Friday 27 September 2013

400th blog post!

Well, I didn't think I'd get to this milestone - 400 blog posts, eh?

Since starting this blogger page up, back in 2009, I've met some great people, had twenty short stories and a chapbook published, seen "The Mill" rise to unanticipated heights, joined a fantastic writing group, edited an anthology, done a signing at Forbidden Planet, created loads of covers and book trailers, signed at FantasyCon and generally had the time of my life.

Here's to the next 400!

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Andromeda One

On Saturday 21st September, I achieved another milestone and attended my first Con as a guest and panellist.  I was thrilled and the fact that it was in Birmingham, which isn’t too far away from me, made me happier.

Organised by Theresa Derwin (who I originally met through the Hauntings anthology) and Fringe-Works, with assistance from Alex Davis, it was held in the Custard Factory, in Digbeth and named for the wonderful  Andromeda bookshop based in Brum (which closed a few years ago).  The owner of it, Rog Peyton, was one of the Guests Of Honour, in fact.

Thanks to emergency roadworks (a big hole just off the M6, holding up traffic aiming for the A38) and Google (bloody) maps, I didn’t actually arrive until after ten and saw Mike Chinn who pointed me to reception, where I found my old friend Steve Harris loitering outside!  I got signed in, dropped off my raffle copy of “Conjure”, said hello to Theresa and her lovely sister Tish, then bumped into Adam Nevill.  I like Adam a lot, he’s a great bloke and a terrific writer and he signed my copy of “Last Days” and also the ‘Last Days cover’ that I created which got us both into trouble with Facebook.  We’re putting the signed copy into the raffle.

Steve Harris (Byrne), James Everington, Phil Ambler, me

I went back outside to catch up with Steve and we met James Everington and Phil Ambler, both Facebook friends of mine though this was the first time we’d met up in person.  It was great to see them and conversations on Facebook ensured that we hit the ground running.  We trooped off to the introduction session in The Theatre, where Steve somehow managed to break his chair - he sat between James & I and after a hefty sounding crunch, he slowly dropped out of sight!  The four of us chatted and stayed on to the panel on crossing genre boundaries (which, for some reason, saw Adam shunted off to the side), which was interesting though it wandered and then went into the North Gallery for the zombie panel, which Steve was a guest on.  There we met up with Dave Jeffery and it was great to see him again and the panel went well (still not sure where Scooby Doo came from though).

Then it was lunchtime and we bumped into Ian Whates, so after I'd introduced him to everyone, he came to the Old Crown pub with us, though he only stayed for a drink and left for a prior meeting.  We stayed for food though - James & I both had a sausage fest, which was very nice but seemed to earn us some peculiar looks and Phil had a heart attack on a plate, which he demolished with ease (two burgers, no end of cheese, chips and more).

With Dave Jeffery (2nd from left)

After lunch, we had a look around the Custard Factory (which is a great old building, with plenty of nooks and crannies and some brilliant artwork around it) and then went into the “Role Of The Small Press” panel which I was on, with Simon Marshall-Jones (I handed him my signed sig sheets for the Spectral box-set, which was a weight off my mind), Jan Edwards and Adrian Middleton.  It seemed to go well and in approaching the subject from the side of the consumer, I think I held my own.  It also led to an amusing incident - we were discussing cover art and I mentioned stock photographs and used the lady from the cover of Wayne Simmons' "Flu" as the example.  "Like this?" said Phil and handed me a copy of the book that he just happened to have on him!  The panel also gave me a chance to meet and talk to K T  Davis, which was good (she & I shared space in the Anachron Press anthology “Urban Occult”).

Adrian Middleton (Fringe Works), Jan Edwards, Simon Marshall-Jones, me
(photo by Dave Jeffery)

James & I went to the dealers room, which was quite small and then the five of us went to the raffle, though Dave had to leave unfortunately.  The raffle was delayed so we four suddenly found ourselves standing and chatting with Adam, pumping him for details about “House Of Small Shadows” and various other things, which was brilliant.  As I said before, he’s a genuinely nice bloke and it’s great to see him making strides towards major publishing success.

