Monday 26 March 2018

Naming The Bones, by Laura Mauro (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've read and loved, which I think adds to the genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.

I actually read this last year (and it featured highly in my Top 20) but realised I hadn't blogged about it and now, with voting open for the BFS Awards, I thought it was high time to do so...
First there was darkness…

Alessa Spiteri survives a bombing incident on the London Underground only to discover that the horror she experienced there is only the beginning of the nightmare.

As she struggles to rebuild her life, she finds herself haunted by grotesque, shadowy creatures – monsters Alessa believes are hallucinations, born of her traumatised mind until she meets Casey, also the survivor of an Underground bombing, who tells her she can see the monsters too.

Together, the women plan their fightback against the creatures, a course of action which takes Alessa back into the tunnels beneath the city.
Back into the darkness. 

Alessa Spiteri is a troubled woman in her late-20s, living in the Elephant & Castle in London and stumbling through life. When she’s injured in a bombing incident on the London Underground, she becomes haunted not only by the death and destruction she’s seen around her, but also the disappearance of a fellow commuter who helped her. He wandered off down the tunnel towards a light but nobody seems to know where he’s gone. And then Alessa begins to see things in the dark, shadows and shapes with eyes and long limbs and very sharp teeth.

Naming The Bones (a practise Alessa uses to calm herself) is a dark and complex novella that pulls you deep into the story - and the struggle that she faces - whilst slowly revealing the world around her. From Alessa’s out-of-her-depth counsellor to her well-meaning sister Shannon; from Tom to the support group she tries to join; life is constantly pushing against her and the things she sees in the dark seem like the last straw. Then she meets Casey, who knows all about the shapes - she calls them Shades - and who, it appears, has a link to them. As Alessa and Casey get further into their exploration, things apparently go from bad to worse until Alessa isn’t quite sure who she can trust.

I really enjoyed this. Filled with superb writing “she felt as though she was only barely a part of the world sometimes, existing on some strange margin inhabited by the anxious and the scared and the mad” and gripping set pieces (not least the explosion on the tube that opens the book), this is written at pace and doesn’t flag at all, nor does it shy away from painting Alessa as a flawed character who is doing her best to keep her head above water. The Elephant & Castle area is used well, with plenty of landmarks and street names to anchor the story in reality and the use of the Shades - and what they can do - is both frightening and well explored. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the tube - and, indeed, Central London - is well used and becomes genuinely oppressive as the story reaches its conclusion.

A fine addition to the Dark Minds Press novella line, this is original, full of tension and scary and I would highly recommend it.

to declare an interest, Laura & I share not only a publisher but our books (this and my collection Things We Leave Behind) were launched together at Edge-Lit 6 in Derby last July (you can read about the launch here).
me, Dark Minds Press publisher Ross Warren and Laura

Monday 19 March 2018

Cinema Listing (blast from the past)

A few weeks ago, while browsing through my copy of Skeleton Crew (for a forthcoming blog post), I found this.  I can only assume I’d ripped it out of the Kettering Evening Telegraph (dated 20th September 1986) to take into work so my friends & I could plan what we were going to see at the cinema.  We went a lot in those days.
I posted this on Facebook where it got a wonderful reaction (Phil Sloman wrote “what a time to have lived” while Gary McMahon wrote “Ah… those were the days”).  The slate of films seems like a terrific cross-section (Cobra was the first 18 certificate I got into (as I wrote about here, though according to my diary I saw it in Corby) and I saw The Evil DeadRocky IV and Karate Kid 2 all at one of the venues shown), the prices are astonishing (I remember a double-bill would cost £2.50 except, I presume, on Mondays and Thursdays) and local friends shared memories of specific venues.

I loved these places and they held a lot of history for me.  Dad took me to see my first James Bond film at Corby cinema (as I wrote about here), I saw a lot of great films at Kettering (Dad took me and Claire to Star Wars, Nick & I saw Raiders Of The Lost Ark, which I wrote about in What Gets Left Behind, Dad & I saw ET, the list goes on) and when Bentley’s opened it quickly became a favourite.

Attendance must have been falling (probably not helped by the fleapit nature) but the independents were clearly knackered and on their last legs when the multiplexes arrived and did away with them.  Sixfields in Northampton dealt the first blow and the Odeon in Kettering finished the job.  I've never been a big fan of the multiplex, I’ll still go obviously but to me they're sterile places, more interested in selling food and drinks than anything else.  Yes, Kettering Ohio had holes in the ceiling and seats were missing and it was often better to sit down in the dark so you couldn’t see the state of your seat, but it felt real, like a proper cinema, where everyone there cared about the films.

What a time to have lived indeed...

On the bright side, independent cinemas now seem to be making a comeback and we often go to the Errol Flynn in Northampton (Jon & I saw a brace of Hitchcock there, Alison & I watched La La Land and I took Dad to see Dunkirk where the soundtrack almost rattled the speakers off the wall) which is small and comfortable, well run and shows an eclectic range of films.

