Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hallowe'en Post 3 - Top Ten Scary books..!

I found choosing favourite spooky books easier than making a list of films. I wonder why?

Books are creepier anyway. They get under your skin because that's where they begin. They sneak into your dreams and you're stuck with them. Their stories keep on playing and continuing inside you. It's something to do with carrying the book around with you - and the time and concentration you put into it, I think. Films reach out to you - with 3D this is quite literally the case. But books are inverted 3D. They invite you in.

And that can get scary. Here's my list...

10. SHADOWS BEND by David Barbour and Richard Raleigh. I bought this on a whim in a nice bookshop in Edinburgh celled Transreal Fiction, several years ago. It's a road movie adventure with writers H P Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard making their way across the US in order to save a friend from unearthly forces. On the way they hook up with a Vegas Showgirl, who proves to be a handful. I've never heard anyone mention this book, or write about it or say it's wonderful. I loved it, though!

9. LOVE OF THE SEVEN DOLLS by Paul Gallico. A Parisian puppeteer and his poor assistant. He treats her cruelly, and she can only talk to the dolls in his puppet booth show. It's one of Gallico's heartbreaking fables - saved from sentimentality by the sheer creepiness of the thing. Due for a reread, I think.

8. FALLEN ANGEL by Kim Wilkins. Third in a row in this list that's out of print. This is a wonderful novel - in which we slip back in time to the plague and the Great Fire of London. Milton's daughters have colluded to summon up a sexy daemon and they hide him from their blind father in the house next door. Wilkins is a wonderful writer of dark fantasy / horror / paranormal romance - whatever you want to call it. I've read all of her books, I think - but it's this first one that i'm fondest of.

7. THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR by Anne Rivers Siddons. I've read her wonderful family sagas - all of them without a single shred of supernatural stuff going on. But at some point in the 70s she turned her hand to writing a gothic ghost story, telling the tale of successive owners terrified out of a particular house. It's an astonishingly scary book.

6. THE DEVIL RIDES OUT by Dennis Wheatley. I've read all of his 'satanist' books and I think this is the one I like best. The film is smashing, too. He's hopelessly unfashionable and nobody rates him. His politics stink and all the rest of it. But he's a page-turner. At least he is for me, and I never argue with that. This is the first book on my list to still be in print, I believe. Wordsworth did one of their El Cheapo editions a couple of years ago.

5. THE LAND OF LAUGHS by Jonathan Carroll. You'll think me a fool for banging on about this one again. But at every opportunity I have to say that this creepy classic is one of my very favourite novels, ever. A lifelong fan of a dead children's writer / illustrator is lured to his reclusive hero's hometown with the promise of writing his biography. When he gets  there he finds that everything is true. Every last, wonderful, absurd, scary thing. Oh, just read it. I believe Gollancz do a 'Masterworks' edition.

4. THE DEAD ZONE by Stephen King. I love others of his just as much. Salem's Lot, maybe. But The Dead Zone was the first King I read - on a Lake District holiday when I was 17. It has stayed with me. Indelibly. All that stuff - that strange stuff - about waking up from comas. I couldn't care less about the thriller plot and assassinations and all of that. It's the deep, abiding strangeness of it all - and how familiar King can make it seem.

3. THE BLOODY CHAMBER by Angela Carter. One of those life-changing books. I can still remember the sensation of reading it for the first time, at twenty. Mocking, salacious, frightening, lavish. I just wish my ancient Penguin copy didn't have such small print. Why isn't there a deluxe copy with lovely pictures and large print..? I think it's the feeling of joyful freedom I love about this book. She is let loose - and if you listen hard, you can still hear her cackling with laughter as you read.

2. THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper. Now this one i know I've written about way too much. But I love it. The menacing birds outside the church. The creepy, possessed adults and never knowing who to trust. Learning that you belong to the order of the 'Old Ones' and have responsibilities in the ongoing battle against the dark. Snow and time travel and always being under siege. Horned men on horseback with owlish eyes. Nothing like it.

1. ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. More than Wonderland, which was creepy enough. Looking Glass was a revelation to me at eight, or however old i was when i first read it. I had a very fancy edition, a red hardback, during a very unhappy time with family. It was something I could hide inside. And the darkness of the book was perfect. The way scenes and characters would morph one into the next. Old faces returned, but they were subtly altered and not always friendly - which seemed very true of family life, too. Another one I think I'm ready to revisit... i think I'll still find it as scary as ever. For me it taps into those moments in dreams when you're forever running to catch up, or language escapes you, or other people's behaviour becomes as bizarrely unfathomable as it is in real life.

So - those are my ten. What do you think? Predictable? Any surprises? I want to hear about yours, too. I'm sure I'll be reminded of things I missed out. Right now I'm thinking I should have included the non-fiction 'Monsters of the Movies' - which was mostly pictures from scary old films. But it's still one of the scariest books I own.

Happy Hallowe'en, everyone! I hope you'll find some time to spend with a story - in a book, film or TV show - that you love. And that you'll get to share it with someone you love, too.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hallowe'en Post 2 - Top Ten Scary TV shows!

I think this is even harder to narrow down than yesterday's Top Ten horror films... Spooky tv is difficult because it can seem ephemeral. 'Did I really see that? Did that really happen?' That's how I felt after 'Ghostwatch' aired back in 1992 - twenty years ago! Advertised as a drama and listed in the Radio Times and the papers as such, people still believed that the live ghost-hunt on bbc 1 was absolutely true. It's not something they would ever make nowadays, but i'm so glad they made it back then - and that, all these years, we can watch and rewatch it on DVD - looking for all the little glimpses of Mr Pipes...

Spooky TV always had the advantage of taking familiar, cosy faces and putting them into terrifying situations - as they did with Parky, Sarah Greene and Mike Smith in Ghostwatch. This can make everything seem much more real than it does in films. It's about the homely turning horrifying.

TV always had that feeling of being *too* scary, too... with that sensation of something being broadcast that perhaps shouldn't have been. I grew up in a world where Mary Whitehouse was scrutinizing episodes of Doctor Who, monitoring for when it went 'too far' in the scary stakes... (what a shame it is that those 70s busybodies weren't scrutinizing the sources of *real* horror at that time, rather than the fantasy variety...)

Anyhow - here's my list!

10. CHILDREN OF THE STONES. I only vaguely recall this ITV kids' drama set in and around a small village built within a circle of spooky stones. It's thick with atmosphere and menace, and it was filmed during that spectacular hot summer of 1976. It's kids racing about on 70s bikes and realising that all the adults around them are possessed, mindless, completely crazy...  in some ways it's the quintessence of every spooky adventure serial there ever was. Maybe even the quintessence of childhood in the 1970s...

9. ESCAPE INTO NIGHT. Something i was too young for - but I knew the book, 'Marianne Dreams', which was later filmed as 'Paperhouse'. It's the one about the girl who draws things in her sketchpad as she sits in her sick bed and when she sleeps her drawings come to life. It's the one with the standing stones with the eyeballs staring at her. (Why are standing stones involved in so many of the spookiest kids' tv?)

8. CHRISTMAS SPIRITS. Unlike the two above, this is a TV drama that *isn't* available on DVD. I've seen it only on an ancient video recording. It's from the early 1980s and is splendidly absurd and, in its own way, disquieting. Willis Hall wrote this and it's as if the idea was to create ITV's own answer to the famously frightening and rather stately BBC adaptations of M.R James, shown at Christmas time. Except, it being itv, the actor they hire to turn spookily demented is Elaine Stritch.

9. O WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU. This is the m.r james adaptation they all aspire to. Michael Hordern is fab in this. Everything is marvellous. i've never been so scared of a black bin bag floating down a beach. *Everything* is perfect here. And don't listen when people put down the 2010 remake with John Hurt - it's a very interesting twist on the original, I think - cleverly done, at a time when bbc bods were intent on thinking they knew how to improve on the plots of classics...

8. THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Again like CHRISTMAS SPIRITS, unavailable, and seen only in ancient 1980s recordings - but much scarier than the recent Hammer film, for me, anyway.  It's about suggestion and long scary pauses - that's what the best horror on tv has.

7. SALEM'S LOT. Tobe Hooper's 70s version of the Stephen King novel - and one of the things i remember most being discussed excitedly in the playground at school the next day - ever. A perfect adaptation that somehow keys into the essential cosiness of king's world... before ripping it to shreds.

Why do i keep putting the pictures in the wrong order? Spooky.

6. THE TWO RONNIES: THE PHANTOM RASPBERRY BLOWER. In 1976 or whenever it was first shown, as a serial during each Saturday night Two Ronnies show, this Victorian pastiche written by Spike Milligan used to make me feel quite uneasy.

5. STEPTOE AND SON: THE DESPERATE HOURS. Steptoe and Son always used to scare me a bit... that sinister old man and that statue hanging up in that frightening house. In this episode there's a jailbreak and two starving desperate cons hold our heroes hostage. Leonard Rossiter makes one of his astonishing guest appearances - instantly creating a memorable character who both frightens us and make us pity him. There's nothing *quite* like a frightening episode of a sitcom - see also the escaped-convict episodes of 'Only Fools and Horses' and 'Two Point Four Children.'

4. MOST HAUNTED. When I first saw Most Haunted i could hardly believe it. Somebody was doing Ghostwatch for real! The first one I saw was a live broadcast from Saint Pancras. It involved a scared studio audience, night vision filming, a scouser doing an outrageous seance and familiar Blue Peter face Yvette Fielding striding about purposefully in some very dark and nasty places. In that first episode I saw there was a past life regression to Boudicca - and i was convinced I saw a shadowy figure behind a door that no one else had noticed. I almost phoned in. Later, brilliant episodes saw them investigate the Edinburgh vaults and the Pendle witches. It needs to come back.

3. DR TERRIBLE'S HOUSE OF HORRIBLE. Steve Coogan's rather unpopular six part deconstruction of every single horror film i love - in the form of an anthology series from hell. My favourite episode has to be the Amicus anthology spoof - but the Fu Manchu / Weng Chiang / Jason King episode is up there. See also the LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN'S 2000 Christmas special - for similar uberfan geekout.

2. GHOSTWATCH. I've said it a million times, i know. But it's one of my favourite bits of tv ever, A classic Edwardian ghost story dressed up in pitch-perfect pastiche of an early 1990's live TV broadcast. It takes so many risks with tone and style, and seeding of backstory - and playing games with what's real and what isn't. It's something incredibly clever disguising itself as something incredibly dumb. And it still manages to be horrifyingly scary.

1. DOCTOR WHO - THE DAEMONS. Just because. It's the best Doctor Who story ever because it's the scariest and the most cosy. Every single character is written and performed beautifully. It riffs off everything it's pastiching perfectly (Nigel Kneale, Dennis Wheatley, Night of the Demon, etc) but still allows the whole thing to live and breathe. Oh, just go and watch it again, if you can.

I'm still drawing up my list of favourite scary books! you'll see it here soon, before Hallowe'en, i hope. In the meantime - what scary tv have i missed? What are you going to be watching...?

Monday, 29 October 2012

Hallowe'en post 1 - My Top Ten Horror Films

I've always been a big fan of watching horror films late at night. Better than just one film - a double bill. When Channel 4 ran double bills of Universal movies in the 1980s I would sit up late with a black and white portable, watching from bed and floating into sleep - and dreaming up alternative endings and monster mash-ups.

It's stayed with me all my life, this doubling up of old favourites and viewing them at roundabout midnight. They have to be a very particular sort. I've no patience with too much gore or splatterfests, or with the horrible sadistic torture-porn pictures. Also, they can't be *too* psychological, either. I like a good monster or two. For me, it seems that all the best films were made in the 30s and 40s, then the 60s and 70s. It's something about the classiness of the stars, too - I need someone like Peter Cushing or David Warner to appear, even in just a cameo.

