Thursday, 31 January 2013

Shenanigans from Obverse Books!



SHENANIGANS is a collection of short fiction that I've edited for Obverse Books - and it's at the printers right now! It'll be available from www.obversebooks.co.uk in February and I can't wait to see it in all its glory! 

It's a volume subtitled 'Gay Men Mess with Genre' and there's a wonderful spread of all kinds of genres on display - science fiction, fantasy, detective, horror... and all sorts of strange combinations.

I'm so proud of everyone's brilliant work on this, and can't wait to share it with you. Cover art is by Mark Manley and design is by Cody Quijano-Schell and the contributors - plus story titles! - are as follows...

Stewart Sheargold                                    Happiness is a Red Door
Gene Hult                                                Above the Dead Zone
Matt Cresswell                                    They Sing the Horizon
Bob Smith                                                Take Out the Trash
Cody Quijano-Schell                                    Wear Your Love Like Heaven
Jonathan Kemp                                    The Tain of the Mirror
Joseph Lidster                                                Soul Man
Wayne Clews                                                The Case of the Incongruous Carrot
Scott Handcock                                    Gray Matters
Rupert Smith                                                The Reason
Nick Campbell                                    The Corrective Tender


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

In the post - Resurrection Engines



My copies of 'Resurrection Engines' have arrived from Snowbooks, thanks to Emma Barnes and Scott Harrison. It's a Steampunk anthology featuring new stories by lots of great people. It includes a new story by me called 'Talented Witches'.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Starburst Interview


The new issue of the very brilliant 'Starburst' magazine has an interview with me all about VINCE COSMOS: GLAM ROCK DETECTIVE!

This new audio drama is released this very week. You can get it from www.bafflegab.co.uk or from Amazon.

PLEASE order and buy it asap.  Even if you're someone I know and who i already give free copies of my stuff to. Even if you don't think you can even keep up with the volume of nonsensical tat I produce. ORDER IT TODAY, PLEASE! And play it at Maximum Volume!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

other recent reads...


THE INGREDIENTS OF LOVE by Nicholas Barreau

This was quite a sweet, light romance about a woman who owns a restaurant recognising herself in a novel that she reads. Soon she's involved in a tale of ghost writers and editors with hidden lives - and the strange relationship we have with the books in our heads and their implied authors. All this makes it sound a bit more clever than it is. Really, it's a fun runaround. But you know that thing when books are translated from the French, or set in France, and somehow quite plain or banal ideas, phrases and sentences can take on a strange (though fleeting) profundity? Well, that.

Recommended, all the same. Though the female lead is completely nuts, I think.



DOCTOR WHO: THE WHEEL OF ICE by Stephen Baxter.

Another in BBC Books' occasional (ie, not regular enough) Past Doctor series - and an entry in their 'prestige authors' line. ('Prestige authors' is, I believe, the way they themselves have put it - to indicate big-sellers-in-their-own-genre.) This one is definitely highly recommended. I loved this. The TARDIS crew of 1968 is lovingly recreated - Troughton's Doctor is wonderfully clever, funny, warm and mysterious. Lots of interesting set-up and some clever ideas; some wonderful secondary characters - and spiffy new monsters. Blue baby dolls with needle teeth. Polymorphous blue soldiers.

I really like the shifting in scales that goes on - taking us from surfing trips across Saturn's icy rings - to huddled meetings in kitchens in suburban dwellings inside a bubble that is part of the celestial necklace where all the human miners live. That's true science fiction epic stuff, as far as i'm concerned - taking us from the tiny to the vast and back again, and barely stopping for breath. All very satisfying, I thought.


WILDWOOD by Colin Meloy.

This was pretty enjoyable, too. Children falling into a forgotten realm in the deep woods of Portland, where foxes and birds and various factions are at war. It's filled with eccentric touches and some bloodthirstiness - and some tropes very familiar from C.S Lewis. In common with Lev Grossman's recent 'Magicians' novels it's an attempt to create a very American otherworld fantasy, and that's interesting to watch develop. It is much, much too long, though. There is a middle section in which one main character is in a cell that seems to last for half the book, waiting while his counterpart in the plot catches up. Some moments have real emotional punch, though (as when the girl's brother is kidnapped, and when her parents confess their roles in the plot) and if the book was shorter these would have more impact, I thought.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Rereading 'While England Sleeps' by David Leavitt



'While England Sleeps' by David Leavitt is a novel I first read almost twenty years ago. I believe it's been revised since then, because of a legal complaint. Its original version is the one i've got - the one that veers too close to the life of its ostensible real-life subject. I'm not sure how much Leavitt had to change it around.

