Monday 29 August 2016

The Order Of Aries

I'm pleased to announce that The Thirteen Signs, edited by Dean M. Drinkel, was published by Nocturnicorn Books whilst the blog was on holiday.  It marks the seventh time I've worked with Dean and my story, The Order Of Aries, is the fourth adventure for my recurring character Mike Decker (who also appeared in The Zabriskie Grimoire, The Penthouse Incident and This Is The Colour Of Blood)

Foreword, by Alex S. Johnson

Introduction, by Dean M Drinkel

The Order Of Aries, by Mark West

Come Join The Blood Parade, by Lily Childs

Seven For Eight, by Romain Collier

Carapace, by Raven Dane 

Leo, by Tim Dry

Solomon Carson And The Death Of A Virgin, by Trevor Kennedy & Robert E. Tate 

Leeber, by Christine Dougherty

The Scorpion Dance, by Amelia Mangan

One in Twelve, by Steve Byrne

A Sorrow Of Sweet Pipings, by Jan Edwards

Ganymede, by Emile-Louis Tomas Jouvet

Hooked, by James Everington

Worshipping The Snake, by Dean M Drinkel

The book is available from Amazon UK

paperback edition - £9.48

Kindle edition - £3.48

I enjoy writing the Decker stories but felt that, in keeping with the pattern they'd developed, I'd allowed them to become a bit 'flashier' than they should be, so decided to go back to basics and write a mean and dirty little tale.  Having said that, Decker does get to enjoy himself as he describes what he does: "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 a smug CEO of a social media company who compared me to a personal shopper and I’d punched him in the face before he could laugh."

Dean approached me last December and, when I agreed to be involved, assigned me the Aries starsign.  I don't pay much attention to astrology (and I'm an Aquarius anyway) so I looked the sign up, found it was most readily associated with a goat and had the key image before I got home that night.  A few days later, Dean & I were talking and he mentioned it might be nice to see another Decker story and that sealed it.

As I mentioned before, I've made some changes to the Decker blueprint (especially having him eat at a burger van at the start), removing the black comedy that ran through Blood and making the character suffer badly when he's tortured at one point (in what is, hopefully, a grim little sequence).

The Order of Aries made its headquarters in a nondescript 70s semi-detached, located in a quiet cul-de-sac on a large housing estate.  It was three hours since I’d been to see Maddie when I parked across the road and turned the engine off.

It was quiet.  There were no pedestrians, no dogs barking and very few cars parked on driveways.  I wondered how many of the net curtains would be twitching with my arrival.

I got out and crossed the road, heading for the house.  The front garden had been paved over and there were oil splashes on it, as if people used it for parking.  A driveway ran up the side of the house towards the garage, dotted with more oil splashes.  The house was double-glazed, the plastic frames sun-bleached but tidy and curtains were drawn at all of the windows I could see.  The front door had two panels of frosted glass and through them I could make out the shape of a coat rack but nothing else.  I tried the door handle but it didn’t move.  I took the multi-tool out of my pocket, selected a blade and inserted it into the lock and then I was in.

The hallway was cluttered.  A staircase ran up to my left and, across the way, was an open door. Alongside the stairs, a narrow corridor led to a kitchen.  The house was silent and smelled of curry.  I went through the open doorway into a lounge, which had a sofa and two chairs, a large TV and a games unit.  Several pizza boxes were littered around and other detritus it was difficult to see in the poor light.  Over the fireplace, on the wide chimney breast, was a large painting and it took me a moment or two to recognise it as Goya’s ‘El Gran Cabrón’. or ‘The Great He-Goat’.  The lounge and dining room had been knocked into one and I turned to the back of the house where a big dinner table commanded the space.  It was covered in papers and several closed laptops and on the cupboard behind it were several large monitors, which must have been at least ten years old and a cardboard box full of keyboards.  I went through to the kitchen and every surface I could see was covered in piles of papers, even the hob.  I opened the fridge and saw a large cake box, three 4-pint containers of milk, a lot of cheese, two packs of butter and two pizzas.  The whole thing stank of meat.

Closing the fridge I noticed another door, pushed it open and stepped into an empty garage.  In the middle of the floor was a large trapdoor with a big ring pull on it, which seemed very out of place.  I wasn’t aware of any houses of this era having cellars.  I pulled it open and heard the hush of seals coming apart then the scent of rotting meat hit me like a slap.  I could hear a murmur of voices but not what they were saying.  I pulled the door up and over to the side, laying it carefully.  A stairwell went down, simply built and enclosed by a studded wall.

