Monday, 24 October 2016

Launch of The Christmas Promise

Last Thursday saw the official paperback launch of The Christmas Promise, the latest novel by my fine friend and critiquing buddy Sue Moorcroft.  The ebook was released on the 6th but, since Sue was in Nottingham to run a writing course, her publisher - Avon Books - arranged for Waterstones to have the first of the paperback stock.
I’m a big fan of Sue’s writing (you can read my latest interview with her here) and was happy to help her celebrate the launch of this novel, the first in a two-book deal with Avon that will hopefully see her become much more successful.
Sue with the book (Ava is a miliner, which is why Sue's wearing a specially made fascinator)
I caught the train up (and used the travel time to get into C. L. Taylor’s The Lie, which is excellent), had a wander around the centre and grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to Waterstones on Bridlesmith Gate.  It’s a huge shop and I had a good look around as I worked my way up the stairs (no escalators for me!) to the Events Room on the fifth floor (admiring the rooftop vistas of the city on the way).
Nottingham rooftops
With Mick Arnold (picture by John Jackson)
I arrived at 5.45 and there were already plenty of people milling around.  I said hello to Christina Courtney, who I first met at the Writer/Blogger meet-up in London (see here) and finally met fellow Team Sue Moorcroft member John Jackson in person.  I then saw Mick Arnold, who I first met at the Brum Writer/Blogger meet-up (see here) who also supported (and photographed) mine and Sue’s KettFest talk (which you can read about here).  We chatted for a while then mingled and I finally got to meet Lizzie Lamb, having been Facebook friends for some time.
With Lizzie Lamb (picture by June Kearns)
The events room (picture by John Jackson)
We were told to take to our seats so I went to sit on the front row with Mick and he introduced me to Morton Gray and Alison May, both fellow novelists (Alison & I thought we’d met before and, after a while, realised we had, in Birmingham).  Just before it began, Wayne Parkin (my friend and Con buddy) arrived from work for a fleeting visit and it was good to see him again (FantasyCon feels so long ago).

The launch kicked off at 6.15 and, after Dan the Events manager did his little intro, Sue read a brief passage from the book, featuring Ava (the heroine) and Sam (the hero).  It’s been a while since I read it (I critiqued it back in 2015 - it’s very odd reading a Christmas novel out of season) but listening to Sue made me want to revisit it.  Dan interviewed Sue briefly (the revenge porn aspect of her plot has seen an article she wrote appear on The Huffington Post, before being picked up by The Independent) and then it was thrown open to the floor.  There were several questions (I asked one too) which elicited some great answers, then it was time for photographs and picking up advance copies.  I stood chatting with Wayne and Andrea Crellin (Sue’s friend, who I met at the KettFest event) and by the time I’d got to the book table, they’d all gone (a superb result for Sue, not so good for me!).
Wayne Park & I pose with his copies
After chatting with various folk for a while, Mick & I headed back to the train station and talked writing and reading for the entire journey home.

All in all, it was a great evening for a great writer (and friend) and I hope The Christmas Promise is hugely successful for her.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Old School Horrors 5: Incubus, by Ray Russell

The fifth, 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.

This time around, I'm looking at a novel with a bit of pedigree, though I would take exception to the cover comparisons...
cover scan of my copy - published in 1983 by Sphere
Galen is an ordinary, peaceful small town. Until horrendous terror strikes … and strikes again and again, each time claiming a female victim in a fashion too hideous to contemplate. 

Julian Trask, student of the occult, is used to thinking the unthinkable. As he works towards the solution of the soul-searing mystery, Galen trembles in mortal dread. For no woman is safe from the lethal lust of THE INCUBUS.  

This is unashamedly pulp and all the more fun for it.  Ray Russell is a genre writer with a great pedigree (amongst many other things, he wrote the screenplay for X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes) and this novel (first published in 1976) works a treat so long as you enjoy it for what it is, a quick and cheesy novel (though curiously coy when dealing with sex, which is ironic considering the subject matter).

Characterisation is brisk - Julian Trask, English, handsome and Porsche driving, is drawn back to the town where he once taught briefly; Laura Kincaid was a student he fancied back then, now she edits the paper he subscribes to, which is where he found out about the killings; Dr ‘Doc’ Jenkins is the town physician (I couldn’t tell how old he was supposed to be) who’s well respected and good at his job, even if his alcohol intake is prodigious (and he & Trask make for a fun double-act) and Hank Walden is the town Sheriff, a man at his wits end trying to figure out what’s going on.  There’s a big supporting cast too, with plenty of “it could be him” characters and the attack set pieces are well enough constructed that it could be anyone who turns into the monster - and what a monster the Incubus is, never really seen clearly but identifiable from his extremely large penis (which is what kills his victims - he wants to mate and rapes them to death).

With a decent small-town atmosphere, a great MacGuffin (The Artes Perditae spell book, covered in human skin so that the “i” is dotted by a navel), some great set pieces (though the section in the dormitories could have been better realised I think and the writer missed a big chance for a stalking sequence) and nicely used gore (making up for the coy sexual references), this does exactly as it’s supposed to.  As ever, your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for (relatively well constructed) pulp, but I enjoyed it a lot and would recommend it for fans of the same.

* * *
Incubus one-sheet, art by Drew Struzan
The Incubus (1982) was directed by John Hough (who had a varied career, including making Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry which, for a long time, I only knew through the opening credits of The Fall Guy), produced by Marc Boyman ('presented by' Stephen J. Friedman, whose solid career started with The Last Picture Show) and written by George Franklin (who only has one other credit to his name according to the imdb, a 1990 telemovie called Personals).

The film was made in Canada on a budget of $5.1m, released by Multicom Entertainment Group Inc. and starred John Cassavetes as Sam (perhaps Julian was too English?), John Ireland as Hank and Kerrie Keane as Laura. It was never released theatrically in the UK (to this day, I’ve never seen it) but features a cameo from Bruce Dickinson (of Iron Maiden fame) performing with his previous band Samson.

As an aside, I like how the film poster goes in a different direction to the tone the book cover aims for (though the Drew Struzan artwork is typically wonderful).

I don't think that's really HD, do you?

