Tuesday 29 December 2015

My Creative Year 2015

Continuing a tradition (now in its third year), here's my annual look back at 2015 from a creative standpoint.

During the year I wrote 5 short stories, 1 novella, 1 novelette (only in first draft at the moment), a couple of novella pitches, a load of book reviews and a host of essays/articles for this blog (which topped 600 posts in the year!).

I had 3 short stories published:
* The Zabriskie Grimoire in The Grimorium Verum: Volume 3 (Tres Librorum Prohibitorum), edited by Dean M. Drinkel from Western Legends Publishing
* Time Waits in Darkest Minds, edited by Anthony Watson & Ross Warren from Dark Minds Press
* The Penthouse Incident in Demonology, edited by Dean M. Drinkel from Lycopolis Press

My novella The Lost Film - as part of "The Lost Film novellas", alongside "Lantern Rock" by Stephen Bacon - finally saw the light of day from Pendragon Press.  Launched at FantasyCon (an event that went really well, I'm pleased to say), the book is available as a limited edition paperback and the ebook will be released shortly.

My novella Drive, published last year, was nominated for a British Fantasy Society Award, which I was really chuffed about.  The Awards are presented at FantasyCon and the shortlist for Novella was a strong one (I was alongside Carole Johnstone, Ray Cluley and Stephen Volk - we're all friends and it was a very supportive list), with Stephen taking the honours.  Hey, if you're going to lose, you might as well do it to Steve Volk!

My Spectral Press chapbook, What Gets Left Behind, was released as an ebook via PenMan Press in April.

* * *
During the year I also curated the "King For A Year" project (which I wrote about in depth here) which featured 56 writers and fans reviewing 64 individual works by Stephen King.  I had a lot of fun doing it and the feedback has been excellent.

* * *
"The Lost Film" picked up an honorable mention from Anthony Watson at the Dark Musings 2015 review:  "I loved them both and think it’s one of the best things Mark in particular has written. His protagonists are often decent, honest and downright nice people so it was nice to see him have a “hero” who wasn’t quite as pure – and the concept underlying the story was brilliant."

"The Lost Film" also featured highly on Ben Jones' list - "I'd rate Mark's novella as probably the best I have read this year"

My short story "Mr Stix" made an appearance on James Everington's "Favourite Short Stories Of 2015"

* * *
I attended three great Cons in year.  The first was Edge-Lit 4, held at The Quad in Derby on 11th July (see my report here), followed by FantasyCon in Nottingham over the weekend of 23rd - 25th October (see my report here) and then it was the first Sledge-Lit event, also at The Quad in Derby, on 21st November (my report is here).
At Edge-Lit, with Alison Littlewood, James Everington, Richard Farren Barber, Wayne Parkin, Stephen Bacon
At FantasyCon, with Paul Woodward, Phil Sloman, Stephen Bacon, Alison Littlewood, Jim Mcleod, James Everington and Gavin Williams kneeling

From "The Lost Film" book launch at FantasyCon, photographs by Sue Moocroft
At Sledge-Lit, with Sue Moorcroft, James Everington, Steve Harris, Simon Bestwick, Peter Mark May and Dean M. Drinkel
In addition, The Crusty Exterior met up in London on 11th April for the first time (find the report here) and we had such a great time, there's a meet planned in Brum early next year.  I also did a reading and Q&A session at the inaugural KettFest Event on 5th June (which I wrote about here).
The Crusty Exterior at the Southbank Book Market, with James Everington, Phil Sloman and Steve Harris
KettFest official picture, by Liz Kearns
* * *
Creatively speaking, 2015 has been a pretty good year all in all.  Of the five short stories I wrote, four were asked for and subsequently accepted by the editors in question - the remaining one is still looking for a home.  The novella was also asked for and I accepted it for the challenge (I'd never written a wartime-set story before) but I liked the editor and publisher and had a good time with it. I'm excited about the novelette (which is still in draft) - I was approached by a publisher I liked who wanted to produce a paperback and audio-book version of a story.  It will be narrated by Carrie Buchanan, who I finally met at FCon and we got on like a house on fire - I've tailored the tale to her, set it in Paris and had a great time working on it.

I'm feeling optimistic for 2016 too, not least because I have seven stories scheduled to be published (including my first audio), but also because I've been asked to write two short stories (for different publishers) and a novella (for Hersham Horror Books) and I'm planning a new novel as well.  It's all go!

Thanks for all your support in 2015, dear readers of this blog, especially those who bought, read and liked my work - I really do appreciate it.

Thursday 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish readers of this blog (and their loved ones) a very Happy Christmas, with all best wishes for the New Year.

Thank you all very much for your continued support and interest, let’s hope 2016 is as good to us as we want it to be!

Tuesday 22 December 2015

The Seventh Annual Westies - review of the year 2015

Well here we are again, with another year that seems to have zipped by and so, as we gear up for Christmas and all things festive, it's time to indulge in the blog custom and remember the good books of 2015.

