Friday, 21 November 2014

INXS Friday - for Michael Hutchence

Tomorrow, November 22nd 2014, marks the 17th anniversary of the death of Michael Hutchence, lead singer of my favourite band INXS.  As I mentioned in a previous post (see here), I can still remember clearly hearing the news on the radio that morning and not quite believing it - he was dead, how could that be?

I was lucky enough to get to a few of their concerts (I'm in the crowd at Wembley Summer XS and Alison & I saw them at The DeMonfort in 1993 (which I blogged about here) and at the NEC in 1997).  We've seen the band twice since (at the NEC again with Jon Stevens and on Clapham Common with J.D. Fortune) but neither worked for me - Hutchence was too integral to the band for it to work without him, I reckon and it's only their pre-1997 music that moves me.

1997.  17 years before that, it was 1980, I was eleven and hadn't heard of them.  Neither had too many other people outside of Australia, though the band formed in 1977 (as The Farriss Brothers).  As it was, INXS released their first single, "Simple Simon"/"We Are the Vegetables", in Australia and France in May 1980, following it up with their debut album - INXS - released in Australia on 13 October 1980.  It was recorded at Trafalgar Studios in Annandale, Sydney and co-produced by the band and Duncan McGuire, with all the songs attributed to the entire band (at the insistence of manager Chris Murphy).  Deluxe Records gave them $10,000 to make the whole album, meaning that to keep within budget they had to record between midnight and dawn (often after playing live shows earlier in the evening).

The album featured "Just Keep Walking" (which was their first Australian Top 40 single) and eventually went gold (selling over 35,000 units) but it took a good few years to do so.

I like the album, with its New Wave-ska-pop style but Alison isn't so keen and she's not alone...

I'm not a great fan of the first album. It's naïve and kinda cute, almost. It's these young guys struggling for a sound. All I can hear is what was going to happen later and it's probably an interesting album because of that. "Just Keep Walking" was the first time we thought we'd written a song. And that became an anthem around town. It's funny, I remember kids in pubs saying it and hearing it on the radio the first time. We'd never heard that before.
- Michael Hutchence,
as quoted in "Burn : The life and times of Michael Hutchence and INXS" (Bantam Books)

17 years ago, Michael Hutchence passed away.  17 years before that, INXS were starting on the road that would lead - for a time - to world domination in music.  It still doesn't feel that far away.

And this has nothing to do with 1980 or 1997 but comes from "Later With...Jools Holland" in 1994, with Hutchence, Andrew Farriss (on piano) and Kirk Pengilly (sax) performing a beautifully stripped down version of "Never Tear Us Apart"

RIP, good sir.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

"Drive" rolls on...

Since my last post (which you can see here), my novella "Drive" has continued to pick up some good notices from round and about.  As I'm really quite pleased with the story and the way people have responded to it, I thought I'd highlight a selection of the reviews...

Peter Tennant, writing in Black Static, wrote:
West makes the material his own, ringing numerous changes on a familiar template, while we root for the good guys and hate the bad guys.  It doesn’t come with any heavy meaning or much in the way of a subtext, but it is a crowd pleaser, a horror story set in the urban landscape and tapping into our fears of what could so easily go wrong in this setting, a finely tuned tale that delivers all the thrills it says on the tin. I loved it, and I also think it would make a splendid little film.
(pick up the magazine from any good newsagents for the full review)

Steve Harris, on Facebook
This novella perfectly captured that feeling of driving late at night through deserted neon lit streets that should be safe but you know aren’t, meeting fellow late night citizens you hope are harmless, but fear could be feral. A skulking Audi with booming bass could be next to you at the lights, and after reading Drive, you’ll certainly wish it wasn’t.
All this pulls together to drag you into the page, and make sure that you can’t leave until the author has finished with you. The tension ramps until you’re breathless.
Brilliantly evocative, finger on the pulse storytelling. If you enjoy a good page turner, I suggest you get your ass into gear, pop the clutch and rush out to snag your copy…

Wayne Simmons, at
It's brilliantly executed, too: West's writing draws you into the story, his prose clean, clear and uncluttered. His characters are also great - very believable, none of them suddenly developing kung-fu skills or Hulk-like rage, dealing with the threat at hand in a very realistic way.  In short, one of the best novellas I've read in quite a while. Do yourself a favour and hit that BUY NOW button.
(read the full review here)

