Monday, 30 November 2015

Can One Man Survive? A guest blog by Simon Bestwick

Today I'm pleased to host my old friend Simon Bestwick, who's conducting a blog tour in support of his new novel "Hell's Ditch" (which I read in critique and can confirm is a cracking novel).  "Hell's Ditch", from Snowfall Books, is published tomorrow.

One of my guilty teenage reading pleasures back in the 1980s were novels in the so-called ‘Radioactive Rambo’ subgenre – set after a nuclear war, generally depicting straight-arrow, All-American heroes whupping the ass of the dastardly Commies.

The first and best of the crop, setting a standard that most of its imitators dismally failed to live up to, was Jerry Ahern’s The Survivalist series. In it, John Rourke, CIA-trained combat and survival expert and doctor, separated from his family by a nuclear conflict, sets off across America to find them, usually with a cigarillo between his teeth and a Detonics .45 in each hand. (I’d never heard of this gun before, either – later I learned that Ahern bought the company that makes them!) As he goes, he fights off murderous brigands and invading Russians, and gets pulled into the fight between the remnants of the US Government and the Soviet forces. Along the way, Rourke falls in love with a Russian woman, Major Natalia Tiemerovna of the KGB, and she with him, but their relationship remains forever unconsummated as he also loves – and is faithful to – his wife, Sarah.

The series ran to twenty-seven books before Ahern passed away in 2012, with further volumes carrying his characters’ story on. Each volume – at least of the NEL editions I devoured – posed a variant of the same question in its single front-cover tagline: When even friends are enemies in disguise, can one man survive? In the ice-white Arctic wilderness, can one man survive? In the sand-blasted desert of death, can one man survive? And so on. The answer, obviously, was invariably yes.

The Survivalist is pulpish, gritty and a lot more fun than it sounds. Ahern wrote good, solid prose and had a nice line in inventiveness and characterisation, happily ladling new complexities and characters into the mix to keep the brew fresh.

After Rourke finds his family, the series veers into science fiction with the Earth’s atmosphere catching fire as a result of the nuclear war. The Rourkes use cryogenic chambers to sleep away the intervening century and re-emerge into the slowly recovering world, only to find the old conflicts starting up again as survivors from the US and Iceland are menaced by Soviet forces, and by a neo-Nazi regime from Latin America. The one common factor, of course, is that Rourke always has a plan to overcome whatever gets thrown at him.

Also, Ahern, though a card-carrying NRA member and champion of the Second Amendment, managed some nuanced portrayals of the Russians, in contrast to the one-dimensional baddies of films like Red Dawn, or most other books of the ‘Radioactive Rambo’ stripe. In the first novel, Total War, both sides try and fail to prevent the conflict escalating into full-scale war; in the later books, the occupation troops are a mix of good and bad. In fact, one of the most decent and honourable characters in the series is Natalia’s uncle, General Varakov, commander of the Soviet Occupation Forces, a loyal Russian, professional soldier and convinced Communist who earns even his enemies’ respect.

‘To write a potboiler, that is genius,’ Baudelaire once said, and The Survivalist books might go some way to proving that point; while they aren’t Dostoievsky, they had a grip and vividness that means I still remember them, nearly thirty years on.

My new novel, set after a nuclear war, owes a fair debt to the ‘Radioactive Rambo’ school of fiction – and to The Survivalist, probably, most of all. Lord knows what Jerry Ahern would have made of it, or of having a godless left-winger like me for a fan – but I like to think the irony would have made him chuckle.

* * *
The dream never changes: a moonless, starless night without end. The road she walks is black, bordered with round, white pebbles or nubs of polished bone; she can’t tell which but they’re the only white in the darkness, marking her way through the night.

In dreams and nightmares, Helen walks the Black Road. It leads her back from the grave, back from madness, back towards the man who caused the deaths of her family: Tereus Winterborn, Regional Commander for the Reapers, who rule the ruins of a devastated Britain.

On her journey, she gathers her allies: her old mentor Darrow, the cocky young fighter Danny, emotionally-scarred intelligence officer Alannah and Gevaudan Shoal, last of the genetically-engineered Grendelwolves.

