Tuesday 25 August 2015

Writing and a positive mental attitude...

We’ve just come back from our annual holiday which, this year, was spent in a place called East Ruston on my beloved east coast.  The Cottages4U website said it was quiet and they weren’t kidding - we were about three miles from Stalham (itself not exactly the hub of the universe) and the place was a hamlet, a small collection of houses, with no shop or pub or any amenities really.
At Wroxham
And it was wonderful.  There was hardly any traffic (I quickly found a good route for my daily 2m power walk and saw perhaps three cars over the whole time), there were no street-lights (you forget just how dark the night is until there aren’t any street lights) and more importantly, there was no wi-fi.  We talked, we played footy or went for little family walks, we played Scrabble and we enjoyed the absolute peace and quiet, though it wasn’t isolated.  Our cottage was one of ten in a group and at least half of them had kids in, so we could hear people about during the day and Dude had some company close to his own age.

I took along “Le Freak”, the Nile Rodgers autobiography (I seem to prefer reading autobiographies when I’m on holiday) which was great (you can read my review on Goodreads here), especially how he’d started the Chic organisation with Bernard Edwards and the different creative adventures he’d had.  That, as it often does, got me thinking about my own creativity and the quiet (and lack of Net access) gave me the space to reflect.

Creativity is one of those odd things to discuss (though, strangely, I often end up doing just that).  If you’re engaged in a creative project - writing, painting, composing music, making films, crafting items, whatever - you know how it feels, you understand the pressures, the highs, the lows, the bits that make sense, the bits that don’t work at all; everyone else sees you sitting there chewing on the end of a pen.  But reading “Le Freak”, where Rodgers is aware that he’s creating great work but still astounded that it’s affecting the zeitgeist, is refreshing.  It’s refreshing in the same way as when you hear writers (in my case) you admire talking at Cons, about their processes and concerns - it re-inforces what you think and feel.

I’m on a bit of a creative roll at the moment, which is always nice.  I’m just about to start the third draft of a war-based novella (which was asked for - I’ve never written a war-time set story before) and I’ve really enjoyed the process, researching it and asking my Dad (a WW2 buff) odd questions, plus I’ve had some great feedback from  my pre-readers.  Once that’s done, I’m into the third Mike Decker story (which is already plotted), that has both a home to go to and will be my critique piece for the next meeting of the Northampton SF Writers Group.  After that, I have two more asked for short stories, then I can get to the novella I’m crafting out of half the “failed novel” pitch I did last year.

Looking at this picture now, I can't help wondering how on earth
Dude saw over the boat to see where he was going...
Right now, I feel good about my writing (which doesn’t happen all that often) and that peaceful week on the east coast helped emphasise that, almost as much as if I had Major Anya Amasova herself sitting there extolling the virtues of a "positive mental attitude".  I played through scenes (from the novella and the Decker short story) in my head as I walked, I read “Le Freak” without the distractions of emails pinging in or Facebook updating and I went out and did things that could inspire future story ideas or give me experience I can use on the page in the future (a boat sequence in the novella is now changed because we hired a boat - Dude did most of the work - to sail up the Thurne).

Now we’re back home, I’m writing this in between revisions with my troop of plucky soldiers and although I’m plugged back into the Net that feeling of last week, that sense of positivity and believing in what I'm doing is still lingering.  And I plan to capitalise on it.

Friday 7 August 2015

The Penthouse Incident

I'm pleased to announce that "Demonology", the new anthology edited by Dean M. Drinkel, has just been published by Lycopolis Press.  This is the fourth time I've worked with Dean (as the book contains my story "The Penthouse Incident") and this features a welcome (for me) return for my character Mike Decker, who originally appeared in "The Zabriskie Grimoire" (which I blogged about here).  In additional news, I'm going to be writing another Decker story for Dean in the near future.

