Monday, 30 June 2014

500th blog post!

500 posts.  Who’d have thought it, eh?

When I hit 400 posts last year I blogged about it and did a little run-down of what had happened to me since I began this site back in 2009.

Since post 400 (back in September 2013), my “Strange Tales” collection has been re-issued, I’ve reviewed a load of books,written some (very well received, if the hits are anything to go by) 'behind the scenes' posts about matte paintings, discussed “Star Wars” and INXS and anything else that took my fancy, sold some stories, started my “all time top 10 Three Investigators list”, got involved in the “Carrie At 40” celebrations, written some stuff about fatherhood and life and, generally, had a good time (including attending the excellent WFC in Brighton).

It’s been great and all being well there’s plenty more to come, so roll on post 600!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Flashback Friday - friends and conventions...

My family and friends will attest to the fact that I'm something of a documentarian, especially in the sense of taking lots of photographs.  I started writing a daily diary in 1981 and kept it up until 1991, then sporadically kept one over the years before starting again in 2007.  My diary is often stuffed with photographs, notes, tickets, menus and all manner of ephemera, not because I think my life is of interest to anyone (necessarily) but because I think it's important to keep of record of what happens.

Photographs are key for me though, a visual record of family, friends and places that link and bind us together.  I was looking through some the other day and found some old Convention pics - ah, con pics! - and they made me smile, at the camaraderie in them and the good friends I've been photographed with so I thought, for this Flashback Friday, I'd post some up here.

The first Terror Scribes Gathering I ever went to, in the Howard pub in Sheffield, July 2000.
Me, Simon Bestwick, David Price and Simon Clark
Me and Stuart Young, at a BFS Open Night, The Princess Louise, Holborn, December 2003 (where Rainfall Books launched not only my "Strange Tales" collection but also Stu's "Spare Parts")
FantasyCon 2005, Walsall, Birmingham (the year "In The Rain With The Dead" was published)
Marie O'Regan, me, Rob Rowntree, Lisa Negus, David Price, Paul Kane - front - Matthew Holness (Garth Marenghi himself!) and Gail-Nina Anderson
FantasyCon 2010, The Britannia, Nottingham.  In the bar, admiring Gary's ARC for "Pretty Little Dead Things"
Gary McMahon, Shaun Hamilton (hiding), Stephen Bacon, Simon Marshall-Jones, me, David Price, Simon Kurt Unsworth
At NewCon 5, The Fishmarket, Northampton, 2010
Sitting on the signing line with Donna Bond and Neil Bond (Alan Moore not pictured)
Terror Scribes Gathering, Chesterfield, 2011 - me, Selina Lock, Simon Bestwick, Stephen Bacon
FantasyCon 2012, Brighton - in the dealer room, Selina Lock, me, Richard Farren Barber & Stuart Young
FantasyCon 2012, Brighton - at the Hauntings signing.  Me and Alison Littlewood have a laugh, Paul Kane and Adrian Tchaikovsky keep it professional, Stuart Young looks on
WFC 2013, Brighton - in the dealer room with Stephen Volk, El G Gard Goldsmith, Paul Finch and me
WFC 2013, Brighton - Stephen Bacon, me, Stuart Young, Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner


All of my Convention reports can be found at this link

Monday, 23 June 2014

(exasperated tone) Dad...

Sometimes, when Dude asks me a question (and he asks lots), I'm tempted to answer like Calvin's dad.


Not all the time, obviously, but there are certainly occasions...

Friday, 20 June 2014

Leicester Comic Con!

Dude & I will be attending this on Saturday and we're both really looking forward to it.

Fox Spirit head honcho Adele Wearing will be there (I'm part of the skulk, having appeared in "Tales Of The Nun & Dragon") and it'll be good to see her again, along with everyone else.

The Silver Arcade is in the centre of town and has been modernised nicely (Dude & I usually sit in there to have our lunch - which we buy from Toast) but in it's earlier, shabbier and grubbier form it is a key location for a particularly unpleasant death in "The Lost Film" novella.

If you're there and see me, come over and say hello!

