What I’m Doing at FantasyCon 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This year, FantasyCon is heading up North to Chester, a town I remember visiting as a child – mostly because there was a nice zoo there. That was over 40 years ago, and no doubt it’s changed a lot since then.

However, this weekend I go back there again for my annual fix of all things horror, SF and fantasy. It seems I’ve got a rather busy programme this year, and all the cool kids are posting their FantasyCon activities, so here are mine.

Friday:

9:30pm – ‘Occult and Supernatural Adventures’ panel in the Edward Room. Pete Sutton moderating. My fellow panelists are Mike Chinn, Sue Tingey and Georgina Bruce.

Saturday:

2:00pm – I am doing a reading in the Disraeli room, with Ray Cluley and Rosanne Rabinowitz

3:30pm – ‘Writers and Roleplaying Games’ panel in the Edward Room. Alasdair Stuart moderating. Fellow panellists are Danie Ware, Allen Stroud and Gavin Smith.

I will also have copies of both ‘The Whispering Death’ and ‘Outpost H311’ for sale on the BFS table in the dealer room, and will likely be hanging around in the bar for at least part of the time. And I might make an appearance at the karaoke on the Saturday night. I never could resist a good sing.

So, looking forwarding to catching up with friends old and new in Chester this weekend. Don’t be afraid to come say hello if you see me. Don’t listen to the gossip – I am quite harmless really , and I’ll be wearing a prominently displayed name badge so you can identify me.

Now all I have to do is figure out what I’m going to be reading. And get past the customary dilemma of what to pack for a Con…

 

 

 

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My Life in Music: 1978

In 1978 I was living with my mother and sister in a small council flat, and my sister and I went to stay with my dad every other weekend. We were still living in Mossley in Lancashire, but we were now on the other side of it.

Mossley was, and still is, a small town. The church was often the centre of the community in small towns, and it certainly seemed to figure prominently in our lives at that point in time. My sister and I went to Sunday School at St George’s Church, and I went to the same church hall once a week for my Brownie pack meetings. I remember the vicar coming round to talk to my mother about cleaning jobs, which she was looking for. As a single mother she was working three jobs around feeding us, taking us to school, picking us up again, and putting us to bed. I never realised that at the time.

The church was involved in a lot of fetes and festivals, and Whitsun in particular, taking place in the Spring a few weeks after Easter, was a big deal. Every year at this time we had the ‘Whit Walks’, which appears to be unique to the North West of England. There would be a big parade through the town, and everyone who belonged to any of the churches would participate. My sister and I would both get new dresses for the occasion, and we’d join the parade, walking through town and waving at people who lined the streets to watch.

Each church also crowned a ‘Rose Queen’ every year. As far as I can tell the Rose Queen originates from the May Queen, but I can well understand why the Christian church changed the name – the May Queen has somewhat sinistar pagan origins connected to virgin sacrifices. The ceremony would be held at the church with all the queens from the neighbouring churches in attendance for the ‘coronation’. Sunday School took place in the church hall, and although everyone was in the same hall there were lots of tables in there and the classes were divided up by age (and apparently by gender). In 1978 it was my Sunday school class – a group of eight-year-old girls – from which the Rose Queen was chosen. The honour went to the girl with the best attendance. I was never in the running – although I was told I had to go to Sunday School I wasn’t made to go every week. In the end there were two girls who had the same perfect attendance, and in the end they had to draw lots to find out who got to be Rose Queen. The one who didn’t win had to be a Maid of Honour like the rest of us, wearing a long dress and carrying the Rose Queen’s train, at not only the coronation of our Rose Queen but at the coronation of all the other Rose Queens as well. We also got to ride on a float in the Whit Walks, which I quite enjoyed because it meant I didn’t have to walk that year, and I was never very fond of walking, even as a child.

