Monday 29 July 2019

Choose Life

It was almost five years ago, on the 4th August 2014, when I suffered my heart attack, a life-changing event in a lot of ways.  Although I'd already started to lose weight (as I wrote about here), it focused my attention and I decided my "Fall Guy" summer (which I wrote about here) was a chance to make some changes as I realised what was important to me.
Me & Dude, July 2019
At my heaviest, I weighed 18st 6.75lbs (258.75lbs or just over 117kgs) and at 5ft 11 my BMI was 35.9 putting me well into the “obese” end of things.  Within a year, having cut the crap out of my diet and walked a LOT, my weight was down to 13st 11.5lbs (193.5lbs - a total loss of 65.25lbs) and my BMI was 27, slightly off the midway of overweight.

Five years on and I'm maintaining that weight loss (as of today, I'm 13st 10lbs).  I'm still walking between 20-30 miles a week and I've also recently become a convert to Park Run, introduced by Alison and our friend David, hitting a good pace regularly (my pb's 27m 46s).  I feel better, I'm as fit as I've ever been and I'm definitely embracing life which, although it was a tough way to figure it out, is the lesson I took from the incident.

Life's too short, people, embrace it!
Me & Dude, on the patio, June 2014 - part of the batch of photographs that made me realise I needed to do something about my weight...
David & I at the Kettering Park Run, May 2019, picture by John Woods

Monday 22 July 2019

Burn For You, by INXS, at 35

Thirty-five years ago, to promote their new album, INXS released one of my favourites of their songs, the excellent Burn For You.
Burn For You was written by Andrew Farriss & Michael Hutchence and released in Australia and New Zealand on 26th July 1984 (it never saw release in the UK), with Jenny Morris providing backing vocals.  The single had Johnson’s Aeroplane, written by Andrew Farriss, as the b side.

The third of four singles from the album (following Original Sin, in December 1983, I Send A Message in March 1984 and before Dancing On The Jetty in October 1984), it peaked at number 3 on the Australian chart and 29 on the NZ chart.

Tilt my hat at the sun
And the shadows they burn dark
Light me and I'll burn for you
And the love song never stops

The song was also notable in that it saw the start of the band's ongoing - and very productive - relationship with film director Richard Lowenstein.  Michael Hutchence had been the first to notice his work, after being impressed by the Talking To A Stranger video Lowenstein had made for Hunters and Collectors and was keen for the director to work with INXS.
Chris Murphy set up a meeting with the band, who were then on tour in north Queensland and Lowenstein, who was getting ready to go to the Cannes Film Festival, flew up specially from Melbourne with his small crew.  They met poolside "at a hotel in a surf town" and Lowenstein was convinced he’d made a mistake.  “I came face to face under the Queensland sun with six bronzed males and their girlfriends, wearing Hawaiian shirts and board shorts,” he told The Independent.  “The most effusive of these males stood up and loped over, shaking our hands with an eager puppy-dog gleam and a smile to die for. He said his name was Michael.”  He told Anthony Bozza, in INXS: Story to Story, that Michael “was so gracious and nothing at all that I expected”.  Very different in looks, the two men quickly realised they were on the same wavelength and the meeting marked the start of a lifelong friendship.  “We immediately started talking about what we could do for [Burn For You],” Lowenstein told Bozza, “[and] I found out right away that he and I did see things alike.”

The video, shot over the course of a week, is a clever mixture of live concert footage, some arty running about in trees and wonderful behind-the-scenes footage, capturing the band and their friends clearly enjoying themselves and each others company.  Filmed in four steadily larger towns (all marked on screen), from Mackay in Queensland to London, it also benefits from what would become an INXS/Lowenstein signature, namely key animation from Lynn-Maree Milburn.  

I really like the video, it feels warmly nostalgic, it’s nice to see the band on the cusp of becoming big and it’s great to see London in the early 80s - there’s footage from a concert at the Astoria Theatre on Charing Cross Road, which was demolished in early 2009.

Andrew Farriss wrote, on the INXS Anthology Liner Notes: "This was one of the earlier songs Michael and I had written for The Swing. The chorus was pure pop, and Kirk's acoustic guitar part gave the track a different sound from the rest of the album. Up to this point we had used very little acoustic guitar in our recording. Backing vocal harmonies on the chorus were helped by our friend Jenny Morris, who was later to tour with us on the following album, Listen Like Thieves."

