Tuesday, 29 September 2015

GodBomb!, by Kit Power (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book that I've read and really enjoyed, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.
North Devon, England, 1995.

A born-again revival meeting in a public building, the usual mix of the faithful, the curious and the desperate.  And one other... an atheist suicide bomber.

He's angry.  He wants answers.

And if God doesn't come and talk to him personally, he's going to kill everyone in the building...

A short, gripping, gut-punch of a novel, this opens fast and manages to keep its pace right through to the last few lines.  Told in present tense, it focuses on several members of the congregation (who all have cause to question God’s role in their lives) as well as the un-named bomber and weaves them together in a tense fashion, wringing every bit of drama out of the situation.

The characterisation is superbly handled - from an alcoholic called Twitch, to a heavily pregnant true-believer called Emma, from reformed junkie Mike to Katie, a teen who is trying to find her purpose.  Whilst we never discover everything about the bombers philosophy, his actions are confusing enough - vicious, yet tender - to ramp up the suspense as first a lone policeman arrives and then the building is surrounded, as Emma goes into labour.

With flashes of brutal violence that will make you wince to wonderful stream-of-consciousness sections that roll you along, this is an assured piece of writing with a well realised sense of location.  I liked it a lot, highly recommended.

(as a point of interest, I read this for critique which is why my blurb is on the back cover).

As I like to read story notes, I asked Kit where "GodBomb!" came from and this is what he had to say (cheers Kit).

The Genesis of Godbomb!, by Kit Power

As is often the case, GodBomb! came about when two ideas collided with each other. The first was a novel called Zeitgeist, which was written by Todd Wiggins and came out in the mid nineties. I only dimly remember the plot, but at a certain point, one of the characters storms into a church, and as the remaining characters drive away, there is an explosion and the building is destroyed. And I remember thinking ‘Wow - what must have it been like inside that building, in those small number of minutes? What must have gone through everyone’s heads?’

Then, in 1995, for reasons lost to obscurity, at the age of 19, I attended a real life Born Again revival meeting. As someone basically raised as a happy pagan/atheist, it was a profoundly odd experience, and one that I found stuck in my mind. Something I was unable to process properly. My thoughts kept returning to it, and eventually, I felt like I had to sit down and try and write about it.

As I mentioned, I was 19 then, and consequently only wrote the first chapter, before realising it would take more effort and focus that I was willing to give it. So the idea sunk, apparently without trace.

But it wasn’t done with me.

And when I reached a point in my writing when I decided it was time to try for My First Novel, the idea slunk out of the shadows of my subconscious, and stood and stared at me, cold, hard eyes glittering with anger and madness. I looked back, held its gaze, nodded, and started to write…

I’m glad to have this one out of my mind at last, and out in the world.

The novel is available as an ebook from Amazon UK, with a paperback edition forthcoming

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Lost Film - Pre-orders open now!

It's finally here.  Pendragon Press have now opened pre-orders for "The Lost Film novellas", which contains "Lantern Rock" by Stephen Bacon and "The Lost Film" by me - two novellas, linked by theme.

"The Lost Film", available in a limited edition (100 copies) paperback and as an ebook, will be officially launched at FantasyCon in Nottingham, 23rd-25th October 2015.

The pre-order link is here and for a limited time, the paperback is available for £9.

"The Lost Film"
by Mark West

Gabriel Bird is a private detective. He’s been hired to track down Roger Sinclair, an exploitation film-maker who disappeared in 1976, having just completed his last film. Long since lost, “Terrafly” was reputed to have an adverse, often fatal effect on those who watched it. Sinclair’s producing partner, Sorrell Eve, is concerned that the film is about to appear online and wants to make sure it stays lost forever.

As Bird closes in on his target, strange incidents begin to happen to those around him and when he’s offered the chance to watch a clip of “Terrafly”, things turn very dark indeed.

A modern detective story, filled with rich detail of the low-budget heyday of British exploitation films, this will ‘pull you into a dark cinematic nightmare’.

“An impressive, imaginative flight of fancy. Mark West has cunningly woven the exploitation movie industry of the 70s that I experienced into a bizarre private eye yarn and thrown in sex, the supernatural and more besides. It hooked me from the first page to the final, mind-bending fade-out”
- David McGillivray,
screenwriter of "House of Whipcord", "Frightmare", "House Of Mortal Sin" and "Satan's Slave"

"Lights, camera, action...Mark's West's lost film novella will grab your soul by the sprocket holes, pull you into a dark cinematic nightmare, and then re-edit the way you look at the world. Experience it at your peril."
- Gary McMahon,
author of “Pretty Little Dead Things”

A Monochromatic in Central London, 1976
I wrote a little bit about the origins on the story and collection in a blog post (here), but the project has been around since 2010.  Steve & I had been corresponding for a couple of years (we finally met, in person, at FantasyCon in Nottingham in 2010) and enjoyed each others work.  Both of us were in a funk with our writing and joined Conrad Williams' online writing group Fiction Factory, where we also met Neil Williams, which led to the "ill at ease" projects.  I suggested Steve & I team up for a novella length project (he'd never written anything that long before and we both felt like we needed a kick up the arse) and at first we were going to go for a straight collaboration but then decided to try a story each.  As we were brainstorming ideas, he mentioned “lost film” and that was it.

