Wednesday 28 October 2015

FantasyCon, Nottingham, 23rd October to 25th October 2015

Friday 23rd October
After a brisk journey up the M1 (my good friend Sue Moorcroft drove us) and despite her Sat-Nav trying its hardest to confuse us, we found the hotel and conference centre quite easily (it was, literally, right on the University Of Nottingham campus).  My first impression of it was good - the hotel looked smart and modern and the conference centre looked big enough to house the shenanigans that would be going on over the weekend.

We hadn’t even got to reception before Simon & Liz Marshall-Jones spotted us (I carried Liz’s bag up the steps) and we got booked in.  Neil Williams and Peter Mark May were there, friends of long-standing it was good to see again and Dean M Drinkel was holding an unofficial launch for his “Masks” anthology, featuring James Everington and Phil Sloman (my Crusty colleagues) who were also there.  Ross Warren and his sister Lisa Childs were sitting behind them, along with Theresa Derwin and it was great to see them all again, the quiet corner suddenly becoming quite loud.  Steve Shaw arrived and gave me the “Lost Film” t-shirts he’d printed up for the launch, which looked very impressive.  Sue & I dumped our bags and headed to the conference centre where, after picking up our badges and lanyards, we bumped into Jim Mcleod (Mr Ginger Nuts Of Horror) and his con-bestie Fiona Ní Éalaighthe.  Jim has been a great supporter of my work and I often tell him how much I appreciate it, but it’s always nice to do it in person, to shake his hand and give him a hug and catch up with things.  Neil and Carrie Buchanen came through, with Paul M. Feeney and it was good to see them again so I got a Redcloak volunteer to take a picture for me (people began to realise, as the weekend wore on, that if they stood with me long enough they’d end up in a picture) which perfectly encapsulates for me what FCon is all about - meeting people you haven’t seen for ages (or never, in the case of Carrie, an FB friend I was meeting for the first time) and clicking straight back into your friendship.  Marvellous.
left to right - Neil, Carrie, Jim, Fiona, Sue, me, Paul
Stephen Bacon texted that he’d arrived so we met him at the hotel, saw Steve Harris (another of my wonderful Crusty colleagues) and chatted with Mathew F. Riley (it's been years since we last saw one another), Jason Whittle and Paul Meloy.  Steve Bacon & I went to the dealers room to meet Chris Teague and I presented him with the various posters and flyers I’d put together, handed out the t-shirts and got some White-tack (I know, who knew it existed?) from reception.  When Wayne Parkin (Steve’s friend who I met at Edge-Lit 4 and spent a great day with in Leicester last week) arrived, he & Sue helped us set up the launch room (we were the first to use it over the weekend) and all too soon, it was 5pm.  Launch time for “The Lost Film Novellas”.

* short interlude - “the lost film” book launch
I’ve never done a book launch before that wasn’t for an anthology and I was very nervous about this, even though I would be standing alongside my good friend & collaborator Steve.  He & I came up with a plan we were both comfortable with via email during the week, where we’d do the signing, talk about the books origins (which I also wrote about for the afterword) and do a reading each.  Chris agreed and I thought we might get a handful of friends turn up (we were scheduled against a panel with Ramsey Campbell on it) but that would be cool, it would be fun.
The turn-out was much bigger and I was genuinely surprised and genuinely touched that all those people had come to support us.  Charlotte Bond baked us some muffins, Chris laid on the booze (I had to ask him for orange juice) and we drafted Sue in as event photographer.  We signed for about 15 minutes and quickly set up a conveyor system that ran fine until I realised I was writing more and more in the inscription and thus giving Steve less and less room - it wasn’t deliberate Steve, honest!  For the background talk, I began at the very beginning (it got a laugh when I casually mentioned research and sleazy paperbacks, almost as if people expected it of me…) and we alternated telling the story until we got to publication day.  Steve then read a section from “Lantern Rock” and I read most of the first chapter of “The Lost Film”.
Looking at all the pictures, I've realised I perhaps talk a bit too much 'with my hands'...
It was all done by 5.50, people chatting amiably with one another and I wanted to go and shake each of them by the hand to say thanks for turning up.  I didn’t, of course, though I did say thanks to as many as I could over the course of the weekend.  What a cracking launch - and the sales were apparently very good as well!
* end of short interlude - “the lost film” book is now launched