Kit Power, at
Fans of non-supernatural horror or jet black thrillers will find a lot to like here. Recommended for a quick, super-tense, one-sitting read.
(read the full review here)

David Price, at Amazon
Mark West really cranks up the tension by making the hero a less-than-heroic figure who is, in effect, as helpless and terrified as 'anyone' would be in this situation. Weighing in a 86 pages and belting along in real time, it is a hard book to put down and you might just find yourself with sweaty palms when you do. The day of the novella has come and thrillers like Drive can only enhance its popularity. A great read.
(read the full review here)

If you're interested, there are still some of the limited edition paperback copies left (includes an exclusive afterword) and it's also available as an ebook.

“Drive takes you for a journey down the darkest alleyways of human savagery.  
A fast paced, high tension thriller that delivers on all fronts....”
- Jim Mcleod, The Ginger Nuts Of Horror

"Drive is a gripping, tense urban noir with prose as tight as a snare drum..."
- Paul D. Brazill, Guns Of Brixton.

“Mark West writes the kind of fiction that gets under the skin where it lies dormant until you turn out the lights ...”
- Dave Jeffery, author of the Necropolis Rising series

"A crowd pleaser, a horror story set in the urban landscape and tapping into our fears of what could so easily go wrong in this setting, a finely tuned tale that delivers all the thrills it says on the tin..."
- Peter Tennant, Black Static magazine

Friday, 7 November 2014

Fox Spirit Press Writers Evening (at Leicester Library)

James Bennett, Hardeep Sangha, me, K T Davies
Last night saw the inaugural Fox Spirit Writers evening at Leicester Central Library, organised by FS Head honcho Adele Wearing.  I was chuffed to be asked and appeared on the panel with James Bennett and K T Davies (both of whom I’m friends with, though it was the first time we’d been at the front together) and Hardeep Sangha, a surrealistic poet who I was meeting for the first time and whose debut book “The Velocity Of Constant” was being launched.  Thanks to traffic (nice work, Leicester City road planners), I got there late, so just time for quick handshakes all round (nice to see Ewan, K. T.’s partner, again along with Jay Eales & Selina Lock) and then we were in front of the audience (which wasn’t a bad size).  As a nice touch, we were in the kids section of the library so everytime I looked over at James, I could see the Very Hungry Caterpillar cavorting on top of a bookcase.
After an introduction by Adele, James did the first reading, which went well and K. T. followed him, standing up and delivering it so well that the next person (in this case me) had a tough act to follow.  I read the first few pages of “The Mill”, which seemed to go down well and Hardeep followed me.  Adele then opened the floor to questions and got the ball rolling with a few of her own, that were smart and open-ended enough that they provoked plenty of discussion (and allowed K. T. to compare writing fantasy with living in a house that smelled of cat pee!) and led to more from the audience.  I had a great time, listening to my fellow panellists and getting the chance to air my own thoughts.

James tucks in, whilst Adele models her Foxy hat...
The time whisked by and when the Q&A was over we mingled, tucking into the delicious fairy cakes Adele had provided.  I chatted with Jay & Selina about future projects, then discussed character and people watching with Ewan, James and members of the audience, before catching up with Hardeep (and I got him to sign his book for me too).

After promising to meet up for a meal - we writer-types do like getting together - with everyone when James was back in town, it seemed as though half the group went on to the Phoenix Theatre for an Angry Robot-associated event whilst Adele & I walked back to our cars (we were both parked in Newmarke Street) and caught up.
"Let's take a selfie," I said
To her credit, rather than say "What, wait until we get the glamour of the car park?", Adele just said, "Shall I put my hat on?"
All in all it was a great evening, which I was really pleased to be a part of and I hope it’s the first of many!  Great fellow-panellists (and it’s always a treat to do a reading), great crowd, great organisation - what more can you ask for?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Bureau Of Lost Children

Yesterday, I discovered that my story "The Bureau Of Lost Children" had received an honorable mention from Ellen Datlow, a list she includes in her annual "Best Of Horror" anthology to point readers towards stories they might enjoy.  Honorable mentions might not have the cachet of an award - some knock them - but it had long been an ambition of mine to achieve one, which I finally did last year with "Fog On The Old Coast Road" and I'm equally chuffed to get my second.