So the picture here is from June 1978 and shows me and my best friend Helen in our ‘Maid of Honour’ dresses. I think the picture was taken outside the church hall. My sister is in the middle, in her ‘Whitsun’ dress. Helen and I were born four months apart and were friends from infancy because our mothers were friends. We went to the same school and the same Sunday school and were pretty much inseparable until the point we moved to Canada. I never really had a best friend in quite the same way after that, and she’s someone I would dearly love to find again, but have failed to do so, despite many Google searches. Sometimes you have to accept that people in your past stay in your past.

Anyway, being a Maid of Honour for the Rose Queen was quite possibly the most exciting things that happened to me in 1978, in a life that consisted of school, Brownie meetings, Sunday School, watching TV, playing with dolls and weekend visits to my dad’s house. One of my favourite TV shows was Top of the Pops, which would have a weekly count down on all the chart hits, and it was filmed in a studio where they would roll out some of the top artists of the day performing their hit song to a studio audience. I was already a big Abba fan, and they featured frequently on ‘Top of the Pops’ during the 1970s, but generally in a video and not a live performance because of the distance involved in travelling from Sweden.

This year’s selected song is one that I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops’ this year, but for once it’s not Abba. As an eight-year-old I was a very ‘girly girl’. I liked wearing pretty dresses (one of the reaons I liked Whitsun so much; I always got a new dress), I didn’t like getting dirty or climbing trees and I thought boys were noisy and uncouth. But I saw this video, featuring a tiny but dynamic woman sporting an enormous bass, and something awoke inside me. Something that would grow up to be a wannabe rock chick.

It’s entirely down to Suzi Quatro that I now play bass guitar and like strutting my rock chick stuff at open mic nights, and it was this song that first brought her to my attention – “If You Can’t Give Me Love”, which hit the UK charts in the spring of 1978. The video is the performance I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops. Note that the instruments are not plugged in, because all the songs are mimed. I never twigged that at the time.

My Life in Music: 1977

There is only one song that I can feature for 1977, because it had such a profound effect on me, and my life. When I started doing this blog feature I knew that I would eventually have to deal with this one, and to be honest I’ve been rather putting it off, because this song still has power over me.

It’s a song that spend five weeks at the top of the UK charts in April 1977. At that time my family had been shattered by my parents’ divorce, and we were all still picking up the pieces.

The timeline for that year and the one before is still vague, in my head. I don’t remember exactly when I knew that Daddy was no longer living with us. I remember someone at school asking me if my parents were divorced and my not understanding what that word meant. I went home and asked my mother what it meant when your parents were divorced, and to my recollection she said it meant that Mummy and Daddy didn’t love each other any more but they both still loved me and my sister. I remember suffering from nightmares around this time. I did eventually grow out of them, but over 40 years later I can still recall some of them, and at the time they were terrifying.

I do remember moving out of the house that had been my home since birth. I can still remember that house, very clearly, and all my memories involve both of my parents, together. I have memories of moving out and then the next memories are of the council flat I lived in next, with my mother and sister, and the house my dad moved into which my sister and I would go to on weekends.

People often talk about going back ‘home’ when they go visit their parents, because they are returning to the house they grew up in. I always felt I never had that. A few years after that we moved to Canada with my mother, and we lived in a number of different properties over the next few years. After moving out of the only house I ever lived in with both my parents, I don’t think I lived anywhere that I truly identified as ‘home’ until I met my husband and we bought our first place together.

This song happened to come out at a time that made it hugely relevant to me. For a very, very long time – decades, even –  I could not listen to this song without reverting back to that lost little girl whose world had been torn apart, and it made me cry. Often it still does.

And just a word about the photo. This is from the school year beginning September 1977. My sister had started her first year of infants’ school; I was in my first year of junior school. When siblings went to the same school they were rounded up for a picture together on Photo Day, so parents only had to fork out for one set of prints. For all I know this still happens in schools in the UK, although it wasn’t done that way in Canada.

