Category Archives: Reading

Remembering Gerry Anderson

Over the Christmas break, one of the true heroes of my life sadly passed away: the great Gerry Anderson.

Like most people of my age, my first exposure to Gerry’s work was as a child. The opening bars of each of his shows called us to gather eagerly around the television, captivated in turn by Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Joe 90.

Famously, Gerry was frustrated by being known as ‘the puppet guy’ – he wanted to make serious films with live actors. (Of course, that day came with UFO and Space: 1999 – both blockbuster hits.) Yet I doubt that if he’d gone straight into live action that his legacy would be anywhere near as rich.

Out of financial necessity, Gerry created children’s television shows, using increasingly sophisticated puppets. Though sponsored and trusted by the great Lew Grade, he was squeezed tightly on budget – Grade knew that Anderson could deliver the goods, but he needed to turn a decent profit too.

And, where other filmmakers might be enjoying the luxury of large sound-stages and studio facilities, Anderson had to make do with a cramped unit on a Slough trading estate.

All of these restrictions were fuel to a unique creative fire. Tight budgets meant solving problems in an inventive way. Working for children meant that imaginations could run wild. A small set meant that people worked together closely; new techniques were needed to film what were ostensibly large set pieces.

A lesser person may well have produced what was ‘good enough’. Not Gerry. Gerry absolutely did not accept that any of these restrictions meant his output should be in any way apologetic. Yes, he was out to prove himself and desperately wanted to attract a different kind of commission – but he was also passionate about his product.

As a creator of children’s tales for a more modern age, Gerry was without equal. I say that in the knowledge that other filmmakers – most notably Disney – were around at the same time. But where Disney plundered folk tales for his stories, Anderson’s catalogue was set mostly in the future – original creations.

There is a magic and charm about Gerry’s work that is not only unique but has enabled it to stand the test of time. His shows are full of cheeky humour – but sentimentality is rare. Gerry’s audience were children – but he never, ever patronised them. He created television shows that were shot like blockbuster movies – large-scale action, tightly plotted stories and (despite their puppet-nature) entertaining and likeable characters.

Pushing back the boundaries at a technical level paid off – sure, we can see the strings, but the sheer quality of the model work and special effects still looks great today. It’s said that few filming techniques used by Hollywood in disaster blockbusters weren’t created by Gerry, from his little trading estate in Slough.

In filmmaking, genius isn’t all about self. It’s teamwork. And Gerry was oh so good at selecting, working with and trusting some truly great people. The model designs of Reg Hill and Mike Trim. The special effects of Derek Meddings. The fashion designs of Sylvia Anderson. And of course the unforgettable music of Barry Gray – each theme tune a heraldic introduction that set pulses racing and grabbed you firmly, pushing you down in front of the television. All of these elements – and more – came together under Anderson’s tireless coordination to create 30 to 60 minutes of television magic, week in, week out.

Gerry wasn’t always (indeed, often) the writer, but it’s as a storyteller rather than a filmmaker for which I remember him. His ideas positively sparkled and absolutely connected with his audience – which child wouldn’t want to be a secret agent with adult mind implants, or save people’s lives with the amazing equipment of a secret rescue organisation?

He only gave up work towards the end of his life. It’s true, his career took a dip – but he regained his creative mojo in 2005 with the CGI version of Captain Scarlet (sadly hidden in the schedules and not destined to be a commercial success). He didn’t own the rights to much of his work and would have loved to have remade Thunderbirds in CGI – and was scathing, rightly so, of the embarrassing misstep that was Jonathan Frakes’s Thunderbirds movie.

I doubt that any other person has had as big an influence on my childhood. Gerry Anderson created the things which inspired me to play as a child. Even today, my office contains models of Supercar, Fireball XL5, Eagle transporters, Skydiver and Interceptors. Each is beautiful in its own right; each is a reminder of a time when stories were told with both innocence and gusto; each shows me that – even with a tight budget and limited facilities – true greatness can be created.

Gerry, I can’t thank you enough.

Christmas presents from my friends

Large group of Christmas presents

It’s Christmas and we’re in a recession. So it seemed to me that it would be a good idea to promote some of the work of my wonderful creative friends – I’m fortunate enough to know talented writers, musicians and painters.

These are all independent creatives – so buying from them puts money straight into their pockets. They’d really welcome your support. Most of what they sell doesn’t cost much and will provide loads of pleasure. If you don’t buy, why not consider sharing this page on Facebook or Twitter? And you’re looking for something different, let’s face it – you’d like to be giving a surprise; to introduce a loved one to something new and special.