 And yes, I know I sound like a dinosaur.
Another clipping I kept, this one from 1982
If we fancied a change, we'd sometimes go to the ABC Northampton (now a Jesus Army Centre) or the Palace Wellingborough (now a pub called The Cutting Room).  Later, when we had our own cars, we'd go to the midnight movie at The Point in Milton Keynes (the only multiplex I ever had any fondness for, it now stands by the MK shopping centre looking knackered and forlorn).

I took this picture in 2005, knowing that the building
would eventually be knocked down and wanting to
have a record of it...
Kettering Ohio started life as the Savoy Cinema, opened as a dual purpose cinema and theatre on 21st May 1938 with Spencer Tracey in The Big City plus a variety show on stage. It was built over the remains of the Coliseum Theatre which had opened in 1910 but burned down in 1937.

The Savoy had 1,150 seats in the stalls and circle as well as a full stage (the Northampton Repertory Company performed regular seasons between 1949 and 1951) and was taken over by Clifton Cinemas on 25th August 1944.  In 1968 the circle was split off to make a smaller (485 seat) cinema called the Studio, with a bingo hall taking over the stalls and stage area.  In 1973 the screen was split into two (known as Studio 1 & 2, seating 160 and 140 respectively).  After briefly closing in 1986, it re-opened as the independent Ohio and finally closed in 1997 when the Odeon opened.

The Ohio is a key location in my novel In The Rain With The Dead (Magellan, the baddie, makes his base there) and I wrote about the cinema as it was being demolished in 2014.

Bentley’s of Burton Latimer was originally The Electric Palace, which opened in August 1914 with an auditorium that seated 500.  It became a Watts Cinema in 1938 but closed in 1960.  In 1985, Ashley Wyatt bought the building, renovated it and opened Bentley’s as a 182-seat cinema in January 1986 though it closed the following year.  It was re-opened in 1994 by Brian McFarlane (who owned the Ohio) but closed soon after.  The venue is now an Italian restaurant.

You can just see the wording "cinema" on the back of the auditoriums.
Photograph from the late 80s.
The Forum Cinema opened on 7th April 1973 as a Jerry Lewis Cinema (part of the US based Network Cinema Corporation), featuring two screens (each seating 325) as part of a new shopping centre being built in Corby.  It was almost immediately bought out by the Walker chain, re-named Oscar cinema and then, in 1980, Focus cinema before Ashley Wyatt took it over in September 1983 and renamed it Forum Cinema.  The number one screen was eventually twinned, with number two becoming a laser quest games centre and the cinema closed (to become an over-25’s nightclub called Talkies) on 24th September 1992.  The Forum Cinema site was demolished in the summer of 2005 when the shopping centre was rebuilt.

I like to think I sound like a wistfully melancholic dinosaur now...

sources: - Savoy, Kettering - Forum, Corby - Bentleys, Burton Latimer

Monday 12 March 2018

Star Wars in Look-In, 40 years ago

Growing up in the 70s, I was a big fan (and avid reader) of Look-In magazine (I wrote about it here),  published by Independent Television Publications Ltd and subtitled ‘The Junior TV Times’.  Back then, you have to remember, there was no Internet so everything you knew about TV shows, music and films came from whatever was on the news - but Look-In changed that.  Designed and written for kids, it featured major film and pop stars, sports people and TV stars of the day, along with comic strips of popular shows and occasional behind the scenes articles.  I loved it.

Back in 1977 and 1978, a lot of us had gone Star Wars mad and the clamour for information and memorabilia was incredible.  We had the Marvel comics, of course (which I wrote about here) and the Collectors Edition but otherwise, there wasn’t a great deal.  Thankfully, my favourite magazine was on hand to help out and Look-In became, in 1978, a terrific resource for Star Wars.  The film appeared a lot within the magazine as the year went on and made the cover three times.

It’s first cover appearance was No. 1 1978 (w/e 31st December 1977) and the issue included an article, a fantastic centrespread poster and a competition to win 25 sets of albums and t-shirts. 
Mark Hamill took to the cover, along with Donna Summer, in No. 6 (w/e 4th February 1978).  The issue included a feature on Stewpot’s Newsdesk (“Letraset Star Buys” about the transfers and stationery, which I wrote about here), a feature on Mark Hamill and the centrespread poster featured two pictures of him, in his flight suit and on Tatooine.  Also of interest to me, there was a poster of Lee Majors on the back cover.

The third appearance, in No. 11 (w/e 11th March 1978), came complete with a free gift (“2 Star Wars Letraset Transfers”) and an advert on TV.  In addition, there was a poster of Han and Chewie on the inside cover and Gerry Anderson wrote about the film in his weekly column (“I can honestly say that I wish I had been the one who made it!”)

 The full set (curiously, no sign of Han Solo...)
pic courtesy of

Look-In magazine was launched on 9th January 1971 and in addition to the weekly issues published twenty annuals (dated between 1971 and 1990) and a Summer Special each year.  The final issue appeared on 12th March 1994.


Monday 5 March 2018

The Professionals and other Novelisations...