This was the first of the three years my sister and I had our school photo taken together, before we moved to Canada. Note we are both wearing matching blue jumpers and pinafore dresses. My mother laid out our clothes for school in those days and we’d get dressed in whatever she picked out. She liked dressing us in the same outfits. We are evidently still young enough in this picture to comply with this; we objected when we got a bit older.

So here’s the song for 1977, now that I’ve bared my soul about it: ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’ by Abba.

Monthly Round-up: August 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

The last round-up was three months ago, and quite a lot has been going on in my life since then. I got made redundant from the day job in July, but fortunately managed to find a new job after just a few weeks of intense job-hunting. But now I am in the position of being the new girl, which feels strange after nearly 13 years in the same organisation, and it is quite intensive.

Hence, with all this real-life stuff to deal with, not a lot of writing has been happening.

OUT NOW:

I may as well take the opportunity to promote OUTPOST H311, which is doing reasonably well sales-wise at the moment. If you like Nazi zombies, this is a book for you. Tell your friends. There aren’t enough Nazi zombie books in the world, and this one attempts to address that.

PUBLICITY

Three online interviews with me have gone up since last time, and links are included below

21 June – Cedar Hollow

20 August – Ginger Nuts of HorrorGinger Nuts of Horror

23 August – Kendall Reviews

WORK IN PROGRESS

As already mentioned, not much writing going on. There will be a sequel to OUTPOST H311. That’s all I can really say at this stage.

And that’s about it for news this time. I hope to see you again next month.

‘Bunty’ and Ballet

Growing up in the 1970s, comic books for children were very popular, and consisted of a series of comic strips that told a story. Some, like The Beano and The Dandy, which my grandparents kept at their house to entertain their grandchildren, were suitable for boys and girls and generally the stories were humorous. Others were more specifically targeted at boys or girls and the stories were serials, usually more of a drama (or possibly soap opera). From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s I had a weekly subscription to Bunty, which would arrive with the daily newspaper.

bunty-the-book-for-girls-comic-annual-from-1979-E37AAD

Stock photo of the ‘Bunty’ annual for 1979, which I owned

I loved Bunty. When we moved to Canada I objected to the fact it was not available over there (I objected to many things, actually, but this is the one that’s relevant to my story). My dad, back in England, picked up the subscription for a while and would periodically post my Bunty to me in Canada, but I guess he got bored with doing it because I was informed one day I was too old for Bunty and no more would be forthcoming. I was quite aggrieved about that for a while. I always hated things to change.

But the comic book itself changed in time. It ceased publication in 2001, but I remember seeing it on newsagent shelves in the 1990s and it looked like any other teen magazine, advertising articles about make-up and boyfriends, despite being aimed at girls under 14. In my day there was no boyfriend advice in Bunty. It was just full of stories told via comic strip.

I did love reading the comic strips, and would eagerly await the next issue as my favourite stories always ended on a climax. There was always a story about a girl and a horse, and always a story about little ballerinas, because a lot of little girls are into horses and/or ballet. I always preferred the stories about orphans, although I remember one story (‘Melody Lee, a dancer she’ll be’) was about an orphan who was also into ballet.

I might have been more into ballet if I took lessons, but we didn’t have the money for such things. Along with piano lessons and holidays, dance lessons were one of the things I promised myself I would be able to afford when I was older. Well the holidays I have caught up with and then some, the piano lessons became bass guitar lessons when I finally got to a point when I decided as an adult I was going to take music lessons, and I did take dance lessons for a while in the 1990s, run by a girl I knew through my amateur dramatics group. Although I enjoyed the lessons I discovered I have two left feet. I am not a dancer. I lack dexterity and manual co-ordination.

However, having discovered first-hand that dance lessons are really hard, I have an appreciation for those that can dance well, and I have discovered a new love of being a spectator at the ballet in recent years. I think ballet dancers move so gracefully and beautifully, and there is much to admire in the complexity of the choreography. Not to mention the beautiful scores, with all the classic ballets being penned by some of the greatest composers that ever lived.

