Monday, 13 January 2020

Nostalgic For My Childhood - A Formative Read

I’ve written on the blog before about books that had a major impact on my formative reading years (from The Restless Bones, which I wrote about here to my enduring love for The Three Investigators series) and one of them, which I hadn’t seen in ages, was re-published last year.
 This book is for anyone who has shivered at shadowy figures in the dark, heard strange sounds in the night, or felt the presence of a mysterious ‘something’ from the unknown. 

You will meet haunting spirits, screaming skulls, phantom ships, demon dogs, white ladies, gallows ghosts and many more. This book also explains the techniques and equipment of ghost hunting and tells how lots of ‘ghosts’ have been exposed as fakes or explained away as natural events. 

I loved spooky things as a kid and this slim paperback, originally published by Usborne in 1977 and written by Christopher Maynard, was the perfect book for ghost-mad kids like me back in the day.  At that time, as with The Three Investigators, I was the only person I knew who read the book (taking it out of the library, time after time) but through the wonder of social media, I now realise I wasn’t alone.
The book is well illustrated and covers everything from explaining what a ghost is and how they’ve appeared in history, where they’re likely to gather and how literature has presented them, through to a helpful map of a haunted village.  Everything, in fact, for a would-be ghost hunter and this includes a helpful guide for the equipment you’d need to do that too!  There’s a healthy scepticism (it debunks several myths) but it also presents the photographs that terrified me as a child, including the old lady in the back seat of a car (and you can tell me a million times her scarf is over part of the car frame, I still won’t believe you).

The re-print (which is identical to the original, other than the foreword from Reece Shearsmith, another fan) came about when people started discussing the book online.  Anna Howarth, who works for Usborne and was a fan, tells the company website she’d been “banging on” about bringing it back into print for most of the fifteen years she’d worked for the company.  When Shearsmith tweeted his love for the book, she wrote to him and he agreed to write the foreword for any reprints.
Buoyed by public reaction, Anna set up an online petition that quickly sailed past the target of 1,000 signatures and the book was reprinted in time for Halloween 2019, going to number one on Amazon when it was put up for pre-order.

To those of us who remember it from the first time around, it’s a wonderful blast of nostalgia that reads as well as you would hope.  For everyone else with even the vaguest interest in the supernatural, I’d say it’s essential reading.
Enjoy - and beware the things that go bump in the night…


Monday, 6 January 2020

The King For A Year Project, 5 Years On...

It's now five years since I started what I thought was going to be a little project.  It didn't end up quite like that, of course but as Stephen King says in The Mist, "this is what happened..."

I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since my Dad took me into a second hand bookshop in Wellingborough in the early 80s and I picked up a battered copy of Salem’s Lot, which still sits proudly on my shelf.  I used his fantastic non-fiction book Danse Macabre to help navigate my first steps around the horror genre, in print and film and went on to read everything he put out through to Needful Things in 1991 (and dipped back in and out again over the years, falling in love with his work again when I read Joyland in 2013).  When Matthew Craig was discussing on Twitter his proposed #CarrieAt40 project, I jumped at the chance to get involved and reviewed it (since I’d never read that particular novel) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

A little while after my review was published, in April 2014, I had a Facebook discussion with Alison Littlewood, Ross Warren, Anthony Cowin and Andrew Murray and we talked about our personal top 10 favourite King books.  Always keen to make lists, I then posted this...

Here's an idea - Ross, Anthony, Andrew, Alison - how about next year, we declare it a Stephen King year. Twelve of us, we each pick one book and then blog a review/essay on it and link back to each others blog.  What do you think?

As it happened, they all thought it was a very good idea whilst I wondered if I could find seven other people interested enough in the project to take part.  Turns out, that wasn't something I should have worried about at all as within an hour of mentioning it on Twitter, I'd filled all twelve spots.

Ross then suggested we have a dedicated blog for the reviews, so I set one up and Willie Meikle gave it the perfect title with King For A Year.  I asked a few more people if they’d like to take part, yet more came forward of their own volition and by the end of that day, I’d filled 24 spots.  By the end of the next day, I had 36 volunteer reviewers.  I asked a couple more people, a few more put their names forward and very soon, we had over 50 interested parties.

It seemed an unlikely (nay, mammoth) undertaking but suddenly, “King For A Year” meant exactly that, 52 people reviewing 52 books over the course of 12 months.  What had started life, mere days before, as a book-a-month blog was now a book-a-week blog.

As Alison said in a later tweet, “from little acorns…”

As curator, I decided on a fairly simple set of rules - each person would pick their own book to write about and the review could be laid out as they wanted (I would only edit for grammar) so we got a good mix.  Some reviews are thorough, bordering on the academic (Ray Cluley’s especially), whilst some are little slices of autobiography where the King book in question reminds the reviewer of happenings in their lives.  I was originally going to look at Pet Sematary (which I hadn’t read in years, certainly not since becoming a father and didn't revisit for a couple of years - see here) but chickened out, which was lucky for the blog because I then got two reviews for it - from a male and female viewpoint.

By the end of 2015 we'd reviewed 64 individual works (a few more than once) over 64 blog posts, contributed by 56 writers and received over 29,000 views in return, which is great.  We had a bit of a coup (noted King scholar Bev Vincent contributed his review of Finders Keepers from an ARC edition, so it published on the same day as the book), featured some first-time reviewers and hopefully included some people who aren’t particularly known for their love of horror (such as best-selling romance novelists Rowan Coleman and Julie Cohen).

