Month: October 2011

To the Shock of Miss Louise

I was never much into horror when I was a kid. My best friend, Becky, and her older sister were hugely into it – they’d seen every Stephen King adaptation going by the time we were 12, and I remember reading the copy of It she’d lent me… or trying to, anyway.

I think I got as far as page 24 before I had to close the book and put it in a drawer. On the other side of the room. Under another book. And then put a cushion in front of the drawer. Just in case.

I wasn’t exactly a robust child.

The aversion to horror evaporated soon after: literally, overnight, when I saw “The Lost Boys” for the first time.

I can’t remember quite why, but we (my parents and I) were staying with my aunt & uncle overnight. The house wasn’t that big, and my parents were sleeping in the spare room, while I had the sofa in the living room. I was 13, and my aunt put a video on.

No prizes for guessing what that was.

After everyone else had gone to bed, I remember opening the living room curtains and looking out of the window at the night. My aunt’s house was opposite a large area of open ground – a sort of common-slash-playing field – and I stared straight at the dark. To this day, I have no idea what I thought (hoped? feared?) I was going to see. And yes, I do feel like an idiot every time I think back to it. But I was 13. We’re all idiots when we’re 13.

The thing about “The Lost Boys” was how immediate it felt. As a teen horror-avoider, I was vaguely aware of vampires in the sense that they lurked in mansions wearing big black capes and… stuff. It wasn’t scary. It wasn’t particularly interesting, either.

But my encounter with these particular vampires coincided with my American phase. I had pictures of American landmarks stuck on the ceiling of my room, and was planning my roadtrip. Beyond that, even: I had it in my 13 year-old head that America really was the city on the hill (yes, not only was I an idiot, I was probably the only teenage girl in Wales to be obsessed by JFK). So suddenly, I was seeing vampires in a whole new way – a way that dovetailed with the stuff I did care about.

Blew. My. Mind.

I fell in love with the Frog Brothers’ comic shop; with Santa Carla’s boardwalk (my husband, all too aware of my love for the film, is convinced this is why I love Brighton’s pier as much as I do…).

I fell in love with the cave David & his boys carved for themselves, all candles and Jim Morrison posters (along with vampires, my love for The Doors was another infection that stemmed squarely from the film). I fell in love with the utter amorality and absolute freedom the Lost Boys stood for. And I was quite taken with the bikes, too.

I was completely oblivious to any subtext – there’s the usual vampire themes rattling around in there, but being a film of the 80s, and a West Coast one, there’s more than a hint of gang mythology in there (the dinner in the cave smacks of a hazing, and the attack on the Surf-Nazis on the beach is a gang initiation if ever I saw one). But that was what made it frightening – particularly so. Not because this was the first time you saw the vampires for what they were, but because you saw them through Michael’s eyes. These were his friends: the people he thought he belonged with… suddenly become truly monstrous. When you’re a teenager like I was, the idea of belonging is so important, the desire to belong so all-consuming that it made Michael’s dilemma even worse. Lose your soul or lose your friends… you’d actually have to stop and think about that, wouldn’t you?

“The Lost Boys” was my vampire gateway-drug. After that, I convinced my dad to buy me the first three of Anne Rice‘s vampire books. We were on a ferry, and the newsagent-slash-bookshop happened to have all 3 of them in the wire spinner-rack outside. I knew enough to realise that if my parents were to pick one up and really look at it, I’d never be allowed to get the rest… so I went for broke. I read them back to back through northern France. I still have those same copies, broken-spined and dog-eared and smelling of teenage rebellion.

I scoured bookshops for vampire collections (chief among them, Parragon’s 1994 edition of The Giant Book of Vampires, edited by none other than Stephen Jones… Sometimes, I wish I could go back and explain to my younger self just how amusing I find that. She wouldn’t get it: how could she?) and smuggled them into the house, under the nose of my by now disapproving mother. I watched every vampire film I could get my hands on – and even waded my way through a not-terribly-well-dubbed version of “Der Kleine Vampir“.

