Monday 30 November 2020

At Home In The Shadows, by Gary McMahon

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan (though I'm getting to it a little late, it was published last year).

Black Shuck Shadows presents a collectable series of micro-collections, intended as a sampler to introduce readers to the best in classic and modern horror.In At Home in the Shadows, McMahon offers five tales of homeowner horror.

I've long been a fan of Gary McMahon (he's featured on the blog a few times and I interviewed him here, earlier this year) and bought this book last year.  As per the series design, it's a handy little paperback that somehow slipped down the side of some other books and it was only during a sort-out at the weekend that I re-discovered it and tucked in.

The twelfth in the Black Shuck Shadows series (smartly beautiful mini-collections), this gathers five short stories from the always dependable Gary McMahon, and also serves as a perfect sampler for his fiction.  All feature houses in one form or another (and our ties to them, bad as often as good) and the sense of family, mostly as bits of it wither or collapse completely.  Text Found On A Defunct Website is good fun, an estate agents description that slips in depravity without warning while The Chair and The Table feature the same character at different stages in his life, coping with family breakdown and illness.  On The Walls, my favourite of the collection, features Jill, going to clear her childhood home following the death of her mother and discovering a painting on the wall that has supernatural powers.  Dark and oppressive, its focus on mundane details - a Travelodge, an affair, rain, peeling wallpaper - just gives the story more power.  Open House rounds out the collection with a house apparently striking back.  Cold and clinical, but a good eye for detail and the hurt a family can cause itself (however unintentionally), this is powerful horror fiction and I would highly recommend it.

For more information, Gary's website can be found here
Black Shuck Books can be found online here.

Monday 23 November 2020

Ten Favourite Covers: The Three Investigators

Regular readers of the blog will know I'm a big fan of The Three Investigators series (I wrote a Nostalgic post about them, on the 50th anniversary in 2014, which you can read here) and am an avid collector of the various editions.

Since they were published over a long period of time, the books appeared in different formats.  Format a, which was printed between 1970 and 1979, coincided with me becoming a fan but format b (printed between 1980 and 1985) were the editions in print when I started collecting and so, for various reasons, remain my favourite.  In all cases, the wonderful artwork was by Peter Archer and I thought it would be a perfect subject for my occasional Ten Favourite Covers thread.

I hope, if you were a fellow fan, you see a favourite of your own here too…
format a, printed between 1971-1980
I wrote about the book here
format b, printed 1980 (never reprinted)
I wrote about the book here
format b, printed 1982 (never reprinted)
I wrote about the book here
format b, printed between 1980-1985
I wrote about the book here
format b, printed between 1981-1983
I wrote about the book here
format b, printed between 1982-1983
I wrote about the book here
format b, printed between 1981-1982
I wrote about the book here
format a, printed between 1979-1980
I wrote about the book here
format a, printed (and reprinted) in 1980
I wrote about the book here
format b, printed between 1981-1982
I wrote about the book here

In December 2014, to help celebrate the 50th anniversary, I blogged my All Time Top 10 (which you can read here).

Back cover art from the format b paperbacks, by Peter Archer
Peter Archer was born in 1933 and in 1962 became part of the Collins pool of freelance and staff illustrators handling covers and internal artwork for their hardback and paperback books.  He worked on the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Three Investigators and Lone Pine Adventures, amongst many others and also contributed to Armada’s ‘Ghost Book’ series.

Primarily known later as one of the UK’s finest military painters, over the course of 40 years he was commissioned by many regiments and his work covered most major conflicts from Clive, East India Company 1757, right up to Afghanistan 2014, according to his official website.

Peter Archer passed away on 24th January 2018.  He’d been suffering with lung cancer.

My friend, Ian Regan (an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Three Investigator fan who, in addition to many other things, maintains the wonderful Cover Art Archive) was lucky enough to meet Mr Archer in 2017 and reported he was a very nice man who “found it extremely gratifying to discover that his work on children's books was still loved and adored all over the globe, almost forty years since that particular phase of his career ended. In his own words: "This is such fun!"”  Even better, Ian managed to get me Mr Archer’s autograph, in a copy of my favourite Three Investigators book.

See other Ten Favourite Cover posts here...

