Tuesday, 29 September 2015

GodBomb!, by Kit Power (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book that I've read and really enjoyed, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.
North Devon, England, 1995.

A born-again revival meeting in a public building, the usual mix of the faithful, the curious and the desperate.  And one other... an atheist suicide bomber.

He's angry.  He wants answers.

And if God doesn't come and talk to him personally, he's going to kill everyone in the building...

A short, gripping, gut-punch of a novel, this opens fast and manages to keep its pace right through to the last few lines.  Told in present tense, it focuses on several members of the congregation (who all have cause to question God’s role in their lives) as well as the un-named bomber and weaves them together in a tense fashion, wringing every bit of drama out of the situation.

The characterisation is superbly handled - from an alcoholic called Twitch, to a heavily pregnant true-believer called Emma, from reformed junkie Mike to Katie, a teen who is trying to find her purpose.  Whilst we never discover everything about the bombers philosophy, his actions are confusing enough - vicious, yet tender - to ramp up the suspense as first a lone policeman arrives and then the building is surrounded, as Emma goes into labour.

With flashes of brutal violence that will make you wince to wonderful stream-of-consciousness sections that roll you along, this is an assured piece of writing with a well realised sense of location.  I liked it a lot, highly recommended.

(as a point of interest, I read this for critique which is why my blurb is on the back cover).

As I like to read story notes, I asked Kit where "GodBomb!" came from and this is what he had to say (cheers Kit).

The Genesis of Godbomb!, by Kit Power

As is often the case, GodBomb! came about when two ideas collided with each other. The first was a novel called Zeitgeist, which was written by Todd Wiggins and came out in the mid nineties. I only dimly remember the plot, but at a certain point, one of the characters storms into a church, and as the remaining characters drive away, there is an explosion and the building is destroyed. And I remember thinking ‘Wow - what must have it been like inside that building, in those small number of minutes? What must have gone through everyone’s heads?’

Then, in 1995, for reasons lost to obscurity, at the age of 19, I attended a real life Born Again revival meeting. As someone basically raised as a happy pagan/atheist, it was a profoundly odd experience, and one that I found stuck in my mind. Something I was unable to process properly. My thoughts kept returning to it, and eventually, I felt like I had to sit down and try and write about it.

As I mentioned, I was 19 then, and consequently only wrote the first chapter, before realising it would take more effort and focus that I was willing to give it. So the idea sunk, apparently without trace.

But it wasn’t done with me.

And when I reached a point in my writing when I decided it was time to try for My First Novel, the idea slunk out of the shadows of my subconscious, and stood and stared at me, cold, hard eyes glittering with anger and madness. I looked back, held its gaze, nodded, and started to write…

I’m glad to have this one out of my mind at last, and out in the world.

The novel is available as an ebook from Amazon UK, with a paperback edition forthcoming

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Lost Film - Pre-orders open now!

It's finally here.  Pendragon Press have now opened pre-orders for "The Lost Film novellas", which contains "Lantern Rock" by Stephen Bacon and "The Lost Film" by me - two novellas, linked by theme.

"The Lost Film", available in a limited edition (100 copies) paperback and as an ebook, will be officially launched at FantasyCon in Nottingham, 23rd-25th October 2015.

The pre-order link is here and for a limited time, the paperback is available for £9.

"The Lost Film"
by Mark West

Gabriel Bird is a private detective. He’s been hired to track down Roger Sinclair, an exploitation film-maker who disappeared in 1976, having just completed his last film. Long since lost, “Terrafly” was reputed to have an adverse, often fatal effect on those who watched it. Sinclair’s producing partner, Sorrell Eve, is concerned that the film is about to appear online and wants to make sure it stays lost forever.

As Bird closes in on his target, strange incidents begin to happen to those around him and when he’s offered the chance to watch a clip of “Terrafly”, things turn very dark indeed.

A modern detective story, filled with rich detail of the low-budget heyday of British exploitation films, this will ‘pull you into a dark cinematic nightmare’.