As for the VHS version, they just had a field day with the artwork.  I can only assume it was never in a video shop during my teens because I would have snapped this up in moments!

* * *
Ray Russell was born in Chicago on 4th September 1924 and served in the South Pacific as part of the US Air Force from 1943 to 1946.  He married Ada Szczepanski in 1950, they had a son and daughter and he died in Los Angeles on 15th March 1999.

Ray Russell
A peer and close friend of Richard Matheson, he was a prolific short-story writer and an occasional novelist, though his preferred length was the novella.  He recognised the cultural significance of genre fiction and his best-known work, Sardonicus, was a novella that Stephen King called ‘perhaps the finest example of modern gothic ever written’.  It originally appeared in the January 1961 issue of Playboy and Russell subsequently adapted it into a screenplay for the William Castle film, which was called Mr Sardonicus (1961).

An executive editor for Playboy during its formative years in the 1950s, Russell kept a strong link with the company through to the 1970s, editing (anonymously) many of the magazines anthologies, including The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy (1966) and The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural (1967).  Through him, Playboy became a showcase for genre fiction (principally SF and horror) during the 1950s and 1960s, publishing stories by Ray Bradbury, Henry Slesar, Frederic Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, Frederik Pohl, Richard Matheson, Jack Finney, Robert Bloch and Charles Beaumont (with whom Russell co-wrote the screenplay for The Premature Burial in 1962).

His other screenplays were for Zotz! (1962), The Horror of It All (1963), X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) and Chamber Of Horrors (1966).  The superb “X”, which features a manic Ray Milland and one of the best last lines in cinema, won Russell (and his co-screenwriter Robert Dillon) a Silver Globe at the Trieste International Film Festival in 1963.

In 1991 he received the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

When asked why he wrote, he is quoted as saying; “I would say ... ego, guilt, boredom, the need for approval, a love of language, and the desire to entertain myself. I think it was William Saroyan who said he wrote so that he would have something good to read in his old age. That's not a bad reason.

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).

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Christmas Promise - an interview with Sue Moorcroft

Sue Moorcroft & I have known one another for a long time, meeting in 1999 when I joined the Kettering Writers group, of which she was already a member.  Quickly hitting it off (we were the only published writers in the group but because we wrote genre - romance, for her and horror, for me - we were like the naughty little kids at the back), our friendship developed over the years as we shared in various glories (more hers than mine), critiqued each others work and attended various creative events together (she’s a great Con-buddy).  I’ve also interviewed her twice before on the blog, the first time in 2013 and then last November.  Back in 2014, at one of our regular meetings at The Trading Post, she told me the bare bones of what she thought then was going to be a Christmas-themed novella.  As we talked, it became obvious she had more than enough material there and, sure enough, it turned into a novel.  After securing an agent, I was thrilled for Sue when Avon Books signed her up for a two-book deal, the first of which was going to be that Christmas novel.  It was announced in The Bookseller on October 21st 2015 (just before that year’s FantasyCon) and I’ve since read the second book in the deal, which is, in my opinion, even better than the first.
The Christmas Promise was released as an ebook last Thursday (6th October), with the paperback to follow on 1st December.  To help celebrate this tremendous occasion, I thought it’d be a good idea to ask Sue a few questions.

MW:   To some readers, since the Avon Books reach is going to be wide, this might seem like your first appearance in commercial fiction but I believe 2016 marks your 20th anniversary of being published?  What’s the road to this point been like?

SM:   Hi Mark and thanks for inviting me onto your blog again. As you know, I often read it, so it’s great to be featured.

You’re right, my first notice of sale arrived in 1996. It was from The People’s Friend and I received the letter on 1st April so I did wonder if it was a trick. Happily, it wasn’t, and I continued to write magazine fiction to get myself a track record, though my aim was always to be a published novelist. As I also needed to earn money along the way I’ve written serials, novellas, columns, articles, courses, writing ‘how to’, and done a lot of creative writing tutoring and competition judging. I’ve been both agented and unagented (I’m currently with Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann, and she is a mega star). I’d published nine novels with Transita, Robert Hale and Choc Lit when I decided I’d waited too long for the contract that would allow me to slough off everything but fiction so I did it the other way around – dropped most of the rest and concentrated on fiction. I was taken on by Juliet and she sold The Christmas Promise and Just for the Holidays at auction. I do still teach a little but I’m in the happy position of being able to accept fantastic engagements such as courses that take place in Dubai and Italy.

MW:   I remember our first discussions about the Twelve Dates Of Christmas novella.  Can you elaborate on how you opened up and expanded the idea to become a novel?

SM:   I began to suspect that there was enough meat on my idea to sustain a novel and Juliet liked my slant. Sam’s conflict was sufficiently high stakes, as his mum, Wendy, is spending Christmas in the elapse between surgery and chemotherapy and he’s trying to make the season special for her. The key to driving a novel was to find a more substantial conflict for Ava as her being skint and not liking Christmas was a bit too ordinary. So I began to search news features for ideas.

Discussing plot points at The Trading Post
MW:   As with most of your work, this is issue-based with the idea of revenge porn.  Where did that plot point come from?

SM:   I wanted an issue that was contemporary and emotive. I happened upon the misery wrought by those who make public intimate images of others, known as ‘revenge porn’ as so much of it concerns ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends trying to humiliate a former lover. The growth of social media and websites that use their content to attract advertising has spawned this horrible practice and I found myself getting incredibly angry with the perpetrators. I decided I wanted to shine a light on it so I gave Ava an ex-boyfriend, Harvey, who has some saucy images of her on his phone from when they were together and is not afraid to use them.

MW:   What made you decide to have Ava Blissham, our heroine, be a milliner and how much research did that involve?

SM:   I love being on the radio and I was lucky enough to have a fellow guest on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire who was a milliner – Abigail Crampton of Abigail Crampton Millinery. Handmaking high quality hats seemed exactly the right career for one of my heroines so I asked Abigail if I could call on her for research. She was amazing, inviting me to her studio on several occasions, answering email questions and reading the whole manuscript twice. She’s also to be involved in the promo. Ava’s business is called Ava Bliss Millinery because who doesn’t like a little bliss?

MW:   What more can you tell us about the novel, without giving everything away?