After a quick toilet break - along the way I met Shaun Hamilton and had a chat - we convened at the main concourse bar, met Victoria Leslie and had a chat, then Ben Jones arrived, a real force of nature whose novella I’d just read.  As we spent so long nattering, we missed the start of the 6pm panel and decided, instead, to head for dinner.  Due to the hotel’s inexplicable decision to abandon their normal menu in favour of a Junior school one - and since Sue & I spotted a Toby Carvery on the way in - we decided to eat there and quickly gathered our dining chums - me, Sue, Steve H, Steve B, Wayne, Lisa (Ross was off snaffling autographs), Peter, Phil, James, Richard Farren Barber, Neil and Chris.  It was a good decision as the food was lovely (and very reasonable) and the chef was agreeable to giving out more meat - Steve H went for the King Sized plate option, Sue asked for a Princess sized one and we suggested she might like a saucer.  Great company, lots of laughs (Peter was sitting across from me and we re-told the tale of the Burlesque at FCon 2011 which went down very well) and got back to the Con suitably refreshed, in time for my first panel.
left to right - Lisa, me, Sue, Steve H, Peter, Steve B, Wayne at the Toby
l to r - Emma, Gareth, Donna, Del and me
I’ve known Donna Bond for a good few years now (she’s in the NSFWG and I’ve been involved with some of her comedy evenings) and when she asked me to appear in “The Atrocity Exhibition” I agreed, though she didn’t explain what would be required.  In fact, right up until I took my seat in the Conference Theatre alongside Gareth L. Powell, Emma Newman and Del Lakin-Smith (with whom I shared a table and quick drink before we came in, since he was replacing his wife Kim and knew as much as I did), none of us knew.  But Donna had set up a Victorian-era panel quiz that was charming and quirky and about as off-beat as you could hope and I tried my best to think of funny things (as did Del) though we were roundly beaten by not only Emma and Gareth but the audience as well.  I nipped in to Carrie’s reading, which went very well, then after more drinks in the bar, Steve and Wayne headed home whilst Sue went back to her room and Steve H, Peter, Paul Melhuish (also from the NSFWG), me and Neil hung around in the hotel bar, drinking and chatting and putting the word to rights.  I also came up with an idea for a Scooby-Doo style anthology that I was sure would be a winner for Hersham Horror Books (Peter’s imprint) but he didn’t seem so sure.
late night chatters - me, Steve, Paul, Pete, Neil
After a while, I noticed two women sitting a couple of tables away and one of them nodded at me and waved.  I waved back (I’m friendly) and realised it was Carole Johnstone, who I’ve known online for ages (her novella “Cold Turkey” is up against “Drive” in the Awards on Sunday) but we’d never met.  We said hello, had a hug and a chat, then we were joined by her friend Priya Sharma, who was equally lovely.  We chatted - I told Priya that I didn’t have the nerve to do a reading so, of course, she said she was scheduled for one - and then Stephen Volk came in and we clamoured around him to say hello, a great moment.  The ladies went to their rooms, so I re-joined the boys and then there was an odd occurrence.  During the evening, I went to the loo twice and on the first occasion, John Travis and Adam Nevill came in.  On the second, I went then Adam came in and as we stood talking, John Travis arrived.  We all assured one another we weren’t stalkers, then Adam & I chatted in the corridor for a while.  I finally called it a night sometime after 2am but Steve H apparently kept going for a while.

Great first day, especially when I checked my email and found one from Steve Volk, apologising for missing “The Lost Film” launch.

Saturday 24th October
Every year I have to re-learn how to set the alarm on my phone and every year I somehow manage to cock it up.  Consequently, I arrived at breakfast 10 minutes late and sat with Sue, Steve H and his friends Stephen and Katina King.  Everyone else had a full English, I had a bowl of Cornflakes then succumbed to an egg sarnie, which was bloody lovely.  Great breakfast companions though.
Cate Gardner, Simon Bestwick and me - Gary McMahon commented this looked like a thorn between two roses...
We met Peter and Neil in the foyer and went to the dealers room, where we met Steve and Wayne (who were now back for the remainder of the weekend), as well as Ray Cluley and his lovely partner Jess.  Chris got Steve & I to sign more “Lost Film” copies and then Cate Gardner and Simon Bestwick came over for a chat.  I went to the Monster Mash panel at 11 with Neil, which was interesting - Jon Oliver ran a tight ship and the speakers included the lovely Adele Wearing, Carrie and Tim Lebbon, so there were some good insights.

From there, along with Sue, Peter, Steve and Wayne, we went to Adam Nevill’s “Lost Girl” launch.  I like him, he’s a genuinely nice bloke and wrote one of the scariest novels I’ve read in years with “Last Days" (yes, that’s the one with the book cover that got me and him reported to the Facebook police), so I’m looking forward to reading his latest.  As he mentioned last night, he organised the launch himself and had Mathew F. Riley on the cashtin with Paul Meloy on the drinks (I donated my bottle to him).  I bought my copy, got it signed and had a chat, then went into the crowd and chatted with Jim Mcleod, Steve and Peter.  At about half-twelve, Phil worked his way over and we had the ‘second launch’ (which Adam graciously allowed us) of the session, for the one-off hardback edition of “Jim Mcleod Must Die!”.

To make sense of this - and what it means - I should point out that Jim does all of his work for The Ginger Nuts Of Horror site free alongside his day-job and he gets a lot a stick from writers who should know better, chasing him up relentlessly and/or complaining if they get less than stellar reviews.  As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s a lot of us who really appreciate the amount of effort he puts in and when Phil suggested we do a book (Jim once said he’d love to be killed in a lot of novels), I readily agreed to get involved.  The idea was that a group of writers would contribute a story with the only key component being that the lead character had to be Jim and he had to die.  I helped Phil with the cover, Graeme Reynolds got it printed up as a beautiful hardback and we all signed it.  As Phil began the presentation, Jim was clearly taken off-guard and as the list of writers was read out, he broke down a little.  It was a lovely moment, there was a lot of applause and love for Jim there and I was proud to be part of it.
Steve and Wayne hung on for the Spectral Press launch and, as it was raining, Sue, Peter, Neil & I headed to the hotel to sample the wonders of the Junior school menu.  There weren’t many people in the restaurant and, once again, I couldn’t understand the business decision to effectively turn away a couple of hundred people (and their money) a day.  Ah well, at least we got a table easily.  I had a burger and a cup of tea (which cost me £8 and I didn’t even get chips!) and whilst the bun was a good size (but toasted almost to coal), the burger was a regular supermarket one and half the size of the bun.  After Steve and Wayne re-joined us, we pestered Peter about the Scooby-Doo anthology, going so far as deciding what tropes we’d like to use (I went for the scarecrow in a field at midnight).