Jeremy hates lists. He thinks I'm ridiculous for agonizing over my lists of ALL TIME TOP TENS. It was Jeremy who, when we first got together, introduced me to some old horror films I'd never actually seen. Bits of my education in horror were missing! I always find it such a relief to know that there are still old movies out there to track down and hoover up.

Better still, when you vaguely remember some scary old thing you saw twenty years ago - and images from it (say, Joan Collins being attacked by a forest of evil trees) - have stayed with you all that time. Then, to encounter that film again, in some late night spooky marathon. It's like suddenly remembering an amazing dream you had...

Here's my Top Ten, anyway...

10. THE SHINING. Which I remember first seeing in an attic at the top of the Victorian building which used to house Darlington Arts Centre. It was a late Friday night, and snowing in the park outside. The film was crackly and slightly kronky - but absolutely riveting. It really made me feel like the story had somehow taken over the film, and was dangerously real, and we were all watching events unfold as if they were happening live. It was a very peculiar viewing experience - and how strange, to step out into the snow, afterwards.

9. THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR. I think of this as a cosy horror, since I first watched it on a Boxing Day morning, having taped it from a late showing. I love the testy relationship between the batty old sisters - Beryl Reid and Flora Robson. It's a 60s piece - and very much like What If Joe Orton had written for Hammer.

8. THE OMEN. Just about a perfect film. Dense with dread, every single scene. I think, because it was one of those films talked about so keenly and excitedly in the school playground, by peers who really weren't old enough to be sitting up that late on school nights, watching such scary films... it acquired early on a kind of terrible glamour. I even love all the sequels - even the made-for-tv number four, and the remake!

7. ROSEMARY'S BABY. Another dense atmosphere - grainy and realistic, with characters so well-drawn and beautifully acted, there's a feeling of eavesdropping on dreadful events. This was a film I came to relatively late and was astonished by. I love Ruth Gordon as the ghoulishly enthusiastic neighbour, and Mia Farrow - tottering about so helplessly as she realises how she's been duped. Another perfect film - transcending its genre.

6. DRACULA 1972 AD. And here's a film resolutely at home in its genre, and it ain't going anywhere else. Right at the fag end of the Hammer studios boom, an attempt to update the greatest roles of their two greatest stars - Cushing and Lee. It's all early 70s glam rock swingers and foolish young people getting into things BEST LEFT ALONE. Stephanie Beacham as the granddaughter of Cushing's elderly Van Helsing is a lovely set-up, and one that should have been spun-off, really, into a series, at least. Cushing rushing down the King's Road at night, propping himself up against shop windows and almost pegging out as he races to rescue her, is a genuinely scary and moving sequence.

5. THE RELIC. A rare example of a recent-(ish) horror movie that has managed to make it into my list of all-time greats. I don't know what it is about this one. The plotting is tortuous at times, and I'm not sure I understand the premise STILL after umpteen viewings. But there is something about the gelling of the characters in this classic base-under-siege set-up, and the novelty of trapping them all inside a natural history museum during a gala opening... plus the fact that it is an unashamed and old-fashioned monster movie... It's one of the few examples of CGI-generated bollocks that I actually believe in.

4. NIGHT OF THE DEMON. I love the 1950s world of this film. It makes me imagine a whole world - a dark kind of Ealing comedy world - in which British character actors are forever fending off the devil and all his works, and doing battle with mad professors and monsters of all kinds. I find something new in this every time I watch it. I don't think M.R James has ever been adapted so well. Not in those Christmas specials of his on TV, or anywhere. Also, his stories can be just a bit slow and creakily oblique for my tastes (there, I've said it!), and this film brings a little of the old Universal Horror sensibility into the proceedings. I adore the fact that something as simple as one man picking up a slip of dropped paper and passing it to another can become so terrifying...

3. THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. This is great because it's the best example of the portmanteau movie that I know, and it's a form perfect for the short, sour shock of the horror story. It's also great because it gives air time to all the greats. Cushing and Lee are there (Cushing sporting a dazzling array of ascots and scarves in his waxwork museum-themed episode) - but there are some fabulous turns from the likes of a sweating, cardigan-wearing, obsessed novelist, Denholm Eliot - summoning monsters to his door through the power of words. This film's also got a wonderful vampy double act from Jon Pertwee and Ingrid Pitt. It's a film unafraid to chime off other films - to gently mock them or reference them with reverence. It does all of this and manages to seem like just another cheesy old Tales from the Crypt-fest, when really, it's classy as anything.

2. THE WICKER MAN. In recent years its power has ebbed for me slightly, with the release of extended and mucked-about versions, with a lousy remake (though that film *does* have its own bizarre charms) - and a sequel that I am still trying to process... (and not in a good way.) I remember reading greedily about the making of this film - and loving the hints of curses, missing footage, and generally spooky goings-on. It has a weird power to it, I think. I just need not to see it again for a little while. Mind, SingalongaWickerMan - if you ever get a chance to go - is something you just have to experience.

And number one..?

1. Well, this week i think it has to be HORROR EXPRESS. Next week it might change again - but at the moment i'm looking forward to company next weekend and showing them this film, which they've never seen. I think it's like Arthouse Horror - with obviously-dubbed italian actors and a beautiful sense of howling, endless wilderness... and that lovely, closed-in feeling of a train rattling through the night. It's got a horrifying monster, just as good as the one in the Relic...  it's got outrageous star cameos (stand up Telly Savalas - as a train pirate!), and short, sinister older women who know more about what's going on then they should...  it's got a hint of daemonic evil from before the dawn of time... and it's got two marvellous performances from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. This time they are allied against the threat from beyond... in a film that somehow manages to blend Murder on the Orient Express with The Thing.

Bubbling under my top ten - I have to give honourable mentions to the likes of Countess Dracula, Tales that Witness Madness, House of Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Jaws. All of which have marked my life in significant ways, too. It seems to me that these are more than just films I love - they've each become a part of my imaginative landscape - they've each supplied pieces of my mental furniture.

So how about you? What's in your list of favourites?

Saturday, 27 October 2012

planning Hallowe'en

Here's Fester and I - yesterday teatime - at the end of a week that was, for many reasons, very stressful indeed. Not cos of work - work was heaven - sitting in my pyjamas at my desk, with strong coffee and Fester sitting right beside me. Writing new pages in the morning, revising second drafts in the afternoons.  No, the stress was all other stuff -and not worth going into right now.

Just now I'm thinking about Hallowe'en - and evenings of spooky films and pizza with friends - and also what I'm going to be doing here on my blog. I've been drawing up lists of favourite movies and books... so expect a few Top Ten Scary Films and Novels - and a lot of recommendations coming your way. I want to hear about yours, too!

And i guess i'll be raving about stuff I've been reading lately, too. Right now I'm coming to the end of Julie Cohen's 'The Summer of Living Dangerously' - a blissful romcom with a Regency theme. I'm absolutely loving it.

Anyhow - I thought I'd post this Dusty song, to get us in a haunting mood...

Monday, 22 October 2012

Octoberish Sunday

It's been such a lovely relaxed weekend here. Jeremy went round garden centres and I sat in a cafe in Cheadle with the biggest cup of coffee in the world, doing writing practise, all Saturday afternoon - the kind of writing where there's no project in mind - just burning off the extra words and getting down all those niggling thoughts and ideas I want to examine.

It was a great weekend for reading. More from the Spooky book pile - a couple of kids' books by William Corlett and Willis Hall - and even an autumnal Moomins. Why have I never read William Corlett's 'Magician's House' series before?  I suppose it was just slightly too late for my own childhood - and by the time I started looking up everything I'd missed when i was too busy being grown up, i somehow missed him out. This first one, 'The Steps up the Chimney' has touches of all the things I love - bits of Narnia and Box of Delights and it feels like a lighter, less myth-heavy take on Susan Cooper.

