Friday 30 August 2013

8 Most Memorable Times At The Movies

This was a MEME that originally did the rounds way back when but I thought it'd be nice to revisit it.

"This is not about the best movies you've ever seen. Describe eight experiences watching a movie that stick in your mind as being particularly memorable - for whatever reason."

Star Wars
Still my favourite film of all time, I saw this when it first came out (which would make it early 1978, making me 9).  We’d tried to get in for one showing but it was full, so Dad took me and my friend Claire back to Rothwell.  We headed off down the Rec. to play - it was cold and there was a lot of fog - and only realised the time when we could hear Dad calling us, to go off to the next showing.  My main memory from that day is watching the Star Destroyer come over the camera in almost the first shot and I knew I’d never seen anything like this before in my life.

I was lucky enough to see it in the cinema a few more times - a double-bill with “The Empire Strikes Back” and then a triple-bill (what a marathon that was) with both “Empire” and “Return Of The Jedi” - and I also caught the special editions at the cinema too.

Even better, I'm now watching the films again with Dude (who's 8) and it's great to re-experience them through his eyes!

Dead Ringers
My friend Craig & I went to the cinema a lot in the late 80s/early 90s, alternating between the Kettering, Burton Latimer and Corby ‘theatres’.  Can’t do that now, can we, Mr Odeon?  I’d loved David Cronenberg’s films since watching “Videodrome” and "Scanners" in the mid-80s, so rushed along to see this.  It wasn’t a popularly held view - including me and Craig, there were only 6 people in the cinema.  It’s the quietest I’ve ever heard an audience file out - all of us looked shocked and white faced - but what a brilliant film it is.

Basic Instinct
Rubbish film, I know but Alison & I went out as mates on a cinema trip to The Point in Milton Keynes.  We booked a double bill, watched “Waynes World” first and then went to get something to eat.  Midway through I asked her to go out with me so therefore our first film as a couple was Verhoven’s sleazy thriller.  Well, it could be worse…

The Land Before Time
Back in the late 80s, I used to take my kid sister Sarah to the cinema during school holidays (this was just as video was starting to get a real grip, but we didn’t have a player, so the only place to see big Disney films was at the flicks).  I picked this one only because it vividly reminds me, every time I think of it, of the difference between kids and adults (I would have been in my late teens, Sarah around 5 or 6).  One of the dinosaurs’ mothers dies, right near to the start and the kids in the audience went mental (it was quite a spectacular death if I remember rightly), laughing and shouting.  I thought it was very sad and looked around, trying to see if I was alone in that and wiping away a stray tear.  Turns out I wasn’t - whilst most of the kids were thoroughly enjoying themselves, most of the adults seemed to have “something in their eye”.

I went to see this at The Point, in Milton Keynes, with a friend of mine called Julie.  I wasn’t a big fan of Ken Russell, but I did like Theresa Russell.  The film started.  It was vile.  It got worse.  To date - and I’ve seen a lot of films at the cinema - this is only film I’ve ever walked out of.

Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger
1977 - my friends and I went on our own to a matinee showing of this (I assume that none of our parents wanted to sit through it).  The cinema was chaotic, popcorn everywhere, a lot of noise and we 8 year olds are thrilled to be there on our own.  The noise quietened down during the film and I remember I liked it - a feeling no doubt helped because of the presence of Ms Lambs Navy Rum herself, Caroline Munro.  A friend of mine, who’d already seen it, kept telling me about this huge seal that comes out of the ice and attacks the goodies and I was, quite frankly, terrified of what I might see.  Then I saw it and, for the first time, realised that my imagination, on occasion, could be three times more powerful than what film-makers could get on the screen.

Fatal Attraction
For our first date (I do pick them, don’t I?), I took my new girlfriend Sara to see this at the Northampton ABC - it was a beautiful old Art Deco theatre, complete with a balcony and an organ that came out of the stage and is now a Jesus Army Centre (thanks for that, Mr Out-Of-Town Odeon).  I didn’t think the film was too bad and, as soon as it appeared that Glenn Close was dead in the bath, I knew what was going to happen.  This is why, when she leapt out of the water only to be shot by Ann Archer, I was watching the rest of the cinema rather than the screen.  And I swear it was as if everyone moved into the seat directly behind them, a living, screaming ripple effect.  I’ve never seen anything like it since.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Nick - who I have now known for 37 years and count as one of my closest friends - and I fell out during the summer of 1981.  Not being friends wasn’t pleasant, but neither of us was going to back down (and I can’t even remember what caused us to fall out).  It just so happened that, at the same time, “Raiders” arrived at the cinema and nobody I knew wanted to see it - they either didn’t like spiders or snakes or ghosts.  Quite by chance, a few days later, our mum’s met in the high street and, whilst talking, discovered that both of us wanted to see the film.  I can’t remember now who made the first move but we made up and went to see the film and haven’t fallen out since.  The irony is that now, I like horror films and Nick doesn’t, yet it was me who covered his eyes when the first ‘angel’ turns into a ghoul at the climax!  A fact Nick has never forgotten.