After lunch, we went to the British Horror Present & Future panel in the Conference theatre, moderated by James and featuring Simon Kurt Unsworth, Stephen Jones, Cate, Alison Littlewood and Adam.  As we waited to go in, I saw Laura Mauro standing on her own, so I introduced myself - then the group - and she came in and sat with us.  The panel went well and was very interesting and Adam once again proved himself to be a shrewd observer of the business side of genre writing.

Following on from last nights chat - and her conversation with Steve - we went to hear Priya Sharma’s reading and she got a very good attendance, she read well and the story was excellent.  Afterwards, I saw Steven Saville in the main concourse/bar area with Steve Lockley and we had a chat, then I talked extreme cinema with Alex Davis and a few others.  The rest of the gang went to the GoH interview with John Connolly but I headed for the dealers room.  On the way, I said hello to Rich Hawkins and his wife, then saw Ren Warom and had a little chat with her, before we were joined by K T Davis and her partner Ewan (who was sporting the most impressive of beards) - it was lovely to see them all again and catch up.  Kit Power’s book launch for “Godbomb!” went well and I hung around for a while (and signed Paul Feeney’s copy of “The lost Film”) before making my way back to the main corridor, where I bumped into Charlotte Bond.  We chatted for a while (and I thanked her for the “Lost Film” muffins), then Jim, Paul Melhuish and Richard Farren Barber joined us, as did Neil, who wandered straight across our path as we were having a photo taken by (the same poor Redcloak).  James came by and when Charlotte went, we were joined by Andrew David Barker and chatted horror in general and his excellent novella “Dead Leaves” in particular and the use of local language in a book.  It was great to finally catch up with him, though he got embarrassed as we all heaped praise on the story.
Jim, me, Charlotte, Paul and Richard
As 6pm drew nearer, I chatted with Lynda E. Rucker, Del & Kim Lakin-Smith and Terry Grimwood, before my panel “Weirdness, Darkness, Madness: the Pyschology of Dark Fantasy” began.  It was my first panel (that wasn’t a gameshow) ever - thankfully Terry had given us a copy of his questions, so I’d made some notes - and rounded out by Helen Marshall (who I’d met at WFC in Brighton), Deborah Walker and Timothy J. Jarvis (both of whom I was meeting for the first time).  We got on well, I think we came across well, Terry moderated in fine fashion and the audience seemed to enjoy it (there were a lot of people in there), culminating in some good questions.  As we broke up, I noticed Sue was standing with Nicola Valentine (I recently read her novel “Starfishing”, written as Nicola Monaghan), who I met briefly at Graham Joyce’s memorial, so it was nice to catch up with her (and grab yet another photograph with the same poor Redcloak taking it for me).
Sue, Nicola, me, Steve and Richard
Phil rounded us all up for the curry run and, even though it’d stopped raining, it was getting cold and due to my weight-loss/daily aspirin situation and the fact I’m now never warm, I went back to get my coat.  The rest of the (big) party carried on, Steve waited for me and we walked up to Beeston together, a nice chance to have a chat in peace and quiet.  We talked about life, about writing and how pleased we were with the “Lost Film” launch.  We ate at Nimboo (table booked for 7.30, we arrived at 7.30) which had been pre-warned we were turning up (thanks again for organising it Phil!), had a lot of our food orders already in and still we seemed to overwhelm them.  Our table - Jay Eales & Selina Lock, Sue, Neil, me, Peter, Wayne, Steve, Steven Chapman and Paul Melhuish - had our starters dished up first (at 8.30) and then waited another hour for our mains (by which time, the table John Travis had been at were just leaving) - thankfully the conversation was good fun (the food was okay too) and we were joined by Pixie Puddin and it’s always nice to get one of her hugs.
Me and Pete May (Neil in the background) at Nimboo - perhaps it's best not to ask what we were doing...
On the way back, we broke into smaller groups and I walked into the convention centre with Steven Chapman, the first time we’d been able to have a chat just the two of us, which I really enjoyed.  By then it was disco time, which was already in full swing in the Conference theatre.  I put my drink on the Buchanan-party table (which included Graeme and his lovely partner Charlotte, Vix Kirkpatrick and Chris Barnes), had a chat with Simon Kurt Unsworth (we compared dates for when we’re booked to see “The Force Awakens”, since we - and our boys - are the same age) and his wife Rosie and then it was time to dance.
A misted up camera lens gave me this - Pete, me, Phil and Steven, boogie-ing the night away...
I had the best time ever.  Although our little dancing group was fluid, it mainly consisted of me, Steven and Phil with Peter and Stuart Young joining us every now and again as everyone else disappeared to readings.  I decided to sit out the Macarena and stood with Donna Bond, who knew the moves so she & I did our own little thing off-dancefloor, which was bloody good fun!  Back on the floor, around midnight, we were joined by Carrie and Vix and things just got better, with me and Vix doing some kind of formation dancing with “Hey Mickey”, the boys out-singing the girls with “Dancing Queen”, jumping around for the duration of “Jump Around!” and rocking out to everything else.  It was hot, sweaty, loud, funny and absolutely bloody brilliant (though I did get a couple of amused looks when people realised I don’t drink and was dancing like that completely sober!).  The disco closed at 1am (even though the clocks went back) and we headed back to the hotel and took over one of the tables, with Graeme, the Neils, Steven, Stuart, Peter, me, Carrie and Vix.  Donna came past and the girls told her how much they’d loved the panel and I ran my short story pitch (which is for Neil Buchanans company - it’ll be a print book and Carrie will narrate the audio) by Carrie and Vix and they really liked it.  We chatted about a whole load of stuff - we even got to Herpes at one point, with me, Peter and Carrie mentioning how the AIDS iceberg advert in the mid-80s had seriously curtailed our carnal activities - finally breaking up at about 3.20am.  Fantastic evening, fantastic company, I didn’t want it to end.

