Thursday, 30 October 2014

Phobophobias - Horror for Halloween

Thrilled to announce that the latest anthology edited by Dean M. Drinkel, "Phobophobias", is available this Halloween from Western Legends Press.  Even better, for me, is that it contains my story "Rhytiphobia".


“There is nothing to fear, but fear itself….”

Twenty-six original stories by established masters of horror and talented new voices comprise this anthology of terror, mystery and suspense. Phobophobias continues the explorations of our darkest fears that started with the 2011 indie hit Phobophobia.

Discover tales about Achluophobia (fear of the dark), Ecophobia (fear of one’s home), Keraunophobia (fear of thunder and lightning), Ombrophobia (fear of rain), Trichinophobia (fear of poisoning), Ygrophobia (fear of water) and Zelophobia (fear of jealousy) amongst many others.

Compiled and edited by Dean M. Drinkel, the authors of Phobophobias are:

Christopher Beck, Adrian Chamberlin, Lily Childs, Mike Chinn, Raven Dane, Nerine Dorman, Christine Dougherty, Tim Dry, Jan Edwards, John Gilbert, D.T. Griffith, Lisa Jenkins, Emile-Louis Tomas Jouvet, Rakie Keig, Amelia Mangan, Peter Mark May, Christine Morgan, John Palisano, Daniel I. Russell, Phil Sloman, Sam Stone, Andrew Taylor, Mark West, Barbie Wilde & D.M. Youngquist.

Cover illustration by James Powell
Cover design by D.T. Griffith



As I mentioned, I'm represented by my story "Rhytiphobia" (fear of wrinkles) which follows Cameron Davis and his extreme reaction to less than supple skin - born from a terrifyingly close encounter with a mad old neighbour who enjoyed licking boys faces.

Here's a preview...

The woman came out of the hedge at him.  Her face was a map of wrinkles, her eyes dull and pale, her mouth open wide and showing only gums.  Cameron yelled and tried to scramble backwards but the old crone grasped his wrist in one bony hand.
“Caught you,” she said and pulled.  Cameron was taken by surprise and, with momentum on her side, he was pulled into her garden.
He sprawled onto the brown, patchy lawn and rolled quickly onto his front so that he could get up on all fours.  The old woman faced him, leaning forwards, her legs spread wide apart.  Her green skirt was old and holed and he could see the outline of her thighs through them.  They looked like matches.
“Stealing my daffs again were you?"
Cameron glanced around.  Apart from the lawn, which was clearly on its last legs, there was no other plant life in the garden.  Some pots stood by the back door but whatever was in them had long since died.
He looked from her to the gap in the hedge.  His friends were through there, probably pissing themselves with laughter that he’d been caught.  It was the stuff of legend, that if you lost your ball in Mrs Taylor’s garden, you’d never get it back.  He’d thought he could challenge it but now wished he hadn’t bothered.  “I just came to get our ball back.”
“Ball?” shrieked the woman, “Cameron Davis, you’re a liar!”
“It’s true.”
It was the first week of the summer holiday and he and his friends had decided on a game of footy on the green.  But the ball had sailed into Mrs Taylor’s garden from his mis-kick and now here he was, sixteen years old and on all fours in her garden, staring up at his hideous woman who must have been ninety if she was a day.
“Liar,” she said, “you want me daffs.”


Thanks to Dean, I'm proud to be included in such great company.

The book is available from Amazon here.  If you decide to take a chance on it, I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Movie miniatures

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a big fan of behind-the-scenes stuff in films (my various posts on matte paintings can be found here, here (about Return of the Jedi)herehere and here) and one which continues to fascinate me is the use of miniatures (as seen in my post on Derek Meddings).

These are scale models (often shot with high speed photography and occasionally combined with matte paintings) used to represent things that aren't there, are too expensive or difficult to film in reality, or which can't be damaged (by fire, flood or explosion) in real life.