A brilliant, stirring film that remains one of my all-time favourites.

I could also discuss the “Live & Let Die/The Spy Who Loved Me” double-bill my Dad took me to see, in 1978 - the first Bond films I’d ever seen at the cinema (and which I discussed, in-depth, at this blog post).

Or “Star Trek 3: The Search For Spock”, where one of the tabloids was running a competition, where you could queue up for free tickets.  We did - me, my friend Steve and his sister - and spent a happy few hours in the queue, chatting away to our fellow would-be patrons and got the tickets and enjoyed the film.  I later wrote an essay about the day, which won an English prize that year at school.

So what are your memorable moments?

Wednesday 28 August 2013

The Bones Of You, by Gary McMahon (advance review)

Some time back (in this post), I spot-lighted the new Gary McMahon short novel that Earthling Publications are publishing at Halloween, saying that it was a great read.  Well, I've now been given the go-ahead to publish my review, so here's exactly what I thought of it.

I love you…I love the bones of you.

Adam Morris is a man with a past, starting again - after a messy divorce - in a rented house and with a mindless job, desperate to be a good father to his young daughter Jess.  The house next door is derelict and was once the home of Katherine Moffatt, a serial killer who struck every Halloween, gathering together her Radiant Children.  When strange things begin to happen on the run up to this Halloween, Adam begins to suspect that Jess might be in very grave danger indeed.

For me, The Bones Of You marks a change of pace for McMahon and shows his range, following the grand (almost operatic) sweep of The Concrete Grove trilogy with a piece that is intimate, however scary and unpleasant it might be.  With a very small cast, claustrophobic locations (his house, next door, a scary underpass and a motorway café pretty much covers it), a love of karate and a great sense of family ties, duties and deceit, this unfolds the story at a good pace, building suspense and tension with a sleight of hand that is so well crafted it’s almost invisible.  Adam’s faltering romance with Carole, a work colleague, is as beautiful and touching as his strained relations with his drug-and-booze addicted ex-wife are painful and destructive.  Jess is well drawn, a young girl who’s not quite sure of what’s happening but who knows she has a part to play in keeping it all together and beyond this is the spectre of Katherine Moffatt, who looms over the story like a dark cloud.

I won’t spoil anything but there’s a shocking incident at one point which turns a lot of what has already happened on its head and suddenly you’re wrong-footed, not at all sure of where McMahon is going to lead you next and that’s both exhilarating and terrifying.

Dark and driving but with moments of real hope, this is not as bleak as some of McMahon’s previous material but works all the better for it.

Very highly recommended.

More details are here, at the Earthling Publications site and this is sure to sell out so get in quick.

Honestly, you won't regret it...

Sunday 25 August 2013

Fog On The Old Coast Road

They might not have the cachet of an award - and, indeed, some may knock them - but Ellen Datlow annually produces a Best Of Horror volume and within it, she has a list of ‘honourable mentions’.  These are the stories that didn’t make the grade to get into the final edition but which she feels are worthy enough to point people towards, should they be so inclined.

I have been publishing in the small press since 1999 (with a gap of several years around my writers block) and an honourable mention has always been on my list of ‘things to achieve’.

Yesterday, coming home from holiday, I discovered I’d achieved it (you can read the full list of ‘mentions’ here) with my story “Fog On The Old Coast Road”.

I’ve mentioned this story on the blog a few times (and these are the key posts):

The launch in London
My write-up of the 'Reading' event, in conjunction with Un:Bound Productions
A YouTube link to me reading the story

and it’s one that I remain very proud of - the lead characters are essentially me and Dude, it’s set at the east coast holiday resort of Skegness and the central image that drove it - a man in a flickering light - is one that I still think is scary.

Ian Whates, co-chairman of the Northampton SF Writers Group, asked me to submit a story for an anthology he was planning, called “Hauntings”.  There was no guarantee that I’d get in but I did, in great company and that one tale has taking me to a pub for a reading, the Forbidden Planet flagship store on Shaftesbury Avenue for a signing and a mass signing at FantasyCon 2012 in Brighton (where I got to act like a kid with Alison Littlewood).

I’m chuffed to bits to have achieved an ambition, with a story that I relate to very highly and I am indebted to Ian Whates for the opportunity.

It would be remiss of me not to include the link, in case you were interested, but the fine volume from NewCon Press is available here.