Sunday 25th October
Even though it was a very late night I woke up at a decent hour and was down in the foyer well before 9am.  Walking was a bit difficult though - I think I was dancing a bit too recklessly last night and my feet and ankles ached badly.

Donna Bond and the bum stool...
Neil had already eaten and Peter was heading off, so we said our goodbyes then went into the restaurant where I opted for cereal again, but Sue cheerfully tucked into a very-nice-looking cooked breakfast.  She went to the panel on Audio Fiction and I went to pack, encountering Donna on the mezzanine where we both realised the stools there were shaped like bums.  So, of course, I took a photo of her on one!  She went to rouse (her) Neil, I packed, grabbed my Neil and we joined the panel.

By the time we got out, Steve & Wayne had surfaced and we congregated in the lower corridor which quickly developed into a bit of a gathering.  James and Phil arrived, as did Gavin Williams and Paul Woodward, Kit Power was about, Steven Chapman was trying to read quietly and then Neil and Carrie Buchanan came to say goodbye.  Carrie remembered my pitch but not enough to relay it so I ran it past Neil and he really liked it, so that’s a go.  They headed off - hand-shakes and hugging - and I went back to the crowd, when Alison & Fergus turned up.  I like them both a lot and Alison always makes me giggle (she kept calling me Westy today, which I haven’t heard for a while) and this was no exception - we chatted about everything and it was lovely.  They were heading off, so I gave her a hug, shook Fergus’ hand then hugged him, said goodbye (with hugs) to Jim (who was still clearly touched by the book), Phil and James, then Steve and Wayne, before Sue & I decided to head for lunch.  Within three paces, we’d bumped into John Travis who said he, Terry and Stuart were going as well so we arranged to go together.  John went to find them, I saw Adam Nevill standing alone and took the opportunity to have a quick word and introduce him to Sue (glad we did as he suggested the café Rye in Beeston).  I saw Tim Lebbon and introduced him to Sue - they now share publishers and, as it turns out, editors - and it was nice to chat to him.
l to r - Paul Woodward, Phil, Steve, me, Alison, Jim and James with Gavin Williams in front.  I am NOT fiddling with his ear...
Steve, me, Sue and Wayne
We got our coats, met the boys - along with Steve H - in the foyer and took a pleasant wander up into Beeston (Sue and Terry hadn’t met before, so they chatted as John regaled us with amusing tales of his stay in the Hylands).  The Rye was a lovely place - the Brummie waitress took an instant like to John and when he asked for cake in his quite distinctive Northern accent - not “cay-ke” but “kay-cuh” - we all ended up saying it the same way.  The food was lovely - I had a light bite chicken & chorizo pasta but got a large one - and the conversation was loud, fun and varied, from James Bond paperbacks to absent friends and what we’re working on now.  We got back just as the Awards ceremony started - we had to sit on the floor - and Juliet McKenna was a brisk MC.  Jim unfortunately didn’t win for Best Non-fiction (I was to accept on his behalf) and when Juliet announced the novella, I did have a touch of butterflies.  But it wasn’t to be my year and, instead, she read out Stephen Volk’s name, for “Newspaper Heart” - all four of us nominees had said to each other that it was such a strong line-up, it didn’t matter who won and I still think that.  It was a blow to not win, obviously, but losing out to the great Mr Volk (who made a point of shaking my hand earlier in the day and wishing me good luck) did sand the edges off somewhat.

Then it was all over.  We said goodbye to John and Steve and made our way out, saying goodbye to the lovely Carole and Priya on the way.  Adele Wearing, a worthy winner of Best Independent Press, was having a photo-call for The Skulk (the group of writers involved with Fox Spirit Press) and dragged me in, so I did my last shot facing five cameras and standing next to fellow Award nominee K T Davis.  It was a lovely way to end the Con.
The Fox Spirit Skulk - Adele Wearing is in the centre with her trophy, me and KT Davis on the right
With some final goodbyes, Sue & I headed home under a darkening early evening sky, chatting about writing and writers and our experience of the weekend, both of us having had a great time.

I saw and spoke to more people than I’ve listed here of course and as soon as I post this I’ll remember them but in my defence, the weekend was such a high-spirited blur this report just grew and grew - I thought I’d covered a day in detail and would then see a picture or hear mention of something on FB and it’d remind me of something else.  So if I have missed you off, either remind me and I’ll edit you back in or accept my apologies for the oversight.

photo by Carrie Buchanan
It was an excellent weekend.  I really loved York last year but this, I believe, exceeded it, not least because horror was more firmly on the agenda.  As ever, though, as nice as the hotel was and as convenient as the convention centre was, it was the people who made it.  FantasyCon is a genre event, with lots of folk attending for lots of reasons, but mostly it’s a chance to meet up with old friends, make new ones, discover new writers and artists to read and follow and to spend time with like-minded fans, enjoying the genres we all love.

