Thursday, 23 December 2010
A big fat bah for all humbugs
1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
I'm not sure what Egg Nog is, but if it's like Advocaat, then it makes me want to throw up. Hate hot chocolate. Chocolate should be cold and solid, not hot and foaming.
2. Does Santa (meaning you) wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
I'm a bloke. We are genetically programmed to be incapable of wrapping anything. Either way, I don't have a tree, or presents for that matter.
3. Coloured lights on tree/house or white?
Don't have Xmas lights. Hate Xmas lights. Hate seeing Xmas lights on the outside of houses and trees. Hate lights outside houses. Period. Dark is good because then you see the real pretty lights: the stars and the Milky War. Everything natural is beautiful and everything artificial is ugly, especially when it's coloured and flashes on and off.
4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No, although people who hang mistletoe should be hanged.
5. When do you put your decorations up?
I am pleased to say I have never put decorations up. I am available to tear them down for no charge.
6. What is your favourite holiday dish?
Don't have one. I like beer though.
7. Favourite Holiday memory as a child:
Spending three hours watching the turkey grease congeal while my dad toured the pubs trying to find my gran before she passed out. He failed.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
The day I was forced to spend two hours queuing up in the rain to sit on the knee of some pervy old git with bad breath and a false beard who ignored me and tried to chat up my mum instead. I cried a lot that day.
9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Nope. We don’t bother with gifts in our house.
10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
Don't have a Xmas tree.
11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Last night we had another inch of snow and it was minus 17C. That's as cold as the freezer and I walked the dog for a mile through the knee-deep snow in the dark when I was the only idiot out there and the only tracks were the ones I'd made yesterday. My beard froze and the hairs in my nostrils clogged up so I had an icicle growing. I've got a numb finger that I'm worried could be frostbite from dragging a frozen log back home to stick on the fire that's been on so much the chimney's clogged up and the house is full of smoke. I've just found out my toilet's overflowing and it's made a ten foot icicle. The shops have no basic food items in them because the A9's cut off and everyone was buying enough stuff for a siege. The gritters don’t come within a mile of my house because the councillor doesn't live in the area and even the four wheel drive owners are struggling, and yet do we get any travel news and sensible weather forecasts on the radio and tv? Heck, we don't. It's all about poor old beleagured Londoners not getting on their holidays because a couple of snowflakes drifted by somewhere to the south of Watford. And for good measure I wrenched my back getting a mince pie out of the packet (honestly!) and so I've spent the last hour lying on the floor groaning and now I'm sitting like a question mark. I hate feckin' Xmas.
12. Can you ice skate?
If falling over and bruising your bum is called skating, then yes.
13. Do you remember your favourite gift?
Never had one. I hate getting gifts. If I want something, I buy it. Although that Tim 'smug git' Minchin dvd sold for good money on eBay and I bought something I did want.
14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
Getting some work done.
15. What is your favourite Holiday Dessert?
Hate creamy and sickly desserts. Give me beer. Now.
16. What is your favourite holiday tradition?
17. What tops your tree?
Don't have a tree. All the real ones have snow on the top and irritatingly cheerful robins bouncing in them. I hate robins.
18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
Neither. I hate wasting money on crap and I hate having to be cheerful about receiving crap from people who probably can’t afford to waste their money on the aforementioned crap.
19. What is your favourite Christmas Song?
Videotape by Radiohead or something a bit more depressing.
20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?
What the hell is candy cane? It sounds awful, just like Xmas....
Anyhow, Merry Xmas, one and all. Have a good 'un!
Monday, 20 December 2010
The ITV Xmas panto series
I'd guess every country has an annual Xmas tv tradition, which usually involves watching depressing non-seasonal things such as It's a Wonderful Life or The Wizard of Oz. But in Britain, for a small and content group of people (some of them even being the children the programs were made for), Xmas only really starts when the nightly ITV panto series appears. This year they're on every night this week on ITV 27 or some such minor channel at around 6pm.
Four feature length shows were made around ten years ago featuring the stories of Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington and Cinderella. They stared what were then the top echelon of British comedy talent. Sadly, as all the new tv comedy made in the last ten years has been completely devoid of talent and laughs, they probably still remain the cream of British comedy. They were written by Simon Nye back in the days when he could still write funny sitcoms and he provided a perfect mixture of comedy, story and a well-judged use of the more enjoyable traditions of pantomime. Nearly all the scenes work on two levels, providing custard-pie throwing slapstick to entertain the adults while still providing plenty of risqué double-entendres to keep the children giggling.
In truth they do go downhill with the earlier ones being the best, so the first, Jack and the Beanstalk, is my favourite. Jack is played by Neil Morrissey as essentially Tony from Men Behaving Badly, Ade Edmondson as Dame Dolly is Eddie Hitler in a dress, and Julian Clary camps it up with every possible variation on 'he's coming up behind you'. The humour works from knowing what's not being said because the audience is children. So when Denise Van Outen as Jill asks Jack what he's thinking, Jack will pause for just long enough to let us know he's wondering if she's a natural blond (the best line from Men Behaving Badly) before providing a more appropriate answer. And you know Dolly is only just resisting the urge to whip out a chainsaw and saw Baron Wasteland's legs off. It even captures Julie Walters at a time when she was funny, features the cult figure Peter Serafinowicz and makes good use of Paul Merton's droll delivery as the narrator.
Second up was Cinderella, in which the rudeness was sadly reduced, but which was probably the more accomplished panto. Paul Merton and Ronnie Corbett are the ugly sisters providing traditional old-fashioned comic routines while Frank Skinner is surprisingly good as Buttons, especially as at the time his comic persona involved very adult material. Samantha Janus as Cinderella for once manages to avoid being irritating and, as it was filmed around the time she was involved in the fondly-remembered comedy Game On, her timing is excellent. The only sour notes are provided by Alexander Armstrong, a smug comedian whose popularity escapes me, as a charmless Prince Charming and one-trick pony Harry Hill who makes no concessions to the format as he trundles out his dreary 'comic' monologues.
