Monday, 29 September 2014

Falling Angel - Angel Heart

An article/review by NSFWG member Mark West

When I began writing my novella "The Lost Film" back in 2010 (it's due to be launched at next years FantasyCon and a few of the chapters have been through the group critiquing process), I started reading a lot of crime.  One of the books I decided to re-read (after a perhaps twenty-year break) was "Falling Angel" by William Hjortsberg (1978).  I enjoyed it so much that, the weekend after I finished, my wife & I watched “Angel Heart”, the 1987 film written for the screen and directed by Alan Parker.

Mysterious Press edition
In 1959 New York, Harry Angel is hired by the mysterious Louis Cyphre to track down Johnny Favourite, a crooner who’s been holed up in a hospital since the war. When Angel discovers that the singer is missing, everyone he speaks to on the trail to find Favourite ends up dead. And all the time, the mysterious Cyphre seems to pop up everywhere, not least haunting Harry’s dreams. A hard-boiled private detective novel, employing (and enjoying) every staple of that genre, this takes things into far darker territory as the novel goes on. Sticking to New York throughout (unlike the film), this often seems like it was written with a pang of nostalgia for the city of old and works all the better for it. The ending, as Harry attends a Black Mass in an abandoned subway station, is painful and bitter and unpleasant and serves as a real kick in the gut, before the final denouement. Having read this before (and seen the film a few times), I was surprised at how many obvious clues Hjortsberg seemed to drop at the start (and the cover art doesn’t help), but the clues got more insidious as it went on. This is a cracking novel, working perfectly as either a hardboiled thriller or a supernatural one, never afraid to lay on the violence and gore, but also treating the love affair between Harry and Epiphany with delicate ease. Very highly recommended.

Re-reading this and watching the film so closely together, I’ve realised that they’re equally good, but Parker took a lot of liberties with the source material (some of which are understandable, some not).

Millipede press edition
The book takes place in 1959, the film in 1955 for no apparent reason (though Mickey Rourke does, at one point, mention he’s 37 when he’s clearly not). All of the book takes place in New York (city or state), but the film moves everything to Louisiana for the voodoo sequences (which gives it a different flavour and does make sense, though I like having everything happen in the city). The Epiphany of the book is an independent young woman, assertive and childless - in the film, she’s independent but hampered by circumstance, she has a child and she’s a lot more obviously sexy. In the book, the relationship develops and is mostly nice and pleasant - the film affair virtually starts and ends with the blood-soaked love-making (which is a visual metaphor for the Black Mass (see later), since nothing like this happens in the book). Ethan Krusemark plays a bigger part in the book (there’s a superb little set-piece where Harry has to do some window cleaning) and has a major role to play in the “first” climax, a Black Mass (only briefly glimpsed in the film) that is awful and gripping, which takes place in the underground system. In the film, he’s seen at the races and ends up dead in a cauldron of gumbo.

Do the changes detract from the power? No, I don’t think so, but they’re not really the same animal. It was nice spotting pieces of film dialogue in the novel but I think a film could be made of “Falling Angel”, sticking very close to the source, which would be every bit as powerful as “Angel Heart” was, without usurping its position as a top drawer film based on the book.

So which is better? I’m going to wimp out here, I can’t pick one. I’d love to see a film that sticks to the book but what we got instead is still a top quality piece of entertainment. So I’ll call it a draw and suggest that whichever you go for - book or film - you won’t be disappointed.

1987 UK quad poster

Monday, 22 September 2014

The NSFWG blog celebrates 100 posts!

Well here we are, post 100 for the Northampton SF Writers Group blog.  It's been entertaining, getting from February 16th 2011 to here and we plan on sticking around for at least 100 more posts and hope that you'll keep visiting.

In case you're new to the blog, here are some pointers to the wide and varied content we've published.

Successes of various group members

Articles from group members

Interviews with members

Posts on writing (including top tips from the likes of Group chairman Ian Watson)

Reviews of films and books

and essays about "The Book That Made Me"

Stick around, there's plenty more to come...

Monday, 15 September 2014

Two new YA books from Tim C. Taylor

An article by NSFWG member Tim C. Taylor

Running a publishing business and doing freelance book design doesn’t leave me much time to write any fiction. That’s a shame because I love to write.  During 2013 I made the time and have been scribbling away in the background, as Monday night regulars at the Swan at Bromham can confirm. Rather than write to hit market demographics and all that, I’ve written for pleasure and relaxation, taking as my inspiration my teenage joys of discovering science fiction and fantasy in such sources as 2000AD, Blake’s 7, Doctor Who, and I guess a little from Dungeons & Dragons too.

I’ve written before about how 2000AD influenced me. I didn’t realize at the time that the writers at the comic were mining every cliche of golden age science fiction from the 40s & 50s and then adding their own spin and taking them in new directions in such series as Tharg’s Future Shocks. When I grew older and started to read the golden age science fiction (and much besides) for myself, I was glad 2000AD had mined that storytelling gold because it would have been denied me otherwise. Sometimes I think contemporary adult short science fiction can be too fixated on trying something new, of needing to be clever. Other than an addiction to making jokey reference to contemporary culture and politics, the cleverness of the 2000AD that I loved in the 1970s and 80s was that the writers were (largely) unconstrained: they were allowed to let their imaginations soar in pursuit of storytelling in a way that I suspect short story writers of that time often felt they were not.

And that has been my approach in these stories. There’s Treasure of the Last Dragon, for instance, which is styled a little like the Famous Five stories I was reading to my son at bedtime, except the children are hexapod aliens. I just thought that was a fun thing to do.

