knows about for warmth, then empty it and fill it with water. Avoid standing or slow-flowing water, as it will possibly kill you. If it is standing up, it may be sentient. Boil water where possible, collect rain and dew, tie a plastic bag around something nice and leafy and collect its sweat.

Note 3: Second things second. You need to find somewhere to spend the night so you can recover and set out at first light. The plane would have been a decent prospect if it weren’t for the madman who wants your head and subsequently your job. Head for higher ground. Ideally, you want to find a balance of natural shelter from the elements and distance from natural dangers such as falling rocks, branches that may fall on your sleeping head, cougar nests, etc. Go higher to avoid flash floods and mole people.

Note 4: You need two things to stay alive and dry out overnight: shelter and a tumble dryer. Failing the latter, a fire will suffice. Use branches against a boulder or tree to create a lean-to, then use smaller sticks and branches to fill the gaps. Finally, use moss, grass, leaves, etc., over the top of it all, cementing it with mud or clay if possible (be careful not to make it too heavy). Now coat the inside floor with more branches and leaves/moss/grass so that you won’t be sleeping on the cold, damp ground. Also hope lightning doesn’t hit the tree.

Note 5: Build the fire. If you are a man, society would have you believe you should inherently know how to do this; if you are a woman, society would have you believe you’re &%$! out of luck and should find a man. They’re wrong. You’re a Hero: you either know it all, or you know nothing but it magically works anyway. Unless everything is wet. Then you’re &%$! out of luck. Place a larger log or two on the ground, which you have cleared of anything that will catch fire and spread it, and away from same. Place tinder – dry grass, leaves, moss will do – between the logs and have small twigs ready.

Light the fire with your lighter, laser eyes, lesser arcana, dragon’s breath, or matches. Failing this, do you have a battery you can short with steel wool? Why the hell not? Flint and steel? Something like glasses to harness and concentrate the sun’s mighty power? Well, then it’ll have to be the drill method. Get a straight stick and either cut a notch in something big, like a thick branch, or gather heavy rocks to fashion a slot that the stick can go through. Place your tinder in and around the notch or under the slot, followed by the stick, which you will roll quickly and smoothly between your hands to create friction at the tip. Better still, use your shoelace and a bendy stick to make a bow. Hold down the straight stick with a rock and use the bow to spin it.

As the fire catches hold of the tinder, help it to spread throughout with gentle blowing. Stack small twigs over the logs and tinder, allowing room for oxygen. As the fire grows, add larger twigs and sticks. Eventually, you will be able to add larger logs. Dry thine clothing.

Note 6: Eat edible plants. Don’t eat poisonous plants. Dandelions are edible, so are lettuces. There is usually no need to go after animals, but you are unusual and the Hero. Fashion a hunting bow. Mine nearby ore, smelt, blacksmith. Forge a mighty sword. You will probably need it for that bear of unusual size and aggression who has caught your scent and is hunting you for miles upon miles entirely against its nature. Also the protégé who went mad with bloodlust surprisingly fast – remember him? Perhaps the two problems will take care of each other at the last moment.

Brown Bear

Note 7: The bear is Man’s greatest foe. When Man is faced with a hungry, angry bear, anyway. Do not attempt to cuddle it. When you finally come to the final showdown with the bear, do not try to run. That is cowardly, and also it will outrun you. Assess what kind of bear it is and recall the different approaches that you memorised for no reason:

  • Black bear – These are more timid than other bears. Make lots of noise and they will often lose interest. Fighting back when one actually attacks may also cause it to give up. Don’t bother trying to climb trees to escape – they are better climbers that you.
  • Grizzly bear – This will be the kind of bear you encounter, as it is most heroic. Probably a Kodiak. Back away carefully, without turning or running. The bear may charge you, but it may be a bluff. Stand your ground, you’ll probably be fine. The further back the bear’s ears are pushed, the more likely it is to be attacking. If it is attacking, drop to the floor in the foetal position and play dead. It will probably leave after throwing you about a bit. Stay down, as it may be hiding behind a tree, ready to jump out at you when it sees you’re not actually dead.
  • Koala bear – You will die.
  • Polar bear – What the &%$! is it doing in a forest?!

Naturally, this is a merciless killing machine that wishes to feast on your insides, so your only option is to fight. Use your sword. Good luck.

Note 8: If you are still alive, it means your protégé conveniently attacked you at the same time and is now in the bear’s stomach and it no longer cares about you. Now you can concentrate on being rescued. Find north by pointing the hour hand of your magically-still-working watch at the sun. The midway point between the hour hand and 12 is south. Hopefully you will have memorised a map and this will be helpful. If you intend to try hiking out, go back to the plane and build an arrow in the direction you are heading, using stones and stuff. Now that the bear and protégé have been fought, however, rescue should be arriving any moment.