A couple of weeks ago I posted the cover of the book I was then reading on Facebook.  It got much more of a reaction than I expected, with several friends saying they’d been inspired to track down copies of their own.  When I shared the same image on Twitter it led to people I didn’t know (often on the other side of the world) sharing reminisces of the TV show and, often, pictures of their own library and it was wonderful, social media at its very best.  And it got me thinking about the joy of novelisations.
cover scan of my copy
First published by Sphere Books in 1980, reprinted in 1981 and 1982 (this edition)
A few weeks before, alone in the house, I caught the end of an episode of The Professionals on ITV4.  It had been a long time since I’d last seen one and it worked so well, I set it up to series record and assumed I’d be re-watching them on my own.  I mentioned it to Alison who hummed the opening riff of the theme tune and decided she’d like to watch some too and we’ve been catching up with them ever since.

The day after my birthday we went to a Toy Fair at the NEC and, in addition to picking up a couple of the annuals I’d lost over time, I found a small box on one stall selling a handful of the Sphere novelisations.  I bought all the ones there and decided to start with this one, volume 8, because we’d just seen the title episode and I really enjoyed it. 
Before catching the show again, I only had book 4 in my collection., the Toy Fair and ebay helping me fill some of the gaps
Novelisations were a big deal in the 70s and 80s because video wasn’t readily available and these slim paperbacks were the only way to relive your favourite TV show or film - my first (no surprise to regular readers of this blog) was Star Wars, as ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster (which I wrote about here).  Film novelisations began being published in the 1920’s for silent films such as London After Midnight and Sparrows, while the first talkie to be novelised was King Kong (1933).  They hit a peak in the 1970s that carried easily into the 1980s (one of my favourites from this time was Some Kind Of Wonderful by David Bischoff, based on the screenplay by John Hughes - I still haven’t seen the film) and continues today (friends of mine write them regularly).  There were also lots published to coincide with TV series and one particular treat of haunting second hand bookshops is stumbling on the occasional treasure, a paperback link you never knew existed to a show that mainly exists in your memories.

There were fifteen volumes in The Professionals series, credited to the house name “Ken Blake”, though all but four of them were by science-fiction writer Kenneth Bulmer (fantasy author Robert Holdstock wrote the others).  All were based on the shooting scripts and, as with James Blish's Star Trek novelisations, most featured three episodes (though a couple were based on just one). 
Top line from left, images from "Dead Reckoning", "Mixed Doubles" and "Need To Know"
bottom image - Bodie & Doyle
Dead Reckoning features the eponymous episode (written by Robin Estridge), where a spy is extradited in secret to the UK but the Bulgarians who exchanged him seem to want his arrival made public.  When he’s murdered, CI5 suspect his estranged daughter. 

Mixed Doubles (written by series creator Brian Clemens) has Bodie & Doyle undergoing training to protect a Middle Eastern president called Parsali, their programme duplicated by two killers who are preparing to assassinate him.  This contains the killer line, wonderfully delivered by Lewis Collins: “I believe in me, 'cos I was born tall, dark and beautiful.... and engagingly modest, of course!”  Interestingly, I was reading this part of the book when the episode came up in our run.

The final story is Need To Know (episode also by Clemens) wherein an old colleague of Cowley’s is arrested for being a double agent, implicated the CI5 chief. 

Having seen all three episodes recently, it was interesting to compare them and, for the most part, the book did a good job.  Bulmer wrote them well (though he seemed to have a thing for Bodie’s ‘famous’ eyebrows, lips and nostrils), with a good grasp of action and location and they cracked along at a terrific pace.
cover scan of my copy
First published by Star, a division of W H Allen in 1983
I had a similar thing happen last year, when I re-discovered The A-Team on Forces TV.  Admittedly not as well made as The Professionals, the first three series (which I remembered fondly-if-vaguely from my teens) were great fun and inspired me to seek out the novelisations, a few of which I’d originally owned but long since lost.  There were ten books in the series (the last four of which were only published in the UK), the first six written by Charles Heath with most blending two episodes.  My favourites (back in the 80s and on these re-reads) were both from double-length episodes, the first book above (adapted from the pilot Mexican Slayride) and the third, the simply brilliant When You Comin' Back, Range Rider? (adapted from the eponymous second series episode written by Frank Lupo).  In fact, if someone were to ask me to define The A-Team, I’d point them towards that episode and novelisation.  As I wrote on Goodreads:
This is precisely what the A-Team was all about - there’s plenty of action, a lot of humour (between the team themselves and also other characters, such as a couple on Hollywood Boulevard who think Decker is George Peppard) and a decent resolution to the story. The characters (all clearly defined on the show by then) are well drawn, the Arizona locations well described and the pace is spot on, the story racing from one set-piece to the next. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, so much so I wanted to re-watch the double-episode as soon as I’d finished it. 
A selection of some of the novelisations from my library
So what were your favourite novelisations?

If you’re looking to find old favourites, ebay is often your friend (but be aware of how some sellers define ‘Very Good’), though nothing can beat the sense of triumph when you find something exciting quite by chance in a second hand book emporium.  Happy hunting!

For more information on The Professionals, I highly recommend Dave Matthews’ Authorised Guide To The Professionals which you can find at this link.  I will be publishing a blog about The A-Team later this year.