Friday, 10 August 2018

HAVE PEN WILL SCRIBBLE


I’m of that generation where Westerns were everywhere: films, TV, books. I just about remember watching Richard Boone as Paladin (now where’ve I heard that name before?) in Have Gun, Will Travel, along with Sugarfoot, Rawhide, Wagon Train, and in later years Alias Smith & Jones and The High Chaparral.
But I did lose interest in the movies sometime in the mid-1960s. Back then the BBC would show a Saturday Western every week and, to be honest, most were poor quality, assembly-line films lacking in originality, budget, or decent actors. I reached a point where I just couldn’t bring myself to watch another Western movie. That is, until I was at polytechnic.

I was far too young to see A Fistful of Dollars when it first came out; though I do remember the fuss caused by its amorality and perceived sadism. Several years later, though, I was a student at Lanchester Polytechnic. On Wednesday afternoons a film club ran in a lecture theatre; one film I watched was For a Few Dollars More. It was like a slap around the face. That same year High Plains Drifter was released and I watched it at a Coventry flea-pit on a double bill with Two Mules for Sister Sara. In no time I was a fan of both Clint Eastwood and Italian Westerns.
I never read many Western novels – although paperbacks by British authors such as Terry Harknett (under a variety of pseudonyms) and JT Edson were everywhere throughout the 1970s. I did peruse the odd novelisation (such as the first two “Dollar” films and A Fistful of Dynamite) and Glendon Swarthout’s The Shootist (the film adaptation of which is still my favourite John Wayne film). I was – and still am – mainly into Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and writing same.

Then, towards the end of the 70s, I hit a period of enforced idleness. I don’t know how many of you remember the smallpox outbreak at Birmingham University’s Medical School, but my department was caught up in the tragedy. We were sent home for an open-ended period while part of the building was decontaminated. I grew bored rapidly and, for reasons I no longer remember, started writing a Western. It was pretty bad: the central character, Quarrel, was an obvious Man With No Name knock-off, everyone else an assembly of clichĂ©s. I abandoned it when I returned to work.
But the odd thing was, I’d enjoyed it – purple prose and stupid plot notwithstanding. And it had swiftly become clear that, unless you were writing a strictly historical one, Westerns were as much Fantasy as anything from the pen of Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber or Robert E Howard (who did write Westerns, of course). And Quarrel never went away: lurking in the depths of my head, biding his time. Eventually, his time came.

A couple of years back, Pro Se Publications accepted a Damian Paladin book, Walkers in Shadow,  for publication, and I found myself wondering if there was something else I could try out on them. A Western? I thought. Pro Se is a New Pulp publisher, and Westerns are one of the oldest forms of pulp fiction.

With a new look and a first name – Arieh – Quarrel came a-knockin’. Shamelessly borrowing the plot of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (well, adapting Samurai movies hadn’t done Sergio Leone or John Sturges any harm) and going for a slightly more Italian Western vibe, I pitched the idea at Tommy Hancock at Pro Se. “Write it,” he said. And thus was Revenge is a Cold Pistol born. I am now a published Western author – words I never thought I’d write.
Will Arieh Quarrel return? Well, I’m working on a storyline at the moment, and I’ll pitch it once it’s complete. Then we’ll see.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Review of RADIX OMNIUM MALUM


"Anyone who wants to spend time with the uncanny and horrific will find this volume contains gems"


Pauline Morgan has reviewed RADIX OMNIUM MALUM & OTHER INCURSIONS for both the SFCrowsnest website and the Birmingham SF Group's newsletter. With Pauline's permission, I happily repost the review.

Anyone who has heard of Mike Chinn will probably be familiar with either his steampunk versions of Sherlock Holmes or his Damian Paladin stories. Since the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are now out of copyright, there have been a number of stories and novels (of varying degrees of competence) using this character. Mike Chinn’s rank in the higher echelons of the sub-genre but there is a danger of them being lost. Damian Paladin has, so far, two collections devoted to his exploits which are well worth hunting down. Mike, though, has written and had published a wide range of other stories, some of which are included in this new volume. From a man who keeps guinea pigs they are often surprisingly dark.

Devising ways to end the world, or at least human domination of it, is a favourite pastime of horror writers. ‘Radix Omnium Malus’ (loosely translates as ‘The Root of Evil’) is reminiscent of Brian Lumley’s ‘Fruiting Bodies’ but here the malicious growth has been magically invoked and is out of hand and is consuming everything. In ‘Blood of Eden’ instead of an indestructible plant it is Dracula threatening world domination using corporate means. ‘Cheechee’s Out’ is the start of an alien invasion, with Cthulhu-type creatures taking over men in high positions. Inevitably, there will be collateral damage.