I wrote my first draft from Tuesday 7th September through to Monday 29th November 2010 and it was 52,547 words long whilst the final revision, which I did earlier this year, ended up at 46,912 words.  I had great fun writing it and there was a lot of research involved - both the era and British exploitation films of the 60s and 70s - but I loved weaving true facts into the fictional ones I was littering the manuscript with.  Plus I got to read a lot of crime thrillers to get 'the voice'.

Although it's taken a long time to get here, I've had a great time working on this and I can't wait for it to make its own way into the world!

For more information, keep checking back here and at www.pendragonpress.net

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Mystery Of The Deadly Double, by William Arden

2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published and, to celebrate, I re-read and compiled my all-time Top 10 (safe in the knowledge that it would be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I posted my list here, having previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here).

This year, I decided to read through some of the books that I'd missed on that second read-through, without any intention of posting reviews but, as is often the way, it didn't quite work out like that.  So here's an additional review...
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed in 1979 and never re-printed), cover art by Roger Hall
Before the boys could move, two men leapt out of the Mercedes and grabbed Jupiter.  "If you want to see your friend again, don't follow us!" one of them shouted.  Next moment they had thrust him into their car and were speeding down the highway...

Pete and Bob are baffled when Jupiter is kidnapped.  What could be the motive?  Soon tehy realise that they are caught up in a deadly political struggle, the victims of a strange mistake.  Jupiter Jones has a double...

Illustration from the Collins/Armada editions,
by Roger Hall
The Three Investigators are on their way to a day-out at Magic Mountain when the Rolls (with Worthington at the wheel) is forced off the road and Jupiter is kidnapped by two men “with strange British accents”.  Thanks to Bob & Pete’s quick thinking, the police quickly close in on the kidnappers who end up fleeing empty-handed.  After coverage in the local news, the boys are approached by two members of the Nanda Trade Mission, who reveal that Sir Roger Carew (the liberal Prime Minister of Nanda, an African nation) is preparing to make it an independent country with a majority rule.  White extremists don’t want this to happen and have formulated a plan to kidnap Ian, Sir Rogers’ son, to force him to back down on his plans.  The kidnappers made a mistake because Ian, who has been missnig for a while, looks exactly like Jupiter (with one slight difference, which is cleverly revealed)…

This is the ninth entry in the series by William Arden (Dennis Lynds), following “The Mystery Of The Headless Horse” and it’s great fun.  There are plenty of clues dropped early on - Pete’s lunch goes missing in the first chapter, Jupe’s old clothes disappear and Aunt Mathilda complains that someone is raiding the fridge (Jupe protesting his innocence is amusing) - and the set-up is nicely played.  The kidnapping is a well-staged set-piece, as is Jupe’s first rescue and although the whole book hinges on a big coincidence (I won’t spoil it, but location is key), it doesn’t feel at all contrived.

Nanda is well portrayed with a good sense of history and represented by Gordon MacKenzie and Adam Ndula of the Trade Mission, who make it clear that brotherhood goes beyond skin colour.  There are nice nods to the anti-apartheid movement and the extremists, though not overly racist (this is, after all, a kids book from 1978), are clearly in the wrong.  Even better, one of the characters (again, I won’t spoil it) becomes a hissable villain at one point which makes Jupe’s victory over them all the better.

Set around Rocky Beach (with a quick trip to Hollywood and downtown LA), this makes good use of its locations and the characterisation is well realised, though Ian tends to speak a bit like an over-excited public schoolboy at times (“I say!”).  The boys work well together, there are some nice humorous moments (Pete’s sandwich, especially, plus Jupe making up a plan for them to get the most out of the Magic Mountain rides, which the other two dismiss) and it’s up to Bob & Pete to save the day, which they do.  The hook itself isn’t a secret (there’re two Jupes on the cover of the paperback) though the title isn’t made clear until Alfred Hitchcock himself explains it - “What could be more deadly, more nightmarish, more horrible, than the knowledge that there are actually two Jupiter Joneses in this poor suffering world!  A deadly double indeed!”  One other quick point to make is that Aunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus’ house is described in other books (and I wish I could remember which ones now) as being a small cottage but here, in the hardback artwork at least, is much larger (and reminds me of the Bates house from “Psycho”).

Good fun, with a whip-crack pace that doesn’t let up, this is very much recommended.
Armada format b paperback (first printed in 1982, last reprinted in 1984), cover art by Peter Archer
cover scan of my copy
The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall.

Thanks to Ian Regan for the artwork (you can see more at his excellent Cover Art database here)

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Making Of "Licence To Kill"

As regular readers of this blog might have realised by now, I am endlessly fascinated by the behind-the-scenes process of films and I enjoy reading good making-of books.  In my experience, the Bond films have a spotty track record - for every "Live & Let Die Diary" by Roger Moore, you have the Garth Pearce snooze-fests - but I've just finished this and thought it worth blogging about.