Those two shows provide excellent entertainment, but the goodwill isn't maintained for the final two shows, which run out of steam quickly. Aladdin is messy, with the other half of the Men Behaving Badly team Martin Clunes not working as well as Neil did and Ed Byrne as Aladdin seeming unsure what pantomine is all about. But Julian Clary and Paul Merton are again excellent and anything with Leslie Phillips in it can never be all bad. The final show Dick Whittington is a chore to sit through and I don’t think I've ever managed it all in one session. By now the comedy had been purged of all risky innuendo for fear of complaints to OFCOM, and instead inexplicably popular kiddie pop stars of the time appeared. Sadly what makes it fall completely flat is James Fleet. His stiff but gormless aristocrat role that worked so well in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Vicar of Dibley fails on stage and just comes over as, well, stiff and gormless.
Despite the diminishing returns, the shows are small and perfectly formed Xmas tv fare. Ten years on, they're still ideal for those times when you have a mince pie in hand, a port in the other, and your expectations are low, especially if you haven’t got any children who can take you out to see a live pantomime!
Sunday, 19 December 2010
Review of Bleached Bones in the Dust
Review available at Western Fiction Review.
Saturday, 18 December 2010
The story so big they named it twice!
I like this approach. As I mentioned here last year the inspiration for Bleached Dust in the Sun came when I incorrectly remembered the title of tv detective Hamish Macbeth's favourite western novel, which turned out to be Chuck Sadler's Bleached Skulls in the Sunset. Who knows, if I'm lucky and Boney Bleach in the Dust goes to large print it might finally get the title it should have had all along.
Available now on Amazon and all good on-line retailers: Dusty Bones in the Sun, the story so big they named it twice!
For twenty years, bounty hunter Montgomery Grant searched for Lomax Rhinehart, desperate to make him pay for an atrocity he committed during the dying days of the war.
So when Grant's friend, Wallace Sheckley, told him that he had found Lomax, Grant followed him to Sunrise, but Arnold Hays and his gunslingers were holding the town in the grip of fear. Nobody would help him and, worse, Wallace had gone missing and Lomax was nowhere to be found.
With Arnold Hays the key to Grant finding out what has happened to both his friend and his enemy, he must turn to his gun to get the answers he needs...
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
The Miracle of Santa Maria
It has a nice image of the setting with an appropriately miraculous feel and it even uses an interesting font type for the title. Although I hope that anyone who reads it expecting an inspiring Christian tale won't be too put out when they find instead a bishop who makes Bishop Brennan from Father Ted look reasonable, a cowboy version of Romeo and Juliet, a serial killing box and the Wild West's first and worst planetarium. Anyhow the book is out later in 2011 and here's the blurb:
The Mission Santa Maria catered to Sundown’s needs until bandits murdered their nuns. The young Maria is the only survivor, yet the massacre she witnessed sends her into an endless sleep. For two years she lies unconscious in the mission, gradually becoming weaker, before Bishop Finnegan notices. Unsympathetically, he decides to close the mission, which is sure to speed her demise.
With her outlook quickly becoming bleak, the devious snake-oil seller Fergal O'Brien rides into town. Although Fergal is typically interested in making a quick dollar, Maria's plight touches him. He attempts to wake her with what he claims is his universal remedy. Not surprisingly, though, his tonic fails.
An undaunted Fergal vows to help her by persuading Finnegan to keep the mission open. The bishop, however, decides that the lawless Sundown is too dangerous for a mission. The only options are to hope for a miracle or clean up Sundown with fearless gun-toting skills. Unfortunately for Fergal, though, he has never used a gun in his life.
Monday, 13 December 2010
A graceful bow to the muse Calliope
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...
Cricket is a game played in the summer when the grass is growing and the rain is never far away, but somehow for me it's at its most enjoyable in the middle of winter. When you're snug in bed in the dead of night, with snow on the ground and you're listening to a radio strapped to your ear with the volume turned down low and Geoffrey Boycott is burbling along about how 'tha' t'wer roobish. Me flamin' mam coulda played tha' we 'er pinny.'
Most of my fondest cricket memories have come that way. Staying up all night in 1977 to listen to Derek Randall take on Lillee and nearly winning the match single-handed, and then falling asleep at school the next day in every single lesson. I remember Mike Gatting grinding out the dullest century in history for several days and repeatedly waking up after a doze to find he was still on the same score. There was that glory night when I was full of beans and ready for an all nighter only for Warne to bowl us all out in about 20 minutes. And I'll never forget the utter masochism of four years ago where we somehow contrived to find a way to lose a match that even Pakistan with the entire team on retainers from their bookmakers couldn't have lost.
It's not all about the pain though. There are moments of joy at 4 o'clock in the morning. I'm struggling to think of a single one right now, but they do come, as all late night cricket fans know, when you doze off. I remember staying awake until 5 o'clock only to pass out and wake up an hour later to find that cricket's most famous drug-smuggler Chris Lewis had bowled the aussies out. And I have a distinct recollection of dropping off to sleep just before we won the ashes the last time way back in the mists of time when the aussies were embarrassingly bad and our captain could eat more pies than anyone on the planet.
This time round the pundits are all proclaiming that this is our best chance of coming home with the small urn since the days when the current commentators were players, and that makes me worried, perhaps more worried than four years ago when we lost 5-0. Australia always say that they can rely on our management to help them out. Last time Duncan 'jobs for the boys' Fletcher dropped in-form spin demon Monty Panesar for out-of-form specialist number 8 trundler, but all round decent chap, Ashley Giles. And this time the management obligingly sent the team off to build up their cricket skills with a week of tiger-wrestling and dodging machine-gun bullets, ending up with our best bowler breaking a rib falling down a mountain.
And then there's the team itself. This year we've wiped out the Bangladeshis (then again Boycott's mum really could beat them with her pinny) and scraped home against a team of Pakistani bookmakers. Those matches proved we're quite useful against poor teams on our home turf and that to win in cricket you need a good bowling side. On aussie turf we're not so good and I can’t see Anderson reversing his usual pathetic form down-under, or Broad stopping trying to prove he can be more arrogant than his dad for long enough to actually take some wickets. Neither can I see Cook dispelling the doubts about his technique or Pietersen stopping acting like a celebrity to actually do the thing that made him a prima-donna in the first place. Success will depend on whether Swann is allowed to bowl ten one over spells per innings, and perhaps on ten foot Finn keeping his bowling hand hidden in low cloud cover. As for Australia, it does come down to the erratic Mitchell Johnson's form; none of the others seem much use to me, although as a statistics and trivia fan I'm still excited about someone called Xavier playing.
