Monday, 30 March 2015

"Snorky's Moll", a four-part serial by Nigel Edwards

In a change from the usual blog fare, we're going to serialise (over four weeks) a 12,000 word story by member Nigel Edwards.

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By N. G. Edwards 

'Tis but her picture I have yet beheld,
And that hath dazzled my reason's light;

Proteus, of Julia, The Two Gentlemen of Verona: II, iv


I’d been married to Celia for more than fifteen years when I decided to kill her.
We’d been growing apart for a long time, to the point where we each sought out other partners. Sure, even as late as the last few months before the end we mostly maintained a public façade of domesticity, but I know that nobody was fooled. Her concession was to hold onto my arm when we were together in public and mine was to keep her in the style to which she’d become accustomed – glitter by Paloma Picasso, Manhattan handbags from Tiffany’s, hair by Hershberger, vacations wherever the sun was guaranteed, never mind the cost. Always the best, as much as she wanted.
Never enough.
After my third heart attack – a doozey that almost saw me toasting with the angels (or maybe devils; who could say?) – I took early retirement. Before that I’d been engrossed in my work, a high-flyer from the start, destined for success and so addicted to the pressure and the graft that I hadn’t recognized the duplicitous, not to mention libidinous nature of the woman I’d taken to wife (though like I say, I’m no less guilty.) If only I hadn’t been so driven by deadlines and targets, enslaved to the potent, adrenalin-pumping, out-and-out thuggery of the boardroom, maybe I’d have wised up the sooner. But there we are; I had my world, she had hers, and rarely did our orbits intersect.
You might ask why did we stay together so long? I guess the answer – for me at any rate – was apathy. Convenience. Laissez-faire. I was used to her existing somewhere on the periphery of my solar system, orbiting so far from my central sun that it was no hardship to ignore both her presence and her indiscretions.
As for her reasoning, I already said: she liked what I could provide, even if she wasn’t all that keen on the provider any more. Maybe she never had been.
So what tipped the balance? What changed? Let me tell you first how I met Celia, how it all began…