The Making Of Licence To Kill, by Sally Hibbin
Hamlyn, first edition published 1989, cover scan of my copy
"For the first time in 15 years the James Bond production company has allowed an author to work directly alongside the film units during the making of a Bond movie.”

Given free rein on the set, Sally Hibbin made the most of the situation and wrote a book that manages to capture the excitement, hard work, occasional boredom and fun that goes on during the planning and shooting of a film.  With profiles and interviews of all the key players - actors and the production team - Hibbin follows the process from start to finish, explaining what’s going on and how one event ties into another, detailing the triumphs - andd occasional disasters - whilst never losing sight of the huge logistical exercise that making a big film in Mexico and Florida, with up to three units working, actually is.  And whilst she does capture the fun - both in the interviews (Timothy Dalton and Robert Davi seem to have got on particularly well) and pictures - she doesn’t shy away from the awkward areas either.  With a budget similar to that of “Moonraker” (made ten years earlier), the production was forced to leave the Bond spiritual home of Pinewood and set up camp at the Churubusco Studios in Mexico - a complex that production designer Peter Lamont had to kit out from scratch - and this does cause problems that make life just that little bit harder.  The production team come across very well, well versed with each other since it was essentially the same group - from director John Glen through to writers Michael G. Wilson (also the producer, along with Cubby Broccoli) and Richard Maibaum, second unit director Arthur Wooster to cameraman Alec Mills, not to mention special effects supervisor John Richardson (who seemed to alternate his position with Derek Meddings) - that had worked together since “For Your Eyes Only” in 1981.

I’m a big fan of ‘making of’ books and I enjoyed the structure of this, plus it’s lavishly illustrated and nicely in-depth - though if I had one minor complaint, it’s that editor John Grover and the aforementioned Richardson only get about a page and half each covering their jobs, which seems light (though the latter does crop up several times throughout the piece).

I saw “Licence To Kill” (at a little cinema in Torquay) when it first came out in 1989 and I don’t remember being over-impressed - to me, then, it didn’t have the scope of the earlier films and, at the time, it was competing with bigger budgeted action films from the US (such as “Lethal Weapon”).  My appreciation of the film - the acting, the direction and the general tone - has improved as time’s gone on and reading this, my admiration for the film-makers has increased too.  A very thorough, well-written and entertaining book about a film that is still under-rated, I would highly recommend this.

A brief retrospective of the film
"Licence To Kill", the sixteenth official James Bond film, was released in the UK on June 16th 1989.  It was directed by John Glen (his fifth consecutive Bond film), produced by Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli & Michael G. Wilson and written by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum.  Timothy Dalton made his second appearance as Bond, Robert Davi played the villain Franz Sanchez, David Hedison reprised his role (from "Live & Let Die") as Felix Leiter and Carey Lowell played Pam Bouvier, an ex-CIA agent and pilot.  Talisa Soto was Sanchez's girlfriend Lupe, Desmond Llewellyn as Q got his biggest part ever and future big-shot Benicio Del Toro played Dario, Sanchez's chief henchman.

Filmed on a budget of $32m, it has so far made $156.1m worldwide and suffered with competition from several summer blockbusters, namely “Batman”, “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade” and “Lethal Weapon 2”.  Since then, Bond films have been released in Autumn or Winter.

John Glen
This proved to be the last James Bond film for six years, caused by a combination of the relatively poor box office performance and legal wranglings over the ownership of the character.  “Licence To Kill” also marked the last involvement in the series for director John Glen, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, title designer Maurice Binder, editor John Grover, director of photography Alec Mills, along with Timothy Dalton (Bond), Robert Brown (M) and Caroline Bliss (Miss Moneypenny).  It was also the last Bond film where producer Cubby Broccoli was an on-set presence, though he would act as a consulting producer for “Goldeneye” (1995) before his death.

Robert Davi (doing his Groucho impression) and Talisa Soto
This was the first EON productions Bond to get a “15” rating from the British Board of Film Clasification.  It was also the first not to take its title from an Ian Fleming novel or short story, though it does use plot elements from “Live & Let Die” - the feeding of Felix to a shark - and “The Hildebrand Rarity” - for the scene where Sanchez beats his mistress with a whip, in the short story it was Milton Krest who beat his wife with a similar implement.

There are also a couple of nice little in-jokes, the first being that throughout the series (and beyond this film), Q warns Bond about damaging or losing equipment but here, once he’s used his rake/radio, he throws it into the bushes and walks away.  This was, apparently, Llewellyn’s idea.  The second is during the final chase sequence, when Bond jumps onto the trailer and Sanchez shoots at him, the sound of the bullets ricocheting plays the start of the James Bond theme.
Filming the final showdown between Bond and Sanchez - this makes it all look a bit crowded...
Concept poster art

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Old School Horrors 2: The Medusa Horror, by Drew Lamark (and more...)

The second, in an occasional thread, of blog posts celebrating those cheesy, sleazy old-school pulp paperbacks from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  Yes, we’re not talking great art here but these books have their place - for better or worse - in the genre and I think they deserve to be remembered.

