Monday, 12 November 2018

Starburst memories

Apart from news programmes on TV, my first major source for behind the scenes information on films was Look-In magazine (which I wrote about here).  As my tastes expanded, so did my quest for information and then, in late 1978, I discovered a publication that gave me more than I even realised I was after.
issue 1 (which I've never seen in real life) with a wraparound Brian Lewis cover.  The image of Spock was added, apparently, because Marvel had the Star Wars licence in the UK and 20 Century Fox were worried they might get upset with another Star Wars covered magazine on the stands.
Starburst magazine was created in 1977 by Dez Skinn who published the first three issues through his own company, often scooping other film magazines with some of his articles.  When he was taken on by Marvel UK as their Editorial Director in late 1978, they inherited Starburst and began to publish it from issue 4 onwards.  He would go on to edit the magazine until early 1980 (his final issue was 19) when he left Marvel, with Alan McKenzie, who already worked on the title, taking over the reins.  Marvel sold the magazine in 1985 at issue 88 and Visual Imagination took it over, publishing it until 2009 when they went out of business (with issue 365).  Starburst continued as an online zine and was revived in print in 2012 with issue 374 by Starburst Magazine Ltd, who still publish it today (making it “the world’s longest running magazine of Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy”).

I have to confess, I haven’t bought a copy in a long time and didn’t stick with it too far into the 80s either, as I felt it focused too much on TV for my liking and I was never that big a fan of Dr Who.  But those early editions were amazing and I read them eagerly from cover to cover, often picking up stray spares wherever I could (I remember finding one - no. 52, with the Krull front cover - at a Bring-and-Buy sale held at my school).  Starburst was perfect for me, not only keeping me well informed but also acting as an important stepping stone, bridging the gap from Look-In to my later discoveries of Photoplay and Premiere (and then Empire and Total Film beyond those).

Looking back at the issues in my collection now, some 40 years after the fact, they still seem as fresh and exciting as they were then.  It doesn’t matter that they were produced without the huge technological leaps in magazine publishing we've experienced since then or that the lay-out is a bit blocky (those were the typeset days, after all, with titles produced with sheets of Letraset), the content more than made up for it.

The news section (called "Things To Come", it featured, among a fair amount of gossip, some real gems - I hadn’t remembered that we knew The Empire Strikes Back was called that as early as 1978), the articles and book reviews, in-depth features and film reviews (that weren't afraid of saying exactly what they thought), the design and writing, all of them gave Starburst a distinct identity.  Wonderful writers - like John Brosnan and Tony Crawley, amongst many others - were opinionated and enthusiastic, genre-savvy and full of confidence and their words dance off the page.  Sometimes things clunk badly - John Brosnan wasn’t the biggest fan of Empire and Tony Crawley didn’t think Halloween (1978) would endure but had a good feeling about The Black Hole (1979) - but you can’t deny the passion with which they made those statements.  In fact, the only thing that hasn’t worn well is the reproduction quality of the photographs, which look a bit washed out and are sometimes hard to discern.  Certainly, whilst the coverage of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978) is thorough and well-written, the photos make it seem a bit seedy (which I like) while one of an explosion is little more than a blob of white.  But regardless, reading Starburst made me feel as if I belonged to a group of like-minded folk, in the same way that reading early Fangoria issues later on in the 80s would.

I got a lot out of Starburst as the 70s eased into the 80s (and looking at some of the films covered, it truly was a wonderful time to be a genre fan) and re-reading them now in celebration has been a lot of fun (and illuminating, in a few cases).  40 years on, it’s clear to see the debt owed by today’s film magazines but I wish they had at least half as much swagger as Starburst did back in the day.

Happy birthday Starburst and thank you, for showing a young film fan the promise of a much bigger world out there.
issue 5, December 1978 (the first one I remember owning)
issue 8, March 1979 (this includes those wonderfully seedy images from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers)
issue 12, July 1979 (including a fantastic 5 page interview with the great Derek Meddings)
issue 14, September 1979
issue 22, May 1980 - this must have seen my first brush with David Cronenberg (never heard him described as the King Of Fantasy before...)
issue 23, June 1980 (in which John Brosnan reviews Empire thoroughly - he wasn't overly keen, especially on it being open-ended.)
issue 24, July 1980 - Star Wars, Alfred Hitchcock AND Caroline Munro?  Wow!  The Hitchcock appreciation by Tony Crawley is wonderful and the Mark Hamill and Caroline Munro interviews are interesting.
issue 33, April 1981 - what a terrific cover!  And nice to see David Cronenberg has been promoted to the King of Horror!)
issue 34, May 1981
issue 40, November 1981 - I love the juxtaposition of this cover, the incredible bloodiness of American Werewolf (which I wrote about here) alongside Disney.  Would a print magazine get away with that cover now?
issue 51, October 1982 - not a big fan of the new logo
issue 52, November 1982, the one I found at the bring-and-buy sale
issue 53, December 1982 (Tony Crawley, whose writing and style I liked, wrote the terrific biography The Steven Spielberg story", published in July 1983, which I read a lot)
issue 61, August 1983 - probably one of the last issues I bought


scans from my collection except issue 1 from Dez Skinn

sources:
Dez Skinn on Starburst
Starburst at Crivens! Comics & Stuff

Monday, 5 November 2018

The Last Temptation Of Dr Valentine, by John Llewellyn Probert (a review)

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.
Six Years Ago…

The city of Bristol is rocked by a series of horrific murders, each more gruesome and outrageous than the last, and all in the style of horror films starring Vincent Price.

