Monday, 20 May 2019

Closer Still, by Richard Farren Barber (a review and Q&A)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.
Keep your friend close, and your enemies closer still.
- Origin contested

“Closer Still is about childhood friends and childhood enemies. It is a story about how the two are often not as far apart as one might believe. It is my thoughts on the strength of children to navigate an environment in which they are often powerless. It is about love and betrayal. The casual pain inflicted by friends. It is the visceral cry of youth against the injustice of life.”

Rachel is fifteen, burdened with the nickname ‘Kooky’ and seemingly ostracised from a small group of girls she was once part of.  To make matters worse, she’s being haunted by her best friend Katie, who sits or stands quietly in the corner of Rachel’s bedroom.  As time goes on and Katie discovers more powers - she spends a long time trying to roll a pencil over a dresser top - Rachel’s ex-friends begin an insidious campaign of bullying - online and in person - that serve to make Rachel ever more isolated and alone.  She’s cornered in cloak rooms, harassed in corridors and chased down the street, the latter incident videoed to go viral through the school.  Although this brings in the authority figures - parents and teachers - her reluctance to talk and the natural reserve/disdain of a fifteen-year old prevents any kind of breakthrough.  And meanwhile, the bullying gets worse and Katie’s presence becomes ever stronger.

I thoroughly enjoyed Barber’s previous novella Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence and this is equally as good, if poles apart.  A perfectly paced ghost story that turns up its horror - both real and supernatural - as it goes, this benefits greatly from having Rachel as the narrator (unreliable at times), with Barber capturing her voice exceptionally well.  School life feels real and raw with the sense of being alone in a crowded classroom or playground, the demeanour of the teachers which can be threatening or benign but never fully on your side, the smell of the rooms and corridors, the terror of being trapped in a toilet block.  At home, we see very little of Rachel’s life other than in her bedroom, where parents only occasionally intrude but the spectre of Katie is often there and watching.  The supernatural hand is played well, with Katie appearing early enough that we quickly accept she’s a part of Rachel’s world and as the terror and threat ramp up, she becomes evermore frightening.  The ex-friends are equally well realised and never fully painted to be the villains of the piece.  In lesser hands, ringleader Sarah would be the stereotypical bully but her character is developed to show different sides and angles, while hangers-on Francine and Joanna find themselves in a situation they don’t want to be in but can’t seem to get out of.  As all these lives spiral downwards, it seems that Katie has a plan in mind and when her retribution is unleashed, it’s brisk and harsh and clearly building to a bigger picture.

Exceptionally well written, with a great sense for location and atmosphere, this is a perfectly realised ghost story and I would highly recommend it.

* * *
I enjoyed the story so much, I asked Richard some questions about it and he was gracious enough to answer.
Richard, Stephen Bacon, me and Wayne Parkin, doing a boyband pose
on Scarborough seafront during FantasyCon weekend, September 2016.
You can read a full report of the convention here
MW:   Can you give me some idea as to where this came from?  And bearing in mind how perfectly the cover title (and quote) work, did that come early in the process or later?

RFB:  The novel was originally going to be a script, and it goes back many years. I started it to submit to the BBC Writers’ Room in 2009. It was called Wallflowers and I still have the original 31 pages of script, and that taught me one thing; writing a script is not the same as writing prose! It’s a whole different technique and skillset (and I have no doubt there are script writers the world over who would read this and roll their eyes) Although I don’t remember actually submitting it, I must have done as I still have the receipt from the BBC.

By 2014, when I came back to the idea and decided that I wanted to write it as a novella, I had the title of Closer Still which came directly from the quote. (Although I had to Google the origin of the quote!).  I did have an idea that Closer Still would be the first of two novellas, with the second called Still Closer, which would tell the story from Katie’s viewpoint, because I think Katie has a lot to say and I have a lot of sympathy for her. I even wrote the start of an outline but I haven't gone back to it yet. Maybe one day...

MW:   You treat the supernatural almost as a normal occurrence in this, with Rachel fully accepting it.  Did you worry about how this would come across (it’s works very well, in my opinion)?