Anyhow, I remembered how much I loved this book, and how much i enjoyed Leavitt's writing generally. I stopped keeping up with him a number of years ago - finding his stuff just a little narcissistic and pleased with itself... and just a tad fancily done. You know when the writing feels just a bit sticky, as if the paint is somehow too fresh and neatly applied?

What came across this time was what a great feat of ventriloquism Leavitt pulls off here. He brings up the voices of these upper class twits, ne-er-do-wells, revolutionaries, bohemians, nasty poets, cottaging queers, lesbian radicals, interfering aunts and anarchists quite beautifully. My favourite is the narrator's object of desire - Edward Phelan - who works on the underground and who reads two books a week and strives to educate himself and improve his lot. The novel is really about how the Isherwood / Spender cipher Brian Botsford finds him, loves him, foolishly loses him and bravely pursues him into the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. It's a wonderfully sexy romance novel, really - and it comes to us with a whiff of age-old novel about it. All of these details are commuted through a brownish smog of earlier novels and published diaries - some of the characters (the aunts and the flappers and the silly slappers) seem as if they've been airlifted directly from other people's books. Leavitt gleefully outs them all, and gives us the hot and sexy scenes those 1930s novels didn't dare present quite so boldly.

I guess he's doing what Sarah Waters would later do for the Victorian era novels of Sensation. Gaying up the genres of the past. Or gaying them *back* up.

So - that was my first return to an early 1990s novel in this casual project of rereading that I've set myself.


I think in my brash early twenties (did i have such a time?) i was a bit miffed by the pastiche element in this book (it seemed too show-offily virtuoso, perhaps..? And a little po-faced...) I had read all the originals too recently, possibly. Isherwood was a very great hero of mine just then. But now I can see much better how hard Leavitt is working here, and just how wonderfully readable he makes it all. It could have been quite a stodgy brew, working from those sources and trying to say something about the politics of then and 'now'. However, he brings these people and their literary London back to life quite magically - if messily. Everything in the book is stained - with tea and all sorts of secretions. There never are any blank clean sheets in the beds or books of Leavitt's fictional world.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

in the post today


Very exciting stuff in today's postbag!

First of all Facebook friend, bookish fella and all round good egg Chris Hinchley has lent me his copy of 'Space: 1999 Earthfall' by E.C Tubb!

Just two days ago I put out a general query on my facebook page about this particular tv tie-in. Someone had mentioned it (somewhere - i forget where! maybe on the Gollancz gateway sf forum?) They said it was a Space:1999 novel that leapt beyond the bounds of the source material - rewriting the pilot episode and providing a finale for the whole thing - generations after the original series was set. Of course my attention was caught by this - I love the idea of a novelisation galloping out of control and *finishing off* the story...! (Just imagine other series that could be finished off like this!)

Anyhow, in amongst a general discussion of Moonbase Alpha and tie-in books - Chris came to my rescue - and here it is! Vintage 1977 - published, appropriately enough, by (wildly eliptical?)  Orbit. Very much looking forward to this!

Our new, rather smiley postman also brought me my Big Finish subscriber's copy of the first in their second season of Tom Baker plays. This is the first to feature the late Mary Tamm, back in her role as Romana, alongside 1978's Doctor and K9 combo. I love the idea that they had *other* adventures, not necessarily tied to uncovering those tiresome pieces of the Key to Time. It's bound to be a bittersweet experience, this listen - and it's still hard to believe that Ms Tamm is no longer with us.

Ah - now, my other parcel is from Tor, who - having heard how much i've been enjoying my reread of volume one of the Julian May reprints - have sent me volume two, 'The Golden Torc.' Plus, a first novel I'm very interested in - 'The Trouble with Fate' by Leigh Evans - the blurb of which makes it sound like a very pleasing mix of humdrum and fey.


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

trips into history


The year's reading has begun with a handful of trips into history.

