Thursday 27 December 2018

My Creative Year 2018

Continuing a tradition (now in its sixth year), here's my annual look back at 2018 from a creative standpoint.
During the year, I wrote one short story (Brooks Pond), which Tracy Fahey was kind enough to ask me for (see below for more details), as well as a load of essays for this blog (which is always enjoyable).  On the novel front, I began sending my submission package out in April and, although I had two requests for full ms (which is good), I didn't garner any agency interest (which, obviously, is not good).  I'd already started working on Novel2 by then but, after the agency feedback and responses, I shifted to a new idea, a more high concept one and once again plotted it while walking with David Roberts and Pippa.  Novel3 (as we came to call it) has been a very enjoyable process (I finished the first draft - 138k words in 104 days - just before Christmas) and hopefully I'll have whipped it into shape by early next year so I can start approaching the agencies again.  Wish me luck!

* * *
I had three short stories published.

The first, Chihuahua, appeared in In Dog We Trust, a charity anthology edited by Anthony Cowin from Black Shuck Books.  It was launched at Edge-Lit 7.

The second, The Taste Of Her, appeared in Best British Horror 2018, a NewCon Press anthology edited by Johnny Mains.  Launched at FantasyCon, it featured Johnny's pick of the year and took in my story, which originally appeared in my second collection, Things We Leave Behind.

The third, Brooks Pond, appeared in The Black Room Manuscripts Vol. 4, published by The Sinister Horror Company and edited by Tracy Fahey & J. R. Park.  A charity anthology, in aid of Refuge, it was also launched at FantasyCon.
The NewCon Press Best British Horror signing - Ian is asking us to point out which writers are in it, for signing purposes, not who ordered the fish finger sarnies.
from left - Ian, me, Hal Duncan, Laura Mauro, Ian Watson (he's not in the anthology but wanted to put his hand up), Andy West and James Everington.
The Sinister Horror Press Black Room Manuscripts 4 signing
from left - Phil Sloman, Ben Jones, Terry Grimwood, Marie O'Regan, Jim Mcleod, James Everington, Steve Bacon, me

* * *
My novella, Drive, was re-published by Near To The Knuckle (an imprint of Gritfiction Ltd) on February 5th (following the closure of Pendragon Press), with spanking new cover art.

* * *
Drive was reviewed by Unlawful Acts who called it "a taut pulpy horror novella filled with suburban fears of aimless violence [which] would pair well with a weekend filled with watching ’70s B-movies." (full review can be found here)

Drive was also reviewed by Mixxit Reviews who wrote "There were twists and shocks.  There were lots of things that happened that I was not expecting, that actually made me shout in my head OMG PLOT TWIST!" (full review can be found here)

Kendall Reviews liked The Taste Of Her calling it "a vicious tale of revenge.  Expertly plotted in only a few pages.  Again, not Horror per se, but certainly has the power to shock." (review here)

* * *
In February, Sue Moorcoft & I were guests on Brookes' Brew, on Harborough FM, talking books, writing and music.  I wrote about it here and if you want to listen to it again, you can do so on this link via mixcloud.
me, DJ Phil Brookes and Sue

The Crusty Exterior managed to meet up again, in Leicester this time, in April.  Along with the regulars - James Everington, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris, me, Steve Bacon and John Travis - we welcomed new members Timothy Jarvis, Jay Eales & Linda Nagle.  We had a great day, lovely weather, great conversation, two cracking bookshops and a lovely curry to finish up with.  Even better, plans were made for more meets!  My report on the day is here.
In Victoria Park with, from left, Steve Bacon, Phil Sloman, Jay Eales, John Travis, me, Linda Nagle, Steve Harris, Tim Jarvis and James Everington

In September, along with Sue Moorcroft, Louise Jensen and Darren O'Sullivan (all great people and writers), I was part of the first Meet The Authors Q&A event held at The Core at Corby Cube.  It was a fantastic evening, which I thoroughly enjoyed and our sold-out (sixty plus people) audience seemed to like it a lot too.  I wrote about it here.
from left - Darren O'Sullivan (this writers/audience selfie was his great idea), Louise Jensen, me, Sue and Joe Flavin, our moderator and director of The Core