RFB:  One of the things I really like playing with in fiction is casting the supernatural as natural; so in Closer Still Rachel simply accepts that Katie is a ghost and has the usual curiosity about what being dead really feels like.

I’m fascinated by the idea that quite often “stuff” is out in the open and we just don’t know it because we don’t really know to notice it. That idea that the best place to hide things is in plain view. I often wonder what is behind the small door that you walk past every day, why the windows of that house are boarded up.

It’s a subject I’ve come back to with my recent novel The Living and The Lost - where again it starts from the basis that ghosts are a simple fact of life (I do like ghost stories!) and runs with it from there.

I don’t think I really worried about how it would come across, because my idea was that either you’re able to suspend disbelief for the duration of the story or you’re probably reading the wrong genre. Interestingly, I heard Joe Hill talk recently and he said his approach was that if the story had anything unusual or difficult to digest, get it out at the very start because the readers will be more accepting of it.

MW:   Obvious question but I’m intrigued - have you ever had a supernatural experience?

RFB:  I haven’t had a supernatural experience. The closest I’ve come to was going into St Mary’s Close in Edinburgh and having a ghost tour in the semi-darkness. By the end of the tour I was living on the edge of my nerves – the place was genuinely eerie. I found myself at the very back of the group and constantly looking over my shoulder into the darkness. Did I see anything moving behind me? I don’t think so, but I realised that if anyone had put a hand on my shoulder I would have screamed loud enough to wake the dead.

MW:   I loved the school location and found it reminded me a lot of my own.  But since you & I left full-time education during the 80s, how much research did you have to do?

RFB:  Thank you! I’ll confess I didn’t do any research. The school is based on my memories of the schools I attended back in the 80s. In many respects I have an awful memory, but I seem to have a knack for remembering places.  Just the other week I was discussing this with someone and saying I think if I went back to my secondary school now, and if it hadn’t changed, I think I could walk around the site without getting lost. If I close my eyes now I can see whole sections of the corridors. But if you asked me to name who was in my class or almost anything about Chemistry then I wouldn’t have a clue.

MW:   Rachel carries the novella and I found her to exceptionally well realised.  Was writing from her pov (bearing in mind you’re neither female or in your teens) ever daunting?

RFB:  It was definitely a challenge to write a main character where the age and gender were so far removed from my own – and therefore the life experiences and attitudes would be different. It was a deliberate decision to write a piece of fiction from a view point other than middle-aged-white-man. I’m not sure how well it reflects true life, but I tried to tap into that the sense of being an outsider. The feelings of injustice and guilt Rachel is dealing with are relatable to all of us.


You can find Richard online at Twitter here

Monday, 13 May 2019

Novelisation Review 1: "Vega$" by Max Franklin

The first of an occasional thread celebrating old-school paperback novelisations from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  We're not talking great art but these books have their place - they were a fantastic resource from a time when you couldn't watch your favourite film or TV show whenever you felt like it - and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time, I'm looking at Vega$, by Max Franklin, adapted from the US TV series.

Las Vegas private detective Dan Tanna is hired by a Merle & Loretta Ochs to find their runaway teenaged daughter, Marilyn Nedloe - it's not the first time she's made a break for the lights.  Tanna quickly locates her, only to find she's working as a prostitute for Larry Larry Johnson and when he breaks her free, discovers she doesn't want to go home.  It appears that her stepfather, Merle, has been coming on strong and Tanna doesn't like it.  But Marilyn has made a mistake and turned over a trick who is connected with the mob and soon Tanna is trying to discover who murdered her and Larry Larry.  In the meantime, he's trying to stop a conman fleecing the casino, act as bodyguard to a nightclub entertainer and buy a birthday gift for his secretary's daughter.