"The Bureau Of Lost Children" is my story in the "ill at ease 2" collection (expect volume three late next year) and was inspired by an incident where we briefly lost sight of Dude but takes that level of parental fear to whole new levels.  I knew I was onto something when Alison read it, said she liked it but also told me she never wanted to read it again.

Thanks Ellen, my co-editors on "ill at ease 2" (my fellow contributor Robert Mammone picked up a mention for his tale in the collection and Steve Bacon got two, the jammy git) and the NSFWG, who critiqued the story for me.

For those interested, here are details of the anthology, which is really rather good...

Following on from the critical success of “ill at ease” comes volume 2, featuring seven original horror short stories, all of them guaranteed to give you the chills.

Joining the original trio of Stephen Bacon, Mark West and Neil Williams this time are Shaun Hamilton, Robert Mammone, Val Walmsley and Sheri White.

You will descend into an underground train station to uncover a dreadful secret and watch in horror as a paradise holiday turns sour.  You will see a bullied boy who’s helped by local history and share the anguish of a father, losing his child in a shopping centre.  You will take a trip with a cancer sufferer and share the pain of a couple, desperate for a child.  You will discover that history needs to be kept somewhere.

Seven stories, seven writers and you.

Prepare to feel “ill at ease” all over again.

cover designed and produced by Neil Williams
ebook built by Tim C. Taylor at Greyhart Press

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Phobophobias - Horror for Halloween

Thrilled to announce that the latest anthology edited by Dean M. Drinkel, "Phobophobias", is available this Halloween from Western Legends Press.  Even better, for me, is that it contains my story "Rhytiphobia".

“There is nothing to fear, but fear itself….”

Twenty-six original stories by established masters of horror and talented new voices comprise this anthology of terror, mystery and suspense. Phobophobias continues the explorations of our darkest fears that started with the 2011 indie hit Phobophobia.

Discover tales about Achluophobia (fear of the dark), Ecophobia (fear of one’s home), Keraunophobia (fear of thunder and lightning), Ombrophobia (fear of rain), Trichinophobia (fear of poisoning), Ygrophobia (fear of water) and Zelophobia (fear of jealousy) amongst many others.

Compiled and edited by Dean M. Drinkel, the authors of Phobophobias are:

Christopher Beck, Adrian Chamberlin, Lily Childs, Mike Chinn, Raven Dane, Nerine Dorman, Christine Dougherty, Tim Dry, Jan Edwards, John Gilbert, D.T. Griffith, Lisa Jenkins, Emile-Louis Tomas Jouvet, Rakie Keig, Amelia Mangan, Peter Mark May, Christine Morgan, John Palisano, Daniel I. Russell, Phil Sloman, Sam Stone, Andrew Taylor, Mark West, Barbie Wilde & D.M. Youngquist.

Cover illustration by James Powell
Cover design by D.T. Griffith

As I mentioned, I'm represented by my story "Rhytiphobia" (fear of wrinkles) which follows Cameron Davis and his extreme reaction to less than supple skin - born from a terrifyingly close encounter with a mad old neighbour who enjoyed licking boys faces.

Here's a preview...

The woman came out of the hedge at him.  Her face was a map of wrinkles, her eyes dull and pale, her mouth open wide and showing only gums.  Cameron yelled and tried to scramble backwards but the old crone grasped his wrist in one bony hand.
“Caught you,” she said and pulled.  Cameron was taken by surprise and, with momentum on her side, he was pulled into her garden.
He sprawled onto the brown, patchy lawn and rolled quickly onto his front so that he could get up on all fours.  The old woman faced him, leaning forwards, her legs spread wide apart.  Her green skirt was old and holed and he could see the outline of her thighs through them.  They looked like matches.
“Stealing my daffs again were you?"
Cameron glanced around.  Apart from the lawn, which was clearly on its last legs, there was no other plant life in the garden.  Some pots stood by the back door but whatever was in them had long since died.
He looked from her to the gap in the hedge.  His friends were through there, probably pissing themselves with laughter that he’d been caught.  It was the stuff of legend, that if you lost your ball in Mrs Taylor’s garden, you’d never get it back.  He’d thought he could challenge it but now wished he hadn’t bothered.  “I just came to get our ball back.”
“Ball?” shrieked the woman, “Cameron Davis, you’re a liar!”
“It’s true.”
It was the first week of the summer holiday and he and his friends had decided on a game of footy on the green.  But the ball had sailed into Mrs Taylor’s garden from his mis-kick and now here he was, sixteen years old and on all fours in her garden, staring up at his hideous woman who must have been ninety if she was a day.
“Liar,” she said, “you want me daffs.”