Burn For You went on to win Countdown Awards for "Best Group Performance In A Video" and "Best Promotional Video".
The Swing was released in April 1984 and became the band’s first number one album on the Australian charts.  It was produced by Nick Launay (except Original Sin, which Nile Rodgers produced) and recorded at The Manor Studio in Oxfordshire during December 1983 with later sessions at Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney (Original Sin was recorded at The Power Station in New York during September 1983).  It reached number one on the Australian chart, number 27 in Canada, 37 in the Netherlands, 6 in New Zealand and 52 in the US.  I wrote about Original Sin, the breakout success of The Swing, here on its 30th anniversary.

The album yielded seven videos, which were later released on VHS as The Swing And Other Stories.

Original Sin and I Send A Message were both directed by Yasuhiko Yamamoto and filmed in Tokyo, the latter at the Buddhist temple in Main Old City Park.

Burn for You, Dancing on the Jetty and All The Voices were directed by Richard Lowenstein (the latter included footage from his film Strikebound).

Melting In The Sun and Love Is (What I Say) were directed by John Hillcoat.

The song was included as part of INXS' set for the Australian Made tour, the same-name concert film of which was directed by Richard Lowenstein.  This footage was taken from the performance at Endeavour Park, Syndey, on 24th January 1987.

INXS: Story to Story: The Official Autobiography, by INXS & Anthony Bozza
The Independent interview with Richard Lowenstein
Discogs release information

Monday 15 July 2019

Edge-Lit 8, Derby, 13th July 2019

Arriving a bit later than originally planned (entirely my fault), Sue Moorcroft & I made our way across the square and bumped into Pixie Puddin, getting our Pixie-hug’s in much earlier than usual.  After speaking to her, we bumped into Laura & Mr Mauro, who were heading off to sign into their hotel so we hugged and caught up before going into the Quad to sign in.  Alison Littlewood & Fergus came over to say hello, then went up to the midday panel that - had we arrived earlier - I’d intended to go to.  Instead, we got drinks and headed out to the terrace to find our gang.
from left - me, Sue Moorcroft, Ross Warren, Peter Mark May, James Everington
I dumped my bag in the chair next to Ross Warren and worked my way around the table, hugging and saying hello to Lisa Childs, Tracy Fahey, Andrew Freudenberg, Steve Shaw, Charlotte Bond, Peter Mark May and James Everington.  Plenty of catching up and chatting, then we ordered lunch and I nipped off for a toilet break.  I’d barely made it into the bar when I bumped into Angeline Trevina and her friend Holly (who was enjoying her first Edge-Lit, even though I kept calling her Molly), Dion Winton-Polak came by, said a fleeting hello to Selina Lock (who wasn’t really there) and Adele Wearing then CC Adams came in for a hug and a quick catch-up.  I didn’t get much further before I spotted Steve Harris, Linda Nagle, John Travis and Simon Clark at a table so I dropped by to say hello, went to the loo and returned to them, for a natter and a catch-up.  It was good to see my Crusty mates and I’m glad I went back - I didn’t see John & Simon for the remainder of the day.
from left - Simon Clark, John Travis, Steve Harris, Linda Nagle and me
Back to the table and lunch.  Andrew David Barker joined us and told me about his new book project, with Unbound and we discussed agenting adventures.  After Lisa finished my chips for me, I spoke to Simon Bestwick, caught up with Georgina Bruce and her brother and Ray Cluley joined us (we managed a wave).  Richard Farren Barber arrived so I chatted to him with Pete and said hello to Duncan Bradshaw, Dan Howarth and Paul Feeney then Richard & I talked with Tim Lebbon for a while.  Spotted David Watkins and had a chat, then CC joined us.  After a quick hello to Stephen Volk, we were off to the Black Shuck launch.
Me, Lisa Childs and Tracy Fahey
As we waited in the foyer to go into Cinema Two, Sophie Essex came across from The Box (where the dealers room had been set up) to say hello, so I went over to their stall, picked up her chapbook and chatted with her and Andrew Hook.  As Sophie said, you have to say hello when you see someone or you don’t see them again and - true to form - I’m glad we did because I didn’t.
Me, Richard Farren Barber, Peter
picture courtesy of Richard
Late into the launch, I sat in a row on my own (very warm in there and without anyone to nudge me, was a bit worried I’d nod off).  James and Dan launched their antho Pareidolia then Kit Power launched The Finite and did a reading.  Said hello to Jay Eales then Simon B came by and I realised Cate Gardner was in the row behind so I went back to chat with her and we talked nerves (our book launch next), writing and keeping fit.