Dan Tanna is “a hard guy for hire in a hard-hearted town” according to the cover blurb and for the most part, that’s true.  Although the book maintains that Vegas is trying to keep itself clean (there’s no Mafia here), it doesn’t shy away from the sleazier side of things.  Marilyn Nedloe has turned to prostitution and although she’s of age looks younger and uses that to her advantage, which is uncomfortable (though never graphically explored) while some of the violence is harsh indeed.  Franklin has a snappy style, the story fairly rocks along but it does come unstuck in places, where you can see the need for a commercial break slotted into the flow of action.  The main story - Marilyn and Larry Larry and why they’re killed - is well handled, even if the ending is a bit brisk, but the sub-plots (the man trying to fleece the casino and the birthday business) aren’t much more than fillers.  I liked Tanna (and detected a sense of Spenser about him - and the Parker books were certainly around when this was written - especially with the gallantry but that might be because of the Urich connection), though everyone seems to know him and he seems to rely on the grace of various friends in police forces across the country to get information to crack the case.  The locations are well used, Vegas seems grubby in the daylight (and this was before the glitz explosion) but I thought the book let itself down in how it treats the female characters (you could argue it was the times but Franklin also wrote for “Charlies Angels”).  As it is, apart from Tanna’s main secretary Beatrice - who is well realised - the rest of the women are poorly sketched, especially Angie, Beatrice’s deputy, who is essentially an attractive bit of set dressing.  That aside, this is a prime novelisation, it’s brisk and no-nonsense, does what it says on the tin and is generally quite enjoyable.

The novelisation is based on the pilot episode, High Roller, written by Michael Mann.  I picked up my copy from Books and Pieces in Nottingham, on the Crusty Exterior gathering there (which you can read about here).

* * *
Judy Landers, Robert Urich, Phyllis Davis and Tony Curtis
Vega$ ran for three series, from April 1978 through to June 1981 and 69 episodes and appeared in the UK in November 1978.  Produced by Aaron Spelling, it was created by Michael Mann who’d worked on American TV in the mid-70s writing scripts for Police Story and Starsky & Hutch.  It appears he had little more to do with the series following the pilot he wrote and he clearly went on to bigger and better things.

The series was filmed entirely on location in Las Vegas (apart from special episodes set in Hawaii and San Francisco) and starred Robert Urich as private detective Dan Tanna, a VietNam vet on retainer to the Maxim Hotel run by Phillip Roth (played by Tony Curtis).  He lived in a props warehouse and parked his car - a red 1957 Ford Thunderbird convertible - inside (which is pretty much all I can remember about the series, other than the vehicles appearances in Corgi catalogues).  He was ably assisted by Bobby Borso (Bart Braverman) and his trusty secretaries Beatrice Travis (Phyllis Davis) and Angie Turner (Judy Landers), while Lt. David Nelson (Greg Morris) was his contact in the police force.  Tanna’s older sister Julie (played by Catherine Hickland) appears in the pilot and novelisation but didn’t feature for the remainder of the run.  Will Sampson played Harlon Twoleaf, Tanna's sergeant from his army days, but only appeared in the first series.

The name “Dan Tanna” came from Aaron Spelling’s favourite restaurant (though it was called Dan Tana’s), on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, California.

* * *
Max Franklin was a pen name for the prolific pulp fiction writer Richard Deming.  Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1915, he gained degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and the State University of Iowa, before being drafted into the army nine months before Pearl Harbour.  When he left service five years later, he sold a short story called The Juarez Knife to Popular Detective magazine.  It featured a tough, disabled private eye named Manville “Manny Moon” (he’d lost his leg in World War 2) who went on to appear in more stories across a range of detective pulp magazines.  In 1950, though his timing coincided with the collapse of the pulp market, Deming became a full-time writer and ended the 50s writing stand-alone novels as well as paperback originals featuring characters from Dragnet.  He created another series, featuring vice cop Matt Rudd, during the 60s and also wrote non-fiction.

In the early 70s, he became a key player in the tie-in market for popular TV shows, writing more than twenty paperback original novels for the likes of Mod Squad, Charlie’s Angels and Starsky & Hutch, as well as the novelisation for the 1974 film 99 44/100% Dead.