So predictions… I can't make one right now as it's usual in the ashes for the first day to accurately predict how the next 24 days will go. Two times ago Simon Jones tripped over his own feet on the first day and destroyed his career. Last time Steve Harmison bowled the worst first ball in history that not only missed the pitch but missed the next three. So this time, who knows? Only insomniacs, night-shift workers and idiots with radios strapped to their ears while dozing will find out, although as usual I'll predict it'll be 2-1, but I'll wait until tomorrow before saying who'll get the 2.
Monday, 22 November 2010
Railroad to Redemption
I received the welcome news today that Railroad to Redemption, which was published in August, will be reprinted in large print as a Linford Western. I guess it'll appear around November 2011.
Friday, 12 November 2010
Beaten to a pulp by a pulp beating monster
My complimentary copy of the anthology Beat to a Pulp arrived this morning. The weary postman staggered up the drive and dumped it in my hands having failed to work out how to hammer this monster into my postbox. I don't know yet if any of the stories inside are scary, but the size of this thing sure gave me a shock. 380 big pages all crammed with stories that even on a flick through look like they'll be providing me with some good bedtime reading for a while to come.
I have to give a special mention of the striking cover. I hadn't appreciated from the thumbnail image that both sides give the impression of it being a torn and battered old book. This works perfectly. It's retailing at $15.95 and is gradually becoming available at all the on-line retail sites. At that price this is great value for money.
Monday, 8 November 2010
The Miracle of Santa Maria
Friday, 5 November 2010
The Secret of Devil's Canyon
I learnt today that The Secret of Devil's Canyon will be published in April 2011, and above is an early look at the cover. It'll be my 21st BHW. The story features the return of Nathaniel McBain, who was last seen in The Gallows Gang, and it details his new life going straight after a stint in jail. I haven't seen the final blurb, but my suggestion was:
When Mayor Maxwell and his daughter are brutally killed, feelings in Bear Creek run high. Even when the killer has been caught and been given a life sentence the townsfolk demand a lynching. So Sheriff Bryce calls in Nathaniel McBain to spirit him away through Devil's Canyon to Beaver Ridge jail.
At first Nathaniel manages to stay one step ahead of the pursuing lynch mob, but before long he faces a bigger problem: his prisoner could be an innocent man. A dark secret about what really happened to the mayor is buried in Devil's Canyon and Nathaniel will need hot lead to protect his charge and to uncover the truth.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
I'd always thought The Commitments would forever remain my favourite band movie as it has everything. It has great writing in which every character is memorable and believable, even if they have only a few lines, along with a perfect mixture of comedy and drama, all culminating in an avoidance of the Hollywood style ending. And it has superb music too (Here's The Dark End of the Street). I was therefore pleased to accidentally come across Still Crazy recently and after watching it a couple of times I reckon it is at the very least as good as Alan Parker's film. What's strange is that even though I like the work of pretty much everyone involved, I'd somehow never been aware of it before.
The story is a familiar one. The Strange Fruits were a 1970s rock band. They never achieved the fame they reckoned they should have got, mainly because their lead singer and only talented member died (in a Little Chef) and the new lead singer turned out to be a pretentious idiot. Artistic differences split the band and they all vowed never to play together again. 20 years later a concert organiser, who is putting together a nostalgic concert of old bands, bumps into the keyboard player, who is doing his current job of filling a condom machine, and suggests he puts the band back together. Everyone has gone their separate ways, mainly downhill and outside the music business, or is dead. When the survivors meet up a spooky sign from beyond the grave (involving sheep and their song Tequila Mockingbird) encourages them to try again, but it's not long before their initial enthusiasm dies out and all the old arguments that tore them apart resurface. Added to which is the problem that they're all too old to be rock gods again, they weren't that good in the first place, and the practice gigs they land are all in terrible venues. So can these broken-down has-beens who never were anything much in the first place somehow overcome their failings to pull together for one last triumphant performance…? Can they, heck!
The slightness of the story doesn't matter as it's not that sort of film. Written by the two giants of realistic British drama / comedy Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, this is a film, like most of their other works, about ordinary blokes bickering, being a cross between their previous The Commitments and Auf Weidershen, Pet. From Pet there's Jimmy Nail and Timothy Spall, both of whom play characters that are the direct opposite to their Pet roles of headcase Oz and lemon Barry. Nail plays the sensitive and sullen guitarist who thought he should have been the lead singer, while Spall plays Beano, the all-farting all-boozing wild man drummer. On the other hand there are some obvious similarities with the reunion series of Pet with the theme of characters getting back together after years apart as well the minor part of the European wife (Ingrid in Still Crazy & Tatiana in Pet) being pretty much the same character. Also in the mix of well-known faces is Bill Nighy (who also appeared in the reunion Pet series) playing the dim-witted lead singer doing his usual off-centre performance where it's hard to tell if he's a terrible actor or a brilliant one. And there's keyboard player Stephen Rea who still pines for ex-groupie Juliet Aubrey, narrator Billy Connolly, and the legendary Bruce Robinson in an appropriately enigmatic cameo as a man who was too fragile to cope with fame.
Most of the film follows them travelling around Holland, playing badly and getting on each other's nerves while delivering the great dialogue and interaction you expect from the people who did The Likely Lads and Porridge. There's plenty of well-judged satire about music and nostalgia from Nighy and his obsession with big hair, platform soles and all the trapping of bad glam rock while Nail encourages a more pared-down musical style. Even the clunky bits such as Juliet Aubrey being too young to play an old groupie, the occasional terrible line like, 'let's bury the past before it buries us.' and Jimmy Nail's singing are excusable in such a good-natured film. Actually I'm joking about the latter as I don’t subscribe to the traditional view that Nail was a joke figure in the music business. He along with Bill Nighy sing very well and the original songs get the flavour of 70s rock just right with bombastic guitar solos, pretentious lyrics and the occasional genuinely tuneful rock anthem. But having said that the music is secondary to the main point of the film, which is about friendship, getting old, insecurities, regrets and listing all the bands that are named after body parts (Cockney Rebel gets two points).