And finally, here's me, reading the story at The Staff Of Life pub in Mowsley, near Market Harborough in Leicestershire, 11th March 2012

Friday 16 August 2013

Encountering the Medusa and the Yeti (on the Tantive IV corridor)

We went to London on Thursday and decided to pay a visit to The London Film Museum at the old County Hall.  It was great fun, with some interesting and fascinating exhibits and a Star Wars corridor.

We loved it.

"I'm sure I can hear something..."

"Cover your eyes, cover your eyes!"

 Dude masters the Force choke-hold...

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Interview with Gary Cole-Wilkin

In another of my occasional “interviews” series, I sit down with Gary Cole-Wilkin, an excellent musician and a horror fan.  We  first started corresponding through the Ramsey Campbell Message Board and got on well, then finally met at a FantasyCon in Nottingham.  His partner, the equally lovely Soozy Marjoram, was organising a curry night, I got invited along and I’ve not looked back since.

In 2010, we decided to exchange projects - he took a copy of my short novel “Conjure” (and was an early and energertic supporter of it, for which I shall forever remain grateful) and in return I got his 2010 solo album “A Parallelogram Of Suitcases”.  I loved the album, though it wasn’t particularly a genre I listened to a lot and I told everyone I could that here was a talent to listen to.

Cut to a couple of years down the line.  When I found out that Spectral Press were going to publish my chapbook “What Gets Left Behind” and that it would need a trailer, I decided not to go with royalty-free music but instead approach my friend.  In return, I made a video for his beautiful song “Bygones” (from the equally beautiful Norfolk Sky Blue album) and he delivered a piece of music to me that perfectly captured the early 80s setting (that most of the story takes place in).

A genuinely nice bloke, softly spoken with a wry sense of humour, Gary was gracious enough to sit down for an interview with me.

MW:  Thanks for agreeing to this, I appreciate it.  To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

GCW: Thank you for asking me – I’m very flattered!  A bit about me…Well, I am 46, describe myself as a Singer/Songwriter, just released my sixth solo album as ‘Gcw’ called ‘Sha La La La Push Push’ - also I am an avid Horror Fan, enjoy Guinness, red wine, a good meal, riding my bike in the countryside and a little bit of social networking…J

MW:   According to the biography on your website, you started playing at the age of 14.  How long was it before you wrote your first song - and can you remember what it was about?

GCW: I remember it well…It was called ‘Fat Lip’ and it was as atrocious as you can imagine a first song by an angst-ridden teenager would be…I’m cringing thinking about it now…I honestly can’t remember what it was about  (he lies…J). As to how long before I wrote a song…Well, the first decent ones came as I put together my first band ‘The Cuban Heels’ – it was a case of we had to have something to play, and I had the guitar so the job was mine. Laziness comes into it too, I’ve always been either too lazy, or had to short an attention span to properly learn other people’s songs ..I have great admiration for people who play in tribute bands, I just don’t have the necessary patience to do that, so that’s a reason why I started writing my own stuff.

MW:   Of the bands that you were in - The Cuban Heels, Downstroke, XXY, The Antenna and Rocket Box - which one do you remember the most fondly?  And - to follow that - do you remember it more fondly for what you produced, or the fun you had whilst in it?

GCW: Easy that one, the best band I was in was The Antenna for sure. Not an EASY band to play in, as we were all very strong personalities and things often went flying… We made one great album called ‘Death To The Antenna’ and gained a reputation as TROUBLE with a capital T – And I loved it, proper Rock n’Roll with all the trappings that goes with it. Tons of tales, which cannot be repeated on a nice website like this. Played some of my best and worst gigs with that band…Good or bad though, it was always memorable and I thank Foil, Dave & Inno (the other members) for memories which will last a lifetime. I think the memories equal what we achieved, definitely.

MW:   What’s your preferred instrument?  You started on the bass but it appears you moved to the lead guitar fairly quickly.

GCW: I started on bass initially as I thought it would be easier to grasp, which it was, I was quite diligent though, and learned where all the notes were, and a fair few scales - stuff which has served me well all through my musical life.  I’ve played with bass players who don’t know where the notes are on the instrument which I was quite shocked by! It was a natural progression after a while to guitar which became my main instrument.

MW:   You’ve played with some great UK bands over the years - the UK Subs, The Godfathers, Captain Sensible, The Heavy Metal Kids - how did you find supporting them was?  Were they helpful or not?  And how did you balance your fanboy-ish glee with the need to get on and get playing?

GCW: Supporting all the names you mention above and others was a huge buzz, they were all bands I admired and I can definitely say they were all very kind and gentlemanly, they were (and still are) proper bands who know how to treat their fans and support acts. Captain Sensible & Charlie Harper from the UK Subs were particularly nice to play with, it means a lot when people you admire treat you well. One of the last ‘name’ bands I supported was Kasabian just before they broke big – Nice guys, but I was in the dressing room when they were playing!

