Tuesday, 31 August 2010

"What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking"

Woo hoo!

I’m really chuffed - my story “What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking” will appear in a forthcoming NewCon Press anthology, featuring stories about Northamptonshire (and which’ll hopefully have an introduction by a comics legend).

For me, this story has been a revelation - Ian told me about the antho on the Wednesday, I had the germ of an idea that night, Matthew helped things along by asking me to write a story about train-chasing and then I wrote 3 drafts of the story (and got pre-reader feedback) within a week.

Great news for me and now, after a little bit more artwork for Chris, I’m launching into the lost film novella.

Thunderbirds Are Go!

Monday, 30 August 2010

FantasyCon in a fortnight, another teaser tonight...

As mentioned in a previous post, Pendragon Press is producing a free, limited edition PDF version of “Tourniquet Heart” for FantasyCon. Only perhaps a dozen of the original ToC will be included, but one of those will be my “Up For Anything” (yep, the tampon one).

Chris approached me to produce some photo montages, as story headers and I’ve had a lot of fun with the process. I’ll post all of the images after FantasyCon but, for now, here’s a taster (this isn’t the final one for “Up For Anything”, but I like it).

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Couldn't resist - a late-coming INXS Friday special

Lately, from the Wembley concert (which I was at). Not included on the original concert film (it's an extra on the DVD), this has a terrific sax solo by Kirk Pengilly.

Friday, 27 August 2010

I'm writing!

I’ve just this minute sent off my finished short, for consideration in the NewCon press anthology and I’m basking in the glow that comes from having worked the story up, written it, got some critiques and completed three drafts, in a week. That’s the kind of speed I thought I’d left behind in the early noughties, so I’m taking it as a sign that joining the Northampton SF Writers Group was a great move on my part.

I’ve also been making other plans to keep myself up to speed and so, suddenly, I seem to have a whole plate full of things:

* I have my “collaboration that isn’t”, with a fellow writer I like and respect. I’m using the lost film idea I had a while back and I’m hoping to leap into that next week.

* I have some more artwork to complete for Pendragon Press, for a project that Chris Teague has just announced. He’s producing a PDF ‘sampler’, taken from the anthology “Tourniquet Heart”, which he edited and was released through Prime Books back in 2002. My story “Up For Anything” appeared in that and will also appear in the PDF, along with a host of other writers. I am producing little photo-montages for each tale.

* The zombie novel. Come on!

* A four-writer-thingy collection, with Simon Marshall-Jones, Adrian Chamberlain and Mark Deniz. We’re at an early stage with the project at the moment (Simon & I discussed it at the Terror Scribes gathering and Mark came on board this week) so there’s not much to tell, but it’ll be published next year, press to be announced. Could be interesting.

So there we go, all of a sudden, I’m a busy boy. And, following the comments from Mick Curtis about “In The Rain With The Dead” and my joy at producing a short in a week, my confidence is riding high!

Let’s go!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

I'm chuffed!

Had an email today from the wonderful Mick Curtis, who's just read "In The Rain With The Dead". He wrote - and I quote - 'I loved it! I liked the characters so much that several times I was tempted to look at the end of the book to see if they’d be ok or not'.

This has really pleased me. Writers mostly work in a vacuum - you write the story, sell it (hopefully) and then, later on, it gets published and makes its own way into the world and you're not there to defend it but have to hope that it'll be okay. When someone takes the time to let you know what they thought - and, moreso, when they clearly liked the thing - well, that's just a wonderful feeling.

My writing schedule seems to be filling up now, between the short I'm currently revising, the lost film novella and another new project and kind words like those of Mick only make me feel more confident about what I'm doing.

Cheers, Mick!

Monday, 23 August 2010


I've done it! The first draft of my as-yet-untitled short story is now completed - over 8,200 words in three days (thank you, Alison & Dude, for giving me the time)! 2nd draft starts tomorrow, then to the pre-readers and hopefully to Ian by the end of the week (or weekend, more than likely).

Heidi Klum (see the video post entry from earlier) seems chuffed for me too!

Below is a picture of the bridge at the end of the Headlands, which I've used as key location in the story.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

"Just Walking The Dog"

I've just found out that an old story of mine - "Just Walking The Dog" - is still floating about online. I originally wrote this back in the late 80s, then revised it for publication in the late 90s. It was also the story I read as my introduction to the Kettering Writers Workshop, in 1999.