Once again, it's been a great reading year for me with a nice mixture of brand new novels, a couple of classics and a fair few books that have been languishing for too long on my TBR pile.  As ever, the top 20 places were hard fought and, as with last year, I had a tie (for first place, this time) because the books were just too good to separate.  For some of these titles, I've written specific blog posts and linked to them in this list.

So without further ado, I present the Seventh Annual Westies Award - “My Best Fiction Reads Of The Year” - and the top 20 looks like this:

1= Breakfast At Tiffany's, by Truman Capote
1= The Death House, by Sarah Pinborough
3: Dead Leaves, by Andrew David Barker
4: The Hunt, by Tim Lebbon
5: The Twelve Dates Of Christmas (*), by Sue Moorcroft
6:  The Girl On The Train, by Paula Hawkins
7: The Machine Gunners, by Robert Westall
8: Starfishing, by Nicola Monaghan
9: Peaches And Scream, by Susan Furlong
10: Licence To Kill, by John Gardner
11: Winter Storm, by Anthony Watson
12: Closing In, by Sue Fortin
13: Goldeneye, by John Gardner
14: Peeper, by S J Smith
15: Horrorstör, by Grady Hendrix
16: There's A Bluebird In My Heart, by Gary McMahon
17: When The Worms Came, by Charlotte Bond
18: A Certain Smile, by Francoise Sagan
19: Leytonstone, by Stephen Volk
20: GodBomb!, by Kit Power

* = This is Sue's first book of her new Avon contract and I read it to critique, this isn't the final title and it won't be published until September 2016

The Top 10 in non-fiction are:

1: All Those Moments, by Rutger Hauer
2: The Making Of "Licence To Kill", by Sally Hibbin
3: John Landis, by Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan
4: Le Freak, by Nile Rodgers
5: The True Adventures Of The World's Greatest Stuntman, by Vic Armstrong
6: Catching Bullets: Memoirs Of A Bond Fan, by Mark O'Connell
7: Born In The 70s, by Tim Glynne-Jones
8: The Art Of Darkness: Stephen King, by Douglas E. Winter
9: Kiss Kiss Bang! Bang!, by Alan Barnes & Marcus Hearn
10: Rebel Without A Crew, by Robert Rodriguez

Stats wise, I’ve read 62 books - 33 fiction, 13 non-fiction, 10 comics/nostalgia/kids and 6 Three Investigator mysteries.

Of the 55 books, the breakdown is thus:

8  biographies
16 horror novels
4  film-related
9 drama (includes chick-lit and erotica)
8 crime/mystery
no sci-fi this year
2 nostalgia
8 humour

All of my reviews are posted up at Goodreads here

Just in case you’re interested, the previous awards are linked to from here:

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Movie Miniatures (the James Bond series, part 2)

As regular readers might recall, I'm a fan of movie special effects, especially miniatures and a couple of weeks back, I posted a blog about John Richardson and his model work on the James Bond series.  Continuing that theme, this is all about a hero of mine, Derek Meddings (I wrote an appreciation of him last year which you can read here) and his sterling contributions to the Bond series.

Derek Meddings was born on January 15th 1931 in London.  His father was a carpenter at Denham Studios and his mother was Alexander Korda’s secretary and an occasional the stand-in for Merle Oberon.  After attending art school, he got a job at Denham lettering credit titles and moved to the matte painting department which thrived in the 1950s as they worked for Hammer Films.  He was hired by Gerry Anderson to work on “Four Feather Falls”, “Supercar” and “Fireball XL5” before designing (with Reg Hill) the models for “Stingray” and then “Thunderbirds”, where he was given a free hand to design the series.

Drafted into the Bond franchise by producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli with 1973’s ‘Live and Let Die’, Derek struck up a working partnership that would last until ‘Goldeneye’ in 1995.  In between the Bonds, he worked on “Superman” (and won an Oscar for his efforts), “Superman 2” and “Batman” (1989), amongst many others.

He died of colorectal cancer on September 10th 1995, aged 64.  Having just finished his work on “Goldeneye”, the film is dedicated to his memory.

His Bond career was:
Live & Let Die (special effects)
The Man With The Golden Gun (miniatures)
The Spy Who Loved Me (special visual effects)
Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only (visual effects supervisor)
Goldeneye (miniature effects supervisor)

Live & Let Die (1973)
Directed by Guy Hamilton

Two views of the miniature poppy fields exploding

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Directed by Guy Hamilton

Scaramanga's island is blown to pieces (on the Pinewood back-lot)

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
(for more images, see my appreciation post here)

Derek's team built the large-scale miniature of Atlantis, Stromberg's headquarters, which was filmed in the Bahamas. 
Above - two crewmen weigh the model down as it's submerged.
Below - the detail of the model was so incredible, this shot was used on one of the lobby cards