Anyhow, youtube has the last scene, so don't click if you don't want to find out if the Fruits stop arguing for long enough to come back from the dead and ensure there's not a dry eye in the house by delivering one last gut-wrenchingly emotional rendering of the song they vowed never to play again The Flame Still Burns.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Review of The Legend of Shamus McGinty's Gold
Review at Western Fiction Review.
Sunday, 10 October 2010
The Treasure of Saint Woody - review
Review in Dutch at Western Romans.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
Beat to a Pulp - Round 1
The best anthology of pulp short stories you'll read this year is published today and is now available to buy. Most of the stories are original and written exclusively for the anthology with a few having seen print on the Beat to a Pulp e-zine. There's sci-fi, horror, fantasy, westerns... well, there's something there for everyone. I'll report on it later when I've actually read the stories (including my own, which as usual I haven't been able to bring myself to even glance at since I wrote End.).
Anyhow, for now roll on over to David Cranmer for the details of where you can buy, and a big well done to everyone involved for all their hard work.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Goodbye, Mr Pitkin
Norman was one of the comic film actors I loved when I was young along with Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, WC Fields, The Marx Brothers, Will Hay. And I'm happy that I can still enjoy their superb comic timing and their innocent, inoffensive humour. But most of those actors were long dead before I was even born and yet Norman kept on going, still somehow running around and doing comic pratfalls well into his 80s.
The two facts that are always quoted about him are that Charlie Chaplin thought he was a better clown than himself (he was, but then again that wasn't hard) and that he was Albania's national hero. I've always hoped the latter was an urban myth, but bizarrely it was probably true. Albania didn't allow any foreign films to be shown except for Norman's films as his Mr Pitkin character represented something deep and political about the downtrodden proletariat ridiculing the ruling classes. I suppose this only goes to prove you can read anything into anything. Who knows, maybe one day the French will hail Jerry Lewis as a film auteur.
What was more obvious was that his films belonged to a bygone age that didn’t rely on gross-out humour or that feeling of smug, emperor's new clothes that I get with most of what claims to be comedy these days. The films usually involved Mr Pitkin in an ill-fitting suit falling over a lot, gurning, laughing, singing for no good reason, throwing buckets of paint around and shouting 'Mr Grimsdale' at his comic foil Eric Chapman. I can still sit down whenever one is on and I have no trouble in raising a smile, even if the films are very dated. In fact his films were deemed dated by the mid 60s. People didn’t want simple humour, apparently, even back then and so Norman made a couple of efforts at more grown-up comedy staring in The Night they raided Minsky's and an odd adult British comedy before he went into semi-retirement.
In later years he occasionally turned up in serious roles and he was always very good. Only last weekend I watched an episode of the cop show Dalziel and Pascoe where a 90 year old Norman turned up playing an old bloke in a sanatorium. Effectively playing against type he turned out to be the killer, and yet he still found time to do his trademark infectious laugh and comic fast turn away from the camera. Anyhow, RIP, Norman and one last time for old time's sake:
Mr Grimsdale! Mr Grimsdale!
Saturday, 25 September 2010
Sheriff Without a Star
After four years of distinguished service an error of judgement that led to the death of Leland Matlock's son shattered the confidence of Monotony's townsfolk in Sheriff Cassidy Yates. But when the star Cassidy had worn with pride was removed from his chest Leland claimed he knew something that would shed new light on his downfall.
Before Leland could reveal what he knew he was shot, but Cassidy still had the instincts of a lawman. He believed Leland's shooting was connected to the death of his son and that if he could uncover the link it would restore the townsfolk's confidence in him. So Cassidy embarked on his greatest ever challenge: to get the star pinned back on his chest where it belonged.
Thursday, 16 September 2010
E. C. Tubb - RIP
He was born in 1919 and he had a writing career that spanned some 60 years and which produced well over a 100 novels. He was best known for his science fiction in which he wrote short, action-packed novels that were always entertaining no matter how quickly he must have written them. He penned my favourite science fiction series The Dumarest Saga, an adventure yarn concerning all-action hero Dumarest's quest to find the forgotten world of Earth. The series packed a lot of quick-paced set pieces and story into the short novels, which ultimately ran to 31 books with another 2 later limited edition self-published works.
On a personal note I admire his writing style. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say he influences my own style as I'm nowhere near as good a writer, when writing I do often think of his no-nonsense, get on with the story and stop fannying about approach.
In addition to his sf Tubb also wrote 11 western novels and many of them were reprinted by Robert Hale, who have published my own westerns, with large print versions also being published as Linford Westerns. With his books still being reprinted quite frequently even in the last year, it was a proud moment for me when I went into a library a few months ago and saw one of my own books sitting right next to an E.C. Tubb novel.
Tubb was 90 and apparently he passed away on the day that he received an acceptance for his latest novel. Other than to be remembered fondly, is there a better way for a writer to go?
Thursday, 2 September 2010
The Last Cover from Hell
One of my favourite covers is for my second Black Horse Western The Last Rider from Hell. So I was highly amused when a Dutch Western fan kindly got in touch to point out that my cover has some similarities to a reprinted 2008 western novel by the best-selling German author G.F. Unger, who apparently wrote 742 westerns. See what you think, hombres!
Monday, 23 August 2010
Review of Railroad to Redemption
There's a kind review of my most recent book at Western Fiction Review. Thanks!
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
It's Cassidy Yates month!
Cassidy was my first western hero. I wanted him to be clean-cut, brave, resilient... essentially everything a white hat wearing good guy should be. Nearly all of my other western heroes are deeply flawed so the idea was that I could use him for tales that didn't need any moral ambiguity. He would face problems, but he would always do the right thing. He was named after Kasidy Yates, Sisko's girlfriend in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, purely because I liked the sound of that name.
His first adventure was in The Outlawed Deputy in which he finds himself as a good man on the wrong side of the law and he makes friends with the man I hoped would become his sidekick Nathaniel McBain. Nathaniel provided the ambiguity in that he was a young outlaw who could go bad but who chose to join Cassidy on the right side of the law.
I was happy that the first novel was published, but I was less happy that the story was a traditional one and that I used a verbose writing style I thought would get published rather than my usual tighter style.
Cassidy returned in The Last Rider from Hell, a tale that I was much happier with in which Cassidy tries to solve the mystery of a missing wagon train along with the identity of a mystery man with no name.