Fay Weldon was one of the writers involved with the very first series of 'Upstairs Downstairs' back in 1970. If we're going to get a vogue for Edwardian-set stories in the wake of Downton Abbey, Mr Selfridge and the like, then she's eminently qualified to take us back to that era. 'Habits of the House' is a bit more Upstairs-ish than I'm completely happy with. The servants are used merely to comment on the action like a chorus - none of them really have stories that aren't contingent on the upper class cast. Maybe the subsequent volumes will develop them?

This is a family on the brink of ruin - desperate to marry off their son and daughter (he's flaky and flighty, she's busy emancipating herself) - in order to restore their fortunes. Father's a bit feckless with money and won't always listen. Much of the book, once it gets going, is about the efforts to get the son copped off with a visiting american heiress - the daughter of a stockyard owner from Chicago. She's the real life-force of the book - with her murky past and Liberty print scarf (which she loses in a storm as she and her beau conduct a blazing row about pre-marital sex, thundering along in his steam-powered car...)

It's pretty camp stuff and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. (I'm hoping the volumes aren't too widely spaced out). I love the way Weldon uses the swift, clipped jump-cutting from one stream of consciousness to another - so familiar from her 70s novels - and transposes it into the past. It's a sweet effect - a kind of ITV Modernism.

Reviews on amazon of this novel are hilarious. I especially liked the cross critic who complained about Weldon's tendency to describe 'the pubic bush of each and every character.' (Which seems nicely dated - if slightly odd - too. As if there were a time in which descriptions of pubic hair in fiction were seen as shockingly daring..!)

Philippa Gregory's YA novel, 'The Changeling' came next - also the beginning of a series (hurray). Perhaps I shouldn't read amazon reviews - but some of the ones for this book mystified me. Had we really read the same thing? Some were suggesting that this was thinly-written and hard to care for. I found the prose meaty and fleshy and involving. Gregory always pulls you along urgently. There's a feeling I get, that she's got more and more story to tell you and you've just got to keep on. This one's the tale of a young Spanish Inquisitioner who's been sent by the Pope to investigate various daemonic irregularities across the span of Europe.

There's a sense in this volume of the building of a fellowship - and the first half of the book sees our hero at cross-purposes with a young abbess and her enigmatic best friend - both suspected of queer, witchy practices -  and we just know that they're all going to be on the same side before long and travelling together. The second half of the book is a shaggy dog tale to do with the trial of a suspected werewolf and it, too, is a satisfying episode in what looks set to be a lovely, picaresque trip through the trickiest corners of the Dark Ages.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Guest Blog with Philip Craggs





I'm handing my blog over for the day to Philip Craggs - Manchester-based writer and editor. He's just edited 'The Casebook of the Manleigh Halt Irregulars' for Obverse Books, which is a cross-genre mystery / time travel anthology for Obverse Books. Here's Phil:



"I didn’t pay too much attention to it at first.

"A Facebook friend was posting updates on the health of his friend Matt who was seriously ill. I tend to read everything that comes up on my Facebook page even if it relates to people I don’t know – it’s like seeing someone you work with out with their friends and noticing the differences in the way they dress and talk. So, I ended up following Matt’s daily fight for life, one day better, the next worse, right up until the day he lost it when for the first time his surname was mentioned – Kimpton. And suddenly Matt stopped being a stranger. I’d never met him, but only a couple of months before he’d submitted the final draft of a short story he’d written for my first collection as an editor. It’s a beautiful piece of work and I’d genuinely been looking forward to Matt seeing what was surely going to be a wonderful reaction from the book’s readers.  There is no doubt in my mind that Matt would have gone on to be widely published had he not passed away, and his passing gave the final parts of the editing process a bittersweet edge.

"I first became involved with Obverse Books when I received an e-mail from its founder Stuart Douglas in 2009 asking me if I wanted to submit a story idea for their second collection The Panda Book Of Horror. I submitted a proposal for a story that was part Most Haunted, part On The Buses, and it eventually appeared as ‘Just The Ticket’. I was working as the fiction editor of an online magazine called blankpages at the time and when I left Stuart asked me if I would consider editing something for Obverse, should the right project arise. I, of course, said I’d be delighted.