Into Cinema One (the bigger theatre) for the Multi Publisher launch - Ross and Simon B with the latter’s novella A Love Like Blood, Justin Park and the Sinister Horror Company with Duncan’s Cannibal Nuns From Outer Space and Pete’s HHB with The Woods, featuring Cate, James, Penny Jones and me (Phil missed the event as it’s his wedding anniversary).  I convinced Cate to do a little reading and I hope she enjoyed it, we all read the first page of our stories and I had a great time (hope the audience did), though it was weird hearing your voice then an amplified version of it through the speakers a half-second later.
Following Cate's reading, as Simon looks on and Duncan finds something more interesting to do.
from left - James, Penny Jones, me, Cate Gardner, Simon B and Duncan Bradshaw

pic courtesy of Laura Mauro
Reading from "Compass Wood"
Bought Simon and Duncan’s book, chatted with Justin Park (who was still flying high over a glowing review by Chris Hall of The Black Room Manuscripts 4, launched at FCon last year (see here) - I got a very nice write-up too for Brooks Pond which pleased me no end) then signed a lot of copies of The Woods.  Hayley Orgill stopped for a chat after I signed her book, then Kevin Redfern came by and it was good to see them and I got to speak with Sue Sinclair, from my writing group - at Cons, we're usually ships that pass in the night!  I finally got to speak with Penny Jones (I’d spoken with Simon, her hubby, earlier) and all too soon, we were being asked to leave for the next event.
Signing a copy as Jay Eales waits - pic courtesy of Sue
Peter went to drop his books at his hotel, so I waited outside and enjoyed some of the dancing in the carnival with Sue, Ross, Lisa and Richard with Pixie joining us for a while too.  Once we’d got everyone together, we adjourned to the Cosy Club located in a glorious old building with very high ceilings, a little balcony (inside) and all manner of great features.  After we’d ordered, conversation ranged all over the place and we covered a lot of ground, including Pete’s admiration (yes, I’ll use that word) for F. Paul Wilson – or fuporl, as we started to call him.

We talked, the food arrived, we ate (it was very nice) and we talked a lot more.  All too soon, it was after seven so we headed back to the Quad and into Cinema One, where our group took up most of a row.  Dion sat with me and we compared our days.  Sarah Pinborough and Tim did the raffle which was as chaotic as ever, though good fun and once again I didn’t win anything - Steve later suggested we call it the ‘curse of the Andromeda’ and I wouldn’t disagree with that.  The raffle - and day - ended with Alex Davis doing a little speech.  “I’ve got some bad news and some good news” he said before announcing there would be no Sledge-Lit (boo!), though he was running a Ghost event (didn’t quite catch all the details) in its place.  However, he finished with the news that Edge-Lit next year would be over two days, which could be very interesting indeed.
Before the food, with Sue, Peter, Lisa, Richard, Ross and me
After that, we made our way out, saying goodbyes as we passed people, then had a long time hugging and saying cheerio in the foyer to the gang before heading across to the car park (where, naturally, we found ourselves standing with the people we’d just said goodbye to).

Another excellent Edge-Lit and I thoroughly enjoyed myself - there were a lot of people I only managed to say hello to, who I wish I could have chatted with and there were more I saw briefly across the room and never got to speak to at all.  But such is the way with Cons, it all balances out in the end.

A great Con is made up of different things and this one had it all, from the superb organisation by Alex, Pixie and the entire redshirt team to the wonderful company of fine friends and writers, not to mention the incredible burst of creative energy as you soak up the buzz.

Edge-Lit, you and your participants were excellent.  Roll on the next one!

Monday 8 July 2019

Compass Wood

I'm pleased to announce that The Woods, the latest PentAnth anthology from Hersham Horror Books, edited by Phil Sloman, is being launched at Edge-Lit this coming weekend.  Among a cracking selection of writers, it contains my short story Compass Wood, a dark tale of a man who takes a shortcut, has someone flag him down on a lonely country road and then gets chased into the titular wood.
The sixth anthology in our PentAnth range brings you five more chilling tales that have their roots in the dark terrors that lurk in the woods

The Iron Curve Of Thorns - Cate Gardner

A Short Walk Round The Woods - James Everington

Compass Wood - Mark West

Dendrochronology - Penny Jones

The Teddy Bears' Picnic - Phil Sloman

Just as I came to the end of a draft for the thriller novel I'm working on, Phil asked me to be involved in the latest PentAnth anthology and I immediately said yes.  I like Phil, I've worked a lot with Peter Mark May and HHB in the past and I relished the chance to create something new and, more importantly, short.