Well done, FantasyCon, you outdid yourself and I had a wonderful time.  Next years event has been announced, to take place in Scarborough and I’ve already bought my ticket - I hope to see you there.  But for now, I’m off to mine some of that creative buzz and get cracking with my story!

Tuesday 20 October 2015

No Twerking Please (my FantasyCon schedule)

I love the FantasyCon experience (I've written reports for most of them) and my first was in September 2000 (FCon XXIV) in Birmingham, where Doug Bradley was one of the guests of honour.  I knew about three people before I went into the venue, but knew a load more by the time I left and most of those friendships are still going strong.  Last years Con, at York, was even more fun and I don't expect this one to be any different at all (especially with all the "Lost Film" goodness!).
Since all the cool kids are doing it (hey, I'm not above trying to claim coolness-by-association) - and because it's the first time I've ever been on a panel - here's my schedule for the weekend.

* * *
Friday 23rd - 5pm - Pendragon Press, launch of "The Lost Film Novellas" by Stephen Bacon & Mark West.
Oh yes, our novellas are finally unleashed.  Please come along, don't force me & Steve to sit in front of an empty room, twiddling our thumbs and smiling nervously at one another like we're on a first date...
* * *

Friday 23rd - 9pm (Conference Theatre) - The Atrocity Exhibition
A distinctive show betwixt Victorian parlour game, debauched freakshow and kitsch cabaret. Most wicked jollity with Mistress of Ceremonie Donna Scott.

Panellists: Kim Lakin-Smith, Emma Newman, Gareth L. Powell and Mark West
I'm not entirely sure what to expect with this, except that Donna is a guarantee of quality and look at my fellow panellists!

* * *

Saturday 24th - 6pm (suite 2) - "Weirdness, Darkness, Madness: the Psychology of Dark Fantasy"

The landscapes of the mind have always been fertile ground to explore in Gothic literature. How is that tradition now informing today's dark fantasy and weird fiction?

* morbid fascination: why are we drawn to what unsettles us?

* what techniques, tropes and tricks do writers and film-makers use to get in our heads?

* what disturbs you the most: fear for your life vs. fear for your sanity?

* what weird experiences have the panellists had and how have they informed their writing?

It's all in the mind. . .or is it?

Moderator: Terry Grimwood
Panellists: Timothy J Jarvis, Kim Lakin-Smith, Helen Marshall, Deborah Walker, Mark West
* * *

Sunday 25th - 3pm onwards - The Awards Ceremony.  note - I usually attend this anyway but this year sees my first solo nomination with "Drive" up for Best Novella (against a very strong field).  Fingers crossed!
* * *
York, September 2014 - Sue Moorcroft, Steven Chapman, Steve Bacon, me, Neil Williams
As FantasyCon sees the launch of "The Lost Film Novellas" (my most recent blog about the project is here), Steve & I - aside from the official 'do' mentioned above - will also be hanging around the Pendragon Press table in the dealers room, signing copies of the limited edition paperbacks and handing out any badges that are left!

In addition, there are plenty of panels and readings that I'm keen to get to, plus a lot of friends have book launches and then there's the epic curry outing, organised by Phil Sloman.  If you don't see me at any of those, I'll either be in the dealer room or in the bar.  Or at the disco, which is always great fun (plus Jim Mcleod - Mr Ginger Nuts Of Horror himself - and I are considering a dance routine together, though I promise not to twerk this year).
York, September 2014 - Fiona Ni Ealaighthe, Jim Mcleod, me, John Travis
FantasyCon, for me, is as much about the people as anything else and - like always - I'm looking forward to catching up with old friends I haven't seen for a year.  There's something positive in the air, that creates a real buzz, when you're surrounded by creative people who love the genre as much as you do and it's always good to meet new friends too.  So, if you see me wandering around, please do come over and say hello!
The Disco, Brighton 2012 - me, Peter Mark May, (wish I knew her name), Lee Harris, Paul Melhuish, Robert Spalding
I hope to see you there and, as ever, there will be a full report when I get back!

Wednesday 14 October 2015

"Listen Like Thieves" by INXS, at 30

“Listen Like Thieves”, released on the 14th October 1985, was the fifth studio album from INXS and is widely considered as being the international breakthrough for the band.  It spent two weeks at number 1 on the Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart, peaked at number 11 on the US Billboard 200, 24 on the Canadian RPM 100 Albums and 46 on the UK charts.

To help celebrate its 30th birthday, here's a little retrospective of the album...
During 1984, INXS toured non-stop across Europe, the UK, the US and Australia on the back of their album “The Swing”.  By that December, it was double platinum making it, at the time, one of the five biggest domestic albums in Australian music history and, buoyed up by this, the members of INXS wanted to improve their worldwide impact.