SM:   Because Sam wants to make this Christmas special for his mum he orders a special gift – a bespoke hat made by Ava. It involves Ava in a promise that she finds harder and harder to keep. As well as hats, revenge porn, Christmas, hard choices and a WAG called Booby Ruby, The Christmas Promise contains a viral marketing campaign of which I’m incredibly proud. Adrienne Vaughan of AVA PR helped me plan it.

MW:   The second novel in the deal, Just For The Holidays, is a great read and very different from The Christmas Promise. Was that a conscious decision, or something that ‘just happened’?

SM:   Just happened. A friend told me a story of her holiday (she said she only got through it by beginning her wine intake by 9.30am each day) and I asked if I could use it as the premise for the book. It’s only the premise that’s the same – that the heroine’s sister’s marriage ends and she’s asked to join her sister and children on holiday to support them. And then the husband goes with them after all! I took the story on its own path from that point, making my heroine, Leah, a happily single woman who’s made the conscious decision not to have children, end up looking after her sister’s husband and children in France. I made the hero a grounded helicopter pilot and, in the best piece of research I’ve done to date, was taken up in a helicopter and given a demonstration of how you land safely when the engine cuts out at 2,000 feet.

Sue & I at our KettFest 2016 event at Kettering library (see here)
MW:   One of the things I find fascinating about you is your ability to concentrate on so many different projects at once.  The Christmas Promise is about to be released, you’re editing Just For The Holidays and you’ve started work on a new novel.

SM:   That’s exactly the situation I’m in as I write this blog post (today I’m giving myself a break from editing specifically to write guest posts and my newsletter). But most jobs mean one has to fulfil more than one role. When I worked in a bank it wasn’t possible to concentrate only on one customer or even one boss at a time. I do find it hard when I’m pulled out of a novel for a significant amount of time, though, and have to read myself back into the story.

MW:   Another fascinating thing is your working practice, in terms of starting a novel off.  Could you elaborate on your process a little?

SM:   I begin with the two main characters and, often, the premise, ie the starting situation or underlying story. I like to plan a novel with pen and paper and I begin with character bios. I like to look at each major character from various angles – let’s take the hero of The Christmas Promise, Sam, as an example. I begin with basic facts about age, employment, appearance, some likes and dislikes. Then I ‘become’ the heroine and see what she thinks of him. Then maybe I’ll look at him from the perspective of someone who works for him, what his mum thinks, why his aunt’s so fond of him, how his best mates view him and I get his thoughts on himself and those around him. I believe that this gives me a multi-faceted character. I like to know character dynamics, too, such as where characters fit in their families, and, most importantly, I like to know something (usually a lot) of their backstory as a) an adult can’t be born on page 1 and b) it helps me know how they’ll react to given situations (a person who has been brought up in poverty might have a different relationship with money to one who had wealthy parents, for example). As there’s always a strong romantic relationship in my books I find it crucial to know what the conflicts, goals and obstacles are for both hero and heroine and how hers might impact on his and vice versa. How am I going to get them together? Or keep them apart? How are they going to solve their conflicts?

MW:   I’m very proud of you, getting the Avon deal and feel it’s very much deserved.  How did getting this make you feel and did it change your ideas of the novels you would write for it?

SM:   Thank you very much! You’ve been incredibly supportive of my career and I deeply appreciate it (and you being a great Con-buddy). I have to admit that getting the Avon deal felt euphoric. A big stride like this had been predicted for me earlier but, for various reasons, some nothing to do with writing, it didn’t happen. I’m very happy to say that the members of the Avon team don’t seem to see a need to ‘make me over’ and they’ve so far liked my ideas. Their support is immense. The Christmas Promise is their lead Christmas title for 2016 and there’s a national PR campaign around it, which makes me very happy.

MW:   So, beyond the novel you’re working on now, what’s next?

SM:   More novels! A few short stories or even serials. Working hard to develop my career.

MW:   Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions Sue.

SM:   You’re very welcome. Thanks for inviting me along.
Award-winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. A past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and editor of its two anthologies, Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor. She’s won a Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award and the Katie Fforde Bursary.

Sue’s latest book is The Christmas Promise (Avon Books UK, HarperCollins)

Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3
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Twitter: @suemoorcroft
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Monday, 3 October 2016

Do You Believe In Ghosts?

I'm pleased to announce that Ten Tall Tales, the latest anthology from NewCon Press edited by Ian Whates, was launched at FantasyCon on Saturday 24th September.  Among a truly wonderful collection of writers, it contains my short story Do You Believe In Ghosts?, a quietly bleak tale about grief, love and what lengths the recently bereaved might go to for one last chance to say goodbye.
cover art by Sarah Anne Langton
Ten tall tales of horror, dark fantasy and dark science fiction, commissioned from some of the most twisted imaginations writing today, as part of NewCon Press' 10th anniversary celebrations. Each story is inter-leafed with a wicked limerick from that master of terror, Ramsey Campbell. 

Introduction – Ian Whates

Ten Twisted Limericks – Ramsey Campbell

The Power Of… – Paul Kane

We Know By the Tenth Day Whether They Live or Die – Simon Clark

One Little Mouth to Kiss You Goodnight – Lynda E. Rucker

The Fruit of the Tree – Maura McHugh

9 + 1 – Michael Marshall Smith

The Book of Sleep – Edward Cox

For The Win – James Barclay

Do You Believe in Ghosts? – Mark West

The Loathing of Strangers – Sarah Pinborough

The Marble Orchard – Andrew Hook

The book is available as an A5 paperback and a dust-jacketed special edition hardback, limited to just 100 copies; each copy is individually numbered and signed by 8 of the contributing authors (Ramsey Campbell, Edward Cox, Maura McHugh, Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Lynda E. Rucker, Andrew Hook, and Mark West)

£12.99 (A5 paperback)
£22.99 (Signed Hardback)

Signing the hardbacks at The Grand in Scarborough, picture by Maura McHugh
from left - Andrew Hook, Lynda E. Rucker, Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Ian Whates, me
For some reason, I now only tend to write short stories when editors ask for them (which is a nice situation to be in, don't get me wrong), so I have a theme to aim for.  The days of me getting an idea and being excited enough to write it on spec are rare but this was just one such occasion.  I wanted to do something with photographs (which I love and take lots of) and the idea of somehow revisiting a love affair through them.  I started writing with no end in mind but when I stumbled over the idea of forums for bereaved partners it kind of worked its way through to a logical conclusion (though my pre-readers got to choose between two very different endings).  When it was finished I had a really good feeling about it, put it into my writing group for critiquing and it went down very well (it's perhaps the best-received piece I've ever submitted) and Ian picked it up then.  He also suggested the title change - my original was Losing Carole Duffin which worked but didn't suggest a supernatural story.

