Monday, 15 January 2018

The Art of Robert McGinnis

I have long been a fan of 'sleazy' paperback art (which helped inspire my anthology Anatomy Of Death) and one of the key proponents of it was the wonderful Robert McGinnis.  Since I haven't posted much of his work on the blog before I thought it was about time I showcased some.

1959 (won the 1959 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Mystery Novel)
The full artwork for the "Frenzy" cover (I wrote about the film here)
Robert McGinnis was born on 3rd February 1926 in Cincinnati, Ohio and after apprenticing at Walt Disney Studios, he studied fine art at Ohio State University.  Following wartime service in the Merchant Marine, he went into advertising and, in 1958, was introduced to Dell Publishing where he began drawing a variety of paperback covers for writers like Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark), Erle Stanley Gardner and the Mike Shayne and Carter Brown series.  He painted over 1,400 paperback covers and his artwork has also appeared in such diverse publications as Good Housekeeping, TIME, Playboy, The Saturday Evening Post, Argosy and the Ladies Home Journal.

In 1961, he was commissioned to produce the poster art for Blake Edwards’ Breakfast At Tiffany’s and has gone on to create artwork for 40 films.  Along the way, he created the iconic James Bond pose - arms crossed, holding the gun, draped with assorted female arms.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) features a series of pulp novels (and was apparently based on Bodies Are Where You Find Them, a Mike Shayne mystery written by Brett Halliday) and to add an air of authenticity, director Shane Black commissioned McGinnis to paint the cover art for the fake Jonny Gossamer books.

In 1985, he was awarded “Romantic Artist Of The Year” by Romantic Times magazine in honour of his many romance novel covers.  Since 2004, he has created cover art for the Hard Case Crime paperback series, including Stephen King’s Joyland.

McGinnis still paints and is a member of the Society Of Illustrators Hall Of Fame.
The Kiss Kiss Bang Bang connection
left - the 1959 paperback - right - one of the fake covers created by McGinnis for the film


1979 (this is the US poster, it was called "North Sea Hijack" over here)
McGinnis & Bond
I don't know, it might be my age but I much preferred when movie posters were a selling tool, full of great artwork capturing exciting scenes from the films in question.  Looking at these Bond posters, it makes me think that EON is missing a trick - every poster from the Daniel Craig-era has just been a still image of him, why not give McGinnis another commission?

1973 (I wrote about the film here)

Monday, 8 January 2018

The Secret Of Terror Castle, by Robert Arthur

2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published and, to celebrate, I re-read and compiled my all-time Top 10 (safe in the knowledge that it would be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I posted my list here, having previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here).

Following this, I decided to re-visit some of the books I'd missed on that second read-through, without any intention of posting reviews of them but, as if often the way, it didn't quite work out like that.  Happily, this is on-going and so here's an additional review...
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed between 1967 and 1970), cover art by Roger Hall

This is the Three Investigators' business card - and their first assignment is to investigate a haunted house for that Master Of Mystery, Alfred Hitchcock.  But Terror Castle, looming through the mists of Black Canyon, turns out to have more than its fair share of spooks...

Illustration from the Collins/Armada
editions, by Roger Hall
When Jupiter Jones wins the use “of a Rolls-Royce sedan for thirty days of twenty-four hours each", he and his friends Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews decide to set up the investigation agency they’ve been discussing.  Jupiter even has their first case - finding a genuine haunted house for Alfred Hitchcock.  After tricking their way into his bungalow on the studio lot, Hitchcock agrees to introducing the case (“the promise was extorted from me by nothing less than sheer skulduggery”) and the boys begin to investigate Terror Castle, once the home of famed silent movie star Stephen Terrill.  Located in the narrow Black Canyon, above Hollywood, the boys soon discover that something definitely haunts Terror Castle and they must experience the Blue Phantom, the fog of fear and feelings of extreme terror to find out what it is.

This is the first Three Investigators book, created and written by Robert Arthur and does a fantastic job of setting the template that the rest of the books in the series would adhere to so successfully.  Hitchcock calls Jupiter Jones “insufferable” in the introduction and some of the rougher edges to his character would be smoothed down over the next couple of books but the repartee between him, Pete and Bob is pitch perfect.  Their conversation is smart and often humorous, the action scenes are well handled and only Bob comes out of it slightly short-changed, since he’s away working in the library for a lot of the time (though he & Pete explore the castle during daylight in a wonderfully tense sequence).