Winterborn will stop at nothing to become the Reapers’ Supreme Commander; more than anything he seeks the advantage that will help him achieve that goal. And in the experiments of the obsessed scientist Dr Mordake, he thinks he has found it.

To Winterborn, Project Tindalos is a means to ultimate power; to Mordake, it’s a means to roll back the devastation of the War and restore his beloved wife to the living. But neither Winterborn nor Mordake understand the true nature of the forces they are about to unleash. Forces that threaten to destroy everything that survived the War, unless Helen and her allies can find and stop Project Tindalos in time.

Simon Bestwick is the author of Tide Of Souls, The Faceless and Black Mountain. His short fiction has appeared in Black Static and Best Horror Of The Year, and been collected in A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Pictures Of The Dark, Let’s Drink To The Dead and The Condemned. His new novel, Hell’s Ditch, is out on 1st December.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

For Tracy

Sometimes, things happen that really take the wind out of your sails.  Sometimes you lose people that mean a great deal to you and it's hard to comprehend that they're not there any more.  Sometimes things happen and you still, years later, can't understand them.

But sometimes, maybe, we can keep those people with us a little longer by ensuring their memory lives on and burns brightly...

Family party in 1981 - my cousin Carl on the left.  I'm not swinging a punch, I've got one of those weird 'magic fish' things on my arm.

On the anniversary of my sister passing away

Junior school photo - 1979

12 years - where did all that time go?
With Mum, Sarah and Auntie Lynn (who was visiting from South Africa), 1987

Thinking of you, TJ.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Sledge-Lit, Derby, 21st November 2015

This year saw the first Sledge-Lit event in Derby, which was billed as the “Edge-Lit Christmas vacation!” and held in the same venue.  Since I had such a great time at Edge-Lit 4 (see my report here) and like the Derby Quad, I thought it’d made a nice bridge between the brilliance of FantasyCon (which I reported about here) and next years Crusty Exterior meet-up.
In the Quad bar - Sue Moorcroft, me, James Everington, Steve Harris, Simon Bestwick, Peter Mark May, Dean M. Drinkel
Saturday morning was bright, clear and cold.  I picked Sue up from her house and, as she got in, she took one look at my fleece, smiled and said, “Haven’t you got a coat?”  “No, I’ll be fine with this,” I assured her, “we’ll be indoors.”  “Okay,” she said, “but I don’t want you moaning about being cold!”  I feigned moral outrage - I mean, as if I would ever moan about anything?  We set off and made good time up the M1, chatted all the way and found the Assembly Rooms car park with only the slightest detour required - we were deep in conversation and I missed the turn…  ahem.
Pete, me, Steve, in the bar
As we signed in, Steve Harris appeared, followed closely by James Everington, so we moved into the bar and sat with Peter Mark May and Dean M. Drinkel, who’d arrived on the same train.  There was a lot of chat - it’s less than a month since FCon but it always feels too long ago - and we decided to have lunch in the bar, since Sue recommended it and none of us fancied wandering out into the cold (the place we found at Edge-Lit was lovely but we had to eat outside).  Over the morning, the group around our table ebbed and flowed and we were joined by Simon Bestwick (full of his new-agent-news), Theresa Derwin, Steven Chapman, Simon Marshall-Jones and Tony Cowin.  I later spotted Pixie Puddin in the foyer and went to give her a hug (and bought her a cup of tea too, it was cold out there) then chatted with Cate Gardner, Priya Sharma and Gary Couzens as I made my way back to our table - good to see them all.  Our lunch turned up just before the crowd appeared from the last panel and I was glad we’d pre-ordered, as the bar quickly filled up.  I had a chicken & bacon ciabatta sandwich and it was bloody lovely.