Having lost Carole Duffin once before, I was determined it wouldn’t happen again…

* * *

The funeral took place on a wet Thursday afternoon, the mourners huddling under black umbrellas as if repelling an attack.  I stood with a couple of old school friends, listening to the rattle of the drizzle over my head, trying but failing to catch the vicar’s words.
   Although I’d known Carole for over thirty years and we’d been boyfriend and girlfriend in the Sixth Form at Gaffney Tech, our current relationship was only a few months old.  She’d divorced her husband due to his insistence on getting other women pregnant, though I could see him standing beside the open grave, tears and rain water running down his cheeks.  My own marriage had also fallen apart, work pressures tearing into a bond that I once thought unbreakable.   It had been acrimonious and unpleasant, the worst six months of my life and I seriously doubted my ex-wife would have been standing at my graveside crying.
   Three months, two weeks and a handful of days.  A chance encounter on Facebook led to late night messages, an understanding of the emotional landscape and then a tentative meeting, exchanging pleasantries over the clatter of cutlery and crockery at the café.  A realisation that we could make this happen and suddenly I was a teenager again, asking if she’d like to go on a date.  A meal at the local Italian, a trip to the cinema, holding hands on the back row and, later, a kiss in the car as I dropped her off.  Things seemed to speed up after that and we spent as much time together as possible, making love as if trying to make up for the lost years. 
   I was the happiest I’d been in years and Carole told me she felt the same.  We’d been brought down by divorce but had found each other again in the process and things were going to be different this time.

* * *

We’d had a lovely evening.  She came to my flat, I cooked spaghetti and made garlic bread, we listened to 80s music and laughed, danced in the kitchen and made love.  Normally she’d have stayed over but as she had an early meeting we dozed in each other’s arms before she got up at 2am and left.  I waved her off from my window - we blew kisses and promised to phone the next day.  I never saw her again.
   I didn’t know anything was wrong until the following midday when she didn’t answer her phone.  I rang, on and off, until the early evening and when I still didn’t get an answer, I went to her flat.  Her friend Annie answered the door, her eyes red and puffy from too many tears.
   “Oh Martin,” she said and began sobbing, pulling me into a hard embrace, “you were on my list to ring, but I didn’t know what to say to you.”
   “About what?  What’s wrong, Annie?”
   “It’s Carole.  Last night, a drunk driver.”
   “She wasn’t drunk, she hadn’t…”  I stopped and prised myself away from Annie, holding her shoulders.  “Where is she?”
   Annie took in a deep, hitching breath and silent tears rolled down her cheeks.  “She’s gone, Martin.”