"At the end of 2011 he sent me an e-mail asking if I would edit one of the Obverse Quarterly publications for 2012; The Casebook Of The Manleigh Halt Irregulars, based on a group of characters devised by Stuart who first appeared in Paul’s Iris Wildthyme short story ‘The Delightful Bag’ from The Panda Book Of Horror, and who subsequently had been the focus of Nick Wallace’s ‘The Irredeemable Love’ from Miss Wildthyme and Friends Investigate. The basic concept is this; two policemen from the 1920s, along with a widowed feminist writer and a mysterious old man with more knowledge than he should have find their police station can travel through time – a little way backwards, a longer way forwards. They have adventures, save the day and generally muddle through.

"The brief contained some basic do’s and don’ts and some ideas that Stuart and Paul thought might be good starting points for the book, but from the outset I was told that this would be my project, and as long as I stuck to the basic principles in the briefing document everything else would be left up to me.

"This was a great opportunity for someone who’d never edited a book before. I started by writing my own briefing document for the prospective writers. I made a few initial decisions – five stories, four of which to focus on an individual character to introduce them to the readers before culminating with a more collective piece. I contacted various writers and ended up with a good mix: Kati Szavai who had written a wonderful story that I published in blankpages; Eddie Robson who is an experienced writer of Doctor Who audio drama; Nick Mellish who came to our attention via his own self-published work, and Matt who had written some wonderful stories for Obverse already.

'The joy of the project for me was working with four writers with very different prose styles, senses of humour and ways of approaching the project. All of the writers were extremely receptive to notes and feedback and wrote several drafts each to get their stories right. I hope they’re as happy with the results as I am.

"The book is, of course, dedicated to Matt, whose story concludes the collection. While I’m saddened that I won’t have the opportunity to read any more of his writing or work with him again, I’m at least slightly heartened that he’ll be remembered by those who never knew him for a story that is funny, moving, utterly convincing in detail and wonderfully human."







Monday, 14 January 2013

in the post...


Last week Tor sent me a reprint of Julian May's first book in the 'Saga of the Exiles' series. It was a wonderful blast from the past. I remember reading this over twenty years ago. It was a birthday when I was at college - and it was one of those birthdays when everyone I knew bought me a book that i didn't know - each, seemingly, in a different genre. My friend Suzi bought me this Julian May novel (in the old lilac and blue cover - all wispy and very new-agey). I remember loving this book - which is, basically, about a disparate group of 22nd century misfits electing to use a time machine on a one-way trip to the past, just before the ice age, where they think they'll find a simpler age to live in.

I adored that first volume, and have no idea why i never went on to read the next three in the series. Or the four-decker series that precedes (?) it. It was very exciting, to see the uniform and dramatic-looking covers that Tor have given the whole set. They look grand and epic and very collectible. I think for me, back then, it was a case of letting too long lapse before I thought about reading volume 2. That's the problem with grand, epic series for me - if too long goes by I start to think that i need to go back and reread the first to get back into the swing. (Though, actually, that's hardly ever really true. After writing a sequence of my own, I know that there are all sorts of ways of bringing returning readers back into the fold and up to speed.)

Anyhow - after twenty years I *did* think i'd need to revisit 'The Multi-Coloured Land' first, and that's what I found myself doing on Sunday. It's serendipity, because it can be seen as a part of my 'Twenty Years Ago' reading marathon (in which i revisit books i read in the early 90s that somehow formed my tastes...) Straight away i'm plunged into this splintered narrative with its huge cast - and all of them moving inexorably towards the moment when they travel into the distant past - and the revelation of the very surprising things they find there...

I'm very excited to be going back into this saga (actually, plunging through a portal into the past is a perfect metaphor in itself for rediscovering a novel series you love...) Also - this science fiction mood of mine in recent days has also led me to discover the Gollancz Gateway of E-book reprints. Which I'm sure i will go on about in the days to come. Suffice to say I'm looking at spending more time in various perplexing futures / pasts / alternatives and various gateways...

Lots of my recent reading since the New Year I'm still to catch you up on. Hopefully I'll let you know what i've been up to in the next few days. How are you anyway? What have you been reading..?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Vince Cosmos TV interview from 1972!




The Bryan Only Vince Cosmos TV Interview

BBC 2, August Bank Holiday Monday, 1972.