The Liparus tanker model was built in three sections at Pinewood, before being flown out by cargo plane and put back together in Nassau.  This is from Derek's interview on the DVD extras.  “The reason we built it so large was because we had to deal with submarines in the same shots [where the tanker swallows them].  Water is always a problem when you’re dealing with miniatures because you just can’t scale [it], you’ve got to be clever enough to shoot it the right way at a very high speed - the secret is to make certain you don’t create a splash which is, of course, going to produce big globules of water on the screen and immediately give the game away. Even though our tanker was sixty-three feet long, it would only create a bow wave and wash that was in scale with a sixty-three-foot launch, which is nothing like what a supertanker with its vast displacement of water would create.  Only the aft section was actually built like a boat, the rest was like a catamaran built on two floats. We had a huge 175 horsepower marlin engine in it which gave us a terrific wake though, of course, nothing near a real tankers.”
With the crew on board adding a sense of scale, the Liparus is sailed out to sea
Still from the film, showing the wake
Still from the film, looking over the model ship towards the model submarines
Derek and his team were also responsible for the Lotus underwater sequence, though they didn’t build the submarine version (which was constructed by Perry Oceanographic).  In the same interview, he said, “We built a special rig to fire the car down the jetty when it was being pursued by the helicopter - it was traveling at fifty miles per hour when it left the rig.”  The sinking car is a miniature and the “change from car to submarine involved five underwater model cars with each one being used to represent a different part of the transformation process, such as the wheels retracting, the fins popping up, the motors coming out the back, etc.  We also did the sequence where the rocket comes out of the back of the car, hurtles out of the water and explodes the helicopter, which was a radio-controlled model.  For the sequence where the Lotus sub approaches the base of Atlantis, which is like an oil rig structure, we again used models.”

Still from the film - the Lotus goes into the sea
Shooting the miniature approaching Atlantis
Moonraker (1979)
Directed by Lewis Gilbert

Since the production schedule was so tight, Derek had to use a very old technique for the space scenes, where everything was shot 'in camera', winding the film back after each element had been photographed and running it again with another model.  One shot, apparently, has 48 separate elements in it, meaning the film was wound back at least 96 times.  At the time, Sir Roger Moore was quoted as saying of Derek and his team, ‘if [NASA] had our boys working for them, the real Shuttle would have been launched by now.’
Derek with some of the miniatures - note the truck on the table behind him
Still from the film - apart from the middle section floor, all of this image is a miniature
Still from the film - the guards and their hut are full-size, everything else (note the truck) is a miniature
Still from the film - the Moonraker factory, as Corinne Dufour flies James Bond over it
Still from the film - the glorious space station, a miniature well served by John Barry's score
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Directed by John Glen

Still from the film - the spy ship St George's hits the unexploded mind and sets the plot in motion.  The full size boat was filmed off the coast of Grimsby, this miniature was filmed in the tank at Pinewood Studios
The miniature St Georges in its cradle
In the Pinewood tank.  To the right of the picture is the miniature landing dock where Bond confronts Locque later in the film
Goldeneye (1995)
Directed by Martin Campbell

The Severnaya radar station was completely constructed as a miniature, one for the longer shots and one for the closer work (the latter including a full-sized door, so that actors could be filmed in front of it)
Derek Meddings on the Severnaya miniature
Nigel Blake, model-maker, on the larger scale miniature
Still from the film - Alan Cumming (as Boris) stands in front of the large scale miniature (a brilliant effect)
Derek and crew with the train, just about to crash it...
The large scale miniature of the Arecibo Observatory, built on the Leavesden backlot

Well, this post got a bit longer than I expected, hope you enjoyed it...

Tuesday 8 December 2015

600th blog post!

Blimey, I've now hit my 600th blog post!  I have to say, when I began this site (way back in September 2009), I really didn't expect to get this far.

Since the 500th post, my novella "Drive" was published by Pendragon Press and nominated for a British Fantasy Society Award, "The Lost Film" (the collaboration that isn't) by me & Steve Bacon was also published by Pendragon Press (and launched at FantasyCon in October), I've had several short stories published, got another honorable mention from Ellen Datlow (this time for "The Bureau Of Lost Children"), went to Edge-Lit 3Edge-Lit 4 and Sledge-Lit, had a great time at two FantasyCons (York in 2014 and Nottingham in 2015), did a reading at KettFest, was part of the Fox Spirit Writers Evening and thoroughly enjoyed the inaugural Crusty Exterior Meet-up in London.

On the blog, I've written some book reviews, some behind-the-scenes essays (on movie miniatures (and ILM), more matte paintings and special make-up effects), a couple of Nostalgic pieces (on The Fall Guy and The Three Investigators), some "Appreciation" articles that were well received (on Derek Meddings, Robert B Parker, Sir Roger Moore and Rick Baker), some film retrospectives (on VideodromeGhostbusters, Licence To Kill and James Bond and Moonraker), celebrated 30 years of Listen Like Thieves and compiled my All-Time-Top-10 list of Three Investigator books.

In general life, I had a heart attack and lost a lot of weight, saw "Close Encounters" and "American Werewolf" under the stars, met Sir Roger Moore and had some adventures with Dude (who turned ten this year).