The raffle was held in The Theatre and off we trooped, studiously avoiding the row with the busted seat!  What then followed is something that I’ve only ever witnessed before, where the four of us took the raffle by storm.  Steve won enough books to fill two carrier bags, Phil had a handful (which he didn’t know how he was going to explain away, after promising he wouldn’t pick many up) and so did James & I (we were giving them away by the end of it).  I went up on stage and explained the significance of the ‘Last Days cover’ and Rog auctioned it, raising another £5 for the chosen charity (Phil ended up with it, we suggested he show that to his wife before the books…).  As for me, my key win was the paperback of “House Of Small Shadows” that Adam had given me to hold.

The four of us decided on a curry for tea and wandered up towards the Bull Ring (which wasn’t far away at all) but couldn’t find one anywhere, so we ended up in a nice little Italian, talking about our work and our plans for the future.  It was a real treat to meet up with Phil and James - and re-connect with Steve - and their friendship made the day even more special.

James had to head off then, so we said our goodbyes and wandered back, decided to avoid the ghost walk and went into “Just A Minute” but didn’t last long.  So it was, the three of us sat around the empty Custard Factory fountain, talking books and horror and plans until it was time to go and it was a lovely moment, the exact thing that Cons should be all about, to my mind.

I had a great day, especially the company I kept and the Con was good (though my one criticism would be that the venue didn’t offer up a central point for everyone to meet, which I think they’re addressing for next year).  I like the idea of a Brum con though and so I'll definitely be back for the next one!

Monday 23 September 2013

Necromancer: Necropolis Rising 2, by Dave Jeffery

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 and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan (especially if like pulp-style horror which is well written and heartfelt).

The Lazarus Initiative was meant to be finished. The research lost, the terrible creatures it created, destroyed. A city was wiped out to make sure of it.

 But its legacy lives on.

 Deep in the belly of the super tanker Ulysses, a scientific city seeks to recreate the project that brings its unwitting subjects back from the dead. Corralled in a steel pit, The Risen wait for the sign from their Necromancer, a master who is thought to have died with the science that made him.

 Then, one night, The Risen hear his call ...

Opening with a bang, as two people succumb to ‘something’ in wonderfully gory ways, this picks up some time after the events of the first book (the excellent ‘Necropolis Rising’) that left Birmingham a walled city, following the experiments of Dr James Whittington whose Lazarus Initiative aimed to create and control zombies.  He died in the blast that wiped the city but his experiment, a young man named Thom, survived and he’s now a Necromancer, capable of communicating with the dead.  He and two ex-soldiers, Suze & Gaz, are holed up in Wyoming, trying to stay under the radar of Phoenix Industries, who funded Whittington originally.  They now have his daughter, Dr Barbara Cope, working for them, in a well funded zombie laboratory on a huge oil tanker called the Ulysses.

I was a big fan of the original, which mixed brisk writing with good pulpy horror and thrills and it’s a delight to return to the universe and find the writer producing stronger work.  Whilst this does still have those 70s-throwback rock-‘em/shock-‘em sequences, there’s more at stake here with the richly written characters suffering at every conceivable step of the way.  The Thom story-line is gripping from the off, as the claustrophobia sinks in before moving through the wide open spaces of Wyoming to Miss Molly’s diner.  There, in a tautly written and prolonged sequence, they and the diner patrons have a deadly encounter with a Phoenix Industries funded five-person SWAT-type force, all armed to the teeth.  The action is brutal, the characterisation just right and the atmosphere is detailed and concise - you can see the diner and its furniture and feel the dust on your face as the characters walk around.  The parallel storyline, as Cope conducts her experiments, revels in the claustrophobia of the ship location, in the middle of the ocean, with a zombie army gathering in the hold.  It’s this section which features some of the best writing, as two characters - manager Harding and security chief Boyce - are forced to hide their love for one another, whilst the observance of such leads to the spectacular climax.

Moving at a cracking pace and never once letting up, this is filled with characters you quickly care about and it’s safe to say that nobody comes out of the chaos unscathed in one way or another.  The zombie action is minimal but it works better for that, the sequences where they’re on the rampage being brutal and brisk, whilst The Risen’s ability to retain information is well explored.  Beyond all this, Jeffery knows how to write action and his major set pieces are all superbly staged, dragging the reader along in a tumble of incidents.

A must for fans of zombie fiction, definitely, but also for those who like their horror to be well-written good fun.  Featuring a suitably bleak ending, I really enjoyed this and would highly recommend it.

