Thursday, 24 January 2013

Anatomy Of Death - coming soon...

Back in January last year, in this post, I mentioned that Peter Mark May, head honcho at Hersham Horror Books, had asked me if I'd like to project-lead a new anthology.  I jumped at the chance and, since I was free to come up with my own theme, decided to look back on the genre, to horror in the 70s.

Ah, horror in the 70s.  Slim paperback novels, full of sex and violence, death and intrigue and films such as those made by Amicus and Hammer and Pete Walker et al.  This collection takes those concepts and runs with them, fully embracing the era.

As project leader for "Anatomy Of Death - in five sleazy pieces", I'm really lucky - I got to write my story, about a foot fetishist photographer in London during the 1976 heatwave, using lessons learned from my sleazy horror reading over the past couple of years.  I have brand new stories from Stephen Bacon, Johnny Mains, Stephen Volk and Andrew Murray (who makes his debut with this collection).  I have cover art by the talented Neil Williams and I'm working in collaboration with Pete May.

More details as they emerge but, in the meantime, here's the teaser poster I've put together and which I posted to Facebook today.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Movie artistry - Matte Paintings

As you may or may not know, I'm a big fan of behind-the-scenes stuff to do with films.  I love special effects, I love make-up effects, I'm constantly amazed at the artistry of ILM and Derek Meddings et al and I will watch a film if I know that Rick Baker has designed or created the make-ups for it.

One of my fascinations is matte paintings and with some of the best in the business - names like Harrison Ellenshaw, Albert Whitlock, Les Bowie, Matthew Yuricich - you often didn't even realise you were watching something that literally wasn't really there.

Matte paintings are created on large sheets of glass - usually in oils or pastels - in order to integrate live-action footage (actors, some backgrounds, maybe traffic) into an environment that would be too expensive or dangerous to build, film on or visit.

The first known matte painting used in a film was for “Missions Of California” in 1907, where Norman Dawn (ASC) improvised the crumbling California Missions by painting them on glass.  Matte’s were used extensively for “The Wizard Of Oz” (especially in the approach to the Emerald City), throughout “Citizen Kane” (for Xanadu, obviously, but also in lots of little tricks shots too), most of Hitchcock’s work, throughout “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” but most especially in the final shot (a superb Michael Pangrazio painting) and - one of my favourites - the bottomless tractor beam in “Star Wars” that Obi-wan Kenobi negotiates around.

By the mid-80s, computer programmes were advanced enough to allow matte paintings to be created in the digital realm (something which ILM whole-heartedly embraced).  The first digital matte shot was the stained-glass window knight from “Young Sherlock Holmes” in 1985, painted by Chris Evans (using Lucasfilm’s Pixar system, which would later be sold on to Steve Jobs and create “Toy Story”).

A matte painting can make a scene great (you don't often get poor ones but when you do, they're immediately apparent) and the best ones are those you don't even realise are there.  Here are some of my favourites.

"The Birds" attack Bodega Bay, from Alfred Hitchcock's fantastic film.  
The painting is by Albert Whitlock

The final shot, of the government warehouse, in "Raiders Of The Lost Ark".
The painting is by Michael Pangrazio, the live-action element is the man with the crate and a bit of the walkway

Slave 1 at Bespin, from "The Empire Strikes Back", painted by Harrison Ellenshaw

The Pan Am clipper from "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" - even though the plane is real, it looks more of a fake in the (admittedly poor quality) screen cap on the right
Painting by Alan Maley

Matthew Yuricich works on a painting for "Blade Runner" (film image on top)

The tractor beam sequence from "Star Wars"
painting by Harrison Ellenshaw, credited as P. S. Ellenshaw (he was working for Disney at the time)

What brought all this on was a link I saw today, to two articles, listing the 50 greatest matte paintings ever.  Click the link and enjoy the art.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

"What Gets Left Behind" marches on

My friend Jim Mcleod posted that his Ginger Nuts Of Horror website (a fantastic genre news and reviews resource) has been nominated in the latest Preditors & Editors Readers Poll.

I'd never heard of the award before, but whilst at the site I had a look around and discovered that "What Gets Left Behind" has been nominated (in the Best Novel category, though it's clearly a short story).  All the same, I was really chuffed - somebody, somewhere, thought enough of my story that they chose to nominate it.  Thank you, whoever you are, I really appreciate it.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Demonologica Biblica

Dean M Drinkel has just announced details of his forthcoming anthology “The Demonologica Biblica”, from Western Legends Publishing and released the cover image.