From the Con's Facebook group page

Leicester Comic Con 2014 - Everything You Need To Know

Date: Saturday 21st June 2014
Time: 11am (10am with VIP wristband) to 5pm
Price: FREE (£5 for VIP wristband)
Location: The Silver Arcade & The Cookie, Leicester

THE EVENT

Leicester Comic Con 2014 is a one day festival of comic book related events, stalls and activities for all ages.

On Saturday 21st June, Leicester Comic Con takes over the newly refurbished Silver Arcade with stalls by comic book dealers and creators, talks, cosplay, a craft area and more. The Cookie on High Street will also feature an art exhibition and after show party.

VIP WRISTBANDS

Entry to Leicester Comic Con 2014 is FREE from 11am. However, a £5 VIP Wristband entitles you to a goodie bag, early entry to stalls at 10am, priority seating at talks, entry to the after show and automatic entry to prize draws.

There is a very limited number of tickets available. Purchase online at http://www.gigantic.com/leicester-comic-con/the-cookie/2014-06-21-10-00

When you arrive please go to the The Cookie wristband exchange (open from 9am) to swap your ticket for a wristband.

VENUE ADDRESS

- The Cookie, 68 High Street, Leicester LE1 5YP
- Silver Arcade, Silver Street Leicester LE1 5FA

AGE RESTRICTIONS

Leicester Comic Con 2014 is an ALL AGES event.

- The Cookie (High Street) - All ages welcome, children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.

- The Silver Arcade (Silver Street) - All ages welcome, children under 12 should be accompanied by an adult. VIP ticket holders do not need a ticket for children under 12 accompanying them.

LEICESTER COMIC CON SCHEDULLE

The Cookie (High Street)
- 09:00am VIP Wristband Collection
- 12:00pm Leicester Illustrators Group Exhibition Opens
- 07:30pm After Show Party

The Silver Arcade - Ground Floor
- 10am VIP Entry to Exhibitor Stalls
- 11am to 5pm Exhibitor Stalls General Admission
- 11am to 5pm Craft Corner

The Silver Arcade - Top Floor
- 11:30am Matt Brooker & Ian Edginton Talk
- 01:00pm Dan Abnett Talk
- 02:30pm AnimeLeague Cosplay Q&A

Cank Street/St Martin's Square
- Cosplay throughout the day, including AnimeLeague Meet Up

Also check out...
- Forbidden Planet (Silver Street) 9:30am to 5:30pm
- Games Workshop (Silver Street) 10:00am to 6:00 pm
- Illustration & Graphic Design Exhibition (St Martin's Sq) 10:00am to 6:00pm

EXHIBITORS*

Speakers/Hosts
- Alasdair Stuart
- Dan Abnett
- Ian Edginton

Publishers/Creators
- Borderline Press
- Time Bomb Comics
- Geeky Kid Comics
- Fox Spirit
- Murky Depths
- Factor Fiction

Individual Creators
- Rachael Smith
- Matt Brooker
- Sally Jane Thompson
- Al Davison
- Lloyd and the Bear
- Chris Geary
- Kat Nicholson
- Jason Cardy
- Marc Ellerby

Artwork
- Reckless Hero
- Barry Bulsara
- The Retro Draughtsman

Comic Dealers
- Hush's Comic Book World
- Lucky Target Comics

Shops/Events
- The Astral Gypsy Shop
- Geek is Chic
- RetroActive
- AnimeLeague

Craft Corner
- The Creation Station
- Soft Touch
- Leicester Comic Con Craft Team

*subject to change

Monday, 9 June 2014

Goodbye Ohio (another piece of history goes...)

When I was growing up, in the 70s and 80s, most towns had a cinema and multiplexes hadn’t yet invaded (the first one I knew of was The Point, in Milton Keynes, which I didn’t visit until the mid-80s).  Although I went to the cinema in Corby (my Dad took me to see my first James Bond double-bill there, as I wrote about here) and latterly Bentleys in Burton Latimer, my first port of call was The Savoy in Kettering, where I saw “Star Wars” amongst many, many others.  Owned by EMI from the 70s, it was relaunched - after a short closure - as the independent Ohio cinema in 1986.  This coincided with me and my friends learning to drive so we made plenty of visits there through to the end of the 80s and most films released in that period were watched in the glamorously named Studio 1 or Studio 2, sitting on seats that had seen better days and trying to ignore the large holes in the ceiling.  Yes it was a fleapit, yes it was a bare bones operation but I loved it - the projectionist was also the man who took your money (and occasionally served you for sweets and drinks too) - and when I started going out with Alison, we’d often go there for a double-bill (£3 each for both films) on a Saturday night.

The main entrance, 2005
Two angles on Russell Street, 2005
The cinema finally closed in 1997 when an Odeon Multiplex opened up on the outskirts of town, though the Sixfields Multiplex in Northampton had surely taken away a lot of custom - yes, they were more expensive but they were also new.  I thought they were soulless too but I’m maybe sometimes just a nostalgic fool.

The cinema remained empty and most of the glass in the windows was smashed, which I always found really sad whenever I walked by and more was vandalized over the years.  When someone dug out a hole in the wood panel covering the doors, I had a peek inside and the floor was strewn with litter and rubble.

In December 2000, I began writing my novel “In The Rain With The Dead” and needed a location for my baddie, a demon called Magellan, to hide out in, that was derelict and where he wouldn’t be disturbed.  It didn’t take long for me to think of the Ohio (the book is set in my fictional town of Gaffney) and so I used it - lock, stock and barrel - in the novel.  It first appears in the flashback section - ostensibly set in the 90s, but actually written as the 80s:

Bentleys Cinema, on Russell Street, had once been an Odeon and was built with art deco grandeur. Now, however, the ground floor had been converted into a bingo hall and the cinema was crammed into what had once been the upper tiers. It was lovingly called the ‘flea pit’ by its patrons, who were invariably teenagers and couples in their early twenties, that didn’t mind sitting in a cold auditorium, with a sound system that was around long before Dolby and seats that occasionally didn’t work.

Later, when Magellan moves in, I wrote (in early 2001) about what had been there and imagined what several years of dereliction had done to the place:

     Back then, the ticket booth was at the top of the stairs, the drinks fridge and popcorn machine next to it. At the end of the counter was an open area, with doors leading to the toilets and projection booth. In the open area were some easy chairs, a pool table and a tabletop version of Space Invaders. Above the chairs, windows looked out onto Russell Street.
     Now, with the smashed windows letting in the grey evening light, he surveyed the decaying, desolate foyer, far removed from its original splendour. The ticket booth and popcorn maker were covered with a sheet that had probably once been white but which was now a dusky brown and riddled with holes. The drinks fridge seemed to have been attacked with a bat, pieces lying over the counter top and across the floor. Half the chairs were gone, those remaining had had their cushions ripped out, stuffing and springs trailing onto the floor like silvery intestines. The pool table and Space Invaders machine had gone. The heavy drapes that had been sucked through the window were stained and mouldy.

I took some photographs of the exterior in 2005, when Christopher Teague at Pendragon Press published the book and it was a sorry sight.  Even though houses encroached it and weeds (and trees) sprouted from the walls, even as it looked sadder every year, it stood proud.  Last week, my friend Jon & I walked down Russell Street and I saw, to my great dismay, that the demolition had started.  It might have been a long time coming, but very soon Kettering is going to lose a building that so much of its youth enjoyed (for whatever reasons) and which features so prominently in their memories.
The demolition has started, 4th June 2014
Sadly, I can't find any images of the cinema when it was operational but several urban explorations have taken place since it closed and the results photographed and reported on here, here, here and here.  Apart from the inevitable decay that you'd expect, the site has also seen the handiwork of vandals and graffiti artists and seeing that lovely old place treated so shabbily is unpleasant.  This is Studio 2 (entry to the left of the picture).
photograph by 'infamous explorer', all rights reserved
So long, Ohio Cinema, I’m glad I knew you when you were operational, I’m so pleased that I was able to pay homage to you and whenever I talk about Gaffney, rest assured the cinema is ALWAYS on Russell Street.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Flashback Friday - me & Alison

In 1992, I met a girl called Alison and we became friends, though I fancied her pretty much from the start.  On June 6th we arranged to go to the cinema, with another couple of friends, but they dropped out at the last minute.  We went to The Point at Milton Keynes and booked a double-bill - "Wayne's World" and "Basic Instinct".  I asked her out, when we went for a meal between films, so Paul Verhoven's sleazy shocker was our first film as a couple.

Six years later, on June 6th 1998, we got married.  It was a lovely day and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

This year marks our 16th wedding anniversary and our 22nd as a couple.  Through ups and downs, we've been there for each other and, I'm happy to say, our bond is stronger than ever.

So, my Flashback Friday is my wife & I.  Happy anniversary Alison!
Cutting the cake.  Nick, our best man, takes a breather...

Monday, 2 June 2014

The Mystery Of Death Trap Mine, by M. V. Carey

Since 2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published, I thought it’d be enjoyable to re-read and compile my Top 10 (which might be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here), but this time I will concentrate on my favourite books and try to whittle the best ten from that.

So here we go.
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed in 1977, never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall
A cry for help from their friend Allie takes The Three Investigators to an abandoned silver mine in New Mexico where a sinister puzzle awaits them.  Who is the shady Wesley Thurgood and what is the connection between the explosions in the night, the armed prowlers and a long-dead body?

Before they can unravel the mystery of Death Trap Mine, Pete and Allie are kidnapped and left to perish in the scorching desert...

Collins Hardback 2nd Edition
(printed in 1979, never reprinted)
When Allie Jamison appears back in their lives (having sneaked into Headquarters to surprise them), the boys accept an invitation to stay at her Uncle Harry’s Christmas tree ranch in Twin Lakes, New Mexico.  In the next property stands Death Trap mine, long since played out but it’s recently been bought by local-man-made-good, property tycoon Wesley Thurgood.  Allie is suspicious of him - he threw her out of the mine when he found her exploring it - and she tries to convince The Three Investigators that he’s up to no good.  Then they hear explosions in the night, discover a long-dead body and Jupiter finds a pebble that contains a seam of gold, so it appears that Allie might be right.  What is Thurgood doing, why was the dead man in the mine and who is the stranger in the trees?

This is the sixth entry in the series by M. V. Carey, following her excellent “The Invisible Dog” (which I’m saving for Christmas week) and it’s a great read.  Teaming up again with Allie Jamison (from “The Mystery Of The Singing Serpent”, which gets a mention as having happened ‘last summer’) works well and her dynamic with the group is as well observed as before - although it’s Jupe & Allie who seem more at odds with each other, there’s a nice relationship between Pete & Allie, highlighted when they are briefly kidnapped later in the story and it’s a shame the character didn’t appear again.

With Rocky Beach only seen very briefly, this takes place in Twin Lakes, an old mining town in New Mexico that has shrunk since the Death Trap mine played out its silver (only the town’s logging operation is keeping it going).  There are some nice reflections on this - and a great use of Hambone, a ghost town that suffered a worse mine closure - and the locations are well used and realised.  Tightly written and paying out its clever central mystery strand-by-strand - their tracking down of information on Gilbert Morgan (the corpse found in the mine) is well played - this is full of suspense, casting suspicion on Wesley Thurgood and Uncle Harry’s other neighbour Mrs Macomber alike, before fresh suspects enter the fray.

The characterisation is as good as you’d expect from Carey, with even bit-part players - such as Magdalena the housekeeper and Mr Kingsley, editor of the Twin Lakes Gazette - shining, whilst the boys and Allie all get a chance to hog the spotlight.  With some great set pieces - the prowler in the field of evergreens, finding Morgan in the mine, the pursuit to Hambone (and the encounter with the rattle snake) - and a wonderfully explosive climax, this is a terrific read and I highly recommend it.

Armada format B paperback (published in 1980, never reprinted), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)

There were no internal illustrations in the UK edition

Thanks to Ian Regan for the artwork (you can see more at his excellent Cover Art database here)