It wasn’t all bad: watching all those vampire films meant I eventually discovered Near Dark – which I maintain is the best vampire movie ever made. It’s better than “The Lost Boys”, I admit… but while I love it, it’s never quite managed to edge David, Marco, Paul & Dwayne out. Nothing has. In such appalling affection do I hold that film, I’ve bought it three times (once on VHS, when I wore out my aunt’s copy; and twice on DVD. It was the very first DVD I bought).

If it had been the film it was originally intended to be, complete with the tweenage, not teenage, vampires and the set-up for the sequel that never happened, “The Lost Girls”, I don’t think I could have loved it as much. Perhaps if I’d seen it at a different time, it wouldn’t have had such a hold on me – a hold that has lasted 17… 18 years thus far and shows no sign of letting up.

But these are moot points. I saw it when I saw it, and it was the film it was: noisy, snarky, silly, flashy, bloody in places and heavy on pop-culture. I’ve written about my love for it before, and a lot of what I’ve said here echoes that earlier article. I’m consistent, you have to give me that. This particular outpouring of Lost Boys love stems from two places: the wonderful article on Ghostbusters from the Guardian’s site, and Damien Walter’s piece on vampire novel, “Stainless” (as well as his referring on Twitter to “The Lost Boys” as “Probably [the] most influential vamp movie ever.”)

It certainly influenced me.

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Monsterwatch: Jefferson Starships

This is possibly a slightly esoteric one. God knows it took me long enough to get, and I really should be in on the joke.

Last night, the Other Half came trit-trotting into the hall, saying: “I bought you a monster!”

Believe it or not, this isn’t actually that unusual a topic of discussion in our household. Last Saturday, for instance, we spent a good portion of the evening arguing whether you could actually fit a whole human corpse inside a domestic tumble-dryer. He said yes. I said no, I could barely fit a double quilt cover into ours. (I’m not unreasonable: I did accept that you could probably fit a dismembered body in, although it’d play havoc with the motor. “My Bloody Valentine 3D” – which was the whole reason we were having this discussion in the first place – sided with him.)

Anyway. Where were we? Oh, yes. “I bought you a monster.” It sounds like the album My Chemical Romance never made. So, he holds out this… thing. It’s square. And vaguely psychedelic. And has a woman smoking something that turns into a dragon on the front (I’m going to go out on a limb and say… opium?).

It’s a Jefferson Starship vinyl.

I look at the cover.

I look at Other Half.

Other Half beams back, expectantly.

I look at the cover.

This goes on for some time.

Then… finally, it hits me.

Jefferson Starship.

Jefferson Starship.

 

 

Jefferson Starships.

Too bloody clever for his own good.

Zombie update: the zombie zeitgeist?

Look what I spotted about ten minutes after I posted yesterday’s blog: shuffling off the presses, a piece on why zombies are the Big Thing right now.

Big thanks, too, to @dodgyhoodoo (who you really should follow if you’re on Twitter. Less so if you’re not. Stalking’s not cool, kids) who sent me a link to this (it’s a Cafepress page, but involves “language” and Warren Ellis, so approach with caution if at work).

The Rapture may not have happened (again) but there’s a distinctly End-Timey feel about this whole business…

(Quick update! Look what’s going on over at io9: zombie week – groaning their way onto a screen near you!)

Hot Zombie

Somewhat different from the Flaming Zombies I was drinking at the launch of “Ashes”, Ilsa Bick’s new YA book for Quercus on Monday, these zombies are another animal altogether.

I’ll explain.

Brighton being Brighton, we’re not exactly a subdued bunch in the city. Brightonians take most things in their stride (take, for instance, the awful homophobic itinerant preacher prowling the streets of town yesterday. He began howling at a gay couple walking past him, and they duly stopped, looked him up & down… and one of them responded with “You’ll never get me to turn, love. Not in those shoes,” to rousing applause from passers-by).  But I digress.