Although they're now largely replaced by (often-appallingly-obvious) CGI (ILM, now completely digital, got rid of its model-shop and they struck out on their own for a few years - as Kerner Optical - but have since gone bankrupt), some threads of this fine art still exist.  Christopher Nolan, for example, is a huge fan of miniature work and uses them extensively in his films (such as the chase sequence in "The Dark Knight").

Rather than show the obvious here (you've all seen people making models for "Star Wars"), I thought I'd highlight films and effects where it's not immediately obvious that you're looking at a miniature.

Enjoy!

Black Narcissus (1947, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
This wonderful film is filled with terrific examples of matte paintings but the one shot I'm going to highlight combines live-action, a large background miniature and a matte painting.

For Your Eyes Only (1981, directed by John Glen)
special effects supervised by Derek Meddings (for more details on him, see my post here)
Top - still from film, of a real helicopter flying through Becton gasworks
bottom - Derek Meddings in front of a large scale miniature.  This was placed in front of the real building, allowing the helicopter to fly safely past it whilst appearing to have come through it.  A similar trick was utilised on the opening sequence of "Octopussy" (1983)
Top - still from film (Bond & Melina escape from the sunken St George to their Neptune sub)
Bottom - A special effects man adjusts the Bond & Melina figures before the explosion (created by compressed air and flash bulbs)
ET (1982, directed by Steven Spielberg)
special effects by ILM, supervised by Dennis Muren
Dennis Muren manipulates the ET puppet (note that it has no legs) on a foreground miniature against a painted backdrop
Aliens (1986, directed by James Cameron)
special effects supervised by Brian Johnson
Okay, it's a sci-fi film set on a distant planet but did you guess that Ripley fighting the Queen on the loading bay was miniature work?  James Cameron is the blonde man with the dark shirt in the foreground
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989, directed by Steven Spielberg)
special effects by ILM
Top image - still from film
bottom image - miniature canyon, built by Paul Huston with painted matte backdrop by Mark Sullivan.  This photograph was taken at the 'wrong' angle, which shows the join (and the various workbenches behind)
Braindead (1992, directed by Peter Jackson)
special effects by WETA
Peter Jackson over a 50's Wellington street miniature
note - there are lots and lots of miniatures in the Lord Of The Rings films, but I won't mention them here
Casino Royale (2006, directed by Martin Campbell)
special effects supervised by Chris Corbould, Venice model by Steve Begg
Top - still from film
Bottom - the model is collapsed in the Pinewood backlot pool, before being digitally composited into location plate footage
The Dark Knight (2008, directed by Christopher Nolan)
special effects supervised by Chris Corbould, miniatures effects by New Deal Studios
Top image - still from film
middle left - the crew behind the miniature garbage truck
middle right - technicians working on the Tumbler
bottom - the miniature set of the tunnels

The next "Movie Miniatures" post will be a celebration of ILM and their non-Star Wars work

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Mystery Of The Coughing Dragon, by Nick West

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 between 1971 and 1973), cover art by Roger Hall
Jupiter's smile slowly faded.  "Look behind you," he muttered hoarsely.  Whirling around, Pete and Bob stared, horror-struck, at what had to be impossible.  The cave was slowly opening wider, and something huge and slimy was crawling towards them from the sea.  Backing away, Pete gasped, "It can't be.  It's a dragon!"

Deep in a rocky cavern, a terrifying legend comes to life.  And The Three Investigators are trapped...


Illustration from the Collins/Armada editions,
by Roger Hall
Intrigued by a news report on a spate of missing dogs in the nearby town of Seaside, The Three Investigators receive a call from Alfred Hitchcock who has a case for them.  His friend, Henry Allen, an old-time horror film director, lives there and his dog, Red Rover, has also gone missing, bringing the total to six.  When the boys interview him, he says that whilst looking for his dog, he saw a dragon coming out of the surf and heading for the caves beneath the town.  The boys find it hard to believe - Allen used monsters in his movie - especially when he tells them he also heard the dragon cough but once they start investigating - first with his neighbours and then on the beach - events occur that point towards something very strange happening in the caves below Seaside.

Pete looked at Bob.  “How come he always outvotes us, one to two?”
Bob shrugged.  “He’s just more stubborn than we are. You and I are probably nicer people.”

