The concept for Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse struck before the first Alex Sparrow book was even published, and I remember, four years ago, hoping that I would get to write it one day. When the opportunity to develop the idea finally came about, I soon realised that this story would be about family. We hadn’t seen much of Alex’s family in the first two books, but we had watched him create a new, tight-knit, group of friends around him: Jess, Dave, Bob, Mr Prickles, Miss Fortress; all of them a hugely important part of his life. I wanted to delve into Alex’s home life, to get to know some of the people he has grown up with, and also explore the idea that a family isn’t limited to the one we are born into.

Setting it at Christmas – a time when our focus adjusts, temporarily, away from work and routine, and onto home, and the people around us – fit so perfectly that I couldn’t resist. I have always loved Christmas, and I have spent a lot of time trying to work out why, exactly, other than the presents. I’m an idealist at heart, and view the world through twinkle-lit glasses. I believe in magic, and I believe that kindness will always win. Christmas amplifies all the wonderful things in life. Magic is closer, tinkling in every Christmas tree bell and nestling in waiting stockings. And people are kinder – embracing loved ones tighter, forgiving more easily, and giving – to people they know and to people they don’t.

But while Christmas allows wonder to flourish, it also intensifies some of our negative feelings. The pain of loss is sharper at Christmas. The deep ache of loneliness can be overwhelming. I wanted, through Alex, to face the good, and the bad, and to encourage readers to think about how they might help to make Christmas magical for everyone. Donating money or time to charities like Age UK can help to ensure that there are fewer people spending Christmas alone. Giving to BookTrust’s brilliant Christmas appeal, which raises money to send special book parcels to children in care at Christmas, could help to make what might be a difficult day for someone, a little brighter. Or by reaching out to people who are suffering, and offering friendship and support, we can all make a difference.

So this Alex Sparrow book celebrates family – in all its weird and wonderful shapes and flavours – and kindness, always kindness. I wish all of you a Christmas full of twinkle lights, bear hugs, delicious food and lots of laughter, and I hope that the new year brings hope and love to everyone.

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