Futura Publications 1983 - cover scan of my copy

A party of carefree, fun-seeking treasure hunters set off to find a sunken vessel off the Cornish coast.  Hot sun, gourmet food and - perhaps - a fortune from beneath the waves awaits them.

Moving remorselessly towards them is a ghastly swell of venemous jellyfish.  They exude aggression - and their sting is deadly.  Ensnarled in their slime is a horrible assortment of malevolent creatures intent on destruction.

The excitement of the hunt quickly turns to panic.  And the goal becomes: survival.

A party of treasure hunters set off to find a sunken vessel off the Cornish coast and, in order to keep their find a secret, tell no-one. But “moving remorselessly towards them is a ghastly swell of venomous jellyfish and enslared in their slime is a horrible assortment of malevolent creatures intent on destruction”.

Published in 1983, this is briskly told, with bare bones characterisation (the younger female characters are more defined by looks than anything else) though it does work hard, making a genuine threat of the shoal of poisonous jellyfish that might - or might not - be sentient. However, everything seems to unravel in the last act, with five characters perishing within two chapters, a completely gratuitious sex scene that just serves to put the reader off a character they’d previously supported and the climax relying on someone who opened the novel, but then disappeared for the bulk of it. Lamark (actually Andre Launay) also has a problem with his monster, in that it can’t move of its own accord and gets less scary as the tale goes on.

Having said all that, this does what it’s supposed to for the most part - it’s quick (only 206 pages), has enough characterisation to make you care and enough jolts and gore to make the reader cringe and smile. So for all its downsides (and what’s the last paragraph all about?), as an early 80s British horror exploitation paperback, it does deliver. If you like old school sleazy horror, this’ll work for you - if you don’t, forget it. For the record, I really rather enjoyed it.

The Futura cover shown above was used on the 1983 publication.  Interestingly, the woman also features in the poster for the 1981 shocker "Nightmares In A Damaged Brain".  I wonder if someone at Futura thought that nobody would notice, if they cut out and photocopied the head?

(as it happens, I bought the book because I loved the title and thought the cover looked cool and it wasn't until a couple of years later that I saw poster for the film)

* * * * *
And whilst we're on the subject, here's another...
Star, 1983 - cover scan of my copy

Eighteen storeys of glass and copper gleam in the early morning light. 

Then, windows shatter and eight gnarled human forms are hurled into the air, plummeting to the London street below. 

Fear has taken a room at the Palace Plaza Hotel. Guests, bellhops, management - everyone can feel its ghastly power.... but no one can escape it... and live...... 

staying in a Hotel will never be the same again. 

“Fear has taken a suite at The Palace Plaza. What has unleased this force, so fearful, so destructive? And now it is free, how can it ever be contained?” Very much a book of thirds, this could have been a cracking novel about a haunted, newly built hotel (“a new kind of haunting” as the cover has it) and for the first part, it seems as though it will be.

Natalie Weir is 24, a dynamic PR who goes to work for the new hotel at Hyde Park Gate and things are looking good - she’s assertive, in control, independent. We then meet Donald, a failed composer and musician who whines constantly, fails to kill himself, almost gets stabbed to death by his blind fiancee and then Natalie falls for him. At this point - the second third - the book seems to shift POV and we lose Natalie for a while which is a shame, as her character is a lot better than his. The last third, where stupid scheme builds up on preposterous situation (Natalie’s intended kills himself on their wedding day, shocking her mother into a fatal heart attack and our heroine is a hairs-breadth away from shrugging her shoulders and saying “oh well”), throws everything into the mix, including some gore vignettes that are gruesome fun but out-of-keeping with the rest of the book and we then have the final reveal which, while it’s logical to the plot, just isn’t big enough to sustain the story.

I really wanted to like this but as it stands, the first third apart, it’s a wasted opportunity.

* * * * *
André Joseph Launay was a novelist, essayist, screenwriter, dramatist and humourist, who was born in London (to French parents) in 1930 and died in 2013.  He wrote in English and used various pseudonyms, including André Launay, Drew Launay, Andrew Laurance and Drew Lamark.

In all, he wrote 56 books.  His fiction ranged from family drama, thrillers, horror and erotic humour, whilst his non-fiction encompassed luxury foods, antiques, history and travel.  Married twice, he had four children (his son Nick produced the INXS album “Shabooh Shoobah”) and lived in Spain where he wrote full-time.

A website is maintained by his daughter Melissa Launay, a successful artist and can be found at this link.

For a few years now, I've been collecting old 70s and 80s paperbacks (mostly horror), picking them up cheaply in secondhand bookshops and at car boot sales and slowly building a collection.  My friend (and fellow collector) Johnny Mains once told me that charity shops sometimes pulp old books like this because the market for them is so small - I understand why but I think it's terrible.  We might not be talking great art here but on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis (too much cheese isn't good for anyone's diet), I'm going to review these "old-school" horrors (and perhaps include some bonus material, if I can find it).

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Writing and a positive mental attitude...