For my third western I gave Cassidy a rest and wrote a tale purely about Nathaniel and to my surprise Nathaniel became bored with working for Cassidy and turned to the dark side. This ruined my plans for the two to become a crime-fighting duo and so I left Cassidy alone for a while.
He returned in Yates's Dilemma with a tale of an old 'Wild Bunch' type gang getting back together for one last hurrah. This was a fairly routine action tale constructed around a mystery of whether or not the mysterious Wendell Moon is a good guy or a bad guy. It got one of my most action-packed covers.
Cassidy's fourth adventure was Wanted: McBain, the inevitable one I knew I had to write in which Cassidy sets off to find Nathaniel and bring him to justice. Since then the two men haven’t met up again, but Nathaniel faced up to his own demons in The Gallows Gang and will return again next year in The Secret of Devil's Canyon.
With Cassidy's major personal crisis resolved I struggled to think of what I could do with him next. So it was several years before he returned in Bad Moon over Devil's Ridge in which he again faces a personal crisis in the form of the activities of his wayward brother. Riders of the Barren Plains saw him pursuing a good man gone bad and this month Railroad to Redemption sees him pursuing a, well, good man gone bad with extra added nuns. I guess there might be a theme there somewhere with my Yates tales! But that's fair enough.
Yates provides assurance in difficult times that he's a man who will always make the right choices while the antagonists he faces are ordinary men who make the wrong choices. Cassidy forces them to face up to their failings, leaving them as better men than when the story started, which I find more interesting than the lawman leaving behind lots of dead bad guys.
As I enjoy the themes in my Yates tales I hope he'll ride some more. The current tale I'm writing is provisionally entitled Sheriff without a Star in which, for once, Cassidy doesn't get it right. I hope the variation will give him an interesting challenge.
Sunday, 25 July 2010
Extract from The Treasure of Saint Woody
Monday, 19 July 2010
Big Brother 11 - Half time report
This year the housemates are relatively ordinary with no great characters such as last year's Marcus, Freddie or Bea, but then again there are no depressingly dull housemates such as Charlie, Rodrigo or Sophie. The housemates also provide an interesting barometer on the nation. Ten years ago it was deemed a significant moment when a gay man won the show. A few years ago every show had to have a token gay person. Now almost everyone in the house is either openly gay, gay but haven't admitted it yet even if they're so camp they make John Inman look like John Wayne, or lied about being gay to get on the show. It's refreshing to see people be outed as straight.
In addition the production values are fairly high and best of all a change to the way housemates nominate each other for eviction has led to the uninteresting characters being evicted early. So we've lost Beyonce lookalike Rachael, teenage brat Govan, foul-mouthed Nathan and bald Ife. The only unfortunate losses have been trainee doctor (!) Sunshine, a vegan who didn't eat vegetables whose capacity for annoying everyone was so huge she sadly crashed and burned quickly after an argument about crisps. And Shabby, an erudite and lively bit part actress, who treated the show as an extended audition for her acting abilities, but who sadly decided to stage a walkout and nobody followed.
This leaves 11 housemates in the house and using my ten tips for how to win the show, I thought I'd look at who is using each method.
1. Go on a journey
Andrew is the only one attempting the journey route. We can tell that because he tells everyone he's on a journey about three times a day. He's modelled his journey on Glyn from BB7 of being the shy teenager who is trying to shyly grow up and get over his shyness by being shy and cute and a bit more shy. He's the only one in there I hate.
Prospects: Like Glyn he'll probably come second.
2. Represent a hitherto unknown socially disadvantaged group
Steve was hand-picked to take this role as the producers actively sought an amputee soldier. He's either a good choice or a bad one depending on how you look at it. The moment he clambered out of his wheelchair to go in the house every viewer and every housemate decided they might as well end the show there and then as he was clearly going to win. It's a testament to him that after five weeks viewers rank him as the most hated housemate and he has no chance of winning. But his presence has provided an interesting social experiment of the kind the show used to regularly provide. It's shown that if you're cute and 19 you can tell a woman you'd like to divide her legs and everyone will laugh, but if you're 40 and have no legs you can’t look at a woman without viewers deciding you're a disgusting pervert. And it's shown that if you're disabled, people will be nice to you and deem you a great bloke even if you're a dullard.
Prospects: Frankly he hasn’t got a leg to stand on (Steve would find that funny, honest). I expect him out in a shock eviction in 3 weeks.
3. Pretend to be stupid
This year there's a few intelligent housemates and the stupid ones are stupid in a boring way. Loud and annoying Corin is trying for the active stupid role with her fake tan, fake hair, fake bolt-ons, fake annoying accent, fake character, fake monologues in the Diary Room, and fake catchphrases. Claiming to have a vocabulary of about fifty words has proved tough for her and so she did slip up and suddenly used 'controversial', but the viewers didn’t mind. They love her, but then again they don't have to live with her.
Prospects: She'll probably win and in some small way the country will get a little dumber.
4. Start and end your faux-romance
Faux-romances have been mainly headed off at the pass this year. Rachael clearly wanted one and she got evicted. Corin tried to start one with Nathan, but he got evicted, so we're left with Josie and John-James trying the variation that hasn’t been done before of unrequited love on the part of the woman. I don’t know what to make of this as Josie is the only housemate that regularly makes me laugh. She's normal sized, which on reality tv means she's fat, and she's normal and real in every way, which means she often comes over badly on reality tv.
Prospects: If she forgets about the fake romance she'll win, otherwise she's doomed to go before the end.
5. Break the fourth-wall
Dave is going for this one in a big way in his attempts to promote his religious beliefs. He supports an unusual religion that as far as I can make out consists of running around shouting, jumping on furniture, dressing as a monk, and pretending to be drunk. I'm not sure whether his method can be deemed to be working as he's the sole member of his own religion and when he comes out it'll still have only one member. I'm amazed he's still there.
Prospects: Even the hand of God reaching down into the mire couldn’t elevate Dave's chances to the depths of hopelessness.
6. Remember your target demographic
Teenage girlies who write in txtspk and smiley faces on Facebook love grumpy Aussie John-James this year. He has the look of a surfer dude, but he enjoys belittling women, has issues, is aggressive, rude, arrogant, stupid, humourless, self-absorbed and he could start an argument in solitary confinement while asleep and gagged. In other words he has everything the teenies love.