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

FantasyCon, Scarborough, 23rd September to 25th September 2016

Friday 23rd September
Letting the train take the strain again (through 3 changes) made for a pleasant journey that saw Sue Moorcroft & I chatting the whole way.  The Derby to York leg was the first clue that writers were massing - Mike Chinn was sitting a few seats behind us, Tim Lebbon a few in front.  We met up on the platform, had a chat and a cuppa then merged with more writer-filled groups on the York to Scarborough train (Helen Marshall and John Gilbert were sitting in front of us and Peter Mark May and Richard Farren Barber were further down the carriage).  By the time we got to Scarborough, there was a larger group and Richard led one of them (thanks Google maps) to the Grand Hotel.  I’d read it was apparently once the biggest hotel in Europe and from the bit we could see that certainly seemed to be true, it looked glorious.  I said hello to Andrew Coulthard as we crossed the road, then met Jay Eales & Selina Lock outside and had a chat.
from left - John Gilbert, Sue Moorcroft, Neil Williams, James Everington, Priya Sharma, Phil Sloman, me, Lisa Childs, Ross Warren, Wayne Parkin, Cate Gardner
We signed in for the Con itself (lanyard and a wristband - fancy!), saw Ian Whates, Helen and Pixie Peigh (which is always a pleasure) then joined the long queue to check in.  On the journey up, I’d been worrying (when Sue wasn’t talking about bed bugs) that I was going to get a basement room with no windows so when I finally got to the counter I asked the girl where it was.
     "Second floor," she said with a smile.
     “It’s inward facing though, so it hasn’t got a window”
With the lovely Carrie Buchanan
Thankfully she was able to swap my room with someone who hadn’t signed in yet (sorry about that but you snooze-you lose!) so I was happy and now on the fifth floor.  As Sue was on the sixth we headed across the main bar and bumped into Kit Power, Alex Davis, Phil Sloman, Charlotte Courtney-Bond, Steve Shaw, Paul Woodward, got big hugs from Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner, Ray Cluley & Jess Jordan, saw Steve Bacon and Wayne Parkin and found the lift (the one and only time I used it all weekend).  Jim Mcleod and Vix Kirkpatrick were also waiting and it was great to see them too (they were also on the sixth floor) and we chatted on the way up.  I had room 527A (A, I later found out, denoting a larger room that had been split into two - I got the smaller bit) from which you could see the sea-front, it had a shower, a bed and it was clean - what else could you want?  I unpacked and headed back to the bar, using the stairs this time and that was my first encounter with the grand staircase which was amazingly wide and very long, so you felt like a film star coming down it (I first used the comparison of a Disney princess, which wasn’t the coolest thing I could have said).  Saw Neil, Michelle & Tallis Williams, Victoria (V H) Leslie, Chris Barnes, Priya Sharma and Conrad Williams, then I convinced Conrad and Priya that we should make an entrance on the stairs, so we ran up them and came back down.  More people were coming in, saw Andrew Hook & Sophie Essex (who hadn’t had the best journey up), Steve McHugh introduced himself, Ross Warren and Lisa Childs came over, Steve Lockley walked by and gave me a book, then the lovely Carrie Buchanan appeared and I got a hug from her.  Cat Hellison said hello - we haven’t seen one another since WFC Brighton in 2013 but she’s now living in Scotland so hopefully will get to more events.  I saw Ren Warom and introduced her to Sue and we all had a chat - her new book is doing well and so is she, which was nice to see.  Steve Bacon, Wayne, Conrad and I found a little corner and had a long chat about writing, genre and life, which was thoroughly entertaining.
Chatting with Conrad Williams - me, Phil, Conrad, Steve Bacon
We decided to have pizza (due to timings, the upcoming disco and the fact that nobody had booked anything else) and our motley crew gathered outside - Richard, Sue, Peter, Phil, James, Ross, Lisa, Steve, Wayne, Laura Mauro, Gary Couzens, Priya, Cate, Simon, Neil, Michelle & Tallis - and set off into Scarborough town.  Pizza Hut were able to accommodate us, we took over three tables, enjoyed quick service and decent food and, as ever, great conversation.  Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane sat quietly near the drinks machine, which meant they didn’t get much peace for their meal but it was good to catch up with them again.
The Pizza posse (some of us doing jazz hands for some weird reason - photo by Sue)
Lisa, me, Laura Mauro (obscured), Ross, Phil, Gary Couzens, Peter Mark May, Wayne (obscured), James, Richard Farren Barber, Steve
When we got back we saw Steve Harris & Amanda Rutter - more hugs - had a quick chat with Ben Jones and went to the Royal Hotel (the sister-hotel for the Con) for the disco, Wayne and I walking the short distance with Donna Bond, so I introduced them.  The disco wasn’t what I’d been expecting, to be honest - the music was great but not really danceable though we didn’t let that stop us and Wayne, Phil & I were on the floor for most of it, with Steve, James and Peter dropping in (and Donna joining us every now and again - “a girl!  Quick!  Dance cooler!”).  I also saw Kathy Boulton (the first of many occasions), we said hello but I still didn't manage to get a picture with her - one day...  Carrie & Vix came by later so I got to dance with them again but, alas, there was to be no Hey Mickey this year.  After witnessing a contretemp with an over-officious hotel porter who didn’t like the noise level and wanted to shut the disco down, I headed back for the Grand and quickly got into a conversation with Paul Finch, Paul Lewis, Steve Lockley, Graeme Hurry and Neil that spanned a very wide range (and re-affirmed my idea of going to Harrogate next year for the Crimefest).  Chatted with Steve H, CC Adams, Ben and Jasper Bark, then Alison Littlewood & Fergus came through.  The main bar shut but Fergus said there was a back bar so we went to that (I hadn't even realised it was there) and found a table, complete with a bowl of chips.  For our photo opp, Alison said she wanted some and Steve ate one, saying it was very nice - we all declined the offer.  Our little group was soon joined by John Travis, Terry Grimwood and Amanda for more chat - surely, one of the purest delights of FCon is the great conversation.
"Don't eat that chip!  Oh, too late..."
Steve Harris, Alison Littlewood, me, Steve
I gave in at 1.40 and headed up the stairs (I ran all the way, the only time I managed it all weekend).  The room was hot and quite noisy (it sounded like air con blowers somewhere outside) but the shower was refreshing and the bed was comfy.

Saturday 24th September
Up bright and early (me, worried about the panel?  No, never…) to a clear sunny morning, I decided to go for a walk.  I went down the McBean steps (which everyone in our party quickly christened the ‘Exorcist’ steps), took some pictures of the front (only a few dog walkers on the beach and no traffic) then walked along in front of the hotel (it’s huge!) and up the switchbacks by the roundabout.  Lovely view (and walk) though it was a bit chilly.  I met Alex and Peter at the hotel then chatted with Tracy Fahey (who I met at Edge-Lit and who’s on the panel with me) about life and writing and what we were going to say before Steve McHugh joined us.  I went back to my room, bumping into John Llewellyn Probert & Thana Niveau on the way - it’s always a treat to chat with them.  I also saw Pixie again and finally got my hug from her.

I met Sue in the main bar and we went for breakfast - the cornflakes looked limp so I went for sausages, scrambled eggs and bacon (diet starts Monday…)  It was lovely.  Steve & Wayne joined us (he liked my A bout de soufflé t-shirt), we all had seconds, chatted and then it was time.  With Laura Mauro, we walked to the Royal and got set up - Paul Finch and Tracy were already at the table and I sat next to her.  Since we still had time, I decided to nip to the loo and when I got back, the room had filled up and all the panelists were all in place.  People looked at me as I rushed up the centre aisle and I debated saying “I’m not late” but decided against it.  The panel was great fun, the hour whisking by.  Paul ran it well, he had Helen Marshall and V H Leslie to his right, Tracy, me and Ramsey Campbell to his left and I was in great company.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and we got some nice feedback from the audience.
The "Is Reality The New Horror?" panel with, from left, Helen Marshall, V H Leslie, Paul Finch, Tracy Fahey, me, Ramsey Campbell - picture by Sue Moorcroft
I posted this on Facebook, writing “me trying to say something as smart as my colleagues...”  Paul replied with “It's true. He did try” - the cheeky bugger!
Back at the Grand, I went to the back bar where Ian and Helen had set up a table for us to sign the hardback edition of Ten Tall Tales that launches later today.  I was really chuffed when Ian asked me to be in it, moreso when I saw my fellow contributors.  Settled around the table were Maura McHugh, Paul Kane, Simon Clark (who I hadn’t seen for a while), Lynda E. Rucker and Andrew Hook (who also liked my t-shirt - Gary Couzens later told me Andrew’s a big Godard fan).  I said I’d been looking for a 400 Blows t-shirt, which didn’t go well on the Google search and that, to much laughter, led to what else we had found on the Internet accidentally.  We also talked length of names and how consistent signatures were - Maura was fantastic (and focussed), Simon Clark had his down to a couple of letters but Lynda Rucker had made her life harder by adding the E!  Great fun and company.  Job finished, people drifted away and I chatted with Maura about the Mixtape posts and the power of Daphne DuMaurier and Angela Carter.  On my way to Sue’s panel I bumped into Gary & Emily McMahon (who are only here for the day) and got a big hug from both of them.
Some of the Ten Tall Tales signees - from left, Andrew Hook, Lynda E. Rucker, Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Ian Whates, me - picture by Maura McHugh
Wayne & I went into Sue’s panel in the Palm Court room, which commanded a wonderful view of the hills beyond the town and he & I debated the use of the netting over the windows.  The panel went well, Sue kept it nicely on track and one participant in particular, Rob Power, was especially interesting.  Had a chat with Jon Oliver then wandered down to the bar, met up with Steve, introduced myself to Rob and we went into town for a sandwich.  Leaving Sue to her phone and coffee on a bench, Wayne & Steve took me to Mrs Lofthouses Secondhand Book Emporium, which was excellent (and filled with handmade bookshelves).  Didn’t have enough time in there unfortunately, but I did pick up a book about the making of Close Encounters, which was a good result (and yes, I get the irony that I’m at a Convention filled with books and yet I still go to a 2nd hand bookshop…).
We love Bacon - from left, Steve Bacon, me Bacon, Peter Mark Bacon and Wayne Bacon...
The NewCon Press launch was in the Cabaret room (which was actually a small, gothic theatre) and well attended.  Ian did his stuff, I got to sit between Ramsey and Maura and we signed some paperbacks (including one for Cat, who Maura & I chatted with).  After the queue died down, I had a lovely long chat with Maura about the writing process and the power of the novella, which led to us talking about Richard Matheson, Stir Of Echoes and I Am Legend.  Wonderful.  We hung around in the same venue for Adam Nevill’s launch then I went up to Neil Buchanan’s dealer stall to sign copies of Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.  We also talked about the cover art for Polly as he’s not happy with it and I agree with him (the novella is about a confident, assured fortysomething woman, the cover features a scared looking girl in her early 20s) and we’ve decided to go in a slightly different direction.  I told him an idea I’d had and he’s going to get his artist to come up with some new concepts so it was a good and timely conversation.
The FantasyCon Boyband publicity shoot went well - Richard, Steve, me, Wayne.

