Monday 23 December 2019

My Creative Year 2019

Continuing a tradition (the seventh occasion!), here's my annual look back at the year from a creative standpoint.
During the year I wrote two short stories (one of which Phil Sloman was kind enough to ask me for, see below for details) and a lot of essays for this blog (which is always enjoyable).  Most of my creative time was focussed on novels and all the attendant work to do with the admin of submitting them.  The second thriller novel, with the working title Hunted, went out to a lot of agencies and got some decent feedback but no bites.  I revised my first novel Hangman and re-sent that out too.  In the meantime, I started work on Novel 3 (I'm calling it Death At The Seaside but that won't stick) and, once again, hugely enjoyed the plotting process while out walking with David Roberts and Pippa.

* * *
I had one short story published.

Compass Wood appeared in The Woods, a Hersham Horror Books PentAnth anthology edited by Phil Sloman.  It was launched at Edge-Lit 8.
At the launch of The Woods, on stage at Edge-Lit 8 with, from left - James, Penny Jones, me, Cate Gardner, Simon B and Duncan Bradshaw (pic courtesy of Laura Mauro)

* * *
Ellen Datlow, as part of her Best Horror Of The Year anthology, included my short story Brooks Pond (which I wrote about here) in her Recommended Reading/Honorable Mentions List.  I was amazed and even more chuffed to see I got a mention in her round-up too and you can see more of her recommendations here.

* * *
My short story Mr Stix, originally published in For The Night Is Dark (edited by Ross Warren) and reprinted in my 2017 collection Things We Leave Behind, has been republished by PenMan Press as an e-chapbook available on Kindle.
When Sam Murphy's seven-year-old daughter Janey starts to suffer night terrors, he does his best to assure her that Mr Stix - a voice from the shadows who says "mean things" to her - can't hurt her.

Sam later finds the grotesque Mr Stix in the family bathroom and then his terrified wife tells him the story of her own childhood night-time fears.

If you're not in the UK, you can use this link -

* * *
Jim Mcleod, at Ginger Nuts Of Horror, included The Woods in his Picks Of Year, calling Compass Wood a "fast-paced and action-filled tale".  You can read his full listing here.

Drive was reviewed by Andrew Hook at Goodreads who wrote: "If there's a definition of a page-turner, then this novella is it."  You can read the full review here.

Brooks Pond from The Black Room Manuscripts 4 was reviewed by Chris Hall at DLS Reviews who wrote: "the sort of story that keeps you on your toes, thinking you know where it’s going, only for it to unexpectedly shift course.  And the ending.  What an ending!  It’s dark, twisted and executed to absolute perfection." You can read the full review here.

Compass Wood was reviewed by Ben Walker at Kendall Reviews, who wrote: "delivers some decent frights [and] the image of the lunatic in pursuit of the story’s lead character stuck in my head for a while after the punchy ending."  You can read the full review here.

* * *
The Crusty Exterior - or constituent parts - managed two gatherings.

The first, which Phil Sloman unfortunately couldn't get to, was a meet-up in Leicester for my 50th birthday and I wrote about it here.

The second, organised by James but without Steve Harris, saw a gang of us meet up in Nottingham to sample bookshops, the Paupers' graves and a fine curry house.  I wrote about it here.
Crusties in Leicester, 2nd February 2019
 from left: John Travis, Sue Moorcroft, me, Steve Harris, Linda Nagle, David Roberts, James Everington & Steve Bacon
Birthday meal at Carluccio's Leicester with me, Sue, Linda, Steve, John, Steve, James & David

Crusties in Nottingham, 15th April 2019
from left - Wayne Parkin, me, Simon Jones, Penny Jones, Selina Lock, Richard Farren Barber, James Everingon, Phil Sloman and Jay Eales
* * *
To help celebrate the publication of her 15th novel, Let It Snow, I interviewed Sue Moorcroft at Rothwell Library in November.  A hugely enjoyable evening, we had a good turnout, a lively Q&A session and Sue did a reading - it also helped benefit the library, which I was really pleased about.  You can read my report on the event here.
Me and Sue Moorcroft, Rothwell Library, 13th November 2019
* * *
I only attended the one Con this year, Edge-Lit 8, held at The Quad in Derby on 13th July (see my report here).  Sledge-Lit was postponed for the year and FantasyCon was held in Glasgow, but the time-off requirements to travel proved sadly beyond me.
from left - me, Sue Moorcroft, Ross Warren, Peter Mark May, James Everington

from left - Simon Clark, John Travis, Steve Harris, Linda Nagle and me
* * *
I'm feeling confident for 2020 too, as I crack on with the thriller novel and, whatever happens, I'll keep you updated as to how things go.