Four Years Ago…

The journalists who wrote about the case begin to die horribly, this time in the style of Hammer horror movies.

Now…

A Hollywood film company has arrived in Bristol to make a movie about the murders. Nicolas Cage is planned to star, and the screenplay bears little resemblance to what actually happened.

And someone isn’t happy about any of that. Someone who plans to use some of the most creative death scenes in classic British horror films to show these modern
film-makers just what a terrible mistake they have made.

The world’s most resourceful and flamboyant maniac returns…


John Llewellyn Probert is incapable of telling a bad story and his highly distinctive voice (both in real life, at one of his readings, as well as in print) is a real treat for a reader especially if you like your horror on the 'broader' end of the scale.

John has "been watching British-made horror films since he was ten years old, when he saw Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972) and Witchfinder General (1968) on a Vincent Price season on ATV. He was probably a bit too young for that second film, but the first influenced him to an extent that is still being felt by readers to this day..." and so he & I mesh wonderfully.  When I edited my anthology, Anatomy Of Death, which featured stories inspired by British horror from the 70s, we were on common ground and he supplied me with a wonderful tale that fully embraced the Hammer ethos.

Dr Edward Valentine, a surgeon driven to madness, is probably my favourite creation of his and appeared in two previous volumes, The Nine Deaths Of Dr Valentine and The Hammer Of Dr Valentine, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Now republished in an omnibus edition by Black Shuck Books, I was lucky enough to pick up the Last Temptation hardback at FantasyCon and also got to see John's reading.

This fantastic novella featuring “the world’s most resourceful and flamboyant maniac” is not only a worthy addition to the canon but (as much as I loved the other two) probably pips them both as the best of the bunch.  This time around the good doctor bumps off his victims in and around Bristol (with a wonderful interlude to Weston Super Mare) and it’s a marvellous feast of British horror movies from the 50’s to the 70’s (with a nice touch to a much more modern film as well).  Told with great wit and style, this delirious tale of murder and mayhem races from one set piece to the next, each more inventive than the last, as Valentine attempts to up the body count while avoiding the attentions of his long-suffering nemesis, Inspector Longdon, brought out of retirement to take on the case by DS Jenny Newham.  Firing on all cylinders - in-jokes are salted away on almost every page and I wish the chapter titles were listed to show how funny they are - and told with an astonishingly quick pace, John has somehow managed to convey a film of this era in print and I read most of it with a grin on my face.  If you like your horror quiet and studious then it’s probably not for you, but if you’re prepared to throw your lot in with a writer who not only knows his stuff but can convey it perfectly, you’re going to have a great time.  Very much recommended.

The book also features "The Last Afterword Of Dr Valentine", where John lists the films that are homaged in the text, with a nice mixture of review, opinion and autobiography - and makes me wish I'd known the writer when we were kids (when I was ten or eleven, I didn't know anyone else who loved this kind of horror film).

I'll leave you with this, which appears on page 92 and - to me - perfectly sums up the tone of the piece.

"Well I think you're right on both counts, Newham.  We've got a crazed producer intent on risking his and his team's lives to finish his project, and a crazed killer intent on stopping them in the style of old British horror movies from the 1970s, but apart from that we have no idea how or where or when he might strike next."

"So what do we do next, sir?"

The sun was up, now.  Longdon pointed to a cafe on the corner.

"Breakfast."

And now you can experience the full Probert experience as John's wife, Thana Niveau, filmed his FantasyCon reading - and I'm participating fully in all that laughter...



Monday, 29 October 2018

A Christmas Gift, an interview with 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 and had great fun).  Since then she's gone from strength to strength, hitting number one in the Kindle Bestseller charts (with The Christmas Promiseand also becoming a Sunday Times Best Seller in the process.  With her latest Christmas novel, A Christmas Gift, now out in ebook (and appearing in hardback on November 1st), I thought it was time to sit down for another chat with her at our regular haunt, The Trading Post.
Georgine loves Christmas. The festive season always brings the little village of Middledip to life. But since her ex-boyfriend walked out, leaving her with crippling debts, Georgine’s struggled to make ends meet.

To keep her mind off her worries, she throws herself into organising the Christmas show at the local school. And when handsome Joe Blackthorn becomes her assistant, Georgine’s grateful for the help. But there’s something about Joe she can’t quite put her finger on. Could there be more to him than meets the eye?

Georgine’s past is going to catch up with her in ways she never expected. But can the help of friends new and old make this a Christmas to remember after all?

Curl up with the gorgeous new book from the Sunday Times bestseller, perfect for fans of Carole Matthews and Trisha Ashley.


MW:   A major theme of A Christmas Gift is poverty and neglect.  The heroine, Georgine, grew up comfortably off but now finds her situation completely opposite.  Joe, the hero, suffered a poor childhood but has now enjoyed a “rags to riches” experience.  Why did you decide to write about this?

SM:   A member of my family works in a school for children with special needs and as he talked to me about social problems faced by the students, I began to think of someone I went to school with myself. Looking back, armed with a little more knowledge, I began to see him in a very different light and feel ashamed that I’d missed it at the time. He isn’t Joe Blackthorn, the hero of A Christmas Gift, but Joe Blackthorn grew out of my reflections on the past. I think Georgine evolved simply out of wanting the greatest possible contrast to Joe’s story. She was the comfortably off kid at school who was his friend. Not all of them were.