“An impressive, imaginative flight of fancy. Mark West has cunningly woven the exploitation movie industry of the 70s that I experienced into a bizarre private eye yarn and thrown in sex, the supernatural and more besides. It hooked me from the first page to the final, mind-bending fade-out”
- David McGillivray,
screenwriter of "House of Whipcord", "Frightmare", "House Of Mortal Sin" and "Satan's Slave"

"Lights, camera, action...Mark's West's lost film novella will grab your soul by the sprocket holes, pull you into a dark cinematic nightmare, and then re-edit the way you look at the world. Experience it at your peril."
- Gary McMahon,
author of “Pretty Little Dead Things”

A Monochromatic in Central London, 1976
I wrote a little bit about the origins on the story and collection in a blog post (here), but the project has been around since 2010.  Steve & I had been corresponding for a couple of years (we finally met, in person, at FantasyCon in Nottingham in 2010) and enjoyed each others work.  Both of us were in a funk with our writing and joined Conrad Williams' online writing group Fiction Factory, where we also met Neil Williams, which led to the "ill at ease" projects.  I suggested Steve & I team up for a novella length project (he'd never written anything that long before and we both felt like we needed a kick up the arse) and at first we were going to go for a straight collaboration but then decided to try a story each.  As we were brainstorming ideas, he mentioned “lost film” and that was it.

I wrote my first draft from Tuesday 7th September through to Monday 29th November 2010 and it was 52,547 words long whilst the final revision, which I did earlier this year, ended up at 46,912 words.  I had great fun writing it and there was a lot of research involved - both the era and British exploitation films of the 60s and 70s - but I loved weaving true facts into the fictional ones I was littering the manuscript with.  Plus I got to read a lot of crime thrillers to get 'the voice'.

Although it's taken a long time to get here, I've had a great time working on this and I can't wait for it to make its own way into the world!

For more information, keep checking back here and at www.pendragonpress.net

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Mystery Of The Deadly Double, by William Arden

2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published and, to celebrate, I re-read and compiled my all-time Top 10 (safe in the knowledge that it would be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I posted my list here, having previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here).

This year, I decided to read through some of the books that I'd missed on that second read-through, without any intention of posting reviews but, as is often the way, it didn't quite work out like that.  So here's an additional review...
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed in 1979 and never re-printed), cover art by Roger Hall
Before the boys could move, two men leapt out of the Mercedes and grabbed Jupiter.  "If you want to see your friend again, don't follow us!" one of them shouted.  Next moment they had thrust him into their car and were speeding down the highway...

Pete and Bob are baffled when Jupiter is kidnapped.  What could be the motive?  Soon tehy realise that they are caught up in a deadly political struggle, the victims of a strange mistake.  Jupiter Jones has a double...

Illustration from the Collins/Armada editions,
by Roger Hall
The Three Investigators are on their way to a day-out at Magic Mountain when the Rolls (with Worthington at the wheel) is forced off the road and Jupiter is kidnapped by two men “with strange British accents”.  Thanks to Bob & Pete’s quick thinking, the police quickly close in on the kidnappers who end up fleeing empty-handed.  After coverage in the local news, the boys are approached by two members of the Nanda Trade Mission, who reveal that Sir Roger Carew (the liberal Prime Minister of Nanda, an African nation) is preparing to make it an independent country with a majority rule.  White extremists don’t want this to happen and have formulated a plan to kidnap Ian, Sir Rogers’ son, to force him to back down on his plans.  The kidnappers made a mistake because Ian, who has been missnig for a while, looks exactly like Jupiter (with one slight difference, which is cleverly revealed)…

This is the ninth entry in the series by William Arden (Dennis Lynds), following “The Mystery Of The Headless Horse” and it’s great fun.  There are plenty of clues dropped early on - Pete’s lunch goes missing in the first chapter, Jupe’s old clothes disappear and Aunt Mathilda complains that someone is raiding the fridge (Jupe protesting his innocence is amusing) - and the set-up is nicely played.  The kidnapping is a well-staged set-piece, as is Jupe’s first rescue and although the whole book hinges on a big coincidence (I won’t spoil it, but location is key), it doesn’t feel at all contrived.