Ian Regan
The Three Investigator Cover Art Archive
Peter Archer Official website

Monday 16 November 2020

Christmas Wishes, by Sue Moorcroft

Regular blog readers will know I've been friends with Sue Moorcroft for a while, having met at the Kettering Writers Group in 1999 (the group leader was of a more literary bent, so we genre writers were consigned to the back of the room, where we had great fun).  Since then she's gone from strength to strength, hitting number one in the Kindle Bestseller charts (with The Christmas Promise), becoming a Sunday Times Best Seller and her novel from last year, A Summer To Remember (which I wrote about here) won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award 2020.  As well as featuring her a lot on blog (to see more, click this link), I'm also pleased to be one of her beta-readers and thoroughly enjoyed her latest novel, Christmas Wishes, now available in paperback and as an e-book.
A sparkling Christmas read from the Sunday Times bestseller – perfect to snuggle up with this winter!

Hannah and Nico are meant to be together.

But fate is keeping them apart…

As soon as Hannah bumps into her brother Rob’s best friend Nico in Stockholm, the two rekindle a fast friendship. But Hannah has a boyfriend – and Nico has two children to look after.

When Hannah loses her beloved shop in Stockholm, though, she is forced to move back to the little village of Middledip – only to find Nico has just moved in too. Under the same snowy sky, can the childhood friends make a romance work – or are there too many obstacles standing in their way?

A heartwarming story of love, friendship, and Christmas magic, perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley and Jill Mansell.

With the pandemic still in full swing, Sue Moorcroft and I weren't able to have our regular get-together at The Trading Post (and oh, how I've missed that), but went virtual instead as we discussed her new novel.

MW:     First off, thanks for agreeing to the chat and coming back onto the blog, it’s always a treat to have a chat with you.  So, what can you tell us about the new book?

SM:     Always great to speak to you, too, Mark, even if, sadly, The Trading Post isn’t involved this time. In Christmas Wishes Hannah loses her lovely shop in Stockholm and her fink of a boyfriend becomes her ex, trying to cheat her in the process. Nico, who’s originally Swedish but lives in the UK, has to downshift with two kids to look after, an unsympathetic boss and Nico’s eating disorder aggravated by the stress. Hannah and Nico knew each other as teenagers and both find sanctuary in Middledip village. Their entwined stories takes them between cosy Middledip and snowy Sweden, influenced both by members of their lovely families and less-lovely non-family characters.

MW:    As ever, with your novels, the conflicts that drive the plot feel very real and very contemporary.  With Hannah maneuvered out of her business - and nearly swindled out of her money too - cash or the lack of it becomes a very emotive subject.  What made you choose it?

SM:     My first job out of college - my only full-time day job, to be honest - was in a bank. I worked closely with the lending team and learned how emotive money can be. Normally civilised people can be transformed when money’s at stake and Hannah’s ex, Albin, definitely falls into this category. It’s not even that he’s short of money! Maybe it’s that ‘money is power’ and he enjoys keeping Hannah dangling. I’m always interested by how businesses run, too. Small businesses become personal to their owners and it’s a deep grief when those businesses are lost or threatened.

MW:       Nico is a terrific character, who really gets put through the wringer in this.  What made you choose to have him suffer an eating disorder?

SM:     It’s usually women with eating disorders I read about and the people I know personally who admit to past eating disorders are also women. Then I heard retired Formula 1 star David Coulthard speaking about his bulimia as a teenager and how it was wrapped up in his need to be below a certain weight as an athlete. I felt conscious that I’m as guilty as anyone in assuming eating disorders to be the female preserve and so gave the issue to my hero, not my heroine. Just before the book was published Freddie Flintoff, cricket legend and now Top Gear presenter, came out about his own experiences with bulimia. The surprise with which this moving documentary was greeted made made me glad I’d decided to shine a light on the subject.

MW:    As always with your books, the level of research is exceptional, with a lot of information transferred to the reader without the piece becoming a travelogue.  What was the research process like for this one?

SM: My British-Swedish friend, author Christina Courtenay, said, ‘If you ever want to set a winter book in Sweden we could go together and stay with Mum.’ So that’s what we did. We talked about what my areas of interest would be and she put the whole trip together, including lining up people for me to talk to about ice hockey, people who’d emigrated to Sweden, an upmarket area of Stockholm called Östermalm and Swedish education. She booked everything except for the hotel in Stockholm. I did that and booked the wrong one. As well as being bilingual and better at making bookings, she’s knowledgeable about history so was the perfect tour guide. Her mum took us to an ice hockey match and furthered my education on the game, too. On non-Swedish subjects, much of my preliminary research is now kindly conducted by my brother Trevor. I email him a list of topics I need to know about or questions I need answering and he provides me with the reading matter or answers. It saves me a lot of time! I also consulted someone at a fostering agency and an HR expert (who also happens to be my niece, author Ella Allbright/Nikki Moore) and a nursery nurse (also my niece, Ashley Panter).