As there was a gap in the programme, I led a small deputation to the Eagle Books stall, in the Eagle market, that Johnny Mains introduced me to in 2014.  As we went through the foyer I bumped into John Llewellyn Probert, Thana Niveau and Cate.  Had a chat with John - we worked out that we hadn’t seen one another since WFC in Brighton in 2013 so it was good to catch up and we talked about how staring mortality in the face (John had a major health scare a few years back) makes you re-assess things.  It was nice to say hello to Thana too.  I met Sue & Pete outside, saw Fiona Ní Éalaighthe and got a hug from her, waited for Steven and Steve, then we set off through the Market Hall and out to the Eagle market.  As it turned out, it was indeed bloody cold outside, though I was determined not to say anything in front of Sue (I think I might have mentioned it several times to Steve and Pete though).  Eagle Books was still there and still fantastic, everyone got something and we kept calling each over to share finds.  There was a tray of Richard Laymon books which prompted a discussion of his work - all of us, it seemed, were fans at various points but, as we explained to Sue, our attention wandered as the books got thicker and more misogynistic.  On the way through, I’d spotted a sign in the Market Hall for a retro-toyshop and we stood outside for a while, gazing into the windows (there was a ‘back in 30 minutes’ sign on the door), before giving up and heading back to the Quad.  I spotted Charlotte Bond in the foyer, had a quick hug and she showed me a copy of “Drive” that Chris Teague had given her for making the muffins at “The Lost Film” book launch.

"Rising From The Dead" panel selfie - me, Sue, Steve, Pete
Upstairs, Pete & I went into the small dealers room and I picked up a Black Static from Roy Gray and the last copy of “Fur Lined Ghetto #6” from Sophie Essex - always a pleasure to see her and Andrew Hook.  With Sue, we went into Cinema 2 for the “Rising From The Dead - Is Horror Ready for a New Golden Age?” panel, which I thought sounded very interesting.  Unfortunately, it left the path less than five minutes in and never found its way back (though Thana made some great comments) - a missed opportunity.  However, as we left, I saw Kevin Redfern & Hayley Orgill further up the auditorium and had a chat with them - we disagreed with the panel and talked about how we got introduced to horror (the outcome was that if kids want to find it, they will - twas ever thus).  Good to see them.

On the way to the market selfie
By the time I got out to the open area, Pete & Sue were fiddling with his glasses, which were pretty much falling apart.  I suggested we go into the market to find a jewellers stall and, as we set off, I decided to tell him the staircase was further away than it actually was.  He gave me a look and said, “I can bloody see them.”  Mischief averted.  The stall I’d spotted in the market was actually a watch-maker but the kindly lady fixed Pete’s glasses quickly and efficiently and since we were in there, we checked out the retro toyshop again but this time it was closed.  On our way back to the Quad (with me still not complaining about the cold, even though I couldn’t feel my fingertips) we had a quick look in Ask Italian, across the Market Square, as Sue and curries don’t mix particularly well.  The menu looked good so we decided we’d eat there later.

We went into the bar for a while before heading back upstairs were we met Cate and Priya on the stairs and Graeme Reynolds in the open area, chatting with them all.  James joined us and he, Pete and Graeme went into the “A Ghost Story Is Not Just For Christmas” panel, whilst Sue & I went to the Boo Books launch.  I had a chat with Andrew David Barker, whose excellent novella “Dead Leaves” (which I reviewed here) was being launched and it was good to see him - after first meeting at FCon - and his reading went well.  Carl Robinson also read from his “A Dip In The Jazz Age”, which was being launched as well and it was a good event, though sadly poorly attended.  Sue & I stayed behind to chat with Andrew and Alex (who, in addition to organising Sledge-Lit is also the publisher of Boo Books) and the conversation turned to FCon 2016, which promises to be great.
Graeme Reynolds, me, (a very distinguised looking - and with fixed glasses) Pete and Sue
Back in the bar, I got a round of drinks, chatting with Steven as we waited, before chatting with Dean and Pete.  They were both leaving at 6pm to catch the same train home and our conversation covered everything from writing to body parts to the awful news about Paris (Dean was there the week before the attacks).  At 5.30, we headed up for the raffle - hosted by Rob Shearman - joined by Jay Eales (unfortunately Selina had stayed at home) and Phil Irving.  Steve arrived late, sat on the row behind us and won the first two prizes!  We thought it was going to be another Andromeda-style whitewash but it wasn’t to be - I didn’t win anything, nor did Pete but Sue & James cleaned up on the PS Publishing prizes, with “A Cold Season” (hardback) and “Ellison Wonderland” (boxed hardback) respectively.  Gits.