Nanda is well portrayed with a good sense of history and represented by Gordon MacKenzie and Adam Ndula of the Trade Mission, who make it clear that brotherhood goes beyond skin colour.  There are nice nods to the anti-apartheid movement and the extremists, though not overly racist (this is, after all, a kids book from 1978), are clearly in the wrong.  Even better, one of the characters (again, I won’t spoil it) becomes a hissable villain at one point which makes Jupe’s victory over them all the better.

Set around Rocky Beach (with a quick trip to Hollywood and downtown LA), this makes good use of its locations and the characterisation is well realised, though Ian tends to speak a bit like an over-excited public schoolboy at times (“I say!”).  The boys work well together, there are some nice humorous moments (Pete’s sandwich, especially, plus Jupe making up a plan for them to get the most out of the Magic Mountain rides, which the other two dismiss) and it’s up to Bob & Pete to save the day, which they do.  The hook itself isn’t a secret (there’re two Jupes on the cover of the paperback) though the title isn’t made clear until Alfred Hitchcock himself explains it - “What could be more deadly, more nightmarish, more horrible, than the knowledge that there are actually two Jupiter Joneses in this poor suffering world!  A deadly double indeed!”  One other quick point to make is that Aunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus’ house is described in other books (and I wish I could remember which ones now) as being a small cottage but here, in the hardback artwork at least, is much larger (and reminds me of the Bates house from “Psycho”).

Good fun, with a whip-crack pace that doesn’t let up, this is very much recommended.
Armada format b paperback (first printed in 1982, last reprinted in 1984), cover art by Peter Archer
cover scan of my copy
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)

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Making Of "Licence To Kill"

As regular readers of this blog might have realised by now, I am endlessly fascinated by the behind-the-scenes process of films and I enjoy reading good making-of books.  In my experience, the Bond films have a spotty track record - for every "Live & Let Die Diary" by Roger Moore, you have the Garth Pearce snooze-fests - but I've just finished this and thought it worth blogging about.

The Making Of Licence To Kill, by Sally Hibbin
Hamlyn, first edition published 1989, cover scan of my copy
"For the first time in 15 years the James Bond production company has allowed an author to work directly alongside the film units during the making of a Bond movie.”

Given free rein on the set, Sally Hibbin made the most of the situation and wrote a book that manages to capture the excitement, hard work, occasional boredom and fun that goes on during the planning and shooting of a film.  With profiles and interviews of all the key players - actors and the production team - Hibbin follows the process from start to finish, explaining what’s going on and how one event ties into another, detailing the triumphs - andd occasional disasters - whilst never losing sight of the huge logistical exercise that making a big film in Mexico and Florida, with up to three units working, actually is.  And whilst she does capture the fun - both in the interviews (Timothy Dalton and Robert Davi seem to have got on particularly well) and pictures - she doesn’t shy away from the awkward areas either.  With a budget similar to that of “Moonraker” (made ten years earlier), the production was forced to leave the Bond spiritual home of Pinewood and set up camp at the Churubusco Studios in Mexico - a complex that production designer Peter Lamont had to kit out from scratch - and this does cause problems that make life just that little bit harder.  The production team come across very well, well versed with each other since it was essentially the same group - from director John Glen through to writers Michael G. Wilson (also the producer, along with Cubby Broccoli) and Richard Maibaum, second unit director Arthur Wooster to cameraman Alec Mills, not to mention special effects supervisor John Richardson (who seemed to alternate his position with Derek Meddings) - that had worked together since “For Your Eyes Only” in 1981.

I’m a big fan of ‘making of’ books and I enjoyed the structure of this, plus it’s lavishly illustrated and nicely in-depth - though if I had one minor complaint, it’s that editor John Grover and the aforementioned Richardson only get about a page and half each covering their jobs, which seems light (though the latter does crop up several times throughout the piece).