MW:   What kind of research did you do?

SM:   I talked to people who work in that field - very generally, of course. None of them would dream of discussing specific people with me. And I talked to someone else I’d been to school with, who knew more about my old school connection than I did. It increased my respect for those who work with children who need help.
Sue & I at the Corby Cube, October 2018, for the Author Q&A (which I wrote about here)
MW:   Now a very successful writer, what was your favourite full-time job?

SM:   I only ever had one. I worked as a secretary in a bank for nine years after I left college. I had a lot to do with the lending team and gained a clear understanding of what a far-reaching and emotive subject money is.

MW:   What was the least favourite job you’ve ever had?

SM:   Doing the books for a family member. I know I used to work in a bank but I hated bookkeeping, especially when something didn’t balance that should have. When my kids were young I did a few part-time jobs so I could be there for them but earn some money. Also, it allowed me time to write.

MW:   What does money mean to you?

SM:   Interesting question. I don’t think I’m a greedy person and I think I’m quite generous too. I’m OK for money now but I have been in situations where lack of money was a problem and it’s really uncomfortable. Luckily, I’m a good money manager so all was never lost but to have to watch the pennies wasn’t fun. I never went hungry or homeless though, so I count myself lucky.  And although money does make life more comfortable there are many things I think far more important - like love, people, kindness and time.

MW:   How did you research Acting Instrumental, the educational establishment featured in the book?

SM:   Partly through the family member, partly through a head of drama, Alex, who not only advised, and answered questions, but read the entire manuscript and told me where I’d gone wrong. The starting point was learning about vocational further education colleges that have sprung up now kids are expected to stay in some form of education till the age of 18. I have another old schoolfriend who is a professional singer, Jacqueline Barron, and she knew a lot about the subject and pointed me in the right direction to gain some idea of the facilities Acting Instrumental would need. I also closely studied the website of a local college with a vibrant performing arts programme.
Sue with me and Wayne Parkin, FantasyCon 2015 at Nottingham
MW:   I note from the acknowledgements the input our mutual friend Wayne Parkin had with researching the play within the book.  How enjoyable did you find that?

SM:   Very! Wayne was hugely enthusiastic about the project from the first, and introduced me to Alex, in fact. Wayne and I used to meet up for evenings talking about what form the show in A Christmas Gift could take, working out the timeline and weaving it through the book. He tended to leap up and act out his words, which got us some interested glances. If there was anything he was unsure about he knew where to look for the information and pass it on to me.

MW:   Thanks Sue, it's been a treat as always.  Congratulations again on your first hardback edition and good luck with the book!

SM:   Thanks for inviting me onto your blog, Mark. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you, either in reality or virtually.

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
Google+: google.com/+Suemoorcroftauthor
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suemoorcroft
Amazon author page: Author.to/SueMoorcroft

Monday, 22 October 2018

FantasyCon, Chester, 19th to 21st October 2018

Friday
Parked outside the hotel, ready to check in and saw Tim Major, who'd just arrived by train.  Great to see him, we caught up and I got booked in then moved the car and luckily met Peter Coleborn who showed me the back entrance to the hotel.  Met Peter Mark May, got a quick hi and hug from Priya Sharma, who introduced me to Audrie from TTA Press and then I got signed in, saying hi to Chloe Yates in the process.  Once kitted out, Pete led me across the road to the Town Crier pub, which served as the cheaper overflow for the weekend.  Walking in was like coming home in writing terms - around the table were James Everington, Phil Sloman, Lisa Childs (who showed me Ross’ book, which is lovely and I gave her Sue’s signature plate), Chris Barnes, Stephen Bacon, Duncan Bradshaw and Jim Mcleod.  After the catching up, conversation quickly found its natural level with Phil, James, Chris & I discussing those adult superstores you see in Lincolnshire, who’d use them and why and somehow moved onto that counties colour TV signs having the letters in different colours to prove the point (and Phil reckoned this topic wouldn’t make the blog report!).  I saw Ian Whates, Donna & Neil Bond and Rob Malan and caught up with them then went back to the hotel with Steve where we bumped into Jason Whittle, Chris Teague, Ben Jones and CC Adams and it was good to see all of them.
In the Town Crier with, from left, me, Steve Bacon, Chris Barnes, Duncan Bradshaw, Lisa Childs, Peter Mark May, Jim Mcleod
After dumping my stuff in my room, I met Neil & Michelle Williams in reception and saw Francesca Tristan Barbini and we compared panel times and promised to attend each others.  Into the Sinister Horror launch for Black Room Manuscripts 4 in the Jubilee Room at 4pm and the team had really made an effort, the room looking superb with “Father” Justin Park presiding over the event.  Sadly the programmes weren’t available so not many people had turned up and in trying to help gather more audience, James & I got as far as the corridor where we met and chatted with Ren Warom and saw Steve Shaw.   Back in the Jubilee it was great to see Tracy Fahey and Penny Jones again and the launch itself went really well (including me sitting on Jim’s knee), with some spirited readings (especially Duncan’s) and a signing panel where I sat between Penny and Steve.  It deserved more of an audience though.
In the Jubilee Room with, from left, Tracy Fahey (who co-edited the anthology), Duncan, Peter, Steve, Penny Jones, me, Neil Williams, Michelle Williams, James Everington
Staying in the Jubilee, Danny Rhodes joined us and I chatted with Tim before the PS launch where I picked up the Dark Masters trilogy from Stephen Volk (such a lovely man, he said “all the better for seeing you” when I asked how his day had been while he signed my copy), The Smallest Of Things by Ian Whates and Tim’s monograph of Les Vampires.  Said hello to Helen (Ian’s other half),  chatted with Gavin Williams, waved to Kathy Boulton (that’s a good run of Cons where we’ve waved now), said hi to Fergus and got a lovely hug from Alison Littlewood.  Michael Kelly came over to shake my hand, reminding me we’d met in Brighton in 2013 (as if I’d forget!) and I said a quick hello to Mark Morris.  On our way out I saw Paul & Cath Finch (and got to congratulate him on his book news) as well as Andrew Hook & Sophie Essex.
Me & Jim Mcleod (I can't remember now why he suggested I sit on his knee) - pic by Lisa Childs
Went for an Indian with James, Neil, Michelle, Danny, Steve & Pete at the Gate of India which was lovely - huge portions, very tasty, we were all stuffed by the end of it.  Good conversation too.  Walked back, said hello to Graeme & Charlotte Reynolds, Tracy caught me, Maura McHugh directed us towards some seats (and I invited her to the next mixtape blog I’m planning) then I sat and chatted with James Bennett for a while.  After Neil & Michelle joined us, Maura talked about her work on 2000AD with the all-female issue and told us some excellent (and exciting) news, which I’m really looking forward to.