Working under the pseudonym Nick West, this is the first of two entries in the series by veteran writer Kin Platt - his other being what I consider the worst book of the thirty, “The Mystery Of The Nervous Lion” - and it’s well constructed with plenty of humorous interplay between the boys (Platt started out writing comedy and I once saw his credit on an episode of “Top Cat”).  However, in a similar fashion to “The Mystery Of The Dancing Devil”, which would appear six years later, the central concept is quite preposterous (there’s no other way to put it) and might be difficult for readers to buy into but there’s a lot of pleasure to be gained if you can.

The bulk of the book takes place in Seaside (we don’t see any of the town) with the beach and cave systems being well realised and nicely atmospheric and West builds a plausible history for the city, layering it into the story until all of the (very small) cast are implicated in some way or another.  Headquarters makes an appearance and there’s a welcome return for Mr & Mrs Andrews, with Bob’s dad once again pointing his son on the right track and Pete’s dad helps out by loaning them a projector (I wonder if it was in the same case as the one from “Dancing Devil”?)

Well written and (as mentioned) with some amusing interplay between the boys, this has some excellent set pieces - the gadgetry of Mr Shelby, the collapsing staircase, Bob in quicksand, the odd little cave, the bigger cave, it’s always good to have Worthington involved- and a good pace.  Whilst their client, Henry Allen, only appears briefly, his backstory is well developed and leads into the mystery nicely while his neighbours are well sketched, from Mr Carter and his anger issues - which Bob discovers is tied into family matters when a risky project for Seaside collapsed - to Mr Shelby, his gadgets and the trouble they get him into.  Alfred Hitchcock plays a larger role this time round, running Henry Allen’s dragon film in his projection room for them and at one point, whilst doing his research, Bob finds a book (called ‘Man Is The Prey’ by James Clarke) that’s actually real, which I thought was a nice touch.  West also makes a couple of nice nods to the past, naming one of his thugs Harry (a tradition which, I think, started with “The Mystery Of The Whispering Mummy”) and Blackbeard has one line of dialogue, though he hasn’t been mentioned before and doesn’t appear again.  As for the coughing dragon, I liked the concept of it a lot and I think West uses it well, in terms of suspense (and it’s a chilling image in its ‘lair’), but it doesn’t really make any sense to the scheme that underpins the whole book.  Having said that, it suits the book perfectly and once you know what it is, all of the pieces of the mystery slot nicely into place.

If you can buy into the central concept and accept it for what it is, this is a lot of fun, with a good pace, smart sense of location and nice characterisation.  I did buy into it, I liked it a lot.
Armada format b paperback (printed in 1983 and never re-printed), cover art by Peter Archer
(incidentally, it's the same cover art as used by the format a paperback, printed between 1974 and 1980)
The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall.

All of the images used are scans of my copies, though I would also direct you to Ian Regan's superb cover Art database here

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

An appreciation of Sir Roger Moore

Over the past couple of years, I've had a lot of fun writing blog posts that celebrate things I enjoy (namely on my Nostalgic For My Childhood thread) and I thought it might be an idea to write some about people I admire in entertainment - my heroes, if you will.

With that in mind, in honour of today being his 87th birthday, this is my appreciation of Sir Roger Moore.
Sir Roger Moore & I, backstage at Northampton Derngate theatre, Monday 6th October 2014
Sir Roger George Moore, KBE, was born on 14th October 1927 in Stockwell, London, the only child of George Moore, a policeman and Lillian, a housewife.  By his own account (from his stage shows and autobiography), he had a happy childhood apart from a period of evacuation in Holesworthy, Devon, which he left as soon as he could.

After briefly attending RADA, where he was a classmate of Lois Maxwell (who would later play Miss Moneypenny to his Bond), he began to appear in films as an extra.  Shortly after the war, aged 18, he was conscripted for National Service and eventually commanded a small depot in West Germany.  He later transferred to the Entertainment corps, where he became friends with (film director-to-be) Bryan Forbes.