In  March 1985, they returned to Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney to plan their next album with new producer Chris Thomas, who’d previously worked with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols (on “Never Mind The Bollocks”), The Pretenders, Elton John and Roxy Music.  The powerful producer was just what they needed.  As Richard Clapton, acclaimed Australian songwriter and producer, said, “Chris was one of the most talented, most eccentric and demanding people you'd ever want to meet.  From the moment you walked into the control room, there was no doubt you were in the presence of greatness. INXS met their match...he was the only producer they've ever had who told them what they needed to hear.”  This chimed well with the band, as Michael Hutchence later recounted, “This is what we've been trying to do one way or another for a few years now, that is to make an album that is purely just form and function of the songs. It has no artistic pretentions.”
Album liner image
from left - Jon Farris (drums), Tim Farris (guitar), Michael Hutchence (vocals), Kirk Pengilly (guitar/sax), Garry Gary Beers (bass), Andrew Farris (keyboards/guitar)
Track Listing
1: What You Need
2: Listen Like Thieves (G. Beers/A. Farris/J. Farris/T. Farris/M. Hutchence/K. Pengilly)
3: Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain)
4: Shine Like It Does
5: Good + Bad Times (M. Hutchence/K. Pengilly)
6: Biting Bullets (M. Hutchence/K. Pengilly)
7: This Time (A. Farris)
8: Three Sisters (instrumental) (T. Farris)
9: Same Direction
10: One x One
11: Red Red Sun (A. Farris/J. Farris)
unless noted otherwise, all songs by A. Farris/M. Hutchence

This was the first album to feature songs written by a combination of band members and although this practise would continue, Andrew Farris and Michael Hutchence became the primary songwriters from “Kick” onwards.  It was also the first of three albums the group made with Chris Thomas at the helm (along with the aforementioned "Kick" and "X").

The recording process went well, with Thomas tightening up on the genre hopping of previous albums and sharpening the funk aspect.  By the time they had 10 completed songs, he hit them with the statement that the album wasn’t good enough and was missing the “killer” track.

Andrew Farris brought in a demo tape of a funk song he’d been working on called “Funk Song No.13”.  As Chris Thomas said, it “was just this riff - dink, dink, dink-a-dink - and it was great.  I thought, ‘I could listen to that groove for ten minutes!’  I said, ‘Let’s work with that.’”

Andrew Farris: “We had set out to take the funk dabblings [from] ‘The Swing’ and write a dance track with attitude. Michael had a rough lyric idea in mind. I had already been fooling around with the [chords] and most of the track was played live in the studio.  It’s another example of a huge hit that essentially took no time at all.  Michael’s lyrics were simple and direct…

Hey you, won't you listen
This is not the end of it all
Don't you see there is a rhythm
I'll take you where you
Really need to be

…and he sang them like he believed it.  Plenty of in-your-face guitar, a stompin' rhythm track, and the use of an acid keyboard bass line gave us a song from outer space compared to other folks in 1985. We had our first Top 5 hit in North America.”

“What You Need” was the lead-off track for the album and the first single to be released from it in Australia and New Zealand.  It was the second single release in the USA and Europe and was the band’s first American Top Ten hit, peaking at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.  The single was a top 20 hit in Canada, reached number 2 in Australia but only managed number 51 in the UK.

Whilst the band was recording the album, WEA (their label) released a limited edition 12” vinyl (and cassette) EP called Dekadance, featuring remixes from the albums “The Swing” and “Shabooh Shoobah”.

On 19th May, INXS picked up seven awards at the 1984 Countdown Music And Video Awards ceremony and also performed “Burn For You”.  In July, as part of the Oz For Africa concert (in conjunction with Live Aid) they performed five songs and the BBC broadcast two of them, “What You Need” and “Don’t Change”.
from left - Hutchence with Richard Lowenstein, Dekadance EP cover, album in cassette form
After a South American tour in August 1985, the band performed in Melbourne at a concert for Prince Charles and Princess Diana, later released on video as “Rocking The Royals”.  From November through to February 1986, they toured North America, Europe and New Zealand (as Andrew Farris later said, “we toured this album relentlessly for 14 months.”)  During a two-month break following this, Michael Hutchence took a lead role in Richard Lowenstein’s second feature film “Dogs in Space” and sang the beautiful  “Rooms for the Memory”, written by Ollie Olsen, which entered the charts.  Unfortunately, the movie (which I liked and which did well criticially) wasn’t a commercial success.

In May, the band toured (as the wonderfully named “If You Got It, Shake It World Tour”) for six months in the United States, Europe and Australia.  They were the support band for Queen at their “Live at Wembley ‘86” show on 12th July (which I had a chance to attend but didn’t - argh!) and Musician magazine, at the time, called INXS “the best live band in the world.”
The album yielded four singles:
This Time”, backed with “Sweet as Sin” and released in September 1985
What You Need”, backed with “I'm Over You” and released in December 1985
Listen Like Thieves”, backed with “Different World” and released in April 1986
Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)”, backed with “Six Knots” and released in August 1986
(“Different World” appeared on the “Crocodile Dundee” soundtrack)

The four singles also had accompanying videos:
This Time” was directed by Peter Sinclair and produced by Godley & Crème
Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)” was directed by Alex Proyas and produced by Andrew McPhail.  The video was shot on a salt lake in South Australia. Proyas would go on to direct “The Crow” and “I, Robot”.
What You Need” and “Listen Like Thieves”, were directed and produced by Richard Lowenstein.  He had directed his first ever music video in June 1984 for the band's “Burn For You” (which won the Countdown Music and Video Awards for Best Promotional Video), following it up in October with “All The Voices” (using footage from his first feature film “Strikebound”) and “Dancing On The Jetty”.  He would go on to establish a long term relationship with the band until Hutchence’s death and his work on the “Kick” videos was excellent.

“Listen Like Thieves” was heavily (to put it politely) influenced by John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” and featured a lot of the cast of “Dogs In Space”, as well as animation from Lynn-Maree Milburn.
video stills from "What You Need"
For “What You Need”, Andrew Farris said, “The video was mostly done with still photography edited together, a motor drive on the camera giving the visual sequence its strange film texture. Lynn-Maree Milburn added the animation.  We were not only fooling with the music but fooling with visual mediums as well and it was working.”  At the Countdown Music and Video Awards in 1985, Lowenstein shared the award for Best Video for “What You Need” with Lyn-Maree Milburn.