 Rudi’s party, a summer night in ’89 at his waterfront home in the Palm Island neighborhood of Miami’s South Beach. I reached the place across the MacArthur Causeway, driving, as it happened, in the wheel tracks of Al Capone who’d overwintered there before the Feds finally brought him to justice – not that the place’s association with Big Al meant much to me at the time. History was history and I was only interested in the here and now, which at that moment meant the deal I was engineering between Valentino Holdings and my own company, International Investments Incorporated – you’ve probably seen the Triple-I logo; maybe you’ve got some stock. I was VP of Acquisitions, still the right side of thirty-five, headstrong, totally dedicated, eyes on the prize: partnership. I was going for the top and nobody was going to get in my way.
“Hey! Joey! How you doin’?”
There he was, Rudolpho Benito Valentino. No kidding. He told me his mom had once met the great man when she was a young girl, shortly before his early death in 1926, and that she’d fallen hopelessly in love with the icon. Apparently, so Rudi said, the family name was the only reason she’d married his father, Benito Filipo Valentino (what is it with eye-ties and the letter ‘o’?) though I think maybe the fact that old man Valentino was one of the richest people in the Big Apple at that time might have had something to do with it. Whatever, from the moment they married the name of any son they might produce was a done deal.
“Rudi, good to see you,” I replied, shaking his hand. “I’ve got the papers right here,” I added, tapping my breast pocket.
“Yeah, great! But we can do business tomorrow. Tonight is party time! I got primo African black, great food, great wine, and who knows, maybe a little romanticismo, yeah? C’mere, I want you should meet somebody. You’ll love her, a real beauty, tight fighetta! Hey, Celia! C’mere. Here he is, the guy I told you about. Joe, this is Celia. Celia, this is Joe. Oh, scusi, I got to go see Jamie. You know him? Never mind. I introduce you sometime. Bur go talk. Get yourselves drinks. Take a dip in the pool or something. I catch you later. Hey, Jamie…!”
He always left me breathless, Rudi. He always seemed in a hurry, always had so much to say. Somebody meeting him for the first time might figure he was just a wealthy slob, someone with a head full of air. That’d be a mistake. Rudi was as smart as they come. You got into talking business with him and you had to make damn sure you listened to every word and read every line before you placed your moniker where X marked the spot.
“So you’re Joe. Rudi’s told me all about you.”
Celia was a beauty, just as Rudi had said: tanned, well-proportioned, and as it happened fifteen years my junior – though when you looked in her eyes you for sure knew the years she’d had were packed with experience. But what was most striking was the way she carried herself. Head high, shoulders straight, back arched by six-inch stilettos that accentuated a beautifully rounded ass and a face that just knew how good she looked. This was a self-assured young lady.
“Every word is true,” I said, escorting her to the bar where the barman for the night supplied me with a bourbon.
“I’ll have another Martini,” she told him. “Every word?”
“Well, mostly. But I’m disadvantaged here. Rudi’s kept you a secret. All I know is that your name’s Celia. Want to fill in the blanks?”
She shrugged. “There’s not much to tell, really. I was raised by my mother in Joliet, Illinois, went to school in the rain and snow and couldn’t wait to leave. I came to Miami in search of sun and adventure and, well, here I am.”
“I guess you found the sun. What about the adventure?”
“Ah.” Her eyes sparkled. “that would be telling. Anyway, I’d much rather we talked about you. Rudi said you were a man who was going places. He said you were a hard negotiator and that you were dedicated to your work, that you didn’t have time for any social life. That can’t be true, can it?”
I shrugged. “If you’re going to get anywhere and make something of yourself, if you want to be the best at what you do, you have to stay focused. And I am the best at what I do.”
“How sad.” She wandered over to the pool and I followed, her scent an intriguing lure. We settled on a couple of loungers and watched the sun begin to disappear beyond the horizon. Around thirty other guests – a few I knew, most I didn’t – were attending the party and most of them were now finding convenient spots from which to watch day become night, when natural light was replaced by the flickering glow of downtown Miami.
“Why sad?”
“If all you do is work then you only have half a life. Everybody needs to escape now and then, grab a little me-time. If you don’t...”
“If I don’t…?”
“Don’t you ever feel lonely? When you come out of your meetings with grey suits and go home, don’t you sometimes want to do more than just switch on the TV and tune in to Bloomberg and count how much your stock is worth?”
“Who says that’s what I do? Maybe after work I go skinny-dipping, or throw wild parties.”
She shook her head. “No. I’ll bet it’s always late by the time you get in. You turn on the light, throw your briefcase on a chair and fix yourself a drink, maybe a TV dinner. And it won’t matter what day it is because all your days will be the same. You work and sleep because that’s all there is in your life. And I think that’s sad.”
