Monday 27 January 2020

Making A Monster, by Al Taylor and Sue Roy - a review

I have a list in my head, of books that I would love to read (that goes back decades) and I never seem to forget the entries on it.  Sometimes I'll prowl online sites, to see if I can spot a bargain (one of the issues of wanting to read old books is that sometimes they're very expensive), but mostly I frequent 2nd hand bookshops and keep my eyes open.  A few weeks back, I met my good friend Steve Bacon in Leicester and we called into the Loros Bookshop and I made a major discovery.  Even better, Making A Monster - which I've been looking for since discovering it existed in the late 80s - was only £4 so I snapped it up.
 A behind-the-scenes look at the great film makeup artists, their careers and creations, from Frankenstein to Star Wars, with revealing information on how to make your own monsters.

As regular readers of the blog will know (and if you don’t, this thread might interest you), I have a keen interest in the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts that go into the making of a film, everything from matte paintings to miniatures and all points between.  Back in the mid-70s, as a big fan of the TV series (my parents even bought me a plastic ape mask), I was given the Brown Watson Planet Of The Apes annual for Christmas and read it eagerly.  I loved the whole thing but one piece in particular, a section near the back called ‘How To Make A Monkey Out Of Roddy McDowall’, really grabbed me.

So Roddy McDowall was actually a man?  The apes, chimps and orangutans in the TV show weren’t really apes, chimps and orangutans - they were people, made up to look like them!  My six-year-old mind was blown.

In the 80s, as home video allowed me to watch films I'd only read about and I discovered the glory of Fangoria, I read as much as I could about make-up artists, becoming a huge fan of Rick Baker in the process (I wrote a post about him, which you can read here).  While I was devouring as much of this information as I could, I heard about Making A Monster and was keen to read it but it seemed to constantly be slipping out of my grasp.  Until now.

Back then, I imagined it would be full of instructions on how to create monsters (as the title would suggest) but it’s so much more, a roll-call of make-up greats from the start of the film industry up to Rick Baker.  Twenty-five artists are interviewed, some more interesting than others, but thanks to the timing (most of the early stalwarts were still alive when the book was published in 1981) there’s only a few who didn’t get to contribute some thoughts or anecdotes.

There's a good deal of information away from films and it was particularly heartening to read of the likes of Jack Dawn (who built prosthetic appliances for injured soldiers returning from World War 2), Gordon Bau (who created prosthetics for amputees after the war) and Howard Smit (who made up a team of undercover policemen trying to track down criminals mugging old ladies).  The John Chambers segment (he of Apes fame) is fascinating - as well as his credited make-up work in films, it appears he did a lot for other films without credit (including the head in the boat sequence from Jaws) in addition to a lot of work with wounded soldiers and people who'd suffered life-altering injuries and became the first make-up artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.  The book finishes with Stan Winston and Rick Baker, two men just starting out at the time (most of Baker’s section covers King Kong and goes into details of his stressful time on the film), who would go on to do great things - as the book was published, Baker was a year off creating his An American Werewolf In London effects that would win him an Oscar.
John Chambers works (with his assistant Tom Burman, who gets a chapter to himself) on the Planet Of The Apes make-up
Competently written and well laid out, it’s clear Sue Roy (who apparently did most of the work) interviewed her subjects thoroughly and it’s nice to see the changes in the film industry over the span of the twentieth century, with the newcomers building on the work of those who came before - and being reverential about it.  The book does have some glitches - the aforementioned Dawn is given full credit for the Creature From The Black Lagoon make-up, completely ignoring Milicent Patrick while Jacqueline Pearce who is mentioned as being the eponymous reptile in the Hammer film is shown, in a photograph, with the actress being menaced given her name - but these kind of add to its charm in a strange way.
The great Rick Baker at work creating the Incredible Melting Man
I found this completely fascinating, explaining difficult processes in a clear and easy way and really giving these technicians a chance to shine.  I’m glad I finally managed to track down a copy and if, like me, you’re interested in movie make-up, I’d very much recommend it.
The back cover collage shows the various stages Christopher Lee went through to become Frankenstein's monster
If you're interested in further reading, I wrote a blog post about make-up effects in films which you can read here.