MW:    Fostering plays a key part, did you learn anything surprising during your research of it?

SM:     I suppose I thought that fostered children were always placed by the state when it was impossible for their parent/s to look after them. What I hadn’t appreciated is the number of less formal arrangements there are where family members and friends step in. They take the initiative in a time of need and then social agencies get involved to make sure it’s a viable situation. When I first conceived the idea that Nico and his ex-wife, Loren, would have had created Josie between them but Nico would also later look after Maria, Loren’s child by another man, I worried the situation would seem unlikely. I hadn’t realised Nico could be considered ‘kin’ to Maria even though she was born after his marriage to her mother was over. Kids being neglected grab headlines but I’m glad I was able to write about the other side, the wonderful people who step in out of the goodness of their hearts when a child is in trouble.

MW:    As a longtime reader of your work - and I know others are too - what can you tell me about the Middledip Bibles? You refer to them in the acknowledgements and dedication of Christmas Wishes. They’re something to do with your brother, too, aren’t they?

SM:     My first book set in Middledip was published in 2010 (Starting Over) so Christmas Wishes is ten years later and I began to lose a sense of continuity for recurring characters, although each book stands alone. I’d need to know how long Gabe had lived in the village or when Carola’s husband left her and have to flip through books trying to find the information. Trevor undertook the mammoth task of rereading all the novels set or partially set in Middledip and constructing a vast spreadsheet so I can now see at a glance when Tess and Ratty had a baby or Carola met Owen. He did a similar thing with places, such as the pub or shop, but there are fewer of those. We refer to these spreadsheets as ‘The Middledip Bibles’.
NB There’s a page for my Middledip books on my website here and a map to show where everybody lives.
NB2 Not all of my books are set in Middledip, or visit it, and details of all my writing can be found here.

MW:    As always, having now read Christmas Wishes and I'm keen for more, so what’s next for you?

SM:     I’m editing Under the Italian Sun, presently scheduled for publication in May 2021. It’s set in Umbria, Italy, as One Summer in Italy is - Montelibertà. I’m not sure where the idea came from but I wanted to write about someone who became aware that there was another person with a name that seemed linked with hers. Although she’s British, my heroine’s name is Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers and she’s been told an Italian lady called Lucia Costa was kind to her, but she’s never known who she is. When Zia-Lucia discovers two birth and death certificates for her mother Victoria Chalmers, each bearing different dates, she looks for answers. Her starting point is searching for Lucia Costa. And does she find her? Yes, she does …

Thanks for inviting me for this virtual chat, Mark. Let’s hope real meet-ups are not too far in the future!

Sue Moorcroft is an international bestselling author and has reached the #1 spot on Kindle UK. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary. Published by HarperCollins in the UK, US and Canada and by other publishers around the world.

Her short stories, serials, columns, writing ‘how to’ and courses have appeared around the world.

Born into an army family in Germany, Sue spent much of her childhood in Cyprus and Malta but settled in Northamptonshire at the age of ten. An avid reader, she also loves Formula 1, travel, family and friends, dance exercise and yoga.

Tuesday 10 November 2020

A Wing And A Prayer, by M W Arnold

To mark the publication of his new novel, A Wing And A Prayer, my friend Mick Arnold contributes this guest blog about the origins of his book.

The Air Transport Auxiliary Mystery Club!

Four ladies of the Air Transport Auxiliary bond over solving the mystery of who was responsible for the death of one’s sister. Battling both internal forces and those of the country’s mutual enemies, the women find that both love and dangers are cousins cut from the same ilk.

This is a sweeping story of love, death and betrayal set against the backdrop of war when ties of friendship are exceptionally strong.

Exclusive Extract:

“Mind the duck!”

Mary’s warning was a smidgeon too late. Betty turned her head toward the shout just when she needed to do the exact opposite and keep her eyes on the path. 

“Aargh!” cried Betty as she was sent sprawling to the ground. 

A loud, angry, “Quack! Quack!” was followed by a flurry of wings and feathers as the slightly stunned duck half flew and half staggered to the sanctuary provided by the river. 

“I did tell her to watch out for the duck,” Mary muttered in her own defense as they rushed to help Betty to her feet. 

Penny and Doris took an arm each as Mary reached to retrieve Betty’s handbag. It had landed precariously close to the edge of the river, and the dastardly duck was snuffling at it before Mary seized it and handed it back to Betty. 

“Mary!” cried Betty. “Grab that envelope!” 