Prospects: Will win if he keeps his shirt off.
7. Remember that most people only watch the highlights
Although Corin is the master of doing nothing for 23 hours and 58 minutes a day then providing 2 minutes of entertainment for the easily pleased, I've already mentioned her so this category will go to Rachel. She's a loud, chirpy Scouser TM and so she must be annoying to live with, but she comes over as only mildly annoying in two minutes clips a day.
Prospects: Negligible. Will get evicted next week.
8. Stick to the script
Do what the producers ask you to do and you'll get preferential treatment is a fundamental rule of this show, and this year reality tv veteran Ben is filling that role well. He's posh, lazy, selfish, self-absorbed and so dim he tried to tell 'war hero' Steve that Hitler was a decent chap. But he's filling the camp role he was picked for (essentially Freddie from last year without the warmth or humour) to perfection and so is strangely popular.
Prospects: Will probably go in a shock final eviction.
9. Have a no game-plan game-plan
Dull, alien loving geek Mario is trying to go for the under the radar approach of doing nothing for the first half of the show and then gradually exposing himself. Unfortunately now that we've all seen Mario's dangly bits several times I think he might have peaked too early.
Prospects: Will make the final and be first out.
10. Be a Alt-hero
The two remaining housemates Caiomhe (pronounced differently) and Keeley are fighting for this role. They'll both probably be up for eviction this week and whichever one survives has a shot at being the alt-hero.
Aloof Caiomhe hates the show, has never watched it, is too cool to have friends who'd watch such nonsense, and she hates the other housemates. So her couldn’t give a stuff attitude is gradually gathering a cult following.
Small Keeley arrived late and managed to annoy everyone within ten minutes, which is always a good sign. She actually had a job, so she's deemed to be bossy. The men in the house drool over her so she could become an Internet phenomenon. Unlikely to pick up any female votes though.
Prospects: Less than zilch.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Bleached Bones in the Dust
Saturday, 10 July 2010
The day British news sold its soul
We are told here in Britain, by the media, that our news service is the most responsible in the world; that we're spared the sensationalist dumbed-down nature of news elsewhere. I don't think that claim can ever be made again and I don't think I'll view British news in quite the same way again, as this morning I feel dirty. I feel as if I helped a man to die because I watched the coverage of 'The Hunt for Moat, Britain's most Wanted Man!' and worse, I found most of the coverage amusing. In my defence I'm a fan of media satirists Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker and I have long viewed the news as the best deadpan comedy show on tv, but perhaps I should stop doing that now. Someone died and I was laughing at the media.
It started a week ago. A prisoner came out of jail. He went round to his former girlfriend's house. He shot her, killed her new boyfriend, and then as he'd got the idea that she'd had an affair with a policeman he shot a random copper. Then he ran. As stories go it's horrible for everyone involved, but its newsworthiness is minor. At least once every few weeks something like that happens in Britain and it usually gets a brief mention on the news long after the big things going on like wars and the Tory government trying to ruin the country. And as it happened Up North and far from London where all the proper news happens it was even less likely to get on the news. Except for the fact that a few months ago a gunman went on a killing spree Up North. Although that man shot everyone before the media arrived, he still provided plenty of non-stories with which to fill up the schedules. That meant that this gunman deserved to be followed because he was still on the loose. He could kill again! So unlike the previous time where the media could cover only the aftermath, now they could cover the rising death toll as it happened, live on screen in a sure-fire ratings winning spectacular.
The first couple of days were entertaining. We had a chief constable with a perm that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 1980s cop-show Juliet Bravo. We had bluff northern coppers delivering press conferences in which they talked for half an hour in amusing copper speak (t' public are oor eyes 'n ears) to report that nothing had happened other than them getting a new incident room. And we had southern reporters struggling to pronounce northern town names.
With the media taking an interest, and with budget cuts and senior jobs on the line, the police realized they needed to catch this man quickly, so they employed several thousand more coppers. The media then realized this was a big story because thousands of coppers were running around fields frightening sheep and tripping over cowpats, so big-gun reporters and presenters were turfed out of their plush London offices to visit that weird world north of Watford. So the police sent every copper in the country along with the SAS... Within a few days the media were reporting on their own over-reaction and the gunman had become Britain's most wanted man, despite having done nothing new and despite being in hiding. With it looking as if NATO would get involved the media frenzy descended on a small picturesque Northern village with plenty of nice looking pubs and hotels where the gunman was rumoured to have holed up.
The media were desperate for the body count to rise so they could spread fear, and yet nothing was happening and nobody was dying and nobody was particularly frightened. With everyone going about their business, the media tried harder. When the gunman phoned the police to say he wasn't a nutter and he wasn't a threat to anyone, the media and police reported that the gunman is a nutter who is threatening everyone so stay indoors wherever you live in the country as there's an armed nutter on the loose. The news agenda was 'a pall of fear hangs over the frightened, cowering villagers like a giant fearful pall of scary fear'. Except the images behind the media circus were: woman walking dog, farmer tending sheep, children skipping, old ladies chatting, man waving at camera. Reporters shoved mikes in the faces of locals and demanded: 'How utterly petrified are you at the terrifying thought of a heavily-armed crazed nutter on the rampage in your very own garden?' To which they got the reply that: 'Wy-I-man, I'm a canny lad, me, and t' daft bugger ain't note t' fear, pet.' While the local wandered off to do his shopping the reporters decided that was Geordie for the pall of fear was descending ever lower. We even had a BBC reporter asking a local what terrible, scary things were happening in the village right now and being told that he had no idea as the pub's tv couldn't pick up Sky News.
It became clear that the real story was one the media didn't want to report: The gunman was a local man who'd gone off the rails. The only people in danger were people who had crossed him. Everybody felt sorry for him and nobody was worried about anything other than the sight of thousands of heavily-armed police officers guarding the local chippy in case he came in for a fish supper and the scary vision of media-vampire Kay Burley from Sky News on their village green. Everyone hoped he'd give himself up, preferably after shooting up Kay. After seven days of blanket coverage of nothing happening other than locals doing their shopping, kids playing, dogs peeing on camera stands, and reporters reporting on how everything was chaotic because of all the reporters everywhere, it all came to a head last night. It turned out the gunman had been hiding in a hole on the village green where the reporters were all week and the entire British police force plus the media had missed him because they'd been too busy giving press conferences.