Long out-of-print, you can find an online version of the book at on this link.

Monday 20 January 2020

Mick & Sarah At The Pictures

I can’t remember now which Con Andrew David Barker & I first met at - though I’m going to assume it was an Edge-Lit - but I was already aware of him.  Thanks to Ross Warren and James Everington raving about it, I picked up The Electric (which I’ve been putting off reading, oddly enough, because I want to have time to properly savour it) and then Dead Leaves (which I wrote extensively about here).  A gifted writer with a great ear for dialogue and a nice line in nostalgia (always a winner with me), we were talking at Edge-Lit a couple of years ago about his next project, Mick & Sarah At The Pictures.  Part of the Unbound Books process, I was intrigued at the in’s-and-out’s of the project and eagerly pledged my support early on.
In the autumn of 1970, Mick and Sarah meet at their local cinema, The Rex, and go and see a Hammer horror double bill. They are nineteen and the future seems wide open. But they have no idea what kind of a decade they are about to grow into.

Last week, I got a chance to chat with Andrew about the book and everything else.

MW:   Hi mate, thanks for taking the time with this.  So to start off with, can you tell us what the book’s about?

ADB:   Mick & Sarah At The Pictures is a love story told in glimpses, snapshots over the course of a decade as my eponymous stars visit their local fleapit cinema, The Rex, and fall in and out of love during the movies. Each chapter takes place in a different, successive year, from 1970 to ’79, and features a different film they go and see.

They are two downtrodden working class kids in a dead end Midland town finding sanctuary in the images on the screen, and in each other.

It moves from glam to prog to punk, from Edward Heath to Margret Thatcher… about a Britain that is long gone, mostly for the better, but in other ways, it’s a disappeared England that I kind of yearn for.

It is the story of two young people and the old picture house that shapes their hopeless lives.

MW:   How did the idea come about - and how much research did you have to do?

ADB:   This is my third novel to be about the movies, or more to the point, about how cinema can effect our lives, shape our imaginations, and give us the pull, the need to get out of the drab streets of industrial towns. Seems that’s kind of my thing. This novel, I believe, is a more mature work. The kids in The Electric were 15, in ‘Dead Leaves they were 17, and in this one, I chart Mick and Sarah’s life from the age of 19 to 29. An age of huge change. I’m probably just building up to my middle-age novel.

I knew I wanted to explore the nature of love and how it can be held onto, what happens when it begins to drift, and what are the things in life that can bind us. That bind us forever. In Mick and Sarah’s case it’s the movies down at their local fleapit. I had the idea while writing The Electric while imagining the lives of the two lovers in that novel who build the haunted cinema. It took awhile to find the period I wanted to use. I think my original idea was to meet the characters every ten years and it move from childhood in the 1930s/40s up to present day, but that was just too unwieldy.
I arrived at the 1970s because I’m interested in that period of British history, both culturally and politically, as it was such a turbulent time and yet, such a vibrant time. The 60s were well and truly over and there was the three day week, and rubbish piled up in the streets, and loads of bombings, and blackouts and such political turmoil, but hey, the music was great, for the most part, and so were the movies.

Yet, the 1970s may be seen as the golden age of American movies, but in provincial picture houses up and down the country they weren’t necessarily showing The Godfather or Jaws, but film adaptations of TV sitcoms such as On the Buses or Up Pompeii! and of course the Carry On films. These used to pack ‘em in. Also there were the British sex comedies, such as the Confessions series and Can You Keep It Up For a Week? starring Boba Fett! All this stuff was just naughty seaside postcards writ large and viewing them now it’s incredible people paid to see them at the cinema. But they sure did.