And that was Sledge-Lit officially over.  I said goodbye to Pete, Steven and Graeme and we gathered up our dining party - Sue, Tony, James, Steve, Chris Teague and me - and went over to Ask Italian, who managed to seat us all.  The food was great, the conversation and company even more so and I don’t think there was a moment of silence for the entire meal.  We covered a lot of subjects too, including how to write erotica (Sue didn’t believe us about Dino-porn but did introduce us to the phrase ‘Antigua Kiss’, which we’re all going to include in our latest story), what we're currently working on and what we get out of Cons (James put his finger on it, saying how great it was to hang out with talented friends).  A great group of friends, it was the perfect end to the Sledge-Lit experience.  Afterwards, James was heading for the train station whilst Chris and Tony were going back to the Quad so we all hugged and said goodbye, then Sue, Steve & I went back to the Assembly Rooms car park and hugged goodbye in the stairwall.  After finding an ‘interesting’ route to get us back to the M1, Sue & I talked all the way back to Kettering.
At Ask Italian - James, Steve, Chris Teague, Sue, me, Tony Cowin
Great fun, great venue, well organised and full of friends, I’d say Sledge-Lit was a success.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

An interview with Sue Moorcroft

I have known Sue Moorcroft since 1999, when I joined the Kettering Writers group where she was already a member.  We hit it off straight away and, for a while, were the only published writers in the group though, because we wrote genre fiction (romantic for her, horror for me), that didn’t impress the group leader.  Our friendship flourished - I remember reading Fresh Sheets back then, which later became Starting Over, the first of her Middledip novels and her first book from Choc Lit - and continues strongly to this day, I’m pleased to say.  Most of my UK horror writing chums know Sue as she’s now my Con buddy for FantasyCon and the like.

Sue’s also featured here on the blog quite often too - I interviewed her back in 2013 (which you can read here), I’ve reviewed her books and she’s contributed a couple of guest posts (all of which you can find on this link).

Earlier this year, as we met at The Trading Post on one of our “get together and talk writing and books until they call for last orders” evenings, she told me the great news that her agent had sealed a two-book deal with Avon Books.  I was chuffed, thrilled and excited - I’ve read the first book, which will be published next September/October (expect another interview and review then) - and having heard more about the second book on further evenings, I’m even more excited about that.  The news was finally revealed in The Bookseller on October 21st, just in time for FantasyCon (where it was lovely to see so many people congratulate her).

HarperCollins imprint, Avon, has won two new novels from Sue Moorcroft at auction. UK & Commonwealth rights were bought from Juliet Pickering at Blake Friedmann Agency.

Moorcroft said: “I’m excited to be joining Avon, with their reputation for successfully publishing fiction to extensive audiences. Eleanor and her team impressed me with their enthusiasm and drive, their ideas and the welcome they offered to me in my new home.”

The first novel will be published in Christmas 2016 with the second novel planned for summer 2017.

Good times indeed and it couldn’t happen to a nicer person or a better writer.  So I thought it might be fun to have another chat with her, to see how it feels to have the deal and what she thinks the future has in store for her.

MW:  First of all, many congratulations on the book deal!  Tell me how you felt when your agent first let you know.

SM:  Thank you, and for all your continued support!

It actually came down to a choice between two publishers. For a couple of weeks we’d been going through the nerve-wracking process of my agent, Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann, talking to publishers, and it had come down to Avon and one other. Juliet and I had a long meeting with Eleanor Dryden and her team at Avon HarperCollins UK and when were back outside the News Building in the sunshine I said to Juliet, ‘I think it’s Avon. They said everything I wanted to hear.’

The News Building - pic by Sue
MW:  How was the experience of heading down to London and meeting your new publisher?

SM:  Wonderful. The News Building is also known as the ‘Mini Shard’ as it stands next door and is of a similar glass-wall appearance. I was treated very starrily! The meeting room was decorated with hats, to reflect the career of my heroine, Ava, and they’d made me chocolate cake. I got on very well with Eleanor and her team, and hearing that Ava is to be a lead title for Christmas 2016 was music to my ears. I felt very wanted. The chocolate cake was amazing, too.