Then it was time for the disco.  Low attendance until about 10.30 (it was essentially me, Phil, Pete, Paul Woodward, Colleen Anderson, Donna and Kathy for most of it, with Michelle joining us for a few), then Ian brought in his contingent (including James Worrad & Phil Irving) and we suddenly had a decent number on the dance floor, which I didn’t leave until midnight.  Had a fantastic time though I’m sure Andy Marsden showed us the wrong dance moves to a Jacksons song because he wanted to see if we’d copy him!  Which we did.
At the disco with the Three Degrees behind me, from left, Michelle, Kathy Boulton & Donna Bond
Left - Pete May giving it some (pic by Ian Whates) and right, Phil Sloman's selfie

Saturday
Woke up with that contented post-disco feeling - aching ankles - and headed for breakfast.  I sat with Trevor Denyer, saw Danny as I walked back with my food (full fry-up, lovely!) then James Barclay joined us and we had an excellent chat, the kind of wide-ranging talk about books and writing that Cons excel in.  Trevor left for a panel and Steve joined us for more of the same.  When Danny and James went off for their panels, Steve & I stayed put chatting.
Chris Teague, Richard Farren Barber, me, Steve, Jim (smooching) and Steve Harris
Nipped to my room to get my bag, bumped into Andrew David Barker on the way downstairs and we said hello, hoping to catch up later.  Walked along with Neil Snowdon and his charming daughter and it was nice to finally meet him.  Went into the Horrific Tales launch - my NSFWG chum Paul Melhuish was launching a book, along with Thana Niveau - and sat with Jim, Dion Winton-Polak, Steve Harris and CC while we listened to the readings.  Paul’s included him calling out “hello” and in a perfect bit of timing, someone passing in the corridor outside called “hello!” back.  Caught up with Steve H and talked writing with CC and Gareth Spark.  The Hersham Horror Books launch was next and I helped Pete set up with Richard Farren Barber and James and caught up with Steve Lockley.  Dave Jeffery was racing to get to the venue and we auditioned to take his place, using the Pipkins brummie accent for inspiration.  Unfortunately for our performance ambitions (but lucky for the audience), Dave turned up while Steve was reading and did a great reading himself.  Bought copies and chatted with Jim and Dion, Paul Melhuish, Donna & Neil, Laura and Mr Mauro, Chris Teague and more.
Ross Warren, more chuffed than he looks...
Phil Sloman then gave Ross his special 40th book, most of us who’d contributed were there but Ross doesn’t like a scene so it was with a muted (and bashful) “thanks very much” that he took the gorgeous book Simon Morden had constructed.  We stayed in the room for the Black Shuck Books launch which featured, as its centrepiece, the third instalment of John Llewellyn Probert’s “Dr Valentine” series.  The books are great but John is a marvel and his readings are genuinely something to be treasured and this time was no exception.  When I bought my copy I told him so.

People drifted off for lunch but my hearty breakfast did its job and, fuelled by a slice of Charlotte Bond’s lemon drizzle cake, Steve & I stayed for the Luna Press launch with an interesting array of books.  I wandered across the road then to the Town Crier for a drink with Ross and Lisa (later joined by Chris) and on my return, bumped into Simon Clark and it’s always a treat to see him.

It was soon time for my panel, “Writing Short Fiction”.  With no idea what it entailed, I was really quite nervous until I found the room and discovered a fellow panellist - Lesley Jones, an editor - was more nervous than me, so I felt slightly braver.  Our moderator, Juliet Kemp (who had the most fantastic shade of hair), then arrived and I discovered I’d missed an email and so she let me see her crib sheet of questions.  Our third panellist hadn’t turned up by then but I noticed Joanne Harris (of Chocolat - and much, much more - fame) was in the crowd waiting to go in (and made Lesley even more nervous by pointing this out to her).  We trooped into the room, took our seats, I got drinks for Lesley and Juliet and then Joanne sat next to me, as an unannounced last minute addition to our panel!  No pressure there then!  I said it was nice to see her again, that we’d met in Brighton at WFC in 2013 and she - lovely professional that she is - said “oh yes, nice to see you again” (at WFC, I weighed five stone more and met her for a few minutes via Sue, but it was still a great thing to say).
The "no pressure whatsover panel" featuring, from left, Juliet Kemp, Joanne Harris, me and Lesley Jones - some of these people are more nervous than others...
The panel started, Juliet kept it running well, we had a good sized (and attentive) audience, we held our own, had a laugh and we all made some good points (several people told me afterwards it was one of their favourite panels of the weekend).  I loved it, the time whizzed by and then we were done, with a flurry of thanks and some photographs and it was back to normality.  Superb.