* * *
I attended 3 great Cons in year.  The first, Edge-Lit 7, was held at The Quad in Derby on 14th July (see my report here), followed by FantasyCon, held at The Queen Hotel, Chester from 19th to 21st October (see my report here) and then Sledge-Lit 4, held at The Quad in Derby on 24th November (see my report here).
At Edge-Lit 7 with, from left, Ross Warren, Steve Harris, John Travis, me, Blaize Harris (seated), Peter Mark May, Lisa Childs, Terry Grimwood, Dion Winton-Polak
At FantasyCon in the Jubilee Room with, from left, Tracy Fahey, Duncan Bradshaw, Peter, Steve Bacon, Penny Jones, me, Neil Williams, Michelle Williams, James Everington
A FantasyCon triple bill - big picture (by Dion Winton-Polak shows Dion, Jim Mcleod & me), 
top right (pic by Ian Whates) is me, Peter Mark May, Kathy Boulton with her back to the camera and Francesca Tristan Barbini
bottom right (pic by Phil Sloman) shows Dion, me, Ross Warren, Steve Harris & James Everington
At Sledge-Lit, with Donna Bond, Peter and Sue Moorcroft
* * *
I'm feeling confident for 2019 too, as I plan to crack on with the novel and have ideas bubbling away for more.  There are no short story appearances planned for the year but if anyone wants to ask me for one, I might be tempted!  Whatever happens, I'll keep you updated as how things go.

As always, thank you so much, dear readers of this blog, for all your support in 2018, especially those who bought, read and liked my work - I really do appreciate it.

Monday 24 December 2018

Happy Christmas!

I’d like to take the opportunity to wish readers of this blog a very Happy Christmas, with all best wishes for the New Year.

Thank you, as ever, for your continued support and interest - let's hope 2019 is as good to us as we want it to be!

Monday 17 December 2018

The Tenth Annual Westies - review of the year 2018

Well, here we are again (where does the time go, eh?), gearing up for Christmas and all things festive so that means it's time to indulge in the annual blog custom and remember the good books of 2018.

Once again, it's been a great reading year for me with a nice mixture of brand new novels (I was on the BFS Horror Novel Award jury again), a few books that have been languishing on my TBR pile for too long, some good second-hand finds (which jumped straight to the top of the pile) along with some welcome re-reads.

As always, the top 20 places were hard fought and, I think, show a nice variety in genre and tone - if I've blogged about a book before, I've linked to it on the list.

Without further ado, I present the Tenth Annual Westies Award - “My Best Fiction Reads Of The Year” - and the top 20 looks like this:

1: Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
2= Here And Gone, by Haylen Beck
2= Summer At The Seaside Village *, by Sue Moorcroft
4: The Changeling, by Victor LaValle
5: Cross Her Heart, by Sarah Pinborough
6: The House, by Simon Lelic
7: If You Go Down To The Woods, by Seth C. Adams
8: The Smallest Of Things, by Ian Whates
9: The River At Night, by Erica Ferencik
10: Hell Ship, by Ben Jones
11: The Last Temptation Of Dr Valentine, by John Llewellyn Probert
12: A Christmas Gift, by Sue Moorcroft
13: Relics, by Tim Lebbon
14: The Godwulf Manuscript, by Robert B. Parker
15: The Spy Who Loved Me, by Christopher Wood
16: You Were Gone, by Tim Weaver
17: The Woman In The Window, by A. J. Finn
18: The Cabin At The End Of The World, by Paul Tremblay
19: Looking For Rachel Wallace, by Robert B. Parker
20: The Chalk Man, by C. J. Tudor

* This is Sue's Avon book for next summer, which I read to critique and will be published in May 2019.

The Top 10 in non-fiction are:

1: Once A Saint, by Ian Ogilvy
2: Roger Moore: A Biography, by Roy Moseley
3: George Lucas: A Life, by Brian Jay Jones
4: Steven Spielberg: A Biography, by Joseph McBride
5: The Making Of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, by Derek Taylor
6: The Professionals Viewing Notes mk III, by Andrew Pixley
7: The Professionals Viewing Notes mk II, by Andrew Pixley
8: The Mighty One, by Steve MacManus
9: The Complete Spielberg, by Ian Freer
10: The Diary Of A Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell

Stats wise, I’ve read 82 books - 36 fiction, 21 non-fiction, 17 comics/nostalgia/kids and 8 Three Investigator mysteries.