The voices were still talking, so I assumed they hadn’t heard me and I went down the steps slowly.  Birds had been nailed to the exposed beams, crows and pigeons mostly and while the ones nearest the entrance were clearly fresh, the last couple were dessicated.  I paused on the bottom step, trying to get a fix on where the voices were.  Ahead, the cellar wall had been plastered over but it was coming away in places, revealing the dark earth behind it.  I couldn’t help thinking that all of this had been excavated recently.

I decided the voices were to my left and risked a quick glance around the plasterboard.  The cellar stretched further than I’d been expecting, almost as if they’d gone under next door too.  There were a dozen or more support posts, some of which blocked my view, but I could see three people standing around something with their backs to me.  I couldn’t see what they were looking at and decided I wanted to.

Monday 22 August 2016

The Factory, a new novella...

To be launched at FantasyCon 2016 by Hersham Horror Books, this will be available in print and digital editions.

"[A] skilful, gradual escalation of detail, a suggestiveness reminiscent of Ramsey Campbell."
- Gary Fry
cover art by Neil Williams
Twenty years ago at college, Martin, Paul, Jane and Gwen were members of the GLUE Club - the Gaffney Legendary Urban Explorers - run by the charismatic Tom.  Now, following his mysterious death, they agree to meet up again and undertake one final exploration to honour his name.

Aside from Paul who never left, none of them has been back to Gaffney since and the reunion is awkward, re-opening old wounds.  As they begin to explore the long-abandoned Pocock Factory, it seems they might be intruding on something better left alone.  As they succumb, one by one, to the spirits in the darkness, it quickly becomes a battle to see who will survive the night...

Peter Mark May, at Hersham, approached me a couple of years ago about a novella and I originally planned to write one based on half the novel pitch I was working on when I had my heart attack.  As I went back through my notes, however, I realised I had no enthusiasm for that project any longer and started to come up with some more ideas.  Since I was aiming, after this, to start working on a novel in the dark thriller vein (building on what I did with Drive and my soon-to-be-published Polly), I decided this novella should be a kind of 'clearing the decks', a real old-school horror shocker and I had great fun with it.

Although The Factory is set in Gaffney (I've now added a canal to my fictional town, plus built in some nods to older stories), the building itself is based on one I pass every day on my walk (and, when I was in the Sixth Form, I used to work in part of it as my summer job).
The real-life inspiration for Pocock's, the long-since abandoned factory on Rushton Road, Rothwell
The Factory will be published on 24th September 2016, supported by a launch at FantasyCon in Scarborough, alongside novellas by Stephen Bacon, James Everington and Phil Sloman (I've read them all, so trust me when I say I'm in good company) and a collection by Marie O'Regan.  The print and digital editions will both include an afterword.

Gary Fry has posted an early review of the novella, which you can read here.

The novella is now available for pre-order at Amazon

More details to come...

Thursday 4 August 2016

Embrace life...

Two years ago today, I suffered my heart attack which - in every sense - was a life-changing happenstance.  As I wrote last year about my "Fall Guy" Summer, I'd already started to make certain changes but the cardiac episode really focussed my attention.

Two years on, I'm maintaining my weight loss (as of Monday I was 73lb, or 33kgs, down on my peak weight), still walking 15-20 miles a week (and down to 13 minutes a mile now!), as fit as I've ever been and very much embracing life.  Which, although it was perhaps a tough way to do it, is the lesson I have taken from the incident.

Life's too short, people, embrace it!

Me & Dude - from the top: Taken this past weekend on a Pokemon hunt, June 2015, June 2014
The blog is off on its annual two-week holiday, so see you back here on the 23rd.