Friday 20 September 2013

Strange Tales is coming back (in a 'special edition')

Having discovered the small press in 1998 (via Dark Voices 5, an anthology edited by David Sutton & Stephen Jones), I began publishing in it during 1999.  Back then, Internet use wasn’t widespread so all of my appearances were in print zines, which was a wonderful experience for a newly published writer (I wasn’t new at the game though, I started writing stories at the age of eight).

My successes began to build and in early 2003 I approached John B Ford at Rainfall Books with the idea of him publishing my first collection.  He agreed and gave me a 30k word limit, so I selected my stories and lightly revised them.  He also agreed to me designing the cover, which I was keen to do after experimenting with software I got with our first digital camera.  I talked over ideas with Alison and, in the end, she agreed to be my model.  I still - ten years later - think it’s a great image and it’s still the header for my website.

I first saw the book (in proof form) in October at a Terror Scribes gathering in the Cittie Of York pub in Holborn and when John handed it to me I had to sit quietly for a few moments, just turning it over in my hands.  The collection was launched (along with four other Rainfall titles) at a BFS Open Night at the Princess Louise, Holborn, in London, in December 2003.  I did a reading (“The Thief Of Road Signs”, since it’s short), then caught up with old friends and signed loads of copies, whilst slotting my home-made bookmarks into them.

Thankfully, the collection was well received and picked up some nice reviews and, more importantly, sold out for Rainfall Books, which I was really pleased about.

As it is, “Strange Tales” hasn’t been available since 2004 though second hand copies do occasionally surface and often for much more than the original cost (I assume the higher priced ones command such a fee because they’re among the few that are unsigned).

To that end, I’ve decided to re-publish the collection - as a Tenth Anniversary edition - through my little imprint PenMan Press.  This ‘special edition’ will be a facsimile of the original Rainfall Books version, with the addition of an introduction and a bonus short story “A Quiet Weekend Away” (which originally appeared in a Rainfall Books anthology).  I have resisted the urge to update the stories - so not much Internet, mobile phones are basic and not at all smart and there aren’t many digital cameras - and I’ve also carried over the original artwork (if it ain’t broke…).

The Special Edition will be available in October and I hope that if you decide to pick it up you’ll enjoy the tales (and the me that was writing back then).  These stories have been good to me and I’m pleased to see them have a new lease of life.

Mark West’s crisp economic style reels you straight in, and the horror hits you hard and quickly and refuses to lay off.  He writes from the dark underside of our everyday human existence, calling on the sort of personal demons one could easily imagine lying in wait for any one of us.  Tread here at your peril…”
- Paul Finch, author of “Stalkers” and “Sacrifice”

Mark West is an excellent, young writer.  His compelling stories have a well-crafted, slowly-increasing sense of tension and dread, sometimes with a hint of creepy paranoia reminiscent of Phillip K. Dick mixed in, the endings always abrupt and chilling, like an unexpected splash in the face with ice water. 
- Gene O’Neill, author of “The Burden Of Indigo” and “The Taste Of Tenderloin”

Mark West is a powerful and unique voice in horror literature.  ‘Strange Tales’ is a chilling masterpiece of spine-tingling stories!
- T.M. Gray, author of “Feast Of Faust”

Mark West's Strange Tales are stronger, more gristly meat. His simple, unembellished style belies the often visceral subjects, imparting compassion and logic to a series of abnormal psychopaths and deranged souls. If you're at all squeamish, look away now...
- Simon Morden, author of “The Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy”

Wednesday 18 September 2013

I'm at Andromeda One this weekend

I like Conventions - I like the atmosphere at them, I like seeing old and new friends and I enjoy the whole buzz of the occasion.

This weekend will mark my first Convention as an official guest, with thanks to Theresa Derwin who has organised the inaugural Andromeda One.  I am on a panel - The Role of the Small and Indie Press - with Jan Edwards, Simon Marshall-Jones, Theresa Derwin and Adrian Middleton moderating, which I'm looking forward to and it's a chance to meet up with old mates I don't get to see often enough (Steve Harris & I will probably continue our 'sleazy horror' conversation, held over from last years FantasyCon)

Andromeda One is a one-day SF, fantasy and horror convention taking place on Saturday 21st September 2013 from 11am to 22:00pm with Dealer’s Room open at 09:00am and early bird kaffeeklatches from 08:3am.