MW:   Your solo career, album wise, began with Homework, which you comment was “a modest and primitive affair”.  Are you being overly critical of yourself there, do you still listen to it?

GCW: I think all artists whether they be musicians or writers worth their salt are critical of their work, if you aren’t then complacency can creep in..I don’t listen to any of my albums for long after they have been released, You have to understand a musician will have been working on the album for maybe two years prior to it’s release, so what is new to a listener is often old stuff to an artist – you will have moved onto other projects & ideas.

MW:   With new equipment, you then recorded The Changes.  Did this capture more of what you considered to be your sound at the time?

GCW: ‘The Changes’ was definitely a step up. I remember a lot of nice comments about that one…I do still play a few songs off that album. ‘New York City’ has recently made a comeback..

MW:   You mention that Monsters From The ID was darker and spikier - without going into too much detail, did you find the writing and playing on that to be cathartic?

GCW: That was a bad time. My mother had died, I was drinking quite a bit and probably grieving through the songs. I recall the songs were very intense. I thought they were good stuff, unfortunately I don’t think many other people did as it simply didn’t sell. A wake up call really, I had to do better next time!

MW:   Which brings us to A Parallelogram of Suitcases, an album I love.  It’s been successful too.  Now I know how it feels when a piece of my writing gets picked up and reviewed favourably, how did it feel for you with having number 1 single on and the overall reception?

GCW:  It was really flattering and a vindication that I could write good songs that could be appealing to people, it was a little reward for the hard work, I actually got two number 1’s – Moments & Full Moon. Moments has gone on to be a bit of a signature song for  me, and yes, I do think it’s probably my best song, people seem to like it, and the public knows best!

MW:    So what led to Tallis, the folk rockers you play for, coming so soon after the solo album?

GCW: I wanted to play bass in a band situation again, and Tallis offered me a gig, It was very different from any of the bands I’d previously been in and I enjoyed the ‘sideman’ role.

MW:   In 2011, you released Norfolk Sky Blue which is, to my mind, an almost perfect album that captures you and your style completely.  Can you tell us something about how it came together - the run of songs and the recording process?

GCW:  Ha! It’s funny, you are the second person that has told me that is a favourite album of mine, for me, it was a NIGHTMARE to make, I could write a book on the problems I had with that one, I started it soon after I’d finished ‘A Parallelogram Of Suitcases’ - too soon as it happens, as I soon encountered a severe dose of writers block, which is why there is only ten songs on the album. As I often am, I was over ambitious in what I was trying to do and some of the songs suffer from poor production as a result. That said, I do think ‘Learn To Crawl’ ‘She’s A Mystery To Me’ ‘Bygones’& She’s Not You’ are worthy. I hope I haven’t spoiled your love for that album! Then again, the customer is always right so maybe it is better than I give it credit for.

MW:    I imagine our creative processes are fairly similar - you get an idea that you like and you work it up - but whilst I am the agent of my own destiny, how do you find trying to explain what you need to your collaborators?

GCW: I am lucky to have worked with some very talented people on my last three albums who have contributed a lot to the success of the songs , particularly Jasmine & Beth Philpott & Dorothea Bergmann. Explaining what you want can be difficult as I am not a trained musician, but you usually find a way to what you want, or even stumble across a different idea on the way.

MW:   Switching gears now, let’s talk a little about horror.  You and I met, online, at the Ramsey Campbell board - what is it that draws you to the genre?

GCW: I always loved Horror I think, one of my first memories is watching Doctor Who ‘Spearhead From Space ‘ in utter, delicious terror! I also remember a similar fear from watching the schools’ programme ‘The Boy From Space’. That was terrifying, and I’m still amazed that they showed such an eerie & frankly disturbing show in schools! Real behind the sofa stuff, why did I like it? I really don’t know! – but it set a seed which has stayed with me always.

MW:    Aside from Monsters From The ID, have you considered darker material to record (I don’t think you should, if you want my opinion, but…)?

GCW: I think a lot of my lyrics are often quite dark …that said, my new album ‘Sha La La La Push Push ‘ has a lighter touch in places than some of the previous albums. I recently recorded a semi-instrumental called ‘Drive’ which hopefully evokes the feelings of a nightmare night out which goes horribly wrong…

MW:    What music do you listen to for pleasure?

GCW: I am quite puritan in what I listen to, I take pleasure and influence from the classics – Beatles, The Who, Dylan, John Martyn, The Damned, The  Stooges, Kate Bush, many, many more,.,.I have recently fallen heavily in love with Jazz, particularly John Coltrane much to my partner Soozy’s horror as she hates it! I’d like to explore classical music more but I simply don’t know where to start – any advice would be helpful!

