Saturday 28 July 2012

Forthcoming charity auction

Okay, here's my plan, what do you think to it?

Simon Marshall-Jones' Spectral Press has garnered a very good reputation in the almost 2 years that it's been running, with its chapbook series selling out long before each volume is published (but why not subscribe to future ones, whilst you have the chance?). This has, of course, put Spectral in the enviable position that it's books are very highly sought after.

The next chapbook, number 7, is mine - "What Gets Left Behind" - and, like its predecessors, it's sold out. In an attempt to do something good from that, I'm going to hold an Internet based raffle with the prize being a copy of all 7 chapbooks so far published (all of which come from my personal collection, with each edition being limited to 100 copies). The others are all signed anyway, but I will obviously personalise mine however the winner wants it.

My intention is that the proceeds will be split equally (I'm thinking one child charity, The MS Society - in memory of my sister, a local charity and another to be decided). I will cover PayPal costs and postage.

Any thoughts?

Friday 27 July 2012

Reaping The Dark, by Gary McMahon (early review)

‘Nobody is interested in the driver until it’s time to get away’. Clarke, the getaway driver in question (known to his peers as Driver Z), was orphaned at an early age and mentored by Oakes, who now acts as his go-between. Carving out a “walk away quickly” lifestyle with his pregnant girlfriend Martha, who shares his views - virtually everything in their flat is rented - he dreams of becoming a stuntman, realising that his life must change when he becomes a father. His latest job, a drugs raid that goes badly wrong, takes place at an abandoned Masonic Lodge (which, the news later informs him, was also the base for the mysterious Order Of The Darkened Veil) and Clarke suddenly finds himself in possession of £300k and pursued by a psychopath and something much, much worse.

Apart from the prologue, this is told in present tense and whilst it takes a while to adjust to that, it suits the story perfectly and gives the whole thing a lovely, noir-ish feel. The tonality of the first half reminded me somewhat of the film “Drive” (indeed, McMahon says the story was inspired by wondering what would happen if James Sallis wrote a Dennis Wheatley story) and there’s also a Michael-Mann-like sense of detachment (it’s a very filmic story, you can almost see the neon soaked visuals as you read).

A mixture of styles, from the existential start to the siege mentality second half, this moves at a cracking pace taking in brutal violence, perceived history, the honour - or lack thereof - of thieves, a wonderful sense of atmosphere and location whilst all the while giving us well-rounded characters who have very believable relationships.

An assured novella, very well told and superbly realised, this is highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

(this is an early review - I critiqued the 2nd draft manuscript for Gary and also created the cover art shown)

Tuesday 24 July 2012

A little bit of politics...

Open letter to David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary:

Dear Morally Righteous Dipstick

Whilst I completely understand (and actually agree with) your position, regarding cash-in-hand payments to plumbers, builders and the like, I think it’s a bit rich your saying that it’s “morally wrong” of the householder to do so.

Bearing in mind the situation between your colleagues at the HMRC and their ineptitude with Goldman Sachs and Vodafone - plus Tory friend Gary Barlow and his £26m stashed in the same off-shore accounts that Jimmy Carr used - I would suggest that you are “morally wrong” to make this statement. You’d need a lot of ‘Fred the plumber’ payments to cover the interest on the Vodafone £1.25bn and that’s just for starters, isn’t it?

Don’t make us, the general public, feel bad for your complete inability to tax the people and corporations that should - be any stretch of the imagination - be actually paying tax.

Yours in disbelief at your gross stupidity

Mark West
(tax payer)

Guardian article - Gauke's comments
Guardian article - HMRC, Goldman Sachs and Vodafone

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Wise words

Two things - and if you don't have kids, you can probably safely skip this entry.

"The Bureau Of Lost Children", the short story I finished last week (which will hopefully appear in "ill at ease2" later this year) concerns a missing child. It wasn't particularly difficult to write but, on reading it back, I found I'd transferred a lot of my own worries and fears - about Matthew and taking care of him and making sure that he's safe - into the text and realised that it was a lot darker than I'd originally intended.

