Monday, 24 February 2014

The Mystery Of The Whispering Mummy, by Robert Arthur

Since 2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published, I thought it’d be enjoyable to re-read and compile my Top 10 (which might be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here), but this time I will concentrate on my favourite books and try to whittle the best ten from that.

So here we go.
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed between 1968 and 1971), cover art by Roger Hall
"How can a 3,000 year old mummy whisper?" 
Pete, Bob and Jupiter couldn't believe it! But the Professor swore he’d heard the mummy's curse - 
"Woe to all who disturb my sleep..." 

Then a series of 'accidents', and the theft of the mummy case change the investigators' minds!

Professor Yarborough is almost crushed
by a statue of Anbus (artwork by Roger Hall)
The boys receive two letters, which Bob attempts his powers of deductions on and Jupe manages to play a trick on Pete regarding their contents.  The first is from Alfred Hitchcock and concerns his friend Professor Yarborough, an Egyptologist who has a small museum at his canyon-side house.  Currently researching the history of the mummy Ra-Orkon, he is troubled by the fact that it whispers in a strange language when he is in the room with it alone.  The second letter is from Mrs Banfry, who wants them to help find her missing Abyssinian cat, Sphinx.  Not wanting to get involved with a talking mummy, Pete goes to see Mrs Banfry whilst Jupe & Bob go to Professor Yarborough’s house but the boys are soon back together for a case where nothing is quite what it seems to be.

This has long been one of my favourite books and I can remember reading it over the course of an afternoon back in the late 70s and being thrilled by it.  I’m pleased to say that it still holds up - the characters are well drawn, the mystery has a good foundation and there’s plenty of history to absorb and add verisimilitude to the story.

Well told and structured, this is superbly written and drops clues for further in the timeline (“Two and two don’t always make four,” Jupe said, his manner mysterious. “And fifteen and fifteen don’t always make thirty” after Worthington mentions that it opens on the fifteenth day of their thirty days use of the Rolls Royce) though it does niggle me there’s a chapter not told from an Investigator-led POV (which probably troubled me more as an adult than it did as a kid).  That aside, this is a great book with a good sense of location and atmosphere and further proof - should it be needed - that it’s a shame Robert Arthur didn’t write or plot more of the adventures.

Great fun and highly recommended.

Format a paperback, printed between 1971 and 1980 (it never appeared in Format b),
cover art by Peter Archer

The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall.

Thanks to Ian Regan for the artwork (you can see more at his excellent Cover Art database here)

Friday, 21 February 2014

More visits to "The Mill"

As a writer, it's always nice when readers connect to a piece of your work - especially when it's enough for them to either leave a review or drop you a line.  There's also a real thrill when something that is quite a way in the past for you seems to cycle itself back to the surface, gaining new attention, reviews and fans along the way.

When I wrote "The Mill", I had no real expectations of its life beyond it appearing in "We Fade To Grey", the Pendragon Press anthology edited by Gary McMahon that it was written for.  To say it exceeded those expectations is an understatement - it was well received and well reviewed and then Tim C. Taylor at Greyhart Press picked it up to publish in a single volume.  I thought it might sell a handful of copies and fade away quietly but to my great surprise, that didn't happen either - it picked up more good reviews and some of the best comments I've ever received.

Well, it's cycled around again.  Yesterday, my friend James Everington pointed me to a Goodreads group that has highlighted the novelette as one of their reading recommendations and commendations for 2014.  Considering the company I'm keeping, I can only say I'm honoured to be included.

You can find the list here.

"The Mill" has also led me to being interviewed online again, this time by izombiheartzoey at the Interrogating Ideology With a Chainsaw website.  Some great questions, some hopefully half decent answers and hey, it's always nice to get interviewed.

The interview can be found at this link.

Following these two incidents, I had a look at the Amazon page and discovered that the book is no. 59 in the Amazon Bestsellers chart - for Books > Fiction > Horror > Short Stories.  For a novelette that was published in September 2011, that's not bad is it (I know, I'm fairly easily impressed)?

And just in case this has piqued your interest, here's the blurb (and purchase details)

Michael struggles to come to terms with the death of his wife. He has visions of her calling to him, inviting him to the beyond.

At the Bereaved Partners’ Group, he learns that he is not the only one left behind who can hear the departed beckon them… to the Mill.

Available now
Paperback from ($4.99) | (£3.75)
eBook (list price 99c / 77p) from | | Barnes&Noble 
| iTunes US UK  CA |  Smashwords | diesel | Kobo

Monday, 17 February 2014

Star Wars: A New Hope (the Marvel adaption)

One of my earliest encounters with comics (aside from the weekly adventures of Spider Man) was the Marvel comics adaptation of “Star Wars”, which appeared in the 1978 annual.  It sticks in my mind because, as a big fan of the film, my parents got me it to read in the car as we drove down to a family holiday in Widmouth Bay.  In addition to behind-the-scenes stuff and interviews with the actors, it also ran an abridged version (none of the trash compactor makes it in, for instance) of the comic.