Taking place at the Custard Factory in Birmingham, it brings together a host of science-fiction, fantasy and horror writers and publishers for a day loaded with book launches, kaffeeklatches, panels, signings, writing and publishing workshops and much more.

Single Tickets are £25 each; Group Tickets (for up to five people) are £100.

GUESTS OF HONOUR include Paul Cornell, Jaine Fenn & Rog Peyton.

Plus sessions with an impressive range of speakers: Chris Amies, Jacey Bedford, James Brogden, Misa Buckley (SFR) Mike Chinn, Adam Christopher, Theresa Derwin, Jan Edwards (Alchemy Press & Editor/Writer) Janet Edwards SF Writer, Steve Harris, Dave Jeffery, Iain McKinnon, Simon Marshall-Jones of Spectral Press, Adrian Middleton, Adam Nevill, Stan Nicholls & Anne Gay/Nicholls, Gaie Sebold, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gav Thorpe, Mark West and Ian Whates.

For more information, click this link

As further enticement - if it were needed - Adam Nevill & I will be signing a print of this and entering it as a raffle prize!

Monday 16 September 2013

People asking questions...

Whilst looking for something else, I came across some old interviews/guest blogs I'd done and thought it might be nice to round them up here, just in case you were interested.

Mark West at "Ramblings Of A Tattooed Head"
In June 2010 (whilst he was blogging as "RAMBLINGS OF A TATTOOED HEAD"), Spectral Press head honcho Simon Marshall-Jones ran an: "irregular series of guest-blogs by already-published authors reminiscing about the ups and downs of being a new writer and how they arrived at where they are now" and chose to start with me.

The Ill at Ease Drive-by: Mark West
In September 2011, Angela Slatter - the superb award-winning Australian writer of dark fantasy and horror - included me in her regular 'drive by' slot, for which I remain very grateful.

Horror writer, Mark West, shares his thoughts on dreams
In November 2012, I wrote a guest-blog for my friend Sue Moorcroft's site on Dreams.  She was running a series of articles on the subject, so I chose to write about aspirations.

Friday 13 September 2013

The Romaniacs and me

With thanks to the lovely Laura James for inviting me, I have guest-blogged today at The Romaniacs site, talking about the horror genre, its different styles and why I think it's wonderful.

I hope you go and take a look (and enjoy it) and stay awhile, investigating their great site.

Thursday 12 September 2013

'Original Sin' by INXS is 30 years old!

In September 1983 - thirty years ago - INXS went into the Power Station recording studio in New York and recorded ‘Original Sin’ with Nile Rodgers producing and Daryl Hall singing backing vocals.  It was written by Andrew Farriss & Michael Hutchence and appeared on the 1984 album “The Swing”

Released in December 1983 in America and early 1984 for the rest of the world, ‘Original Sin’ became their first No. 1 single in Australia - it was also No. 1 in Argentina and France, No. 6 in New Zealand, No. 11 in Canada and No. 58 in the U.S.  The song was largely ignored here in the UK, a state that wouldn’t alter much until ‘Listen Like Thieves’ came along the next year.

As it was, the song marked a change in the bands development.  Already well established as a live act and building constantly on that reputation, their albums were starting to capture that sound.  “The Swing” - ‘Original Sin’ aside - was produced by Nick Launay (who is, incidentally, the son of Andrew Laurance, who wrote pulpy horror thrillers in the 70s and 80s) and also featured stand-out tracks (and concert staples for years to come) such as ‘I Send A Message’, ‘Love Is (What I Say)’, ‘Burn For You’ and ‘All The Voices’.  The latter was from the soundtrack of “Strikebound”, a film by Richard Lowenstein who started his association with the band by making the video for ‘Burn For You’ and would later make the award-winning feature film "Dogs In Space" with Hutchence.  The team of INXS and Lowenstein would go on to produce several ground-breaking videos for the next two albums, perfectly synching them to the nascent MTV and earning them a place in 80s musical history.

“The Swing” was followed by “Listen Like Thieves” (1985, produced by Chris Thomas), which really made their name and then the mighty “KICK” (1987, also produced by Thomas) which confirmed them - for the late 80s at least - as one of the biggest bands in the world.

The original video, shot in Japan at the same time as ‘I Send A Message’, was directed by Yasuhiko Yamamoto.

This performance was shot at Summer XS, Wembley Stadium, 13th July 1991 - a concert I was lucky enough to attend - and later released on the "Live Baby Live" DVD, directed by David Mallet.