After meeting Shaun & Steph Hamilton in the reception and chatting to them, Steve, Donna & I went to the NewCon Press launch, where I joined the end of the very long signing table.  Ian Whates is a truly lovely bloke and he launched into his spiel, Ian Watson (who didn’t recognise me at first, since I was - again - 5st heavier when I last saw him) did a speech and then we were off.  I sat with Hal Duncan and Laura Mauro and we had an excellent chat between books being placed in front of us (Best British Horror looks superb in paperback but the hardback is a work of great beauty) and signed lots.  I also had more of Charlotte’s lemon drizzle cake.  The rush over, we chatted and signed and chatted some more and then headed off.
Ian Whates works the crowd, Ian Watson applauds enthusiastically, me, Hal Duncan and Laura Mauro are chuffed to be there (pic by Donna Bond)
Me, Hal Duncan and Laura Mauro, between signings...
Steve & I spoke with Stewart Hotston and Iain Grant, met up with Richard and Danny and the four of us trooped into Chester town centre for a pizza and great conversation.  Danny had to leave early to meet a friend from the train station but Richard, Steve & I hung on, chatting about FCon and writing.  On the way back we decided to walk alongside the canal, which we quickly discovered has no railings or lights.  As Richard walked very close to the edge, we debated whether we’d actually jump in to help if he fell in and the overall consensus was no - we’d have to take our trainers off, put our watches and wallets to one side and who wanted to walk back to the hotel with wet underpants?  Not quite sure Richard understood our position entirely, but he seemed to go along with it.  Thankfully he didn’t fall in.
Out and about in Chester, Richard having managed to avoid falling into the canal... (Steve, me, Richard)
Justin Park's picture of me, Jim and Phil.  I couldn't
possibly comment on which legs were best but the one in the
middle with the well defined calf muscle, I mean...
Back in the hotel, we met Neil & Michelle and sat in the restaurant lounge (where the singer managed to make every song - from Oasis to Guns N Roses - sound the same) with Danny and his friend Emma.  We covered a lot of topics before moving into the snug where, along with Pete, we stayed for the remainder of the night, talking about loads of things and joined occasionally by others including Ben Jones and James Bennett.  Justin Park also collared me for a photo op with Phil and Jim, to try and finally decide who has the best legs in horror (it’s me, clearly, the definition on my calves is exceptional - as you can see!).  A terrific evening, filled with conversation and laughter, it represented FCon for me, a time for like-minded friends to get together, talk a lot and occasionally take the piss out of each other while we’re at it.  Around 1.30am, Richard caved, Pete followed soon after and, after arranging when to meet for breakfast, I called it a night.

Sunday
A rule of Con life is that late nights don’t count, so I was up bright and early and, after a quick chat with Andy Marsden in reception, met Steve and Pete and we went into breakfast with Neil & Donna.  Danny & Emma joined us, I had another lovely fry-up and we indulged in long, wide-ranging conversations about writing and creativity which were hugely enjoyable.  Steve & I visited the dealers room where I got one of Francesca’s books and met a Japanese artist, recognising Pikachu amongst his work (thank Dude and his Pokemon Go obsession from last year).  Chatted with Terry Grimwood, spoke to Ian (and thanked him again for yesterday’s great launch) and said goodbye to him and Helen, then it was off to pack (after finally seeing Linda Nagle in the reception, having somehow managed to not see her all weekend).
Me & Steve in the dealer room (Mike Chinn on the right and Helen, Ian's partner, on the left with the bunny ears) - (pic by Ian Whates)
I went into the “Reprinting Short Fiction” panel to support Pete, not realising Ian was moderating and Tim was also a panelist along with Nina Allen.  I sat with KT Davies and Ewen (having briefly glimpsed and waved to her on Friday and seeing him earlier in reception) and caught up with them.  The panel itself was great fun, like listening to four mates chatting and I got referenced by both Pete and Ian, which was nice.

Then it was done and time to go - the worst part of FantasyCon - and after getting my bags there were hugs and hearty handshakes with Jim, Chris, Neil & Michelle, Simon’s Bestwick and Clark, Phil, Priya, Georgina Bruce (I hadn’t seen her all weekend so we hugged hello and goodbye at the same time), Danny, Emma, Pete, Rich, Alison & Fergus, Steve Shaw and Chloe the redcloak (and I saw Babs the redcloak on the way out to say goodbye too).
With Alison Littlewood (pic by Fergus)
As always, there are loads of people I didn’t manage to speak to, some fine chums I didn’t even see until it was time to leave (Helen Hopley & Martin Roberts) and some I saw as a passing “hello!” (John Travis, Steve McHugh (we should have talked that first time!), Rosanne Rabinowitz, Kit Power, Andy West, Adele Wearing & Tom, Cate Gardner, Andrew Freudenberg, Jess Jordan & Ray Cluley - though on the plus side, I spoke to Kathy Boulton a lot this time), but it can’t be helped, I don’t suppose and the salve is the wonderful phrase “there’s always the next one!”