Having watched the original trilogy films over the Christmas period with Dude, I decided a re-read (after several years away) would be in order.  Rather than the annual (I didn't want to miss out sections), I went for the Boxtree version, collected from the weekly comics, which was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha.

Clearly sourced from an earlier screenplay (Luke is part of Blue Squadron, for instance and Jabba The Hutt resembles something that stood at the bar in the cantina), this follows the film but also includes scenes that were never shown, such as Luke and his friends at Tosche Station, Luke seeing the battle at the beginning and pretty much all of Biggs’ part.
As a light read (the editing works well, though some of the “meanwhile…” boxes do get monotonous), it’s generally good fun.  The Chaykin artwork is more visceral and immediate (he’s not very good at drawing spaceships) but the Leialoha section, which starts at the encounter with the Tusken Raiders, is more detailed and defined (and, to my eye, better).  The book also has several pages of production art from the film.
Princess Leia gets zapped, as the droids make their escape...
Han clearly shot first...
Meeting Jabba
Still one of the best pieces of dialogue interplay in the film and reproduced well on the page
ZZRAKK - though this doesn't explain how Vader could lift the cloak with his lightsaber
Alderaan gets it in the neck
With some peculiar dialogue choices - I can’t imagine Han Solo saying “hold on tight kiddies” as the Millennium Falcon blasts away from the Death Star - and some pruning - only the X-Wings make the run on the Death Star - this is faithful enough and conveys the immediacy and action of the film.  Speaking as someone who doesn’t tend to read graphic novels, but loves “Star Wars”, I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it.

Ever the completist, I also found and read the Boxtree editions of "Empire" and "Jedi" but didn't enjoy either of them as much as this (nor was the artwork as good).

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Sometimes, you know, you have to pay attention or you miss so much...

When I wrote my 400th blog post, amongst my list of achievements I casually mentioned that I'd "done a signing at Forbidden Planet".

I had (and blogged about it here) because, as a contributor to the terrific "Hauntings" anthology (edited by Ian Whates and published by NewCon Press), we were part of the store's "Small Press Expo Day", as co-ordinated by Danie Ware (with poster design by Sarah Anne Langton).  I'll be perfectly honest, I was thrilled about the whole thing and am still chuffed to bits that I was able to participate.

I grew up in a small town some 60 miles north of London and childhood trips to the capital were infrequent.  If we did go, it was generally for a specific purpose (school trips, the zoo and on a tour in 1980 the bus driver took us past the Iranian embassy, which I thought was very exciting) and my travelling companions never listened to my wish to go to Forbidden Planet.  Even though I didn't visit the store until the mid-80s (when I went to London with friends), I knew all about it and I really, really wanted to spend hours wandering the (I imagined) miles of shelves containing all the books, magazines, models and toys that I was so eager to see.

So it was cool that I was there, it was even cooler that I was there signing, but mostly it was simply amazing to be surrounded by fellow creatives in this hub of genre appreciation in the city (we were in Shaftesbury Avenue, the current location, though the store was in High Holborn previously, which I'd first visited).
Downstairs at Forbidden Planet, with fellow NSFWG members Donna Bond (left, pointing out books to me) and Andy West (my immediate left, who's looking elsewhere)
Danie Ware, who is a great writer as well as a Forbidden Planet stalwart, tweeted some old 'coming attractions' posters on Twitter yesterday and, once again, I was astounded by the situation I'd found myself in.
Mark Hamill was apparently the 'surprise visitor' - how cool would that have been?

I'd signed at Forbidden Planet.  I was standing on the shoulders of giants (in a manner of speaking).  That Saturday afternoon in June 2012 had not only been a wonderful occasion in and of itself, but it was also another achievement for me and something my kid version - writing his stories and dreaming of the future - would never have dared to believe.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Romaniac Shorts: Fashionably Brief, a collection

I don't write romantic fiction (as my friend Sue Moorcroft says, if there's a love affair in my stories it's usually doomed - or worse...), but I do read it on occasion.  I've got to know some of the Romaniacs over the past year or so via social media (I was chuffed to be asked to contribute a Friday 13th guest blog on the horror genre, which you can find here) and I'm pleased to open the blog today for their newest, shiniest venture (information courtesy of Lucie Wheeler)...

* * * * *

There has been much excitement at Romaniac HQ over the past few months and we're very pleased to finally announce to the world why we've been acting like giggly schoolgirls with a secret.

Next Thursday, 13th February 2014, our blog will be 2 years old, and we have a very special celebration planned.