Thanks to Dean, I'm proud to be included in such great company.

The book is available from Amazon here.  If you decide to take a chance on it, I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Movie miniatures

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a big fan of behind-the-scenes stuff in films (my various posts on matte paintings can be found here, here (about Return of the Jedi)herehere and here) and one which continues to fascinate me is the use of miniatures (as seen in my post on Derek Meddings).

These are scale models (often shot with high speed photography and occasionally combined with matte paintings) used to represent things that aren't there, are too expensive or difficult to film in reality, or which can't be damaged (by fire, flood or explosion) in real life.

Although they're now largely replaced by (often-appallingly-obvious) CGI (ILM, now completely digital, got rid of its model-shop and they struck out on their own for a few years - as Kerner Optical - but have since gone bankrupt), some threads of this fine art still exist.  Christopher Nolan, for example, is a huge fan of miniature work and uses them extensively in his films (such as the chase sequence in "The Dark Knight").

Rather than show the obvious here (you've all seen people making models for "Star Wars"), I thought I'd highlight films and effects where it's not immediately obvious that you're looking at a miniature.


Black Narcissus (1947, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
This wonderful film is filled with terrific examples of matte paintings but the one shot I'm going to highlight combines live-action, a large background miniature and a matte painting.

For Your Eyes Only (1981, directed by John Glen)
special effects supervised by Derek Meddings (for more details on him, see my post here)
Top - still from film, of a real helicopter flying through Becton gasworks
bottom - Derek Meddings in front of a large scale miniature.  This was placed in front of the real building, allowing the helicopter to fly safely past it whilst appearing to have come through it.  A similar trick was utilised on the opening sequence of "Octopussy" (1983)
Top - still from film (Bond & Melina escape from the sunken St George to their Neptune sub)
Bottom - A special effects man adjusts the Bond & Melina figures before the explosion (created by compressed air and flash bulbs)
ET (1982, directed by Steven Spielberg)
special effects by ILM, supervised by Dennis Muren
Dennis Muren manipulates the ET puppet (note that it has no legs) on a foreground miniature against a painted backdrop
Aliens (1986, directed by James Cameron)
special effects supervised by Brian Johnson
Okay, it's a sci-fi film set on a distant planet but did you guess that Ripley fighting the Queen on the loading bay was miniature work?  James Cameron is the blonde man with the dark shirt in the foreground
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989, directed by Steven Spielberg)
special effects by ILM
Top image - still from film
bottom image - miniature canyon, built by Paul Huston with painted matte backdrop by Mark Sullivan.  This photograph was taken at the 'wrong' angle, which shows the join (and the various workbenches behind)
Braindead (1992, directed by Peter Jackson)
special effects by WETA
Peter Jackson over a 50's Wellington street miniature
note - there are lots and lots of miniatures in the Lord Of The Rings films, but I won't mention them here
Casino Royale (2006, directed by Martin Campbell)
special effects supervised by Chris Corbould, Venice model by Steve Begg
Top - still from film
Bottom - the model is collapsed in the Pinewood backlot pool, before being digitally composited into location plate footage
The Dark Knight (2008, directed by Christopher Nolan)
special effects supervised by Chris Corbould, miniatures effects by New Deal Studios
Top image - still from film
middle left - the crew behind the miniature garbage truck
middle right - technicians working on the Tumbler
bottom - the miniature set of the tunnels

The next "Movie Miniatures" post will be a celebration of ILM and their non-Star Wars work

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Mystery Of The Coughing Dragon, by Nick West

Since 2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published, I thought it’d be enjoyable to re-read and compile my Top 10 (which might be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here), but this time I will concentrate on my favourite books and try to whittle the best ten from that.