I had a great time, the hotel was lovely (though pricey), the book launches were terrific, I only managed the one panel but, as ever, the real draw of the weekend was the company and I really had the best of it - we chatted almost constantly and laughed nearly as much, we ate and drank and made merry and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my writing family.

Roll on the next one!
Obligatory book haul photo...

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Brooks Pond

I'm pleased to announce that The Black Room Manuscripts Volume 4, edited (and curated) by Justin Park & Tracy Fahey, is published by The Sinister Horror Company and launched at FantasyCon this weekend.  As with the other volumes in the series, it's a charity anthology and this time all money made from sales will be donated to Refuge.  Thrilled to be involved - look at that list of names on the cover! - it contains my short story Brooks Pond, a horror tale about four people at a pond in Gaffney which is said to be haunted by a witch.

Some words are born in shadows.

Some tales told only in whispers.

Under the paper thin veneer of our sanity is a world that exists. Hidden just beyond in plain sight, waiting to consume you should you dare stray from the street-lit paths that sedate our fears.

For centuries the Black Room has stored stories of these encounters, suppressing the knowledge of the rarely seen. Protecting the civilised world from its own dark realities.

The door to the Black Room has once again swung open to unleash twenty four masterful tales of the macabre from the twisted minds of a new breed of horror author.

The Black Room holds many secrets.

Dare you enter… one final time?


That Thing I Did - Tracy Fahey

Eating The Dream - K. A. Laity

A Clear Day In A Season Of Storms - Simon Avery

The Hanging Boy - Gary McMahon

Mam's Girl - J. L. George

Tears Of Honey - John McNee

Decipher - Daniel Marc Chant

Tap, Tap... - Marie O'Regan

Black Silk - Benedict J. Jones

Dragged Down - Ramsey Campbell

Palace Of The Damned - C. L. Raven

Brooks Pond - Mark West

Planning Permission - Hannah Kate

Shrivelled Tongues Of Dead Horses - Eric Hofstatter

Death Wish - Margot Halgadottir

Size Isn't Everything - James Everington

Pain Has A Voice - Stephen Bacon

Swimming Out To Sea - Penny Jones

Reanimation Channel - Mark Cassell

Craft Ail - Duncan Bradshaw

Dr Zwigli's Last Paper - Elizabeth Davis

Laurel - Terry Grimwood

Tide Will Tell - V. H. Leslie

The Last Horror Story - J. R. Park

Plus a prologue and epilogue by Tracy Fahey & J. R. Park
Introduction by Michael David Wilson
Afterword by Jim (Ginger Nuts Of Horror) Mcleod


The book is available from Amazon:


This started in February with an email from Tracy Fahey, a great writer herself who also happens to be my FCon disco-buddy, inviting me to contribute a story to the anthology.  Since I hadn't written a short since August 2016 (having spent the remainder of 2016 writing The Factory and all of 2017 working on the thriller novel) and because it's always nice to be asked, I readily agreed.  That night I had the germ of an idea, which quickly fleshed itself out and, all excited, I started work on it the next day, finishing four days later on my birthday.

I thoroughly enjoyed working on the piece, especially since the process neatly fell into the 'fortnight off' I was taking from the novel.  I submitted the third draft to the NSFWG writing group and their enthusiasm for it (and some great comments) bolstered my confidence (so thanks for that, my friends).

How could I ever forget?  The Witches Forest was on the hill outside of town, well off the beaten track and bordered by farm fields.  It was only maybe an acre or so but incredibly dense and if you stood outside of it - as we’d done one summers day - you could see barely twenty feet into it.  Once inside the visibility was shorter, made worse by how closely the trees were packed together.  There were rumours and local legends, as always happens with places like this, but the key one concerned a witch who’d lived in a nearby shepherds cottage and lured many of the children of Gaffney to the forest where she’d performed unspeakable acts on them.
“We went one summer,” Pete said, leaning his elbows on the table and looking directly at Jody, “me, Andy here and three others and walked up and down in that forest all day.  And didn’t see anything.”
“Until it was getting dark,” I said.
Now Jody leaned forward.  “What happened?”
“We were in the middle of the forest,” said Pete, his voice dropping.  The pub noise seemed to go quieter too, even though we had this part of the bar to ourselves.  “We were all knackered, tired and thirsty and sweaty and grumpy as hell.  So we decided to head home but it got dark quick in those trees and pretty soon we were stumbling around in dusk.”
I shivered, remembering the sensation.  Simon glanced at me, nodded his head then looked back at Pete who told the story so well.  “We were disorientated, I mean it should have been really easy to find our way out, you know, it wasn’t that big.  But we couldn’t.  Then we heard someone singing.”
“Singing?” asked Jody.
“Yeah, some kind of old folk song, I’d never heard anything like it.  The five of us were shit scared, though we didn’t admit it to each other.  For some reason, we moved towards the sound and although we tried to be quiet, there was so much wood and bracken about, we made as much noise as a marching band.  But the singing carried on and we came to this weird little hollow with no trees none of us remembered seeing before and someone was in there.”
Jody’s eyes were wide.  Simon was watching Pete carefully, as if waiting for a punchline I knew would never come.