The Flute Of Gali
Juan J. Guiterrez

The Throne
Peter Mark May

The Call
Charles Rudkin

Sandra Norval

Kelly Gould

From Within
Christopher L. Beck

Anthony Crowley

Interview With Nybbas
Tim Dry

Demon Driver
Adrian Cole

Riding The Hag
S. L. Schmitz

The Penthouse Incident
Mark West

Climbing Out
Paul Flewitt

Our Love Comes Back
Dean M. Drinkel

The book is available (in print editions only at the moment) from the following:

Amazon UK 

Amazon US 

This time around, Decker describes himself thus:

"I am an acquirer, a finder of items lost or hidden and although it’s an occasionally dirty job, I am well paid for it.  I take my job very seriously and I expect other people to do the same.  I once had a meeting with an arrogant playboy who compared me to a personal shopper and it took him almost five minutes to properly take a breath after I’d punched him in the throat."

Mike is hired by Brian Bootle, "one of Gaffney’s pre-eminent pornographers", to find his son Daniel, who has stolen a grimoire from Brian's private collection.  The trail leads Decker to a penthouse suite where, it appears, all hell has broken loose.  I had a lot of fun with this story, making my anti-hero as horrible as possible whilst also poking fun at what sometimes passes as celebrity these days.

I could smell blood in the air as soon as the lift door opened and since it wasn’t a scent you normally associated with one of the finest hotels in the city, it wouldn’t be long until someone complained.  
I stepped out of the lift onto the top floor, occupied by four penthouses.  The corridor in front of me, which serviced all of them, ran the width of the building.  It was wide and thickly carpeted, decorated in such a way as to draw attention to itself without seeming unbecoming.

If my contact was correct, my target was in 6b and the door closest to me, on my left, was 6a.  I walked down the corridor, my footsteps completely muffled.  It was so quiet I could hear myself breathing, along with the faint hum of air conditioning and the gearings of the lift.  I stopped outside 6b.  The door looked exactly the same as the others, there was no pentragram scrawled in blood on one of the ornate inlay panels, no claw marks around the handle, nothing to tip me off that I was in the right place.

Leaning forward, I put my ear close enough to hear anything that might be happening in the room.  Nothing.  I touched the door-handle with my fingertips and it felt vaguely warm.

I knocked and it sounded very loud.  “Room service,” I said, in the cheeriest voice I could muster.  There was a noise but I couldn’t make out what it was.

I looked back along the length of the empty corridor.  The lift had closed.  

I opened the door and pushed it as far as it would go.  The smell of blood was overwhelming and I could almost taste it, it was so thick in the air.  Nobody rushed me so I stepped over the threshold into a small hallway that opened up into a minimalist, modern  suite.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

My Fall Guy summer...

A year ago today, I went into hospital having suffered a heart attack.  It was a shocking experience, a real slap in the face from my mortality that made me look hard at - and change - a lot of things in my life.
left - me on a bike ride (picture by Dude) - 3/8/14
right - me & Dude, at Welland Park, playing football - 2/8/15
I wanted to mark today but wasn't sure how and then found this little essay I wrote in September last year but never got round to publishing on the blog.  As it was written 'in the thick of things', it has an immediacy I couldn't recapture now, so here it is...

* * *

As we glide smoothly into Autumn (my favourite season of the year) and the nights draw in and the mornings darken, it seems - as it often does - as though summer was gone in a blink.  It was, I think.

I had such plans for this summer.  There was a novel I was going to write - I thought it was a fantastic idea, I worked hard on the pitch and critiqued the three chapters with my pre-reader band and my chums at the Northampton SF Writers group, there were adventures to be had with Dude, day-trips to exciting places and our Wales holiday.

The first adventure wasn’t the success I’d been hoping for, as Dude & I went to London for the Film & Comic Con event at Earls Court in July.  The venue was terrible, the staffing levels were appalling and we left mid-afternoon, thoroughly disappointed.  “Why don’t we go into the City?” I asked and Dude agreed and it saved the day from disaster, as we had a lovely afternoon wandering around the capital, visiting our favourite shops, eating a lovely meal on Shaftesbury Avenue and then leaning contentedly on each other in the train home as we read our books.

In early July, the publisher I’d approached with my “Fantastic Novel” pitch turned it down - he was very complimentary about the writing and structure but didn’t feel it was different enough for his list.  As nice as he was, as nice as the compliments were, I was gutted.  I didn’t write anything for a week, a fortnight.  I then had three people contact me wanting short stories, I spoke with Ian Whates from my writing group and Sue Moorcroft, my critiquing partner and writing friend and I started to pick myself back up.