In the early 1950s, Moore worked as a model for a wide range of products (with his print ads for knitwear leading Michael Caine to give him the nickname ‘The Big Knit’) before moving to Hollywood under contract to MGM.  He has since said, of this time, “At MGM, RGM (Roger George Moore) was NBG (no bloody good)”.

He made his name when he was cast as the eponymous hero in the serial Ivanhoe, loosely based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott.  He later appeared in The Alaskans series for ABC/Warner Brothers and as Bret Maverick in the series Maverick, with James Garner.

In 1962, Lew Grade cast Moore as Simon Templar in the TV series The Saint and it was so successful that it made him a household name across the world.  The series ran for six years and 118 episodes (some of which Moore himself directed), making it - along with The Avengers - the longest running series of its kind on British television.

After two films - Crossplot and the darker, more challenging The Man Who Haunted Himself (which he rates as favourite of his own films) - Moore returned to television with The Persuaders.  Partnered with Tony Curtis (with whom he quickly developed a good rapport) and produced by Lew Grade, Moore was paid £1m for a single series, making him the highest paid TV actor in the world.  Unfortunately the series didn’t take off in America (its primary intended market) and so only 24 episodes were made.

With Sean Connery declaring that following his payday on Diamonds Are Forever it was “never again” for him and Bond, Moore was approached by Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli to take over the role in August 1972.  Moore, who had to cut his hair and lose weight for the role, discussed the situation with his friend Connery before accepting, first appearing in Live and Let Die in 1973.  Moore would appear in seven Bond films in total - Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981) Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985).  He was 45 when he took on the role and 58 when he announced his retirement from it.

Opinions differ greatly (the rule of thumb seems to be that your favourite is often the one you grew up with) but I think Moore was the best Bond, though I’ve enjoyed most of the films (Pierce Brosnan had to endure some rubbish) and like the Daniel Craig version.  His Bond was very different to the Ian Fleming character (and the Connery version) but the films were too.  Screenwriters, including Tom Mankiewicz and George MacDonald Fraser, wrote films in which 007 was more of a debonair Englishman, who always had a trick or gadget up his sleeve when he needed it, a move by the producers to better serve the contemporary taste in the 1970s.

In between his Bond outings he made other, often smaller films and was criticised for making three movies in South Africa during the 70s.

After “A View To A Kill”, he didn’t act on screen for five years, breaking that run with “Bed & Breakfast” and “Bullseye!”, with Michael Caine in 1990.  He officially announced his retirement from acting in an article for The Sunday Telegraph magazine in April 2009.

Sir Roger has been married four times.  His first wife was the skater Doorn Van Steyn, whom he left for the singer Dorothy Squires.  Whilst filming in Italy in 1961, he met the Italian actress Luisa Mattioli and lived with her until their marriage in 1969 when Squires finally granted him a divorce.  With Mattioli, he had three children - Geoffrey, Deborah and Christian - but Moore ended the marriage in 1993 (he subsequently reported his marriages to both Squires and Mattioli were often abusive, at his expense).  In March 2002 he married Kristina Tholstrup.  Moore was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993 though surgery on it was successful (it's in remission) and he had a pacemaker fitted in 2003 after collapsing on stage in New York.

Shocked by the level of poverty he witnessed whilst filming Octopussy in India in 1983 and after speaking with his friend Audrey Hepburn, who worked with UNICEF, he became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991.  Since that time, he has worked tirelessly for the organisation and writes most movingly about it in his autobiography.

Sir Roger was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1999 and advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in June 2003.  The citation on the knighthood was for his charity work and he said, at the time, that it "meant far more to me than if I had got it for acting... I was proud because I received it on behalf of UNICEF as a whole and for all it has achieved over the years".  He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Wall of Fame in 2007 and it’s located, appropriately enough, at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard.