Although the album was a commerical success, it had a mixed critical reception.  Rolling Stone magazine wrote that “INXS rocks with passion and seals the deal with a backbeat that’ll blackmail your feet” and felt the band were “going for the jugular - or is that the groin?”.  AllMusic noted that the album completed the bands “transition into an excellent rock & roll singles band”, Australian musicologist Ian McFarlane wrote that it had “a much harder sound than heard on previous INXS records, but somehow it lacked the pop smarts that had made The Swing so appealing.”  In the UK, the NME called the band ‘INX-cusable” and the review declared the album to be a “complete and utter turkey.”

Personally, I think it’s a great album, wonderfully bridging the artistry of the earlier works and paving the way for the assured sound of the mighty “Kick”, which would appear two years later.

Happy 30th, “Listen Like Thieves”, I think you still sound fresh and exciting!

* Interview quotes taken from "Story To Story" and liner notes from the US import "Shine Like It Does: The Anthology 1979-1997"

Friday 9 October 2015

The Goblin Glass

I'm pleased to announce that "Ten: Thou Shalt Not", a new anthology edited by Alex Davis, is due to be published by Tickety Boo Press next week and features my story "The Goblin Glass".  The book is available in print and digital editions, though all pre-orders of the signed, limited (to 150 copies) hardback will also receive a free copy of the ebook edition.

The Ten Commandments were laid down in the earliest days of mankind, a guiding set of principles for our everyday lives. For centuries these tenets have shaped our morality, our laws, our societies. But what happens when these commandments are tested – and even broken? Step inside ten tales exploring the dark consequences of breaking these most ancient and sacred of rules...

Jeff Gardiner

The Last Dinner
Amanda Bigler

All the Best Tunes
Clare Littleford

Stuart Young

The Looking Glass Girl
Laura Mauro

The Dummies Guide To Serial Killing
Danuta Reah

Pat Kelleher

The Goblin Glass
Mark West

The Tangled Web
Jasper Kent.

Jacey Bedford

I was really pleased when Alex approached me, giving me a pick of 'sins' to choose from and I went for 'Thou Shalt Not Steal'.  I had the original idea by the end of my commute the day he emailed me and pieced the rest of it together during my evening walks over the next few nights.

"The Goblin Glass" features Warren, who is sent by the local crime boss Mr Skinner to steal the eponymous mirror from an apparently abandoned house in a run-down, forgotten Gaffney street.  I homaged the Goblin Glass from "The Secret Of The Haunted Mirror", written by M. V. Carey (which I blogged about here) and the story is dedicated to her (though my nasty tale bears no resemblance - mirror frame aside - to hers).

“It seems to me we’d best start you off with a little breaking and entering, before we perhaps use your mechanics skills.”

"Thank you, Mr Skinner, that’s great.”

Skinner took another sip and wiped his lip again.  He cleared his throat and leaned forward, his elbows on the table.  “Have you ever heard of The Goblin Glass?”


"Thought not.  It’s a mirror that was once owned by the magician Chiavos and it has an ugly, wrought iron surround which depicts goblins and sprites, hence the name.”

The Goblin Glass?  A magician?  Was this some kind of wind-up?

"It’s alleged to have magical properties, in that it allows the owner to see the future and manipulate time, but I think that’s a load of bollocks.  However, my wife doesn’t.  Do you know my missus?”

“I think so,” said Warren carefully, as it dawned on him that this absolutely wasn’t a joke - Skinner wouldn’t mock his wife.  Before she married, everyone knew her as Crystal Ball Carol - lovely girl, very pretty but absolutely adamant that she could read people’s fortunes.  So adamant, in fact, that people took the piss out of her until she hooked up with Skinner.

“Well, through various methods, she’s found that The Goblin Glass is here in Gaffney, in a private house.  I want you to break in, grab the mirror and bring it to me.”

“How big is it?”

Skinner reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a narrow piece of paper.  He unfolded it and passed it to Warren who looked at the Internet print-out.  “Ugly bastard, isn’t it?”

Warren nodded.  The mirror itself didn’t seem unusual but the metal frame was grotesque.  It had been moulded to look like tangles of tree roots and where they parted, little faces peeked out - demonic looking creatures, some of them with horns, others with slits for eyes.


"A Spanish magician called Chiavo claimed he could look into the mirror and see the goblins who predicted the future for him.”  He looked at Warren.  “Who knows, I just want it.  It’s apparently no bigger than a normal bathroom mirror and so shouldn’t be a problem to carry.  Do you want to do it?” 

There was no question.  “Of course,” said Warren.

“Good.  Two things you need to know.  If you do a good job and get what I ask for, you might get more work from me in the future.  If you do a bad job and don’t get what I ask for, well that tells me you’re untrustworthy and I don’t like people I can’t trust.  Do you understand?”

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Dead Leaves, by Andrew David Barker (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series (though this time, it's not really aimed at fans of the horror genre - though it is), I want to tell you about a book I've read and loved.  If you were a teenager once, if you lived through the 80s and the home video boom and if you have even the most passing love of the horror genre, then I think you'll enjoy this.

To Scott, Paul and Mark, horror films are everything.