Note 9: If the forest canopy is particularly thick and the rescue planes and helicopters won’t see it, head again for high ground. Find somewhere high and clear of trees. You can build a signal fire here and it will look particularly dramatic when you are rescued. The signal fire will be built the same way as the campfire, but…bigger. When you hear an aircraft, pile on anything that will make smoke. Technically, you could also use the signal flare from the jet.

Note 10: Remember to collapse to the ground laughing like a cringe-inducing idiot when the helicopters swoop in.

Signal Fire

Congratulations: Nature are stupid and you is smart; killer bears are laughable and nobody laughs at your jokes. Your daughter will be happy to hear that you helped a bear eat her gold-digging husband who tried to chop you into firewood. You’ll return home realising there’s more to life than money and you’ll live life to the fullest from now on. Except the after-credits scene shows the bear coming across your address book in the plane’s wreckage: It will find you.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…something else!

A Writer’s Guide to…Escaping a Sinking Car!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is attempting to operate a vehicle in deep water.

Quayside Sign

Problem: Water (in your car and lungs)
Goal: To not die
Description: Wet and not dense enough to drive on
Difficulty: Difficult

We’ve all been there: We’re at a party in a generic approximation of the Hollywood Hills at some famous person’s party – perhaps our own – and got drunk, had a public argument with our lover or agent or (twist!) both, jumped/fallen into our Ferrari to have a drive to clear our head, and lo! a wide-eyed deer in the road makes us swerve and crash through the barrier into an inconveniently placed lake or reservoir.

The natural instinct is to panic. This is good. It means you’re alive, and it might sober you up just enough to keep yourself that way. Scream. Scrabble. Claw at the glass. If you cry loud enough, God might hear you. Conversely, something else might hear you, in which case be extremely careful with the wording of any deals you may make. Failing this, it is time to regain your Zen.

Many people die every year in car accidents involving a submerged car, so it is important to understand what is happening, and know in advance what to do. If this is not the case and you are currently sinking, you might like to take time to read this guide; however, remember that the car will sink in a maximum of two minutes and the average person cannot hold their breath for long even without the strenuous activity of trying not to drown, so speed read.

Note 1: As you scream at the rapidly approaching water, keep your hands firmly on the steering wheel to A) brace yourself, and B) ensure the airbag does not force your hands into your face and cause you punch yourself unconscious. This would be embarrassing.

Note 2: As soon as you are in the water and the airbag has broken your nose and potentially caused you to inhale the toxic chemicals inside it, unfasten your seatbelt. If you have a knife handy, it may be more heroic and dramatic to cut yourself free and then place the knife between your teeth.

Note 3: If there are any children or anyone else needing assistance, unfasten their seatbelts and calmly explain to them that they need to refrain from panicking or else their selfishness will use up the air and kill you all. All the while there is air, breathe calmly and deeply, preparing your lungs for when you have to hold your breath.

Note 4: Open your window. This is particularly important to do as soon as you and your passengers are free because the electrics will stop working after two or three minutes (although, by this time you’ll have sunk anyway). Don’t bother with the door unless you have superhuman strength or are some kind of cyborg – you will not be able to open it.

Double Jeopardy Car Underwater

Note 5: If you are unable to open the window, you will need to break it. Side windows and the rear window are breakable, but the windscreen is not. If you are a real Hero, you can punch it. If you are rubbish Hero you can kick it close to front edge where it is weakest (like you). If you are a total basic, you may need to use a tool to break the glass.

Shooting it out may redeem you a little, but do so up close as the bullet will only travel a couple of feet. Otherwise, use something hard and heavy, like the hammer you carry around in your door compartment. Pulling out the headrest of your seat might give you access to a pointed metal spike of sorts. Aim your tool for the centre of the window and thrust hard, unafraid of glass shards because you are a Hero. And because car windows break into neat, safe pieces, not shards.

Note 6: If you are feeling adventurous, wait until the car has entirely filled with water and it hits the bottom. Don’t forget to take a deep breathe while there is still air left. At this point, the pressure inside and out will have equalised, and you will be able to open the door. This is boring, so heroically break the window.

Do not attempt to breathe the water. Yes, it is more readily available than air now, but it may prove detrimental to your health.

Note 7: Children are dim. If you have any, make sure they take a deep breath before they submerge (unless you left them at home). If you have a self-inflating dinghy handy, give it to them immediately outside so that they can get to the surface easily. Failing that, ensure children too young or unable to swim are with an adult.

Note 8: Use light, bubbles, sinking objects, and anything else about you to determine which way is up, and swim in that direction. That is where air is. Also potentially your armed attackers. Remember, bullets don’t travel far in water, so don’t worry about being shot. Yet.

Note 9: Swim at a shallow angle to the side so as to avoid breaking surface near the mafiosos/terrorists/assassins/shark-bears with laser guns. Do not waste time feeling relieved at fresh air – get to land before exhaustion causes you to sink all over again or someone spots you.