An action packed (and life-changing) time, I'm sure you'll agree.  It's been great fun for the most part and, fingers crossed, there's loads more to come so roll on post 700!

Monday 30 November 2015

Can One Man Survive? A guest blog by Simon Bestwick

Today I'm pleased to host my old friend Simon Bestwick, who's conducting a blog tour in support of his new novel "Hell's Ditch" (which I read in critique and can confirm is a cracking novel).  "Hell's Ditch", from Snowfall Books, is published tomorrow.

One of my guilty teenage reading pleasures back in the 1980s were novels in the so-called ‘Radioactive Rambo’ subgenre – set after a nuclear war, generally depicting straight-arrow, All-American heroes whupping the ass of the dastardly Commies.

The first and best of the crop, setting a standard that most of its imitators dismally failed to live up to, was Jerry Ahern’s The Survivalist series. In it, John Rourke, CIA-trained combat and survival expert and doctor, separated from his family by a nuclear conflict, sets off across America to find them, usually with a cigarillo between his teeth and a Detonics .45 in each hand. (I’d never heard of this gun before, either – later I learned that Ahern bought the company that makes them!) As he goes, he fights off murderous brigands and invading Russians, and gets pulled into the fight between the remnants of the US Government and the Soviet forces. Along the way, Rourke falls in love with a Russian woman, Major Natalia Tiemerovna of the KGB, and she with him, but their relationship remains forever unconsummated as he also loves – and is faithful to – his wife, Sarah.

The series ran to twenty-seven books before Ahern passed away in 2012, with further volumes carrying his characters’ story on. Each volume – at least of the NEL editions I devoured – posed a variant of the same question in its single front-cover tagline: When even friends are enemies in disguise, can one man survive? In the ice-white Arctic wilderness, can one man survive? In the sand-blasted desert of death, can one man survive? And so on. The answer, obviously, was invariably yes.

The Survivalist is pulpish, gritty and a lot more fun than it sounds. Ahern wrote good, solid prose and had a nice line in inventiveness and characterisation, happily ladling new complexities and characters into the mix to keep the brew fresh.

After Rourke finds his family, the series veers into science fiction with the Earth’s atmosphere catching fire as a result of the nuclear war. The Rourkes use cryogenic chambers to sleep away the intervening century and re-emerge into the slowly recovering world, only to find the old conflicts starting up again as survivors from the US and Iceland are menaced by Soviet forces, and by a neo-Nazi regime from Latin America. The one common factor, of course, is that Rourke always has a plan to overcome whatever gets thrown at him.

Also, Ahern, though a card-carrying NRA member and champion of the Second Amendment, managed some nuanced portrayals of the Russians, in contrast to the one-dimensional baddies of films like Red Dawn, or most other books of the ‘Radioactive Rambo’ stripe. In the first novel, Total War, both sides try and fail to prevent the conflict escalating into full-scale war; in the later books, the occupation troops are a mix of good and bad. In fact, one of the most decent and honourable characters in the series is Natalia’s uncle, General Varakov, commander of the Soviet Occupation Forces, a loyal Russian, professional soldier and convinced Communist who earns even his enemies’ respect.

‘To write a potboiler, that is genius,’ Baudelaire once said, and The Survivalist books might go some way to proving that point; while they aren’t Dostoievsky, they had a grip and vividness that means I still remember them, nearly thirty years on.

My new novel, set after a nuclear war, owes a fair debt to the ‘Radioactive Rambo’ school of fiction – and to The Survivalist, probably, most of all. Lord knows what Jerry Ahern would have made of it, or of having a godless left-winger like me for a fan – but I like to think the irony would have made him chuckle.

* * *
The dream never changes: a moonless, starless night without end. The road she walks is black, bordered with round, white pebbles or nubs of polished bone; she can’t tell which but they’re the only white in the darkness, marking her way through the night.

In dreams and nightmares, Helen walks the Black Road. It leads her back from the grave, back from madness, back towards the man who caused the deaths of her family: Tereus Winterborn, Regional Commander for the Reapers, who rule the ruins of a devastated Britain.

On her journey, she gathers her allies: her old mentor Darrow, the cocky young fighter Danny, emotionally-scarred intelligence officer Alannah and Gevaudan Shoal, last of the genetically-engineered Grendelwolves.

Winterborn will stop at nothing to become the Reapers’ Supreme Commander; more than anything he seeks the advantage that will help him achieve that goal. And in the experiments of the obsessed scientist Dr Mordake, he thinks he has found it.

To Winterborn, Project Tindalos is a means to ultimate power; to Mordake, it’s a means to roll back the devastation of the War and restore his beloved wife to the living. But neither Winterborn nor Mordake understand the true nature of the forces they are about to unleash. Forces that threaten to destroy everything that survived the War, unless Helen and her allies can find and stop Project Tindalos in time.