Monday, 15 October 2018

The Taste Of Her

I'm thrilled to announce that Best British Horror 2018, the first in a series of annual anthologies from NewCon Press, edited by Johnny Mains, is now available.  Along with a fantastic collection of writers, it contains my story The Taste Of Her which was originally published in my 2017 collection Things We Leave Behind.  The anthology will be officially launched at FantasyCon this coming weekend.
Editor Johnny Mains has scoured anthologies, magazines, and on-line publications to select the very best horror stories written by British authors. From creepingly insidious tales where the fear gathers slowly to the outright terrifying, from musty abandoned buildings to the wilds of an isolated beach, from yarns of yesterday to contemporary horrors of today: Seventeen tales showcasing British horror at its best.

Paymon’s Trio – Colette De Curzon

Love and Death – Reggie Oliver

In the Light of St. Ives – Ray Cluley

The Book of Dreems – Georgina Bruce

The Affair – James Everington

Fragments of a Broken Doll – Cate Gardner

The Lies We Tell – Charlotte Bond

Ting-A-Ling-A-Ling – Daniel McGachey

Tools of the Trade – Paul Finch

Departures – A.K. Benedict

The Taste of Her – Mark West

Sun Dogs – Laura Mauro

Dispossession – Nicholas Royle

Shell Baby – V.H. Leslie

The Unwish – Claire Dean

A Day with the Delusionists – Reggie Oliver

We Who Sing Beneath the Ground – Mark Morris



Paperback - £12.99

Hardback (signed, limited edition) - £24.99



This was one of two original pieces in my second collection and started life as some notes I jotted down in 2000, based on an image I had of two men in a plane with the pilot asking his ex-friend how his wife tasted.  That was it, there was no ending or purpose and the story sat for a while until Ross Warren asked if I had anything new for the book.  I went back to this and it all seemed to lay itself out quite nicely, coming together quickly.  The flying business came from when Alison's dad got his pilots licence and took the pair of us up in a Cessna a few times, though each journey was much more enjoyable than the one described in the story and the rest of it, thankfully for me, is invention.

It was a real thrill when Johnny wrote to me, saying he loved the story so much he wanted to include it in his Best Of and I'm thoroughly chuffed to be included.

“So how does my wife taste?”
  Startled, Ian Burgess looked at Keith March, who was piloting the Cessna aircraft they were in.  The plane banked right, high over Gaffney.  “What?”
  Keith turned to face him, his smile tight.  “I asked if you liked the taste of my wife.”
  Turbulence hit the little plane and Ian hoped it covered the guilty panic he knew must be showing in his face.  “I don’t know what you mean.”
   “Yes you do you fucking liar.  I know everything.”
  Ian had played poker with Keith a few times and knew he was a good bluffer.  But was he bluffing now?
  “Ian, you’ve fucked Julie and ruined my life.”  He dipped the nose of the aircraft and checked a couple of gauges.  “So for both our sakes, don’t make it any worse by lying now.”


Monday, 8 October 2018

Jarre - Destination Docklands

Thirty years ago, on Saturday 8th October 1988, I stood across from the Royal Victoria Docks, in the London Docklands, on a patch of derelict land with 99,999 other people and watched the sky light up.  I was there with my best friend Nick, my friend Craig (Tankard) and his best mate Craig (Woodford) and we were part of the audience for the first show of Jean Michel Jarre’s Destination Docklands concert.
Destination Docklands was originally planned as a one-off event on September 24th to coincide with the release of Jarre’s new album Revolutions.  However, negotiations between the organisers, Newham Borough Council and the London Fire Brigade over logistical and safety concerns meant it was delayed.  While Jarre and his team were searching for alternative venues, a compromise was reached to split the event into two concerts, splitting the expected 200,000 audience and staging it over the weekend of October 8th and 9th.

The Royal Victoria Docks, with the white-painted Spillers Millennium
Mills building on the left of the picture
Jarre said he chose the area not only because it was a desolate environment but also because the architecture was “ideally suited for” his music.  The show utilised World War II searchlights, lasers, images projected onto the Spillers Millennium Mills building (which was painted white specially) and a huge amount of fireworks.  Unfortunately, the timing didn’t help with the weather and although we on the Saturday escaped the elements, those poor sods on Sunday weren’t so lucky and most of the second concert took place in heavy rain.

The stage, which Jarre called his “battleship”, was built over several barges and according to his website weighed 1,000 tonnes.  It housed him, the musicians (including Hank Marvin who played on London Kid and Fourth Rendez-vous), a choir and orchestra with the original intention being for it the "battleship" to traverse the docks but the poor weather and health and safety concerns put paid to that.
a graphic (drawn by Mark Fisher) from the programme showing the stage floating in the dock
The show was broken into four parts, with relevant graphics for each era (Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Caine appeared in the Swinging 60’s bit) and Jarre was joined by Mireille Pombo and a choir from Mali for September, a piece dedicated to Dulcie September, the South African anti-apartheid political activist assassinated in Paris in March of 1988.
from the programme (click image to see it larger)
Part 1:Industrial Revolution
1. Industrial Revolution, Overture
2. Industrial Revolution (part 1 3)
3. Equinoxe 5
4. Ethnicolor

Part 2: Swinging 60’s
5. Computer Weekend
6. Magnetic Fields 2
7. Oxygene 4
8. Equinoxe 7
9. London Kid (with Hank Marvin)

Part 3: The 90’s
10. Rendez-Vous 3
11. Tokyo Kid
12. Revolutions
13. Souvenir of China
14. Rendez-Vous 2
15. Rendez-Vous 4

Part 4: The Finale
16. September
17. Revolutions
18. The Emigrant
Nick & I, 1990 - I loved that t-shirt (and still have it!)
The day for us started early.  I picked Nick up at 7.20am, we got Craig T and dropped my car at Craig W’s house.  His dad drove us to Leicester where we had breakfast and caught the bus.  We got into London for 1.45 (must have been a lot of pick-ups on the way), queued for 2 hours and went into the site.  I remember a lot of wasteground and derelict buildings, one of which seemed to be full of props - when I later saw the film Hardware I seemed to recognise a lot of things.