As always, thank you so much, dear readers of this blog, for all your support in 2019, especially those who bought, read and liked my work - I really do appreciate it.

Monday 16 December 2019

The Eleventh Annual Westies - review of the year 2019

Well, here we are again (seriously, where does the time go, eh?), gearing up for Christmas and all things festive, which means it's time to indulge in the annual blog custom and remember the good books of 2019.

Once again, it's been a great reading year for me with a nice mixture of brand new novels, a few books that have languished 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 Eleventh Annual Westies Award - “My Best Fiction Reads Of The Year” - and the top 20 looks like this:

1:   Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Read
2:   The Whisper Man, by Alex North
3:   Summer On A Small Island *, by Sue Moorcroft
4:   Let It Snow, by Sue Moorcroft
5:   Closer Still, by Richard Farren Barber
6:   Mistletoe, by Alison Littlewood
7:   The A-Team: When You Comin' Back, Range Rider?, by Charles Heath
8:   The Family, by Louise Jensen
9:   The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley
10:  The Devil's Dice, by Roz Watkins
11: Grave Descend, by Michael Crichton
12: The Puppet Show, by M. W. Craven
13: Elevator Pitch, by Linwood Barclay
14: My Best Friend's Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix
15: Clean Break, by Tammy Cohen
16: Something In The Water, by Catherine Steadman
17: The Professionals 4: Hunter Hunted, by Ken Blake
18: The Banker's Wife, by Cristina Alger
19: Final Girls, by Riley Sager
20: Sleep, by C. L. Taylor

* This is Sue's Avon book for next summer, which I read to critique and will be published in May 2020.

The Top 10 in non-fiction are:

1:   The Killers: Days & Ages, by Mark Beaumont
2:   Till The Cows Come Home, by Sara Cox
3:   With Nails, by Richard E. Grant
4:   INXS - Band On The Road, by INXS and Ed St John
5:   Game Over, by Dan Whitehead
6:   Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, by Eric Idle
7:   Cinefex 36, by Don Shay et al
8:   Making Movie Magic, by John Richardson
9:   Making A Monster, by Al Cummings & Sue Roy
10: Bohemian Rhapsody, by Lesley-Ann Jones

Stats wise, I’ve read 76 books - 42 fiction, 18 non-fiction, 9 comics/nostalgia/kids and 7 Three Investigator mysteries.

Of the 69 books, the breakdown is thus:

9 biography
12 horror
8 film-related
3 drama (includes romance)
25 crime/mystery
3 sci-fi
3 nostalgia
6 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 9 December 2019

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Christmas Annuals (part 3)

"Christmas is coming!"
Me, Christmas 1981.  The book I'm writing in was the first diary I received and kept up with (I still write a daily diary) and the uppermost annual, by my right arm, is the 2000AD 1982 edition
As I've written about over the past two years (you can see 2017 here and 2018 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.  If you don't remember them, annuals were (and still are) large size hardback books, designed for children and based on existing properties, generally comics and popular TV shows, as well as the occasional film and 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.

Generally published towards the end of the year, annuals are 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, the only difference (apart from the fact kids today don't have the choice of comics we did) seems to be that they're 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...
Follyfoot was a firm favourite for Tracy (who loved horses), my memory of it is very hazy.
A Christmas staple, the on-going adventures of Dennis The Menace, Roger The Dodger and the Bash Street Kids!
"...everyone knows his name..."
I enjoyed Dr Who as a kid but it scared the crap out of me!
War comics (and their subsequent annuals) were a big part of my childhood because, when this was published, the Second World War was still a clear memory for most adults.
Getting to stay up late on a Saturday night to watch Starsky & Hutch was a real treat!
Monster related mayhem, another Christmas staple...
I remember reading my friend Claire's Jackie comics and annuals and not quite understanding why they didn't have war strips in them...