BO: And that was Vince Cosmos, darling of the air waves and currently rocking his way through the concert halls of the land, with his brand new hit single, ‘Nefarious.’

SCREAMS FROM AUDIENCE

BO: Come along and sit down here, Vincent. You don’t mind me using your full name, do you?

VINCE: Uh, you can call me anything you like, Bryan. It’s an honour to be on your show again.

BO: That was a tremendous reception for your new recording.

VINCE: Yeah, uh, it sure was, Bryan. But Vince Cosmos fans are the best, you know. Whichever new musical direction I go in – they’re sure to follow. They’re, you know, loyal as can be. They dig me, and uh – all my musical peregrinations.

SHRIEKS

BO: That’s quite an ensemble you’re sporting this evening.

VINCE: I like to glam up for my fans. I scrub up all right, don’t I? Do you think?

DELIRIOUS SCREAMS

BO: I think that means the young ladies and gentlemen of the audience approve. I think you look rather like an eighteenth century dandy, crossed with something from outer space.

VINCE: Ta very much.

MORE SCREAMS

BO: The show’s proving rather noisy tonight. You’ve attracted a slightly different, more boisterous audience to the one I usually get, I must say.

VINCE: Quite a hip crowd you’ve got in tonight, Bryan.

BO: We do our best, Vince. Now, I wonder if you’d all like to see a clip of Vincent Cosmos’s first appearance on the The Bryan Only Show, back in 1968?

VINCE:
What?

BO: We’ve been into the archive and unearthed a smashing little bit of telecine of you before you were the space invader we know and love today…

CUT TO – BLACK AND WHITE FILM CLIP.

BO: Hello there, young man. And you’re a protest singer too, are you?

VINCE: I am indeed, Mr Only. My name is Aloysius Elven Wishbone and my first record is released today!

BO: What’s its name?

VINCE: It’s called ‘Pixies All Around Me’.

BO: Smashing! I see you’ve brought your guitar with you, Aloysius. Would you like to treat us to a song?

VINCE PLAYS PIXIES ALL AROUND ME

END OF CLIP

WILD APPLAUSE IN THE STUDIO

VINCE: Uh… that was a long time ago.

BO: Was ‘Pixies All Around Me’ a very big hit for you?

VINCE: Not really. I wish you’d talked to my management before showing that… It was back when I was… uh, messing around with the idea of doing like a concept album based around J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’. But they wouldn’t let me have the, you know, rights and stuff… so it just became this kind of, uh, novelty song about a bunch of pixies.

BO: I hear your old record company is going to release it again, cashing in on the current vogue for your good self?

VINCE: That’s just a pathetic rumour. No, that song has been expunged from my back catalogue, Bryan.

BO: Pity, I found it rather catchy…

VINCE: I’m in a different place these days, Bryan. I don’t do that pixie stuff no more.

SCREAMS

*

The fabulous VINCE COSMOS website is here courtesy of Bafflegab productions, who publish the audio play on cd on February the First. Head over and pre-order your copy now! (or on Amazon.) 

TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME!


'The Greatest Glam Rocker of All Time Releases His Seminal Masterpiece!'

'This Super Glamorous Gatefold Sleeve Can Barely Sheathe These Twelve Inches of his Glitteringly Fabulous Space Age Oeuvre.'

'Defy the Martian Godhead and Freak Out to Cosmic Gospels from the Glammest Detective of them All!'


Monday, 7 January 2013

Time and Relative by Kim Newman


My 2013 Doctor Who reading marathon begins here!

Or it did on New Year's Eve, at any rate, with the Telos novella by Kim Newman that I first read eleven years ago. It was quite a shock to find it was so long ago, this story set in the winter before the events of the first-broadcast Doctor Who story. However, the whole thing has remained vivid in my memory and, as it unfolded anew, I was amazed at how much had stayed with me of this icy and brittle story.

'Time and Relative' comes to us in the voice of the Susan Foreman - or at least through the pages of her teenage diary, kept during the months that she's trying to blend in at Coal Hill School. The Doctor's mysterious granddaughter is a wonderful character, who was very underused on TV. This book plays to many of her strengths - underlining once again her alienness and her keenness to fit in and find a place among her peers in 1963. I like the time and energy Newman puts into creating her a set of friends - John and Gillian and so on - each of them well-drawn in a tight little ensemble cast that comes under some pressure as the cold creeps in and the monsters start to roam through the streets of this transformed and deadly London. This is a London of Wimpy bars and girls with beehives and early Beatles singles. And in the middle of all of this is the quixotic, mostly unseen figure of the Doctor - who is the first to appreciate the monstrous threat mankind is facing (in an enemy curiously similar to that faced in the recent Christmas TV special, it must be said...).

What's most interesting about the Doctor here is that he has to be convinced to defend the human race. Why not put the ice monsters and their living Snowmen first? What does he owe humanity, anyway?

It is, of course, Susan, who convinces him to save the day. I love the fact that this whole pivotal scene - in which she makes him see that he must, in fact, intercede and step out of his dispassionate role - hinges upon something as innocuous and daft as a gonk. Completely perfect for the era in which the book is set, the gonk is the thing that makes the Doctor think mankind might be worth trying to save.

Somehow, for me, this gets to the very essence of Doctor Who. A lesser story might have him get rhapsodical about the Sistine Chapel ceiling or quantum physics or other lofty human achievements. Instead we've got an old man in a junk yard - just as the world is about to be subsumed by living ice and snow - having an epiphany about a gonk. It's one of those essential moments of Whoishness when the cosmic clashes with the absurdly banal, and hurray for that.


So - January is dedicated to the first Doctor. He's a character well served by print, I think. The first ever Doctor Who book '...in an exciting adventure with the Daleks' by David Whitaker established him beautifully back in 1964 - as even more mysterious and odd than he was on TV. As a fictional character he's been around the longest of all the Doctors - and writers are still uncovering new angles and depths and missing moments in his relatively short life. I'd like to read some more about him this month, and find out a little more about this irascible old devil.


Saturday, 5 January 2013

In the Post



A new arrival in the post from the US today!  The fabulous Janice Super-starum, who I met at TeslaCon in Wisconsin in 2011 sent this amazing surprise. It's amazing alt-universe Art Critic Panda! Complete with unbreakable transatlantic Martini glass...!

Here, both Fester and Panda greet the boggle-eyed arrival...


Couple of blog links to share with you today. Author of 'Skylanders' and many other things, Cavan Scott just reviewed '666 Charing Cross Road' very kindly here, and Stuart Douglas writes about the imminent 'Vince Cosmos - Glam Rock Detective' here.

And, meanwhile, Elizabeth Lefebrve of 'Strange and Random Happenstance' reviews her 2012 reading and includes a couple of my novels, including the Ninnies.

2013 has cautiously begun well - and it's gathering confidence! This week I've been back at my desk - and I've sketched out a whole bunch of pages for a new project. Plus, my reading has been fun so far. I just finished Fay Weldon's soapy Victorian Upstairs/Downton tribute act, 'The Habits of the House' - and thoroughly enjoyed it. And now I'm straight onto the latest Philippa Gregory. Next I hope I'll be thinking about my Doctor Who marathon.

What are you up to?


Thursday, 3 January 2013

'My Life at Crossroads' by Noele Gordon


BLURB:

"...Here, Noele Gordon (otherwise known as Meg Richardson) discloses all the secrets, the heartaches and the fun behind CROSSROADS, the programme which can boast a regular 14 million viewers.

"That Crossroads is a religion for millions has produced its own wealth of anecdotes. How Noele was offered a position as manager of a hotel... how one viewer rang to warn her that the motel would be burgled before it happened on TV and reality. Where fact meets fiction for the many fans is often blurred... And besides the many often humorous stories, Meg... sorry, Noele... discusses frankly her views on marriage (including the reasons why she never married) and other subjects of interest to women."

I plucked this off my over-full TBR bookcase on New Year's Eve as part of my resolution to start tackling those books I've left unread way too long. It's a behind-the-scenes book from 1975 about the famous daytime soap. The first thing to note is that this is six years before Noele Gordon gets unceremoniously dumped from the show that she had dominated since 1964. In 1975 Crossroads was still unthinkable without the flame-haired matron in charge. At the time of writing - or ghost-writing - this paperback she is very secure in her world, and it's a strange world for us to go back and visit. A time when this show could claim huge popularity and boast about its global appeal, and simply shrug at anyone pointing out its ropiness and lack of sophistication. It was in the business, Noele tells us, of portraying 'real' and 'mundane' life as it might happen to the staff and visitors to a Midlands hotel. It was much realer than, say, 'Coronation Street' because it didn't even try to be 'drama'. Even misreadings of lines and memory loss on the part of its actors were evidence of its keener realism.