I was interested in the historical context of these films and how they played into the society and the sexual mores of the times.  As I was writing about a certain year one chapter at a time, I didn’t research that year until I started each chapter. So I kind of went through the decade with Mick and Sarah. It was fascinating. I was born in 1975, so my memories of the decade are soaked in a brown and yellow-patterned wallpaper haze. I talked to my mum quite a bit about the world then and she gave me some great insights. It was a strange time, on the one hand the country was on its knees, yet there seemed to be a great sense of community and social connection. I say that knowing that wasn’t the case for minorities at all. It was grim on that side of things.

MW:   Why did you choose to go the crowdfunding/Unbound route?

ADB:   I am interested in all new platforms, new ways to get work out to audiences. On the film side I’ve embraced streaming; I embrace self-publishing, I embrace using platforms like SoundCloud, Spotify and such to get your music out there. Anything goes now. It’s all in flux and it’s all up for grabs. No one knows what the media and entertainment landscape will look like in 5 years, let alone 10. Everything is changing and the old guard, the old ways of doing things are slipping.

That said, I’m still chasing that large publishing deal, that agent. I’m GenX and still clinging onto the old Empire in a lot of ways, but I also know it’s not going to last. Unbound appealed because they are a hybrid between crowdfunding and traditional publishing, plus their produced books are very beautiful, and their reach is ever widening. Coming from self-publishing and the small press world it felt like the next step up the ladder, but I’m not sure if I was kidding myself there.
At Edge-Lit 7 in July 2018, Andrew & I with Kevin Redfern - you can read my report on the event here
MW:   How have you found the campaign and need to market?

ADB:   The campaign has been tough, I won’t lie. I recently wrote a piece about facing potential failure on this project (which you can read here). Being very English about it, I’m not comfortable asking people for money. It’s a hard thing to do, especially for a book that has no fixed release date. It’s basically a pre-sale for something that might not be in your hands for another year, and I know that’s a big ask. I also know that times are tough and extra money is not something most people readily have. But I felt I had to take the chance.

I’ve a few friends, writers and filmmakers, who have crowdfunded and most have been successful. I like it in principle; I like that it is putting the project right in the audiences’ hands. The reality is a lot tougher.

I want to give everything I can in doing it this way. It is an experiment, and it’s still got a long road ahead, but we’ll see. 

MW:   You’re a multi-hypenate when it comes to creative projects, having written and directed short films too.  What’s your favourite creative process and do ideas present themselves in a concrete way, ie “this should be a book” or “this is definitely a film”?

ADB:   I did return to filmmaking in 2018 after being out of it for a long while after my feature film, A Reckoning (which you can see on YouTube here), went into the ditch. That’s a long story which I won’t cover here, but the films I made recently are short films and were designed to be as simple as possible. Basically designed to get me going again. I wrote and directed the simple, two-men-talking-in-a-pub short Two Old Boys and the more elaborate and fantastical Shining Tor in quick succession, and both have gone onto do really well on the festival circuit - Shining Tor in particular, which has won quite a few awards. So those were specifically designed to be made as short films, as where the subsequent shorts I’ve written.

Longer story ideas are a bit trickier to decide what form to write them in. For the most part I do know if it’s a novel or a screenplay, but I do currently have a 60 page treatment for a very big project that I don’t yet know how to approach. Is it a novel, or a grand limited series? I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both. Whatever it is, I know it’s a big, big project. Definitely the biggest I’ve ever tackled. So with that one the lines are currently a bit blurred.

As for a favourite creative process… the novel wins I suppose because I love to write prose and I have trouble with the format of the screenplay- the actual nuts and bolts template you have to stick to in that form. That said, I can’t keep away from movies. The great thing about screenplays is that they are pure story, pure structure, everything has to be moving the narrative forward, and I think writing them helps me streamline my novels as well.

I have ideas for more stories set in The Electric universe - basically want it to be my MCU! - and I want to take a very transmedia path with that, given the opportunity. So - novels, short stories, short films perhaps, graphic novels… kind of combining all the stuff I do under one project. That’s what I’d really like to do, but we’ll see how things pan out. I'm ready now for that all-consuming project - the big project of my life.

If this has perked your interest, more details of Mick & Sarah (including how to buy the book in pre-sale and other ways to support Andrew) can be found at the Unbound site here.

Andrew David Barker was born in Derby in 1975 and has worked as a window fitter, a rail track worker, a factory worker, a carpet salesman, a car cleaner, a delivery driver, a bricklayer's labourer, a shop assistant, and a care worker, among others.  None of them stuck.  In the late 90s he played lead guitar in a rock band that got signed, made a single, played London, thought they were famous, and, subsequently, imploded.

He is the author of The Electric, Dead Leaves, and the short ghost story collection, Winter Freits.

As a filmmaker he wrote and directed the feature A Reckoning and the award winning short films, Two Old Boys and Shining Tor.

He now lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughters, trying to be a grown up and can be found online here and on Twitter here.

Monday 13 January 2020

Nostalgic For My Childhood - A Formative Read

I’ve written on the blog before about books that had a major impact on my formative reading years (from The Restless Bones, which I wrote about here to my enduring love for The Three Investigators series) and one of them, which I hadn’t seen in ages, was re-published last year.
 This book is for anyone who has shivered at shadowy figures in the dark, heard strange sounds in the night, or felt the presence of a mysterious ‘something’ from the unknown. 

You will meet haunting spirits, screaming skulls, phantom ships, demon dogs, white ladies, gallows ghosts and many more. This book also explains the techniques and equipment of ghost hunting and tells how lots of ‘ghosts’ have been exposed as fakes or explained away as natural events. 

I loved spooky things as a kid and this slim paperback, originally published by Usborne in 1977 and written by Christopher Maynard, was the perfect book for ghost-mad kids like me back in the day.  At that time, as with The Three Investigators, I was the only person I knew who read the book (taking it out of the library, time after time) but through the wonder of social media, I now realise I wasn’t alone.
The book is well illustrated and covers everything from explaining what a ghost is and how they’ve appeared in history, where they’re likely to gather and how literature has presented them, through to a helpful map of a haunted village.  Everything, in fact, for a would-be ghost hunter and this includes a helpful guide for the equipment you’d need to do that too!  There’s a healthy scepticism (it debunks several myths) but it also presents the photographs that terrified me as a child, including the old lady in the back seat of a car (and you can tell me a million times her scarf is over part of the car frame, I still won’t believe you).

The re-print (which is identical to the original, other than the foreword from Reece Shearsmith, another fan) came about when people started discussing the book online.  Anna Howarth, who works for Usborne and was a fan, tells the company website she’d been “banging on” about bringing it back into print for most of the fifteen years she’d worked for the company.  When Shearsmith tweeted his love for the book, she wrote to him and he agreed to write the foreword for any reprints.
Buoyed by public reaction, Anna set up an online petition that quickly sailed past the target of 1,000 signatures and the book was reprinted in time for Halloween 2019, going to number one on Amazon when it was put up for pre-order.

To those of us who remember it from the first time around, it’s a wonderful blast of nostalgia that reads as well as you would hope.  For everyone else with even the vaguest interest in the supernatural, I’d say it’s essential reading.
Enjoy - and beware the things that go bump in the night…

Monday 6 January 2020

The King For A Year Project, 5 Years On...

It's now five years since I started what I thought was going to be a little project.  It didn't end up quite like that, of course but as Stephen King says in The Mist, "this is what happened..."