Also I started reading the latest novel by one of my favourites, Julie Cohen - 'The Summer of Living Dangerously - which was a perfect companion on a Sunday out and about. Jeremy and I took a walk round our nearest park - which is nice enough, but fairly neglected, though it's still busy. Like many things in south manchester - the council have let it get *a bit rubbish*...  but people seem to love it just the same. It was nice enough for a stroll.

Then we had lunch at the deli round the corner - and it was even nice enough to sit outside this refurbished post office. Lots of tables out there - lots of newspapers and cappucinos and ciabattas and stuff going on. Chorizo frittata with a peppery salad. One very snooty couple, thinking a lot of themselves, decided to get arsey with the owner about how long their lunch had taken to arrive. It was a very busy lunchtime and the chef was startled when the snooty woman took umbrage. When he took umbrage right back she lashed out: 'Are you giving me attitude?'

He replied - and I loved this - 'No, and i'm not giving you any food, either.'  He picked up their plates again and marched back in doors with them. She was livid! Following him back indoors, shouting the odds - then storming out of the place with her sheepish boyfriend only moments later.

After lunch it was still nice enough to sit out in our garden. Amazing, in October. Fester even got to have a run about. He was on the last of his antibiotics from his cough, and fighting fit - scooting through the crispy leaves and demanding to be let into the Beach House.

TV was great later that night. Wallowing in a bit of costume drama - revisiting Cranford and then more Downton. But late on Sunday night - just before Week Ahead Dread started to hit - I eked out the evening and watched this week's first episode of 'Hebburn' from BBC 2. A perfect Geordie sitcom. Much less sentimental than the Royle Family, and more heart than Shameless. Bliss!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

Last week Carole Matthews tagged me on her blog, as part of a chain of book and author recommendations called THE NEXT BIG THING. Today it's my turn to reciprocate and to pass on the torch. I'm going to answer a bunch of questions below about my new novel, BRENDA AND EFFIE FOREVER! which is available right now in hardback and paperback from Snowbooks. Then I'm going to tag five more writers who will tell you about their new books next Wednesday.

• What is the working title of your next book?

It’s out and published! And it went through many working titles before it eventually became, ‘Brenda and Effie Forever!’

• Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is the sixth in a series of novels, and this one in particular was all about drawing the threads of the series together at last – answering some questions about the main characters’ pasts and giving some closure to a few major plot threads. I knew I definitely wanted to involve the Bronte sisters in a Wartime flashback, the Hunchback of Notre Dame during a Parisian interlude and a frightening adventure with many tiny, ghostly mermaids.

• What genre does your book fall under?

The Brenda and Effie novels are what I call Comic Gothic Mysteries.

• What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This changes all the time, and readers have brilliant suggestions for who should play Brenda and Effie. At the moment I’m picturing Victoria Wood and Julie Walters. Another day I might say Elsa Lanchester and Bette Davis. Or Patricia Routledge and Annette Crosbie.

• What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Hoping for a quiet retirement running a B&B in Whitby, the Bride of Frankenstein and her shrewish best friend Effie wind up embarking upon a series of spooky investigations.

• Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The first five are published by Headline and ‘Brenda and Effie Forever!’ has been published by the lovely Snowbooks.

• How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Six months.

• What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Brenda and Effie Mysteries have been compared with other comic novels that blend genres – by people like Jasper Fforde, Mark Gatiss, Terry Pratchett, and Malcolm Pryce. But to me, they genre they belong to is comic cosy mystery and paranormal romance.

• Who or what inspired you to write this book?

For me it’s always about the characters. I want to find out where they’re going and what they’re going to get up to next. This has taken me into some very peculiar places.

• What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a book about origins and destinies. Even though it’s the sixth about these characters, I’ve made it a stepping-on point for the series. We get to find out more than we knew before about both our heroines’ beginnings, and we get to learn what happens to them right at the end. It’s a book filled with spooky secrets.

 And here are the five authors I'd like to introduce, and who you can follow next Wednesday, when they answer the same questions...

