Friday 30 November 2012

Whitstable, by Stephen Volk (a review)

As regular readers of this blog might remember, I occasionally make mention on here of books that really strike me, that I feel ought to get as much attention as is possible.  Well, this post is about just such a book (which, even though I only finished it yesterday, has become my joint favourite read of the year).

When I was at FantasyCon, I went to the Spectral Press readings (my own Spectral Press chapbook - sold out in advance of publication - was delivered over that weekend too), which was a two-hander between Simon Bestwick, a friend of long-standing whose work I admire a great deal  and Stephen Volk, a writer I am - to be frank - somewhat in awe of.  He was reading from a novella called “Whitstable”, which wouldn’t be published until May 2013 and as he described the way his lead character smoked, wearing a glove, I thought ‘that’s Peter Cushing’ - and it was (May 2013 marks the centenary of his birthday).

The reading whetted my appetite and so when Simon Marshall Jones, head honcho of Spectral Press, mentioned that the book was available for pre-order, I put my name down and suggested that if it was possible to read it beforehand, I’d love to do so.  Simon sent me the ms as a Word document and I read it quickly, enjoying and savouring every last word.

This is my review, which I posted at Goodreads.

In 1971, a recently bereaved Peter Cushing locks himself away in his Whitstable home, intending to cut himself off from day-to-day life in order to grieve privately.  For years, as the star of numerous horror films, he has despatched creatures of the night with their fake fangs, pelts and blood but after a trip to the beach and an encounter with a young boy, he quickly discovers that some monsters are human.  With grief weighing heavily on him but a strong desire to protect the innocent, Peter Cushing now faces a very real terror. 

Using certain real-life events, Volk deftly creates a loving - if occasionally harsh and unblinking - fictional biography of an actor most (if not all) genre fans are familiar with and through the strength of his writing, we come to love Peter Cushing, feeling his immense hurt and pain and wanting the absolute best for him.  Interwoven with this is a beautifully underplayed horror story - with no ghosts or ghoulies - where Cushing comes up against Les Gledhill, a man whose step-son-to-be thinks of as a vampire but is, in reality, much worse.  Their two key exchanges, once on the doorstep of Cushing’s house and another, at the local cinema, are fantastic, with tour-de-force writing that managed to enthral, terrify and appal this reader.  In addition, the latter confrontation takes place whilst the two men are watching “The Vampires Lovers” and Volk intersperses scenes from the film in a way I’ve never read before, that is about as cinematic as it’s possible to be on the printed page. 

Richy detailed (1971 is lovingly and painstakingly reproduced and even if you’ve never been to Canterbury, you have been in that tea shop), with some amusing exchanges (Carl, the boy who starts it all off, can’t quite work out what connection this Peter Cushing person might have to Van Helsing ) and nicely written memories (of Morecombe & Wise and the personalities he worked with on the Hammer films) this is the kind of book you wish you could read anew each and every time. 

Darkly elegant and full of almost poetic moments (“Cushing trembled a smile…”), showing the horrors of life and the consequences of losing a beloved whilst also remaining strong in the belief that love is forever, this is a truly beautiful book, scary, moving and hopeful in equal measures, that should be read by everyone who has even a passing interest in the horror genre.  Highly recommended.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, the book can be pre-ordered direct from the Spectral Press website here

Thursday 29 November 2012

a "Short, Sharp Interview"

Over at his "You Would Say That, Wouldn't You?" blog, the crime writer and genre champion Paul D. Brazill conducts a "short, sharp interview" with me.

Check it out here, if you're so inclined.

I still haven't actually done any writing on "Never Tear Us Apart"...

Sunday 25 November 2012

The Passage of time

Today is my lovely Dad’s 69th birthday, we’ve bought him gifts, we’ve got him cards but apart from a small cake, we won’t be celebrating in as much style as I’d like to.