MW:   I ask because sometimes I’ll be working on a story and come up with what I think is a genius plot device and then realise it’s based on something I just read.  Do you find yourself sometimes stopping because you recognise a melody.

GCW: Rock n’Roll is really quite a simple musical form so you often find chord sequences repeating – that’s natural, someone once said ‘There are only six songs in the world, you just pick one and stamp your psychosis on it’ – Very true!

MW:   So what’s next for Gary Cole-Wilkin?

GCW: Well, my new album ‘Sha La La La Push Push’ is out now, it’s a cliché I know, but I do think it’s one of  my best, plus all the proceeds from this project are going to charity – namely The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust.
All proceeds from 'Sha La La La Push Push', Gary's latest album, will go to 
The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust.

As to after that, well, I think I will be taking a little time out from recording for a while, I think I need to recharge my batteries and also work with some new people, but I expect I will return to the musical fray at some point!

The video I made for "Bygones", as payment for his writing my chapbook trailer music.

So where can we find you on the Net?

Monday 12 August 2013

"Conjure" is here...

In a break from my holiday, I just wanted to pass on this news from those lovely people at Greyhart Press.

"Conjure" was originally published in a beautiful edition by John B. Ford & Steve Lines' Rainfall Books in 2009, then in an (ill-advised) ebook edition (that we won't discuss here).  I'm proud of this book and really pleased that it's having another shot for readers.

Newly pregnant, stuck in a job she doesn’t like and mourning the death of her cousin, Beth Hammond’s life isn’t working out the way she thought it would. So when her boyfriend wins a weekend away at the seaside resort of Heyton, Beth thinks this could be just what they need — to get away, relax, and make plans for the future.

But as they begin their weekend, a JCB driver accidentally damages a centuries-old memorial at the beach. He hopes no one will notice, but something has… a presence that was buried beneath the memorial, sealed in a stone tomb. Now that presence wants its revenge on the people of Heyton.

“Mark West is a talent to watch.” — Peter Tennant, Black Static

“Mark West’s writing has a heart and soul that many writers would kill for.” — Jim McLeod, Ginger Nuts of Horror

“Mark West’s stories have a well-crafted, slowly increasing tension and dread, sometimes with a hint of creepy paranoia.” — Gene O’Neill, Bram Stoker Award winning author of The Burden of Indigo

"A powerful and convincing piece of horror fiction.” — Gary McMahon, author of the Concrete Grove trilogy.
Paperback pp188 RRP£6.50 | RRP $9.95
Kindle  |  RRP $2.99/ £1.99
ePuB Smashwords and coming soon to other retailers…

Saturday 10 August 2013

Happy birthday Snoopy (but really about my sister)!

Happy birthday to Snoopy who is, apparently, 63 today.

When we were growing up, my sister Tracy loved Snoopy - she had a cuddly toy who went everywhere with her, we watched the films together, she had a massive collection of the books, posters, the lot. Since she died, I have begun to collect the books myself and I understand why I'm doing it, but it's also a strip I like because it both amuses me and makes me feel nostalgic.

The Sharman side of the family in 1979, gathered at ours for a trip to Rowell Fair.  Me and TJ are front row right and there's Snoopy, obviously a lot newer than I ever remember him being!

Her childhood Snoopy (who was so well loved and travelled that Mum had to sew a collar onto him to keep his head on his body) joined her on her final journey but I'm sure both of them would have been celebrating today.

edited to add:

Thursday 8 August 2013

The Year Of The Ladybird, by Graham Joyce

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book that I've read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre (though in this case, it's not a horror novel per se) and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.
A ghost story with a difference from the WORLD FANTASY and multiple BRITISH FANTASY AWARD-winning author of SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE.

It is the summer of 1976, the hottest since records began and a young man leaves behind his student days and learns how to grow up. A first job in a holiday camp beckons. But with political and racial tensions simmering under the cloudless summer skies there is not much fun to be had.

And soon there is a terrible price to be paid for his new-found freedom and independence. A price that will come back to haunt him, even in the bright sunlight of summer.

As with SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE, Graham Joyce has crafted a deceptively simple tale of great power. With beautiful prose, wonderful characters and a perfect evocation of time and place, this is a novel that transcends the boundaries between the everyday and the supernatural while celebrating the power of both.