Hours of continuous coverage followed of the gunman threatening nobody but himself. We had excited reporters excitedly reporting that the petrified villagers had been told to stay indoors, while being jostled by happy villagers enjoying ice-creams and filming footage for youtube. We had reporters blocking the road reporting on the fact they were blocking the road and had been told to stop blocking the road and then blocking the road some more. We had reporters trying to scare random people outside the pub with rumours that their mothers might be a mile away from the gunman. We had the joy of flicking between channels to get multi-angle panoramic views of reporters from one channel interviewing reporters from other channels while being told to bugger off by police. We had a ten-mile exclusion zone that was keeping everyone from venturing within 200 yards of the scene. And we had reports from bedrooms within the exclusion zone that were more detailed and calm than anything the real reporters could manage.
After several more hours of nothing happening other than reporters running up and down the road getting in the way of the police and scaring holidaymakers, a couple of locals arrived to ask: 'Wy-I-man, why y' daft buggers settin' up t'cameras 'ere? We been watchin' t'shoot-out up yon track, pet. It's reet borin' so we're off down t'pub.' Cameras were dispatched and the footage changed to film of a tree. As darkness descended and it started to rain it got surreal. A boozed-up Paul Gascoigne, a suicidal ex-footballer with severe psychological issues, arrived to talk the gunman into giving himself up in exchange for a dressing gown and a fishing rod, and I realized I was better off watching the more realistic events on Big Brother on the other side.
I gather it went on for a few more hours until 'a shot or shots' were fired, but somewhere along the way something else died last night. Now I guess it's only a matter of time before the media are promoting a new most wanted man seeking his few moments of celebrity. Apparently shooting yourself live on tv gets better ratings than Big Brother does these days.
Thursday, 1 July 2010
Review of a Fistful of Legends
Review at Western Fiction Review.
Also, last week Matthew Mayo attended the annual WWA conference in which he was honoured for his short story Half a Pig which appears in the anthology. More on this later, perhaps with some pictures.
Wednesday, 30 June 2010
You can't teach an old dog brand new tricks
New Tricks follows the activities of UCOS, a team of old cops who take on cold cases. Murders that have remained unsolved for decades are passed on for them to re-open the investigation and see what modern forensics and new policing techniques can reveal. Thankfully the stories aren't as dry as this format suggests they'll be. Every week the cops solve the unsolvable crime, but they don't waste time with forensics and modern techniques. They rely instead on old-fashioned policing methods that prove that the theme tune is wrong; you don’t need to teach old dogs brand new tricks, because the old tricks are better.
The weekly mystery stories are both as well-written and as groan-inducing as you'd expect from a cop show these days when viewers are familiar with every plot twist the mystery format has to offer. Usually you can solve the mystery before the title credits have rolled by randomly picking the least likely solution or by seeing who is the most well-known guest actor, but that's not the point of the show. Instead, it's about enjoying a seamless mixture of drama and comedy in which plots are moved on by the characters interacting and by using their own idiosyncrasies to solve the crime in a way that only these people could.
Heading up the team is Sandra Pullman. In the pilot episode she gets the job of looking after the bunch of old codgers as punishment for accidentally shooting a dog leading to the running joke of her grumbling that, 'you shoot one dog...'. Sandra has become more serious over the years. In the early seasons she was a delight, stuffing her face with fast food, having a continually failing love-life, and always being irritated by the antics of her team. More recently meatier stories have been thrust upon her involving family problems most of which haven't worked well, although that might be because the actress appears to have become a fan of unnecessary cosmetic enhancements that means she reacts to everything with the startled rabbit look.
Her three-man team are all well-drawn characters. Her main confidant is Jack Halford played by the dependable James Bolam who has been a regular face on British tv since the 60s. He's a former hard-man who solved crimes with fists and intimidation, but who retired when his wife was killed in an unexplained hit-and-run accident. Now returning to regular work well into his 60s he's bitter and a shadow of his former self, but he still has a copper's instincts. He provides the emotional core of the show. Again his character changes over the years and we see less of his melancholic side nowadays, although an arc story that ultimately, and inevitably, finds his wife's killer explains that change. Last season he got some necessary cosmetic enhancement when he finally got his eyes sorted out. In this case he looked better for it.
Sandra's problems usually come from Gerry Standing, who describes himself as being always a bad boy, but never a bastard. He has a history of being involved in dodgy dealings and corruption, although most of his past ultimately turns out to have a logical reason. Gerry is played by Dennis Waterman and in essence his role can be viewed as being his George Carter character from 70s show The Sweeney now older, but not wiser. The ups and downs of his character are usually related to the state of his teeth which have varied from painful looking to nice and white. Gerry gets most of the funny lines as a reward for singing the theme tune... as always.
The show's weird character is Brian Lane. He's a former alcoholic with severe psychological problems, a photographic memory, and obsessive tendencies, although as yet he's the only one not to have had obvious cosmetic surgery. As a character he's not even slightly believable as someone who would be allowed to investigate criminal cases, but as we get to see plenty of his home life with his long-suffering wife Esther, he is right for the show. His interaction with Esther always delivers great scenes in the short space of time they're on screen.
There are also several other recurring characters such as the inevitable shouty boss, Jack's nemesis Ricky Hanson, and Dennis Waterman's daughter that provide a nice feeling of continuity between the seasons. But sadly the general direction of the show has been to get darker, so I hope the new series steps back into the light. Dark isn’t necessarily good and last year, after 5 consistently superb seasons, the format showed signs for the first time of running out of steam. Several plots tried to make unwelcome and poorly-executed political points about the mistreatment of East European workers and there was a bizarre story that tried something different with an X-files parody but which didn’t work. Also the personal issues that are being foisted on the characters are getting more desperate.
It was inevitable that Brian would turn to the booze again, but having done so the show didn’t know what to do with him next, so it did nothing. Jack got the man who killed his wife, but that left him with nowhere to go, Gerry's ran out of daughters to annoy, and Sandra's now got a cliffhanger concerning a long-lost evil twin foster-brother, or some such nonsense. So I hope this year the show forgets about contrived personal problems and serious political messages and instead reverts back to its pre season 6 style as I need a weekly smile at the antics of UCOS.