Terror Castle is a well-used and described location, spooky and gloomy and well captured in the boys various explorations of it and the natural formation of Black Canyon plays an important part in the plot.  Characterisation is brisk and thorough - Worthington is excellent - and Aunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus feature quite strongly at the start (Titus helps inform Jupiter of a clue) while Headquarters is lovingly described, though Rocky Beach barely earns a mention.  Stephen Terrill is a great creation - Lon Chaney must have been the inspiration for at least part of him - though, ironically, he’s maybe the only thing that particularly dates the book, since he was a silent movie star (the book was published in 1964, so the talkies were only 37 years old then which, to me as I write this, would be 1981).  His manager, Jonathan Rex - also known as ‘The Whisperer’ - is also a smart creation, menacing and helpful by turns while Skinny Norris makes his first appearance (though not for long) and Jupiter's thoughts about him are cleverly woven into the plot.

Whilst the series hinges on the relationship between the boys, their link to Hitchcock is also key.  Robert Arthur was the editor of the Alfred Hitchcock mystery anthologies and it’s clear he was having fun here, spoofing his friends demeanour - Hitchcock has a troublesome relationship with the investigators, which smoothes itself out as the book goes on and his presence adds gravitas to the story.

With some great set pieces, nicely spooky sequences and a few plot twists along the way, this is an excellent read and I highly recommend it.
left - Collins Hardback Second Edition (printed between 1972 and 1979), cover art by Roger Hall, scan of my copy
right - Armada format a paperback (printed between 1970 and 1979), cover art by Peter Archer

back cover of the Armada format a paperback, showing Peter Archer's wonderful artwork
(cover scan of my copy)
Armada format b paperback (printed between 1980 and 1982), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)

The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall.

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

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Joining The Vinyl Revival

Since Alison & I generally have what we want (in terms of books, music and clothes), buying for Christmas and birthdays is sometimes an issue.  This year, we made the decision to get our own presents then hand the gift over to the other - to that end, I ’bought’ her a Fitbit, she ‘bought’ me a Funko Hannibal Smith figure.  However, she also got me a surprise present - she saw it, decided I’d love it and bought it.  And she was absolutely right, I did love it.
Hannibal Smith looks on, putting together a plan of where I can put my new records in bookshelves that are already overflowing...
 I’ve been a fan of music for a long time but, aside from my parents choices, my first real memories come from 1977/78 (when I’d have been 8 or 9) and falling in love with songs that still sound as vibrant and exciting today.  The first cassette album I bought (I only had a tape recorder) was The Best Of Blondie (you won’t be surprised to learn I still have it, just no means of playing it) while my first vinyl LP came in 1980 when my lovely parents not only bought me my first record player (I can’t find a picture of it anywhere but I’m convinced it would have been a Bush unit) and my first album - Eat To The Beat by Blondie.

After this, I became an avid listener and through the early 80s I bought plenty of singles and the occasional album too.  Back then, certainly locally, the market wasn’t cornered by the chain stores so I had plenty of choice for shops - Revolver Records in Kettering (as well as Our Price, a fair while before it was swallowed up by Virgin), Spinadisc in Northampton and Discovery Records in Corby and Market Harborough.  In the mid-80s, my friend Craig introduced me to Boogaloo Records in Leicester, a fantastic second-hand place from where I picked up no end of great late 70s/early 80s albums I couldn’t find anywhere else (most of my Donna Summer collection came from there).
Andy's Records (there was a Kettering shop, replaced in time by Our Price, itself replaced by HMV), Discovery Records, an Our Price sticker and Spinadisc
Bags of fun - Our Price and Woolies are long gone, while W H Smith and Boots don't sell records any more
By then, I’d upgraded my stereo to that must-have 80s item, the midi hi-fi system where I could tape albums to play on my Walkman, listen to the radio and fiddle about with the graphic equaliser, without properly understanding what it did.  CDs were already making inroads then but I resisted them for as long as possible - I had a big record collection and wasn’t keen on replacing it - but finally caved in the early 90s when the units were so ridiculously cheap (X, by INXS, was the first album I owned on both vinyl and disc).  I remained a huge fan of the LP but as the years went by and vinyl was phased out, I didn’t have a great deal of choice.  When we upgraded in the 00's, Alison & I bought a system that didn't have a turntable and, in a move I now despair of my mid-thirtysomething self doing, I gave away a lot of that vinyl.

What an idiot, is the first thing that springs to mind, as I look at my new record player.

As luck would have it, since Dude was born (and even though I had no way to play them), I’ve been picking up the odd album or single over the years (my original collection is buried in the understairs cupboard somewhere, untouched for over a decade and we’ll need to mount an expedition to find it)  so I had stuff to play on Christmas Day.  Most of it came from charity shops, albums I’d wanted back in the day but couldn’t find, stuff that caught my eye in the moment or, even, things I picked up because I’m a compulsive completist - “Yay, an INXS album!”.  I also discovered (on a post-Christmas trip to Leicester to spend our gift vouchers) that HMV now has a huge vinyl selection - I also discovered brand new vinyl has a huge price tag too but that's okay, I’m a collector and I don’t have a problem with second-hand.

