Monday 28 September 2020

FantasyCon Memories

This past weekend should have seen FantasyCon 2020 take place in London but, due to Covid-19, it was understandably cancelled.  Absolutely the right decision but it meant a lot of us missed out on one of the few chances we get in a year to catch up, in real life and in living colour, with our writing friends, a weekend full of chatter (books, writing and general bollocks), laughter and eating.
The FantasyCon Boyband publicity shoot went well - Richard Farren Barber, Steve Bacon, me, Wayne Parkin on Scarborough sea front, 2016

I've missed meeting up with my writing family this year, so I thought I'd share some of my favourite FantasyCon memories from over the years here.  If you were at any of these with me, it was a real pleasure to spend time with you and roll on next year, when hopefully we can finally do it again!

FantasyCon 2018 - Chester (I wrote about it here).  Set in another grand hotel, highlights from this include great book launches, being on a panel with Joanne Harris and the inaugural Best Legs In Horror contest (tightly fought by me, Phil Sloman & Jim Mcleod, I was robbed...)
In the Jubilee Room for the Black Room Manuscripts 4 launch with, from left, Tracy Fahey (who co-edited the anthology), Duncan Bradshaw, Peter Mark May, Steve, Penny Jones, me, Neil Williams, Michelle Williams and James Everington
Me & Jim Mcleod (I can't remember now why he suggested I sit on his knee) - pic by Lisa Childs
The "no pressure whatsover panel" featuring, from left, Juliet Kemp, Joanne Harris, me and Lesley Jones - some of these people are more nervous than others...

Fantasycon 2017 - Peterborough (I wrote about it here).
On a panel with some stellar writers - Ramsey Campbell, Phil Sloman, me, Helen Armfield, Nina Allan and James (pic by Peter Mark May)
Out for lunch with Dave Jeffery, Sue Moorcroft, Phil (his left arm isn't really that long!), Peter Mark May, me, Richard
Priya Sharma, Steve Harris, me, Simon Bestwick (front) and Peter

FantasyCon 2016 - Scarborough (I wrote about it here).  Probably my favourite Con of all time, this had everything - a wonderfully gothic hotel, great friends, excellent weather, successful book launches, fish & chips on the front and lots of laughter.
from left - John Gilbert, Sue Moorcroft, Neil, James, Priya, Phil, me, Lisa Childs, Ross Warren, Wayne, Cate Gardner
At the launch of Hersham Horror Books' 4 Novella's - Phil, Steve, me, James
In the back bar (pic by Chris Teague) - from left (bottom) Wayne, Gavin Williams, Amanda Rutter, Steve, Sharon Ring, me, Ross, John Travis, Peter, Lisa, Sue, Phil, Steve, James
Me, Alison Littlewood, Gary Fry and Gary McMahon - sarcasm not pictured

FantasyCon 2015 - Nottingham (I wrote about it here) A real highlight, this included the launch of The Lost Film, the "surprise" book launch of Jim Mcleod Must Die, a cracking disco and lots and lots of laughing with friends.  The hotel menu wasn't brilliant, nor was the service at the curry house...
Launching "The Lost Film" with Steve and Christoper Teague
"Jim Mcleod Must Die!" - the big man is overcome at all the love in the room for him, with Sue, Phil (who organised the wonderful project) and Steve
Jim, me, Charlotte Bond, Paul Melhuish and Richard 
A misted up camera lens produced this - Peter, me, Phil and Steven Chapman, boogie-ing the night away...
l to r - Paul Woodward, Phil, Steve, me, Alison, Jim and James with Gavin Williams in front.  I am NOT fiddling with his ear...

FantasyCon 2014 - York (I wrote about it here) This was just after my heart attack and it still gives me a warm glow, remembering the way people came up for a hug or to say how good it was to see me.  That meant an awful lot to me then and it still does today.
In the Dealers Room (again) with Steven, Phil, Jim, me, Sue, Neil and Chris

World Fantasy 2013 - the third in Brighton and this was huge (I wrote about it here)
In the dealers room with Stephen Volk, Gard Goldsmith and Paul Finch
Neil Bond displays his autographs, with Steven and Ruth Booth

In the dealers room with Selina Lock, Richard and Stuart Young
Having a great time at the disco!
Alison & I having a laugh in the Hauntings book signing.  Poor old Paul Kane doesn't look so amused...

FantasyCon 2011 - my first in Brighton (I wrote about it here).  This was also the Con where I got to see Simon Duric's masterful short film Later (which I wrote about here).
At the Alt-Dead launch with Stuart Hughes, me, Dave, Steve Lockley and Stuart Young.  Peter Mark May is handing out the cake.

In the bar at the Brittania in Nottingham
(left to right: Gary McMahon, hiding behind his proof, Shaun Hamilton, Steve, me, David Price, Simon Kurt Unsworth, with Simon Marshall-Jones in front

Monday 21 September 2020

Dark Forces edited by Kirby McCauley at 40

On 18th September 1980, Macdonald Futura published Dark Forces as a hardback in the UK, a horror anthology that turned out to ground-breaking in a variety of ways, not least for helping open the door to the horror boom that followed in the decade.
Futura paperback, 1986 edition
cover scan of my copy
It all started when Kirby McCauley went to dinner with Anthony Cheetham, the publisher of Futura Publications Ltd in England.  He suggested McCauley, then an agent with an impressive stable of clients, edit “a anthology of new stories of horror and the supernatural” which he would publish.  McCauley writes in his introduction that Cheetham “liked my only other anthology of original stories, Frights, and seemed to feel I was the person to do a more ambitious similar volume for him”.  After some indecision as to whether he was the right man, he decided “to assemble [the] anthology with the same scope and dynamism of Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions, but in the supernatural horror field”.  Ellison’s groundbreaking 1967 anthology chose stories that were rooted in science fiction but willingly went off at tangents to “break new ground, say and do things in new and varied and daring ways”.  Cheetham immediately grasped the concept and agreed to publish the book.

McCauley “approached by letter or telephone near every writer living who had tried his or her hand at this type of story and whose writing” he liked.  He also “deliberately sought variety, stories ranging wide across the horizon of fantasy fiction” because, he felt, “nothing seems…more boring than an anhtology in one key, having similar backdrops or styles, or which are all variations on a narrow theme.”

From one of his more successful clients, Stephen King, he pursued The Mist, which would close the anthology and also took the “opportunity to meet Isaac Bashevis Singer”, the Polish-born Jewish writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1978.  A look at the table of contents shows a wide range of terrific writers, some just coming into their own at the time, some who wouldn’t have been considered horror but all of them producing fantastic work.

“I set out to offer as many of the subjects and moods and general directions the fantastic tale has tended traditionally to take as I could, but hopefully in imaginative, fresh ways.”

The table of contents:

Dennis Etchison - The Late Shift
Isaac Bashevis Singer - The Enemy
Edward Bryant - Dark Angel
Davis Grubb - The Crest Of Thirty-Six
Robert Aickman - Mark Ingestre: The Customer's Tale
Karl Edward Wagner - Where The Summer Ends
Joyce Carol Oates - The Bingo Master
T. E. D. Klein - Children of the Kingdom
Gene Wolfe - The Detective of Dreams
Theodore Sturgeon - Vengeance Is
Ramsey Campbell - The Brood
Clifford D. Simak - The Whistling Well
Russell Kirk - The Peculiar Demesne
Lisa Tuttle - Where the Stones Grow
Robert Bloch - The Night Before Christmas
Edward Gorey - The Stupid Joke
Ray Bradbury - A Touch of Petulance
Joe W. Haldeman - Lindsay and the Red City Blues
Charles L. Grant - A Garden of Blackred Roses
Manly Wade Wellman - Owls Hoot in the Daytime
Richard & Richard Christian Matheson - Where There's a Will
Gahan Wilson - The Trap
Stephen King - The Mist

1981 Bantam Books edition
Locus magazine called Dark Forces "the most important horror collection of the year" and I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that.  I didn’t find it until 1984 or so (thank you, thank you, thank you Kettering library) and thought it was astonishing, later picking up the paperback so I didn't have to keep taking it out of the library.  Already a fan of Stephen King, I instantly loved The Mist and there was so much here to enjoy it was a similar revelation for me as Danse Macabre had been, a new list of great writers to explore and enjoy.  It was the first time I’d read Dennis Etchison and his The Late Shift led me to his own collections, a writer I would come to admire and read ever after.

Kirby McCauley
As a young horror fan, discovering the genre in the early to mid-80s, you had to follow trails yourself and this quickly became a cornerstone for me (as was, later, Etchison’s Cutting Edge anthology).  It showed me that horror could be all manner of things, all manner of styles and that affected both my reading and writing habits.

* * *
Dark Forces won the World Fantasy Award for best Anthology/Collection in 1981 and Clive Barker, in Faces Of Fear, said that reading the “great variation of horror stories” in the collection encouraged him to start writing the short stories that would come to make up his Books Of Blood.

Kirby McCauley was born in Minnesota on 11th September 1941 and became a literary agent in the 1970s, representing the likes of Stephen King and George R. R. Martin.  Helping to found the World Fantasy Convention in 1975, he also helped create the World Fantasy Awards and edited “Night Chills” (1975), “Frights” (1976) and “Dark Forces” (1980).  He died on 30th August 2014, of renal failture associated with diabetes.  George R. R. Martin wrote a moving tribute on his livejournal.

Happy 40th, Dark Forces.

my copy of Dark Forces (McCauley's introduction)
Kirby McCauley information at Too Much Horror Fiction
Kirby McCauley obituary at Locus

Monday 14 September 2020

Suicide Blonde, by INXS, at 30

Thirty years ago, on 15th September 1990, INXS released Suicide Blonde, their first single in over 18 months (following Mystify), from their forthcoming album X.
Suicide Blonde was written by Andrew Farriss & Michael Hutchence and released in September 1990 across the world.  The b side for the 7” was Everybody Wants U Tonight written by Jon Farriss.

The first of five singles from the album (followed by Disappear, released in December, By My Side in March 1991, Bitter Tears in July 1991 - to tie in with the Summer XS gig which I wrote about here -and The Stairs, only released in The Netherlands in November), it peaked at number 2 in the Australian charts, number 1 in Canada, New Zealand and the US, went Top 10 in The Netherlands and Ireland and peaked at number 11 in both the UK (where it spent 6 weeks on the charts) and Switzerland.  It was certified Gold in Australia (over 35k units) and the US (over 500k units).

Save you from your misery like rain across the land
Don't you see the colour of deception
Turning your world around again
You want to make her, suicide blonde

Love devastation, suicide blonde
The video reunited the band with Richard Lowenstein, who’d been responsible for the very successful (and, indeed, award-winning) videos from Kick and in the meantime had worked with U2 and Hutchence’s side project Max Q.

The song was written as the band reconvened after a year away.  By all accounts it was a fairly fractious time for a while, since all the members had pursued other projects and Michael Hutchence was enjoying a new level of international fame as he dated Kylie Minogue, then best known for her performance on Neighbours.  There are reports she gave him the inspiration for the title, as she was making The Delinquents (1989) while he and Andrew Farriss were writing - the role required Minogue to dye her hair platinum blonde.

A distinctive part of the record (single and album) was the mouth organ (or blues harp) - Farriss had been experimenting with the sound on his keyboard and suggested using it to the band.  In a 1990 interview with DeWitt Nelson he said, "when I met up with Michael we started putting some stuff on tape and demos and we thought hmmm, this is an interesting sound."  In the same interview, Hutchence said, "[Charlie Musselwhite] was actually playing around Australia... he's a real nice southern gentleman."  They arranged to meet when he played in Syndey and Musselwhite readily agreed to collaborate.  Rather than play on the live recording, he laid down some samples which Farriss built into the song (and played on the harmonica during the X tour) though he did play live on two album tracks, Who Pays The Price and On My Way.
X was released on 25th September 1990 and marked the third (and final) collaboration with producer Chris Thomas.  Recorded at Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney during 1990, with initial rehearsals starting in November 1989, it marked the end of a year-long sabbatical for the band following their huge Kick World Tour which ran through 1987 and 1988.  It reached number 1 in Australia, number 2 in the UK and New Zealand and went Top 10 in The Netherlands, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the US.  Saleswise, it was certified Platinum in eight countries (including the UK) and Gold in two.