Romaniac Press has gone into production, and we are releasing our first anthology:

Romaniac Shorts

It’s a diverse collection of short stories and flash fiction, ranging from romance, to crime, to fantasy, and we are thrilled to see one of our early ideas finally come to fruition.

Romaniac Shorts will be available as an eBook, through Amazon.

All profits from the sale of Romaniac Shorts will be divided between Dyslexia Action, and the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have received guidance, advice, and friendship from the writing world, and we always aim to give something back. We hope this goes a little way to saying thank you.

Please enjoy our briefs...

For more information, go to the Romaniacs blog here

And as a thank you to Mark for having us on his blog, I have agreed to ‘leak’ three titles to give you a taster of what you can expect… so here are three titles from the anthology – but I won’t tell you whose stories they are. You’ll have to wait and find out!

*Flights of Fancy*
*100 Ways to Love*
*Man on a Mission*

We hope you are as excited as we are. Not long now …

Lucie x

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Throwback Thursday - February 1983

In the early 80s I was part of the Rothwell Parish Church Youth club and an enthusiastic member of the Quiz Team (films were my speciality).  In early 1983, we travelled to the YMCA centre in Northampton and competed with loads of other teams from the Midlands and East Anglia in a grand Quiz Championship.

We got to the final.  I was excited.  Our opponents were generally much older than us (we ranged from 13 - that'd be me - up to about 15) and I thought we'd had it.  A sport round, we did okay but didn't win.  A books round, we did better and won.  The rounds were going to them, to us, we were fairly evenly matched.

The last round was films.  If this was a movie of my life, there'd be a montage here but the question-master cleared his throat, picked up his sheaf of questions and looked at us.  We looked back at him.  My team-mates looked at me.  I tried not to look worried.

There were ten questions in the round, as I recall.  I don't remember what seven of them were about but the last three were based on "E.T."  Out of everyone in the room, I was the only person who'd seen it.

We won the cup and I was absolutely thrilled.

Me, my much loved ZX81, a TV you had to tune to the stations and the cup.  Those were the days...
If you look closely, you can see that I've programmed the ZX81 to display "Mark wins the cup!"

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Secret Of The Crooked Cat, by William Arden

Since 2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published, I thought it’d be enjoyable to re-read and compile my Top 10 (which might be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here), but this time I will concentrate on my favourite books and try to whittle the best ten from that.

So here we go.
Collins Hardback First edition (printed between 1971 and 1973 ), cover art by Roger Hall
A weird mystery intrigues The Three Investigators when Carson's Carnival comes to town, for they soon find that someone is out to destroy the funfair and its owner.  With a bizarre toy cat as their only clue to the enemy, the boys set out on a deadly manhunt...

interior artwork by Roger Hall shows Andy,
from the carnival, being shown
around Headquarters
Titus Jones gets the boys to paint up some wash tubs to look like ‘lion chairs’, which they hand deliver to ‘Carson’s Colossal Carnival!’ that's been set up at the beach next to the abandoned amusement park.  Almost as soon as they get there, a man tries to steal a bizarre looking stuffed toy (the crooked cat of the title) and the boys chase him but he disappears, with the only apparent means of escape a sheer wooden fence.  Soon after Pete wins the cat for himself, he finds himself trying to calm a lion that has been released from its pen.  As the boys delve deeper it soon transpires that the carnival is in trouble and someone is out to destroy it and its owner.  With a series of accidents of escalating seriousness building up and superstitious carnival folk believing that “everything comes in threes”, it’s up to the boys to figure out what’s going on, with the crooked cat as their only clue.

This is another terrific entry, combining a deceptively simple plot with some really good set pieces, logical detection and plenty of intrigue along the way.  After setting things up in the first chapter, the story takes off and whips along, featuring bad luck, a reverse-disguise, carny-life, a human fly, a bank robbery and remnants of the past along the way.  There’s great use of the abandoned amusement park and it’s desolation and spookiness is remarkably well conveyed (especially during a tense and suspenseful moonlit pursuit).  The book also has an element of Robert Arthur style pathos to it, about the waning carnival life and people wanting someting for nothing, which is a nice touch.

This also marks the introduction of the tracking devices (put to good use) and features several characters saying “The Jones Salvage Yard has everything!”, which I thought was cool.  If the ending is perhaps a little simplistic (though it does have the villain say “I’d have got away except for those stupid kids!” - this was published in 1970, Scooby Doo started in 1969), it still works and doesn’t detract from what is otherwise a gripping read and one I highly recommend.

The Armada editions show completely different aspects of the story (art by Peter Archer)
format A (left) printed between 1973 and 1980, format B (right) printed between 1982 and 1983

The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall.

Thanks to Ian Regan for the artwork (you can see more at his excellent Cover Art database here)