Rudi hadn’t told her those things because all Rudi knew was my professional side. But somehow she’d got the hang of me, like she’d been an unseen observer looking over my shoulder since the day I de-enlisted from the National Guard.
“So what do you suggest?”
She looked at me with big, almond eyes.
“Did Rudi tell you I have a tight fighetta? Would you like to find out for yourself?”

 A few months later we married in Rio, and a year from then, after we got back from a honeymoon that took in Paris, Rome, and London, finishing on the Valentino family’s private island in the Med, I took my seat on the board of Triple-I as a full partner. And that’s when the real work began. More and longer meetings. Tougher negotiations. Harder decisions. And parties. It seemed as if every weekend there was a party somewhere, usually with some commercial backdrop: private get-togethers, like at Rudi’s where most guests already knew each other; formal black-tie dinners for starting new or cementing existing relationships with the financially rich and politically powerful. And with these came sweeteners and benefits: opening nights in New York or LA with the stars of the latest blockbuster movie; sporting meets around the world – racing at Monaco, the Superbowl, the honbasho at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, the Winter Olympics in France, and so on. We went to them all, dined on white diamond caviar and blue lobster, and drank Perrier-Jouet.
Looking back from the present it all seems a bit remote, like catching glimpses of distant mountaintops poking through a haze of fluffy cloud. But that’s the way things were, then. And I appreciated it, for a while. Celia had set me free from the work-sleep-work regime she’d so correctly diagnosed. Even when the novelty of the social life had worn off I still participated because that’s what Celia wanted. I’d convinced myself that I – we – were deeply in love. I bought her whatever she wanted, took her wherever she wanted. She asked, I supplied – and I scarcely noticed that, as the years rolled by, we were spending less and less time together.
So then, at the age of forty I got my first heart attack. I was hospitalized for ten days at an exclusive clinic in Switzerland. That’s where realization began to dawn that things between Celia and me were not as they should be. Sure, she visited every day, but never for more than an hour; and when she left she would give me a kiss – but always on my forehead, never my lips. That was a detail I didn’t spot at the time, though a few days after my release the memory surfaced to vex me. I ignored it, convincing myself the kiss was nothing more than a demonstration of tenderness, like maybe a mother would show.
I had two more attacks over the next six years, each requiring longer and more intensive care under medical supervision. The frequency of Celia’s visits declined sharply until, by the end of my third stay, they’d disappeared altogether. So much for the mothering instinct.
Work was still my main preoccupation. Even in hospital, during the convalescence phases I took part in conference calls and electronic meetings – you had to keep a finger on the pulse or you’d get sidelined pretty damned quick. There were plenty of warnings from the doctors, telling me I had to slow down, not get so involved, take things easier if I wanted to see fifty – though in the same breath they’d recommend I should exercise more, which seemed kind of contradictory; how could taking things easy and exercising more be on the same side? But after that last attack I figured I’d better listen to their advice, so I began to wean myself off the junky thrill of high-powered deals and took up tennis, initially with Celia as my partner in mixed doubles but that didn’t last long. She was more interested in the weekend and night-time social scene, and when I told her that I was going to have to cut down on such things she said okay but would I mind if she carried on without me? I said no, I didn’t mind, and that was the real beginning of the end.
Soon I was getting reports from ‘friends’ about how Celia had been seen in the company of young and handsome beaus. Studs, as some of those friends described them. This didn’t come as the shock you might think. Although I’d never consciously admitted this, I guess I’d known for some time that she was unfaithful. I never said anything to her. I don’t know why. Instead I retaliated with my own flirtations. Celia wasn’t nineteen anymore – though she was still a very beautiful and alluring woman – and I was on the down-slope some ways ahead of her. She had a predilection for young and virile, so I allowed myself similar diversions. And I was rich, of course; I could afford for the both of us to play our little games and still keep up the front of husband and wife, for a while at least. Besides, it wasn’t as if we were the only ones. I could name half a dozen couples similarly occupied.
And that’s how things might have continued but for one crazy moment in my life. I found a photograph. Not of Celia, but of someone I didn’t know. What’s so crazy about that? What impact could it possibly have? I’ll tell you…