Monday, 28 June 2010
The World Cup may be coming home
Admittedly we scraped home by one wicket, most of Australia's best players are injured, and it needed the ECB to deem that being English now means having a grandparent who knows what a Yorkshire pudding is so that we can fill the team with South Africans and Irishmen. But still, a victory is a victory. And in fact, in some ways, England are already the holders of the World Cup, but that was in the 20 over version of the game and I still haven’t got round to thinking of that as a proper sport.
So strangely, 50 years after inventing the limited-over game it now finally seems that England have worked out how to play it. We've had moments before. There was that time in 1975 when we had Australia at 39-6, but then Gary Gilmour (not the serial killer) strode to the crease and stuffed us. Then in 1979 Boycott and Brearley forgot they were playing in a limited-over match and ground out a painstaking 50 odd in about 30 overs. And nobody can ever forget Mike Gatting proving conclusively that the reverse sweep doesn't work 25 years before Pietersen decided it would be his chosen method of getting out. But since those glory days of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory we've never really had another sniff of getting anywhere in limited-over cricket. But now suddenly Eoin Morgan, Kevin Pietersen, Craig Kieswetter and a couple of token English players to make up the numbers look like they've formed a team to be proud of. So next year we could be in with a shot at the trophy that has so far eluded us. Presumably this optimism will die next week when we take on the mighty Bangladeshis, but for now there's reasons to be cheerful.
Footnote: I've just spotted that apparently yesterday England lost in some other game involving fake tans and designer hairstyles, but I'm not sure that one really counts as a proper sport.
Saturday, 26 June 2010
An interview with Derek Rutherford
I've posted up a transcript of an interview carried out last weekend by a group of authors with Derek Rutherford. The lengthy answers are fascinating as they go into great detail about the author's creative process. I think it'll make interesting reading for both writers and readers.
Interview here at the Black Horse Express.
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
I found the first episode to be fresh and interesting with a new Doctor, new companion and new production team, but my enthusiasm died quickly and after a few episodes I gave up on regular watching. I dipped in occasionally while searching for a channel that wasn't showing a bunch of millionaire fashion models mincing around a field with a round thing. But those flashes always irritated me within minutes and I didn't stay. I've just had a look at the Who forums and it seems the series is popular and the last episode was apparently: Like. The. Best. Episode. Ever. But that tends to happen most weeks so I'm still not sure if it's a weak show, it's me failing to grasp its subtleties, or it's just the sad fact I'm now a lot older than the target demographic. I think it's probably the latter.
My main problem is the new companion of Amy. The character is inconsistent and unappealing, which I gather is deliberate because there's supposed to be something mysterious about her that makes her act oddly. But I found it hard to care as I'd never seen her behaving normally. She reminds me of one of those sitcom characters whose role is to deliver one-liners and do weird things in every episode. I also don't think the actress is any good. I think I could probably get used to the new Doctor Matt Smith with time, but, to me anyhow, he comes over as a weak actor too. I've never, not once, believed in him. He gives a performance as a madcap character in which every nuance, every gesture, every line is delivered to convey that he's madcap while never once inhabiting the role. I get the feeling those two had a great time filming the show, but sadly that didn't translate into something I enjoyed watching.
But I guess it's not their fault and it's more to do with the way the series has been produced to appeal to children rather than to the inner-child in all of us. The stories make less sense than they used to, the sonic screwdriver is now a magic wand, and the bad guys are there mainly to be made into models and toys. I could moan some more, but the show doesn’t deserve criticism. It's a quality show, and it's time for me to accept that the days of quirky sci-fi from thirty odd years ago won't return and leave the children to have their fun.
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Review of a Fistful of Legends
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
The Prairie Man
Tales about the spectre of the night known as the Prairie Man were told to frighten children, but one day those tales nearly led to a tragic accident for one young boy. Hank Pierce saved Temple Kennedy's life that day and so Temple promised that one day he would save Hank's life.
Fifteen years later the two friends grew up to lead different lives. Hank became a respected citizen while Temple ended up as an outlaw, but when Hank was wrongly accused of murder the call of his childhood promise gave Temple a chance for redemption. He vowed to save Hank or die in the attempt. But when he sought to unmask the real culprit his investigation led to a man who wasn't even supposed to exist: the Prairie Man.
Sunday, 13 June 2010
Novel diary - #3
Last time I had a few paragraphs in which an abandoned stage was found. I wrote the rest of that scene from the viewpoint of someone finding it and exploring the area searching for clues as to what had happened. He didn’t find any, sadly, as that would have helped the story develop. But when I read through what turned out to be a very flat scene afterwards to see if I could work out what might happen next I realized I'd got confused over names. The man had started out as just a name and then suddenly he'd become a sheriff halfway through. So I decided to make the stage be discovered by two people, one a lawman and one someone else.
This change enabled me to have some dialogue and so re-writing the scene made everything flow in a more interesting way. The two men, now provisionally called Sheriff Jameson and Nathan Wright, argued and had plenty of friction, although I don't know about what yet. The sheriff has a chip on his shoulder about something, and Nathan feels guilty and he wouldn’t meet the sheriff's eye. Best of all, the rewrite provided the one clue that should have been flaming obvious to me from the start bearing in mind the idea that had started me writing. So Nathan finds a book entitled Legend of the Six in the stage and he hides it from the sheriff. It has be Six rather than Seven, which is the title I started with as I now realize that Legend of the Seven sounds like a sequel to the Magnificent Seven. The scene ends with the lawman leaving Nathan in disgust and heading west and something about the book persuades Nathan to head east back the way the stage had come.
So I know have 1,500 words with some hints of various mysteries about some characters along with a potential next scene in which Nathan follows the stage route back to some location and he hopefully finds something interesting.
Wednesday, 9 June 2010
10% off A Fistful of Legends
In June Lulu are offering 10% off the Western Anthology A Fistful of Legends featuring the 2010 Spur Award finalist short story Half A Pig. That means it retails for $14.35. The offer is open to anyone, but US buyers also have a free shipping offer. If you'd like the code to get 10% off (which incidentally can be used to buy other books at the same time up to a maximum of $100), contact me at email@example.com and I'll give you password.