Note 10: Take revenge. Or call an ambulance/flag down a passing car.

Underwater Gunfire

Congratulations: Gravity is weak and you are strong; water is…wet and you will be dry when someone gives you a towel. This will teach your spurned lover or agent, or unfortunate circumstance, or those meddling kids. Unless those airbag chemicals get you.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…something different to this time!

A Writer’s Guide to…Escaping a Fire!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

First on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is fire. This guide covers the likes of house fires, warehouse fires, fires in the villain’s lair because he discovered your intentions moments before you arrived and set a trap, but does not cover the supernatural fires of hell or magic.

Tombstone cowboys walking from fire

Problem: Fire
Goal: To not die
Description: Most often yellow and orange. Variably useful and ouchy. You’ll know it when you see it
Difficulty: Difficult

Note 1: A Hero knows that danger lurks around every corner and under every cheerful welcome mat. He or she should be ready for anything, including instantaneous infernos. Plan the quickest routes to multiple exits and note the obstacles – the smoke my reduce visibility to zero. If you intend to start the fire, do so far away from your exit. If you are an action Hero, windows between the ground floor and the fourth floor are acceptable exits, with the fifth and sixth floors viable when directly above a vehicle on which to land. If possible, know whom you will encounter along the way, which of these people can easily be shoved the ground and which will need to be dodged. If this is a house fire, Grandma will slow you down if you try to help her; but fear not, for the frigid embrace of the Reaper will soothe her burns.

Note 2: Stay low to the ground to avoid smoke inhalation. Smoke and chemicals will rise, so the cleanest air will be closest to the floor. Since visibility will be better down here, you could try shooting the ankles of random henchmen to counter the big-sissy-ness of crawling along the floor.

Note 3: As in any situation in which you are in a house with Macaulay Culkin, you must check door handles before you open doors. Do so with more sensitive skin, such as that on the back your hand or a small child if available. If the handle is hot, there is most likely fire on the other side, and you should not open it. When you do open a door, do so slowly and with your shoulder braced against it in case of pressure differences, and be prepared to close it again before the fire spots you. Fire cannot open doors.

Note 4: If you find yourself trapped, call your team of ex- special forces soldiers of fortune, a friend with superpowers, or the fire service. Do not hide under beds or behind curtains – the fire will look for you there. Douse any material you have handy in water and hold it over your face. Altering the pressure with which you do so will cause the sweet release of death will come for you or keep smoke inhalation to a minimum.

Note 5: Remember, do not use the elevator in the event of a fire. Wrap your shirt sleeves around your hands and shimmy down the elevator cable instead. Avoid falling elevator cars and do not climb as far as the basement. Alternatives include the stairs.

Die Hard Elevator Shaft

Note 6: Locked doors can be kicked open by driving the heel of your foot into the door as close to the lock as possible. If the door opens towards you, don’t be stupid. Close doors and windows as you go. Rather than allowing smoke to escape, they will fuel the fire. It will also slow the spread of the fire. Fire can’t go through doors, stupid; it’s not a ghost. Shoot a hole in any fire extinguishers you pass, thus creating your own sprinkler system.

Note 7: If you must go up rather than down, as the best Heroes do, try to pick up an incapacitated civilian along the way. Should the fire catch up to you, dropping the civilian will slow it down and give you the chance to escape. Alternatively, once you reach the roof, news helicopters will record your heroics. On the roof, leave the door open to help clear smoke from the building, and walk towards the wind, so as to give yourself the best chances of survival. If a strange bald man has been telling you you’re The One, now is the time to jump to another building.

Note 8: Once out of the burning building, do not, under any circumstances, let anything stop you from re-entering. Firefighters may get in your way and will only slow you down. They cannot possibly carry out all their heavy gear and the little girl crying for help from the top window. But they do have ladders, so maybe wait to see if you can procure one.

Note 9: The penultimate consideration is health care. During a fire, the average person will have breathed in carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, soot, various aldehydes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, acid gases, toluene, benzene, styrene, metals and dioxins. As a Hero, you are not an average person, and should belligerently wave away any paramedics and light up a cigarette.

Note 10: Fire engines are fast and people get out of the way of their sirens. Should you still need to give chase to a villain, they are a good choice. Ensure no firefighters are still in or on the vehicle, and if possible cut the fire hose being used to fight the building fire, or it will trail behind you and get caught on something or cause the city millions of dollars in damage, and you may have to hand in your badge until you are the only one who can stop the next villain and have to come out of retirement. After all, you were the best damn whatever you were that someone or other has ever seen.

Con Air Fire Truck

Congratulations: The fire has been outsmarted and your spouse/partner/mentor/cat has been avenged!

Next time on Writer’s Guide…something else!