I have now seen ‘The Nutcracker’ performed as a ballet twice, and each time loved every minute of it. A few days ago we went to see ‘Swan Lake’, which is a ballet I’ve wanted to see for many years. When I got notification earlier in the year that the St Petersburgh ballet company were coming to the London Coliseum to perform ‘Swan Lake’, I nabbed some tickets.

It was a wonderful spectacle, and now I can cross watching ‘Swan Lake’ off my bucket list. I may be a rubbish dancer myself, but I enjoy watching those that are good at it do their thing.

The theme from Swan Lake is one of the my all-time favourite pieces of music. The clip below is a bit boring because there’s no dancing, but it’s the best version of the music I could find on Youtube. It gives me shivers whenever I hear it.

My Life in Music: 1976

In the 1970s, a group called Showaddywaddy was taking the UK by storm, though I don’t expect anyone who wasn’t growing up in the UK in the 1970s to have heard of them. In some ways they were a British version of Sha Na Na – they dressed as Teddy Boys and they performed covers of early 1960s hits.

Their song “Under the Moon of Love” was first released as a single by Curtis Lee in 1961. The Showaddywaddy version spent three weeks at the top of the charts in December 1976.

I remember Showaddywaddy being everywhere in the mid-1970s, but apparently this song was their only number 1 hit. They were rather of an era, cashing in on the nostalgia of the early days of rock & roll which was obviously a thing in the 1970s, when punk was at its height and people yearned for a simpler time, but they do come under the ‘where are they now?’ category. I was quite surprised to learn they are still together and touring, according to Wikipedia.

1976

Sara in 1976

As for the photo to accompany this year’s music offering, this is me in September 1976 – about a month before my seventh birthday. I think this is the first picture I’ve posted in this series where I look recognisably like me. It’s the appearance of adult teeth that does it. I have pretty much the same smile now as I had then.

I would have been commencing my last year of All Saints Infants’ School in Mossley, Lancashire at this time. The UK schooling system in the 1970s would have been quite incomprehensible to anyone in the US. We had three years of infant school (Reception Classes, Middle Classes, Top Classes), followed by four years in the junior school next door (Junior 1 to 4) by which point you were eleven and ready to move on to secondary school. I never experienced a British secondary school; we were in Canada by that point. But more about that, to come later in this series.

Hearing this song takes me back to the 1970s. It was a difficult time politically in the UK; strikes and riots and general dissatisfaction. I was not aware of any of that. I was a child. My world consisted of playing with toys, making up stories and becoming ever obsessed with this new skill I was learning called reading, and I left it to the grown ups to tell me when it was time to go to school or to bed, or even what to wear. I was not remotely interested in clothes as a child. My mother used to decide what I was going to wear and she’d lay out my clothes for the day the night before, so I’d just get up and get dressed in whatever outfit she’d picked out. And I was quite happy for her to that. It really didn’t matter to me what I was wearing. Although the dress I am wearing in this picture I remember quite liking. It was a pull-on thing that was worn over jumpers and just had a single zip at the front, which I liked. I didn’t like having to fuss with buttons or ties.

This was all a very long time ago. We’re going back over 40 years, and most of the people I work with now weren’t even born then. But sometimes I still look in the mirror with a sense of disbelief that I somehow managed to get this old, and I wonder what happened to that little girl.

Anyway, here is the song to represent 1976: Showaddywaddy performing their biggest hit, “Under the Moon of Love”.

Monthly Round-up: May 2018

It’s been a while since I did a round-up but this month there is news!

OUT NOW

The most important news is that the new horror novel, OUTPOST H311, is now out! It is available in paperback and Kindle format from Amazon UK, Amazon US and I’m even including the links to Amazon Canada for my Canadian friends.

I’m quite excited about this book. It seemed to be quite difficult to write, for various reasons, and it was a long road to get it to this point. But now, at last, here it is.

