Monday, 10 September 2018

Seven Books

A few weeks back, my good friend Ian Whates tagged me to take part in the Facebook Book Challenge, which involved posting seven covers, over seven days, with no explanation.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it might be worth sharing here on the blog (with added explanations).

The Secret Of Skeleton Island, by Robert Arthur
I first discovered The Three Investigators in 1978, when I was nine.  As I recall, it was a rainy day and at breaktime, we were sent to one of the classrooms in an older part of the school.  As other kids settled down to read comics or swap football cards, I had a look at the bookshelves and one hardback spine in particular caught my eye.  Already intrigued by the fantastic title, the cover - three boys in a cave, with a skull in the foreground - made me want to read it and so began a lifelong love affair with a series that started in 1964.

I wrote an indepth post about the series here and have reviewed individual books, which you can find on this link.

The Restless Bones, by Peter Haining
This was a chance purchase from The Bookworm Club, which we had at Rothwell Junior school (I assume it was a nationwide organisation because I vaguely remember a catalogue), where a stall was set up in the hall and you went in and bought any books that took your fancy.  How any mystery loving kid could pass this cover up is beyond me and I’m so glad I took the chance.  Collected by Peter Haining and published in 1978, it contained ten supposedly true stories - The Restless Bones, The Winged Monster of the Desert, The Terror Of The Dragon, The Mystery of the Loup-Garou, Old Roger’s Vengeance, The Witch’s Familiars, The Call of Darke’s Drum, The Trail of the Devil’s Fooprints, The Thing From Outer Space and The Voice In The Graveyard - with the latter quickly becoming my favourite.  Set in 1964, it features Richard, a teenager from Wisconsin, who accepts a challenge to spend the night in a graveyard, all on his own but doesn’t expect to hear a whispering voice plead, “…help us…”

“I have drawn on the large file of material I have collected over the years about events and experiences which are fantastic - but factual” wrote Haining in his introduction and I’m willing to take him at his word.
I wrote an indepth post about the book here.

The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang, by H. J. Press
Another great purchase from the Bookworm Club, my edition is the 1978 Methuen reprint, translated from the German by Barbara Littlewood, having originally been published there in 1965.  Written by Hans Jürgen Press (1926–2002), it concerns a gang of child sleuths who make their headquarters at 49 Canal Street - the leader, Frank, plays the trumpet and is ably supported by the quick-witted Angela, Ralph and Keith W.S. (whose inseparable companion is a squirrel, W.S. stands for With Squirrel).  The book contains four decent little mysteries that work perfectly with the format Press devised where the left hand side of each spread is a page of text, carrying the story and dropping clues whilst the picture on the right shows the reader what the gang can see, therefore inviting them into the action.  The answer is given on the next page.  The beautifully crafted illustrations invite repeated viewings and are still satisfying to me now, forty years on.
I wrote an indepth post about the book here

The Galactic Warlord, by Douglas Hill
By 1979 (when this came out in hardback), I was already a big fan of Star Wars and when I found this, in Rothwell Library, it seemed like the perfect book for me (plus I used to read a comic called Warlord).

Canadian writer Douglas Hill eventually wrote a quartet of tales about Keill (I could never work out if you pronounced it Keel or Kyle) Randor, the Last Legionary, with the first book in the series (a prequel) being published last - Young Legionary (1982), Galactic Warlord (1979), Deathwing Over Veynaa (1980), Day of the Starwind (1980) and Planet of the Warlord (1981).

Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King
I was aware of the TV mini-series long before the book (it was all anyone talked about at school for days).  I first discovered Stephen King the writer in the early 80s when my Dad took me into a second-hand bookshop in Wellingborough and, recognising the title, I picked up a copy of Salem’s Lot.  Reading it, as a fledgling horror fan who was seeking to branch out into adult fare, was a revelation and led me ever further into that wonderful genre.  The novel might not be my favourite of King’s output - and it’s been years since I read it - but it’ll always hold a special place for me.

Matthew Craig wrote a review (which you can read here) of the novel for the King For A Year project I curated in 2015.

Danse Macabre, by Stephen King
Following Salem’s Lot, I decided to see what else Stephen King had to offer (and bearing in mind this was the early 80s, so I already had a lot to choose from) and found this, a non-fiction exploration of the genre.  You have to remember this was in 1983 or so, long before the Internet and even though I was adept at using reference guides to discover things (and was a big fan of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies), finding similar about books was harder, especially more modern writers.  Danse Macabre, then, was superb - just the right book at the just the right time for me.  I read it again and again, using the text and ‘reading lists’ at the back as my guides to discovering more of the genre, scouring all the bookshops (especially second-hand ones) I could find.  Over the years, I read a lot of the titles King suggested and my knowledge and appreciation - of both the genre and his book - grew.
I wrote about it, for Jim Mcleod’s Ginger Nuts Of Horror site here.