Today is the 9th anniversary of my sister Tracy passing away.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel like nine years since I had that phone call at work, from Mum who was standing in the car park at Leicester, red raw with emotion and running on sorrow and fear and grief.  Other times it does - we now have Dude, Lucy and baby Milly, Sarah is married to Chris, we’re back in Rothwell - but neither state seems or feels right.

Today I shall celebrate the life of my Dad, who is the nicest, kindest man I know and I shall mourn the passing of my sister, who was my constant companion - and often bitter enemy - through my childhood.

Most of all, I’ll give thanks to the fact that I’m part of a loving, warm and incredibly supportive family, who picked me up when I needed it and allowed me to try and pick them up when they needed it too.  Happy birthday to my Dad, a million hugs and kisses and warm thoughts to my beloved Mum & Dad on this day and a hug to my sister, gone but never forgotten.

Us outside Madame Tussauds, March 2003 (Sarah didn't make the trip)

Wednesday 21 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

THE NEXT BIG THING is a chain of book and author recommendations. The way it works is this, one author tags up to five others, who then each tag five others until the Elder Gods are satisfied that we are all hard at work telling their stories and you're all hard at work reading them. 

Stephen Bacon tagged me on his blog and now it's my turn.

1) What is the working title of your next book?
It doesn’t really have one, though I’ve referred to it as “Never Tear Us Apart” a few times (I’m a big INXS fan).

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
As with most of my projects, it’s been rattling around in my head for years and was originally two completely separate stories before they started to entwine with each other.  It deals with a lot of things that I’ve been exploring over the past few years - an out-of-season British seaside town, grief, ghosts and a haunted place.  And love, always love.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I haven’t thought about it, to be honest.  I very rarely do, for me the lead characters are more often than not me and my friends.  Though Isabel Mundy, in Conjure, was definitely Monica Bellucci and Saskia, in The Mill, was Esther Hall.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A couple of lost, lonely people try to connect at an out-of-season seaside town and there’s a house that eats people.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I haven’t even started it yet, though I can say with a good degree of certainty that it won’t be self-published.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
See the answer to question six.  If I’m looking at a full-length novel, the first draft would probably be written anywhere between six months and a year.  Hopefully quicker.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
There isn’t anything in particular that I’m using as a touchstone for this, to be honest, though that might change once I start writing.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
It was a desire to write another novel, to be honest.  I started publishing in the small press in 1999 and worked my way up from short stories to a novel (In The Rain With TheDead) and a short novel (Conjure) and then I hit a writers block that took me out of action for a couple of years.  Since then, I’ve been slowly getting back into things, publishing short stories and novelettes and working my way up to novellas (two are due from Pendragon Press next year).  The next logical step seemed to be another novel and I wanted to write something dark and personal and bleak and scary and now seemed as good a time as any.  I’ve stripped back the premise of my novelette The Mill and used the spine of that for this, plus added in a ghoulish landlord, a man who has ‘the gift’ and a house that’s always hungry.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
If you like haunted house stories, ghosts and frightening things, I would hope you’d like this.  If, like me, you have a thing about sad coastal towns, this could work for you and I hope the relationship angle would touch people too.

And now for the tagging... You can read their answers to the same questions on Wednesday 28th November.

Go for it, Andrew Murray, Neil Williams, Jay Eales, Steve Harris and David Price

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Bye bye, typewriter

On the way into work this morning, I heard the news that the last typewriter to be built in the UK has been produced at Brother, in North Wales.

Although I haven't used a typewriter for years, this is still sad news - I wrote (and published) my earliest stories on an old Remington upright my Dad rescued from work (which explains my 3-fingers-and-a-thumb on each hand typing method) and being able to produce readable, professional looking pages was like opening a door to a new world.

I progressed to an Olympia, with which I wrote four ‘novels’ and my Three Intrepids mystery series and I never looked back.  At school, with a small gap in my timetable, I had to take either typing or needlework to fill the space and chose the former, quickly getting my RSA.  However, once I started work and saw what computers and their word processors could do (I loved Q&A Write and resisted Word for a long time) I never looked back but there’s something delightfully nostalgic about the whole typewriter business.  I loved the sound of the keys clacking (and often getting stuck), the way you always got blue and red on your fingers when you changed the ribbon, the ding of the carriage return and those little thumb-wide strips of Tippex paper. Ah, history...