It took me a long, long time to realise that the dinosaur (bottom left)'s name - Posh Paws - was an anagram of Swap Shop...
My hero and a marked improvement on the previous years annual (which I still feel suffers with poor artwork).  Alas, this would be the last Steve Austin annual for me, I didn't even realise there was a 1980 edition until fairly recently.
Starlord was a favourite comic of mine (I wrote about it here) though it only actually lasted for 22 issues during 1978.  This, the first annual, came out a year after it had been absorbed into 2000AD and further annuals appeared in 1981 and 1982.
  The Junior TV Times, Look-In was a big favourite of mine (as I wrote about here).
Everyone of a certain age, seeing this, has just performed the theme tune riff.  Another favourite TV show of mine (which I wrote about here).
 With one original Angel left (Jaclyn Smith, just in case you're too young to remember this...)
Thrill Power overload (and another fantastic Brian Bolland cover), as seen in the picture of me at the top of the blog!
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 2 December 2019

Live Baby Live: INXS on the big screen!

Last week, Alison & I were lucky enough to revisit the excellent INXS concert film Live Baby Live at the cinema, when it showed ‘for one night only’.
Live Baby Live is the film of the iconic 1991 Wembley Concert (the gig itself was called Summer XS and I wrote extensively about it here).  As Tim Peacock on udiscovermusic put it, “Six years to the day after Live Aid, London’s famous Wembley Stadium played host to a second concert [that] would go down in history. On 13 July 1991, Aussie superstars INXS delivered the show of their lives at Wembley, with their career-defining gig captured in all its widescreen glory by a spin-off concert film and live album – both of which were titled Live Baby Live.”
Having thoroughly enjoyed the concert - I became a firm fan of the band before we were halfway through the gig - I snapped up the album when it was released in November 1991.  David Mallet’s film version, shot with sixteen 35mm cameras (including one in a helicopter), was released the same day and I duly picked up the VHS, watching it over and over again.  When a special edition DVD was released in 2003, I bought that and Alison & I have watched it at least once a year since (it includes an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary, if you’re interested).  Both the VHS and DVD editions were cropped to 1.33:1 aspect ratio to fit the then TV standard 4:3 size (because, of course, back then TV screens were almost square) and I never thought anything about it.
For the cinema release, Chris Murphy - the band’s long-time manager - spent a decade looking for the original 35mm elements, according to Andrew Trendell of the nme and managed to find most of it in Australia.

When you’re working on a project for so long, there’s the fear ‘What’s everyone going to think?’ That turns into astonishment,” said Murphy. “Watching it back, Michael is better than even I thought he was - how he managed the stage. His voice became more powerful as the gig went along. It was extraordinary to watch - the crowd and band were as one.

The concert has been fully restored from the original print with a new widescreen 4K Ultra HD version created in 1.78:1 ratio (which’ll fit nicely on 16:9 televisions!).  It also includes the full version of Lately - a previously unseen ‘lost’ track, included as an audio-only extra on the DVD - marking the first time the concert has been released with the full original setlist.

A brand new Dolby Atmos audio mix was prepared by Giles Martin and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios and released as a triple vinyl album (which sounds fantastic, I bought it the day it came out) and double CD.

The UK showing was set for Wednesday 27th November.  We saw it at the Northampton Filmhouse and Alison & I turned up in our INXS t-shirts (I wore the one I got from Wembley back in 1991), having listened to the CD on the drive there.  From the opening, as the band rushes the stage to Jon Farriss’ drum beat to Michael Hutchence doing his victory salute at the end, the experience was incredible.  The film quality is superb, the image pin sharp for the stage scenes (not so clear for the helicopter shots), to the extent you can read the guitar plectrums easily and the widescreen presentation adds in a lot of detail.  The sound, also, was thunderous and that was just what it needed.
left - in 1991 with my then girlfriend Liz, who I attended the gig with and - right - at home in 2019
The whole band was on fire that night”, writes Garry Gary Beers in the liner notes.  “Michael was so good, he sang his heart out and gave every person in the crowd a night to remember for all time. He truly had that amazing ability to make the biggest shows as intimate as the pubs we grew up in musically.

We were just six blokes from Australia that treated Wembley Stadium like just another pub gig,” Tim Farriss wrote in the liner notes.  “We went in with a PA and a few lights and played our asses off. No ego ramps, no back-up singers, no props, no grand pianos, just the six of us – and the audience went nuts! That’s all we needed!

Music producer Giles Martin said of the gig that the crowd had just witnessed “one of the biggest global sensations at the height of their powers” and on the strength of this and my memories, he’s absolutely spot on.

This is a definite Blu ray purchase.  Thanks for the memory, INXS!