Monsters of several varieties occur within a number of these stories. The trick is doing something new with them. In ‘Sons of the Dragon’ the road builders in Romania encounter vampire worms and ‘Considering the Dead’ relates the history of Cthulhu, but the biggest monsters are human. ‘Kittens’ begins as an urban myth, this time the story of kittens being dumped in a glass recycling bin and morphs into serial killer nastiness.  In ‘Only the Lonely’ the monster is a female sexual predator. Instead of being a warning for young girls it is the middle-aged man that needs to beware.

One of the causes of people believing they have had supernatural encounters is anxiety. ‘Two Weeks From Saturday’ is one of those stories that anyone who has been reluctantly included in an event will understand. For Cliff it is the impossibility of writing a decent story for the writers’ meeting run by his boss’s son that creates nightmares. Grief, too, is an emotion that can affect the mind. ‘The Streets Of Crazy Cities’ demonstrates an extreme reaction that Martyn has after the death of wife, child and several other people that he knows. It is a story that initially misleads and shows the skill of the author in its construction.

These and the others stories in this volume challenge the reader. They meld folklore and myth into, mostly, modern settings. There is one historical story there, ‘Suffer A Witch’ which demonstrates petty human jealousy and the danger of drawing conclusions. Like the characters it is unwise to assume that you have all the knowledge needed to understand the situation. In ‘The Pygmalion Conjuration’ both Dennis, who finds a conjuration to bring to life photographs of desirable women for sex, and Miss Grant, the librarian who pointed him towards the relevant book, find to their cost that they have missing information.

Folklore doesn’t have to have an ancient pedigree. The urban myth behind ‘The Owl That Calls’ has a more recent genesis, but even these may have some reality behind them as Tomas Ullerden discovers when expecting to debunk the sighting of a Mothman on Bodmin Moor. While many myths have their roots in a pagan or superstitious past, the coming of the steam age has imbued trains with a degree of mysticism, often involving death. Two train stories are included here. ‘Rescheduled’ sees Graeme having to go home to fetch the office keys and having distinct problems with trains, while in ‘The Mercy Seat’ Jim catches up with two friends from his youth. The memories revolve around the railway bridge by the station and the trains that run over it

Some of the stories in this volume need to be read more than once to find the subtleties in the story telling, but for anyone who wants to spend time with the uncanny and horrific they will find this volume contains gems.

Monday, 12 February 2018

THE ALCHEMY PRESS BOOK OF HORRORS Table of Contents

British Fantasy Award winning The Alchemy Press have announced the ToC for their forthcoming anthology (publication date TBA): The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors. It's an impressive lineup. Details can be found on their website.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Voyage to the Bottom of the Barrel

I’ve always been a ridiculously big fan of the 1960s Irwin Allen TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (this will come as no surprise to those who know me). Submarines, sea monsters, aliens – what’s not to like? And for years I’ve wanted to write a kind of tribute story, without actually delving into fan fiction. 

My first attempt, “Welcome to the Hotel Marianas”, appeared in The Bitter End: Tales of Nautical Terror (Pill Hill Press, 2009), and later republished in my first collection, Give Me These Moments Back (The Alchemy Press, 2015). I say attempt, since at some point it drifted away from a VttBotS tribute into slightly more Lovecraftian territory. Still, the clues were all there: character names, sub with a glass nose. More recently I submitted another underwater tale for The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors, and again, although that was set in an underwater habitation there was nothing about it to suggest an old, cheesy TV series.

Then, while watching Blue Planet II on BBC TV recently, I was struck by the (speeded up) image of a sea cucumber stuffing its maw with prey the tentacles on the tips of its arms had snared. I had to use that in a story somehow, and within a day I knew it was going to be a Damian Paladin tale; and there was going to be a submarine in it. An experimental one: bigger and able to dive deeper than any other sub that existed in the 1930s.

A while back I was playing around with the idea of writing an adventure novel featuring a boat based on the French submarine cruiser Surcouf. It was a big old thing: armed with a twin 8 inch deck turret (the largest allowed by treaty at the time) and a variety of machine guns, along with a hanger abaft of the conning tower that housed a reconnaissance seaplane. That vessel fed into my new US Navy boat and became the blueprint for it – just a little longer, and minus the hangar (which had caused the Surcouf no end of trouble). And just for my own amusement (and because I like to have help visualising stuff) I adapted an image of the Surcouf: trimming back the hangar, altering the colour scheme, and replacing the French Naval ensign with the US flag.
As for the story, “Cradle of the Deep” – I even lifted that from a VttBotS episode – of course there’s a huge sea monster, and crew members being thrown about inside the boat.

The submarine SG-1, under the able command of Captain Bannon and Lieutenant Commander Munrow, will be back: helping Paladin in another adventure, and maybe even plotting its own future course.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Monday, 1 January 2018

That Was The Year That Was

A new year, and inevitably thoughts turn to what’s going to happen over the forthcoming months, as well as back at what was achieved in 2017.