Monday 1 August 2016

Nostalgic for my childhood - Look-In Magazine

In 2013 I started a thread on the blog called “Nostalgic for my childhood” (you can see a round-up at this link, or use the label), through which I planned to cover books and films and various things I remember fondly.  Here's a new entry...
Earlier this year, I joined a Facebook group for Look-In, a magazine I clearly remember enjoying from my childhood.  As I looked over the fantastic covers it occurred to me that whilst I thought I was closer to 8 or 9 when I started reading it, the earliest ones I could remember were from 1976 (when I was 7).  I can only imagine now that what drew me in was The Six Million Dollar Man which, I’ve been assured, was my absolute favourite programme on TV.  Back then, you have to remember, there wasn’t an Internet - everything you knew about TV shows and films came from whatever was on the news and Look-In changed all that.  It was designed and written for kids and it featured the major film stars, pop acts, sports people and TV stars of the day.  For me, it was worth buying because it not only had posters of Lee Majors (which went straight up on my bedroom wall), it also had a comic strip of his adventures plus occasional behind the scenes articles (on stunts, special effects and what Majors was doing next).  In fact, thinking about it, maybe it’s Look-In that’s responsible for my enjoyment of behind-the-scenes articles!
Might as well get the Lee Majors geeking out of the way first - here's a selection of posters (all 1977, apart from the lower right, which is 1978) from Look-In that all ended up on my bedroom wall!
Look-In magazine was launched on 9th January 1971 by Independent Television Publications Ltd.  Subtitled ‘The Junior TV Times’ (one of two major listing magazines at the times, The TV Times concentrated on the ITV network and Radio Times took care of the BBC), it shared the design and format (glossy paper, colour covers) of its parent, though only ran to 24 pages.
Some favourite things - Return Of The Saint (from September 1978), The Man From Atlantis (from December 1977), Blondie (from March 1979)
At the time, falling sales of comics were being partly blamed on high quality childrens TV and early evening light entertainment programmes then available.  To combat this, it was decided to introduce a magazine that would capture children’s interest with features on television itself - the programmes, stars and behind-the-scenes production facts.  Since it was being published by ITV, the strips and features could only be based on the networks show which wasn’t a problem, since the 1970s was a fertile period for children’s television.
from left - Grease (from July 1978), Logan's Run (from April 1978), CHiPs (from June 1979)
The job of editing Look-In fell to Alan Fennell, a successful scritptwriter for various Gerry Anderson TV shows (including Thunderbirds and Stingray) and a respected comics editor - he created the extremely popular TV Century 21, from which he took a core creative team.  Angus Allan, a prolific writer and editor was, for periods during his Look-In tenure, responsible for scripting every strip in the magazine, including The Six Million Dollar Man, Logan's Run, Charlie's Angels and Danger Mouse.  Away from Look-In, he edited Marty (the first photo-strip teenage romance weekly) and wrote several Garth adventures for the Daily Mirror.

The Six Million Dollar Man, written by Angus Allan
 and drawn by Martin Asbury, from December 1977
Mike Noble had built a solid career as an artist during the 1950s and his ability to draw realistic animals saw him work on the Follyfoot and The Adventures Of Black Beauty strips though he was apparently most happy when asked to draw the Worzel Gummidge strip.  He also contributed to Kung Fu, The Tomorrow People, Space: 1999, The Man From Atlantis, The Famous Five, Star Fleet and Robin Of Sherwood.  John M Burns was a respected artist and following his work on Look-In, he moved to 2000AD and began working on Judge Dredd, a strip he still contributes to.  Martin Asbury joined Look-In to work on Kung Fu in 1974, though he’s perhaps best remembered for The Six Million Dollar Man.  He also drew a Star Wars strip for the TV Times in October 1982 when the film debuted on ITV.  Asbury took over the Garth strip when Frank Bellamy died in 1976, drawing it until it finished in 1997 and in 1984 he began to work as a film storyboard artist on Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes  In all, a lot of major British comic talent worked on the magazine over the years, including Arthur Ranson, Harry North, Colin Wyatt, John Bolton, Jim Baikie, Phil Gascoine, Barry Mitchell, and Bill Titcombe.

