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!