In additional to his output as Richard Deming, he also wrote as Emily Moor, Nick Morino, Ellery Queen (ten novels under the house name during the 60s), Max Franklin (for his novelisation work), Richard Hale Curtis and Halsey Clark.

Richard Deming died in 1983.

for further bibliographical details, Fantastic Fiction has a thorough section on him.

For a few years now, after finding out charity shops sometimes pulp old books because the market for them is so small, I've been collecting 70s and 80s paperbacks through secondhand bookshops, car boot sales and ebay.  I set up a thread for the horror titles (which you can see here) but novelisations were a rich vein in those decades, before the advent of home video, when viewers wanted to revisit the adventures of their favourite TV show or film.  I realise 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, I'm going to review these "old-school" tie-ins with, hopefully, some background material on each one.

Monday, 6 May 2019

A Summer To Remember, by Sue Moorcroft

Regular readers of the blog will know Sue Moorcroft and I have been friends for a while, having met at the Kettering Writers Group in 1999 (the group leader was of a more literary bent, so we genre writers were consigned to the back of the room, where we had great fun).  Since then she's gone from strength to strength, hitting number one in the Kindle Bestseller charts (with The Christmas Promise) while also becoming a Sunday Times Best Seller in the process and I've featured her a lot on blog (to see more, click this link).  I'm also pleased to be one of her beta-readers and her latest novel, A Summer To Remember, has jumped straight into my all-time top 5 favourites of her work.
As part of the blog tour, I have an extract from the novel to share with you and I'll also include my review.  In addition, I picked Sue's brains, at one our Trading Post meet-ups, for a Q&A session about the book.

COME AND SPEND SUMMER BY THE SEA!
WANTED! A caretaker for Roundhouse Row holiday cottages.

WHERE? Nelson’s Bar is the perfect little village. Nestled away on the Norfolk coast we can offer you no signal, no Wi-Fi and – most importantly – no problems!

WHO? The ideal candidate will be looking for an escape from their cheating scumbag ex-fiancé, a diversion from their entitled cousin, and a break from their traitorous friends.

WHAT YOU’LL GET! Accommodation in a chocolate-box cottage, plus a summer filled with blue skies and beachside walks. Oh, and a reunion with the man of your dreams.

PLEASE NOTE: We take no responsibility for any of the above scumbags, passengers and/or traitors walking back into your life…

GET IN TOUCH NOW TO MAKE THIS A SUMMER TO REMEMBER!


For the past six years, since Alice had jilted Lee and Aaron had bought Lee out of the property, she’d looked after Alice’s half of Roundhouse Row with a tiny fragment of her capabilities. A part-time caretaking job would be a breeze; a summer in Norfolk would help her heal. She’d wilfully ignored Aaron’s astounded reply: TOMORROW??? What about references??? Or me being able to chat with this person? And, later, Clancy! Please reply! She’d put her phone on ‘do not disturb’ in case he broke the tacit agreement of only communicating via email, and rang.

And that’s how she’d ended up sitting amongst boxes last night, packing recklessly for a low-effort life change and a place to lick her wounds. She’d been able to look into Will’s mortified face and say with manufactured indifference, ‘I have somewhere to go. You needn’t worry.’ She’d handed him the white leather file emblazoned with September Wedding in silver. ‘You’ll find everything in here that you need to cancel our wedding. It’s only fair that you take responsibility as you’re the one to find someone new.’ Then she’d completed her packing with the images of wedding dresses and morning suits swimming in the tears in her eyes, remembering, now she was about to return to Nelson’s Bar, Alice’s wedding day.

Clancy was getting an agonising taste of what Lee must have felt. Surely Alice couldn’t truly have imagined Lee’s pain at being left at the altar like that? Or she would have arranged some gentler way of withdrawing from the marriage.

Now, with Lee’s brother Aaron looking on, she swal¬lowed convulsively against empty-stomach nausea. The fluttering in her ears grew louder and cold sweat gathered on her face. Ever the pragmatist, she murmured, ‘I think I should sit down.’

And she did. The room rushed past her and the floor flew up to hit her, hard.