With that warning suitably made, here's an old story of mine - very much a monster tale!

Heidi Klum - hmmmm, nice

It's been a while since I posted a video and so here we go - a very nice lady, in her skimpies, doing an homage to a film I really like. Ignore that it's for a video game, won't you?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

From a work in progress...

On Wednesday, I became a fully fledged member of the Northampton SF Writers Group, as run by the esteemed Ian's Watson and Whates.

I've joined the group because I realise I need a helping hand (or shove, depending on your politeness level) to get cracking with the writing again. I need the interaction, I need to hear other people talk about writing, I need to listen to people discuss the craft (it's the same reason I joined Fiction Factory, which was great for me, but I did miss the face-to-face).

Ian Whates told me that his imprint is putting together something for the group and asked me if I'd like to contribute. I agreed and then discovered this had been planned for some time and Ian would need the finished story by the end of August. In 14 days, in other words. Scary stuff, especially since I note everything to death and would take 14 days just to normally figure out what the lead characters name was going to be. The only stipulation was that the story had to be about/set in Northamptonshire.

As I drove home, I was thinking of something Matthew had said to me the day before - he asked if I could write a "Matthew & Sheepy" adventure about train chasing. That tied up with a bridge, in Kettering, that used to have graffiti'ed on it "Look Behind You" and, by the time I got home, I'd got the bare bones of a story. I started writing it yesterday and, though I think it's going very long, I'm starting to enjoy what I'm doing (I re-wrote the first paragraph four times and still think it's the biggest pile of cack I've ever created - though Alison & Matthew seemed to like it).

And so I thought about what this blog is supposed to be - about my writing. And I thought about what I was doing now - writing. So here is a small section (first draft, so excuse all errors), which is written in present tense (unlike the rest of the piece) and is supposed to be breathless. I hope I've succeeded.

Neil is a key character, though you don't know why yet. The narrator is called Adam and this is him, thinking back to 1983 from the vantage point of the present day.

I was fourteen years old, I lived with my Mum in a little terraced house and I’d just started a school where I knew no-one. I’d never really drunk before, I’d only kissed four girls and I was desperate to feel a bit of tit. I loved “Star Wars” and Blondie and American detective shows, but I liked to think that I was fairly worldly. I say liked because I realised, after that first race, that I loved train chasing too. It was stupid, absolutely no doubt about it and as I discovered over time, not all of the drivers would sound their horns even if it was obvious they’d seen you.

On that first occasion, Neil came running off the platform, grabbed his bike and seemed to turn it even as he was getting on it. He looked at me, opened his mouth but the train started to move and I knew what he’d planned to say. Instead, I quickly turned my bike and we took off across the access road, even as the train noisily eased itself into activity. Up the slight hill, into the alley, ducking to avoid the low branches. The train moving now, the wheels creaking and squealing. The horn sounds once, quickly, as if the driver can perhaps see what we’re doing. Neil is pedalling fast, off his saddle now, leaning forward over the handlebars. I stand on my pedals too, my hands finding the lower curves of the handlebars, fingers nowhere near the brake levers. The train is moving, gaining speed and I can see it in flashes through the bushes where the growth is thinnest. The alley is on a slight incline, but I don’t seem to feel it, keeping up with Neil easily, though it’s been a long time since I’ve ridden this fast.

“Come on,” he yells over his shoulder, “we’ve got him.”

I lean over the handlebars, pumping at the pedals, giving them everything I’ve got. I risk a sideways glance at the train and it seems to be behind us, but I know that we haven’t got long – I don’t know anything about trains except that they’re fast, much faster than two kids on a pair of Raleighs.

I look forward and see the square of light that heralds the Headlands. We’re really moving now and it occurs to me that if anyone steps into the alley, we’re all in trouble. But nobody does and we burst out of the alley and bank right and I hope that the tarmac isn’t greasy and it isn’t and the tyres grip the road and then we’re on the bridge. I hear the clatter as Neil’s Grifter hits the metal work and, though I’m more careful about putting down the racer, I’m not too far behind him.

Neil stands right above the line, waving his arm high and wide. When I reach his side and start waving too, the train is about a hundred yards away. The driver looks up, sees us and seems to almost nod his head as if in acknowledgement of our success. He waves and Neil yells “Sound the horn”, though it’s obvious the driver can’t hear us.
But the horn does sound, a hearty two-tone that makes me jump and then Neil and I are laughing and suddenly gasping for breath and leaning on the bridge.