So, here we go, in alphabetical order (so there’s no arguments). I’m using links to UK stores, I’m sure those of you from around the world have the smarts to find this stuff near you. All of these recommendations come with my personal 100-yard guarantee.

I encourage you to share these on Facebook, or on Twitter using #XmasGiftsByMyFriends

Doctor Who art by Andrew Skilleter

Doctor Who art by Andrew Skilleter

Andrew Skilleter

Andrew is a talented artist, well known for his Doctor Who illustrations – many of which have adorned Target novels and the like. I own some of Andrew’s work myself. From his shop, you can buy limited edition prints, original art and remarq print editions (when an original drawing is added to a limited edition print). Visit Andrew Skilleter’s website or Andrew’s Facebook page.

Anthony Cowin

Anthony is a horror writer who’s been turning his hand to short stories. You can find his work in several well-rated horror anthologies which are available on Amazon. He’s currently finishing an anthology of stories, A Magpie’s Tale, which should be released soon. You can follow Anthony on Twitter.

Sheridan Le Fanu - Carmilla

Sheridan Le Fanu – Carmilla

Barnaby Edwards

Lovely man Barnaby is perhaps best known for playing the Daleks on BBC TV’s Doctor Who. He also runs an amazing company – Textbook Stuff –which creates really excellent audio books, based on classic literature. These are superb and a cut above the usual audio books in terms of production (check out my review of Barnaby’s Edgar Allan Poe collection). There’s everything from romance to horror. Visit Textbook Stuff’s website. You can also follow Barnaby on Twitter.

As if that wasn’t enough, Barnaby is also a talented photographer and artist. On Barnaby’s Red Bubble website, you can buy calendars, cards and prints.

Room to Move - Becky Higg

Room to Move – Becky Higg

Becky Higg

Becky Higg is an amazingly talented singer-songwriter from Manchester; her album Room to Move is one of my favourite all-time albums. I was lucky enough for her to play at my birthday party a couple of years ago (well, OK, I really twisted her arm). You can watch her on this video (sorry about the sound quality and people talking). You can buy her album ‘Room to Move’ on iTunes and the rest of her albums on her website.

Cure, by Belinda Frisch

Cure, by Belinda Frisch

Belinda Frisch

Belinda is a horror writer based in New York – she has two novels available on Amazon, and short stories in a few anthologies. Her first novel, Dead Spell, is 4.5-star rated on Amazon UK and Amazon US. Her latest novel, Cure, has been optioned as a movie. You can enjoy a free sample of her work, a short story called Payback, on her website. Belinda’s fiction has appeared in Shroud Magazine, Dabblestone Horror, and Tales of Zombie War. She is an honorable mention winner in the Writer’s Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition and her novel, CURE, is the runner-up in the General Fiction category of the 2012 Halloween Book Festival. You can also follow Belinda on Twitter.

Blaze McRob

Blaze is a writer/publisher whose work is also available on Amazon, in the Satan’s Toybox anthologies of horror stories. In the world of Satan’s Toybox, no toy is ever what it seems, and toy soldiers are no exception. Plastic army men, GI Joe and tin soldiers offer a place to work out your aggressions on an imaginary battlefield. But what if the battlefields are real and the toy soldiers have some aggression of their own? You can also follow Blaze on Twitter.

Colin Steed

Colin Steed is a leading light in the field of business training; he’s the chief executive of the Learning & Performance Institute and learning advisor to top organisations. For those looking for a gift of an educational bent, Colin has a couple of non-fiction books available on Amazon, Introducing the Online Classroom and Facilitating Online Learning. You can also follow Colin on Twitter.

Swamp Box, by Coroner for the Police

Swamp Box, by Coroner for the Police

Coroner for the Police

If you want the dust blown from your eardrums with some cracking indie rock music with a real edge, check out Coroner for the Police. They have two excellent EPs out, Swamp Box and Gentleman’s Relish – both of which you can get your hands on via their website. You can also find free stuff on there, and you can choose what you pay for Gentleman’s Relish. Their music has had a great reception and has been played by Tom Robinson. You can also follow Coroner for the Police on Twitter.

Dodici Corde, Early Romantic Guitar Duo

Dodici Corde, Early Romantic Guitar Duo

Danielle Saxon Reeves

Danielle is an extremely talented musician who specialises in early romantic guitar music. She’s half of the wonderful Dodici Cordi, who perform in full period costume in splendid venues. They perform rarely played works of composers such as Giuliani, Sor, Carulli, Diabelli Mertz and others. Mark (the other half of the duo) plays an 1832 Panormo and Danielle plays a Terz guitar by Lamy and a French guitar made around 1840. You can order their CD, ‘Early Romantic Guitar Duets’, via their website.