I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since my Dad took me into a second hand bookshop in Wellingborough in the early 80s and I picked up a battered copy of Salem’s Lot, which still sits proudly on my shelf.  I used his fantastic non-fiction book Danse Macabre to help navigate my first steps around the horror genre, in print and film and went on to read everything he put out through to Needful Things in 1991 (and dipped back in and out again over the years, falling in love with his work again when I read Joyland in 2013).  When Matthew Craig was discussing on Twitter his proposed #CarrieAt40 project, I jumped at the chance to get involved and reviewed it (since I’d never read that particular novel) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

A little while after my review was published, in April 2014, I had a Facebook discussion with Alison Littlewood, Ross Warren, Anthony Cowin and Andrew Murray and we talked about our personal top 10 favourite King books.  Always keen to make lists, I then posted this...

Here's an idea - Ross, Anthony, Andrew, Alison - how about next year, we declare it a Stephen King year. Twelve of us, we each pick one book and then blog a review/essay on it and link back to each others blog.  What do you think?

As it happened, they all thought it was a very good idea whilst I wondered if I could find seven other people interested enough in the project to take part.  Turns out, that wasn't something I should have worried about at all as within an hour of mentioning it on Twitter, I'd filled all twelve spots.

Ross then suggested we have a dedicated blog for the reviews, so I set one up and Willie Meikle gave it the perfect title with King For A Year.  I asked a few more people if they’d like to take part, yet more came forward of their own volition and by the end of that day, I’d filled 24 spots.  By the end of the next day, I had 36 volunteer reviewers.  I asked a couple more people, a few more put their names forward and very soon, we had over 50 interested parties.

It seemed an unlikely (nay, mammoth) undertaking but suddenly, “King For A Year” meant exactly that, 52 people reviewing 52 books over the course of 12 months.  What had started life, mere days before, as a book-a-month blog was now a book-a-week blog.

As Alison said in a later tweet, “from little acorns…”

As curator, I decided on a fairly simple set of rules - each person would pick their own book to write about and the review could be laid out as they wanted (I would only edit for grammar) so we got a good mix.  Some reviews are thorough, bordering on the academic (Ray Cluley’s especially), whilst some are little slices of autobiography where the King book in question reminds the reviewer of happenings in their lives.  I was originally going to look at Pet Sematary (which I hadn’t read in years, certainly not since becoming a father and didn't revisit for a couple of years - see here) but chickened out, which was lucky for the blog because I then got two reviews for it - from a male and female viewpoint.

By the end of 2015 we'd reviewed 64 individual works (a few more than once) over 64 blog posts, contributed by 56 writers and received over 29,000 views in return, which is great.  We had a bit of a coup (noted King scholar Bev Vincent contributed his review of Finders Keepers from an ARC edition, so it published on the same day as the book), featured some first-time reviewers and hopefully included some people who aren’t particularly known for their love of horror (such as best-selling romance novelists Rowan Coleman and Julie Cohen).

For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing (and put books onto my TBR pile based on some of the reviews) and it pleased me immensely that people had a good time re-reading their favourites and writing about them.

The blog was nominated for Best Non-Fiction in the British Fantasy Society Awards in 2016 (it didn't win, unfortunately) and closed once the year was up (even though certain titles never got picked up), though it's still live.  Once again, I'd like to thank all the reviewers, all the visitors (I hope, if you’re a Constant Reader, you had as much fun with the blog as I did), the original gang who helped shape the idea in the first place and, of course, Stephen King without whom…

The Contributors (in alphabetical order):
Stephen Bacon, Jenny Barber, Liz Barnsley, Simon Bestwick, Charlotte Bond, Donna Bond, Kevin Bufton, J. G. Clay, Chad Clark, Charlene Cochrane, Julie Cohen, Rowan Coleman, Anthony Cowin, Matthew Craig, Dean M. Drinkel ,Jay Eales, James Everington, Jay Faulkner, Paul M. Feeney, Gef Fox, David T Griffith, Shaun Hamilton, Kim Talbot Hoelzli, Nadine Holmes, Dave Jeffery, Carole Johnstone, Frazer Lee, Alison Littlewood, Selina Lock, Edward Lorn, Marc Lyth, Johnny Mains, Robert Mammone, Maura McHugh, Jim Mcleod, Gary McMahon, William Meikle, Andrew Murray, Thana Niveau, Wayne Parkin, Kit Power, John Llewellyn Probert, Sharon Ring, Lynda E. Rucker, Christian Saunders, Steve Shaw, Phil Sloman, Robert Spalding, Bev Vincent, Ren Warom, Ross Warren, Anthony Watson, Adele Wearing, Sheri White, David T. Wilbanks, Neil Williams

The blog can be found here

The complete run-down of reviews...