Yesterday was Beach of the Dead day. For the uninitiated, that’s our annual mass zombie-walk. I know. It’s hard to tell the difference between that and a regular weekend on the seafront – what can I say?

But yesterday, I was on my way home through town – not long before the walk (shuffle?) started, and I ran into a bunch of teenage zombies lurking outside Burger King. One of them was wearing a cardboard crown. Fair enough. However, what bothered me were the two girls in the middle of the group, who were adjusting their lipstick…

Yes, they weren’t just zombies. They were sexy zombies.

Now, maybe I’m getting cynical in my dotage… but isn’t this rather missing the point? Sexy zombies? Seriously? And let’s be clear – this wasn’t oh-my-god-these-girls-are-so-hot-they-even-look-gorgeous-when-they’re-part-of-a-horde-of-shuffling-undead. No. This was “Excuse me? I heard there’s a Britney circa-1998 video casting round here somewhere…” sexy.

Maybe I’m just not crediting them where credit’s due: perhaps they were channelling kids who were on their way to a fancy-dress party when they were attacked by rampaging monsters… It just seems like that option is, frankly, a bit meta.

I’m not saying you can’t have sexy monsters. Vampires are the old standard, despite being, y’know, dead. Werewolves, too: they’re all about the inner beast. Both have reasonable, logical justifications for bringing a bit of sexy back with them.

But zombies…?

Fall of an Empire

Sign at the Empire petrol station

The blog Irregulars might remember I have a thing for ghost towns and derelict places, so it’ll be no surprise that I’m fascinated by the story of Empire in Nevada: America’s newest ghost-town.

One of the last company towns in the US, built around a gypsum mine & drywall factory in operation since the 1920s, it has two churches, a pool and its own airstrip. The one thing it no longer has is residents.

When United States Gypsum mothballed the plant at the end of 2010 due to the recession and downturn in building trade, they gave residents a few months to move out of their homes (although several employees remain to keep an eye on the factory and houses – and, interestingly, to mow the lawns – and the store, just outside the town, is still open: close enough to the Burning Man festival to hopefully supplement any passing trade from the area.)

Perhaps most striking of all, the town’s Zip code, 89405, has been retired: a stark reminder that even in the modern world – just like us, body and soul – towns can die.

March of the Giant Robot Spider

Oh, poor neglected little blog! I am a bad, bad person. Or maybe not so much “bad” as “silly-busy”. Truth be told, it hasn’t really stopped round here since the week before Fantasycon… and I’m rather looking forward to life just slowing down a little.

But!

There’s always time for giant robot spider-things, I say.

 

WANT.

*** – – – ***

A long, long time ago – before I even had a Kurt Cobain poster in my room (the slightly grainy, black-and-white one. You know it. I imagine it came from Smash Hits….) there was a Take That poster on my wall. I was young. Naive. A bit keen on Gary Barlow. I make no apologies: my adolescent crushes could form a guard of honour stretching from Brighton back to Wales, both figuratively and literally.

So it was really inevitable that at some point, and entirely flying in the face of my current taste for noisy German music & dubstep, I’d cave and get the latest Take That album. What can I say? Every now and again, even my inner pre-teen wins out.

And while I avoid the ballads like the plague (some things never change) there’s some feisty little pop songs on there. This one has to be one of my favourites, and it’s been on repeat over the last week… for more reasons that one.

The quality’s crappy and the less said about the video that’s been put together for it (youtube! Why hast thou abandoned me?) but it’s not a bad live version of what must be a fiendishly difficult song.

And let’s face it, don’t we all feel a bit like that on a Monday?

Fantasycon 2011

I’m a little behind on things at the moment (I’m fairly sure I’ve still not got round to rambling on about the House of Fear launch yet….) as it’s been a pretty solid week. But really. Fantasycon. Wow.

This year’s convention, organised by Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan on behalf of the BFS, was held in Brighton, in the same hotel as WHC2010 (an event with the dubious honour of being my first ever convention!), and – ever contrary – Brighton laid on its best and hottest weather of the year. In a packed hotel. With enormous picture windows. And broken air-con. Score!

Minor niggles about the hotel aside (it’s an eccentric place, but the location as a Con hotel couldn’t be better) this was roundly declared the best Fantasycon ever, and the best convention many attendees had ever seen. Beautifully run and with a packed, varied programme spanning all aspects of genre writing and film (including film shows, masterclasses and panels on editorial practice, YA literature and how to scare your readers…) it was an excellent example of a convention put together with the broadest possible tastes in mind. As a result, the convention sold out, with 500 weekend memberships sold, and around 100 additional day memberships for the Saturday. To put that into perspective, that’s a higher attendance than Fantasycon has ever seen – including for the year when Neil Gaiman & Clive Barker were guests.

One particular high-point for me (nerve-wracking as it might have been, and indeed was) was that I got to do my first ever public reading from “Blood & Feathers”. The fact I was doing this in Brighton – where I now live, of course – and in the very same building that saw me walk in 18 months ago without the faintest idea what I was doing; in front of a surprising number of people, many of whom I’ve come to see as family… it was very, very special. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who came – and only partly because they didn’t throw things – and asked questions which were far, far too clever for me…!

I went to a couple of other readings, too: notably by Tom Pollock (whose book I’m so excited about), Adam Christopher (whose book I’ve already read… and am still excited about!) and Helen Callaghan‘s (which left me basically wanting to find myself a man who can rip a stiletto apart). I really do wish I’d been able to make it to Anne Lyle and Gaie Sebold‘s readings, but just couldn’t get there.

The YA panel was interesting – and, I think, the only panel I made it to, thanks to all manner of scheduling clashes. After a lively debate about what’s appropriate in a YA book, and the challenges of writing for a teenage audience – and the dangers therein (a point raised by Sarah Pinborough, who talked about having seen some YA readers “stick” there and not progress further) the panel wound up wondering what YA really was. It was a good panel, and it was great to see serious programming time given over to discussing YA.

I was proud to see how packed the Solaris Books event & signing was… mind you: free books, free wine… at Fantasycon, this is always going to guarantee a full house. Even better, they made the fatal mistake of putting me in charge of the bar for a while….. That was a good afternoon.

It’s particularly worth noting, I think, that there were a lot of first-time attendees there: newbies not only to Fantasycon and the BFS but to conventions in general. Hopefully, like me at my first one, they liked what they saw enough to keep coming back. With the exception of the disco. I could totally understand if that made them run like their lives depended on it in the opposite direction. I know. I was there. I’ll be sending the therapy bills to all involved.

For me, though, the convention was – as ever – about the people. I got to spend time with old friends, and to make new ones. Fantasycon is, in my experience, a very relaxed and sociable place – too sociable, maybe, as there were at least five people I would have liked to spend more time with (or indeed, any time at all with!). And let’s not forget the unique double-act that Bella Pagan and I developed on the Saturday night: standing around, looking similar…

Spot the difference...

 

Like all these things, it’s the people who make it. So enormous thanks to Paul, Marie and all the team who organised a convention we’ll all be talking about for years to come – for all the right reasons. And thanks to everyone who made my convention so much fun: in no particular order….

Will Hill, Rob Shearman, Vinny Chong, Jenni Hill, Jon Oliver, Mike Molcher (chopstick ninja!), Scott Andrews, Tom Pollock, Lizzie Barrett, Anne Lyle, Adam Christopher, Michelle Howe, Paul & Nadine Holmes, Mike Shevdon, Sarah Pinborough, Guy Adams, Rio Youers, Gary & Emily McMahon, Joseph D’Lacey, Adele Wearing, Amanda Rutter… and so many more people I’ve lost track of.

Thank you, FCon2011. You *rocked*.