So here we go.
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed between 1971 and 1973), cover art by Roger Hall
Jupiter's smile slowly faded.  "Look behind you," he muttered hoarsely.  Whirling around, Pete and Bob stared, horror-struck, at what had to be impossible.  The cave was slowly opening wider, and something huge and slimy was crawling towards them from the sea.  Backing away, Pete gasped, "It can't be.  It's a dragon!"

Deep in a rocky cavern, a terrifying legend comes to life.  And The Three Investigators are trapped...

Illustration from the Collins/Armada editions,
by Roger Hall
Intrigued by a news report on a spate of missing dogs in the nearby town of Seaside, The Three Investigators receive a call from Alfred Hitchcock who has a case for them.  His friend, Henry Allen, an old-time horror film director, lives there and his dog, Red Rover, has also gone missing, bringing the total to six.  When the boys interview him, he says that whilst looking for his dog, he saw a dragon coming out of the surf and heading for the caves beneath the town.  The boys find it hard to believe - Allen used monsters in his movie - especially when he tells them he also heard the dragon cough but once they start investigating - first with his neighbours and then on the beach - events occur that point towards something very strange happening in the caves below Seaside.

Pete looked at Bob.  “How come he always outvotes us, one to two?”
Bob shrugged.  “He’s just more stubborn than we are. You and I are probably nicer people.”

Working under the pseudonym Nick West, this is the first of two entries in the series by veteran writer Kin Platt - his other being what I consider the worst book of the thirty, “The Mystery Of The Nervous Lion” - and it’s well constructed with plenty of humorous interplay between the boys (Platt started out writing comedy and I once saw his credit on an episode of “Top Cat”).  However, in a similar fashion to “The Mystery Of The Dancing Devil”, which would appear six years later, the central concept is quite preposterous (there’s no other way to put it) and might be difficult for readers to buy into but there’s a lot of pleasure to be gained if you can.

The bulk of the book takes place in Seaside (we don’t see any of the town) with the beach and cave systems being well realised and nicely atmospheric and West builds a plausible history for the city, layering it into the story until all of the (very small) cast are implicated in some way or another.  Headquarters makes an appearance and there’s a welcome return for Mr & Mrs Andrews, with Bob’s dad once again pointing his son on the right track and Pete’s dad helps out by loaning them a projector (I wonder if it was in the same case as the one from “Dancing Devil”?)

Well written and (as mentioned) with some amusing interplay between the boys, this has some excellent set pieces - the gadgetry of Mr Shelby, the collapsing staircase, Bob in quicksand, the odd little cave, the bigger cave, it’s always good to have Worthington involved- and a good pace.  Whilst their client, Henry Allen, only appears briefly, his backstory is well developed and leads into the mystery nicely while his neighbours are well sketched, from Mr Carter and his anger issues - which Bob discovers is tied into family matters when a risky project for Seaside collapsed - to Mr Shelby, his gadgets and the trouble they get him into.  Alfred Hitchcock plays a larger role this time round, running Henry Allen’s dragon film in his projection room for them and at one point, whilst doing his research, Bob finds a book (called ‘Man Is The Prey’ by James Clarke) that’s actually real, which I thought was a nice touch.  West also makes a couple of nice nods to the past, naming one of his thugs Harry (a tradition which, I think, started with “The Mystery Of The Whispering Mummy”) and Blackbeard has one line of dialogue, though he hasn’t been mentioned before and doesn’t appear again.  As for the coughing dragon, I liked the concept of it a lot and I think West uses it well, in terms of suspense (and it’s a chilling image in its ‘lair’), but it doesn’t really make any sense to the scheme that underpins the whole book.  Having said that, it suits the book perfectly and once you know what it is, all of the pieces of the mystery slot nicely into place.

If you can buy into the central concept and accept it for what it is, this is a lot of fun, with a good pace, smart sense of location and nice characterisation.  I did buy into it, I liked it a lot.
Armada format b paperback (printed in 1983 and never re-printed), cover art by Peter Archer
(incidentally, it's the same cover art as used by the format a paperback, printed between 1974 and 1980)
The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall.

All of the images used are scans of my copies, though I would also direct you to Ian Regan's superb cover Art database here