Swiveling, Mary saw a large brown envelope and stooped for it before it could fall into the water. “Got it!” she yelled, waving it in the air. Unfortunately, the envelope being upside down, the contents spilled onto the ground around her, luckily missing going into the river. She bent down to pick them up and was surprised to discover they were all newspaper cuttings. 

Hands up who’s heard someone say, I could write a book…only I don’t have the time. I always want to shout at them. Well, make the time!

My new book, A Wing and a Prayer isn’t one of those. Saying this, I also have to say, it wasn’t planned. At no point in my relatively short writing life had I ever planned to write in this genre. I thought I’d be writing, or attempting to write, Women’s Fiction/Romances. Next thing I know, I’ve written a World War 2 Historical Saga –actually, as I write this, book 2 is with my publishers and book 3 is a quarter done – and received a publishing deal. Isn’t life strange?

So, how did it come about? Well, after The Season for Love my body decided the best thing it could do would be to ‘break’ for the best part of two years. At times like this, you discover who your friends are. One of them gave me some very good advice. Don’t try and pick up something you’d been working on, try something new. By going for an unrelated project, I should find myself somewhere I hadn’t been. Somewhat to my surprise, it seems to have worked.

I’ve always loved history, specifically anything to do with flying. As it happened, the same day this was suggested to me, I saw a program called The Spitfire Girls and that sparked the idea that perhaps I could come up with a story set in the Air Transport Auxiliary. A day or so of trawling the internet and the next thing I knew, I had actually planned out about 50% of the first story. I hadn’t set out to write a mystery, yet the girls seemed to migrate towards that thread of their own accord and the rest of the story – how four girls (men, of course, also served in the ATA in much larger numbers) from different walks of life came to live and work together – wrote itself around this thread. Indeed, the first scene in the story finds one of the girl’s sisters being found dead in the cockpit of a Tiger Moth biplane! So, the Air Transport Auxiliary Mystery Club was born.

I served for over sixteen years in the Royal Air Force, travelling all over the world and, of course, the United Kingdom. Some of the bases I served on were once visited by these brave people I've written about and I feel honoured to play a small part in keeping their story alive and in, perhaps, bringing it to a new audience. Their bravery needs to be heard about and with this story, the first in the ‘Broken Wings’ series, I hope to be able to perform this task I've set myself.

Author Bio – 
Mick is a hopeless romantic who was born in England and spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elisabeth II in the Royal Air Force before putting down roots and realizing how much he missed the travel. This he’s replaced somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and supporting fellow saga and romance authors in promoting their novels.

He’s the proud keeper of two Romanian Were-Cats, is mad on the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and loving his Manchester-United-supporting wife.  A full member of the Romantic Novelists Association, A Wing and a Prayer will be Mick's second published novel, and he is very proud to be welcomed into The Rose Garden.

Social media links:

Monday 2 November 2020

Even More Look-In Cover Art

Look-In, 'The Junior TV Times', was a much loved magazine of my childhood (I wrote a Nostalgia post about it in 2016), which helped develop my love for The Six Million Dollar Man, Blondie and behind-the-scenes stuff, amongst other things.  It also featured painted covers, mostly by Arnaldo Putzu, an Italian artist working in London who made his name creating cinema posters for the likes of Morecombe & Wise, Hammer (Creatures the World Forgot and The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires), the Carry On series and Get Carter (which I wrote about here).

Looking back over the old covers was wonderful (often reminding me of things I'd completely forgotten about) and I posted some of them in 2018 with a follow-up in 2019.  Now, with little encouragement needed (as ever) and a special focus on 1980 (all of forty years ago), here's another small selection of that wonderful artwork.

While I don't recall seeing this at the time (I was only six), I vividly remember the TV show (as I wrote about before) and collecting the Topps cards with my friends
Look at all that action!
Does anyone remember Flintlock?  Judging by their coverage in the magazine, they must have been big at the time...
I haven't seen it in decades (and not sure it'd be wise to revisit it) but I loved The Man From Atlantis.  I used to use plasters to simulate the webbed skin on my fingers
This shows how long it used to take films to get to TV, as the big Bond film for Christmas 1978 was Diamonds Are Forever (released in 1971)
Was it just me that found Worzel Gummidge terrifying at times (especially when he pulled off his head)?
On a Saturday morning I would often flick between Tiswas and Swap Shop - I liked the anarchy (without, at that time, understanding the concept of it) of the former and the more orderly nature of the latter
Ah, Sir Roger and the excellent "For Your Eyes Only", which I wrote about here

for more, there's a great Look-In archive on Facebook here