PUBLICITY

I’m still working on this. As ever the best promotion for a writer is a good review, so please do consider doing a review if you read the book, even if it’s just a few words. It all helps.

I’m also interested in guest slots on other people’s blogs, so if you run this feature, please get in touch. I can offer reciprocal slots on the ‘Monday’s Friends’ feature.

WORK IN PROGRESS

I’ve been manically busy in the day job, not to mention prep for the release of OUTPOST H311, so not a lot writing is being done at present.

And that’s about it for now. See you next month!

 

Friday Fears: Two-sentence horror #13

I’m a day late with this Friday Fears post. I had a submission, which I promised to put up on 25 May, but I had a manic day at the day job yesterday.

Apologies to Hari Navarro, who sent me the submission below, for being late in posting his two-sentence horror story

Doctor Jurin sighed wearily as he ran his scalpel through the puffy wax of the girl’s bloated abdomen. The eel that oozed out of the opening and contracted into her gathering necrotic fluid cost him the end of his tongue.

By Hari Navarro

And here’s one from me:

The imposter continues to live my life: looking like me, sounding like me, acting like me. But he’s not me, because I am here, and no one can see or hear me so they have no idea that this stranger isn’t me.

Happy weekend, Horror Hounds, and don’t have nightmares!

 

Monthly Round-up: February 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

On 1 February, I went in for surgery.

Since then I’ve been at home recovering, so February is pretty much a write-off. However, it’s been very cold while I’ve been off, so it’s not been a bad time to be stuck indoors. And by the time I go back to work, which I hope will be next week (pending doctor approval) it will be daylight when I leave the house.

That said, there are a few things to report this month.

OUT NOW/COMING SOON

I’m pleased to announce that my story ‘Morgan’s Father’ is included in the Women in Horror edition of the SIREN’S CALL e-zine. This issue is completely free to download as a PDF and is chock full of horror stories by women, so download your copy now.

In other news, we don’t yet have a release date for OUTPOST H311, but the onus is on me at the moment since I’ve had the edits back and I’m working through them. And it’s taking rather longer than I was expecting. Partly that’s due to being on sick leave. For the first two weeks following surgery I couldn’t really do much except lie about reading or watching TV. No concentration for anything else. However, this week I’ve been making progress with the edits, so hopefully there’ll be more news on this next month.

PUBLICITY

I contributed to Mark West’s Stephen King mixtape, which appeared on his blog on 26 February. This was a post including a long list of writers talking briefly about their favourite King story. I chose ‘The Breathing Method’.

WORK IN PROGRESS

I haven’t worked on any WIPs for a while, what with surgery getting in the way and all. So the current status is unchanged. There are two current works in progress:

A WHITER SHADE OF PAIN: a crime thriller set in 1967 which is a collaboration with my husband. We plotted the book together, then I wrote Draft 1 and he started on Draft 2. The latter isn’t finished yet, but I’ve taken it back to make further changes to the amended chapters. So I suppose it’s currently on Draft 2.5.

DEADLY SUMMER is the fourth Shara Summers novel, which takes my intrepid sleuth to New York City when she gets a job in a US soap opera. I am about a third of the way through the first draft. I halted work on this when I started writing OUTPOST H311, and I haven’t got back to it yet.

That’s all to report this month. I anticipate that by the end of next month, spring will have sprung. But you can never tell, with British weather.

 

Clutter

In the 1990s I used to enjoy watching a British TV show called ‘Through the Keyhole‘, where transatlantic TV presenter Loyd Grossman used to snoop about in the house of a mystery celebrity. A panel in the studio watched the video and then would try to guess who lived in the house, before a studio audience to whom the owner’s identity had been revealed. I’ve not watched this show for years, but apparently it’s still on. Though since celebrities these days all seem to consist of football players, reality TV stars and soap stars, and none of these things I watch, I wouldn’t know who they were anyway.