“That’s what train chasing is,” he says.

“That was fucking brilliant.”

Thursday, 19 August 2010

"The Empire Strikes Back" (at 30)

Tonight, Alison & I watched "The Empire Strikes Back", as it was released 30 years ago. It hasn't been that long since I saw it last (perhaps a year or so), but I thought it was absolutely bloody brilliant. Everything about it is top class, it was virtually faultess.

Re-watch it for yourself, you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Pretty Little Dead Things, by Gary McMahon

This is not due to be published until November, by Angry Robot Books, but I read this as Gary wanted me to crit its follow-up ("Dead Bad Things"). I've been desperate to yell about this novel (and another one coming soon, called "The End", which is - quite literally - a superb piece of horror fiction) for some time and now, finally, I can.
Thomas Usher can see ghosts and it’s his job to try and find out their stories. Having lost his wife and child some years before, he’s hardened to life and when the girl he’s been hired to follow winds up dead, he digs a little too deeply and finds out things that would best be left undiscovered. A cool, dark, downbeat horror-thriller, this is the first of two Usher novels that McMahon will publish through Angry Robot books and it’s a killer. From the painful, poignant relationship between Usher and his old friend Ellen, to the grime and sleaze he encounters along the way to the gripping, shattering conclusion, this is told with verve and wit and a fearless desire to show the reader what lies just below the surface of modern Britain. Full of inventive, realistic characters, gruesome set pieces and a very nasty dark turn from The Pilgrim, this is a startling, demanding novel, that I recommend highly.

Buy this book, then its (equally dark and gripping) sequel and whatever you do, don't forget "The End"!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

"Falling Angel/Heart"

As my next project involves a private detective (though one based in the UK) and the supernatural, I decided to re-read “Falling Angel”, by William Hjortsberg. Enjoying it, over the weekend, Alison & I watched “Angel Heart”, the 1987 film written for the screen and directed by Alan Parker. This is my review of the book, which I’ve posted at Goodreads:
In 1959 New York, Harry Angel is hired by the mysterious Louis Cyphre to track down Johnny Favourite, a crooner who’s been holed up in a hospital since the war. When Angel discovers that the singer is missing, everyone he speaks to on the trail to find Favourite ends up dead. And all the time, the mysterious Cyphre seems to pop up everywhere, not least haunting Harry’s dreams. A hard-boiled private detective novel, employing (and enjoying) every staple of that genre, this takes things into far darker territory as the novel goes on. Sticking to New York throughout (unlike the film), this often seems like it was written with a pang of nostalgia for the city of old and works all the better for it. The ending, as Harry attends a Black Mass in an abandoned subway station, is painful and bitter and unpleasant and serves as a real kick in the gut, before the final denouement. Having read this before (and seen the film a few times), I was surprised at how many obvious clues Hjortsberg seemed to drop at the start (and the cover art doesn’t help), but the clues got more insidious as it went on. This is a cracking novel, working perfectly as either a hardboiled thriller or a supernatural one, never afraid to lay on the violence and gore, but also treating the love affair between Harry and Epiphany with delicate ease. Very highly recommended.
Re-reading this and watching the film so closely together, I’ve realised that they’re equally good, but Parker took a lot of liberties with the source material (some of which is understandable, some not).

The book takes place in 1959, the film in 1955 for no apparent reason (though Mickey Rourke does, at one point, mention he’s 37 when he’s clearly not). All of the book takes place in New York (city or state), but the film moves everything to Louisiana for the voodoo sequences (which gives it a different flavour and does make sense, though I like having everything happen in the city). The Epiphany of the book is an independent young woman, assertive and childless - in the film, she’s independent but hampered by circumstance, she has a child and she’s a lot more obviously sexy. In the book, the relationship develops and is mostly nice and pleasant - the film affair virtually starts and ends with the blood-soaked love-making (which is a visual metaphor for the Black Mass (see later), since nothing like this happens in the book). Ethan Krusemark plays a bigger part in the book (there’s a superb little set-piece where Harry has to do some window cleaning) and has a major role to play in the “first” climax, a Black Mass (only briefly glimpsed in the film) that is awful and gripping, which takes place in the underground system. In the film, he’s seen at the races and ends up dead in a cauldron of gumbo.