Simon Bestwick is the author of Tide Of Souls, The Faceless and Black Mountain. His short fiction has appeared in Black Static and Best Horror Of The Year, and been collected in A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Pictures Of The Dark, Let’s Drink To The Dead and The Condemned. His new novel, Hell’s Ditch, is out on 1st December.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

For Tracy

Sometimes, things happen that really take the wind out of your sails.  Sometimes you lose people that mean a great deal to you and it's hard to comprehend that they're not there any more.  Sometimes things happen and you still, years later, can't understand them.

But sometimes, maybe, we can keep those people with us a little longer by ensuring their memory lives on and burns brightly...

Family party in 1981 - my cousin Carl on the left.  I'm not swinging a punch, I've got one of those weird 'magic fish' things on my arm.

On the anniversary of my sister passing away

Junior school photo - 1979

12 years - where did all that time go?
With Mum, Sarah and Auntie Lynn (who was visiting from South Africa), 1987

Thinking of you, TJ.

Monday 23 November 2015

Sledge-Lit, Derby, 21st November 2015

This year saw the first Sledge-Lit event in Derby, which was billed as the “Edge-Lit Christmas vacation!” and held in the same venue.  Since I had such a great time at Edge-Lit 4 (see my report here) and like the Derby Quad, I thought it’d made a nice bridge between the brilliance of FantasyCon (which I reported about here) and next years Crusty Exterior meet-up.
In the Quad bar - Sue Moorcroft, me, James Everington, Steve Harris, Simon Bestwick, Peter Mark May, Dean M. Drinkel
Saturday morning was bright, clear and cold.  I picked Sue up from her house and, as she got in, she took one look at my fleece, smiled and said, “Haven’t you got a coat?”  “No, I’ll be fine with this,” I assured her, “we’ll be indoors.”  “Okay,” she said, “but I don’t want you moaning about being cold!”  I feigned moral outrage - I mean, as if I would ever moan about anything?  We set off and made good time up the M1, chatted all the way and found the Assembly Rooms car park with only the slightest detour required - we were deep in conversation and I missed the turn…  ahem.
Pete, me, Steve, in the bar
As we signed in, Steve Harris appeared, followed closely by James Everington, so we moved into the bar and sat with Peter Mark May and Dean M. Drinkel, who’d arrived on the same train.  There was a lot of chat - it’s less than a month since FCon but it always feels too long ago - and we decided to have lunch in the bar, since Sue recommended it and none of us fancied wandering out into the cold (the place we found at Edge-Lit was lovely but we had to eat outside).  Over the morning, the group around our table ebbed and flowed and we were joined by Simon Bestwick (full of his new-agent-news), Theresa Derwin, Steven Chapman, Simon Marshall-Jones and Tony Cowin.  I later spotted Pixie Puddin in the foyer and went to give her a hug (and bought her a cup of tea too, it was cold out there) then chatted with Cate Gardner, Priya Sharma and Gary Couzens as I made my way back to our table - good to see them all.  Our lunch turned up just before the crowd appeared from the last panel and I was glad we’d pre-ordered, as the bar quickly filled up.  I had a chicken & bacon ciabatta sandwich and it was bloody lovely.

As there was a gap in the programme, I led a small deputation to the Eagle Books stall, in the Eagle market, that Johnny Mains introduced me to in 2014.  As we went through the foyer I bumped into John Llewellyn Probert, Thana Niveau and Cate.  Had a chat with John - we worked out that we hadn’t seen one another since WFC in Brighton in 2013 so it was good to catch up and we talked about how staring mortality in the face (John had a major health scare a few years back) makes you re-assess things.  It was nice to say hello to Thana too.  I met Sue & Pete outside, saw Fiona Ní Éalaighthe and got a hug from her, waited for Steven and Steve, then we set off through the Market Hall and out to the Eagle market.  As it turned out, it was indeed bloody cold outside, though I was determined not to say anything in front of Sue (I think I might have mentioned it several times to Steve and Pete though).  Eagle Books was still there and still fantastic, everyone got something and we kept calling each over to share finds.  There was a tray of Richard Laymon books which prompted a discussion of his work - all of us, it seemed, were fans at various points but, as we explained to Sue, our attention wandered as the books got thicker and more misogynistic.  On the way through, I’d spotted a sign in the Market Hall for a retro-toyshop and we stood outside for a while, gazing into the windows (there was a ‘back in 30 minutes’ sign on the door), before giving up and heading back to the Quad.  I spotted Charlotte Bond in the foyer, had a quick hug and she showed me a copy of “Drive” that Chris Teague had given her for making the muffins at “The Lost Film” book launch.

"Rising From The Dead" panel selfie - me, Sue, Steve, Pete
Upstairs, Pete & I went into the small dealers room and I picked up a Black Static from Roy Gray and the last copy of “Fur Lined Ghetto #6” from Sophie Essex - always a pleasure to see her and Andrew Hook.  With Sue, we went into Cinema 2 for the “Rising From The Dead - Is Horror Ready for a New Golden Age?” panel, which I thought sounded very interesting.  Unfortunately, it left the path less than five minutes in and never found its way back (though Thana made some great comments) - a missed opportunity.  However, as we left, I saw Kevin Redfern & Hayley Orgill further up the auditorium and had a chat with them - we disagreed with the panel and talked about how we got introduced to horror (the outcome was that if kids want to find it, they will - twas ever thus).  Good to see them.