We’ve just come back from our annual holiday which, this year, was spent in a place called East Ruston on my beloved east coast.  The Cottages4U website said it was quiet and they weren’t kidding - we were about three miles from Stalham (itself not exactly the hub of the universe) and the place was a hamlet, a small collection of houses, with no shop or pub or any amenities really.
At Wroxham
And it was wonderful.  There was hardly any traffic (I quickly found a good route for my daily 2m power walk and saw perhaps three cars over the whole time), there were no street-lights (you forget just how dark the night is until there aren’t any street lights) and more importantly, there was no wi-fi.  We talked, we played footy or went for little family walks, we played Scrabble and we enjoyed the absolute peace and quiet, though it wasn’t isolated.  Our cottage was one of ten in a group and at least half of them had kids in, so we could hear people about during the day and Dude had some company close to his own age.

I took along “Le Freak”, the Nile Rodgers autobiography (I seem to prefer reading autobiographies when I’m on holiday) which was great (you can read my review on Goodreads here), especially how he’d started the Chic organisation with Bernard Edwards and the different creative adventures he’d had.  That, as it often does, got me thinking about my own creativity and the quiet (and lack of Net access) gave me the space to reflect.

Creativity is one of those odd things to discuss (though, strangely, I often end up doing just that).  If you’re engaged in a creative project - writing, painting, composing music, making films, crafting items, whatever - you know how it feels, you understand the pressures, the highs, the lows, the bits that make sense, the bits that don’t work at all; everyone else sees you sitting there chewing on the end of a pen.  But reading “Le Freak”, where Rodgers is aware that he’s creating great work but still astounded that it’s affecting the zeitgeist, is refreshing.  It’s refreshing in the same way as when you hear writers (in my case) you admire talking at Cons, about their processes and concerns - it re-inforces what you think and feel.

I’m on a bit of a creative roll at the moment, which is always nice.  I’m just about to start the third draft of a war-based novella (which was asked for - I’ve never written a war-time set story before) and I’ve really enjoyed the process, researching it and asking my Dad (a WW2 buff) odd questions, plus I’ve had some great feedback from  my pre-readers.  Once that’s done, I’m into the third Mike Decker story (which is already plotted), that has both a home to go to and will be my critique piece for the next meeting of the Northampton SF Writers Group.  After that, I have two more asked for short stories, then I can get to the novella I’m crafting out of half the “failed novel” pitch I did last year.

Looking at this picture now, I can't help wondering how on earth
Dude saw over the boat to see where he was going...
Right now, I feel good about my writing (which doesn’t happen all that often) and that peaceful week on the east coast helped emphasise that, almost as much as if I had Major Anya Amasova herself sitting there extolling the virtues of a "positive mental attitude".  I played through scenes (from the novella and the Decker short story) in my head as I walked, I read “Le Freak” without the distractions of emails pinging in or Facebook updating and I went out and did things that could inspire future story ideas or give me experience I can use on the page in the future (a boat sequence in the novella is now changed because we hired a boat - Dude did most of the work - to sail up the Thurne).

Now we’re back home, I’m writing this in between revisions with my troop of plucky soldiers and although I’m plugged back into the Net that feeling of last week, that sense of positivity and believing in what I'm doing is still lingering.  And I plan to capitalise on it.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The Penthouse Incident

I'm pleased to announce that "Demonology", the new anthology edited by Dean M. Drinkel, has just been published by Lycopolis Press.  This is the fourth time I've worked with Dean (as the book contains my story "The Penthouse Incident") and this features a welcome (for me) return for my character Mike Decker, who originally appeared in "The Zabriskie Grimoire" (which I blogged about here).  In additional news, I'm going to be writing another Decker story for Dean in the near future.

The Flute Of Gali
Juan J. Guiterrez

The Throne
Peter Mark May

The Call
Charles Rudkin

Sandra Norval

Kelly Gould

From Within
Christopher L. Beck

Anthony Crowley

Interview With Nybbas
Tim Dry

Demon Driver
Adrian Cole

Riding The Hag
S. L. Schmitz

The Penthouse Incident
Mark West

Climbing Out
Paul Flewitt

Our Love Comes Back
Dean M. Drinkel

The book is available (in print editions only at the moment) from the following:

Amazon UK 

Amazon US 

This time around, Decker describes himself thus:

"I am an acquirer, a finder of items lost or hidden and although it’s an occasionally dirty job, I am well paid for it.  I take my job very seriously and I expect other people to do the same.  I once had a meeting with an arrogant playboy who compared me to a personal shopper and it took him almost five minutes to properly take a breath after I’d punched him in the throat."

Mike is hired by Brian Bootle, "one of Gaffney’s pre-eminent pornographers", to find his son Daniel, who has stolen a grimoire from Brian's private collection.  The trail leads Decker to a penthouse suite where, it appears, all hell has broken loose.  I had a lot of fun with this story, making my anti-hero as horrible as possible whilst also poking fun at what sometimes passes as celebrity these days.

I could smell blood in the air as soon as the lift door opened and since it wasn’t a scent you normally associated with one of the finest hotels in the city, it wouldn’t be long until someone complained.  
I stepped out of the lift onto the top floor, occupied by four penthouses.  The corridor in front of me, which serviced all of them, ran the width of the building.  It was wide and thickly carpeted, decorated in such a way as to draw attention to itself without seeming unbecoming.