30 years ago?  Seriously, where has that time gone?

Monday 9 September 2013

Woman Walks Into A Bar, by Rowan Coleman

My friend Rowan Coleman, who writes excellent Chick-Lit novels (and a couple of YA horror short novels), wants to raise £10,000 for Refuge by donating 100% of her royalties from her short novel "Woman Walks into a Bar".

Can you help?
This is the press release.

*no running or bungee jumping involved, just a great read!

On 10th September 2013, author Rowan Coleman is inviting women everywhere to #supportafriend and get involved in her mission to raise £10,000 for Refuge.

On this date Rowan will release her novella WOMAN WALKS INTO A BAR as an eBook and 100% of her royalties will go to the charity Refuge.

All readers have to do is to download WOMAN WALKS INTO A BAR from Amazon … and encourage as many women as they can to do the same. Simple!

When Rowan Coleman began work on her tenth novel she asked her 1500 Facebook fans if they would be willing to share their personal experiences of domestic abuse. She was shocked to discover 204 emails waiting in her inbox the following day.

So began the process of writing DEAREST ROSE, featuring a character inspired by the women Rowan spoke to. Rose, with the help of her friends, gradually finds the strength and courage to escape an abusive marriage along with her seven-year-old daughter.

DEAREST ROSE went on to win the Festival of Romance Best Romantic Read 2012, the RoNA Epic Romance Novel of the Year 2013 and was also shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year 2013.

To support publication and to spread the word Rowan is launching a campaign, #supportafriend, on Twitter and Facebook, encouraging women everywhere to tell us how they will support a friend on September 10th.If there’s one thing women do well, it’s friendship. Whether they bake a stressed-out work colleague a cake, give a long-distance friend a call to see how they are, or help a mum with a buggy off the bus, we’re asking the public to tweet their ideas and pictures, on the day, and to get involved with competitions and giveaways.

As a member of the press, you are in a unique position to help Rowan spread the word about #supportafriend and to encourage as many of us as possible to buy WOMAN WALKS INTO A BAR. We’d love you to review the book on your blog, on Amazon, on Goodreads and do anything else you can think of to help to raise the profile of the event via social media!

We are encouraging everyone to use #supportafriend and #womanwalks to try to focus activity on sales of WOMAN WALKS INTO A BAR, which is the quickest way to raise money for Refuge.

And of course the easiest way for you to support the #supportafriend campaign is to buy the book…buy two!


Published September 10th 2013; £1.59

Available for pre-order from Amazon — get yours today!

Make contact with Rowan at the following:


Twitter: @rowancoleman

using the hashtags #supportafriend and #womanwalks



For a review copy please contact Laura West at

Friday 6 September 2013

Shiftling, by Steven Savile

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 and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan (especially if you were a teen in the 80s and love coming-of-age tales!).

One summer in 1985, the funfair came to the sleepy rural town of Ashthorpe, and with it the smells of hot dogs and candy floss, the allure of magicians and the Big Wheel, and the sounds of young girls giggling. But what promised to be the highlight of the season for a band of teenage boys soon turns to tragedy.

Years later, when Drew receives a mysterious phone call, he learns one of the most important lessons life has to teach: the past can never be forgotten.

For the past wears many faces, and some of them are drenched in blood.

In 1985 the funfair arrives in the sleepy town of Ashthorpe and what promises to be a great summer for a gang of teenaged boys quickly turns into one of menace and tragedy.  Years later, one of the boys - Drew - is called back to the town and realises that the past can never be forgotten - ‘for the past wears many faces and some of them are drenched in blood’.  

One of my favourite types of story is the coming-of-age tale and, with this, Savile (who, I should mention, I am friends with) has crafted one that works perfectly as a paean to the innocent loves and strong friendships of youth, whilst also examining how those states change as we get older.  

The cast of characters is relatively small - everything is told from Drew’s point of view - but all of them are clearly defined, even if it’s something as simple as a kid having freckles and red hair.  Scotty was Drew’s best friend back in the day and it was those two that ventured onto The Batters (the town waste-ground), trying to find out where Old Man Harrison was dumping the dead cats and, instead, finding something much, much worse.  With some impressive set-pieces, not least a kid called Spider on a big wheel and an ending that takes place in what appears to be Mrs Bates’ cellar, this has a pace and craft that literally pulls you along.  As a respite from the story - it’s split between past and present day, with Drew also being interviewed by the police - he finally gets a chance with Rachel Corcoran, his unrequited love from his teens who now appears to be as damaged as he is and their tender moments are touchingly written.  At one point she calls him “love” in a throwaway moment and there’s a wonderful passage where Drew imagines his teenaged self hearing it and I knew just how he felt, Savile had captured it perfectly.  