MW:  So how does it feel to be an ‘overnight success’?

SM:  Ha! At the beginning of April 2016 it will be the twentieth anniversary of selling my first magazine story, so I guess it has taken me twenty years to be an overnight success. It feels as if I’ve worked hard and stayed focused to get where I am, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

MW:  Where did the idea for the novel (which, at the time of writing, is known by its working title of The Truth About Ava) come from?

SM:  Originally, it was to be a Christmas novella. I made Ava a couture milliner because I met one such at BBC Radio Cambridge and thought it would be a cool career for a heroine. I’m always aware that not everybody has a wonderful time at Christmas and so I gave Sam a particularly poignant conflict of his mother being between surgery and chemotherapy and not knowing if this Christmas will be her last.

MW:  I remember talking about the idea with you at The Trading Post, when it was still planned as a novella.  What made you decide to do it as a novel?

SM:  When I first conceived the idea of the novella I had thought that it would be fun to write about someone who doesn’t like Christmas. When my agent liked various angles of the story, Sam’s conflict and the Camden Town setting, that dictated the story becoming full length. I realised that Ava needed a meatier storyline and introduced the idea of her ex-boyfriend threatening her with revenge porn as a strong contemporary issue. The Internet is a fantastic thing but it has a dark underbelly and I decided it would be nice to bring it a little more into the light.

MW:  We can’t really discuss much about the book now (that’ll be in the interview next September), but it has a very different tone to the Choc Lit novels (which I loved).  Was there a conscious decision to do that?

SM:  No. I’m not really aware that it has a different tone. In fact, I would argue this point! (Sue smiles at this point) The setting is different as it’s a city-scape – maybe that’s it?

MW:  Yes, I think so, the story has a more cosmopolitan feel to it, if that makes sense.

SM:  Setting the book in London did mean I had to think differently. When I set a book in a village or in a small segment of a small island, people can credibly bump into one another. In a city of millions of residents and many more millions of visitors, that’s not going to happen. That’s why many of the characters in ‘Ava’ were connected with Sam’s communications agency, either by working there or being big buddies with someone who works there, or being an agency client. I did have Harvey, Ava’s ex, track down Ava in Blaggard’s Bar but, as he knew Blaggard’s to be her favourite hangout in Camden Town, it was an obvious place for him to lie in wait. I like London and, when I was a kid, lived not that far from Camden for eighteen months.

One of my favourites of Sue's novels
(and not just because I fancy the heroine!)
MW:  With regard to the revenge porn sub-plot, that’s one of the things that I enjoy about your books, you don’t look away from the darkness.  You tend to confront issues head-on in most of your books (thinking of All That Mullarkey and the issues with Cleo and Gavin, also the unpleasant elements within The Wedding Proposal), would you care to elaborate on that?

SM:  I don’t consciously look for darkness, it’s more that I look for conflicts that matter. A hate campaign can poison your life and, in All That Mullarkey, Justin loses his home and almost his job because of the hate campaign. He comes perilously close to losing his self-respect. And Gavin … while nobody should condone what he does, I feel most would understand why he does it. In The Wedding Proposal, it matters desperately to Elle that there’s something dark in her ex-husband’s past, because it affects her future. At the time I was planning ‘Ava’ an article caught my eye about revenge porn. That particular piece was about young girls being unwise enough to take explicit ‘selfies’ and send them to young boys. While I mentally filed that under ‘recipe for disaster’, I began thinking about all the loving couples who have bedroom fun with phone cameras ... and what happens to those images once the love has gone. How would the victim feel if the ex shared them on Facebook? Sold them to a sleazy website? Electronic images proliferate like fleas on a dog and my research made me desperately sorry for the victims, and angry on their behalf, so if ‘Ava’ makes even one person think twice about sharing images without permission, I’ll be happy.

MW:  How much research did you do?