The Books Of Blood volume 3, by Clive Barker
Another tip from Stephen King (I can't remember now where I read his quote - "I have seen the future of horror, and its name is Clive Barker" - but it certainly struck a chord with me) and I found a couple of the slim paperbacks in good old Rothwell Library.  Published by Sphere in 1984 and 1985, they were a revelation - if King showed me that horror could be written about today, Barker showed me it could be in a world I recognised, a London whose streets I could walk on my own.  Each volume is superb but I chose volume 3 as it includes the excellent Son of Celluloid (which inspired the fantastic cover), Confessions Of A (Pornographer's) Shroud and the wonderfully pulp Rawhead Rex, as well as Scape-Goats and Human Remains.  I eventually drifted away from Barker (I loved The Damnation Game, The Hellbound Heart and Cabal but his fantasy works left me cold) but I've never forgotten the Books Of Blood.
"Every body is a book of blood, wherever we're opened, we're red." - Clive Barker

Me and David at The Barbican, July 2017 (as I wrote about here)
One of the people I tagged was David Roberts, a fine friend of long-standing who's long been a collaborator of mine, bouncing around ideas for stories and novellas and co-plotting the thriller novel I wrote last year and the one I'm just about to start.  We meet weekly for long walks with his dog Pippa and when I told him about this blog, we talked through the reasons for our choices which were fascinating (half the fun of the meme was what you found out about the person by what they'd picked).  Once we finished, I asked if I could use his choices here and he agreed.

Truckers, by Terry Pratchett
For me, one of Terry's books had to be first as they have entertained me over many years.  Truckers is one I read to my daughter, and much to my regret we never did write to Mr Pratchett as we intended, asking what happened to Miskilin after the final book of the trilogy.  His early books are well worth a visit, his writing became more polished as time went on but the ideas and concepts are all there in the beginning.

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien
I developed a love of fantasy through Lord of the Rings, but my battered copy is not photogenic and although I read The Hobbit second it still represents the universe of Middle Earth. I found the best place for reading these books was on the balcony of a hotel in Andora with snow falling, very atmospheric. From these books I moved onto the BBC Radio Drama of Lord of the Rings which I still feel is one of the best dramatisations.
(Mark's note - I read The Hobbit at school but never really got into Lord Of The Rings.  When the Peter Jackson film was released, David & I went to see it and then went back again and again, year after year, watching the whole series).

My Dad's Got An Alligator, by Jeremy Strong
Well, its wacky and fun.  In fact, just what you want to read to your children to enable them to grow into the rounded, fun filled people who are able to accept the weird and wonderful and perhaps use this to look at the world differently. Why be normal?

Polly, by Mark West
my walking and other creative collaborator, Pippa
Not only a good read but this copy was a prize - the Stormblade Productions launch included a prize for the best ‘French’ selfie, and not being that photogenic, I sent one in of Pippa and she won!  And as she can't read, I got the book!

Pippa also helps in idea formation and discussion on long walks with Mark. Keeping the route and the plot on course.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Representing the genre of more serious science fiction, and what else to put into a book cover meme than one that encourages you to ‘Burn and Destroy!’. Dark and atmospheric it questions motivations and understanding of the world. Perhaps at times closer to the truth than we would want it to be. Scary...

The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The book which got me really hooked on science fiction, read before I heard the original radio series or saw the TV show. I remember being fascinated by the way each retelling of the story was subtly (or not so subtly) different right up to the recent live stage show. Arthur Dent is a Hoopy Frood (even if I am the only one who thinks so) and my fashion sense in dressing gowns came from him.  Sad really...

Day 7
Day 7 proved difficult. My books are all in bags as we are building in the house and all of the ‘new’ books I have read have been on e-reader.  Love it or hate it, you can carry your books easily, you can read in the dark, you can borrow library books over the wireless...  It is here to stay and while the joy of finding a book in a charity shop diminishes, the ease of reading improves and libraries suddenly come into their own again for me, with a world of e-books out there. But no pages to turn...

So you've seen mine and David's choices, what would your seven books be...?


  1. I love that you have The Three Investigators on your list! I loved those books when I was a kid, and keep hoping that I'll find some of them in a used bookstore or charity shop someday.

    1. Excellent! I found a few whilst on holiday this year and, even though I already had copies, I still bought up the strays! :)