In addition, nostalgia is used wonderfully - and since Savile & I are the same age, our cultural reference points are the same - and builds a real sense of safety and comfort around the characters.  In the 80s, who didn’t try to raise money by cleaning cars, who didn’t know the dance to Prince Charming or understand Blakes Seven and - around Rothwell, at least - who didn’t get called “you pilchard!” when they’d done something stupid.  But all of this is just masking the fact that things are going to get very bad indeed and it’s nice to see the personification of that evil, the Shiftling of the title, being so well realised (is it really there?) with as much of its presence and physicality not told as is explained.  

A cracking story, told with great skill and affection, this is highly recommended.

The ebook is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Wednesday 4 September 2013

My Three Investigators collection

After my marathon re-reading of the Three Investigator series from 2008 to 2010 (all the reviews are listed in this separate blog), I took a year off from them, then re-read The Mystery Of The Invisible Dog at Christmas 2012 (since it’s set at Christmas) and this year had started a re-read of my All Time Top 10.

Then I saw an email on the Yahoo group I belong to from Seth Smolinske, pointing out that 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the series first being published - he has correspondence dating from August 1963 between Robert Arthur (the series creator) and Walter Retan (the series editor) discussing the series, which can be found on his site here.

With that in mind, I think I’ll hold off until next year my planned “Nostalgic For My Childhood” post about the Three Investigators and also the remainder of my Top 10 re-read - hey, you have to celebrate these things.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of my collection.

The books standing up are my 'original' first 34 (the book at the end is Whizz Kids: "How To Be A Detective" from 1979).  
I got the box-set for Christmas 1981.  
The paperbacks stacked up are the remaining format B paperbacks I had to get to complete my collection, plus the start of my new format A hunt.  
The hardback of "Skeleton Island" is the same one I first read back in 1978, whilst the other three are recent purchases from eBay.

The first book in the series I read was “The Secret Of Skeleton Island” by Robert Arthur, which I found as a hardback in the school library.  It was 1978, I was nine and I was smitten.  I read as many of the books as I could find in the school library and the town library and, when I’d exhausted those resources, I started picking up the paperback editions (published by Armada), which were then widely available.

Since I started collecting them from 1980 onwards or so, most of my editions are the Armada format B paperback, though a small number were only ever published in format A (which stopped in 1980).  Once I’d got the first 30 (that being published in 1980, the year Alfred Hitchcock died) and the next four, I stopped collecting and my books sat on a shelf, though I didn’t go back to them too often.

My preferred edition, format B, is on the left with cover art by Peter Archer.  On the right is the format A edition, also with cover art by Peter Archer.
The editions are the same size, though this photograph doesn't seem to suggest that.

Format B on the left, A on the right.  For some reason, the later edition dropped the idea of a smaller illustration from the story, in favour of a group shot.  Note how the 'blurb' is slightly different too.  And look at those prices!
Again, these editions are the same size (my angle was off for the photograph).

At some point, around ten or twelve years ago, I suddenly got the notion that it’d be great to have my entire collection in format B - excepting the four that never appeared in it - and that meant a lot of browsing in 2nd hand bookshops and on eBay.  I did quite well and finally picked up the last title - ironically enough, “The Secret Of Skeleton Island” - in a bookshop in Leicester this year (which I detailed in this blog post).

The only thing was, once I’d found this edition - effectively achieving my ambition - I realised that I’d actually enjoyed the hunt and so, after thinking about it, I’ve started looking for the Collins hardback editions and the other format A paperbacks.  Hey, it’s a hobby - and it’s also helping to preserve the books, which otherwise might disappear altogether.  My son knows all about them (he was the one who found the format B edition in that bookshop) and the collection is right there, so perhaps he’ll read one.  If he does, I truly hope it opens his imagination as much as these wonderful books did mine, all those years ago.