Right now, though I find myself watching a lot of TV. I’m three weeks into a four-week recuperation stint following surgery, with strict instructions to take it easy and allow my body to heal, and there’s not much I’ve been able to do except shuffle between bed and sofa, reading and watching TV. And the shows* that I’m getting strangely addicted to are ‘Homes Under the Hammer‘ (where the presenters view properties under auction and then follow up with who bought them to discover what work they have done to them), ‘Wanted Down Under‘ where British families with a desire to live in Australia are taken there for a week to show exactly what sort of lifestyle they could afford, including viewing several properties, and- curiously for someone who doesn’t cook – ‘Come Dine With Me‘ where several strangers with nothing in common except the town they live in host dinner parties and then rate each other on their food and hosting skills, with the winner getting a cash reward.

I have worked out what all these shows have in common is that the viewer gets to nose about in other people’s houses. Maybe this is the writer in me, but I do like seeing how other people live. And what gets me every time about this is the remarkable lack of clutter.

Now, admittedly, people who know they will have TV crews in their homes probably make a special effort to tidy up. And most of the properties bought on ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ are bought by people with an idea to rent them out, so the decoration is neutral and spartan, but sometimes when the TV crew go back to revisith the property there is already a tenant living there, or the person who bought it has turned it into their own home and moved in. But even so, I am getting the impression that other people live with far less clutter in their lives than I do. I am a hoarder. I always have been. Much to the disgruntlement of my mother, who tried her best to make me tidy up after myself. But when I was young there was always something far more interesting to do than tidy my room, and it was usually reading a book or writing a story.

My husband is just as bad. When we bought our first place together, in 1991, it was a small one-bedroom apartment because that’s all we could afford at the time. We were both young, and neither of had much in way of possessions at that point, except we both had a lot of books and we filled one wall of the living room with shelves so we’ d have somewhere to put them. We also made a point of getting a place with an attic, and since then the stuff stored there has gone from attic to attic, somehow accumulating along the way.

Twenty-seven years later we are in a four-bedroom house and the amount of stuff we’ve managed to accumulate in that time is startling. In spite of us both using Kindles on a daily basis we still have more books than we know what to do with, and we have a huge collection of DVDs, CDs and vinyl (which, strangely, is becoming popular again). We have piles of games for both the PS3 and the PS4. We have a lot of PC games, some of which are so old they won’t run on modern PCs. We also have games for the PS2 and the Wii, and we haven’t used either machine in ages. My husband builds model kits and collects guitars. I have, over the years, collected dolls and stuff toys, and a vast array of Star Wars and Buffy merchandising. And notebooks. I love notebooks. Some of them are used, but I acquire them faster than I use them.

And before anyone says there are places that you can sell your old CDs, DVDs and books to, I freely admit that I don’t like getting rid of stuff. Apparently this also includes junk mail. There are piles of papers in the house containing a mix of junk and stuff we need to hold on to, but we rarely get around to going through it.

Watching TV, it’s easy to think that I am messier than most ‘normal’ people. But when I visit friends’ houses, I think this is probably not the case. Most of my friends are also into books and films, and they have similarly vast collections. But mostly they are a bit better than tidying up than me.

This is the way we live and I am happy with it. Occasionally I wonder, though, what’s going to happen when Hubby and I eventually shuffle off this mortal coil. We don’t have kids, and the only nieces and nephews we’ve got live in Canada, so I don’t know who’s going to get the considerable task of having to clear out our house when we’ve gone. But since I’ll be dead, I don’t suppose I’ll care.

So this is a question I’d like to put out there. Are you a tidy sort of person, or surrounded by clutter? Do you prefer your surroundings to be minimalist, or are you happy to be in a home full of stuff? I’d love to know if I’m in the minority or the majority in living in clutter.

*There may well be US versions of these shows, but I have included links with more information about the programmes for non-UK viewers just in case the titles mean nothing to you.