On the harbour - Steve, Sue, Richard
As there was a gap in the programme, Sue, Steve, Wayne, Richard & I decided to head out and get some sea air, walking along the front to check out some restaurants for later.  We didn’t find much, except in The Works where there was a collection edited by Sue and books by Paul and Tim!  We went into the harbour, walked around the lighthouse (and engaged in a bit of Viz-related duelling) then headed into town.  I’d never been in that part before and the mix of shops and architecture was brilliant.

We were back at the Grand in time to help set up for the Hersham Horror Books launch.  I’d been looking forward to this for a long time and as we set out the chairs, books and signing stands, there was a real sense of excitement in the air.  We took some pictures and I was proud to stand alongside Phil, James and Steve (fellow Crusty Exterior folk), launching the HHB novella series - they’ve already picked up some good reviews and I’m chuffed to be part of it.  For the event, I stood between James and Marie (whose collection was also being launched), Peter did this thing and the floor was open.  There weren’t as many people as I’d hoped, though we signed some books and then about a third of the way through the Cocktail bar just seemed to fill up, with people, noise and laughter and suddenly we were signing lots of copies (and Peter kept coming over and giving me updates).  As things calmed down, I mingled and saw Sarah Ann Watts and caught up with her before Peter introduced me to Sharon Ring who I’ve known online for years though this was our first meeting face-to-face.  By the end of the session there was hardly any stock left, Peter waved his wad at me like loadsamoney and we tidied up.  It was a good turnout, it was great fun (which you can see in all our faces in the pictures) and I had a wonderful time.
The 4 Novella Writers - Phil, Steve, me, James
The Hersham Horror writers - Marie, me, James, Phil, Steve
Jay tries to get us to sign each others books - Jay Eales, Selina Lock, Paul Kane, Marie, me, James
Busy signing - Marie, me, James, Phil, Steve - picture by Wayne Parkin
Marie, me, James, Phil, Steve, Wayne, Richard and Peter's back
We four with Jim Mcleoad (centre), The Ginger Nuts Of Horror head honcho.  GNoH have been a great supporter of the novellas and the genre in general.  So good to have him there.
Ross stopped me outside, concerned about my t-shirt - since it wasn’t Star Wars, he was worried I’d been cloned.  With him and Lisa, I headed for dinner with Sue, Steve, Wayne, Peter, Chris Teague, Sharon and her partner Dave - we tried the Italian near the Royal but they couldn’t accommodate us.  On our earlier walk, we’d noticed fireworks being set up on the beach so Wayne suggested fish and chips while we watched them and we went for it - though the alley I led us down wasn’t the best choice I could have made.  We managed to pick the only chippy in the world that didn’t do pies (I had chicken nuggets and chips, I’m not a fan of fish) then stood on the path and watched the fireworks, chatted and laughed (and me and Wayne helped save Chris from choking to death).  As Wayne said, we’re at the seaside, it had to be fish and chips on the beach!
In the back bar (pic by Chris Teague) - from left (bottom) Wayne, Gavin Williams, Amanda Rutter, Steve H, Sharon Ring, me, Ross, John Travis, Peter, Lisa, Sue, Phil, Steve, James
Back at the Grand, we made a circle in the back bar which was already full with FConners and other hotel guests.  Our group was joined by Phil and James, then Neil and John Travis and it was fluid for the rest of the evening - Chris Barnes and Ben; Danny Rhodes and Thomas Emson came over, Jim and Vix joined us for a chat, Steve H & Amanda pulled up chairs (and he & I managed to have a bit of a chat too - he gave me a copy of his new book Craze which is leaping to the top of my TBR pile).  Saw Neil Snowdon briefly and managed to say a quick hello to Steve Savile - and then didn’t see him again for the promised chat (that happened a lot).  As I was heading for the loo, I saw Alison and Gary McMahon - she’s been trying to corner us three and Gary Fry to get a picture all weekend (we four have a message thread on Facebook Gary F labelled the Secret Horror Society which is great fun) - we grabbed him at the bar and got Gavin Williams to take a picture for us.
Me, Alison Littlewood, Gary Fry and Gary McMahon - sarcasm not pictured
When I got back to our corner, Adam Nevill had joined us and we chatted for a while - he’s a lovely bloke, always interesting (and interested) and I enjoy his company.  Jasper Bark dropped by, James Bennett came over for a hug and I decided to call it quits at about 2.30.  What an absolutely brilliant day - a great panel, two book launches, lots of laughter and chat, who could ask for more?