Sir Roger has been a hero of mine from when I was a kid right up to the present day.  A huge fan of his films (especially the Bonds), "The Persuaders" and the man himself (reading about his thoughts on his own children, once I was a father myself, just made me like him even more), I've been lucky enough to see him twice.  Alison & I caught his "An Audience With..." tour at Milton Keynes theatre in 2013 and it was a brilliant show.  When we found out he was touring again in 2014 and would be at Northampton Derngate (our local theatre), we booked tickets straight away and I emailed Gareth Owen - his biographer - about the possibility of meeting him ('nothing ventured, nothing gained').  To my surprise, Gareth was amenable to it and so - on Monday 6th October - Alison & I went backstage before the show and got to meet the great man and his lovely wife.  I wrote about it in this blog, but he was everything I expected him to be, a genuine living legend and he couldn't have been nicer to us.  It was a wonderful experience and I'll never forget it.

Over the years, Sir Roger has written four books (the title links go to my Goodreads reviews):

* A diary for Pan, “Roger Moore as James Bond: Roger Moore's Own Account of Filming Live and Let Die”, was published in 1973 (it’s a great read) and opened with the acknowledgement: “I would also like to thank Sean Connery – with whom it would not have been possible.” 

* His autobiography, “My Word Is My Bond”, was published in 2008 by Michael O’Mara and is a fascinating book, full of his wry, self-deprecating humour and a terrific read.  It's also available as an audio book, which he reads.

* In 2012, Michael O’Mara published “Bond On Bond”, which tied in with the 50th anniverary of the series.

* In 2014, Michael O'Mara published "Last Man Standing: Tales From Tinseltown", a collection of anecdotes told in Moore's inimitable style, which was another good read.

There was also a series of six adventure books for children, “Roger Moore and the Crimefighters”, published by Alpine/Everest in 1977/78, aiming for a slice of the market enjoyed by “The Three Investigators”.  Moore’s involvement was limited to a cover photo and a chapter at the end wrapping the story up.  His royalties from the series were donated to the Stars Organisation for Spastics and to the Police Widows and Orphans Fund.  I wrote about the series at this blog-post.

Widely regarded as a genuinely nice man, to my mind Sir Roger Moore is a living legend - suave, debonair, English cool personified - and I'm grateful that I got a chance to meet him.

Thank you, good sir, for the entertainment you've provided us over the years and many happy returns of the day!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Horror at Desborough library...

Just a quick reminder that this is happening next week.



Three writers - Nicky Peacock, Paul Melhuish and myself - combine for a Horror Night at Desborough Library.

Readings by the three of us - I'm going to do a creepy section from "The Mill", the real-life location of which is about a mile or so from the library - and followed by a Q&A session, our books will also be available and it promises to be a great evening.

Tickets are on-sale now (for the princely sum of £2) so, if you're local, why not pop along?

To promote the event, I made my debut appearance on radio as a guest of John Griff at BBC Radio Northampton and had a great time.  The show is available as listen-again until next Monday so if you want to hear my thoughts on horror, you can listen to the whole thing or jump to 1hr 45m when I appear.

The John Griff show - listen-again until Monday 13th October


Update:
Unfortunately this event has been postponed due to "circumstances beyond our control" and will now take place in 2015.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

An Evening With Sir Roger Moore (in Northampton)

So, this happened last night…
In November 2013, Alison & I went to the Milton Keynes theatre to see “An Audience With Sir Roger Moore” (which I blogged about here) and it was bloody brilliant.  When we found out that he was touring in Autumn 2014 (and would be appearing at Northampton Derngate), it took the pair of us about two seconds to decide we were going again and she booked us tickets, front row centre.  What a star my wife is.

It’s perhaps worth mentioning here, in case you didn’t know, that I’m a huge fan of Sir Roger Moore, starting with “The Persuaders”, the Crimefighters books (blogged about here) and through the Bond films (the first two of which I saw at the cinema - blogged about here - were “Live & Let Die” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” on a double bill) and he’s a real hero of mine.
Last month, Sir Roger published his latest book “Last Man Standing” (which I reviewed here), a collection of anecdotes from Hollywood and it was a great read.  I happened to mention it on Twitter and got a retweet (which made my day) and that started me thinking.  At a Memorabilia fair at the NEC, I’d seen Gareth Owen (Sir Roger’s biographer and his interviewer on the tour) and went over to shake his hand to thank him for the show.  What if, I thought, I emailed him and asked if it was possible for me to get into a meet-and-greet if they had one.  Remembering sage advice from my youth - if you don’t ask, you don’t get - I did email him (along with a link to my review of the previous show and further mentions of Sir Roger) and he replied, saying that we might be able to sort something out...