We had standing tickets and wandered around, bought food from some of the stalls (we couldn’t get out of the site, so existed on crappy pies and chips) and tried to figure out where best to stand.  Then it was show-time (the following is from my diary): “Jarre came on at 8pm and it was incredible, I’d never have believed it.  Some of the pictures weren’t so good but the lights, lasers, fireworks and the laser harp were astonishing”.  The concert over, the site buzzing, our ears ringing, we headed back to the coach.  Nick and I sat together for the journey home and he fell asleep almost as soon as the bus started to move but I don’t recall sleeping at all, I just remember watching the world go by still on a high from the gig.

The Saturday performance was broadcast live on BBC Radio One while the Sunday show was recorded for a live album (Jarre Live!, released in 1989 and re-issued in 1996 as Destination Docklands (The London Concert)).  The Sunday show was also filmed and shown on Christmas Day 1988 on Channel 4 before being released on VHS in 1989.
cover scan of my programme
the first CD and the VHS cover (I think it would have been better if they'd shared the VHS artwork)
The area has been transformed radically since the concerts with the ExCeL Exhibition Centre now occupying the space where me and the rest of the crowd stood and cable cars carry tourists over the Thames to the Royal Albert Docks.

A documentary was broadcast on ITV in 1989 covering the behind-the-scenes of the event, directed by Mike Mansfield who also directed the film of main concert.


Sources:
JeanMichelJarre.com - Destination Docklands
Wanstead Meteo - Destination Docklands
Discogs
Wikipedia
My 1988 diary

Monday, 1 October 2018

Meet The Authors Q&A

Last Thursday, I took part in Corby Library’s first Writer Q&A evening and had a cracking time.  Held in The Lab at Corby Cube (where the library is now situated), it was organised by Ian Loveland and I was pleased to share the stage with SueMoorcroft, Louise Jensen and Darren O’Sullivan.  Joe Flavin, director of The Core, was our moderator and host.
I love evenings where I get to talk about writing to people who love reading and since the event was to raise money and awareness for the library (a battle I am passionate about, serving on the team trying to save Rothwell Library), that made it all the more special.

Sue & I arrived at The Cube, made our way down to the bar and met Ian and Joe who had worked very hard for the evening - they and the four of us writers had been very active on social media covering it.  Louise and her husband Tim (who became the excellent event photographer) arrived and it was great to see them again, we caught up and chatted then headed into The Lab itself where the volunteers were busy setting things up.  I was surprised at how many tables there were (I always assume for these events that half a dozen people will turn up) and was told we’d sold over fifty tickets.  Back into the bar, Darren arrived and we finally got to meet, having only interacted on social media in the past - he was great, very positive and friendly and we had a nice chat.  My friend Darren Paterson turned up, closely followed by my old chum and creative collaborator David Roberts, with whom I go on weekly walks (with his dog Pippa) working through plot points in the thriller novel I’m currently writing.

me, Sue, Louise and Darren
with Ian Loveland (centre left) and Joe Flavin
By now it was almost seven o’clock and the audience was filing in.  We made our way to the stage, got sorted, the house lights went down, the spots hit us and still people were coming in.  The tables had filled, more seats were set up at the sides and the volunteers had to stand at the back.  I later discovered we sold out the venue, with over sixty people in the audience.


I really need to stop talking with my hands...
The first hour was Joe firing questions at us, keeping things moving and we four did our best to be entertaining (I think it worked), the time zipping by in a flash.  In the interval, Sue introduced me to Bella Osborne before we moved out to the bar, us writers manning the book desk and chatting to people (I also sold a nice amount of books, with Polly proving especially popular).  Signing and talking to readers is always great fun and I got to meet Claire Cochrane, who I’ve been social media friends with for years but only discovered this week - in a lovely, Facebook-degrees-of-separation way - that she not only knows my friend Caroline Ewen (part of the Golden Wonder Oldies collective who meet up for a meal every now and again) but also Lyn Thompson, who I grew up next door to!  Small world indeed.  The second half beckoned and featured more questions from Joe as well as several from the audience (some questions asked live, some written on little slips for those too shy to put their hands up).  That half’s forty-five minutes whipped by too and then it was over, but not before Darren’s inspired idea of having a group selfie with the audience involved.

There was a lot of laughter...

That wonderful selfie!
Back to the bar, more chatting as people began to drift away, then a final run round thanking Ian, Joe and the volunteers (Ian gave us all a nice big box of chocolates too).  Sue, David & I then repaired to the Qube bar for a cuppa and a chat.
In the Qube bar, with David and Sue
All in all, it was a cracking evening.  I did a similar event with Sue & Louise last year (see here for my write-up of it) and thoroughly enjoyed that but this was even better.  The four of us gelled really well, Joe moderated superbly and, crucially, the audience (a sold out sixty plus, let's not forget!) was completely engaged.  Even better, it was supporting the local library, the icing on the cake for me.

Thanks to Ian for asking, Joe for being on stage with us, the friendly crew of volunteers and, of course, the audience.

all pictures courtesy of Tim Elliston