David Barwise is a 19 year old student who, against the better wishes of his Mum and step-dad, gets a summer job as a greencoat on a holiday camp in Skegness.  Set against the scorching summer of 1976 - and the subsequent ladybird invasion - David is led into two love affairs, one with the wife of an apparent monster, one with a lovely Yorkshire lass, as he tries to find his feet amongst the staff of the camp - some theatrical, some racist, some thuggish and some genuinely nice - and the ever present punters, adults and child alike.  He is not only there to escape from home, he’s also trying to find details about his long-since-dead father, the only photograph of whom shows him on a Skegness beach.  And then, in between getting caught up in the rise of the National Front, he begins to see ghosts on the beach and on the camp, of a suited man and his young charge.  

This is a glorious novel, full of wit and invention (and a nice line in dry humour) that is told is a deceptively simple style.  Perfectly capturing both the 1976 summer and the start of the slow decline of the east coast seaside resort, this crackles with energy and pathos.  The characterisation - David narrates the story - is pitch perfect, often delivered with the lightest of touches - Pinky and the way he dresses, Tony and his exuberance, Colin and his chilling demeanour - but always spot on and always human, with none of the characters ever behaving in a way that seems out of place.  David is first drawn into the web of Colin, a thuggish and boorish man, and his wife Terri, who sings like an angel but is apparently abused into submission at home.  Attracted to her, the relationship between him and his older, secret lover, is fantastically played with neither David or the reader quite sure of what’s going on.  A surer, safer bet is Nikki, a beautiful half-caste dancer, painfully aware of her own shortcomings (which aren’t really, to David or the reader) and it’s this relationship that we want to see work, the coupling that makes this the perfect coming-of-age novel.  

Because that’s what this is, at the end of the day.  It’s a social and political observation - the holiday camp, the members of the National Front and what it’ll mean to people like Nikki (and how she reacts, when she realises David has been duped into attending a meeting, a stigma that remains with him for the bulk of the novel) - but it’s also about spreading your wings, finding love (the first erotic interlude, with David and Nikki, is wonderfully erotic whilst being almost mundane) and loss and setting out onto the path of adulthood.  

There are supernatural elements - and the denouement of that particular plot strand is obvious but also heartbreakingly beautiful - but this isn’t a supernatural novel, it’s not a horror novel, it is instead a perfect drama about a young man, finding his way in 1970s Britain.  

It speaks to me on a couple of levels, in that I love coming-of-age stories and the east coast seaside (and follows my reading of the similarly themed (in terms of nostalgia and love) “Joyland”), but also because I was seven in 1976 and my family holidayed in Ingoldmells, a few miles north of Skegness and it’s a town that I still visit on occasion today.  

A truly beautiful work of art (that had me in tears towards the end), populated with characters that I grew to love (and I so desperately want to know that the central love story carried on beyond the seventies), this is an incredible read and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

The story behind "The Mill"

I got an email yesterday from Tim C Taylor, my publisher at Greyhart Press (and also my friend from the Northampton SF Writers Group), that my novelette “The Mill” had crept back into the Amazon Top 20 list.   Naturally - even though those statistics are only snapshots and don’t really mean much, bearing in mind the volumes - I was thrilled and I thought that rather than put together a post extolling the virtues of the book, I’d explain something of its genesis (and then extol its virtues!).

Michael struggles to come to terms with the death of his wife. He has visions of her calling to him, inviting him to the beyond.

At the Bereaved Partners’ Group, he learns that he is not the only one left behind who can hear the departed beckon them… to the Mill.

I’ve been writing fiction for a long time and discovered the world of the small press in 1998, with my first publication following the next year.   I enjoyed writing, I sold a few stories, my novel “In The Rain With The Dead” came out from Pendragon Press, all was good.

In 2005, my son was born and I was whacked by a writers block that took me a long while to climb over.   What helped was a friend of mine, Gary McMahon, asking me to contribute a story to a forthcoming anthology he was editing (I later found out that it was all lies - he felt bad for me, asked for a story, then realised he was going to have to put something together).  I wrote “The Mill” (which ran to approximately 15,000 words) and it duly appeared in Gary’s “We Fade To Grey”, which featured four other cracking stories and was short-listed for the BFS Best Anthology in 2009 - and my block had started to fall.  Things still aren’t right, all this time later, but I’m writing again and enjoying it and publishing, 

In August 2011, Tim asked me if I’d be interesting in publishing “The Mill” as a standalone piece and - very proud of the book and what it represents - I agreed.  It appeared in a new edition at the end of September 2011 and has been selling fairly consistently ever since, picking up some very nice reviews along the way and I remain very proud of it, especially because of the boost it gave my confidence.

So where did “The Mill” come from? I'm a strong believer in the school of 'write-what-you-know', in so much as you can place your characters in the most outlandish situations but they should always react how you - or your friends - would.  I first started getting building blocks of ideas for the tale in the early noughties, the concept of a ghost story that wasn't really about ghosts but more about the place though it didn't matter what I did, I couldn't get the story to fly.