SM:  I read extensively (literally for days) on victim support websites, about the kinds of sites that host such images with no care for how it destroys happiness, the law in various parts of the world, and, especially case histories. In other areas: Abigail Crampton of Abigail Crampton Millinery advised on Ava’s career. It was great to watch her doing demonstrations and visit her lovely studio in her garden and have a mock hat fitting. It was also a lot of fun to keep going down to Camden’s markets and bars. Serious illness … well, that’s distressingly easy to research, being so prevalent, partly online but also via chats with people who have been affected, either as patients or loved ones.

MW:  The second novel in the deal (which I am really eager to read, having followed it from initial idea into writing trials and tribulations and having the enviable task of being asked my opinion on plot points) is also removed from Middledip.  Can you tell us a little about it?

SM:  It has the working title of Just for the Holidays. Leah Beaumont, having remained determinedly single till her mid-thirties, ends up looking after her sister’s family in France while her sister Michele’s life derails. The premise is lifted directly from the experiences of a friend of mine, who made me cry with laughter when she recounted what had happened to her. I don’t think it was funny when it was happening, though.

Ronan Shea is a grounded helicopter pilot, doing up the house next door to the gîte in which Leah’s family are holidaying. When the book begins he thinks his biggest problem is that he has had a forced landing and broken his collarbone. Now I’m two-thirds of the way through the first draft, he also knows that his boss is trying to get rid of him. Oh, yes, and his ex-wife has just turned up, destitute.

Only four of my novels are set in Middledip, of course. Six are not.

MW:  You’ve now scaled back on some activities (listing them, I can think of critiquing, tutoring, article writing), did you feel they were overpowering your writing time?

SM:  Yes. I did a self-coaching exercise. What’s good/bad for me? What makes me happy/unhappy? What earns me money/doesn’t earn me money? Anything that fell into negative territory in all three headings got the chop. This freed up so much time that I began looking at other aspects of my writing life and came to an important conclusion: I only wanted to write fiction. So I left my constant teaching commitment, my regular judging, and once I’d adapted my non-fiction book, Love Writing, to be a course, I cut my non-fiction writing, too. I’m delighted to report that the exercise worked. I’ve had a good hit rate with magazine fiction and secured my agent and a new book deal. NB I haven’t stopped the kind of tutoring that gets me to lead a course in Italy. The Arte Umbria course for 2016 is already filling up.

Sue at The Trading Post, discussing books and plot
points the week before FCon (14/10/15)
MW:  Given the deal and the fact that 'Ava' is done aside from the final edit, are you enjoying having a bit of time and space to work on the second book?  When is it due to the editor?

SM:  Very much so. I can’t tell you how much less stressed I feel. Just for the Holidays is due in April – what is counted as a first draft but will probably be my third or fourth. Hopefully, you’ll kindly beta read it for me! (winning smile)

MW:  Of course, I'm looking forward to it!  One last question about the second book (since the first was already written when your agent presented it).  Did you pitch it, sell it on a tagline or none of the above?

SM:  I discussed the premise with my agent and she liked it, so I wrote her a one-page pitch and a three-page outline. By the time she was ready to send Ava to publishers I had begun Just for the Holidays and knew a lot more about it so I updated both pitch and outline and Avon liked it. The other publisher would have wanted both books, too. I’ve never had a multi-book deal before. It would have been possible to see the second book being contracted as a pressure, but I’ve chosen to see it as a vote of confidence.

MW:  Which is the best way, I think.  So what’s next?

SM:  Finish the first draft of Just for the Holidays, do my edits on 'Ava' (due any day), do several more drafts of JFTH and get it to my editor. Then I have an idea for another book, about a guy called Ben whose girlfriend is in a road traffic accident. And his brother is driving the car.

MW:  Thanks very much for that, Sue.

SM:  Great talking to you Mark. Thanks for inviting me onto your blog – see you next time.
Sue at FantasyCon 2015 with (from left) Steve Bacon, Steve Harris, me, Neil Williams
Award winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. Sue’s a past vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies. She also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor.

Sue’s latest book is "The Wedding Proposal"

Sue can be found on the Net in the following places...

Facebook profile
Facebook author page
Twitter @suemoorcroft

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Old School Horrors 3: The Naked Light, by James Moffatt

The third 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.