Of the 74 books, the breakdown is thus:

6 biography
10 horror
14 film-related
3 drama (includes romance)
21 crime/mystery
9 sci-fi
0 nostalgia
11 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:

Monday 10 December 2018

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Christmas Annuals (part 2)

"Christmas is coming!"
Me & Tracy, Christmas 1976 - I am clearly chuffed to have the Action Man game AND Evel Knieval, while TJ is pleased to have her Sindy horse (or could it really be Black Beauty?)
As I wrote about last year (you can read it here), one of the Christmas highlights when I was a kid (beyond the catalogues I wrote about in 2016) was seeing which annual I got that particular year.  For those who don't remember them, these were (and still are) large size hardback books, designed for children and based on existing properties, including comics, popular TV shows, the occasional film as well as sport and pop round-ups.

The ones based on comics featured the same cast as the weekly editions, while the TV and film ones had comic strips, the occasional short story, fact files and interviews and - brilliantly - in the case of The Fall Guy, behind the scenes information on stunts and how they were filmed.

Annuals are generally published towards the end of the year, cover-dated as the following year to ensure shops don't take them off the shelves immediately after the new year (though, by then, unsold copies are often heavily reduced).  Still as popular now - you tend to see fewer relating to ongoing comics (perhaps because kids today don't have the range of comics we had) - the only difference seems to be that they're much skinnier (and that's not just me being all nostalgically misty about it - my ones from the late 70s and early 80s are substantially chunkier than the ones I’ve bought for Dude over the past few years).

Here, then, is another selection of old favourites, ones I received and ones I remember my sister Tracy having.  I hope some of them inspire a warm, nostalgic trip down memory lane for you...
Blue Peter annuals were a bit of a tradition, though this is the only one I remember ever owning.  Book One was published in 1965 and the series finished, in 2011, with Book Forty (they skipped a few random years).
 Everybody..."Rupert, Rupert the bear..."
I loved comics that played spooky for laughs and this cover has everything - the headless ghost scaring the poor bloke out of not only his shoes but his wig, while a dog on the doorstep kills itself with laugher.  Fantastic!
As a huge fan of horses (she later worked with them and rode competitively), Black Beauty was one of Tracy's favourite TV shows and hearing that stirring music now makes me smile wistfully.
 More monster related fun!
I remember my friend Claire having this and it not making much sense to me - where were the comics?  Ah, the mystery of girls...
Ah, my hero and a Christmas staple for me though this edition (I felt) suffered with poor artwork.  It does, however, feature an article on hijackers (more a sign of the times, I feel, than an interest for most kids).
One of my all-time favourite comics (and it's still going), though surely they could have found space for Roger The Dodger on the cover?
Blake's 7, a wonderfully cheap (lots of action in quarries) but fantastically imaginative  BBC show.  I haven't seen it in years (and I'm not sure I'd want to revisit it) though I remember enjoying it a lot.  I once bumped, by accident, into Gareth Thomas in a post office in Aberystwyth - I couldn't think of what to say to Blake so my Dad apologised and led me out.
As happened quite often during my childhood, a favoured comic was absorbed into another, better selling title and most of the strips I liked faded over time.  Not in this case, it seems, as Kid Kong (from Monster Fun) takes centre stage here (Buster himself is to Kong's left with the green hat on).
My favourite funny comic from my childhood - I still proudly own my 'Friend Of Cheeky' badge!
 The Junior TV Times, this was a big favourite of mine (as I wrote about here).
The year 2000 seemed so far away then - next year, we'll be as far away from it as we were when this annual came out!
 Jinty does well, not spraying the icing everywhere when the kitten bursts the balloon, doesn't she?
Tracy loved Thelwell and his wonderful artwork of small children (often girls) on little rounded ponies.
 Targeted at girls, beloved by them and boys alike!
One of my favourite TV shows (I've written about it before, as a retrospective here and as part of my recuperation from my heart attack here) and this is a terrific annual - great artwork, good features and a spooky short story.
Another of Tracy's favourites, I love the artwork of this cover.

Happy Christmas!

scans from my collection, aside from the girls titles (thanks to comicvine for those)

You can read more of my nostalgia posts here

Monday 3 December 2018

Bullet, 40 years on...