It took a while, after Gary’s request, to realise that what I actually wanted to write about was something that I did indeed know, that had been rattling around in my head for a long time.  In 2003, after six months of illness, my younger sister passed away (my novel “Conjure” is dedicated to her) and I was still - four years later - trying to process my thoughts and feelings.  So why not exorcise it all in a story, get down on the page what I thought and how I felt? And that’s what I did, though for the sake of dramatic licence I changed the bereavement to the lead characters wife.

“The Mill” was a difficult story to write, as you can imagine.  Although there are moments of brevity in it and some flashbacks to a more pleasant time, it’s about bereaved partners who would do anything to spend more time with their departed loved ones.  I ploughed a lot of my thoughts into Michael, the lead character and conversations he and his peers have are ones that I had with friends.

The story was a big departure for me - whereas before, in my short stories and my novel, I used gore as a tool and used it gladly, my sensibilities had changed considerably (this is also noticeable in “Conjure”).  I didn’t want to gross people out, I wanted to scare them and make them think and make them cry.  In that sense, I think “The Mill” marks a step-change in my writing career - I’m still a horror writer, make no mistake about that at all, but I now want to move the reader without splashing blood and body parts around.  I will still spill blood, I will still lop off limbs, but that hopefully won’t be the bit that chills the reader.

Dude, standing on the "walkway" between the middle and right cellar
As with most of my work, a lot of the places in the story are real.  I grew up in a small town called Rothwell and if you take a walk down Shotwell Mill Lane (which we always called 'The Folly'), you’ll see in real life exactly what’s described in the book.  There was a mill at the bottom of it, though only the cellar areas now remain and when we were kids, we’d go there in the summer holidays to play war and a variety of other games.  The cellars are still there now, but massively overgrown. 

The hall where the group meets is based on the community centre in Melton Street in Kettering.  By day it was a nursery, whilst in the evenings the side room was hired out by various different parties.  I attended my first writing group there (and met Sue Moorcroft).

The cafe is based on the Fuller Coffee Shop in Newland Street, which my parents like to frequent (and my son loves it too).

The story is set in Gaffney, which is the location for most of my stories.  It’s an amalgamation of Rothwell and Kettering (where we lived when I started publishing) and other places - Northampton and Leicester - pop up as and when required.  I started using the town in the early days because I didn’t want to inadvertently kill someone in a particular street and then discover that someone of that name did actually live there.  Once I’d started publishing the stories, I realised I had to create a reality of the town, so there is a basic layout - in my head - to Gaffney.  To that end, it doesn’t matter if you read a short, the novel or this, the main streets are the same, the town has the same layout and the cinema is always on Russell Street (though I added a railway line to the town in “What Gets Left Behind”, my chapbook from Spectral Press).

“…An amazing novellette that is packed with more emotion and feeling than you could imagine would be possible in a story of this length.  The Mill cements Mark West's place in the ranks of the new wave of quality UK horror authors, who are turning out intelligent, thought provoking and extremely well written stories.” - Jim Mcleod, Ginger Nuts Of Horror

"West treats what could be difficult subject matter with a delicate, reverential touch and it shows. Subtle and affecting, this is a captivating read." - Paul Holmes, The Eloquent Page

"THE MILL is a haunting tale about loss and grief and the lengths people might go to just to spend one more minute with their dearly departed. A ghost story in the Susan Hill mould, THE MILL is gentle in its writing, offering respect for the subject matter as opposed to continuosly heading for the gullet." - Shaun Hamilton, The Horrifically,Horrifying Horror Blog

"The Mill is a heartbreaking ghost story that has a freshness to it that raises it above the recognisable genre tropes that are inevitable in a gothic story of guilt and loss. The prose is a delight but ultimately it is the well developed characters which enable this story to tug at the heart-strings and ensure its place amongst the very best in the ghost story tradition." - Ross Warren, This Is Horror

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Friday 2 August 2013

Interview with Nicky Peacock

Nicky Peacock is an author of YA and adult paranormal romance, horror, urban fantasy short stories, novellas and novels.  She also co-runs the Creative Minds Writing Group in Corby, which Sue Moorcroft & I have attended on a few occasions.

Nicky graciously agreed to sit down for an interview with me.

MW:  Thanks for agreeing to this.  To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
NP:     Hi Mark, and thanks for having me here! Well, I’m a relatively new author. I was first published just over 2 years ago, but have had a number of horror and paranormal romance stories published since. My first novel, Bad Blood is now out through a US publishers and is a YA horror. I work in marketing as my ‘day job’ and also run a local writer’s group based in Corby, Northamptonshire called Creative Minds.