I saw “Licence To Kill” (at a little cinema in Torquay) when it first came out in 1989 and I don’t remember being over-impressed - to me, then, it didn’t have the scope of the earlier films and, at the time, it was competing with bigger budgeted action films from the US (such as “Lethal Weapon”).  My appreciation of the film - the acting, the direction and the general tone - has improved as time’s gone on and reading this, my admiration for the film-makers has increased too.  A very thorough, well-written and entertaining book about a film that is still under-rated, I would highly recommend this.

A brief retrospective of the film
"Licence To Kill", the sixteenth official James Bond film, was released in the UK on June 16th 1989.  It was directed by John Glen (his fifth consecutive Bond film), produced by Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli & Michael G. Wilson and written by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum.  Timothy Dalton made his second appearance as Bond, Robert Davi played the villain Franz Sanchez, David Hedison reprised his role (from "Live & Let Die") as Felix Leiter and Carey Lowell played Pam Bouvier, an ex-CIA agent and pilot.  Talisa Soto was Sanchez's girlfriend Lupe, Desmond Llewellyn as Q got his biggest part ever and future big-shot Benicio Del Toro played Dario, Sanchez's chief henchman.

Filmed on a budget of $32m, it has so far made $156.1m worldwide and suffered with competition from several summer blockbusters, namely “Batman”, “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade” and “Lethal Weapon 2”.  Since then, Bond films have been released in Autumn or Winter.

John Glen
This proved to be the last James Bond film for six years, caused by a combination of the relatively poor box office performance and legal wranglings over the ownership of the character.  “Licence To Kill” also marked the last involvement in the series for director John Glen, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, title designer Maurice Binder, editor John Grover, director of photography Alec Mills, along with Timothy Dalton (Bond), Robert Brown (M) and Caroline Bliss (Miss Moneypenny).  It was also the last Bond film where producer Cubby Broccoli was an on-set presence, though he would act as a consulting producer for “Goldeneye” (1995) before his death.

Robert Davi (doing his Groucho impression) and Talisa Soto
This was the first EON productions Bond to get a “15” rating from the British Board of Film Clasification.  It was also the first not to take its title from an Ian Fleming novel or short story, though it does use plot elements from “Live & Let Die” - the feeding of Felix to a shark - and “The Hildebrand Rarity” - for the scene where Sanchez beats his mistress with a whip, in the short story it was Milton Krest who beat his wife with a similar implement.

There are also a couple of nice little in-jokes, the first being that throughout the series (and beyond this film), Q warns Bond about damaging or losing equipment but here, once he’s used his rake/radio, he throws it into the bushes and walks away.  This was, apparently, Llewellyn’s idea.  The second is during the final chase sequence, when Bond jumps onto the trailer and Sanchez shoots at him, the sound of the bullets ricocheting plays the start of the James Bond theme.
Filming the final showdown between Bond and Sanchez - this makes it all look a bit crowded...
Concept poster art

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Old School Horrors 2: The Medusa Horror, by Drew Lamark (and more...)

The second, in an occasional thread, of blog posts celebrating those cheesy, sleazy old-school pulp paperbacks from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  Yes, we’re not talking great art here but these books have their place - for better or worse - in the genre and I think they deserve to be remembered.

Futura Publications 1983 - cover scan of my copy

A party of carefree, fun-seeking treasure hunters set off to find a sunken vessel off the Cornish coast.  Hot sun, gourmet food and - perhaps - a fortune from beneath the waves awaits them.

Moving remorselessly towards them is a ghastly swell of venemous jellyfish.  They exude aggression - and their sting is deadly.  Ensnarled in their slime is a horrible assortment of malevolent creatures intent on destruction.

The excitement of the hunt quickly turns to panic.  And the goal becomes: survival.

A party of treasure hunters set off to find a sunken vessel off the Cornish coast and, in order to keep their find a secret, tell no-one. But “moving remorselessly towards them is a ghastly swell of venomous jellyfish and enslared in their slime is a horrible assortment of malevolent creatures intent on destruction”.