I decided to use the concept of the anthology as a key location, since I’ve written a few stories set in and around woods - a big set piece in the thriller takes place there too - and know they can be creepy and unnerving places after dark.  I instantly had two real-life locations to base my fake wood on - an old quarry area in Rothwell called The Folly and a small wood between Kettering and Corby - and once I had them fixed, most of the story came together quickly.  I talked through some ideas with my friend David, went for a walk in the real places to soak up atmosphere (which is where the bramble did, indeed, snag on my laces) and started writing.  The ending was always fixed in place but some of the bits that happen along the way were, quite literally, happy (for me, if not the characters) accidents.

As with the other HHB PentAnth editions (such as the one I edited, Anatomy Of Death), I designed the cover.

The man came out of nowhere.
   One moment, the narrow road curving its way through Compass Wood appeared empty, the next the man was lurching towards the car.
   Reacting quickly, Jason braked and steered onto the grassy verge. Stones and debris battered the underside of the car as the man, tall and wide-eyed, hair askew, turned to follow its progress. Jason drove back onto the tarmac and the brakes caught, the car coming to a juddering halt.
   Jason blew out a breath, heart jack-hammering against his sternum. Nerves tingled up his arms and a horrible cold sweat pasted across his forehead.
   “Fucking idiot,” he said and looked in the rear view mirror.
   The man came towards the car, arms waving above his head like some lunatic capering under the full moon. Although he wore a long overcoat and what appeared to be a shirt and tie, there was something in his expresson - no, in his eyes - Jason didn’t like.
   He put the car in gear and drove off. The man capered on, until the road curved and took him out of sight.

Monday 1 July 2019

800th blog post!

Welcome to my 800th blog post, a target I didn't anticipate achieving when I set this up back in 2009.  Carrying on the regular posting schedule (every Monday other than Bank Holidays), I've once again thoroughly enjoyed working on the posts and, as always, I'm surprised at how much I've managed to fit in since the last catch-up!

Since the 700th post (back in August 2017), I've had three short stories published, two novellas (Polly, was published by Stormblade Productions while Drive was republished by Near To The Knuckle following the sad demise of Pendragon Press), an e-chapbook (The Goblin Glass) and written two thriller novels.  I went to Sledge-Lit 3, Edge-Lit 7, FantasyCon in Chester and Sledge-Lit 4, had fun with The Crusty Exterior in Leicester in 2018 and in Nottingham in 2019, celebrated my creative year (for 2017 and 2018), been on the radio with Sue Moorcroft and took part in a sell-out Meet The Authors Q&A with Sue, Louise Jensen and Darren O'Sullivan in Corby,

On the blog, I've written some book reviews, some behind-the-scenes essays (on movie miniatures and matte paintings) and had great fun researching some retrospectives (on Return Of The Jedi, Octopussy, Live & Let DieThe A-TeamPet Sematary, the Indiana Jones sequels and Moonraker at 40).  I covered INXS' 30th anniversary of the Need You Tonight single and the KICK album and wrote an appreciation of Michael Hutchence on the 20th anniversary of his passing.  Similarly, I covered the 40th anniversary of Blondie singles Denis and Heart Of Glass, their Parallel Lines album and wrote an appreciation of Debbie Harry.  I also presented two sets of the Westies (for 2017 and 2018), curated two mixtapes (Stephen King and 70s/80s horror) and celebrated James Bond at 55the joy of reading and the glory of Pocketeers.  I wrote an appreciation of Caroline Munro, took part in the Seven Books meme (with David Roberts), started the Ten Favourite Covers thread with Childhood Terrors and carried out some interviews.

I've written some Nostalgic pieces (the joy of Christmas Annuals in 2017 and 2018Starlord comic, Summer Specials, The A-Team, The Black Hand GangStarburst magazine, Bullet comic, The Crunch comicTornado comic and ads from my childhood), highlighted some Halloween VHS treasures, looked at another Old School Horror paperback and celebrated The Art Of... (Robert McGinnis and Tom Chantrell).   I caught up with some Three Investigators book reviews, shared a love of novelisations (with The Professionals and Vegas$), enjoyed some Look-In cover art (in 2017 and 2018) as well as some 70s British comics cover art (in 2017 and 2018).

The Star Wars At 40 thread continued apace and I wrote about ILM (a brief history)the novelisationBehind The Scenes picsthe UK TV premierePoster Art, Music & Sounda Look-In featurethe 1978 annualRalph McQuarrie and attended a Star Wars toy exhibition in Leicester.

I also celebrated my entry to the Half-Century Club (and my friend Nick's too!), joined the Vinyl revival, found an 80s cinema listing and remembered Destination Docklands, the 1988 Jean-Michel Jarre concert I was lucky enough to attend (with Nick).

I've had a good time over the past 22 months and thoroughly enjoyed myself, both creatively and in general life.  Fingers crossed there's a lot more to come so roll on post 900!