She heard Aaron exclaim, then a warm hand guided her head down towards her knees and his voice seemed to come from far away. ‘Are you ill?’

Politely, she replied, ‘I’m OK. I just missed breakfast.’ Cautiously, she eased away from him and lifted her head. The room only spun slightly. And that might have been because she’d been suddenly engulfed in the memory of the last time Aaron had touched her. It hadn’t occurred to her that he’d still affect her.

* * *
My review:

There’s so much to like about this novel and I did, it was a superb read.  Clancy, her heroine, is a terrific character who’s sexy and smart, damaged but strong and she grabs you by the hand and runs you through the story.  Everything she does is realistic and feels right so we fully identify with her situation and all the bad stuff that befalls her.  Aaron, her romantic foil, is well drawn, hunky, down-to-earth and a real countryboy to Clancy’s metropolitan lady, adding a nice will-they/won’t-they (end up together because of their differences) to the course of their romance.  Sue’s graceful writing throws up some particularly unpalatable characters, two of which I actively despised, as well as the usual cast of quirky locals.  This time around the story is set in Nelson’s Bar, a little bit of headland near Hunstanton and it’s so well described you could almost see the houses and feel the salt in the air.  With a nice sub-plot sympathetically dealing with a gay relationship in a small community, a one-eyed dog and a loving older couple who can no longer live together (their choice), this is a cracking read, full of tension, romance and humour, told with great pace and I absolutely loved it.  Very highly recommended.

* * *
5 Questions With Sue Moorcroft:

MW:   Where did the idea come from? Clancy is another in your line of strong, if slightly wounded heroines.  What prompted you to make the choices for her character you did?

SM:   The spark for the story, which also formed a chunk of Clancy’s issues, was a Tweet. It depicted a couple caught in an intimate moment on the guy’s video conferencing software which, somehow, he’d managed to leave running. Because he was fully dressed it wasn’t pornographic but the activity in which they were engaged couldn’t be mistaken. I began to wonder whether the man and woman were single or, if not, who they were cheating on. How did the video, or a still from it, make it onto social media? Where were these people employed? Did they lose their jobs? Did it cause embarrassment to the employer as well as to the couple? Or, as the still didn’t show faces, did they get away with it? Who else had been involved in the video call?

MW:   Why head to the seaside this time?

SM:   I like the seaside! Some time ago I read an article about a tiny village that was up for sale - the whole village. I think it was forty-seven cottages and a manor house. At first my idea was that Clancy would somehow get the money to buy the whole thing but I soon went off that, partly because my agent wasn’t keen. Only a couple of things stuck: a very small village; the kind of problems some rural communities experience with mobile signal and broadband.

The connectivity issues were quite a driving factor for the story and for as many plot points as it gave me, it took others away. A place I remembered visiting that suffering signal issues was north Norfolk so I put my village, Nelson’s Bar, there. It doesn’t hurt that I love the area and thoroughly enjoyed a visit of a few days to research. The mobile signal is much improved there now but there were enough ‘not-spots’ to work with my story. To make certain, I put Nelson’s Bar up on a headland that protrudes out to sea so for it to lie in a no-signal area was credible.
Members of Sue's street team - Team Sue Moorcroft - at Bacchus Bar, Birmingham, 6th April (photo courtesy John Jackson)
from left - John Jackson, Kim Nash, Sue, Mick Arnold, Louise Styles, some bloke, Maggie Sullivan, Anne Williams, Rachel Gilbey, Tracy Ann
MW:   What prompted your decision that Aaron and Clancy should have a history, however brief and unsatisfactory?

SM:   It added to Clancy’s issues and gave Aaron something to deal with. When they’d met in the run-up to the wedding of Clancy’s cousin Alice and Aaron’s brother Lee sparks had ignited between them. For that to combust in the form of a furious row when Alice left Lee at the altar set them for an awkward intervening span of years when Clancy was left looking after Alice’s half of Roundhouse Row and Aaron had bought Lee out of his half.

Fiction isn’t interesting without conflict. Also, when protagonists have history it makes the opening of the book pretty interesting.