All through this time, events in the world (especially the Gaza situation) were darkening my days and in a bid to stave off a black dog episode, I was browsing through ebay and found the first series of “The Fall Guy” for sale.  I decided to buy it, reasoning that I could binge-watch it (on my own, I presumed) and forget things for a while.

On Sunday 3rd August, I had several attacks of acid reflux - that awful burning in the chest sensation - which had me eating Gaviscon like they were Smarties.  When Dude & I went out for a walk, then a bike ride and my elbows ached, I assumed I’d somehow caught them somewhere.

On Monday, I had more of the acid reflux attacks, so much so that I couldn’t get myself comfortable.  “I feel like I’m dying,” I groaned to Alison.  Thankfully, she’s a lot smarter than me and packed me off to the KeyDoc where I was seen by an apparently very inexperienced doctor (who stank of BO) who carried out an ECG on me that didn’t work and sent me to the hospital for a bloodtest with no accompanying paperwork.

I made my way to Kettering General Hospital at 8pm, my Dad kept me company and at 2am I was admitted to the Coronary Care Unit.  Sometime during the day - or maybe on the Sunday - I had suffered a heart attack (“it happens a lot,” the nurse told me cheerfully, “people think they’re having acid attacks and it’s not, it’s little heart attacks!”).  Following a sleepless night, I was second into surgery and after an angiogram to see what was going on had a stent fitted.  The doctor later showed me a video of the operation and, when I was trying to describe it later, I likened it to a SatNav image.  I’ll try it again…

Imagine the M1 cutting down the middle of the screen.  That’s an artery, the dark colour of it the life blood that’s pumping around my body and keeping everything going.  Coming off it is a thinner line, a country lane that doesn’t look wide enough to carry much heavy traffic.  The wire appears, the balloon is inflated, the stent is positioned and suddenly I’m looking at two M1’s.  “Oh,” I said, “I see.”

I spent the rest of the day in hospital, recovering and was sent home that night.  Alison & Dude were thrilled to see me and my Mum gave me a big hug.  Even Dad, who’s not overly prone to displays of affection, hugged me.  They went home, my family went to bed, I sat up and pondered how life was going to change now, how life would have to change now.  And I picked up the box set of “The Fall Guy”, put in a disk and watched it.

I watched more episodes as the week wore on, as people treated me with kid gloves and made sure everything was all right and every time I tried to do something, I was gently pushed back to my seat to take it easy.  I started to call my heart attack an episode, to try and play it down.  I was knackered, I was tired, but I was also very lucky and I wanted to get back on my feet.  As for the attack itself, the doctors reckoned that although my weight was a factor, the contributing causes were my smoking (I gave up when Alison discovered she was pregnant, ten years ago) and family history (my Grampy had several attacks, the last of which unfortunately killed him).

My holiday fortnight came and that first week - which we usually spend heading off on day trips - fizzled to nothing, our only outing being a train trip to Leicester Dude & I went on.  The second week, our time away in Wales, was wonderful but a lot more sedate than normal and I couldn’t chase around in the castle ruins like I’d have done before.

What a great excuse for a picture of The Fall Guy team!
(Douglas Bar, Lee Majors, Heather Thomas)
As the days went by I could feel myself starting to get stronger.  I’d already started losing the weight (some weeks before I saw a picture Alison took of me & Dude on the patio and I was so disgusted at the Jabba The Hutt I’d become, I decided to do something about it - cutting down on crap, more bike riding and loads of walks had lost me 17lbs before the episode), I don’t drink or smoke, but I did have to start eating more fruit & veg and I felt like I could do it.  Dude & I took to going out for a walk - of at least 2 miles a session - at least five times a week, if not six or seven.  And when we came back, after his shower, he & I would sit in a chair - him on my lap - and watch “The Fall Guy”.  He loved it (I didn’t think he would, its pace is much slower than the kids TV he now watches), it was our time and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think he did too.  When we’d finished the first box set, he immediately wanted to watch the next so I ordered it (in case you’re wondering, series 3 to 5 haven’t been released on DVD due to ‘lack of demand’ - it would appear that Dude is the only 9 year old fan of the show).

As the weeks went by and I got better, my desire to write came back and I finished off the story I’d written in first draft before my episode.  The process was fairly smooth, I read it aloud to Alison and it worked for us both and I sent it to the editor who liked it a lot.  I worked on a second story, using images I’d picked up in Wales and the editor liked that one too.  I have another story to write, which is rolling around in my head at the moment but I’m confident about it.  With my other writing, I really want to get back to the novel, to build on the pitch and go off-tangent to it at the same time, as characters and situations suggest themselves to me.

The hospital team made an appointment for me to go in to have a second angiogram, to make sure everything was okay with the first procedure and to see if another thin artery they’d seen before was standing up to the strain.  The appointment was made for Monday 8th September so I got to enjoy the FantasyCon weekend in full before it and I’m so pleased I did.  The Con was great and it was wonderful to see so many old friends, to catch up and laugh and hug and lovely, too, to realise just how much I meant to them.  To those of you reading this who came up to me that weekend and hugged me or held my arm and looked me in the eyes and said “it’s so good to see you”, it meant so very much to me, it really did.

We were almost done with the second series of “The Fall Guy” before FantasyCon so Dude & I agreed to leave a couple of episodes over until I’d been back into the hospital.  I went in on the Monday afternoon for the angiogram and it was awful - they simulated another heart attack and for a terrible handful of minutes, it felt like someone was wringing my chest bones.  Everything was clear though and I was home by 8.30pm without a need for the second stent.  I’m due to start the Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme on the 29th and, hopefully, they’ll give me the nod to get back on my bike (Dude & I have so missed our adventures).

I feel better in myself, my strength is returning, my fitness is increasing all the time and the weight is still coming off, which is reassuring - I’ve not gone back to the takeaways or loads of sweets and it’s not been the struggle I thought it would.  But then, I look at my family and friends, I look at Alison & Dude and see them looking at me and realise that’s why.

I want to remember 2014 as my “Fall Guy” summer and I hope that Dude does too (he doesn’t talk much about the episode but I can sometimes see it playing away behind his eyes) because that 30 year old TV show managed to sand off a lot of the sharp edges caused by a couple of months of horror, pain and sobering reality and I’ll always be grateful for that.

The update:
- The Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme was a huge success for me (thanks so much to Iona and her team), they gave me a real burst of confidence to get out and get exercising (and not worry that I was going to kill myself)

- The Cardiac team at KGH were so impressed with my progress, my twelve-month assessment was brought forward and I was released from their care after six months

- Dude still worries about the whole thing (though it's lessening with time).  For months, he didn't like me going out on my own ("If I'm not there, who'll help you?") and he & I have had several long and indepth chats about it - he can see that I'm thinner, that I'm looking after myself and getting fitter, but the doubt is still sometimes in his eyes.  The British Heart Foundation produce a brilliant pamphlet called "My Dad's Heart Attack" which we read together and I think it helped, as the story in that is identical to his experience with me.

- I never did write that novel, though I've now sold a novella based on half of the pitch so that's a plus

- Dude still talks about The Fall Guy and when he leaps around, I sometimes call him Colt-junior, which makes him smile.  I wrote a blog post about the show, which seemed to go down well

- I've already blogged about my quest to lose weight and I'm pleased to say that yesterday's weigh-in saw me down to 13st 7.5lbs (a total loss of 69.25lbs and just 0.75lbs off 5st), so I'm obviously going in the right direction

- I am fitter than I have been in years, so much so that a few weeks back I played for a Dads Eleven at Dude's football team and didn't disgrace myself at all

- I'm still here, I'm enjoying my life, I'm surrounded by wonderful family and friends and I'm writing again.  What more could I want?