On the way to the market selfie
By the time I got out to the open area, Pete & Sue were fiddling with his glasses, which were pretty much falling apart.  I suggested we go into the market to find a jewellers stall and, as we set off, I decided to tell him the staircase was further away than it actually was.  He gave me a look and said, “I can bloody see them.”  Mischief averted.  The stall I’d spotted in the market was actually a watch-maker but the kindly lady fixed Pete’s glasses quickly and efficiently and since we were in there, we checked out the retro toyshop again but this time it was closed.  On our way back to the Quad (with me still not complaining about the cold, even though I couldn’t feel my fingertips) we had a quick look in Ask Italian, across the Market Square, as Sue and curries don’t mix particularly well.  The menu looked good so we decided we’d eat there later.

We went into the bar for a while before heading back upstairs were we met Cate and Priya on the stairs and Graeme Reynolds in the open area, chatting with them all.  James joined us and he, Pete and Graeme went into the “A Ghost Story Is Not Just For Christmas” panel, whilst Sue & I went to the Boo Books launch.  I had a chat with Andrew David Barker, whose excellent novella “Dead Leaves” (which I reviewed here) was being launched and it was good to see him - after first meeting at FCon - and his reading went well.  Carl Robinson also read from his “A Dip In The Jazz Age”, which was being launched as well and it was a good event, though sadly poorly attended.  Sue & I stayed behind to chat with Andrew and Alex (who, in addition to organising Sledge-Lit is also the publisher of Boo Books) and the conversation turned to FCon 2016, which promises to be great.
Graeme Reynolds, me, (a very distinguised looking - and with fixed glasses) Pete and Sue
Back in the bar, I got a round of drinks, chatting with Steven as we waited, before chatting with Dean and Pete.  They were both leaving at 6pm to catch the same train home and our conversation covered everything from writing to body parts to the awful news about Paris (Dean was there the week before the attacks).  At 5.30, we headed up for the raffle - hosted by Rob Shearman - joined by Jay Eales (unfortunately Selina had stayed at home) and Phil Irving.  Steve arrived late, sat on the row behind us and won the first two prizes!  We thought it was going to be another Andromeda-style whitewash but it wasn’t to be - I didn’t win anything, nor did Pete but Sue & James cleaned up on the PS Publishing prizes, with “A Cold Season” (hardback) and “Ellison Wonderland” (boxed hardback) respectively.  Gits.

And that was Sledge-Lit officially over.  I said goodbye to Pete, Steven and Graeme and we gathered up our dining party - Sue, Tony, James, Steve, Chris Teague and me - and went over to Ask Italian, who managed to seat us all.  The food was great, the conversation and company even more so and I don’t think there was a moment of silence for the entire meal.  We covered a lot of subjects too, including how to write erotica (Sue didn’t believe us about Dino-porn but did introduce us to the phrase ‘Antigua Kiss’, which we’re all going to include in our latest story), what we're currently working on and what we get out of Cons (James put his finger on it, saying how great it was to hang out with talented friends).  A great group of friends, it was the perfect end to the Sledge-Lit experience.  Afterwards, James was heading for the train station whilst Chris and Tony were going back to the Quad so we all hugged and said goodbye, then Sue, Steve & I went back to the Assembly Rooms car park and hugged goodbye in the stairwall.  After finding an ‘interesting’ route to get us back to the M1, Sue & I talked all the way back to Kettering.
At Ask Italian - James, Steve, Chris Teague, Sue, me, Tony Cowin
Great fun, great venue, well organised and full of friends, I’d say Sledge-Lit was a success.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

An interview with Sue Moorcroft

I have known Sue Moorcroft since 1999, when I joined the Kettering Writers group where she was already a member.  We hit it off straight away and, for a while, were the only published writers in the group though, because we wrote genre fiction (romantic for her, horror for me), that didn’t impress the group leader.  Our friendship flourished - I remember reading Fresh Sheets back then, which later became Starting Over, the first of her Middledip novels and her first book from Choc Lit - and continues strongly to this day, I’m pleased to say.  Most of my UK horror writing chums know Sue as she’s now my Con buddy for FantasyCon and the like.

Sue’s also featured here on the blog quite often too - I interviewed her back in 2013 (which you can read here), I’ve reviewed her books and she’s contributed a couple of guest posts (all of which you can find on this link).

Earlier this year, as we met at The Trading Post on one of our “get together and talk writing and books until they call for last orders” evenings, she told me the great news that her agent had sealed a two-book deal with Avon Books.  I was chuffed, thrilled and excited - I’ve read the first book, which will be published next September/October (expect another interview and review then) - and having heard more about the second book on further evenings, I’m even more excited about that.  The news was finally revealed in The Bookseller on October 21st, just in time for FantasyCon (where it was lovely to see so many people congratulate her).