When Fennell left in 1975, the-then art editor, Colin Shelbourn, took over as editor and stayed in the position until 1992.  Although he made minimal changes to the magazine’s direction in the 1970s, in the 1980s he took a strong view on violence and made Angus Allan write his action strips with few or no weapons and as little fighting as possible.
from left - The Famous Five (from July 1978), Smurfs (from October 1978), BJ & The Bear (from July 1979)
The first issue included strips based on popular shows of the time, such as Please Sir!, Freewheelers and Timeslip (none of which I remember).  There were also features on World Of Sport and Survival, both of which I do remember - the former was a sports round-up on a Saturday afternoon with Dickie Davies that I recall primarily for people typing in the  background and the wrestling coverage; the latter a natural history programme I remember dragging by on a Monday evening.
from left - one of the earliest covers I can remember (from October 1976), Superman (from January 1978), Raiders Of The Lost Ark (from August 1981)
For me, Look-In opened the door to a lot of different things and, looking back, it does seem to have been one of the few publications with its finger on the pulse of popular culture at the time.  Through it I remember discovering about skateboarding, Star Wars, BMX bikes, computers, new Bond films, Return Of The Saint and Blondie.  The music coverage was extensive and although it obviously focussed on the biggest acts of the time - such as ABBA for the period I remember most clearly, 1978 through to 1980 or so - it also shone the light on smaller bands, paying particular attention to British ones.  The Bay City Rollers, in the earlier issues I was aware of, were also widely covered.
from left - The New Wave (from July 1977), ladies in pop (from November 1977) and The Specials (from December 1979).  Extensive Abba, Bay City Rollers and Flintlock coverage not shown...
Bond makes the cover - from left, in July 1977, in June 1979 and June 1981
Music makes the cover - from left (since I couldn't leave them out), Abba (from February 1978), Elvis Costello (from April 1978) and Jimmy Pursey & Debbie Harry (from May 1980)
A selection of ads - Count Dracula lollies, with very cool sticks, by Walls (from July 1976), Palitoy Pocketeers (from June 1979) - I had the racing one - and Superman tries to stop British youth from smoking (from January 1980) - anyone else remember Nick O'Teen?
Sport was taken care of by On The Ball with Brian Moore and Peter Fairley contributed science material.  DJ Ed Stewart, who appeared in the first issue with a feature on a day in his life, was given his own two-page spread called ‘Stewpot’s Newsdesk’ which covered everything from funny pet pictures, requests for penpals, book and album reviews and news on upcoming films.  The feature ran until 1980.
from left - On The Ball with Brian Moore (from April 1977), Action Argentia (from the Summer Special 1978) and Stewpot's Newdesk (from July 1977)
Perhaps through editor Fennell’s connection with Gerry Anderson, a feature dedicated to him and his work, “The Worlds Of Gerry Anderson” was introduced in 1975.  I loved this - I was a big fan of Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds - and eagerly read articles about special effects, models and puppets, whilst avidly looking at the photographs accompanying each piece.  It was through this spot I first heard of Star Wars, as it happens.  The feature ended in April 1978.
Gerry Anderson discusses Star Wars - 11th March 1978 edition
Although The Six Million Dollar Man TV show finished in 1978 (I can’t imagine I was too happy about that), Look-In teamed Steve Austin up with The Bionic Woman in a new strip in 1979 called Bionic Action, which was drawn by Ian Gibson (who went on to create Halo Jones for 2000AD).  I have no memory of this whatsoever so I assume my attention had wandered by then.

TV Listings from December 1978  - look at all
those wonderful logos!
In keeping with the TV Times, Look-In featured listings for each ITV region, highlighting programmes likely to appeal to its target audience.  It seems primitive now but at the time there were only three TV channels - BBC1, BBC2 and ITV - and seeing all those different logos was exciting, especially the ones - LWT, ATV and Thames, especially - which preceeded some of my favourite TV shows of the time.  The TV regions covered (and if you’re of a similar age to me, this list might induce some pleasant nostalgic warmth) were Granada, Tyne Tees, Southern, Anglia, Border, Channel, Grampian, Scottish, HTV, LWT, Thames, ATV, Ulster and Yorkshire.  The format of these remained largely the same during the 70s but when the magazine format changed in the 80s, it was merged into “Switch On!” which also contained detailed features on some of the weeks programmes and a letters section.

Look-In originally featured photo-based covers (often taken especially for the magazine) but these were replaced with striking painted covers that must have made the magazine stand out from the shelves of the newsagent.