Curse of Frankenstein by Daryl Joyce

Curse of Frankenstein by Daryl Joyce

Daryl Joyce

Daryl is a superbly talented illustrator and artist, whose work has featured on Doctor Who products, books, videos, the BBC website and more. For that special person, you might buy one of his already completed paintings – or you could commission a portrait. He’s also a jolly nice man. You can check out his work on his official website – which I have to confess I created. I proudly own several pieces of Daryl’s work.

The Target Book, by David J Howe

The Target Book, by David J Howe

David J Howe

David J Howe has been involved with Doctor Who research and writing for over thirty years. He has been consultant to a large number of publishers and manufacturers for their Doctor Who lines, and is author or co-author of over thirty factual titles associated with the show. He also has one of the largest collections of Doctor Who merchandise in the world. You can pick up loads of books by David on Amazon, including my personal favourite, The Target Book: A History of the Target Doctor Who Books.

Although not a friend, it would be remiss of me to depart from David without mentioning his partner, horror writer Sam Stone. Award-winning author Sam Stone began writing aged 11 after reading her first adult fiction book, The Collector by John Fowles. Her love of horror fiction began soon afterwards when she stayed up late one night with her sister to watch Christopher Lee in the classic Hammer film, Dracula. Since then she’s been a huge fan of vampire movies and novels old and new. Sam has around a dozen books available on Amazon, most of them 4- and 5-star rated.

David Shadbolt

Very much unlike myself, David is a man of God and one of the few writers on here who doesn’t pen horror; he is an author and a speaker, a thinker and a catalyst. He helps people think differently and become more effective in their everyday lives. He also runs Don’t Miss Your Moment, a communications and project management consultancy. You can find his 5-star rated books, God’s Healing for Businesses and Hello David I’m God (and don’t you ever forget it!) on Amazon.

Glen Krisch

Glen Krisch has written three novels: The Nightmare Within, Where Darkness Dwells, and Nothing Lasting. His short fiction has appeared in publications across three continents for the last decade. Dog Horn Publishing (U.K.) will publish his story collection debut in 2012. He is also an editor for Morrigan Books. As a freelance editor, he has worked on books by Tim Lebbon and Lawrence Block, among others. You can find Glen’s books on Amazon – most have 4+ stars. You can also follow Glen on Twitter.

James Garcia Jr

James was born in Hanford, California, in 1969. In the mid 1970’s, his father began a law enforcement career just up the road with the Kingsburg Police Department, taking his family there. It was in junior high school when things began to take shape. James discovered horror novels – books by Stephen King, Clive Barker and Michael Slade, to name a few – as well as hard rock music. These influences began to form a spark of creativity within him. James began to play guitar and pen song lyrics, but soon found himself confined in that tight medium, desiring to do longer works. You can find james 4-star rated horror novel, Flash Point (Dance on Fire), on Amazon. You can also follow James on Twitter.

Jane Mann

Jane plays first violin with the Bolton Symphony Orchestra, so we’ll let her off not creating the music she plays. I’m currently listening to their superb CD of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, which sadly doesn’t seem to be available on their website yet. Keep an eye out. In the meanwhile, you can get hold of their CD ,A Celebration, from their website. I’m not going to walk on by from Jane without mentioning the work by her late, great husband, Geoff Mann. Search for his work on iTunes, you won’t be disappointed, The Off the End of the Pier Show isn’t indicative of his main body work, but it’s one of my favourites.

Forest of Adventures, by Katie M John

Forest of Adventures, by Katie M John

Katie M John

Katie is a dear friend and the writer of the Amazon best selling YA series, The Knight Trilogy. Katie is married to a handsome giant and mummy to a mud-puddle fairy. She likes to write whilst drinking tea and eating jaffa cakes. Most of the time she lives in a fairytale world but other than that she is completely and utterly normal. Katie’s debut YA fairtytale series, The Knight Trilogy, has become an international best seller in several chart categories, contemporary fantasy, myths and legends, paranormal romance. It has also been an Amazon number one best selling fairytale. Her work is a blend of rich imagery and fast-paced action. Before writing full length novels, Katie wrote poetry, her works being published in several anthology publications. You can check out her 4- and 5-star rated fiction on Amazon. You can also follow Katie on Twitter.