Do the changes detract from the power? No, I don’t think so, but they’re not really the same animal. It was nice spotting pieces of film dialogue in the novel but I think a film could be made of “Falling Angel”, sticking very close to the source, which would be every bit as powerful as “Angel Heart” was, without usurping its position as a top drawer film based on the book.

So which is better? I’m going to wimp out here, I can’t pick one. I’d love to see a film that sticks to the book but what we got instead is still a top quality piece of entertainment. So I’ll call it a draw and suggest that whichever you go for - book or film - you won’t be disappointed.
(note: this is the Italian version of the movie poster that I had on my bedroom wall for quite some time - not that one, of course, this is scan from the Net and mine has long since been lost)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Of Videodromes and Sure Things

Starting from Saturday, Alison & I have held a bit of a filmfest which, as the days have gone on, has turned into an 80s blowout. This is the first film we watched:

My choice - Alison can’t remember ever watching it before - and one of my favourite films of all time. I first saw it in the early 80s (it came out 82/83, so I’d guess 1984 or so), on VHS, at my friend Steven Corton’s house. He’d never heard of it, I loved Debbie Harry, thought Rick Baker was brilliant and had watched “Scanners” and thought David Cronenberg was second only to George Lucas. I have no idea if the copy we watched was cut (I imagine it was), but I do remember being absolutely blown away by the whole thing - the look, the feel, the imagery - it was fantastic. I’ve re-visited it more than a few times since, but this was the first occasion in a while. So, going back to view a 28 year old film, probably 26 years since I first saw it - what did I think? I thought it held up remarkably well, to be honest. James Woods was brilliant, thoroughly believable and very natural. Debbie Harry - I’m sorry to say - was a bit wooden at times but she certainly brought something extra to the part. The effects were excellent, for the most part, though to be fair they didn’t resist the temptation to dwell - Woods standing up with his arm in his chest suffered from a very fake-looking arm and the ‘spikes coming out of the handgun’ shot ran a bit too long. The direction and writing were spot on, as was the location work and it was a thoroughly engrossing piece of cinema.
It was also nice to see how things have changed - the clunky TV, the Betamax tapes (used, apparently, because of make-up requirements to do with size), the cable stuff being a lot tamer than we now take for granted on the Net - and not always for the better.
(as an aside, apparently this is up for a remake. I have the awful idea that it’ll be hunky/sexy early 20-somethings in the leads, a director who cuts to make up for content and more CGI than you can shake a stick at. A remake I’ll be avoiding, methinks).

On Sunday, we watched “Angel Heart” - cracking film, dreadful transfer but as I’m currently reading “Falling Angel”, I’ll discuss this in another blogpost.

On Monday it was “Condorman”, from 1981. I got the paperback of this from the school bookworm club (I’d have been about 12) and loved it. I bugged Dad to take me to see it at the cinema and I remember really enjoying it (and waiting, avidly, for the sequel the end of the film appeared to promise). Watching it now, I can only assume my Dad was very politely quiet as we left the cinema. The transfer was dreadful, the acting was appalling, you could see the wires when Condorman flew and the blue-screen/rear projection work was terrible. If this had been a Cannon Films production from 1981 you might forgive it, but not Disney. On the upside, Remy Julienne’s stuntwork was very good.

Last night, Alison fancied a comedy and so we watched “The Sure Thing”, another film I love dearly but don’t seem to watch too often. Expecting to have my fond memories shattered, we settled down and I discovered, to my great relief, that the film has lost none of its charm or sparkle. It’s funny, poignant, well acted, gripping and thoroughly enjoyable. Cusack - did he really ever look that young - was brilliant and Daphne Zuniga (who appears to have settled into a TV acting career) held her own well. Loved it.

So the best of the bunch was “Videodrome”, a low-budget tax shelter movie from Canada that nobody understood when it was released but which still, 28 years later, has the power to unsettle. And, brilliantly, it inspired a blog that takes in David Cronenberg and Rob Reiner, by way of Alan Parker. Now that’s an eclectic bunch of film-makers.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Dude

This is Matthew - I love him dearly, but that doesn't stop me from sometimes setting him up for photo-opportunities. He & I went to Isham on Saturday, to do a bit of train chasing and as we walked back to the car, he put his hat on sideways for some reason. Spotting my chance, I got him to hold his hand like this ("yo yo yo, white-bread"). I'm sure, in years to come, he'll look at some of these pictures and seriously consider patricide.