These were mainly produced using acrylics by Arnaldo Putzu, an Italian artist working in London who created cinema posters in the 1960’s including ones for Morecombe & Wise (The Magnificent Two and That Riviera Touch), Hammer (Creatures the World Forgot and The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires), the Carry On series and Get Carter.  Though other artists sometimes contributed, his cover reign ran from 1973 through to 1981.
"Star Wars" is coming... (from December 1977 - it opened in the UK on 28th December, I didn't see it until February 1978)
from left - More Star Wars! (from March 1978), some of the Letraset from that issue, The Empire Strikes Back (from May 1980)
In September 1981, the look of the magazine was revamped with a new logo and photo-based covers.  It was still a popular title but with the anti-violence stance, action strips were sanitised or dropped to make way for more child friendly fare such as Danger Mouse and Scooby-Doo.  I think I read it until 1982 or so (I remember the issue with the 3D glasses as a free-cover-gift and coverage of ET: The Extra Terrestrial) and didn’t really miss it when I stopped.  Sales dropped further as the 80s wore on and Look-In struggled to compete with glossier teen magazines of the time (such as Smash Hits).

By the 1990s it was catering for a younger audience, focussing less on comic strips and more on features and posters.  The magazines popularity waned quickly and the last issue, with Mark Owen of Take That on the cover, was published on 12th March 1994.

Me, looking as chuffed as it's possible for an 8-year-old to
 look in 1977 who's just received the Starsky & Hutch
Gran Torino AND the Look-In annual for Christmas. 
In addition to the weekly issues, Look-In also published twenty annuals (dated between 1971 and 1991) and a Summer Special each year.

In 2007, Carlton Books published “Look-In: Best Of The Seventies”, a hardback compilation reprint that did well enough to be followed up the next year by “Best Of The Eighties”.  I picked up the first reprint and really enjoyed it but decided not to bother with the 80s one.  Re-reading those old strips was a pleasant experience - they were well crafted and drawn - and there was also a lovely nostalgic rush to them.

I understand progress and generally embrace the digital age and social media, but I also wish there was still room for something like Look-In - or am I just being wistful?

A “selected” list of strips that appeared in the magazine can be found on Wikipedia (here) but these are the key ones I recall (and clearly mark out the generation of reader I was):

Doctor at Large / at Sea / On the Go (May 72 - late 78)
The Tomorrow People (Jul 73 - Apr 78)
Bless This House (Dec 73 - Sep 75)
Kung Fu (Mar 74 - Jun 75)
The Adventures of Black Beauty (Jun 74 - Sep 75)
The Benny Hill Page (Jan 75 - Jan 81)
The Six Million Dollar Man (Jun 75 - Mar 79)
Space: 1999 (Sep 75 - Mar 77)
Man About the House (Oct 75 - Jul 76)
The Bionic Woman (Aug 76 - May 79)
Just William (Apr - Oct 77)
Man from Atlantis (Feb - Jul 78)
The Smurfs (78 - 79)
The Famous Five (Jul 78 - Feb 80)
Logan's Run (Aug - Sep 78)
How the West Was Won (Oct 78 - Apr 79)
Mind Your Language (Oct 78 - Mar 80)
Dick Turpin (Mar - Oct 79)
Worzel Gummidge (Apr 79 - Sep 82)
Bionic Action (May - Nov 79)
CHiPs (May - Jun 79, May 81 - Feb 83)
Sapphire & Steel (Aug 79 - Apr 81)
Battlestar Galactica (Oct 79 - Oct 80)
Charlie's Angels (Nov 79 - May 81)
Mork & Mindy (Mar 80 - Mar 81)
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (Oct 80 - Jan 82)
Magnum, P.I. (Jan - Jul 82)
Danger Mouse (May 82 - Nov 85)
The Fall Guy (Jun 82 - 84)
Plenty of bionic action - from left The Six Million Dollar Man (from January 1976), The Bionic Woman (from May 1978) and Bionic Action (from June 1979)
from left - The Man From Atlantis (from March 1978), Logan's Run (from May 1978), Charlie's Angels (from August 1980)
Very British strips from left - Benny Hill (from April 1977), Worzel Gummidge (from August 1980), The Famous Five (from January 1980)
from left - Battlestar Galactica (from October 1979), Mork & Mindy (from August 1980) and Sapphire & Steel (from January 1981)
The key players:
* Alan Fennell, the original editor, died on 10th December 2001, his 65th birthday.
* Angus Peter Allan died of cancer on 16th July 2007.
* John M. Burns still paints.
* Mike Noble has retired.
* Martin Asbury is a much-in-demand storyboard artist and has worked on all the Bond films from “Goldeneye” up to “Skyfall”
* Arnaldo Putzu died on 1st September 2012.

The Look-In wikia
John’s Look-Out
Mag A Zone
scans courtesy of the Look-In Facebook group