If my contact was correct, my target was in 6b and the door closest to me, on my left, was 6a.  I walked down the corridor, my footsteps completely muffled.  It was so quiet I could hear myself breathing, along with the faint hum of air conditioning and the gearings of the lift.  I stopped outside 6b.  The door looked exactly the same as the others, there was no pentragram scrawled in blood on one of the ornate inlay panels, no claw marks around the handle, nothing to tip me off that I was in the right place.

Leaning forward, I put my ear close enough to hear anything that might be happening in the room.  Nothing.  I touched the door-handle with my fingertips and it felt vaguely warm.

I knocked and it sounded very loud.  “Room service,” I said, in the cheeriest voice I could muster.  There was a noise but I couldn’t make out what it was.

I looked back along the length of the empty corridor.  The lift had closed.  

I opened the door and pushed it as far as it would go.  The smell of blood was overwhelming and I could almost taste it, it was so thick in the air.  Nobody rushed me so I stepped over the threshold into a small hallway that opened up into a minimalist, modern  suite.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

My Fall Guy summer...

A year ago today, I went into hospital having suffered a heart attack.  It was a shocking experience, a real slap in the face from my mortality that made me look hard at - and change - a lot of things in my life.
left - me on a bike ride (picture by Dude) - 3/8/14
right - me & Dude, at Welland Park, playing football - 2/8/15
I wanted to mark today but wasn't sure how and then found this little essay I wrote in September last year but never got round to publishing on the blog.  As it was written 'in the thick of things', it has an immediacy I couldn't recapture now, so here it is...

* * *

As we glide smoothly into Autumn (my favourite season of the year) and the nights draw in and the mornings darken, it seems - as it often does - as though summer was gone in a blink.  It was, I think.

I had such plans for this summer.  There was a novel I was going to write - I thought it was a fantastic idea, I worked hard on the pitch and critiqued the three chapters with my pre-reader band and my chums at the Northampton SF Writers group, there were adventures to be had with Dude, day-trips to exciting places and our Wales holiday.

The first adventure wasn’t the success I’d been hoping for, as Dude & I went to London for the Film & Comic Con event at Earls Court in July.  The venue was terrible, the staffing levels were appalling and we left mid-afternoon, thoroughly disappointed.  “Why don’t we go into the City?” I asked and Dude agreed and it saved the day from disaster, as we had a lovely afternoon wandering around the capital, visiting our favourite shops, eating a lovely meal on Shaftesbury Avenue and then leaning contentedly on each other in the train home as we read our books.

In early July, the publisher I’d approached with my “Fantastic Novel” pitch turned it down - he was very complimentary about the writing and structure but didn’t feel it was different enough for his list.  As nice as he was, as nice as the compliments were, I was gutted.  I didn’t write anything for a week, a fortnight.  I then had three people contact me wanting short stories, I spoke with Ian Whates from my writing group and Sue Moorcroft, my critiquing partner and writing friend and I started to pick myself back up.

All through this time, events in the world (especially the Gaza situation) were darkening my days and in a bid to stave off a black dog episode, I was browsing through ebay and found the first series of “The Fall Guy” for sale.  I decided to buy it, reasoning that I could binge-watch it (on my own, I presumed) and forget things for a while.

On Sunday 3rd August, I had several attacks of acid reflux - that awful burning in the chest sensation - which had me eating Gaviscon like they were Smarties.  When Dude & I went out for a walk, then a bike ride and my elbows ached, I assumed I’d somehow caught them somewhere.

On Monday, I had more of the acid reflux attacks, so much so that I couldn’t get myself comfortable.  “I feel like I’m dying,” I groaned to Alison.  Thankfully, she’s a lot smarter than me and packed me off to the KeyDoc where I was seen by an apparently very inexperienced doctor (who stank of BO) who carried out an ECG on me that didn’t work and sent me to the hospital for a bloodtest with no accompanying paperwork.

I made my way to Kettering General Hospital at 8pm, my Dad kept me company and at 2am I was admitted to the Coronary Care Unit.  Sometime during the day - or maybe on the Sunday - I had suffered a minor heart attack (“it happens a lot,” the nurse told me cheerfully, “people think they’re having acid attacks and it’s not, it’s little heart attacks!”).  Following a sleepless night, I was second into surgery and after an angiogram to see what was going on had a stent fitted.  The doctor later showed me a video of the operation and, when I was trying to describe it later, I likened it to a SatNav image.  I’ll try it again…

Imagine the M1 cutting down the middle of the screen.  That’s an artery, the dark colour of it the life blood that’s pumping around my body and keeping everything going.  Coming off it is a thinner line, a country lane that doesn’t look wide enough to carry much heavy traffic.  The wire appears, the balloon is inflated, the stent is positioned and suddenly I’m looking at two M1’s.  “Oh,” I said, “I see.”

I spent the rest of the day in hospital, recovering and was sent home that night.  Alison & Dude were thrilled to see me and my Mum gave me a big hug.  Even Dad, who’s not overly prone to displays of affection, hugged me.  They went home, my family went to bed, I sat up and pondered how life was going to change now, how life would have to change now.  And I picked up the box set of “The Fall Guy”, put in a disk and watched it.