Cool, eh?  Even better for me, the anthology contains my story “Falsche See, On the North German Plain (N is for Nickar)”, which I had great fun writing.  We were given a letter of the alphabet to work with and Nicholas Burman-Vince (fellow contributor and, get this, the Chatterer Cenobite from the first couple of “Hellraiser” films) sent out pages from a demonology encyclopaedia to help us out.  From there, we were left to our own devices.

Mine is based on a water demon - the Nickar - and features a couple who are just starting a love affair whilst at a works conference in Germany.  I’d love to say that it’s a happy, bright tale but hey, you know that wouldn’t be true.

I’m in sterling company and really looking forward to reading this.  These are the good folk I’m sharing space with:

Barbie Wilde, William Meikle, Emile-Louis Tomas Jouvet, Jan Edwards, John Palisano, Tracie McBride, D.T. Griffith, Kate Jonez, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Raven Dane, Jonathan Green, Lily Childs, Daniel I. Russell, Christine Dougherty, Magen Cubed, Colleen Anderson, Dave Jeffery, Nerine Dorman, Adrian Chamberlin, Sean Sweeney, Andy Taylor, Dean M Drinkel, Sam Stone, Sandra Norval and Nicholas Vince

More details as and when I have them.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Drive is coming...

My novella "Drive" is now, indeed, coming soon with Chris Teague at Pendragon Press announcing that it's scheduled to be launched in June 2013.

Chris said of the story that it's "a departure from Mark's horror writing, though still quite terrifying: a fast-paced thriller set in the darkness of Gaffney's streets."

I wrote the first draft of this in 2008, inspired by a drive I made heading for Luton airport at 3am and finding I was the only person on the M1 and Chris picked it up a year or so later.

I'm looking forward to doing another quick read-through (and polish) and getting re-acquainted with David & Nat and their night of hell.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Phoenix Student Magazine 1985-6

Mum & Dad, along with my Aunt & Uncle, were clearing out some stuff from my grandparents bungalow over the Christmas holiday and found, in a box of my Grampy’s things, a copy of the Phoenix Student Magazine 1985-6.

This was Montsaye Comprehensive’s first issue for a few years - I’d seen one when I first started, in 1981 or so - and I think it went down rather well.  I wrote articles and stories for it and co-edited with Rob Nichols, Mark Guyett, Sean Marshall and Steve Corton.

We were in the Sixth Form and it’s quite clear to see that ‘alternative comedy’ (as it was called then, typified by ‘The Young Ones’) had made its mark on us.  Some of the humour is stupid, some of it works a treat (the school trip report is still funny) but it’s the attitude that tries hardest to sparkle - we were 16 years old and fighting the establishment (albeit from a pleasant Comprehensive nestled in the heart of the Midlands).

I read some of it over the weekend and whilst I clearly wasn't as smart as I thought I was back then, some of the pieces have flair and the whole thing was a lovely blast from the past.

We decided not to go with the usual A5 zine style, stapled in the centre but would go for a side-stapled A4 format (which had never been done at the school).  Rather than have a perfunctory cover on coloured card, we would have a glossy cover with specific artwork (produced by Sean Marshall, using Rotring pens).  This was long before the advent of clip-art, so Sean also drew every bit of artwork seen in the mag (including that in some of the ads).

Although we got help from the staff, the five of us took the project on ourselves, sold the advertising (itself a nostalgic kick, since a lot of the businesses are no longer trading) to fund the printing and made quite a bit of money, which we gave to charity.  There was also an ‘official’ magazine, which wasn’t as professional in its presentation and didn’t, as I recall, sell anywhere near as much.

The Phoenix was the first time I’d ever really put my work out there to people who weren’t either immediate family members (poor old Dad used to have to read everything) or close friends.  It was great to write something that I thought was scary (“The Funhouse”) or funny (“Kung Fu The Mung Wu Way”), run it past my co-editors and then see it published.  Hearing people talk about it after that, kids I didn’t necessarily know, was a real rush and I still get that same thrill today.

I remember the whole process of putting the magazine together well, I remember having a great time doing it, messing around with friends but creating something at the same time and whilst it might not stand up to too close scrutiny today (twenty eight years later), I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

left to right: me, Rob Nichols, Mark Guyett, Sean Marshall, Steven Corton
The Phoenix Editorial Team, pictured in the Kettering Evening Telegraph, November 1985

(the magazines are spread out on the litho machine, whereas we had it photocopied at a college in Kettering)