The idea of the playthings of super beings being left around the galaxy was a common wonder in early 2000AD (and a cliche long before then). I combined the essence of that sense of wonder, although not the abandoned plaything idea, with a little teenage angst for my story Collision Course.

There was a craze for Dungeons & Dragons while I was at school. We had a strange spread-out school site built up over many decades with gardens that linked various buildings. There was even a gardener named Arthur who let us in his shed at breaktimes to play D&D or just have a chat. The combination of D&D and Arthur’s shed led me to create St. Rushby’s Home for the Un-parented and write a story about a young forensic sorcerer in The Snot Wizard.

Partly the inspiration for these stories came from Gill Shutt’s Alien Legends. Gill was a talented author and source of creative energy who proof read most of these stories before her untimely loss earlier this year. It was Gill who came up with the initial concept of the Repository of Imagination and who gamely let me mess around with her creation to arrive at the form the Repository takes today. The Senior Repositarian of the Earth branch is one Crustias Scattermush, and I’ve written these books under the Crustias penname. Actually, as my friend Elaine Stirling would explain, Crustias is more than a pen name; he is taking on a heteronymic life of his own. So I take no responsibility for his comments at the end of each story, they are purely his own.

Both of these stories are available as two short Kindle books, each costing less than a dollar or pound.

Click here for more info on: Tales from the Repository of Imagination #1 - Treasure of the Last Dragon 

Click here for more info on: Tales from the Repository of Imagination #2 - The Ultimate Green Energy

I’m quite pleased with the Photoshopped stamp I created for the series, and so since I’m in a mood to show off today, here’s a bonus stamp. I’ve several more stories sketched out or nearly written, so I hope to be using this stamp many more times.

Crustias portrait  © RATOCA –

This originally appeared on Tim's blog in December 2013

Monday, 8 September 2014

Without A Hitch

An article by Chairman Ian Whates

This year, the anthology ‘End of the Road’ (Solaris, edited by Jonathan Oliver) has been shortlisted for both a Shirley Jackson Award and a British Fantasy Award. The following offers some insight into how my story for the book, “Without a Hitch”, came about.

A few years ago I had reason to visit Stephen Baxter at his home in Northumberland. The journey is a long one but not especially complicated – involving, for the most part, a two hundred plus mile slog along the A1. As I set out from Stephen’s for the return trip, RDS kicked in to warn that a major accident had closed the southbound A1 ahead of me. There was a diversion in place but that in turn had become completely jammed and police were advising motorists to expect a delay of up to three hours… I kept track as I drove closer and closer, praying for a miracle. Thankfully, as I skirted Newcastle – still twenty-odd miles short of the incident – the road reopened, but the experience stayed with me. Being a writer, it inevitably triggered the ‘what if…?’ reflex, opening the door to all manner of conjecture. When Jonathan Oliver invited me to submit for the anthology ‘End of the Road’, the memorable trip back from Steve’s instantly sprang to mind.

It wasn’t the only possibility. I also toyed with writing a more fantasy/mediaeval tale, or one featuring an enigmatic road that traversed numerous realities (what might lie at such a road’s eventual end?). However, I kept coming back to the idea of the stranded traveller, of utilising a more mundane setting and featuring a man desperate to get home who suddenly can’t.

I had recently published Chris Beckett’s fabulous second collection, ‘The Peacock Cloak’, via NewCon Press. One of the constituent stories, “Poppyfields”, features Chris’ recurring protagonist Tammy Pendant. I can’t help but admire Tammy for her toughness and her resourcefulness – her survival instinct and willingness to exploit men’s vanities. While plotting my submission for ‘End of the Road’, Tammy came to mind, and I realised she would provide the perfect foil for the developing story. So, I borrowed her (thank you Chris). Oh, this isn’t Tammy, not quite; I gave my character a different context, different motivations, and a more defined cynicism, but the result is definitely Tammy-esque.

Jon Oliver said in his notes introducing “Without a Hitch” in the book that he was surprised, given the anthology’s theme, that mine was the only submission he received that featured a hitchhiker. This gave me pause. Had I taken the easy way out? Had I selected the obvious option that other authors spurned in favour of a greater challenge?

I like to think not. Vanishingly few concepts are truly original; the secret is to twist and shape expectations in an unanticipated fashion to create something distinctive. I’ve never read a story quite like “Without a Hitch”, though some of the constituent elements undoubtedly feel familiar. I know this was the right idea for me to develop for the book, and I’m delighted with the resulting tale. The fact that the editor also liked it is, of course, a very welcome bonus.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The bugbears of Ian Watson (part four)

Group chairman Ian Watson previously contributed two brand new poems to the NSFWG blog (exclusives!), which were - in his words - "attacking misuse of my bugbear words Actinic and Careening".

Inspired, he penned two more which we are presenting here exclusively.  The first regarded "Laying", this time he has his say about "it".

It should also be noted that NSFWG member Nigel Edwards produces IT counts for every story critiqued and fellow member Mark West consistently tops the leaderboard of worst abusers!

by Ian Watson

Sings the tit tit tit tit
I'm so sick of it-itis.

Enter a room, see a book.
Go into it, see it.
Its cover is blue, just like it.

Take it from it
To its proper place
Where it fits, doesn't it?

I've had it
With It-itis
Non-use of nouns.

It's worse than... ellipsis...
And colonitis:
Is It-itis!

Sings the tit tit tit tit

Isn't it?