At the moment, The Dude is heavily into Pokemon and he knows plenty on the subject (I joked to my parents, after he'd patiently explained to them what evolution of what character this other one was, that he knew more about Pokemon than I know about anything, in the world, ever). He likes to talk about it too and, whilst I can't keep up with the names (though I do like the phoning-it-in styling of the character "Far Fetch'd"), I do show an interest. I thought that was just about being a good Dad, but then I saw this posted on Facebook (written by Catherine M Wallace) and realised I might be doing something right after all.

So here are the wise words.

Monday 9 July 2012

Last Days, by Adam Nevill

Although I do occasionally, I’m not in the habit of posting reviews here simply because I read a lot of books and I wouldn’t want this whole timeline to be filled with them (so instead I review everything at Goodreads and occasionally on Amazon). I’m quite a tough reviewer, I think - I have 268 reviews posted at Goodreads and my average score is 3.55/5 - so when I find a book that I consider to be 5 Stars, I like to let people know about this.

This is one such exception.

From the blurb:
When indie filmmaker, Kyle Freeman is offered a deal to make a documentary about a notorious cult, an opportunity to avoid both bankruptcy and obscurity is finally on the Table.

Led by the infamous sister Katherine, the Temple of The Last Days reached it's bloody endgame in the Arizona desert in 1975. Ever since, rumour and speculation about the group's mystical secrets and paranormal experiences have lain half-concealed behind a legacy of murder, sexual deviancy and imprisonment.

The shoot's locations take Kyle and his one man crew to the cult's original bases in London, France and finally to the desert crime scene where the cult self-destructed in a night of ritualistic violence. But when Kyle interviews the remaining survivors, who haven't broken silence in decades, a series of uncanny events and unexplained phenomena plague the production. And what exactly is it they are managing to record in any place the Temple once resided?

Troubling out-of-body experiences and nocturnal visitations, the sudden demise of their interviewees and the discovery of ghastly artefacts soon pitches Kyle into unnerving realisation that he is entangled in the cult's hideous vestiges.

- - -
It’s a fantastic book, it really is and this is the review I posted:

Kyle Freeman is an almost-bankrupt independent documentary film-maker. When he’s hired by Max Solomon, distributor of self-help DVDs, to make a film about a notoriuous cult - The Temple Of The Last Days - he quickly agrees. Max has set up the schedule, is paying well and offering full creative freedom and to Kyle and his sidekick Dan, this sounds like the perfect job - until they start filming and things begin to go very, very wrong.

The fourth novel from Adam Nevill, this is an absolute powerhouse of a book that grips from the first page and almost refuses to let go at the last. Taking tropes and ideas that I love - indie film-makers, documentaries, the 70s milieu, the past wreaking havoc on the present - Nevill takes his basic idea and ramps up the suspense from the first set-piece (a house in London where the image of something is captured in an abandoned video camera) right through to the climax, which recalled - for me -shades of Damnation Game-era Clive Barker.

Using a meticulously created history, from Irvine Levine’s book “Last Days”, through to the (absolutely terrifying) Blood Friends and the awful Unholy Swine, this is never less than gripping reading and managed to keep even this jaded reader on the edge of his seat. It's a fantastic novel - I’d suggest it’s a modern masterwork of the genre - and I can’t recommend this highly enough. If you love horror, if you love beautifully crafted novels where tension and suspense are steadily ratcheted up until you’re racing through the pages, then this is the book for you.

- - -
I also “found” a cover for the Irvine Levine book of “Last Days” and, with Adam’s permission, posted it to Facebook (as did he). It was removed by the powers-that-be (and I was escorted to a lecture about the perils of posting pornography), so that didn't work out so well.

Friday 6 July 2012

The War Diaries Of Private Raymond "Gus" West

This follows up (and expands upon) an earlier post (see the original here) regarding my Grampy’s wartime diaries.

My Grampy, Ray West, was a kind and gentle man, always ready with a smile and I loved him dearly. I knew that he’d been in the war but I don’t remember ever discussing it with him because that’s just the way it was. People came home, they got on with their lives and tried to make the world a better place for their children.

When Grampy died in 1997, my Dad and my Uncle found some exercise books filled with his handwriting - it turns out that some fifty years after his experiences, he’d decided to collect his memories. Dad decided it was important to keep them and so he’s spent the last couple of years - doing a few hours a week, when he could find the time (my Dad is the kind of bloke who, upon retiring, is now busier than he’s ever been) - transcribing and editing these memoirs.

