Tuesday 25 September 2012

55 Reading Questions.

1.    Favourite childhood book?

Any of the Rupert annuals.

2.    What are you reading right now?

Dark Melodies by William Meikle

3.    What books do you have on request at the library?

None. Everything I read I buy.

4.    Bad book habit?

Terrible. I'm an addict.

5.    What do you currently have checked out at the library?

The art of pre-supposition and ignoring answers during an interview. (See answer 3.)

6.    Do you have an e-reader?


7.    Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once?

One at a time.

8.   Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

I'm probably more analytical when reading, worried about having to come up with something intelligent to say. I try not to let this spoil the experience.

9.    Least favourite book you read this year?

A collection I won't name. It was everything I expected it to be. If I really don't like something I won't slag it off in a review as I'm very aware everyone's tastes are different and doing so is usually just an ego-trip on the reviewer's part. This wasn't to my taste.

10.    Favourite book you've read this year?

Novel has to be The Faceless by Simon Bestwick, best book overall has been Stephen Bacon's collection Peel Back The Sky.

11.    How often do you read outside your comfort zone?

Rarely. I know what I like and tend to stick to that. Fortunately horror is a broad church so there's plenty variety in the genre to keep me interested.

12.    What is your reading comfort zone?


13.    Can you read on the bus?

Yes. And frequently do. (But more often on the train which is my way of commuting).

14.    Favourite place to read?

At home, stretched out on the sofa in front of the fire.

15.   What is your policy on book lending?


16.    Do you ever dog-ear books?

No, and anyone who does should be summarily executed.

17.    Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

Ditto answer 16.

18.   Not even with text books?

What if I'd said yes to question 17?

19.    What is your favourite language to read in?

English. Books written in other languages make for very short  reading experiences.

20.   What makes you love a book?

Usually something intangible that I can't put my finger on. Being moved by what I've read. No dog ears.

21.   What will inspire you to recommend a book?

Usually something... (see above). (Not the dog ears bit though).

22.    Favourite genre?


23.    Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?

There are many genres I rarely read - some not at all. I don't feel as if I'm missing out though.

24.    Favourite biography?

Love All The People. (Bill Hicks).

25.   Have you ever read a self-help book?

Err... yes. In retrospect it didn't help.

26.    Favourite cookbook?

What makes one list of recipes better than another list of recipes?

27.    Most inspirational book you've read this year?

Most books I read inspire me to be a better writer. One day...

28.   Favourite reading snack?

Having to think of an answer to this leads me to the sad conclusion that I don't snack when reading, I'm too engrossed. (I will stuff food into my face at every other opportunity though).

29.    Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

It's never been ruined. I might have thought "that wasn't as good as they said" but that's not ruining anything.

30.    How often do you agree with critics about a book?

More often than not. Which is about right, we all have different tastes.

31.    How do you feel about giving bad or negative reviews?

Not good, so I try and avoid it. I still buy everything I review so I can choose which books I'll post about. I read a lot of collections and anthologies which are often - as they should be - a mixed bag so not liking a story within them and reviewing them is sometimes unavoidable.

32.    If you could read in a foreign language, what language would you choose?


33.    Most intimidating book you ever read?

I'm from the North East and therefore dead hard. It would take more than a book to intimidate me.

34.   Most intimidating book you're too nervous to begin?

I'm from the North... etc. etc. Seriously, they're books. If I'm interested, I'll read it, if not I won't.

35.    Favourite poet?

Simon Armitage.

36.    How many books do you have checked out of the library at any given time?
37.    How often have you returned books to the library unread?

I refer to my earlier answers about absence of library activity.

38.    Favourite fictional character?

Charlie Parker in John Connolly's books.

39.    Favourite fictional villain?

Too many to number. The villains are always more interesting.

40.    Books you're most likely to bring on vacation?

Small paperbacks. Oh - horror naturally.

41.    The longest I've gone without reading?

Days, tops.

42.    Name a book you could/would not finish.

Can't remember which one it was but it was something by Dean Koontz. I used to love Dean Koontz but then I read Ticktock and hated it passionately. Despite that I read another of his afterwards but got so hacked off with more tales of Golden Retrievers and feisty heroines escaping abusive backgrounds I had to stop.

43.    What distracts you when you're reading?

Distractions. I may be too engrossed to eat when I read but if the phone rings or the house starts to burn down I reckon I'll notice it.

44.    Favourite film adaptation of a novel?

The Road. Or maybe Fight Club.

45.    Most disappointing film adaptation?

No one film springs to mind. Films and books are different beasts, they work on us differently. The Road was great because it captured the feel of the novel, I guess that's where many films fall down.

46.    The most money I've ever spent in a bookstore at one time?

Probably around £70

47.    How often do you skim a book before reading it?

Once, briefly before actually reading it. I always read the blurbs and introductions though.

48.    What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through?

If I thought it was shit. Or I died.

49.    Do you like to keep your books organised?

Organisation and me do not go together. They're in bookcases, that's about it.

50.    Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you've read them?

I'm a keeper generally. A while ago I was overcome with altruism (and a loft that couldn't take any more) and gave some books away to friends (who I knew would cherish them...)

51.    Are there any books you've been avoiding?

No. I'm from the North East. I'm hard. I'm not scared of books.

52.    Name a book that made you angry.

How To Get Angry in ten easy steps. If there'd been a novelisation of that film The Iron Lady and I'd read it, that would have done it as just the sight of Meryl Streep on the sides of buses advertising it made me angry. Except I'd never have read it in the first place. I don't know, I threw Ticktock at a wall when I finished it, that's about as angry as I've ever gotten with a book.

53.    A book you didn't expect to like, but did?

As I said, I buy the books that I review on the blog so I wouldn't buy something I wasn't expecting to like.

54.    A book that you expected to like but didn't?

Can't think of any. Some books haven't been as good as I thought they might but I can't remember not actually liking them. (The collection I mentioned earlier and Mr Koontz's offerings I wasn't expecting to like in the first place).

55.    Favourite guilt-free pleasure reading?

All my reading is for pleasure. All my guilt is kept for the bodies under the patio.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Beyond Here Lies Nothing.

"Beyond here lies nothing" is a phrase coined by the Roman poet Ovid. Another poet, Bob Dylan, used it as a title for a song on a recent album. Now Gary McMahon has chosen it as the title of the concluding book in the Concrete Grove trilogy from Solaris Books. It's an ominous phrase, about as pessimistic as you can get, and the perfect title for a horror story. It's a fitting title too, given that this is the last novel set in the housing estate in North East England created by Gary which has provided some of the best horror writing of the last couple of years.
As with the two previous books, the main characters in the narrative are different (aside from the Grove itself of course...) this time around they are Marc Price, a journalist researching a book on the "Northumberland Poltergeist", Abby Hansen, the mother of Tessa whose abduction as one of the "Gone Away Girls" has left her emotionally scarred and full of self loathing. DS Craig Royle is the policeman obsessed with the abductions whilst Erik Best, local gangster and bare-knuckle fight "promoter" from Silent Voices takes the last narrative strand.
There are cameo appearances by some of the characters from the earlier books (including one very surprising one) although the chapter given over to Tom Stains, the conflicted hero of The Concrete Grove seemed to me a bit over the top, the mention in passing he also gets later on would perhaps have been enough. A minor criticism though, and the only one I have to make...
One character making a very welcome return however is Captain Clickety, the tall, cloaked figure with the beaked face who this time around gets a back story of sorts. He (it?) is linked to the Northumberland Poltergeist and also, in a departure I very much enjoyed, to the "Lost Colony" of Roanoke in the 1500's. Clickety is a great creation and I have a feeling he may well crop up in some future short stories set in the world of the Concrete Grove. At least I hope so. This book is a fitting climax to the series but it would be a tragedy if there really was nothing beyond here with regards to stories.
The role of the third book in a trilogy is to tie everything up and Beyond Here Lies Nothing does this brilliantly. The whole parallel world concept has been developed throughout the series, the idea that the Grove is a doorway, a portal to this other world, a doorway to creation and these ideas are brought to stunning fruition in a climax that is as brilliant as everything that has gone before. There's great imagery in here - yet again - scarecrows are second only to clowns in the "scare the shit out of you" stakes and that fact is put to extremely effective use in this book. The fate of The Needle itself taps into imagery that has been burned into the subconscious of the whole world.
Gary McMahon has created an astounding series of books in the Concrete Grove trilogy. They truly deserve to be called classics. Each of the three books can be read as stand alone novels and enjoyed as such, but they are best appreciated as a whole, the ideas and story arcs that run through the three books are subtly introduced, cleverly developed and brought to an entirely satisfying conclusion in Beyond Here Lies Nothing.
Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Monday 17 September 2012

Peel Back The Sky.

Peel Back The Sky is a collection of 21 stories by Stephen Bacon and is published by Gray Friar Press. I've been a fan of Stephen's writing since I first came across him a few years ago when I read his story The Strangled Garden in Tales From The Smoking Room published by Benedict J Jones (and which is reproduced in this volume). Since then I've tried to track down as much of his writing as possible and have been thoroughly impressed with everything I've found. It was great news then when Gray Friar announced this collection and I've been eagerly awaiting its arrival. There's always the possibility that anticipation can make you build something up too much and the reality is a letdown but this is absolutely not the case with Peel Back The Sky. This is, in all honesty, one of the best collections of short stories I've ever read. There are no weak stories in here, no filler, every one drips with quality.
It's an eclectic mix, covering unambiguously supernatural elements as in With Black Foreboding Eyed (which gave me a warm glow of nostalgia, the mystery of Flannan Isle something I came across in my childhood) and Hour Of Departure, PA (including - yes, zombies), and Science Fiction. The strongest theme in the collection though is the darker side of human nature whether it be the spitefulness within a relationship described in The House Of Constant Shadow or from an external agent (a real monster) in Catch Me If I Fall, or the loss of innocence as a result of abuse in Persistence Of Vision and Daddy Giggles.
Even given the subject matter, these stories are two of the highlights of the book. Neither story is exploitative of its subject, are written in the precise, understated prose that is a feature of Stephen's work. The last lines of Persistence are a shock, changing your perception of everything that has gone before and are utterly heartbreaking. Daddy Giggles astounded me. This is one of the best stories I've ever read. On reading stories I often think "I wish I'd written that", after reading Daddy Giggles I thought "I wish I could write like that". Without resorting to hyperbole or melodramatic language, this story consumately portrays the impact of childhood abuse. The prose is matter of fact, undramatic but when I'd finished reading it I could feel the anger, the frustration of its protagonist Duffy. It's an incredible piece of writing, profound and moving.
I think it's these stories where Stephen's "voice" shines through but this collection shows his versatility as a writer, his ability to adopt different styles to complement the story he's telling. The Strangled Garden and A Solace Of Winter Rain are both written in the style of "Tales From A Gentlemen's Club" - and brilliantly so and there's an authentic period feel to The Toymaker Of Bremen and Cone Zero. 
Perhaps the most stylised of all the stories is Girl Afraid which is presented as diary entries from a nine year old girl. It's a device that works brilliantly (and which, despite his reservations in the story notes at the end of the book, one which Stephen pulls off brilliantly) and makes the story another highlight. Terrible things happen in this story, made all the more terrible by the innocence of the narrator. The horror lies not just in the events that unfurl but in the fact that the reader knows more than the narrator. It's another story about loss of innocence, in this case the most horrifying aspect of that is that the narrator doesn't know it's happened. But she will...
I am - to quote Stephen King on Dan Simmons - in awe of Stephen Bacon. This is an outstanding collection of stories from a writer who has mastered the craft of writing and who deserves great success. I can't wait for his debut novel. Peel Back The Sky is a showcase for his versatility as a writer but it's capturing emotions that is his greatest strength. There's a melancholic edge to a lot of what he writes but hey, it's the sad songs that have the most impact and the same goes for stories. It's fitting that the title of one of the stories - I Am A Creation Of Now - is a line from the last song, on the last album by REM. Melancholy indeed...
Peel Back The Sky is highly recommended, great stories from a great writer.