I had two books out – treading on each others’ heels, it felt like – quite early on. Radix Omnium Malum & Other Incursions was a collection of horror tales from Parallel Universe Publications, while Damian Paladin – my 1930s, New York based occult detective and monster hunter – reappeared on the scene in the collection (or portmanteau novel, if you prefer), Walkers in Shadow, courtesy of Pro Se Productions. Paladin also made his presence felt in issue two of Occult Detective Quarterly in “The Black Tarot”; which was a backdoor way of introducing a new masked character to my fictional universe: the eponymous Black Tarot. Expect to see more of him in the future.


On the short story scene I had a Sherlock Holmes tale, “The Adventure of the Haunted Room”, published in the The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part VII: Eliminate the Impossible, and a science fiction short, “More Than Meets” in Nebula Rift vol.4 #11.

The middle of the year saw me drifting further into the world of Pulp fiction when I wrote a digest novel, The Griffon: Renaissance, for Pro Se. An updating (and well ahead of Doctor Who, a sex change) of the Arch Whitehouse character into a modern, shared universe, it involves plenty of intrigue, air battles and fire fights (all with technology just a shade more advanced than our own – well, it is Pulp adventure stuff). Great fun to write and, I hope, to read, when it’s published.

And for 2018? The above novel, fingers crossed, along with two more from Pro Se. There’s a post Civil War Western, Revenge is a Cold Pistol and if all goes well, a revised and expanded reprint of the first Paladin book, The Paladin Mandates. There are a couple more short stories due to see print – one SF, one Lovecraftian – and partway through a new Paladin story I realised that the experimental US submarine and crew I’d created would definitely be back in a later adventure, maybe even spun off into their own series. The Paladin universe expands apace. I also have a Holmes novella to finish – one set in the same Steampunk universe as Vallis Timoris – and a Fantasy novella to rewrite and update (which already got put back last year, so I need to focus), tentatively entitled Warriors of the Endless.

I’m sure that won’t be the end of it: life takes odd, unpredictable turns (this time last year, if you’d said I’d be writing a Griffon adventure, I’d have patted you on the head and advised taking more water with it). But for now, it’ll do.


Happy New Year.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Thoughts on 1968 movie HANG 'EM HIGH

Watched the Clint Eastwood Western Hang ’Em High (1968) last night – only the second time I’ve seen it. The first time, some decades back, I was sorely disappointed; I think I was expecting something more like the Dollar films, or High Plains Drifter, while this offering is more traditional (although I’ve seen it described as revisionist, which I’d dispute). I thought I’d be fair and give it another go.

It’s not as bad as I remember it – but it’s a long way from good. With an almost 2 hour (sometimes too leisurely) running time it could benefit with at least half an hour snipped off. The mass hanging scene, especially, feels interminable. I appreciate the director wanting to convey some of the inappropriate carnival atmosphere such an event would have generated, but it could have been conveyed just as well – or maybe better – with the judicious application of scissors. The story line meanders too, and feels unfocused.

There’s a parade of familiar and famous faces – such as Dennis Hopper, Alan Hale Jr., Bruce Dern, James MacArthur and Ben Johnson – but too often they’re little more than extended cameos or filler material; their characters flitting across the screen in the service of Eastwood’s, then discarded as though the writer/director had grown bored with them. All Hopper is given to do is escape from a holding cell and get shot down in the street for his trouble – not exactly stretching his talents. And Johnson’s Marshal Bliss – after cutting down Eastwood's hanged but still living Jed Cooper and delivering him to Pat Hingle’s Judge Fenton – is written off in a couple of lines of dialogue (killed in a gun down, off-screen). Alan Hale Jr. fares little better. And the inevitable love interest, in the shape of Inger Stevens, feels just as incidental, her own tragedy denied any type of closure.

The film was, of course, an attempt to cash in on Eastwood’s rising star and, since he’d come to fame in an Italian Western trilogy, what better than to cast him in an American Western. At the time, Variety described it as “a poor American-made imitation of a poor Italian-made imitation of an American-made Western.” Which is a bit harsh (many Americans felt the Italian cinema was trampling all over a beloved art form and only the US should be allowed to make Westerns), but close to the truth. For a while Hollywood, recognising the box office appeal of so-called Spaghetti Westerns, tried to copy their style, with little success. It occurred to me that the film has a slightly unfinished feel to it, as though rushed out to capitalise on Eastwood’s name (after all, they probably weren’t to know he’d still be a major earner almost half a century later: movies and their audiences are fickle things). Judicious editing and overall tightening would make a better film – although still not a great one. Those were still in the future.

HAVE PEN WILL SCRIBBLE

I’m of that generation where Westerns were everywhere: films, TV, books. I just about remember watching Richard Boone as Paladin (now wher...