On this occasion, I'll acknowledge the elephant in the room that you find with any kind of pulp entertainment.  Sometimes the "thing" (a book, a film, an old TV show) just isn't very good at all but still, there's something about it that draws you in and keeps you reading or watching.  Sometimes, it has to be said, they're bad but, in a way, they still have their own kind of dopey charm.

And so I give you...
A Satanic coven meets on the affluent slopes of Beverley (sic) Hills.  The participants in the abominable rites are the biggest names in Hollywood.

An uninvited guest appears at the height of the drug-inspired orgy - a Mafia Killer who really enjoys his work.

The police attempt to solve the enigma of the multiple murder - through a maze of black magic, torture and sudden death.  An appalling exposure of the soft underside of Hollywood.

Following a Black Mass ceremony-cum-orgy, Hollywood starlet Chloe Young is brutally murdered and the studio she’s contracted too - Mermaid Films - is worried because they have a couple of her films waiting release.  They task ace publicist Lucy Christian with finding out the truth whilst trying to cover up the darker aspects of Young’s life to make her palatable for the movie-going public again.

Well, this is a genuinely odd little book (126 pages, small type).  A real pulp paperback obviously ripped from the headlines (the Manson Murders were in late 1969), this seems to have the misfortune of being saddled with a writer who clearly wishes he was writing something else.  Lucy is the main character, though there are chunks of the book where she doesn’t appear, a 33-year-old single girl (mentioned on several occasions), who’s very moral but also a bit wanton, not at all religious though she carries a cross (and during one discussion of abnormal sexuality gets strength from the ‘old-fashioned Gospel’) and an apparent nymphomanical prude - no, it didn’t make much sense to me either but that’s how Moffatt tells it.  And Lucy is easily the most sympathetic character (and she’s not at all, on occasion).

Cynically constructed (Moffatt clearly believes in the ‘give the public what they want’ school of thought), he uses the text to extol his apparent dislike of modern Hollywood, the looseness of the women around it (whilst never missing a chance to mention jutting breasts and pubic hair), hippies, promiscuity and gay people (a gossip-radio-DJ called Mish-Mash comes in for some appalling abuse from the writer, the other characters seem to tolerate him okay), whilst telling a confusing tale that takes in ex-pat Brit movie stars, hoodlums, hookers, drug dealers and a poet who isn’t what he appears to be.  Add into the mix a skirt-chasing police Captain who actually (I swear I’m not making this up) offers to adopt a child who’s given him some clues to the case (in the worst, syrupy, TV-movie-of-the-week style) and more refernces to the Salem witch trials than you can shake a stick at and the book becomes something I’m certain Moffatt never intended it to be.  I also have no idea what the title refers to.

Arguably, you could say this is a product of its time (it was published in 1970) but equally you could argue that it’s badly written and contains pretty much every “-thropic” tendency you can think of, but it’s so formless, so wonderfully delirious, that it almost redeems itself.  This isn’t a good book and I can’t imagine ever reading anything else Moffatt wrote, but I did quite enjoy this for all its sins.  Not sure who I’d ever recommend it to though.

(on a side note, I was amused that the back cover blurb tells you a "Mafia Killer" dunnit, then has the police get mixed up in all kinds of things, whilst concluding that it's an appalling exposure - is that the book, or what it exposes?  They genuinely don't make them like this any more...)

James Moffatt was born on 27th January 1922 in Canada and died on November 8th 1993 in England.  He is reported to have written at least 290 novels, in several genres, under at least 45 pseudonyms.  Since he was so prolific, New English Library asked him, in 1970, to write a book about the skinhead subculture and after that novel (called "Skinhead") sold one million copies, he wrote a further seventeen in the series.  He continued to churn out pulps for NEL during the Seventies and in 1977 wrote the novelisation for "Queen Kong" (a spoof British film starring Robin Askwith), as well as writing for children's annuals.  He didn't publish after 1980, which may have been due to his alcoholism.

During an episode of BBC2's Late Night Line Up in 1972,he was challenged to write a novel in a week and seven days later, he appeared on the show again with the completed manuscript of "The Marathon Murder".  Although he was only given a loose outline on the TV show, it's alleged that the novel had been written prior to his appearance, allowing the publishers to strike while the iron was hot and get the book into the shops (it failed to find a readership).