I watched more episodes as the week wore on, as people treated me with kid gloves and made sure everything was all right and every time I tried to do something, I was gently pushed back to my seat to take it easy.  I started to call my mini-heart attack an episode, to try and play it down.  I was knackered, I was tired, but I was also very lucky and I wanted to get back on my feet.  As for the attack itself, the doctors reckoned that although my weight was a factor, the contributing causes were my smoking (I gave up when Alison discovered she was pregnant, ten years ago) and family history (my Grampy had several attacks, the last of which unfortunately killed him).

My holiday fortnight came and that first week - which we usually spend heading off on day trips - fizzled to nothing, our only outing being a train trip to Leicester Dude & I went on.  The second week, our time away in Wales, was wonderful but a lot more sedate than normal and I couldn’t chase around in the castle ruins like I’d have done before.

What a great excuse for a picture of The Fall Guy team!
(Douglas Bar, Lee Majors, Heather Thomas)
As the days went by I could feel myself starting to get stronger.  I’d already started losing the weight (some weeks before I saw a picture Alison took of me & Dude on the patio and I was so disgusted at the Jabba The Hutt I’d become, I decided to do something about it - cutting down on crap, more bike riding and loads of walks had lost me 17lbs before the episode), I don’t drink or smoke, but I did have to start eating more fruit & veg and I felt like I could do it.  Dude & I took to going out for a walk - of at least 2 miles a session - at least five times a week, if not six or seven.  And when we came back, after his shower, he & I would sit in a chair - him on my lap - and watch “The Fall Guy”.  He loved it (I didn’t think he would, its pace is much slower than the kids TV he now watches), it was our time and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think he did too.  When we’d finished the first box set, he immediately wanted to watch the next so I ordered it (in case you’re wondering, series 3 to 5 haven’t been released on DVD due to ‘lack of demand’ - it would appear that Dude is the only 9 year old fan of the show).

As the weeks went by and I got better, my desire to write came back and I finished off the story I’d written in first draft before my episode.  The process was fairly smooth, I read it aloud to Alison and it worked for us both and I sent it to the editor who liked it a lot.  I worked on a second story, using images I’d picked up in Wales and the editor liked that one too.  I have another story to write, which is rolling around in my head at the moment but I’m confident about it.  With my other writing, I really want to get back to the novel, to build on the pitch and go off-tangent to it at the same time, as characters and situations suggest themselves to me.

The hospital team made an appointment for me to go in to have a second angiogram, to make sure everything was okay with the first procedure and to see if another thin artery they’d seen before was standing up to the strain.  The appointment was made for Monday 8th September so I got to enjoy the FantasyCon weekend in full before it and I’m so pleased I did.  The Con was great and it was wonderful to see so many old friends, to catch up and laugh and hug and lovely, too, to realise just how much I meant to them.  To those of you reading this who came up to me that weekend and hugged me or held my arm and looked me in the eyes and said “it’s so good to see you”, it meant so very much to me, it really did.

We were almost done with the second series of “The Fall Guy” before FantasyCon so Dude & I agreed to leave a couple of episodes over until I’d been back into the hospital.  I went in on the Monday afternoon for the angiogram and it was awful - they simulated another heart attack and for a terrible handful of minutes, it felt like someone was wringing my chest bones.  Everything was clear though and I was home by 8.30pm without a need for the second stent.  I’m due to start the Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme on the 29th and, hopefully, they’ll give me the nod to get back on my bike (Dude & I have so missed our adventures).

I feel better in myself, my strength is returning, my fitness is increasing all the time and the weight is still coming off, which is reassuring - I’ve not gone back to the takeaways or loads of sweets and it’s not been the struggle I thought it would.  But then, I look at my family and friends, I look at Alison & Dude and see them looking at me and realise that’s why.

I want to remember 2014 as my “Fall Guy” summer and I hope that Dude does too (he doesn’t talk much about the episode but I can sometimes see it playing away behind his eyes) because that 30 year old TV show managed to sand off a lot of the sharp edges caused by a couple of months of horror, pain and sobering reality and I’ll always be grateful for that.

The update:
- The Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme was a huge success for me (thanks so much to Iona and her team), they gave me a real burst of confidence to get out and get exercising (and not worry that I was going to kill myself)

- The Cardiac team at KGH were so impressed with my progress, my twelve-month assessment was brought forward and I was released from their care after six months

- Dude still worries about the whole thing (though it's lessening with time).  For months, he didn't like me going out on my own ("If I'm not there, who'll help you?") and he & I have had several long and indepth chats about it - he can see that I'm thinner, that I'm looking after myself and getting fitter, but the doubt is still sometimes in his eyes.  The British Heart Foundation produce a brilliant pamphlet called "My Dad's Heart Attack" which we read together and I think it helped, as the story in that is identical to his experience with me.