Large format Collins hardback, with cover art by Roger Hall (who also created the interior illustrations seen in all the editions)
format A paperback on the left, with cover art by Peter Archer, who also produced the cover for the format B paperback on the right.

In the meantime, if you’re interested, the following three sites are well worth checking out.

Seth T. Smolinske’s U.S. Editions Collector Site which is a trove of incredible information and archive material.

Philip Fulmer’s Three Investigator site which, amongst other treasures, has a complete run-down of the stories and the illustrations (some of which he was kind enough to allow me to use on my site)

Ian Regan’s exhaustive and comprehensive The Three Investigators: UK & Commonwealth Editions Database, which is a terrific resource (and, again, he was kind enough to allow me to use some of the scans for my site)

And don't forget my review blog as well!

Monday 2 September 2013

The story behind "Conjure"

“a couple, at the seaside and there’s a witch”

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.

"A powerful and convincing piece of horror fiction.” 
- Gary McMahon, author of the Concrete Grove trilogy.

“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

"Conjure flaunts some genuinely spooky moments [and] the supernatural element works so well because the author merges it with fears we understand, such as abduction and infanticide."
- Matthew Fryer, The Hellforge

"Mark West has created a marvelously enjoyable short novel which captures some of that faded glory of the seaside resort.  It’s a strangely British tale and reminded me of something that may have been produced in the seventies by Hammer or part of Tales of the Unexpected but very much updated with modern quotas of brutality and gore."
- Colin Leslie, Highlander's Book Reviews

My short novel “Conjure” has just been re-published, in print and digital editions, by those good people at Greyhart Press and I thought it might be an idea to write this, an article about how the book came together.

Written under the working title “The Mystery Of The Witch’s Curse” (in honour of The Three Investigators), “Conjure” was started on December 20th 2003 with the fourth and final draft being completed on April 11th 2005. The first draft was 82,773 words long, the final published version was 54,318 words long.

It started with an email conversation I had with John B. Ford, whose Rainfall Books was just about to publish my debut collection “Strange Tales”.  In one missive, John wrote “If you have anything around 30,000 -- 40,000 (or if in future you write anything around that word count) I'll be eager to see it.”  To this day, I don’t know if he was serious or not but I took it as a sign and started to think about a story, having never written a novella before. No big deal, thought this fool.  I spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out what would have enough sweep to justify the length and what I could use as the driving force of the book, whilst two factors (a family event and the fact that the novel I’d just written was very gory) led me to aim for something quieter and more supernatural.

(original interior illustration)

For the location, since I’d used my main fictional town of Gaffney in the novel, I utilised another of my creations, the east coast resort of Heyton, that featured in my short story “Empty Souls, Drowning” (which appeared in the collection).  I love the British seaside and Heyton is essentially Great Yarmouth, a place I knew well - plus it had a funfair and a cinema called The Empire that I could use as key locations.

Thinking of the cinema reminded me of an incident from the mid-80s, when my best friend Nick & I went to see “Beetlejuice” there.  More than the film and the interior of the venue, my clearest recollection - and each time I see the image, I feel overwhelmingly sad - is a little girl, standing at the entrance, giving out pamphlets. She was obviously with the owners of the cinema and stood there whilst we all walked past her, with her little dress and cardi on, her blonde hair in bunches and a snotty nose. She didn’t look unhappy or unfed, but it just seemed like such a jarring thing to me, this little girl with a cold standing in the evening air, giving people pamphlets about coming attractions.  I never used any of that in the story, but I wanted to get some of that feeling, the quiet air of desperation, of trying to get the punters in and keep the business going.  As I was turning over the idea of the cinema in my mind, I suddenly got an image of Beth (my heroine) standing in a glamorous Art-Deco toilet, hearing something moving about but not being able to see it and then having everything disappear around her. I liked this and told Alison about it (who didn’t like it!) and realised I had my first set piece.

So what would be the supernatural menace?  I’d written plenty of ghost stories, I was then in the middle of co-writing a massive vampire novel (before they got all sparkly), but I’d never written about a witch before.  Not knowing much about them, I did some research and realised - with a wonderful sense of pieces falling into place - that the folklore around Norfolk is ripe with such tales and that county would be where Heyton existed.