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).

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Movie Miniatures (the James Bond series, part 1)

As a fan of movie special effects, especially miniatures (as I’ve blogged about here, here and here) and also the James Bond series, I thought it might be interesting to do a post on the model work from Bond films.  I wrote an appreciation of Derek Meddings last year (which you can read here) but I thought, for a start, that I’d highlight the contributions of John Richardson.

John Richardson was born in 1946 in London and his father, Cliff Richardson, was one of the special effects pioneers in England - he started his career in 1921 with the Stoll Picture Company’s “Grand Guignal” series, before going on to work with Alfred Hitchcock at Elstree and later running the effects department at Ealing Studios.  When John was 14, he went to Israel as Cliff was working on “Exodus”, got a job on the crew and served his apprenticeship through the 1960s, branching out on his own with “Duffy” in 1968.  He won an Oscar for his work on “Aliens” (1987) and was nominated for “Cliffhanger” (1993), “Starship Troopers” (1997) and three of the Harry Potter films.

His Bond career is:
Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only (special effects - Derek Meddings supervised the miniatures)
Octopussy and A View To a Kill (special effects supervisor)
The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill (special visual effects)
Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day (miniatures supervisor)

Octopussy (1983)
Directed by John Glen

The aircraft hanger, in the pre-credits sequence, was a combination of full-size, shot at RAF Northolt in 311 Hanger featuring foreground miniatures and a large-scale miniature built at Pinewood.  Bond, in the Acrostar jet, is being pursued by a heat-seeking missile and flies through the hanger he was trying to blow up, even as the enemy try to close the doors...
John Glen explained the shot in interview - "The plane is on wires and we're using a foreground miniature [which] we scaled exactly so that when it was in position, it fooled you completely and you thought you were looking at the whole structure. That door on the left is just beyond the soldier, while the rest of the hangar is about 50 yards away."

Bond's plan works perfectly and as he zips away, the hanger goes up in a massive explosion...
The miniature being prepared.  Each "sheet" of metal was attached individually, so the destruction would be more realistic
Still from the film
John Glen again - "We built a fairly large model of the hangar, about 6 feet by 10 feet, and staged a series of small explosions that grew larger with each blast.  There weren't any people in the foreground, so we could get away with filming it at fast speed—around 72-100 frames per second. This would slow the explosion down to get a more dramatic effect."

The full John Glen interview is here

A View To A Kill (1985)
Directed by John Glen

Richardson (shown up the ladder in the first photograph and holding the blimp tail cord in the second) said, in an interview in Cinefex 33; “There were three blimp models, ranging from ten to forty feet in length and all of them were operated by radio-controlled motors."

The Living Daylights (1987)
Directed by John Glen
Richardson, on location in Morocco, with the radio-controlled Hercules
During the action in Afghanistan, Bond steals a Russian cargo plane (actually an American-made C-130 Hercules) and takes off, just avoiding a smaller plane that is coming in to land.  Both of these were twelfth-scale models (as was the armoured car, which is seen in the same shot).

Later, in the same sequence, Bond lends some air support to his freedom-fighter colleagues who are racing across a bridge.  Richardson said, at the time, “There never was a bridge like the one you see in the film.  Lengthwise, it was the same as the one you see on screen, but height-wise it was at most fifteen or twenty feet above the river bed. Of course, that wouldn't look very spectacular when it s collapsing so we constructed a foreground miniature of the ravine and a different bridge. We used the existing bridge from the handrail down to the road level so that you could see vehicles driving along it, but everything beneath that was a miniature, approximately twenty feet across and four-and-a-half feet high.  It was shot twenty-three feet from the camera, whilst the real bridge was about a thousand feet away.”
still from the film 
left - the read bridge, without the foreground miniature (which is shown in the picture on the right)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
The Stealth boat, which was filmed in the Fox Baja tank (where James Cameron made "Titanic")

The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Directed by Michael Apted
A key part of the plot involves the King pipeline and whilst the exterior was filmed in Cwm Dyli, Snowdonia, some sequences (including the explosion) were shot at Hankley Common in Surrey (where, much later, the Bond home would be built for "Skyfall").