MW:   When did the writing start and what spurred it for you?
NP:     I’d always had a desire to write, ever since I was a little girl, but only started taking it seriously a couple of years ago. The major turning points that spurred me on was: creating Creative Minds and spending time with similar minded individuals, and having my first acceptance - which was for a story called ‘Fountain of Flesh’ that is included in Dark Moon Publication’s ‘Vampires!’ anthology.

MW:   What made you choose horror as your preferred genre?
NP:     I just love the deliciously dark options that become available to a writer in this genre. When I was a teenager I read the Poppy Z Brite books ‘Exquisite Corpse’ and ‘Lost Souls’ and fell in love with the idea of trying to make grotesque images beautiful. As a writer Poppy Z Brite has the uncanny ability to do this and I so wanted to have that skill myself. I also have a rather dark mind which does lend itself to supernatural shenanigans, murder and mayhem and, to be honest, I’d find it incredibly boring and difficult to try and write a contemporary book

MW:   Do you enjoy hardcore/extreme horror (I’m not a big fan of it myself)
NP:     I suppose it depends on my mood. I'm not a big fan on long drawn out horror so I do prefer my scares punchy and quick. I think there's a fine line between gross and being frightening.

MW:   When writing, do you ‘cast’ your characters for a potential movie?
NP:      I do. I love Pinterest and find it a great tool to gather research photos and info on characters. I think it also helps with developing the characters into 3 dimensional people. Actors become who you want them to be, so are never really the people their fans perceive them as. Mostly, I can look at an actress or actor and think, 'Hmmmm I bet they're like this in real life' and they're probably not - but my view of them creates that character - instant character mix!

MW:   What project are you currently working on?
NP:      I'm working on a YA urban fantasy at the moment, but also a more NA one too. I'm a multiple manuscript kind of girl so often have 2 or 3 novels on the go at once. I'm also working on a short story for an anthology for Horrified Press which is proving quite interesting, the editor sent across artwork to inspire the story and it pushed me to come up with something I'd have never found on my own.

MW:   What, in your back catalogue, would best represent your work if someone wanted to have a Nicky Peacock sample?
NP:     Great question! I'd guess I'd have say Bad Blood is more 'me' than anything else as it wasn't bound by an anthology theme. However I leave a little piece of me in every story - so I guess all of them represent me as an author in some way.

MW:   Do you do much research into your stories?
NP:     I have. I love the research aspect and I always find that, with stories that have unbelievable aspects, the more you can make them real and believable with facts the better. I do a lot of research for my day job, so I'm pretty good at finding out information and asking people questions to obtain the knowledge that I need.

MW:   Any advice for new writers out there?
NP:     Sounds silly, but actually write something and send it out into the world! I meet so many writers who complain that they haven't been discovered yet, but upon further digging, gather that they have neither finished anything or contacted publishers! There are soooo many opportunities now available out there for writers with big publishing houses not only introducing eBook only lines but also relaxing rules about non-agented submission, that there really is no excuse. If you want to be a writer - spend some time, learn your craft, and send your work out.

MW:   Someone comes up to you, saying they want to get into the reading side of the horror genre.  Which writers would you steer them towards and why?
NP:     I'd recommend my lovely friend Mark West! But I think that the question needs to be asked - what genre of horror? There are so many sub-genres now. For traditional horror I'd say Richard Laymon. For more graphic I'd say Jack Ketchum. For all things paranormal Kelley Armstrong.

MW:   Thank you for that!  So what’s next for Nicky Peacock?
NP:     Well, I'm working my little supernatural socks off on my books and am spending some time doing book reviews and interviewing other authors. I'm a nosy person and avid reader myself - I've discovered virtual book tours and am doing one for Bad Blood (you can check out my progress on the dedicated page at my blog)

Nicky on the Web

And this is Bad Blood, Nicky's novel...

“I am Britannia. I am your protector. I will fend off the hungry hordes of undead hands that reach toward you. I am your steadfast defender. I will stand between you and the zombie masses as they try to taste your flesh. I am strong, unyielding, and dedicated to your survival. All I ask from you… is your blood.”

A five-hundred-year-old bloody game of vengeance will need to be put on hold if vampires are to survive the zombie uprising. Britannia and Nicholas, bitter enemies and the only two surviving vampires left in London, have to work together to save un-infected humans and deliver them safely to a vampire stronghold in the Scottish Highlands. Unable to drink the zombie ‘bad blood’, the remaining vampires need the humans to stay alive. But will the vampires tell the survivors who they are and what they want from them? Will Britannia be able to hold back her vengeance for the greater good? Is survivor Josh the reincarnation of Britannia’s murdered true love? And can she bring herself to deliver him to the ‘safe’ hold? Survival instincts run deep, but bad blood can run deeper.

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