Dominion, by Marissa Farrer

Dominion, by Marissa Farrer

Marissa Farrar

Marissa Farrar is a multi-published fantasy and horror author. She was born in Devon, England, has travelled all over the world, and has lived in both Australia and Spain. She now resides in the Enlish countryside with her husband, two children, a crazy Spanish dog, two rescue cats and six hens and ten goldfish. Despite returning to England, she daydreams of one day being able to split her time between her home country and the balmy, white sandy beaches of Spain. Pick up one of Marissa’s 4- and 5-star rated bargains on Amazon. You can also follow Marissa on Twitter (bit of a tongue twister there).

The Well, by Peter Labrow

The Well, by Peter Labrow

Peter Labrow

So, we’re up to P. That would be me, then. Peter Labrow, horror writer. My first novel, The Well, has nearly 90 reviews on Amazon, an average rating of 4.5 stars. It’s available in print and on Kindle. Here’s the blurb: “Trapped. Missing. Cursed. Fourteen-year-old Becca Richards and her stepbrother have fallen to the bottom of an ancient well. Their parents are away; they won’t be missed for days. The predatory man who had been stalking Becca now switches his attentions to her best friend. Two women who know where Becca is trapped are desperate that she should never escape. Over the course of a week, family, friends and strangers are drawn together by a terrible shared fate – from which not all will escape. ‘The Well’ is a darkly gripping tale about how we respond to the hand fate has dealt us – and the consequences of our choices. The Well deftly intertwines a story of supernatural horror with a tale of one of the greatest fears of modern life. As the book progresses, the two stories become one – driving relentlessly towards a single, thrilling finale. The Well is a fast-paced, riveting story that will grip you – and keep you guessing – until the very end.” I do the Twitter thing too.

Rebecca Treadway

Rebecca isn’t just a writer, she’s also a digital artist responsible for creating many a book cover. You can find books to which Rebecca has contributed on Amazon, and if you’re in the market for a book cover, then why not browse along to her website.

Red Tash

Red Tash is a journalist-turned-novelist of dark fantasy for readers of all ages. Monsters, SciFi, wizards, trolls, fairies, and roller derby lightly sautéed in a Southern/Midwestern sauce hand-canned from her mama’s recipes await you in her pantry of readerly delights. Check out her work on Amazon. You can also follow Red on Twitter.

Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, by Rober Shearman

Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, by Rober Shearman

Robert Shearman

Robert’s a great writer famous for bringing back the Daleks in wonderful style in the episode of Doctor Who, Dalek. But Rob’s more than a Dalek man – he really is a wonderful, inventive writer. Find his superb books on Amazon, including my favourite, the poetic, lyrical and beautifully strange 5-star rated Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical. You can also follow Rob on Twitter.

Scott Baker

Another horror-writing friend (you must have spotted a trend by now) Scott Baker is the author of the zombie apocalypse novel Rotter World and The Vampire Hunters trilogy. He is also the author of the short stories, Rednecks Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Cruise of the Living Dead, and Deck the Malls with Bowels of Holly (think zombie reindeer). Scott’s work is available on Amazon.

Stella Deleuze

I can’t introduce Stella as well as she does herself. “One night, I lit a candle, poured myself a glass of wine and sat at my kitchen table, a writing pad in front of me. Ten pages later, I had finished an old-school love letter, which I handed over the next day. I didn’t get the man, but a massive surprise: ‘You know what? Your style is amazing, you should write books’, was his reaction. When I started with satirical short stories he became my first ever fan.” And so she is, a writer of funny, biting satirical stuff and you know where it can be found. You can also follow Stella on Twitter.

Steve Redfern

Steve heads up Rockhopper Studios – a stylish and sexy mobile recording studio. It comes to you or you go to it, it does a bit of both. If you want to spring for a really special present for those family members or friends of a musical bent, Rockhopper does a great package, where you can record a 4-track EP and get an HD video for £250. Go find the Rockhopper.

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 08.44.25

Tiffany King

Tiffany King is the author of the paranormal/romance YA novel Meant to Be and practically a native Floridian. Tiffany wrote her book Meant to Be two years into her degree programme and put it on hold while she finished school. During the process with Meant to Be she discovered just how much she loves to write. 4- and 5-star rated, Tiffany’s fiction is available on Amazon. You can also follow Tiffany on Twitter.

Frankenstein: a review

What on Earth can I say about Frankenstein that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over?

I added this book to my reading list some time ago, along with Dracula, to put right the wrong of not having read these classic horror books.