For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing (and put books onto my TBR pile based on some of the reviews) and it pleased me immensely that people had a good time re-reading their favourites and writing about them.

The blog was nominated for Best Non-Fiction in the British Fantasy Society Awards in 2016 (it didn't win, unfortunately) and closed once the year was up (even though certain titles never got picked up), though it's still live.  Once again, I'd like to thank all the reviewers, all the visitors (I hope, if you’re a Constant Reader, you had as much fun with the blog as I did), the original gang who helped shape the idea in the first place and, of course, Stephen King without whom…

The Contributors (in alphabetical order):
Stephen Bacon, Jenny Barber, Liz Barnsley, Simon Bestwick, Charlotte Bond, Donna Bond, Kevin Bufton, J. G. Clay, Chad Clark, Charlene Cochrane, Julie Cohen, Rowan Coleman, Anthony Cowin, Matthew Craig, Dean M. Drinkel ,Jay Eales, James Everington, Jay Faulkner, Paul M. Feeney, Gef Fox, David T Griffith, Shaun Hamilton, Kim Talbot Hoelzli, Nadine Holmes, Dave Jeffery, Carole Johnstone, Frazer Lee, Alison Littlewood, Selina Lock, Edward Lorn, Marc Lyth, Johnny Mains, Robert Mammone, Maura McHugh, Jim Mcleod, Gary McMahon, William Meikle, Andrew Murray, Thana Niveau, Wayne Parkin, Kit Power, John Llewellyn Probert, Sharon Ring, Lynda E. Rucker, Christian Saunders, Steve Shaw, Phil Sloman, Robert Spalding, Bev Vincent, Ren Warom, Ross Warren, Anthony Watson, Adele Wearing, Sheri White, David T. Wilbanks, Neil Williams

The blog can be found here

The complete run-down of reviews...

January
The Shining, reviewed by Anthony Cowin
Night Shift, reviewed by Stephen Bacon
The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower vol. VII), reviewed by Jenny Barber
Dr Sleep, reviewed by Wayne Parkin

February
Danse Macabre, reviewed by Kevin Bufton
'Salem's Lot, reviewed by Matthew Craig
From A Buick 8, reviewed by Neil Williams
Thinner, reviewed by Donna Bond

March
IT, reviewed by James Everington
Lisey's Story, reviewed by Dean M. Drinkel
Cell, reviewed by Maura McHugh
The Dead Zone, reviewed by Willie Meikle
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, reviewed by Alison Littlewood

April
Three novellas ("Ur", "Blockade Billy", "Mile 81"), reviewed by Kevin Bufton
On Writing, reviewed by Kit Power
Under The Dome, reviewed by Selina Lock
Rose Madder, reviewed by Rowan Coleman

May
Four Past Midnight, reviewed by John Llewellyn Probert
Christine, reviewed by Adele Wearing
The Regulators, reviewed by Shaun Hamilton
Carrie, reviewed by Lynda E. Rucker

June
Finders Keepers, reviewed by Bev Vincent
Dreamcatcher, reviewed by Kim Talbot Hoelzli
Revival, reviewed by David T. Wilbanks
Misery, reviewed by Jay Eales
Cycle Of The Werewolf, reviewed by Nadine Holmes

July
Joyland, reviewed by Gary McMahon
CUJO, reviewed by Thana Niveau
Skeleton Crew, reviewed by Phil Sloman
Different Seasons, reviewed by Dave Jeffery

August
Mr Mercedes, reviewed by Steven Savile
Gerald's Game, reviewed by Ray Cluley
The Colorado Kid, reviewed by Jim Mcleod
Needful Things, reviewed by Sharon Ring
Duma Key, reviewed by Liz Barnsley

September
Blaze, reviewed by Paul M. Feeney
Nightmare & Dreamscapes, reviewed by Christian Saunders
The Gunslinger, reviewed by Anthony Watson
Full Dark, No Stars, reviewed by Frazer Lee

October
Dolores Claiborne, reviewed by Carole Johnstone
The Dark Half, reviewed by Andrew Murray
A Face In The Crowd, Throttle and In The Tall Grass, reviewed by Kevin Bufton
The Drawing Of The Three, reviewed by Julie Cohen

November
Hearts In Atlantis, reviewed by Robert Mammone
Rage, reviewed by Johnny Mains
Pet Sematary, reviewed by Marc Lyth
Desperation, reviewed by J. G. Clay
Desperation, reviewed by Kit Power
11.22.63, reviewed by Chad Clark
11.22.63, reviewed by Kim Talbot Hoelzli
Insomnia, reviewed by Ross Warren

December
Duma Key, reviewed by Ren Warom
The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole, reviewed by Gef Fox
Just After Sunset, reviewed by Edward Lorn
Pet Sematary, reviewed by Charlotte Bond
Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption, reviewed by David T Griffith
The Green Mile, reviewed by Simon Bestwick
Bag Of Bones, reviewed by Charlene Cocrane
The Eyes Of The Dragon, reviewed by Jay Faulkner
Firestarter, reviewed by Paul M. Feeney
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, reviewed by Steve Shaw
Black House, reviewed by Robert Spalding
Everything's Eventual, reviewed by J. G. Clay
The Stand, reviewed by Sheri White