MW:   You acknowledge struggling with this novel.  After so many years of writing them, why do you think this happened?

SM:   I’ve asked myself this question A LOT! I think I had so many things I wanted to include in this book that I wanted to get it down while it was all in my head. This led me to neglect my own golden rules of knowing, even before I start writing, the major conflicts of each central character and his or her major goals. This meant I had to work them out as I went along. It made me worry about focus and also I went up a big blind alley that took a bit of reversing out of. I can’t remember exactly what it was but I remember going to bed one night and suddenly breaking out in a sweat as I realised that my story threads had no chance of coming together. In that situation, it’s not just words that are wasted; time is wasted too. With two books a year to write I’m always time-poor so I got a bit stressy.

In the end, I decided to send the second draft in to my editor with everything crossed and see what she thought. It was such an incredible relief to receive the lightest edit notes ever! Either I was stressing about nothing or I’d wrangled the problems into submission.

And, as you know, my trusted beta reader (a chap called Mark West) liked it too!

MW:   Thanks, Sue and good luck with the book!

SM:   Thank you, for inviting me onto your blog and for taking part in my blog tour. I owe you a large diet Pepsi.

Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times and international bestselling author and has reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle. She’s won the Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary, and has been nominated for several other awards, including the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards.




Website: www.suemoorcroft.com
Blog: https://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/ 
Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/SueMoorcroftAuthor
Twitter: @suemoorcroft
Instagram: suemoorcroftauthor
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suemoorcroft
Amazon author page: Author.to/SueMoorcroft

Monday, 29 April 2019

The Art Of British Comics (in the 70s) - part 2

Since my last post on British comics in the 70s (which you can read here), I've collected a few more issues via ebay and picked up a couple of reprint collections from Rebellion too.  Time and again, I'm struck by the high quality of the artwork, both for the strips themselves and the covers and I still think it's a real shame you don't see this kind of thing any more.

So, to once again make up for the lack of hand-drawn colour on comic shelves these days, here's another selection of covers from the 1970s.

Enjoy...
The issue of Action that caused a whole host of problems for the comic, not only for this cover (and the strip it came from) but also because, in the Look Out For Lefty strip, a footballer is injured when a bottle is thrown at his head by the heroes girlfriend.  For more details, Lew Stringer wrote an excellent blog on the issue, which you can read here 
For more info on Bullet, I blogged about it previously here
I previously blogged about Starlord (you can read the post here)
I blogged about Tornado earlier this year (you can read the post here) as it celebrates its 40th anniversary
I previously blogged about this comic here

If you enjoyed this, I'd highly recommend Great News For All Readers and A Resource On Jinty, two excellent comic blogs


Thanks to Lew Stringer (Action and Warlord covers)

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Happy Birthday Nick

On the 21st, my oldest and best friend Nick became a fellow member of the Half-Century Club.
Nick, Alison, me and Dude, January 2019
I wrote about Nick in 2014 (you can read the post here) and everything in it still holds true.  We first met in September 1976, the first day of junior school - I was new to Rothwell and didn't know anyone else in the class - and the teacher sat us next to each other.  We became firm friends that day and, wonderfully, we still are.
detail of school photograph, Rothwell Juniors, 1977, with Nick on the left
Over the years, we've had some great times (and some down times), we've run the world, put on plays, saw Jarre at the Docklands, holidayed, laughed and had terrific adventures together.  My brother-from-another-mother (as kids we spent so much time in each others houses you got fed by whichever Mum was in your orbit), I was his Best Man, he was mine and he's Dude's godfather.

I saw two quotes which I think sum Nick & I up perfectly.  The first is more sentimental...

A good friend knows all your best stories, a Best Friend has lived them with you

The second made me laugh and would have the same effect on him...

I want to be the reason you look down at your phone and smile.  Then walk into a pole.