The album yielded four videos, with Suicide Blonde being included on the 1990 VHS release INXS: Greatest Video Hits (1980-1990).  X, Bitter Tears and By My Side were all directed by Richard Lowenstein, while Claudia Castle directed Disappear.

One month after the release of X, INXS began preparations for their next world tour and I was lucky enough to get to their UK leg and see their Summer XS gig at Wembley (which I wrote about here).

INXS: Story to Story: The Official Autobiography, by INXS & Anthony Bozza
Discogs release information
DeWitt Nelson interview (1990)
Official Charts (UK)

Monday 7 September 2020

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Some More Comic & Magazine ads

For the third installment of this occasional feature (you can read entries from 2017 here and 2019 here), here's another selection of print ads for the toys, sweets, books and games of my youth.

As always, there's a certain amount of charm on display here - the ads are often hand-drawn and with muted hyperbole - as well as a lovely sense of wistful innocence, though that might just be the reminder of stamped, addressed envelopespostal orders and things costing pennies.

Here, then, are a few more ads of our childhood, I hope they spark some memories for you...

I remember these, though I seem to recall that it was difficult to make a proportionate face because everything quickly got out line (perhaps making it more fun).  And look at that competition - a movie projector and a full-length horror film (I wonder what it was?)
I remember the ad, I don't remember the sweets at all though
I was always a sucker for product that gave away stickers (this was clearly Golden Wonder jumping on the Star Wars bandwagon).  In a nice twist, ten years after this ad was first published, I was working for Golden Wonder...
My sister Tracy had the Corgi Juniors version but this, with it's detailed interior, is clearly the Superkings version.  And look at that ad, everything is by hand except the brand logo!
Sometime after this ad, I became a huge fan of Brian Bolland (look at that intricate artwork!) and Forbidden Planet quickly became a shop I was desperate to get to (though it would be the mid-80s before I actually got there).  To my delight, 34 years after this ad appeared, I was signing a book at the Shaftesbury Avenue shop - see my post here.
 I don't remember David Prowse's little blond mate at all.
That design of toy gun was very popular when I was a kid - you cracked the chamber like a normal revolver and inserted those ring caps that made a lot of noise, sparks and smoke.  Great stuff!
From Cheeky comic (which seemed to do a lot of half-page ads like this), the Whizz Kids books were great fun.  I had 'How To Be A Detective', my horse-mad sister had the 'Ponies & Riding' one.
Not a huge fan of the cheese spread but, hey, action transfers (which I wrote about here)!
Well, with the Hulk and Black Hole lollies (look at those terrific colour/flavour schemes!), Wall's were certainly trying, weren't they?
 Smurfing sports....
"Dad, if you need to get petrol, can we find..."
"Hold it, I know what you're going to say, there's a new Smurf out isn't there?"
I was perhaps a bit too old for the concept then but I used to daydream about winning a competition like this, wondering just how many goodies (be they Action Man, Star Wars or whatever else I liked at the time) I could load into a trolley in a hurry.  In fact, sometimes, I do still wonder the same thing (and my arms are a lot longer now, to reach further onto the shelves...)
 A chocolate bar, for 10p.  I'll just let that sink in...
I remember having one of these games (mine was a monkey, in a tree, chucking bananas) - we truly were living in extraordinary times in the early 80s!
Not the best Superman film but certainly the most fun.  I remember these cards because sometimes you'd accidentally brush the surface with your arm and have to start again...

If you're interested, more of my Nostalgic For My Childhood posts can be found here