- I never did write that novel, though I've now sold a novella based on half of the pitch so that's a plus

- Dude still talks about The Fall Guy and when he leaps around, I sometimes call him Colt-junior, which makes him smile.  I wrote a blog post about the show, which seemed to go down well

- I've already blogged about my quest to lose weight and I'm pleased to say that yesterday's weigh-in saw me down to 13st 7.5lbs (a total loss of 69.25lbs and just 0.75lbs off 5st), so I'm obviously going in the right direction

- I am fitter than I have been in years, so much so that a few weeks back I played for a Dads Eleven at Dude's football team and didn't disgrace myself at all

- I'm still here, I'm enjoying my life, I'm surrounded by wonderful family and friends and I'm writing again.  What more could I want?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

"Beware The Moon, Lads..." - An American Werewolf under the stars

Regular readers of this blog (there must be one or two of you) might remember that back in early May (and if you need reminding, I blogged about it here), my friend David & I went to see “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind”, the first film in an open-air programme run by Luna Flix at Stanwick Lakes.  It was great fun and we both thoroughly enjoyed the evening so when we saw that “An American Werewolf In London” was showing, we were dead set on it - even better, it was scheduled for July 31st, to be shown under a blue moon.  Oh yes!
"You made me miss!" - David & I get into the spirit of things...
David arrived at Stanwick Lakes first and secured us a couple of decent spots, middle row centre.  Luna Flix use a terraced area to the side of the Lake as their theatre and whilst for “Close Encounters” there were probably fifty or so people there, this time well over a hundred were expected - the show was sold out and the place was packed.
I got there for about 8.20 and as I walked around with other film-goers, I saw that the road sign had been ‘adapted’ for the evening, which made me smile.  Walking across the grass (and I couldn't help but hear Brian Glover advise me to “keep off the moors!"), I heard a steady stream of moon-related songs blasting out of the theatre.  At the ticket desk, the two ladies in charge were wearing make-up to simulate scratch wounds and looked great and there was a real sense of atmosphere with the people in the queue.  When I got into the theatre itself, I was genuinely surprised to see so many people there - the horror film, it appears, is as popular as ever.  I said hello to Simon Hopkins, the Luna Flix head honcho (we don’t know each other but have chatted on FB and he seemed to remember me from last time), found David and we caught up on things.  At one point, the music was switched off and everyone was encouraged to yell “you made me miss!” at whoever had just walked in.  That helped build the atmosphere, especially when the newcomers reacted - I went to the loo and when I came back, one lone bloke at the back shouted it at me.  I waved at him.

The film wasn’t scheduled to start until 9.40, when it was dark enough and as David & I chatted and made ourselves comfortable and wrapped up warm (we learned our lesson last time), people were still coming in (“you made me miss!”) and looking around in a panic, trying to find somewhere to sit.  After a brief introduction, we got a ‘surprise’ bonus film and it was a lovely touch that got people into the spirit nicely.  Then, in Blu-Ray splendour, we moved onto the main feature.

"An American Werewolf In London" is one of my all-time favourite films, for a whole load of reasons and it never fails to disappoint.  The camaraderie between David & Jack is spot on, Jenny Agutter is beautiful, it's very funny ("a naked American man stole my balloons..."), it's very gruesome (I still find the home invasion dream sequence - and subsequent stabbing - shocking), it has the whole 'Moondance' sequence, Rick Baker thoroughly deserved his Oscar and it's tightly written (with a wonderful English sensibility to it).

Like most people my age, my first exposure to the film was on a fairly dark and cloudy VHS (it wasn’t until I first saw it on DVD that I realised the naked bloke on the moor at the start was the original werewolf and not Griffin Dunne’s Jack) and seeing it, on the big screen and in HD, was a real treat.  The image was a little grainy and maybe some of the make-up edges showed but it was glorious and the sound was explosively loud (I hadn’t realised before how ‘jumpy’ the soundtrack was).  The film is 35 years old next year (I’m already planning my ‘retrospective’ article and wrote about Rick Baker earlier this year) and it held up superbly, easily keeping the large audiences attention completely.  Personally, I loved it (and yes, the ‘Moondance’ sequence looked particularly splendid) and spent the whole time with a big grin on my face.
Jenny Agutter, just prior to 'Moondance'.  She's lovely.
It was a fantastic experience (Rick Baker's transformation is still, all this time later, simply staggering and John Landis' direction moves at a hell of a pace) and the film got a round of applause as the credits rolled.  As David & I walked back to the car park (“keep off the moors lads!”), he admitted he wasn’t sure if he’d seen the whole film before but had loved it and we reminisced about how nostalgic it was, looking at an England from 1980/81 that we both clearly remembered - the cars, the clothes, three TV channels, the nurses uniforms, the shops that don’t exist any more and a Picadilly Circus that was a lot seedier than it is now (but, perhaps, just that little bit better).

“An American Werewolf In London”, under the stars and a full moon, was a real treat and I really enjoyed myself.  I’m not sure what we’re going watch in the programme next, but I can’t wait to go!

If you’re local, check out the schedule here and pop along, it’s great fun.

and here, for your viewing pleasure, is the masterful transformation sequence in all its glory...

Simon Hopkins (Luna Flix head honcho) and his "werewolf victim" crew...
(thanks to Simon for the picture)