Saturday 1 August 2015

"Beware The Moon, Lads..." - An American Werewolf under the stars

Regular readers of this blog (there must be one or two of you) might remember that back in early May (and if you need reminding, I blogged about it here), my friend David & I went to see “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind”, the first film in an open-air programme run by Luna Flix at Stanwick Lakes.  It was great fun and we both thoroughly enjoyed the evening so when we saw that “An American Werewolf In London” was showing, we were dead set on it - even better, it was scheduled for July 31st, to be shown under a blue moon.  Oh yes!
"You made me miss!" - David & I get into the spirit of things...
David arrived at Stanwick Lakes first and secured us a couple of decent spots, middle row centre.  Luna Flix use a terraced area to the side of the Lake as their theatre and whilst for “Close Encounters” there were probably fifty or so people there, this time well over a hundred were expected - the show was sold out and the place was packed.
I got there for about 8.20 and as I walked around with other film-goers, I saw that the road sign had been ‘adapted’ for the evening, which made me smile.  Walking across the grass (and I couldn't help but hear Brian Glover advise me to “keep off the moors!"), I heard a steady stream of moon-related songs blasting out of the theatre.  At the ticket desk, the two ladies in charge were wearing make-up to simulate scratch wounds and looked great and there was a real sense of atmosphere with the people in the queue.  When I got into the theatre itself, I was genuinely surprised to see so many people there - the horror film, it appears, is as popular as ever.  I said hello to Simon Hopkins, the Luna Flix head honcho (we don’t know each other but have chatted on FB and he seemed to remember me from last time), found David and we caught up on things.  At one point, the music was switched off and everyone was encouraged to yell “you made me miss!” at whoever had just walked in.  That helped build the atmosphere, especially when the newcomers reacted - I went to the loo and when I came back, one lone bloke at the back shouted it at me.  I waved at him.

The film wasn’t scheduled to start until 9.40, when it was dark enough and as David & I chatted and made ourselves comfortable and wrapped up warm (we learned our lesson last time), people were still coming in (“you made me miss!”) and looking around in a panic, trying to find somewhere to sit.  After a brief introduction, we got a ‘surprise’ bonus film and it was a lovely touch that got people into the spirit nicely.  Then, in Blu-Ray splendour, we moved onto the main feature.

"An American Werewolf In London" is one of my all-time favourite films, for a whole load of reasons and it never fails to disappoint.  The camaraderie between David & Jack is spot on, Jenny Agutter is beautiful, it's very funny ("a naked American man stole my balloons..."), it's very gruesome (I still find the home invasion dream sequence - and subsequent stabbing - shocking), it has the whole 'Moondance' sequence, Rick Baker thoroughly deserved his Oscar and it's tightly written (with a wonderful English sensibility to it).

Like most people my age, my first exposure to the film was on a fairly dark and cloudy VHS (it wasn’t until I first saw it on DVD that I realised the naked bloke on the moor at the start was the original werewolf and not Griffin Dunne’s Jack) and seeing it, on the big screen and in HD, was a real treat.  The image was a little grainy and maybe some of the make-up edges showed but it was glorious and the sound was explosively loud (I hadn’t realised before how ‘jumpy’ the soundtrack was).  The film is 35 years old next year (I’m already planning my ‘retrospective’ article and wrote about Rick Baker earlier this year) and it held up superbly, easily keeping the large audiences attention completely.  Personally, I loved it (and yes, the ‘Moondance’ sequence looked particularly splendid) and spent the whole time with a big grin on my face.
Jenny Agutter, just prior to 'Moondance'.  She's lovely.
It was a fantastic experience (Rick Baker's transformation is still, all this time later, simply staggering and John Landis' direction moves at a hell of a pace) and the film got a round of applause as the credits rolled.  As David & I walked back to the car park (“keep off the moors lads!”), he admitted he wasn’t sure if he’d seen the whole film before but had loved it and we reminisced about how nostalgic it was, looking at an England from 1980/81 that we both clearly remembered - the cars, the clothes, three TV channels, the nurses uniforms, the shops that don’t exist any more and a Picadilly Circus that was a lot seedier than it is now (but, perhaps, just that little bit better).

“An American Werewolf In London”, under the stars and a full moon, was a real treat and I really enjoyed myself.  I’m not sure what we’re going watch in the programme next, but I can’t wait to go!

If you’re local, check out the schedule here and pop along, it’s great fun.

and here, for your viewing pleasure, is the masterful transformation sequence in all its glory...

Simon Hopkins (Luna Flix head honcho) and his "werewolf victim" crew...
(thanks to Simon for the picture)