The vinyl revival?  Oh yes, I’m definitely in - and here's part of the charm for those who've never experienced it...

Even better, while flicking around on ebay, I discovered these existed - I always knew soundtrack albums were a thing, obviously, but singles?  Did these theme tunes, from some of my favourite TV shows, really plan to mount a number one bid on the pop charts of the day?
Composed by Brian Dee & Irving Martin, this was produced by Martin and Funko was the b side track.  It was released by Pye Records on 22nd September 1978 and I really wish I'd known it existed, I love this theme tune.

And for those who don't remember, this is what it sounded like...

Broadcast during 1976 and 1977, I have very hazy memories of this (I was only seven when it started) but I do remember liking Purdey and thinking Mike Gambit was very cool.  I thought he was less cool when Gareth Hunt began advertising coffee on TV though.  The theme tune was composed and conducted by Laurie Johnson and released in 1976 on the Unicorn-Kanchana label.

I loved this show which, bearing in mind it's 9pm timeslot, wasn't particularly aimed at kids though Corgi did a nice line of toy cars of Bodie's Capri and Grandreams published 7 annuals.  The (excellent) theme tune was once again composed and conducted by Laurie Johnson and released in 1980 on the Unicorn-Kanchana label.

Happy listening, whatever your preferred medium...

British Record Shop Archive
Discogs - Return of The Saint single release information
Discogs - The New Avengers single release information
Discogs - The Professionals single release information

Thursday, 28 December 2017

My Creative Year 2017

Continuing a tradition (now in its fifth year), here's my annual look back at 2017 from a creative standpoint.

During the year, I wrote a lot of essays for this blog but no short stories at all, focussing instead on my psychological thriller novel.  I started it in early May and finished, 140,000 words later, at the end of October.  It's been an exciting project and I'm now working on the second draft, with the intention of shopping it around to agents in the new year - wish me luck!

* * *
I had one short story published, A World Outside Your Window, in 12 Dark Days: One Hell Of A Christmas, edited by Dean M. Drinkel from Nocturnicorn Books.  The anthology appeared, in print and digital editions, in December.

My collection, Things We Leave Behind, was published on 15th July by Dark Minds Press and launched at Edge-Lit 6, alongside Laura Mauro's excellent novella Naming The Bones.

At the launch, Laura read an extract from What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking whilst I read the first few pages from her novella

My novella, Polly, was published on 30th November by Stormblade Productions, with an online Facebook launch that evening (you can see a transcript of the fun here).

* * *
Things We Leave Behind featured in Chad Clark's Top Reads for 2017, which was very pleasing.

James Everington included What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking (from Things We Leave Behind) in his annual Favourite Short Stories round-up.

What Gets Left Behind featured in Tom Johnstone's 2017 Review Of The Year.

* * *
The Crusty Exterior managed another gathering, meeting at Astley Book Farm in Bedworth before heading off for a curry to help celebrate Steve Harris' 50th birthday in May.  Loads of friends, thousands of books, we had a great time.  And at Sledge-Lit, plans were hatched to meet up again next year...
Just after an enjoyable curry with, from left, James Everington, John Travis, Steve 'birthday boy' Harris, me, Phil Sloman and Steve Bacon

In June, Earls Barton held its first Literary Festival.  My friend Sue Moorcroft appeared on Saturday 10th, with her "route to number one" and I (in my first Lit Fest experience) had a slot on Sunday afternoon (which I wrote about here).  My talk was called "How can you write what you know when you write horror?" and centred around my novella The Mill.  I had a decent audience who listened attentively, laughed at the funny bits (I think the Grand Hotel in Scarborough gets more gothic every time I describe it) and asked some good questions. A terrific experience and it instantly made me want to do it again.
picture by Sue Moorcroft

On October 11th, I was part of a "Meet The Authors" panel with Sue and Louise Jensen (both of whom are best sellers) held at Kettering Library, moderated by John Griff of BBC Radio Northampton.  It was a terrific evening (Dad came along with me and proved to be a hit himself) with a good-sized and engaged audience, John kept the questions coming, the panel acquitted themselves well, we all had a laugh and books were sold.  I had a really good time.
Me, Sue, John and Louise 
I'm pointing at Dad, who finally got to ask his question, much to Sue and Louise's amusement

As a favour for Dad, I did a reading & writing session for the Rothwell Beavers Group in early December.  To them, he's Badger, the group leader and they were all surprised when I revealed he was my dad, the only person who used to read my stories when I began writing at their age (he stopped reading them when I - doubtless much to his relief - started writing horror, a genre he's not particularly fond of).  I wrote them a little Christmas tale and had great fun doing it - two elves help Santa but then he gets accidentally knocked out so they need to get some help - and left the ending open for the kids to finish.  I didn't really know what to expect but the response was superb and every single one of those Beavers either wrote or drew a conclusion to the story with some fantastic flights of imagination.  As much I enjoyed the evening itself, the next day was even better when I saw this feedback from one parent.