Sunday 25th September
Light rain this morning so I didn’t go for my walk.  I met Stephen Volk on the stairwell and we walked down to the main bar together.  He apologised for missing the Hersham launch (he popped his head around the door and the room was full) and I thanked him for the mention in his new PS collection (it includes The Arse-Licker, his story from my Anatomy Of Death anthology) and, as ever, it was a real treat to talk to him.  At the bottom of the Disney Princess staircase we met Marie & Paul, then the Williams, before Sue joined us (and we had pictures taken with Tallis’ Zombie bear).  Sue & I went for breakfast and saw and chatted with Ian and Simon Morden on the stairs.  In the restaurant, I finally saw Graeme Reynolds & Charlotte McDonald to say hello to.
Tallis Williams, me and the Zombie Bear
We dropped our cases off and checked out, then I chatted with Peter, Phil and James, all of us still really chuffed about the launch.  Jay & Selina joined us and then Phil had to leave, so it was hugs all round, the first goodbye of the day.  That’s the bummer about the last day of a Con, saying goodbye as people head off, knowing you might not see them again for a year - thank goodness for Facebook!  Richard, Peter, Steve, Sue and I went into the back bar and chatted as we drank tea.  Wayne joined us, then Simon Morden, then the Williams.  It was Michelle’s first Con and she'd enjoyed it and it was nice to see Tallis getting more confident as the weekend went by.  Had a long chat with Simon about writing and plans, perhaps the longest natter we’ve had since we first met up at the Masters Of Terror day in London back in 2000.  After Jim and Chris came to say their goodbyes (more big hugs), I went onto the terrace to take pictures of the view and found Sharon Ring out there taking pictures of the boats.
Sunday in the back bar - me, Peter, Richard
Went into the Joe Hill panel, where he was interviewed by Peter Crowther - Sue & I saw him at WFC in Brighton (at the time she didn’t know his parentage) and this time was even better.  He’s a great speaker, engaging, witty and funny and his stories ranged from hilarious to powerful and raw.  One of my favourite events of the Con.

For lunch, Peter suggested we try the café at the top of the funicular and it was a good choice.  We sat upstairs, all had paninis and a good chat - Wayne liked my Live & Let Die t-shirt, which led to us discussing Robert McGinnis and poster art in general (he & I share a dislike of modern ‘here’s a picture’ posters - step forward the Daniel Craig Bond’s).  All too soon it was time for Steve & Wayne to go and, as ever, their goodbye hugs were just a little bit tighter than normal.  It’s been great to see and spend so much time with them this weekend that it’s genuinely a wrench to say goodbye.  Peter went back to the Con but Sue & I decided to go for a walk instead (she wanted an ice cream too).  We walked along the front, got to the harbour and decided to keep going - the sky was clear, conversation was good and we were almost at the North Bay before turning back.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Back at the Grand, Mark Morris came over to say hello - we caught up and finally, after years of trying, had a little bit of a chat about the Three Investigators.  It was really good to see him.

Me and Adam Millard in the mirror, in the queue
Leaving Sue with her Kindle and a cup of tea, I went to the Royal for the Awards ceremony and stood chatting with Adam Millard in the queue.  He & I secured a sofa and were joined by Peter, David Price, Martin Roberts and Helen Hopley (she & I knelt on the floor).  Neil Bond came over to wish me luck and I stood with Graeme Hurry and Steve Volk for the ceremony itself.  King For A Year didn’t win, which was a disappointment, but there were some nice surprises and it was a genuinely lovely moment when the Karl Edward Wagner Award was given to the redcoats past and present.  Seeing Pixie on stage, emotional and lost for words for all the right reasons, was wonderful.  It was also a treat to see Priya Sharma win too - wonderful person, great writer!

Then it was time to go.  I shook hands, said goodbyes, congratulated Alex on the award and Con and headed back to the Grand.  I had a chat with John Travis and Terry in the main bar, got Sue, said goodbye to Ian then went to get our cases, which was more complicated than it should have been.  We found them and were joined by Laurel Sills (the mysterious girl in one of my photo’s from Brighton) who came back to the station with us.

We made our connection with minutes to spare at York, talked all the way to Kettering and got in for 8.15.  Alison & Dude met me at the station - he came running over and jumped into my arms, which was a great way for the weekend to end - then I hugged Sue and said goodbye.
Sue on the staircase
FantasyCon by the sea was another great Con, full of fantastic people, company and conversations.  Although I wasn’t keen on the two-venue approach (I’d have preferred everything to be in one), Scarborough was a great location, the faded glamour of The Grand Hotel was perfect and it was so good to see old friends and make new ones.
Glorious Scarborough
I know I say it a lot but I really do find FCon a life affirming experience, it reminds me of the good people I have in my life, it reminds me why I love the horror genre and its writers and readers and it makes me wish it happened more than once a year.

Here's to 2017!

Monday, 26 September 2016

The Factory

I'm pleased to announce that my new novella The Factory was published on 24th September and launched at FantasyCon this past weekend by Hersham Horror Books.

"[A] skilful, gradual escalation of detail, a suggestiveness reminiscent of Ramsey Campbell."
- Gary Fry

Twenty years ago at college, Martin, Paul, Jane and Gwen were members of the GLUE Club - the Gaffney Legendary Urban Explorers - run by the charismatic Tom.  Now, following his mysterious death, they agree to meet up again and undertake one final exploration to honour his name.

Aside from Paul who never left, none of them has been back to Gaffney since and the reunion is awkward, re-opening old wounds.  As they begin to explore the long-abandoned Pocock Factory, it seems they might be intruding on something better left alone.  As they succumb, one by one, to the spirits in the darkness, it quickly becomes a battle to see who will survive the night...

The central idea for this came to me in August 2015 when I was approached to write a short story for an anthology.  I was working on other projects at the time but by December I had the bare bones of the story in place and then the anthology collapsed.  By then, however, I’d fallen in love with the idea and when Peter Mark May at Hersham Horror Books asked me in March for a novella, I pitched this to him and he liked it.  Bits and pieces attached themselves to the project as time went on (it took me a while to have it as a group of people going to the factory to honour their recently deceased friend) and by the time I was free to write it, I was excited.  Written between April and July, this ran a lot longer than I thought it would (it’s over 34k words) and got a lot nastier, but that was my intention so it worked for the best.

When I spoke with Pete, I told him my main goal was to make this a proper horror novella.  Drive had shown me a different route (and the fact it got nominated for a BFS Award made me sit up and take notice), which I explored further with the soon to be published Polly and so I decided this should be a way to clear the decks, an old-school-shocker before I looked towards working on a dark thriller.

My cast were really put through the wringer (I explained the concept to my old friend and pre-reader David Roberts and we had a fine time one-upping each other with gruesome demises) and the fate that befalls the character closest to me was particularly gruelling to write (but good fun, at the same time).  The Factory itself was my own invention - the location is an abandoned boot-and-shoe factory in Rothwell that I pass on my daily walk - but I used some reference books to get the layout right (though, in the end, I twisted everything to my own advantage).  I also added a canal to Gaffney and included a couple of nods to my older works (including my novel In The Rain With The Dead).

I grew to like Martin, Jane, Paul and Gwen - collectively known as the GLUE club - but I also had a lot of fun giving them grief as they explored ever deeper into The Factory.

Gary Fry gave me an early review which you can read here.

Paula Limbaugh reviews it at Horror Novel Reviews, which you can read here.

Anthony Watson reviews the slate of HHB novellas here.

Charlotte Courtney-Bond reviewed it at The Ginger Nuts Of Horror, which you can read here.

At the HHB launch (from left - Phil Sloman, Stephen Bacon, me, James Everington)

The novella is available through Amazon

The Gaffney Legendary Urban Explorers - the Glue Club for short - had been Tom’s idea but, to Paul’s way of thinking, most of the good ones back then were.  A force of nature at Gaffney Tech, Paul had wanted to get to know him better from the moment he saw him across the crowded refectory, holding court about some pop band or another and bursting into bits of the song in question when it helped his argument.  They had a couple of classes together - Tom confident, gregarious and hilarious, Paul much less so - fell into easy conversation and began to occupy a similar orbit.  Away from the hubbub of social student life, Tom could be intense and serious, keen to ask questions and understand, fully aware Paul was smarter.  Paul revelled in it, looking forward to the nights they sat up late, drinking and putting the world to rights.  Both young men were interested in architecture, hated Brutalism and loved the Victorian factories that dotted Gaffney and when one was scheduled to be turned into flats, they decided to explore it.  It had been a fun experience Tom was eager to repeat.  He dropped a few hints, put up a couple of flyers and within a fortnight, he’d formed a club.  Paul wasn’t keen on the idea of sharing his new-found friend, but enjoyed the fact his social circle had widened and, after tolerating the two girls and other bloke, had grown to like them.
     The club met infrequently, taking on perhaps three or four explorations in an academic year, but met for drinks two or three times a month.
     Paul had missed the group ever since he left college and following Tom’s death, he’d found it hard to focus on much else, as all thoughts of his old friend centred back towards the idea of urban exploration.  It had been Paul who’d let Tom know about the Pocock Factory - for years, Tom’s holy grail - and now it had somehow taken his life.
     The idea played on his mind.  He’d taken to going for a walk after his dinner and found, on most nights, his route took him past the Pocock factory to the canal.  The first couple of times he’d tried to rationalise it - after all, wasn’t it kind of ghoulish to visit the place his old friend had lost his life - but then just accepted it.  There wasn’t anything ghoulish about it, he just wanted to be here, to occupy the same space and pass on his best wishes.
     When Tom’s mum rang with the details of the funeral, the idea took further shape though it was another couple of nights before he had it clear enough in his mind what he wanted to say without telling everything.
     That night, he sat at the small desk in the corner of the lounge and looked out the window at the common.  A group of kids were playing football with far too many players on each side and the smallest child in goal.  Older kids, perhaps late teenagers, were playing proper games on the pitches either side of them.
     Turning his attention back to the flat, he looked at the line of photographs above the desk.  Most were of family - in a fit of pique, he’d smashed his favourite of him and Jenny when the divorce papers came through - but he couldn’t imagine ever taking down the one of his college friends.
     Jane and Gwen were holding an A4 sheet of paper that Tom had scrawled Glue Club on and the three lads - him, Tom and Martin - lined up behind them.  They were all dressed for Urbex - dark clothes, helmets with torches and gloves - and all looked happy.  The picture was taken, almost twenty years ago, on the night they explored Bentley’s cinema on Russell Street.  Locally notorious, a woman had been kidnapped and held there briefly before most of the building was destroyed in a fire.  They’d found nothing unusual on their exploration, apart from a windowless room with glass all over the floor, but it had been exciting.
     Glue Club and excitement, two things sadly lacking in Paul’s life.  He had a job he enjoyed, enough social life to keep him busy and a flat he didn’t want but - thanks to the divorce settlement and having bought the family home at the right time - was mostly his.  He missed the life and friends he’d had in college and was looking forward to seeing them again, though he’d have preferred any other circumstance to the one he found himself in - he still couldn’t believe he’d never see Tom again.
     He’d written a draft of the email that afternoon and now he was editing it, his fingers braced over the keyboard.

Hi all,
As everyone is coming to Gaffney for the funeral, I had a thought of how to give Tom a nice send-of.  Do you remember back in the day, he was adamant that one day the Glue Club would explore the Pocock Factory near the canal?  How about we do that for him?  Nothing too strenuous, I’ll provide the equipment, just a quick look around the building to say a final goodbye then we’ll head for home.
What do you think?
All the best,

     Was that any good?  Would they share his enthusiasm?  He looked out the window and saw the big game of football had broken up into several smaller games, which didn’t even look like five-a-side.
     The email wouldn’t look any better if he left it five minutes or five hours, he decided and pressed send.

     By ten o’clock they’d all responded, thanking him for a wonderful idea and a great gesture for an old friend.
    Paul switched off his laptop and went for a bath.