I spent most of Monday 6th October feeling nervous (not helped by also having an interview about my writing on BBC Radio Northampton - thanks John Griff!) and at 6.55, I was outside the stage door (alongside autograph hunters who were telling me it was no good, he wasn’t coming out).  I told the lady at the door who I was, she went off and then Alison & I were let in, led down narrow corridors and pointed towards a door that had a sign saying “Sir Roger Moore” pinned to it.  Surely not…

The door opened and Gareth Owen gestured for us to go in.  Sir Roger was sitting in front of the mirror, signing bookplates and his wife, Lady Kristina Tholstrup, was standing to the side and I was completely lost for words.  Sir Roger got up as I walked over and Gareth introduced me (they initially thought I was someone else, a mistake quickly rectified) and mentioned that I’d given his last show a good review on the blog, which made my hero smile.  I looked at him and tried to take everything in - he’s tall and a real commanding presence and - I’ll admit - I was in awe of him.  Sir Roger shook my hand and I can’t for the life of me remember anything I said after that, though Alison assures me I told him I’d been a fan of his for a long time, that it was a real honour to meet him and that I’d loved his books.  I snapped back to reality when he asked if I was watching the show and I said “Yes, my wife Alison bought the tickets” and when he shook her hand, he introduced his wife to us.  We chatted for a while, he posed for pictures and then we took our leave, as I thanked him again and shook his hand again and tried to take it all in.  Alison & I made our way outside and when I checked the photographs had come out okay, I found that my hands were shaking.  Wow, what a moment.
The tickets were, indeed, front row centre and we got settled in as Sir Roger came on stage at 7.30pm.  He made his way to his seat (a little more unsteady than last year maybe but still ramrod straight) and sat down, first moving the Union Jack cushion off it and saying “Sean Connery, Andy Murray.”

Hosted, once again, by Gareth Owen, the show was a real treat (over 2 hours!) and Moore’s abilities as a raconteur were superb - stories went off at tangents, we heard about his early childhood (the baby photo was funny), his early career as an animator, the moves to Hollywood and back (with Owen inserting gleeful “you were fired” comments at key points) and TV, with “Ivanhoe” (we were treated to the theme tune) and “The Saint”.  Following the interval, we got anecdotes about “The Persuaders” and then moved onto Bond (including “Bond…James Bond”, which got as much applause as it did last year).  Within this section there were a couple of poignant moments as he talked about old friends who’d recently passed away - he recalled some of the fun he’d had working with Richard Kiel (I knew the little boy on the beach in “The Spy Who Loved Me” was Kiel’s son, I didn’t realise he’s now an eminent cardiologist), his frequent director Andrew V. McLaglen and Geoffrey Holder.  Following a lively Q&A session, he wrapped up the show with a brief discussion of his work with UNICEF and quoted a poem Audrey Hepburn had told, which was quite emotional.  He left the stage to a standing ovation and as we left the auditorium, Alison & I said, “if he tours again…”

It was a terrific show and Sir Roger was on top form, telling stories and making the audience laugh (including some risqué remembrances) and name-dropping with the best of them, whilst also imitating certain key players voices when the situation called for it (his Tony Curtis is very good).  The term legend gets bandied around a lot these days but Sir Roger Moore genuinely is one and it was reflected in the show - funny, poignant at times but with a real lust for life apparent throughout and he had the audience rapt from the off.

Well done, Sir Roger and thanks also for being so nice to an idiot who was smart enough to send an email asking to see you but not clever enough to remember what he was saying when stood in front you.  I’m an unabashed fan of long standing and to finally meet my hero was a true highlight for me.

Roll on the next tour - Alison & I will be there!