* * *
I attended three great Cons in year.  The first was Edge-Lit 6, held at The Quad in Derby on 15th July (see my report here), followed by FantasyCon, held at The Bull Hotel, Peterborough from 29th September to 1st October (see my report here) and I rounded out the year with the excellent Sledge-Lit 3, held at The Quad in Derby on 25th November (see my report here).
At Edge-Lit 6 with, from left, Peter Mark May, Richard Farren Barber, me, James Everington
On a panel at FantasyCon - from left, Ramsey Campbell, Phil Sloman, me, Helen Armfield, Nina Allan and James Everington
Priya Sharma, Steve Harris, me, Simon Bestwick (front) and Peter Mark May

At Sledge-Lit with, from left, Becky Moore, me, Tracy Fahey, Steve Bacon, Lisa Childs, John Travis and James Everington
Interviewing Alison Littlewood - pic by James Everington
* * *
I'm feeling confident for 2018 too, as I plan to crack on with the novel and plot out more, plus I have a few things due to be published and a couple of novellas to write.  I'll keep you updated as how things go.

As always, thank you so much, dear readers of this blog, for all your support in 2017, especially those who bought, read and liked my work - I really do appreciate it.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish readers of this blog a very Happy Christmas, with all best wishes for the New Year.

Thank you, as ever, for your continued support and interest - let's hope 2018 is as good to us as we want it to be!

Monday, 18 December 2017

The Ninth Annual Westies - review of the year 2017

Well here we are again with another year that seems to have zipped by and so, as we gear up for Christmas and all things festive, it's time to indulge in the annual blog custom and remember the good books of 2017.

Once again, it's been a great reading year with a good mix of brand new novels alongside a few books that had spent far too long languishing on my TBR pile (plus a few welcome re-reads).  As always, the top 20 places were hard fought and, I think, show a nice variety in genre and tone reflecting my shift in reading from horror towards psychological thrillers (since I've been working on my thriller novel this year).  Where I've blogged about a book earlier, I've linked to it on the list.

This year features another tie for first place but since both books are very good and very different, I couldn't place one above the other.

Without further ado, I present the Ninth Annual Westies Award - “My Best Fiction Reads Of The Year” - and the top 20 looks like this:

1= The Summer Of Impossible Things, by Rowan Coleman
1= Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough
3: The Little Village Christmas, by Sue Moorcroft
4: The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak
5: One Summer In Italy *, by Sue Moorcroft
6: Body In The Woods, by Sarah Lotz
7: The Pool House, by Tasmina Perry
8: Alexa, by Andrea Newman
9: I See You, by Claire Mackintosh
10: Disappearance At Devil's Rock, by Paul Tremblay
11: Naming The Bones, by Laura Mauro
12: Cockatrice **, by Stephen Bacon
13: Looking For Captain Poldark, by Rowan Coleman
14: The Surrogate, by Louise Jensen
15: The Escape, by C. L. Taylor
16: Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence, by Richard Farren Barber
17: Helene **, by Nicola Monaghan
18: When You Comin' Back, Range Rider, by Charles Heath
19: The A-Team, by Charles Heath
20: Ten Percent Of Trouble, by Charles Heath

* = This is Sue's second book of her second Avon contract (I read it to critique) which will be published in May 2018.  Her current release is The Little Village Christmas.
** = read to critique, not published yet

The Top 10 in non-fiction are:

1: A bientot…, by Roger Moore
2: Roger Moore As James Bond 007, by Roger Moore
3: How Star Wars Conquered The Universe, by Chris Taylor
4: Meryl Streep: The Reluctant Superstar, by Diana Maychick
5: The Man With The Golden Eye, by Peter Lamont
6: Alfred Hitchcock, by Peter Ackroyd
7: The Cinema Of George Lucas, by Marcus Hearn
8: Cinefex 51, by Mark Cotta Vaz
9: Kiss Me Like A Stranger, by Gene Wilder
10: The Cars We Loved In The 1980s, by Giles Chapman

Stats wise, I’ve read 74 books - 41 fiction, 22 non-fiction, 3 comics/nostalgia/kids and 8 Three Investigator mysteries.

Of the 66 books, the breakdown is thus:

6 biography
6 horror
15 film-related
11 drama (includes romance)
20 crime/mystery
3 sci-fi
2 nostalgia
3 humour

All of my reviews are posted up at Goodreads here

Just in case you’re interested, the previous awards are linked to from here: