Monday, 17 September 2018

Ten Favourite Covers: Childhood Terrors

Thanks to my Australian chum Imelda Evans, I was looking at Annabel Smith’s website recently and noticed she did a regular Top Tens feature.  I thought it was a great idea and decided to adapt it for my own blog but rather than show (for example) my Top Ten Travel Books, I’d skew it slightly differently.  My only rule is that the bulk of the covers must come from my own library.

This first entry looks at books which caused a bit of (gleeful) childhood terror.  I hope you see an old favourite here too…
Published by Puffin in 1967, mine is the 1968 edition.  Alfred Hitchcock had little involvement with the anthologies that bore his name and one of his frequent editors, as is the case here, was Robert Arthur (who created the Three Investigators series) whose credit appears in the acknowledgements - "the editor gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Robert Arthur".
I have the 1978 edition (as pictured), which I got - along with The Restless Bones - from the Rothwell Juniors Book Club.  A collection of true-life tales, this was my first introduction to the mystery of the Mary Celeste.
A fantastic entry in the long-running series, this 1984 edition features cover art by Peter Archer who also produced the cover for the 'a' and 'b' format Three Investigator paperbacks.  I was lucky enough to meet Mary Danby in 2012 at FantasyCon in Brighton, when Johnny Mains introduced us and she was as lovely as I'd always hoped she would be.
This was originally published by Pan in 1971.
Another true stories collection (though it does look at the likes of Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde and Frankenstein), this takes in historical figures like Vlad the Impaler, Countess Bathory, wolf children, Rasputin and The Elephant Man.  I loved it.  It was re-printed in 1979 as The Hamlyn Book Of Horror.  Daniel Farson, who led a very interesting life, was the grand-nephew of Bram Stoker.
One of my favourite childhood books (I wrote about it before here), this also featured true stories and the last - The Voice In The Graveyard - used to scare the living daylights out of me.  Even now, 40 years later and far removed from the nine-year-old me reading it over the 1978 summer holidays, I can still remember the frisson of fear as a whispering voice pleaded, “…help us…”
More from Daniel Farson and more true stories to terrify nine-year-old me.  Fantastic fun!
More from the wonderful Ms Danby, with another great cover by Peter Archer.
Originally published by Gollancz in 1977, this is another sterling anthology from Peter Haining complete with stories by M. R. James (Lost Hearts), Algernon Blackwood (The Attic), Joan Aiken (The Looking Glass Tree), Robert Bloch (Sweets To The Sweet) and Ray Bradbury (The October Game) amongst others.
Not part of my library unfortunately (I found out about it through 'Dem Bones' at the excellent Vault Of Evil), though I plan to rectify that in the near future not only for the stories but because I love the combination of that incredible cover art with the warning 'These stories are NOT to be read by the very young'.

Puffin Books is the long-standing childrens imprint of Penguin Books and was formed in 1940.

Piccolo Books is the children's imprint of Pan Macmillan.

Armada Books was set up by Gordon Landsborough in 1962 as a paperback imprint of Mayfair Books Ltd, focussing exclusively on books for children to buy with the pocket money.  Collins bought it in 1966 as an imprint to publish books for 10-15 year olds under their Fontana Books paperback arm.  Armada ceased in 1995 but I will always love it because it published The Three Investigators.

Beaver was the children's imprint of Hamlyn which is now part of the Octopus Publishing Group, owned by Hachette Livre.

There will be more Ten Favourite Cover posts...

Monday, 10 September 2018

Seven Books

A few weeks back, my good friend Ian Whates tagged me to take part in the Facebook Book Challenge, which involved posting seven covers, over seven days, with no explanation.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it might be worth sharing here on the blog (with added explanations).

The Secret Of Skeleton Island, by Robert Arthur
I first discovered The Three Investigators in 1978, when I was nine.  As I recall, it was a rainy day and at breaktime, we were sent to one of the classrooms in an older part of the school.  As other kids settled down to read comics or swap football cards, I had a look at the bookshelves and one hardback spine in particular caught my eye.  Already intrigued by the fantastic title, the cover - three boys in a cave, with a skull in the foreground - made me want to read it and so began a lifelong love affair with a series that started in 1964.

I wrote an indepth post about the series here and have reviewed individual books, which you can find on this link.

The Restless Bones, by Peter Haining
This was a chance purchase from The Bookworm Club, which we had at Rothwell Junior school (I assume it was a nationwide organisation because I vaguely remember a catalogue), where a stall was set up in the hall and you went in and bought any books that took your fancy.  How any mystery loving kid could pass this cover up is beyond me and I’m so glad I took the chance.  Collected by Peter Haining and published in 1978, it contained ten supposedly true stories - The Restless Bones, The Winged Monster of the Desert, The Terror Of The Dragon, The Mystery of the Loup-Garou, Old Roger’s Vengeance, The Witch’s Familiars, The Call of Darke’s Drum, The Trail of the Devil’s Fooprints, The Thing From Outer Space and The Voice In The Graveyard - with the latter quickly becoming my favourite.  Set in 1964, it features Richard, a teenager from Wisconsin, who accepts a challenge to spend the night in a graveyard, all on his own but doesn’t expect to hear a whispering voice plead, “…help us…”

“I have drawn on the large file of material I have collected over the years about events and experiences which are fantastic - but factual” wrote Haining in his introduction and I’m willing to take him at his word.
I wrote an indepth post about the book here.

The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang, by H. J. Press
Another great purchase from the Bookworm Club, my edition is the 1978 Methuen reprint, translated from the German by Barbara Littlewood, having originally been published there in 1965.  Written by Hans Jürgen Press (1926–2002), it concerns a gang of child sleuths who make their headquarters at 49 Canal Street - the leader, Frank, plays the trumpet and is ably supported by the quick-witted Angela, Ralph and Keith W.S. (whose inseparable companion is a squirrel, W.S. stands for With Squirrel).  The book contains four decent little mysteries that work perfectly with the format Press devised where the left hand side of each spread is a page of text, carrying the story and dropping clues whilst the picture on the right shows the reader what the gang can see, therefore inviting them into the action.  The answer is given on the next page.  The beautifully crafted illustrations invite repeated viewings and are still satisfying to me now, forty years on.
I wrote an indepth post about the book here

The Galactic Warlord, by Douglas Hill
By 1979 (when this came out in hardback), I was already a big fan of Star Wars and when I found this, in Rothwell Library, it seemed like the perfect book for me (plus I used to read a comic called Warlord).

Canadian writer Douglas Hill eventually wrote a quartet of tales about Keill (I could never work out if you pronounced it Keel or Kyle) Randor, the Last Legionary, with the first book in the series (a prequel) being published last - Young Legionary (1982), Galactic Warlord (1979), Deathwing Over Veynaa (1980), Day of the Starwind (1980) and Planet of the Warlord (1981).

Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King
I was aware of the TV mini-series long before the book (it was all anyone talked about at school for days).  I first discovered Stephen King the writer in the early 80s when my Dad took me into a second-hand bookshop in Wellingborough and, recognising the title, I picked up a copy of Salem’s Lot.  Reading it, as a fledgling horror fan who was seeking to branch out into adult fare, was a revelation and led me ever further into that wonderful genre.  The novel might not be my favourite of King’s output - and it’s been years since I read it - but it’ll always hold a special place for me.

Matthew Craig wrote a review (which you can read here) of the novel for the King For A Year project I curated in 2015.

Danse Macabre, by Stephen King
Following Salem’s Lot, I decided to see what else Stephen King had to offer (and bearing in mind this was the early 80s, so I already had a lot to choose from) and found this, a non-fiction exploration of the genre.  You have to remember this was in 1983 or so, long before the Internet and even though I was adept at using reference guides to discover things (and was a big fan of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies), finding similar about books was harder, especially more modern writers.  Danse Macabre, then, was superb - just the right book at the just the right time for me.  I read it again and again, using the text and ‘reading lists’ at the back as my guides to discovering more of the genre, scouring all the bookshops (especially second-hand ones) I could find.  Over the years, I read a lot of the titles King suggested and my knowledge and appreciation - of both the genre and his book - grew.
I wrote about it, for Jim Mcleod’s Ginger Nuts Of Horror site here.

The Books Of Blood volume 3, by Clive Barker
Another tip from Stephen King (I can't remember now where I read his quote - "I have seen the future of horror, and its name is Clive Barker" - but it certainly struck a chord with me) and I found a couple of the slim paperbacks in good old Rothwell Library.  Published by Sphere in 1984 and 1985, they were a revelation - if King showed me that horror could be written about today, Barker showed me it could be in a world I recognised, a London whose streets I could walk on my own.  Each volume is superb but I chose volume 3 as it includes the excellent Son of Celluloid (which inspired the fantastic cover), Confessions Of A (Pornographer's) Shroud and the wonderfully pulp Rawhead Rex, as well as Scape-Goats and Human Remains.  I eventually drifted away from Barker (I loved The Damnation Game, The Hellbound Heart and Cabal but his fantasy works left me cold) but I've never forgotten the Books Of Blood.
"Every body is a book of blood, wherever we're opened, we're red." - Clive Barker

Me and David at The Barbican, July 2017 (as I wrote about here)
One of the people I tagged was David Roberts, a fine friend of long-standing who's long been a collaborator of mine, bouncing around ideas for stories and novellas and co-plotting the thriller novel I wrote last year and the one I'm just about to start.  We meet weekly for long walks with his dog Pippa and when I told him about this blog, we talked through the reasons for our choices which were fascinating (half the fun of the meme was what you found out about the person by what they'd picked).  Once we finished, I asked if I could use his choices here and he agreed.

Truckers, by Terry Pratchett
For me, one of Terry's books had to be first as they have entertained me over many years.  Truckers is one I read to my daughter, and much to my regret we never did write to Mr Pratchett as we intended, asking what happened to Miskilin after the final book of the trilogy.  His early books are well worth a visit, his writing became more polished as time went on but the ideas and concepts are all there in the beginning.

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien
I developed a love of fantasy through Lord of the Rings, but my battered copy is not photogenic and although I read The Hobbit second it still represents the universe of Middle Earth. I found the best place for reading these books was on the balcony of a hotel in Andora with snow falling, very atmospheric. From these books I moved onto the BBC Radio Drama of Lord of the Rings which I still feel is one of the best dramatisations.
(Mark's note - I read The Hobbit at school but never really got into Lord Of The Rings.  When the Peter Jackson film was released, David & I went to see it and then went back again and again, year after year, watching the whole series).

My Dad's Got An Alligator, by Jeremy Strong
Well, its wacky and fun.  In fact, just what you want to read to your children to enable them to grow into the rounded, fun filled people who are able to accept the weird and wonderful and perhaps use this to look at the world differently. Why be normal?

Polly, by Mark West
my walking and other creative collaborator, Pippa
Not only a good read but this copy was a prize - the Stormblade Productions launch included a prize for the best ‘French’ selfie, and not being that photogenic, I sent one in of Pippa and she won!  And as she can't read, I got the book!

Pippa also helps in idea formation and discussion on long walks with Mark. Keeping the route and the plot on course.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Representing the genre of more serious science fiction, and what else to put into a book cover meme than one that encourages you to ‘Burn and Destroy!’. Dark and atmospheric it questions motivations and understanding of the world. Perhaps at times closer to the truth than we would want it to be. Scary...

The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The book which got me really hooked on science fiction, read before I heard the original radio series or saw the TV show. I remember being fascinated by the way each retelling of the story was subtly (or not so subtly) different right up to the recent live stage show. Arthur Dent is a Hoopy Frood (even if I am the only one who thinks so) and my fashion sense in dressing gowns came from him.  Sad really...

Day 7
Day 7 proved difficult. My books are all in bags as we are building in the house and all of the ‘new’ books I have read have been on e-reader.  Love it or hate it, you can carry your books easily, you can read in the dark, you can borrow library books over the wireless...  It is here to stay and while the joy of finding a book in a charity shop diminishes, the ease of reading improves and libraries suddenly come into their own again for me, with a world of e-books out there. But no pages to turn...

So you've seen mine and David's choices, what would your seven books be...?

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Art Of Tom Chantrell

Whilst working on a Star Wars At 40 post, I discovered that my favourite poster was created by a British artist.  As I researched him, I found he'd worked on a lot of other cool films too and so here's a celebration of Tom Chantrell and his artwork.
The one that started it for me, the UK quad poster.  Perhaps because of his Hammer associations, Chantrell was the only artist to include Peter Cushing in a poster.

1982 - based on the illustration by Berni Wrightson
And away from movie posters, Chantrell also created the cover art for this book, beloved of so many horror fans (of a certain age)
Thomas “Chan” William Chantrell was born in Manchester on 20th December 1916.  The son of a trapeze artist, he was the youngest of nine children (the first son) and showed an early aptitude for art, winning a prestigious national competition aged thirteen by designing a disarmament poster for the League Of Nations.  He briefly attended Manchester Art College but left to work at a local advertising agency, moving to London in 1933 to work as a silkscreen printer before joining Bateman Artists.  One of their main clients was Allardyce Palmer Ltd who created posters for Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox and in 1938 he produced his first, for The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse.  After active service in the Second World War as part of the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Unit, he joined Allardyce Palmer and worked solidly, designing posters for hundreds of films, from East Of Eden and Bus StopBrighton RockThe King And I, five Carry Ons (CabbyJackSpyingCleoCowboy and Screaming), One Million Years BCFar From The Madding CrowdBullitThe French ConnectionA Clockwork Orange and most Hammer productions from 1965 onwards.
Tom Chantrell with his in-progress Star Wars artwork, 1977
Rarely seeing the film he drew for (he apparently considered it a waste of time), he worked from a synopsis and a handful of stills - if he couldn’t find the right image, he’d have friends and family pose for reference shots. 

Leaving Allardyce Palmer in 1972, he went freelance with his reputation as England’s most successful and experienced poster artist serving him well.  A decline in cinema audiences (theatres were being adapted to have several screens in one venue) at the time meant more exploitation films reached the screen (sometimes British, sometimes Continental), which in turn required lots of poster art.  Working for the likes of Eagle, Tigon, Hemdale, ITC, Brent-Walker, Alpha and Cannon Entertainment (and what a nostalgic rush those names induce), sexploitation was most popular but closely followed by horror, kung-fu, cheaply produced war and sci-fi flicks, French arthouse, American Grindhouse and teen sex comedies, it was said that if you needed ‘an appropriately gratuitous poster to pull in the punters, Tom Chantrell was your man.’  In addition, he picked up contracts for blockbusters, such as Star Wars as well as illustrating movie soundtrack sleeves and novelisation covers for Hamlyn.

Into the 80s, he produced VHS and Betamax cover art but rising production costs and the arrival of affordable digital art meant traditional painted posters were soon out of fashion.  He suffered a heart attack and, after being admitted to hospital, passed away on 15th July 2001.

He was married twice and was survived by his second wife Shirley and their twin daughters, plus a son and daughter from his first marriage.

Chantrell Posters
Guardian obituary, by Sim Branaghan
Brit Posters
The Art Of Poster Maker Extrardinaire Tom Chantrell

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Black Hand Gang - A Bit Of Nostalgia

I was talking the other day about favourite childhood reads and mentioned The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang, a collection (of four stories) written by H. J. Press.  I decided to have another look through the book and, opening that beloved cover, I realised it was the 1978 Methuen reprint, making my copy forty years old this summer.
I got my copy from the Rothwell Juniors Bookworm Club.  Translated translated from the German by Barbara Littlewood, it was first published in the UK in 1976 with the paperback appearing the following year.  The original book, as Die Abenteur der ‘Schwarzen Hand’, was first published in West Germany in 1965.

Hans Jürgen Press was born on 15th May 1926 in East Prussian Masuria.  During World War II, trained as an unarmed sail plane glider pilot, he was captured in France and transported to the US where, held at Fort Russell in Texas, he painted detailed murals of West Texas mountain scenes.  After the war, he moved to Hamburg and began illustrating for Sternchen, the children’s supplement of the magazine Stern.  In 1953, he created Der kleine Herr Jakob, a strip about a little man with a moustache and bowler hat who never talked, through the comic had comment in verse.  The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang, a combination of story and illustration, was published in weekly chapters, the solution to the week’s riddle given in the next edition.  Press was one of the inventors of  "Wimmelbild", a genre of illustration where the picture was deliberately overcrowded with detail, to entertain children as they searched for certain items.  His books have been translated into more than sixty languages and his son, Julian - also an author and illustrator - not only looks after his literary estate but publishes similar mystery stories.  H. J. Press passed away on 19th October 2002.

My copy looks beaten up because it was very well read and not just by me - in 1978, my friend Claire Gibson and I set up our own little investigators group and The Black Hand Gang adventures were used as a training aid (as it happens, we never did find any crimes to be investigated, more’s the pity).  Years later, I introduced Dude to it when I still read him bedtime stories and that was great fun, watching the excitement in his eyes as he tried to find the clues (whilst I tried really hard not to lead him to them).

I originally wrote about The Black Hand Gang in a Nostalgic For My Childhood post in 2013 (you can read it here, it’s been quite popular) but as a recap, the book contains four adventures - The Mysterious House (featuring a forger), The Treasure In Breezy Lake (the gang help solve a burglary), The Smuggler’s Tunnel (the gang go to stay with Ralph’s Uncle Paul and stumble across a drug smuggling ring) and A Theft At The Zoo (featuring the hunt for stolen animals).

The Black Hand Gang made its headquarters at 49 Canal Street, “at the top of the house, up seventy-two creaking stairs” and their clubroom was called the ‘Airport’.  Meeting regularly after school, the gang comprises: “Frank, who played the trumpet, was the leader; then there was quick-witted Angela; Ralph, who usually wore a striped sweater; and lastly Keith W.S. and his inseparable companion , a squirrel (W.S. stands for With Squirrel).  Well known locally as amateur sleuths”, their friend is Police Sergeant Shorthouse.

From The Mysterious House:
What was Mr X doing?
What was the stamp called?
From The Treasure In Breezy Lake:

look at that detail!
What had Fraser thrown into the lake?

Which door did Angela mean? (clue - the police are looking for the baddie and think they've checked everywhere)
From The Smugglers' Tunnel:
What was the substance in the cubes?

From A Theft At The Zoo:
How did the thief take the key?

In case you're interested, there's a Facebook group dedicated to the book, moderated by Gavin Worby, which can be found at this link.