Dracula was a disappointment to me. True, it’s a rollicking good yarn, but it seemed to me to lack texture and depth – with no real layers beyond the plot it could excite but not move.

Not so with Frankenstein.

The story is familiar enough, but it’s not the plot points of this story which are so compelling. The language of this book is simply, stunningly beautiful. True, it’s of its age (as was Dracula) but it’s soulful and poetic – with a depth of emotion that conveys the real depths of despair felt by Victor Frankenstein as he comes to terms with the consequences of his actions.

The origin of this book is as well-known as the story itself. A challenge thrown down by Byron for he, Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) and her then lover Percy Bysshe Shelley to write a tale of the supernatural. Mary Shelley’s short story was so strong that with Percy Shelley’s encouragement she expanded it into a novel.

The legacy of Frankenstein is visual: Boris Karloff, with a flat head and bolts through his neck. What an injustice, when the writing itself can hold its head high in the company of the story’s co-progenitors.

Indeed, I was taken by surprise by the quality of the writing; by the elegance of the prose. It’s heartfelt, sincere, mournful – not absolute as the black of night, but rather an ever-darkening sadness that wraps itself around you as you press towards the end. It was with pleasure that I re-read many of the passages – torn between racing ahead and savouring each word.

Here, the monster faces his creator, “Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even YOU turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred.

We hear the story from three viewpoints – of the sea captain, who rescues the exhausted Frankenstein, of Frankenstein himself and, of course, of the monster Frankenstein created – all wrapped cleverly into a single narrative. So, we’re afforded a greater insight into the torment of both Frankenstein and his unnamed creation – our sympathies changing with new insights into their motives and feelings.

The plot may be described as lightweight compared to the film versions most of us know – in fact, I’m sure this is the reason that various writers felt it necessary to embellish the story, to keep it moving along in a cinematic way. What a shame that, in so doing, they’ve mainly lost this book’s unique poignancy and depth. The greater shame is that the real story remains untold for those who don’t venture beyond celluloid.

11.22.63 by Stephen King – a review

I think there was a point at which it was fashionable to say that Stephen King’s best words were long since typed – perhaps around the time when he announced his retirement.

Just like his retirement, the notion that King has lost his mojo has been proven false – and nothing underlines the calibre of King’s recent creativity as much as 11.22.63.

I’ve long held the belief that the fact that King is so easy to read often leads people to conclude that while he might be a commercial heavyweight, he’s a literary lightweight. Personally, I think this is about as true as the idea that he’s a spent force.

Delving into the first pages of 11.22.63 was like revisiting an old friend. That easy style was welcoming, like a firm handshake or even a hug. Welcome back, reader. Sit yourself down.

And then 11.22.63 does what any good book should do – it draws you in. Within a few pages, you’re part of the story, being carried along for the ride.

The premise is simple: if you could go back in time, would you stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK? And, if you did, wouldn’t it make the world a better place? The proprietor of a local diner, Al Templeton, believes that this would be the case – and that he has the means to do it. But, for reasons better explained by King, he can’t – so he passes the baton to an initially reluctant English teacher, Jake Epping.

So Epping takes a trip or two back in time – the first to familiarise himself with the world of the past, a second to prove that the future can be changed. And then – the main mission.

The problem is that the doorway to the past lands you on the same day in 1958, so there’s some hanging around waiting to catch up with history. A few years when it’s important to stay out of history’s way, not make waves – and not change anything.

That’s enough in the way of spoilers. The book itself I’d describe as well-balanced – gripping when it needs to be, laid-back when life’s more normal. I’ve seen this described in other reviews as ‘sagging in the middle’ but I’d challenge that – King’s giving Epping time to grow, make friends, form relationships. And it’s this that I found more endearing than many of King’s other books. Sure, he writes great, believable characters, but I’ve not personally felt that the relationship between any come off so well – and be so moving – as that between Jake and Sadie in 11.22.63.

There’s also some lovely writing – sections which show King not just as a master of plot and character, but as someone who really can twist words to his will. But he’s not an indulgent showman – for the most part, he lets the story do the talking. He’s out to entertain, not impress.

There were a few parts – not many – where I felt things were a little overplayed, but these were brief and didn’t detract from what is a great read. 11.22.63 is entertaining from end to end, gripping, emotionally intelligent and at times moving.

Video interview for Back of the Book Reviews

I thought that you might be interested in seeing this video interview, which I recently did for Back of the Book Reviews. I can’t claim to be a natural presenter, but I enjoyed doing it.