George Mann - author of the spooky and exciting 'Newbury and Hobbes' Steampunk novels.

Lesley Cookman - the Queen of the British Cosy Mystery! Her Libby Sarjeant series is great fun.

Roy Gill - His Edinburgh-set werewolf novel, 'The Daemon Parallel' is magical.

Stewart Sheargold - has just published his first collection of stories. He writes luscious magical realism.

Mark Morris - has written many horror and dark fantasy novels and stories, as well as tie-ins to Doctor Who, Torchwood and Hammer films.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Cult Publishers' Expo Fun

What a brilliant weekend in London! Staying with lovely friends in East Dulwich - where, as you can see, the Hallowe'en pumpkins are already in evidence. And attending the Cult Publishers' Expo at the Cinema Museum in Kennington - which turns out to be this amazing, atmospheric place, stuffed with all kinds of memorabilia - and, all through Saturday, all kinds of folks buying and selling fab books and stuff. I was there with the Cosmic Hobo boys, Simon and Paul, at their stall and on the same panel as they talked about the Scarifyers - but also as we talked about and launched VINCE COSMOS - GLAM ROCK DETECTIVE. And we sold masses of the advance copies of the things! People really seem to like the sound of Vince!

Also, I had a whole bunch of Brenda fans turning up - which was fantastic. People coming with their entire collection of Brendas to get signed. Some of them not even knowing yet that 'Brenda and Effie Forever!' is out and published and in the shops! (I've seen a whole load of tweets from people who've laid their hands on copies - and tweeted pictures! As I sat there in Kennington, someone was tweeting about getting their hands on their copy in the Whitby bookshop at that very moment!) I also got a visit from members of the Dracula Society - who were lovely - and very pleased that I've just accepted their invitation to be Guest of Honour at their 40th Anniversary celebrations in Whitby next September!

It was one of those events where I saw lots of old friends and colleagues - as well as meeting new people - like Marc Platt, whose writing I've been a fan of for so long. He turned out to be delightful - and quite likes my stuff, too, he said. We were going on like this at the Big Finish stall, all enthusiastically about each others' stuff, only to be interrupted by the legendary Paul Darrow who laughingly told us off for being outrageous luvvies. Told off by an *actor*! He was very funny. Great, too, to see Joe Lidster again - who went off at the end of the day to score all the awards for his stage play at the Off Cut Festival!

What I loved about the whole thing was the good-natured banter and fun - as ever at a Fantom Films event (seeing Jo and Ian and Dex again!) - and the brilliant mix of people, and meeting wonderful, dedicated, enthusiastic fans - but also all the energy and evidence of people doing *stuff*. Creating stuff, selling it, and putting it out there - because they really want to. I met people writing and publishing Sherlock Holmes stories and episode guides to beloved TV shows, and audio books about all kinds of characters and in many different genres. And - this was really special - I met Charles Chilton - who wrote and produced the SF radio series, 'Journey in Space' in the 1950s. Fantom have reprinted gorgeous hardback editions of his novels based on the series, and it felt a real privilege to buy and get one signed by him. All of this in the middle of this colourful whirligig of activity - right next to Servalan signing her memoirs and the stall where they were brewing hot coffee and everyone was milling around talking about comics and TV and productions old and new. It was all great fun.

And then we were off - into central London - for drinks and pub food - catching David Benson between shows at the Haymarket, and meeting up with Ms Wildthyme herself, Katy Manning - for what turned out to be a lovely, long chatty evening, talking up a storm. Sausage and chips and pints of a beer called something like Screeching Owl - and gossippy talk. What could be nicer?

I was dragging around a bag filled with stuff i'd bought at the Expo - and been given! The marvellous Ian Gregory gave me a signed copy of the new anthology of Mary Danby stories he picked up for me at FantasyCon. (It seems amazing that a whole volume of Mary Danby stories exists at last - her stories used to appear so modestly at the end of the old horror anthologies she once edited.) All of this stuff I struggled back with, on the late bus to East Dulwich. Where, happily, Sunday was slow and relaxed - and filled with more chat with different old friends - and home made squash and parsnip soup.