Around about this time, I saw a picture of Monica Bellucci from her calendar, where she was lying on her side in some water and really fell for the concept of that.  That led me to the witch being a young woman, helping out at a farm perhaps. The farmer’s wife is pregnant, the witch and farmer have an affair, the baby is born deformed and the witch gets the blame for it. They test her in the sea, she’s exposed and killed and buried. Alison pointed out that she couldn’t be buried on the beach, so we agreed that it would be on the heath area. If that were the case, perhaps her grave could be disturbed if the council were building new coastal defences like they have at Morecombe Bay. I heard something else click into place.

In the summer of 2003, Alison and I went to Yarmouth with my sister-in-law Laura (‘Flo’s Diner’, in the book, comes from my nickname for her) and a child had disappeared a few days before. Whilst I didn’t want to go into that in any great detail, I thought it could be used as an element, that people’s worry and stress is feeding a negative energy into the town, perking up some of the town ghosts.

At the same time, I read an article about Albert of Monaco, which mentioned a curse put on the principality by someone who was raped. What if, my over-active imagination cried, my witch put a curse on Heyton - all this time, she’s been waiting for the opportunity to come back and wreak havoc on the township that killed her?  A priest condemns her body to the ground, her tomb is sealed and it’s not disturbed for several centuries, until that pesky coastal defence system is constructed.

At the Princess Louise pub in Holborn, London, I told John my ideas at the ‘official launch’ of “Strange Tales”, selling him the concept based on the Monica Bellucci picture (mocked up into a cover) and the synopsis “a couple, at the seaside and there’s a witch”. He liked it so I kept moving and whilst we were Christmas shopping, a week or so later, it suddenly occurred to me that Beth was pregnant - that linked her to the witch (by this time I had her name - Isabel Mundy), who was pregnant by the farmer and what if she told him, just before his wife gave birth to their still-born child?

(original interior illustration)

I decided I had enough at this stage, made a set of bullet points for the plot and a week later started writing.  169 days later (I’m an expert at procrastination plus I was doing three nights a week studying at college for my professional exams), the first draft was completed.  I wrote the second through July 2004, copies of which I gave to my pre-reading band and John and he wrote to me in late September, saying that he’d love to publish it - and also agreeing to me creating the cover art and interior illustrations.

I wrote two further drafts and finished the copy-edit and artwork glitches two days before my son was born, in late May 2005.  Since my sister Tracy passed away before I started writing it, I asked my parents if they would mind my dedicating the book to her and they were happy for me to do that.  My Dad built me a miniature of the memorial (see post here) for the artwork and Gary McMahon gave me a brilliant cover blurb.

As it was, it took another four years before the book was published, due to personal circumstances at Rainfall Books.  That edition sold well and the book got some nice reviews, which I was really pleased about.

In 2011, I was approached by Generation-Next with a view to them publishing an ebook version.  I agreed, it appeared, it was badly formatted and didn’t include the bonus short story my revised cover art said it would and I retracted it from them (several of my stable-mates withdrew their books too).

In 2012, my friend Tim C. Taylor (who runs Greyhart Press and is a colleague from the Northampton SF Writers Group) asked if he could publish it, having read the ebook.  I agreed - I like Tim and Greyhart books are wonderfully designed and produced - and designed a new cover for it (which, I happen to think, is the best one it’s had).  I pondered, for a while, over revising the text (it was completed before digital cameras were widespread) but decided, in the end, that those little touches (which, essentially, age it) were quite nice.

Purchase Details
Paperback pp188 RRP£6.50 | RRP $9.95
Kindle  |  RRP $2.99/ £1.99
ePuB Smashwords and coming soon to other retailers…

Sunday 1 September 2013

Books for free!

Dude & I went to Leicester today and discovered a Books For Free 'shop' in the Shires centre. I'd never heard of them before (I picked up a vintage hardback of Benchley's "The Deep", "Love & Friendship" by Alison Lurie and Sue Grafton's "E is for Evidence"), but I think it's a great idea.

Whilst I - inspired, partly, by Johnny Mains - have been collecting up 70s/80s paperbacks to try and create some kind of legacy (most charity shops chuck them, rather than deny space for the hundreds of copies of Jordan's latest autobiography), this charity saves books that are to be used as landfill or pulped (at great cost, in terms of carbon footprint), re-distributing them back into the community and allowing everyone - irregardless of their income - to share the written word.

How bloody cool is that? Check the link, see where your nearest one is (I donated money for the books I took, but I don't think you have to) and give them some support. And pick up some free books whilst you're at it!