HarperCollins imprint, Avon, has won two new novels from Sue Moorcroft at auction. UK & Commonwealth rights were bought from Juliet Pickering at Blake Friedmann Agency.

Moorcroft said: “I’m excited to be joining Avon, with their reputation for successfully publishing fiction to extensive audiences. Eleanor and her team impressed me with their enthusiasm and drive, their ideas and the welcome they offered to me in my new home.”

The first novel will be published in Christmas 2016 with the second novel planned for summer 2017.

Good times indeed and it couldn’t happen to a nicer person or a better writer.  So I thought it might be fun to have another chat with her, to see how it feels to have the deal and what she thinks the future has in store for her.

MW:  First of all, many congratulations on the book deal!  Tell me how you felt when your agent first let you know.

SM:  Thank you, and for all your continued support!

It actually came down to a choice between two publishers. For a couple of weeks we’d been going through the nerve-wracking process of my agent, Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann, talking to publishers, and it had come down to Avon and one other. Juliet and I had a long meeting with Eleanor Dryden and her team at Avon HarperCollins UK and when were back outside the News Building in the sunshine I said to Juliet, ‘I think it’s Avon. They said everything I wanted to hear.’

The News Building - pic by Sue
MW:  How was the experience of heading down to London and meeting your new publisher?

SM:  Wonderful. The News Building is also known as the ‘Mini Shard’ as it stands next door and is of a similar glass-wall appearance. I was treated very starrily! The meeting room was decorated with hats, to reflect the career of my heroine, Ava, and they’d made me chocolate cake. I got on very well with Eleanor and her team, and hearing that Ava is to be a lead title for Christmas 2016 was music to my ears. I felt very wanted. The chocolate cake was amazing, too.

MW:  So how does it feel to be an ‘overnight success’?

SM:  Ha! At the beginning of April 2016 it will be the twentieth anniversary of selling my first magazine story, so I guess it has taken me twenty years to be an overnight success. It feels as if I’ve worked hard and stayed focused to get where I am, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

MW:  Where did the idea for the novel (which, at the time of writing, is known by its working title of The Truth About Ava) come from?

SM:  Originally, it was to be a Christmas novella. I made Ava a couture milliner because I met one such at BBC Radio Cambridge and thought it would be a cool career for a heroine. I’m always aware that not everybody has a wonderful time at Christmas and so I gave Sam a particularly poignant conflict of his mother being between surgery and chemotherapy and not knowing if this Christmas will be her last.

MW:  I remember talking about the idea with you at The Trading Post, when it was still planned as a novella.  What made you decide to do it as a novel?

SM:  When I first conceived the idea of the novella I had thought that it would be fun to write about someone who doesn’t like Christmas. When my agent liked various angles of the story, Sam’s conflict and the Camden Town setting, that dictated the story becoming full length. I realised that Ava needed a meatier storyline and introduced the idea of her ex-boyfriend threatening her with revenge porn as a strong contemporary issue. The Internet is a fantastic thing but it has a dark underbelly and I decided it would be nice to bring it a little more into the light.

MW:  We can’t really discuss much about the book now (that’ll be in the interview next September), but it has a very different tone to the Choc Lit novels (which I loved).  Was there a conscious decision to do that?

SM:  No. I’m not really aware that it has a different tone. In fact, I would argue this point! (Sue smiles at this point) The setting is different as it’s a city-scape – maybe that’s it?

MW:  Yes, I think so, the story has a more cosmopolitan feel to it, if that makes sense.

SM:  Setting the book in London did mean I had to think differently. When I set a book in a village or in a small segment of a small island, people can credibly bump into one another. In a city of millions of residents and many more millions of visitors, that’s not going to happen. That’s why many of the characters in ‘Ava’ were connected with Sam’s communications agency, either by working there or being big buddies with someone who works there, or being an agency client. I did have Harvey, Ava’s ex, track down Ava in Blaggard’s Bar but, as he knew Blaggard’s to be her favourite hangout in Camden Town, it was an obvious place for him to lie in wait. I like London and, when I was a kid, lived not that far from Camden for eighteen months.

One of my favourites of Sue's novels
(and not just because I fancy the heroine!)
MW:  With regard to the revenge porn sub-plot, that’s one of the things that I enjoy about your books, you don’t look away from the darkness.  You tend to confront issues head-on in most of your books (thinking of All That Mullarkey and the issues with Cleo and Gavin, also the unpleasant elements within The Wedding Proposal), would you care to elaborate on that?