The show and the book belong to an era when ordinary life seemed to be dramatic enough for the average viewer. The mundane was interesting enough to draw in audiences of fourteen million. Soap operas didn't need to have shoot-outs and serial killers and quite so much misery and upheaval. The Motel was all about chatter and kerfuffle and everyday stuff.

The book is like reading a terribly overlong TV Times article. Noele gives us a little background to herself and her career - with a little boastfulness, perhaps. But then, she had a very interesting career - in that she had already been a stage actress, TV executive and live daytime presenter before becoming a soap star. She actually comes across as rather modest, compared with all the showing off you tend to hear from just about anyone involved in TV these days.

There's not much gossip and filth here, though, which is a pity.

I like how keen she is to tell us how busy they were making Crossroads - producing four episodes weekly, every week of the year. The show was like an unstoppable juggernaut - constructed from painted plywood and driven by a woman in quite a lot of eye make-up.

It makes me long for a time when tv drama wasn't just about 'events' and spectacle and blockbusters. I ended up kind of wanting there to be a shonky soap opera filled with mundane goings-on. One I can rely on being there almost every day of the year. Soap characters these days are like ticking time bombs and we're waiting for them to turn into killers or pop stars or something else improbable. What happened to the days when we just watched ordinary people being fairly boring for decades on end...?  Days of instant coffee and flock wallpaper and trimphones and man-made fabrics. When motels seemed glamorous and Meg's sitting room or Jill's rustic kitchen at 'Windmills' seemed about as sophisticated as life ever got..?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

'Brodmaw Bay' by F.G Cottam


BLURB:

"Brodmaw Bay seems to be the perfect refuge for James Greer and his family. When his young son is the victim of a brutal mugging, Greer wants to leave London - the sooner the better - for the charming old-fashioned fishing port he has just discovered.

But was finding Brodmaw Bay more than a happy accident? What is the connection between the village and his beautiful wife? When his friendly new neighbours say they'd welcome some new blood - in a village where the same families seem to have lived for generations - are they telling the whole truth?

Perhaps the village isn't so much welcoming them as luring them. To something ancient and evil. As it has lured others before . . . "

Between Christmas and New Year I read this novel - by a British horror writer completely new to me, F. G Cottam. It's a proper supernatural thriller and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are overtones of The Wicker Man and The Shining - and any number of 1970s / 80s New English Library paperbacks. 

Cottam gives us an extremely good sense of place - in both London and the remote, sheltered Cornwall town. James Greer and his family are very well drawn, I think - and we come to care for them and their inevitable predicament, almost despite the odds. The problem with them is that they're all to *good* at what they do. (I'm *almost* reminded of that nauseatingly smug family in Ian McEwan's 'Saturday.') Mother's a brilliantly successful illustrator, father has developed an innovative computer game that might well 'go global' and the son is an amazing footballer.  Is it wrong for the reader to start wanting dreadful things to happen to them..? 

Despite all that - and the stress on material goods and status - i was drawn in, and wanted their coastal idyll to work out for them. But we know it's going to go to the bad. There are some marvellously creepy characters they meet down in Cornwall. Brodmaw Bay is like a little, frozen world of its own - ruled over by a raddled Rock God and his fey, folk-singing wife. And there are some genuinely creepy moments - featuring the ghost of a school girl and the 'Harbingers' - ethereal creatures who dwell in the town's deconsecrated church.

Like a proper thriller, the plot gathers momentum quickly and the ending is all about James' attempt to get back to the town in time to save his family. I felt that maybe the truth of what was going on gets delivered up too quickly and easily (the old, rediscovered journal ploy!) and maybe the climax is a bit too zippy and action-packed. 

But even so, it kept me sitting still - completely riveted - in the quiet days before New Year's Eve. It's definitely made me want to read more F. G Cottam.