When he’d finished, he had almost 21,000 words of wartime reminisces by a man who wasn’t even a father when he was drafted and was almost thirty years away from becoming a grandfather. Dad asked me to read through them and critique them (he was worried about repetition though we both agreed that it was important to preserve his voice) and I was thrilled to do so. I miss my Grampy (and have kept a diary myself since 1981), so the opportunity to discover parts of his life that I never knew whilst he was alive was a tremendous draw.

Reading the diaries was a revelation, both in terms of observing the young life of a man I knew much later and also that he was able to absorb the horrors he (and his friends and comrades) witnessed. It gave me a newfound level of respect for a man I already held in high regard and I wished he could have been sitting in the next room, so that I could have told him as much.

Since Dad had spent so much time and effort on his editing task, I asked my friend Neil Williams if he’d typeset the manuscript (which he did, the star), then Dad & I designed the cover and I got the slim book printed up. When it arrived, Dad sat holding it for a long time, turning it over in his hands, opening it at random to read snippets and just generally revelling in what he’d achieved. It was lovely to watch him.

We’ve printed up enough copies to give out to family members and Dad’s also going to take one along to Grampy's old regiment, the 2nd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment, South Wales Borderers, who want to curate as much history as they can get hold of for their archives.

Thanks to my Grampy’s desire to record his memories - and my Dad’s desire to make sure they survived - my son will now be able to read about the wartime exploits of a man he sadly never knew.

Well done, Dad, I’m proud of you!

At the front of the diaries, Grampy wrote this (which I used as the preface).

This narrative may seem disjointed as it is over fifty years since it happened and some names and places are now vague. I was never a hero but had several near misses including being machine-gunned by aircraft, losing two of my trucks, being hit in a snowstorm by an American armoured car and overturning in a forest.

I was always lucky and always felt detached from danger even though some of my duties seemed dicey.

“Experiences of the Second World War 1939–1946:
2nd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment, South Wales Borderers”
by Private Raymond (Gus) West No.4080807

Monday 2 July 2012

Hauntings Launch (and small press Expo) at Forbidden Planet

Saturday was the Small Press Expo, organised by Danie Ware and held at the flagship Forbidden Planet store on Shaftesbury Avenue in London. I was there, chuffed as could be, as part of the NewCon Press contingent (thanks to “Fog On The Old Coast Road”, which appears in the Hauntings anthology).

Ian Whates mans the NewCon Press table

I got into St Pancras for 11.45, had a wander around (picked up a Derek Meddings book from the Cinema Store) and was in the book department of FP for 12.30 as specified. I met Danie (we’re Facebook and Twitter friends, but this was the first time we’d properly met), saw Ian Whates and his partner Helen, got my name-badge (superbly designed by Sarah Anne Langton, another FB/Twitter friend I was meeting for the first time) and then we were off. The area we were in was packed with writers and visitors, I chatted with Donna Scott, Andy West and Paul Melhuish from my writing group, met Theresa Derwin and her sister, signed 30 or so books and had an absolutely fantastic time. I mean, how could I not? I was in Forbidden Planet, in London, doing a book signing! How cool is that?

Donna Scott, me and Andy West, friends from the Northampton SF Writers Group

2.30 rolled around too quickly and the event wound down. I bought a Pokemon tin for Dude (my sole instruction), then Stuart Young took me to Cecil Court where he showed me a fantastic bookshop that I spent far too much money in. Afterwards, I joined the gang in the Spice Of Life pub (where I had a great conversation with Greg James and Ben Baldwin) before heading home.

The whole Hauntings experience has been great fun, from the live readings (see post here) to seeing the finished product but the signing was the icing on the cake. It was a great day, superbly well organised and it was a real thrill to be surrounded by some great writers and some vibrant small presses. Good stuff. And thanks, once again, to Ian and Adele Wearing who organised the anthology and asked me to get involved - I really appreciate it.

Me and my friend Mark Townsend, the bassist from The Blimeys, who came along to lend moral support

- - -
For those who couldn’t make it, I’m obliged to point out that the signed hardback (limited, I believe, to 100 copies) will be launched at FantasyCon later this year. I’ve already signed the plates and will be there in Brighton.