Brother, who say they’ve made 5.9 million typewriters at their Wrexham factory since it was opened in 1985 have donated the last machine to London’s Science Museum.  Pretty soon, I imagine, it’ll be like cassette tapes, where kids look at them and say “you used to use this?”

My kid sister Sarah, learning to type in 1985

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Guest post at Sue Moorcroft's blog

My good friend Sue Moorcroft is a great writer and a great person.  We first met in 1999, at Kettering Writers Group, where she & I were the only published writers.  As she says, “[we] sat at the back and sniggered, passed notes and probably annoyed everyone else. We also set up a critiquing partnership that endured.

I’ve had the pleasure of critiquing all but two of her six novels (and some of her sparkling novellas) - her latest is sitting in my Inbox waiting for me - I’ve loved them all (my personal favourite is All That Mullarkey, because I fancy the heroine).  Click here to find out more about her books at Amazon.

To celebrate the publication of her latest novel, Dream A Little Dream - new out from Choc Lit and well worth a read - she has been running a blogathon and asked me to be a part of it.  My entry appears today, it’s about dreams and I’m thrilled to be included so why not click the link below, have a read and support Sue!

me and Sue, at Alt-Fiction, Leicester, April 2012

No more tours for INXS

I'm an INXS subscriber and received an email today, a press release that's also posted on their site (which you can read here in full).  Basically, they're not going to tour any more, which I suppose means - taking into account the word retirement - that they're splitting up.

“We understand that this must come as a blow to everybody, but all things must eventually come to
an end. We have been performing as a band for 35 years, it’s time to step away from the touring

“Our music will of course live on and we will always be a part of that.”

“We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the friends and family that have supported us
throughout our extensive career. Our lives have been enriched by having you all as a part of the
As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a massive INXS fan and have been since accompanying an ex-girlfriend to their 'Summer XS' gig at Wembley stadium, in 1991.  I saw them again, with Alison, at DeMontfort Hall in Leicester as part of the 'Get Of Out The House' tour (this blog post is kind-of about that), then at the NEC in 1997, as they supported 'Elegantly Wasted'.  After Hutchence's death, we saw them again - at the NEC - with Jon Stevens on vocals and whilst it wasn't a bad concert, it didn't really work for me.  I avoided the whole Rockstar thing and the album 'Switch' (though Alison likes it a lot) and we saw them last year, at the Clapham Common gig (see here).

There was also a link on their Twitter feed to a Rolling Stone article from 1988, when they were in the prime as the mighty KICK album was just starting to take over the world and it makes great reading (here's the link).  Reading that brought home the fact that, for me, the true INXS sound ends with the suicide of Michael Hutchence and it's been 15 years since he departed.  Having said that, they're a great live act and their gigs were always worth going to, so it's a real shame.

“It’s been 35 years for INXS as a live touring band and unbelievably it’s been 15 years ago since we
lost Michael” said Jon Farriss.
“We lived for each other in the trenches and we loved each other. It was the six of us against the
world and then suddenly and inexplicably we were but five. We were lost right at the moment we
were on top.”
As Jon Farriss says, “INXS’ touring days could never last forever. We wanted it to end on a high. And it has.”

Thanks for everything, boys, for the pleasure you've given me and millions of others over the years and rest assured that I'll be listening to your music for a long time to come.

Long live INXS.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Bonfire night

A conversation yesterday:

Dude:  Dad, can you get some sparklers on your way home from work?
Me:     Yes, of course I will


Dude: Yay, sparklers.
Me:    Okay, hold still, I'm just going to light it.
Dude: Light it? What're you doing, are you setting fire to it? Dad, what're you doing?

(by the last sparkler in the pack, he was enjoying himself...)