Published in 1983, this is briskly told, with bare bones characterisation (the younger female characters are more defined by looks than anything else) though it does work hard, making a genuine threat of the shoal of poisonous jellyfish that might - or might not - be sentient. However, everything seems to unravel in the last act, with five characters perishing within two chapters, a completely gratuitious sex scene that just serves to put the reader off a character they’d previously supported and the climax relying on someone who opened the novel, but then disappeared for the bulk of it. Lamark (actually Andre Launay) also has a problem with his monster, in that it can’t move of its own accord and gets less scary as the tale goes on.

Having said all that, this does what it’s supposed to for the most part - it’s quick (only 206 pages), has enough characterisation to make you care and enough jolts and gore to make the reader cringe and smile. So for all its downsides (and what’s the last paragraph all about?), as an early 80s British horror exploitation paperback, it does deliver. If you like old school sleazy horror, this’ll work for you - if you don’t, forget it. For the record, I really rather enjoyed it.

The Futura cover shown above was used on the 1983 publication.  Interestingly, the woman also features in the poster for the 1981 shocker "Nightmares In A Damaged Brain".  I wonder if someone at Futura thought that nobody would notice, if they cut out and photocopied the head?

(as it happens, I bought the book because I loved the title and thought the cover looked cool and it wasn't until a couple of years later that I saw poster for the film)

* * * * *
And whilst we're on the subject, here's another...
Star, 1983 - cover scan of my copy

Eighteen storeys of glass and copper gleam in the early morning light. 

Then, windows shatter and eight gnarled human forms are hurled into the air, plummeting to the London street below. 

Fear has taken a room at the Palace Plaza Hotel. Guests, bellhops, management - everyone can feel its ghastly power.... but no one can escape it... and live...... 

staying in a Hotel will never be the same again. 

“Fear has taken a suite at The Palace Plaza. What has unleased this force, so fearful, so destructive? And now it is free, how can it ever be contained?” Very much a book of thirds, this could have been a cracking novel about a haunted, newly built hotel (“a new kind of haunting” as the cover has it) and for the first part, it seems as though it will be.

Natalie Weir is 24, a dynamic PR who goes to work for the new hotel at Hyde Park Gate and things are looking good - she’s assertive, in control, independent. We then meet Donald, a failed composer and musician who whines constantly, fails to kill himself, almost gets stabbed to death by his blind fiancee and then Natalie falls for him. At this point - the second third - the book seems to shift POV and we lose Natalie for a while which is a shame, as her character is a lot better than his. The last third, where stupid scheme builds up on preposterous situation (Natalie’s intended kills himself on their wedding day, shocking her mother into a fatal heart attack and our heroine is a hairs-breadth away from shrugging her shoulders and saying “oh well”), throws everything into the mix, including some gore vignettes that are gruesome fun but out-of-keeping with the rest of the book and we then have the final reveal which, while it’s logical to the plot, just isn’t big enough to sustain the story.

I really wanted to like this but as it stands, the first third apart, it’s a wasted opportunity.

* * * * *
AndrĂ© Joseph Launay was a novelist, essayist, screenwriter, dramatist and humourist, who was born in London (to French parents) in 1930 and died in 2013.  He wrote in English and used various pseudonyms, including AndrĂ© Launay, Drew Launay, Andrew Laurance and Drew Lamark.

In all, he wrote 56 books.  His fiction ranged from family drama, thrillers, horror and erotic humour, whilst his non-fiction encompassed luxury foods, antiques, history and travel.  Married twice, he had four children (his son Nick produced the INXS album “Shabooh Shoobah”) and lived in Spain where he wrote full-time.

A website is maintained by his daughter Melissa Launay, a successful artist and can be found at this link.

For a few years now, I've been collecting old 70s and 80s paperbacks (mostly horror), picking them up cheaply in secondhand bookshops and at car boot sales and slowly building a collection.  My friend (and fellow collector) Johnny Mains once told me that charity shops sometimes pulp old books like this because the market for them is so small - I understand why but I think it's terrible.  We might not be talking great art here but on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis (too much cheese isn't good for anyone's diet), I'm going to review these "old-school" horrors (and perhaps include some bonus material, if I can find it).