The year is 1983, the boom of the video revolution, and Scott Bradley is seventeen, unemployed and on the dole. Drifting through life, he and his friends love nothing more than to sit around drinking, talking about girls, and watching horror movies.

But things are about to change.

As the ‘video nasty’ media storm descends, their desire to find a copy of the ultimate horror film – The Evil Dead – is going to lead them to the most significant days of their young lives. As the law tightens and their way of life comes under threat from all quarters, they come to learn what truly matters to them – and what doesn’t.

A heartfelt story of friendship, loyalty and youthful rebellion, Dead Leaves is a darkly funny and brutally honest depiction of aimless life in a Midland town, and perfectly captures the impact those first few years of video had on a generation.

It is October 1983 and the campaign against Video Nasties is really starting to bite.  Three friends - Scott, Paul and Mark - are suddenly having to face change, from leaving school and hitting the dole, to future responsibilities and the realisation that however desperately they want to see The Evil Dead, the law (as well as some local louts) are up against them.

Based on its pedigree (Andrew David Barker wrote “The Electric”, which Boo Books published) and what I knew of the subject matter, I was expecting to read a horror novella but “Dead Leaves” is something altogether more beautiful.  Yes, it is about horror and yes, it does have some unpleasant moments in it - and yes, your enjoyment may well depend on your tolerance for the nastier end of the horror film spectrum - but this novella is a coming-of-tale, set in a Midlands town around Halloween and I loved it.  Scott (who narrates the tale) and his feckless friend Paul are fresh out of school and on the dole, slowly beginning to realise it’s not the lark it’s cracked up to be, beset by parents who want them to get a career and job centre staff who threaten to cut off their money if they don’t find gainful employment.  Their friend Mark is eighteen, working on the building sites and already aware - from seeing much older colleagues - that he might be stuck doing this for the rest of his life, a realisation that causes friction with his old friends.  Compounding that is his lovely girlfriend Lindsay, who has her own place and seems, to Scott, to be much more switched on than an eighteen-year-old ought to be.  Spending their days drinking, watching horror films and listening to their beloved Heavy Metal, they keep checking at Ray’s Video Emporium, trying to scrape together the funds to buy a copy of “The Evil Dead”, the film they’re all desperate to see.  Their pursuit of this is what fuels the story, two or three nights in darkest October, as things for all of them go from bad to worse.

The characterisation is effective and Scott holds the story well.  Realising he’s going to get trapped, even as he rebels against his well-meaning parents, he discovers something over the course of the story that might give him a way out and there’s a lovely little throwaway comment, right at the end, which indicates it may have worked.  Loyal to his friends, dependable and reasonable, he’s also the one who has potentially caused the most hurt and his realisation of this - and the fall-out - is played out pitch-perfect.  You know he needs to make amends but you don’t want him to because if he does, he can’t go back.  Paul is the annoying friend, aimless and obnoxious, that we all had and tolerated, whilst Mark provides the voice of reason for all three of them, even as he’d led into events he’d rather have avoided.  Lindsay is very well realised, the only girl all the boys feel comfortable talking to, pretty and vivacious and self-aware, but also racked with doubts that are never quite articulated (and the scene with her and Scott in the pub is beautifully written).

The Derby of the story is not necessarily the Derby of 1983 reality and whilst Barker paints his hometown in loving, honest brushstrokes, it’s the streets, rundown precincts and dereliction that matter, which all of us can relate to.  I like that he uses local lingo as part of the dialogue, with no attempt to explain or translate it, more I like that as a Northants-boy, it’s really enjoyable to see the phrases “gone out” (as in query or surprise) and “jitty” (for alley), which me and my friends all used, in a novella.  The looming spectre of the future, of getting jobs and life moving on, is a dark shadow over the whole piece and echoes what most of us feel as we leave school and it ties in nicely with the Video Nasties bill, even if some of the spirited defence of the offending tapes does come across a bit preachy (especially from PC Spong).

I was fourteen in 1983, didn’t go out to pubs and I wasn’t a headbanger (what we called Heavy Metal fans around our way back then), so although my specifics were different, the general gist wasn’t.  I read Starburst back then (and Fangoria, when I could get hold of it) and we talked at school (I distinctly remember a kid we called Bogie - can’t remember why now - regaling us all in PE once about “The Evil Dead” and mostly all I took from it was that a woman got her head chainsawed off, there was lots of blood and the trees raped someone).  A friend of mine had a top-loader Betamax and we’d crowd into his house and watch whatever we could get our hands on - sometimes it was fairly innocuous, like “Poltergeist” (though I still maintain that’s a scary film), other times not so much, like the brutal “Dead & Buried” (I didn’t know who Stan Winston was at that time and when the photographer screams, we all jumped) and the very odd “Evilspeak” (“Is this really a video nasty?” I remember someone asking).  It’s hard now to explain to someone just why “Nightmare On Elm Street” was so bloody scary, after the years of Freddy turning into a comedian and those dreadful remakes, but sitting in the dark, in your house (Dad had borrowed a VHS machine for the weekend) and having this unfold in front of you was simply terrifying.  Barker manages to convey this sense superbly well through the novella, as the lads re-watch old favourites and moon over films they can’t wait to see (even if, you suspect, they already realise that most won’t match up to their promise).

I love coming-of-age tales, I love the 80s and I love horror - this was absolutely the perfect book for me and I thought it was a superb read, a paen to the teenage years of horror fans wherever they might have grown up, a “This Is England” for the Fango crowd.  Very highly recommended.