Last summer, on holiday, we visited Whitby (a town all three of us loved) and, quite by chance, I discovered a retro shop on Baxtergate (it was next door to The Whitby Cobbler, but appears to have closed down now) and couldn't resist a look around.  At the back of the shop was a big section full of old comics and I found three boxes full of Warlord, Battle, Crunch and Bullet comics and was completely in my element (when I took my haul to the counter, Dude asked “are you sure you’ve got enough there Dad?”).

Bullet was my favourite comic growing up, as I previously wrote about here and over the rest of the holiday week, I read through my stash and those old strips sparked all kinds of fantastic memories - stories I’d forgotten all about but remembered the moment I saw the masthead, images that had burned themselves into my brain and tales that grabbed my attention.  It was fantastic and so, in honour of that wonderful comic of my childhood (which, forty years ago, on 2nd December 1978, merged with Warlord), here’s an appreciation of Bullet.
Bullet was launched by D. C. Thomson on 9th February 1976, “packed with action stories - fast and furious” with Fireball (the comics figurehead and main character) preparing the reader for his “super thrill-packed story [and] other rough, tough action stories”.  Focussing on action & adventure, science fiction, war and sport, it was a popular boys comic that ran to 32 pages and started out at 7p an issue.

17th July 1976 issue back cover, featuring Bullet writer (and future D C Thomson
editor) Garry Fraser as Fireball)
Fireball, a moustachioed, highly skilled and multi-talented secret agent, appeared in his own strip every week (it sometimes ran to 9 pages) and was the ward of Lord Peter Flint, from the same publishers weekly comic Warlord.

Other stories included Twisty (a footballer with attitude who raced pigeons in his spare time), Smasher (a 50-foot city-smashing robot who was finally destroyed by being nuked), Wonder Mann (raised by computers to become a world beating all-round sportsman), Midge (a 16-year-old 7-stone weakling who became a bodybuilder - one my favourite strips), Tasker (a tearaway with a chip on his shoulder learns to box in borstal), Three Men In A Jeep (a self-explanatory World War Two adventure) and Vic’s Vengeance (a tall of revenge set in the East End of London) and Solomon Knight who introduced a weekly tale of terror.  There was also Werewolf (an ex-detective gained the power to turn into a werewolf and used it to fight crime), Ginger (a greyhound and his master who was on the run from an abusive stepfather) and Frontline UK (a Scorpion tank crew fights a guerilla war against invaders in Britain during 1978).

Fireball Calling appeared weekly and included trivia, password messages and competitions.  Reader letters got a Fireball t-shirt and the letter of the week won an electronic pocket calculator, which was a big deal then.  There were also sports profiles, often featuring footballers and fact files, while the back pages often carried “A to Z” entries on various topics.

There was also the Fireball Club where, for 25p (postal orders only, please), you got the Fireball story (which also acted as the decoder for the Top Secret messages in Fireball Calling) in a red plastic wallet, an ID card and, best of all,  the Fireball ‘Flaming F’ pendant (which was not only very cool, it was worn constantly by Fireball and saved his life on occasion).
But even great things end sometime and, as was often the way with favourite comics of my childhood, this meant merging into a bigger title.  Bullet succumbed after 147 fantastic issues and joined Warlord (with issue 220) on December 2nd 1978.  I carried on buying Warlord for a while even though, as was always the way, most of the strips I enjoyed didn’t make the transfer with the rest fading out as the weeks or months rolled on.
As an aside, rival publisher IPC released the first issue of Action two days before Bullet and while the comics were meant to compete - they shared the same format and price - that wasn’t really the case.  Much keener to push the grittiness envelope (and it was great fun), Action suffered a media furore that saw it last 36 issues before being pulled and neutered.  It ran for a further 50 issues and merged into Battle in November 1977.
left - in Whitby with Dude, 2018 - right - with my sister Tracy, sporting my Fireball pendant, in 1977
Thanks for the entertainment Bullet!

The first copy I ever remember seeing, during wet playtime one day at Rothwell Juniors.  I was so excited about it, my Mum had the newsagents reserve me a copy every week afterwards.
I loved this Denis McLoughlin cover so much I chose it to copy in an art school class, the first year I went to Montsaye.  I remember my teacher not being particularly impressed with my choice...
Cheerio then Bullet (and farewell Fireball...)

Sources (and further reading):
Downthetubes interview with Garry 'Fireball' Fraser
Downthetubes interview with Bill Graham
Colin Noble's 40th anniversary tribute
Lew Stringer - Action-vs-Bullet
Bear Alley on Warlord