Cheers to everyone who made it such a great weekend!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Plotting Brenda!

 With 'Brenda and Effie Forever!' published now, I thought - just for fun - I'd show you some of my plotting diagrams for an earlier Brenda novel. It's 'Hell's Belles', but some of the ideas spread over into later volumes. You know how some people have really tidy office walls filled with post-it notes or careful flow-charts or beat-by-beat synopses? Not me.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

All the Horror Movies in the World

Sometimes I think I've run out of wonderful old spooky movies from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Then I go and find a whole lot of ludicrous old things I haven't seen yet! Just look at these posters...!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Ghost Stories for Autumn

Two terrific collections of ghost stories from the Seventies - one Puffin and a Fontana. The Puffin is somewhat more conventional - with a scattering of Ambrose Bierces and an M.R James. It includes some 'true-life tales', which fall utterly flat and fail to entertain at all. Kathleen Lines frets about this possibility in her foreword. How funny that *actual* manifestations disappoint compared with stories...

Music for both these collections has to be:

the Book tower theme

My spooky experience in reading 'The House of the Nightmare' involved my reading a recent news report about a pig farmer being eaten by his own overweight and vengeful sows. And the title story in the Puffin anthology that I picked up next involved - at one point - murderous-looking pigs.

Saki's 'Gabriel Ernest' has to be my favourite here, I think - though Margaret Irwin's 'The Earlier Service' is a nasty little number.

'Supernatural' is a kind of novelisation of a 1977 BBC TV anthology series. Each of the tales were scripted by Robert Muller, but the writing-up duties for this volume were parcelled out to some of my favourite Fontana stalwarts - Mary Danby and Rosemary Timperley. I've seen this obscure book trashed online in a couple of know-nothing reviews - the authors of both of which failed to enjoy that camp, mordant, histrionic tone of the book. It's a book that takes on some of the gothic tropes we're used to and plays them with a mostly-straight face - and yet somehow juggles them about very wittily and nastily. 'Countess Ilona' - about a werewolf's widow and 'Heirs', which investigates the roots of 'Frankenstein' stand out particularly. Some of the Freudian undertones of the old stories are dragged out and dragged up - a little in advance, i think, of Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber.'

So these are the tales that kept me entertained while we were in Whitby, and since we've been home. While you read spooky stories you must drink fancy tea. My tea of the moment is Twinings' very special blends involving orange blossom, rose petals and lavender. Really!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Back to Whitby

This weekend we were back in Whitby, for a friend's birthday celebrations. It was great to be back there in the autumn - it was a brilliant weekend. I even managed to get quite a bit of writing done.

And at the weekend I heard from quite a few people on Twitter that 'Brenda and Effie Forever!' was starting to arrive on people's doormats from Amazon...!

Thursday, 4 October 2012


Here's the cover for VINCE COSMOS - GLAM ROCK DETECTIVE! from Cosmic Hobo. This double-disc audio drama with songs is out in January - but early copies will be on sale next weekend at the CULT PUBLISHERS' EXPO at Kennington Movie Museum, London, which is free to get into all day on Saturday 13th October. Come and see us and buy your copy early!

The link to the event - here!

And here's the back cover - with tracklisting...

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Autumn Reading

Autumn reading is always about a smattering of ghost stories - old and new. Some from an elderly Puffin, and some from a dark and crumpled 70s Fontana or Pan. Also, there has to be some Sherlock Holmes of some kind... and a children's classic you've never read - say, the Moomins in suitably autumnal mood. Plus one or two of those writing ladies who never let you down - say, Nina Bawden and Elizabeth Taylor. Perfect for these blustery, blue, and crunchy days. Nearly all of these were presents, too, at one time or another, which makes the heap of them even nicer.

I'm assembling a Christmas reading pile already - and that will be for November, I reckon...

Here's Fester and I yesterday, cooking dinner and starting on the first of the ghost stories with a glass of cold Cote du Rhone.