The Shining, reviewed by Anthony Cowin
Night Shift, reviewed by Stephen Bacon
The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower vol. VII), reviewed by Jenny Barber
Dr Sleep, reviewed by Wayne Parkin

Danse Macabre, reviewed by Kevin Bufton
'Salem's Lot, reviewed by Matthew Craig
From A Buick 8, reviewed by Neil Williams
Thinner, reviewed by Donna Bond

IT, reviewed by James Everington
Lisey's Story, reviewed by Dean M. Drinkel
Cell, reviewed by Maura McHugh
The Dead Zone, reviewed by Willie Meikle
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, reviewed by Alison Littlewood

Three novellas ("Ur", "Blockade Billy", "Mile 81"), reviewed by Kevin Bufton
On Writing, reviewed by Kit Power
Under The Dome, reviewed by Selina Lock
Rose Madder, reviewed by Rowan Coleman

Four Past Midnight, reviewed by John Llewellyn Probert
Christine, reviewed by Adele Wearing
The Regulators, reviewed by Shaun Hamilton
Carrie, reviewed by Lynda E. Rucker

Finders Keepers, reviewed by Bev Vincent
Dreamcatcher, reviewed by Kim Talbot Hoelzli
Revival, reviewed by David T. Wilbanks
Misery, reviewed by Jay Eales
Cycle Of The Werewolf, reviewed by Nadine Holmes

Joyland, reviewed by Gary McMahon
CUJO, reviewed by Thana Niveau
Skeleton Crew, reviewed by Phil Sloman
Different Seasons, reviewed by Dave Jeffery

Mr Mercedes, reviewed by Steven Savile
Gerald's Game, reviewed by Ray Cluley
The Colorado Kid, reviewed by Jim Mcleod
Needful Things, reviewed by Sharon Ring
Duma Key, reviewed by Liz Barnsley

Blaze, reviewed by Paul M. Feeney
Nightmare & Dreamscapes, reviewed by Christian Saunders
The Gunslinger, reviewed by Anthony Watson
Full Dark, No Stars, reviewed by Frazer Lee

Dolores Claiborne, reviewed by Carole Johnstone
The Dark Half, reviewed by Andrew Murray
A Face In The Crowd, Throttle and In The Tall Grass, reviewed by Kevin Bufton
The Drawing Of The Three, reviewed by Julie Cohen

Hearts In Atlantis, reviewed by Robert Mammone
Rage, reviewed by Johnny Mains
Pet Sematary, reviewed by Marc Lyth
Desperation, reviewed by J. G. Clay
Desperation, reviewed by Kit Power
11.22.63, reviewed by Chad Clark
11.22.63, reviewed by Kim Talbot Hoelzli
Insomnia, reviewed by Ross Warren

Duma Key, reviewed by Ren Warom
The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole, reviewed by Gef Fox
Just After Sunset, reviewed by Edward Lorn
Pet Sematary, reviewed by Charlotte Bond
Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption, reviewed by David T Griffith
The Green Mile, reviewed by Simon Bestwick
Bag Of Bones, reviewed by Charlene Cocrane
The Eyes Of The Dragon, reviewed by Jay Faulkner
Firestarter, reviewed by Paul M. Feeney
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, reviewed by Steve Shaw
Black House, reviewed by Robert Spalding
Everything's Eventual, reviewed by J. G. Clay
The Stand, reviewed by Sheri White