SM:  I don’t consciously look for darkness, it’s more that I look for conflicts that matter. A hate campaign can poison your life and, in All That Mullarkey, Justin loses his home and almost his job because of the hate campaign. He comes perilously close to losing his self-respect. And Gavin … while nobody should condone what he does, I feel most would understand why he does it. In The Wedding Proposal, it matters desperately to Elle that there’s something dark in her ex-husband’s past, because it affects her future. At the time I was planning ‘Ava’ an article caught my eye about revenge porn. That particular piece was about young girls being unwise enough to take explicit ‘selfies’ and send them to young boys. While I mentally filed that under ‘recipe for disaster’, I began thinking about all the loving couples who have bedroom fun with phone cameras ... and what happens to those images once the love has gone. How would the victim feel if the ex shared them on Facebook? Sold them to a sleazy website? Electronic images proliferate like fleas on a dog and my research made me desperately sorry for the victims, and angry on their behalf, so if ‘Ava’ makes even one person think twice about sharing images without permission, I’ll be happy.

MW:  How much research did you do?

SM:  I read extensively (literally for days) on victim support websites, about the kinds of sites that host such images with no care for how it destroys happiness, the law in various parts of the world, and, especially case histories. In other areas: Abigail Crampton of Abigail Crampton Millinery advised on Ava’s career. It was great to watch her doing demonstrations and visit her lovely studio in her garden and have a mock hat fitting. It was also a lot of fun to keep going down to Camden’s markets and bars. Serious illness … well, that’s distressingly easy to research, being so prevalent, partly online but also via chats with people who have been affected, either as patients or loved ones.

MW:  The second novel in the deal (which I am really eager to read, having followed it from initial idea into writing trials and tribulations and having the enviable task of being asked my opinion on plot points) is also removed from Middledip.  Can you tell us a little about it?

SM:  It has the working title of Just for the Holidays. Leah Beaumont, having remained determinedly single till her mid-thirties, ends up looking after her sister’s family in France while her sister Michele’s life derails. The premise is lifted directly from the experiences of a friend of mine, who made me cry with laughter when she recounted what had happened to her. I don’t think it was funny when it was happening, though.

Ronan Shea is a grounded helicopter pilot, doing up the house next door to the gîte in which Leah’s family are holidaying. When the book begins he thinks his biggest problem is that he has had a forced landing and broken his collarbone. Now I’m two-thirds of the way through the first draft, he also knows that his boss is trying to get rid of him. Oh, yes, and his ex-wife has just turned up, destitute.

Only four of my novels are set in Middledip, of course. Six are not.

MW:  You’ve now scaled back on some activities (listing them, I can think of critiquing, tutoring, article writing), did you feel they were overpowering your writing time?

SM:  Yes. I did a self-coaching exercise. What’s good/bad for me? What makes me happy/unhappy? What earns me money/doesn’t earn me money? Anything that fell into negative territory in all three headings got the chop. This freed up so much time that I began looking at other aspects of my writing life and came to an important conclusion: I only wanted to write fiction. So I left my constant teaching commitment, my regular judging, and once I’d adapted my non-fiction book, Love Writing, to be a course, I cut my non-fiction writing, too. I’m delighted to report that the exercise worked. I’ve had a good hit rate with magazine fiction and secured my agent and a new book deal. NB I haven’t stopped the kind of tutoring that gets me to lead a course in Italy. The Arte Umbria course for 2016 is already filling up.

Sue at The Trading Post, discussing books and plot
points the week before FCon (14/10/15)
MW:  Given the deal and the fact that 'Ava' is done aside from the final edit, are you enjoying having a bit of time and space to work on the second book?  When is it due to the editor?

SM:  Very much so. I can’t tell you how much less stressed I feel. Just for the Holidays is due in April – what is counted as a first draft but will probably be my third or fourth. Hopefully, you’ll kindly beta read it for me! (winning smile)

MW:  Of course, I'm looking forward to it!  One last question about the second book (since the first was already written when your agent presented it).  Did you pitch it, sell it on a tagline or none of the above?

SM:  I discussed the premise with my agent and she liked it, so I wrote her a one-page pitch and a three-page outline. By the time she was ready to send Ava to publishers I had begun Just for the Holidays and knew a lot more about it so I updated both pitch and outline and Avon liked it. The other publisher would have wanted both books, too. I’ve never had a multi-book deal before. It would have been possible to see the second book being contracted as a pressure, but I’ve chosen to see it as a vote of confidence.

MW:  Which is the best way, I think.  So what’s next?

SM:  Finish the first draft of Just for the Holidays, do my edits on 'Ava' (due any day), do several more drafts of JFTH and get it to my editor. Then I have an idea for another book, about a guy called Ben whose girlfriend is in a road traffic accident. And his brother is driving the car.

MW:  Thanks very much for that, Sue.

SM:  Great talking to you Mark. Thanks for inviting me onto your blog – see you next time.
Sue at FantasyCon 2015 with (from left) Steve Bacon, Steve Harris, me, Neil Williams
Award winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. Sue’s a past vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies. She also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor.

Sue’s latest book is "The Wedding Proposal"

Sue can be found on the Net in the following places...

Website: www.suemoorcroft.com
Blog: suemoorcroft.wordpress.com
Facebook profile https://www.facebook.com/sue.moorcroft.3
Facebook author page https://www.facebook.com/SueMoorcroftAuthor
Twitter @suemoorcroft
Google+: google.com/+Suemoorcroftauthor
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suemoorcroft