Happy birthday Nick and here's to many more!
1979, Mum attempts to skateboard.  I'm holding onto her, Nick's in front of me
1986, last day of school (Sixth Form trip to Great Yarmouth) - from left; James MacDonald, Steve Corton, me, Phil Cross, Nick (he wore that top hat for years...)
1987, off on a bike ride
1988, on Corton beach with Tracy and Sarah
1988, high above Bath in the back of a Hercules (Nick was in the RAF at the time)
1990, on the way to his wedding, his mum's car broke down.  Not the best start, it has to be said...
1998, our wedding day
2009, pulling faces with Dude in Taddiport
2013, in Market Harborough
2015, post heart attack and weight loss (both mine)

Monday, 15 April 2019

The Crusty Exterior Strikes Back (In Nottingham)

The Crusty Exterior is a group of friends, united in their love for the horror genre, books and, of course, a good curry.  The core of the group - James Everington, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris and me - met up for the first time at Andromeda Con in 2013 (see my report here), though Steve & I go back much further, first corresponding in the late 90s when he ran a newsletter called The Inner Circle.  Last year, we had a Leicester meet (see my report here) and there was a smaller gathering, also in Leicester, for my birthday (see my report here) this year.
In Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem (from left: Wayne Parkin, Penny Jones, Simon Jones, me, Ross Warren, Phil Sloman and James Everington)
On Saturday, almost four years to the day since that first London gathering (see here), the Crusty Exterior rode again with a few new members as we met up in Nottingham (ably organised by James).  As well as the original contingent (minus Steve), the ranks included Wayne Parkin, Richard Farren Barber, Ross Warren, Penny & Simon Jones and Jay Eales & Selina Lock.  I decided to travel up by train and, by chance, found it was 40p cheaper to pick specific time trains and go First Class than it was to have an open return in Second Class.  So I got to share a whole carriage with two other people, enjoyed the peace and quiet and the free tea and biscuits as well as getting plenty of reading done.

In Nottingham, Penny & Simon Jones (on the same train) waited on the platform for me and I spotted the very tall Penny - and her striking blue hair - immediately.  After catching up, we went through the barriers and met James in the concourse, hugs and hellos all round, before wandering up to a coffee shop to talk writing and conventions and our plans for the day.  We headed back to the station to get Phil, more hugs and hellos, then walked across town toYe Olde Trip To Jerusalem pub.  Wayne Parkin was already at the bar waiting for us and it was good to see him, it’s been far too long.  As we caught up with him, Ross Warren appeared - he hadn’t told anyone he was coming, so that was a great surprise.  We got drinks, headed upstairs to the cursed galleon (it’s very dusty), commandeered a corner and talked books, horror, Facebook, Top Trumps, a bit of politics and all manner of things.  Richard Farren Barber arrived, fresh from a holiday in New York and sat next to me and we discussed commercial decisions and writing crime/thriller novels while sticking with horror shorts and novellas (and he gave me a couple of books too, which is always nice).  Once Jay Eales and Selina Lock joined us, we headed into town for lunch.
"Tintin!"
James had a sandwich bar in mind and we trooped off to it (having observed, from a distance, a stand-up argument between two drunks carried out over the 100 yards separating them as he walked much faster than her) and Wayne & I discovered a Tintin shop but didn’t go in.  James’ shop was unfortunately shut, which became a bit of a pattern for the day, so we ended up sampling the delights of Greggs. 
Hunger sated, James led us up to the narrow, slightly ratty looking West End Arcade to a wonderful bookshop that was, quite literally, overflowing everywhere you looked.  Every shelf in Books And Pieces was groaning under the weight of them, free-standing bookshelves made the walkways claustrophobic but it was chock-a-block with treasures.  I picked up three novelisations - “Vega$”, “The Six Million Dollar Man vs Bigfoot” and “The Aphrodite Inheritance” - and we found plenty of other treasures for each other.  We spent a lot.  Back outside on the pavement, Wayne had to leave so we said our goodbyes and then the group split into two, with Jay, Selina & Ross heading into town and the rest of us heading off to the Paupers Graves.

Phil, taking great delight...
James wrote a novella using the area as a key location (it was part of the quartet of HHB books launched at FCon Scarborough, which I wrote about here) and, it turns out, Richard wanted to use the location for a novel too.  It was a decent walk away, which we covered chatting - Phil took great delight in pointing out signs for the Castle Rock brewery to James, who sees the signs every day - and the cemetery was sprawling, slightly overgrown and in mild disarray.  The paupers area, by contrast, looked well tended and was locked away.  Disappointed, we headed back into town, called into another few bookshops and took up residence in The Salutation Inn, a fantastic old pub (it dates back to 1240) that was very much heavy rock orientated - Iron Maiden beer on tap, Goths and rockers behind the bar, it had a great atmosphere.  Jay, Selina & Ross joined us there, we played Top Trumps (the horror pack) and quickly realised, as adults, that it might be good fun to play but it’s mighty boring as a spectator sport. 
In the Salutation Inn
Since Phil had an early train booked, we headed off for something to eat, the criteria being that it had to be an Indian and open at 5pm.  Memsaab fitted the bill, we were quickly seated and served equally quickly – James, Phil & Simon all had the Ostrich curry starter while the rest of us made do with popadoms.  The mains were lovely (I always forget that curries in Nottingham are much stronger than in Rothwell and Kettering), there was a lot more chat and plenty of laughter.
 All too soon, it was time for Phil to head off and the rest of us followed soon after, James peeling off to catch a bus, Jay & Selina and Ross heading for the car park.  Richard, Penny, Simon & I traipsed through town, said our goodbyes in the station, Richard went to his platform, we three went to ours and I went back into First Class.  Incredibly, there were two and a half First Class carriages and I was the only person using them.  When I went to get my free drink, they gave me two cups of tea and two biscuits – I gave one pack of biscuits to the woman queuing behind me and the spare tea to a woman sitting in the access area.  Both gave me big smiles and it felt in-keeping with the spirit of the day.
As always, I had a cracking time.  It was great to discover parts of Nottingham I’d never have known if a local hadn’t shown me, I now know some terrific bookshops to check out next time I'm there, saw the paupers graves (well worth a trip if you're around) and enjoyed a lovely curry.  Even better, I got to spend the day with fellow writers, sharing war stories and support and, most of all, having a great laugh.

Roll on the next one.

p.s. In case you were wondering, the name of the group was explained in the original Crusty post here.

Monday, 8 April 2019

More Look-In Cover Art

Last year, I posted a blog (which you can read here) highlighting some of the fantastic painted covers of Look-In magazine, one of my must-reads through the late 70s and into the early 80s - I wrote a Nostalgic piece on it in 2016 (which you can read here).  If you don't know the magazine, Look-In was launched on 9th January 1971 by Independent Television Publications Ltd and subtitled ‘The Junior TV Times’, sharing the design and format (glossy paper, colour covers) of its parent, though only running to 24 pages.

Designed and written for kids, it featured the major film stars, pop acts, sports people and TV stars of the day with comic strips, posters and behind the scenes articles.  It also had, until the early 80s, a painted cover (most often produced in acrylic by Arnaldo Putzu, an Italian artist working in London who made his name creating cinema posters in the 60s for the likes of Morecombe & Wise, Hammer, the Carry On series and Get Carter (which I wrote about here)).

So, with little encouragement needed (as ever) and a special focus on 1979 (all of forty years ago), here's another small selection of that wonderful artwork.

Enjoy.
A welcome overload of Six Million Dollar Man action!
I tended to read UK comics as a kid but, if I went for an American one, it'd more likely be Marvel with Spider Man.  Having said that, I was really looking forward to this film!
Ah, The Incredible Hulk and as much as we knew it was Lou Ferringo in a brillo pad wig, I still reckon it's better than the current CGI version!
Roger Moore returns, this time with Moonraker
Everybody of  a certain age begins to sing "We are the Famous Five..."
I'd been waiting for this...
I remember, at the time, really enjoying Buck Rogers (id-biddi-biddi okay Buck!) but I now don't recall too much of it (perhaps a good thing?)
Ah, Debbie...

for more, there's a great Look-In archive on Facebook here