 Health concerns drove me to retire in the fall of 2004. The company arranged for a big party in the historic Carbide & Carbon Building along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, coinciding with our new purchase of that Art Deco landmark. We’d beaten Hard Rock to the punch; they’d been planning for it to be a hotel.
Everybody who was anybody came: Rich Daley, chasing his father’s record for longest standing Chicago Mayor; Bill Murray, full of the success of Lost in Translation; Michelle LaGroue, the only woman to have held the Miss Illinois title twice, 2002 and 2004; and Rod Blagojevich, 40th governor of Illinois state, plus a host of sharks from the business world. And Rudi was there as well, all the way from Miami – but don’t read friendship into that. This was business for him, too.
Both my retirement and the celebration of the firm’s occupancy of the C&CB were conveniences, vehicles for forging and re-forging ties with the movers and shakers. ‘Contacts for contracts’, as Eugene, senior partner and founder of Triple-I, often said. I’d always endorsed this epithet but that evening I felt distanced from the buzz of business. I couldn’t get enthused by the commercial turkey that fogged the air. My decision to retire, I guess; knowing that any deals coming out of this shindig would be steered by others; that my future interest would be no more than that of any other stockholder; it was all kind of depressing. Okay, I’d be welcome to ‘drop by any time to pass on words of wisdom to the young guns’, as Eugene said at the after-dinner. And I responded in kind: how I knew the firm was in safe hands with him at the helm; how I was waiting for Eugene to join me in a long, post-work vacation – he was almost twenty years older than me, and I don’t think he planned ever to leave! But it was only words.
“You’re going to miss it, Joey,” Rudi told me through a cloud of Cuban. “I’ll give it six months and you’ll be beggin’ Eugene to take you back.”
“Not a chance. I’ll give you six months before those things finally get to your ticker and then it’ll be you that’s begging to join me!
He laughed and took a satisfied puff. “Uh-uh, pal! Besides, what better place is there in the world than Miami to work and play at the same time, yeah? Have you met Melody?” He pulled a tall twenty-something close to his side. Blonde, curves, in love with money. Rudi was hardly ever without someone who matched that description. “Great arusso! Go get me another drink, honey.” He patted her ass as she swayed off in the direction of the bar.
“If those cigars don’t finish you, Rudi, she looks like she could.”
He shrugged. “What else should I do with my greens? Life’s for living, Joey.”
I smiled. If anyone seemed to know how to have a good time, it was Rudi.
“Listen,” he continued, “if you should change your mind about this retirement thing, I could find you a space, you know? I got a soft spot for you, fuck knows why, you ain’t even Italian.”
I told him I’d think about it but we both knew it wouldn’t happen. This retirement wasn’t just a fancy; my heart insisted on it.
“Oh. Look who just turned up.” Rudi nodded to the door as Celia made her usual, could-have-been-a-movie-star entrance. “Maybe I do know why I care. It was me that introduced you.”
She came over, having the courtesy to at least send her accompanying toy-boy to fetch her a drink.
“Rudi, it seems ages since we saw you last. And Joe. So the day’s finally arrived. I hope it’s not going to impact too much on your earning potential.”
“Celia. You’re looking well. I missed you at breakfast.” Our exchanged smiles told everything.
We made three-way small-talk for a while, Celia with a bright smile – or should that be brittle? – conversing engagingly. It was something she was real good at. Of course, everyone at the party knew the reality of our situation but nobody said anything. Nobody cared. Most lived lies not so very different to ours.
Celia wandered off to mingle, eventually disappearing (but not exactly secretively) about midway through the evening accompanied by her latest catch. I didn’t actually know the guy she was with, but at the same time I did know him. He was a stereotype, half my age and around ten years younger than her. When she returned about thirty minutes later I made sure she saw me talking with Michelle – the model, remember? Not that I had any expectation of success there. The beauty queen was well chaperoned by an attentive and athletic young stud. But that didn’t matter. Later, I picked up with one of the professional hostesses the company always made sure were available at get-togethers like that. I don’t recall her name. We escaped to the floor above the party to make whoopee on a thickly upholstered sofa in a room that was destined to be a coffee lounge. It wasn’t the greatest bang I’d ever had but then I was only indulging in answer to Celia’s current indiscretion. In fact, what I remember most is that I didn’t last ten minutes in the hostess’s professional hands. I’m pretty sure the woman didn’t care. A couple of C notes passed from my wallet to her purse, a customary tip for the extra service.
Ten minutes, though, was too short a time. I couldn’t have us return until we’d been absent at least as long as Celia so I told the girl to take a bathroom break for a quarter of an hour. Cost me an extra fifty, but so what? I mooched around for a while before heading for the elevator where I punched in floor number twenty-one; but that’s not where I ended up. Maybe my finger slipped to the button below but whatever, the doors slid open on sixteen. You could ask why I didn’t just press the buttons and try again but I honestly wouldn’t have an answer. I stepped out into a dim-lit corridor.
Floor sixteen was still being worked on. All the structural labor was complete: cabling laid, fixtures and fittings fixed and fitted, and so forth; but stepladders rested against walls and dustsheets lay in heaps on the floor ready for when the decorators returned to apply final coats. Several doors were serviced by the corridor and after a moment or two looking up and down I opened one at random.
The room was dark. My groping hand found a light switch, and fluorescent tubes buzzed into flickering life, disclosing an unremarkable parcel of office space. Desks, chairs and filing cabinets were ready and waiting for human occupation. Everything was new, of course… well, almost everything. On the far side of the room, beneath the jalousie-guarded window, was a two-drawer, freestanding chest of old, dark wood. It was an incongruity, a blemish on the face of the pristine. I crossed over.
The chest was what Rudi would have called rifiuti, battered and dented, surface notched and marked, and stained by Lord knows how many coffee rings and paint spills, fit only for the garbage man to recycle, but… I was intrigued by its presence. Why was it there? Where had it come from? My guess was that it had been found i by the decorators who, noting its dilapidated condition, had used it as a convenient table for resting their brushes, paint cans, and mugs while they went about their business. The Carbide & Carbon Building was constructed in 1929, and for all I could tell that chest might have been there since day one. I bent down and slid open the top drawer. Whatever might once have been inside, now there was only a dirty rag, some candy wrappers and an empty pack of Camels.
The second drawer was harder to shift. It pulled a quarter way and then stuck, but from what I could see it held even less, which is to say nothing, though I couldn’t see too far inside. I gave another, more resolute tug and the thing budged a fraction more before jamming tight, half open, half shut. I gave up trying and straightened up, but as I unbent something caught my eye. In that final movement a piece of card that must have been wedged between the drawer and the carcass slipped to the floor. I collected it up. It was a photograph, monochrome, grainy, faded yellow round the edges. The back was grubby and devoid of any writing – no title, or date or anything – but the subject was unmistakably the man with the notorious nickname of Scarface. I don’t know where it was taken; maybe at a ball-game, maybe at the track. Either way, he was clearly engrossed with whatever was happening in front of him.
Yet it wasn’t the infamous mobster who drew my attention. Sitting near was a woman, kind of out of focus, not especially pretty, dressed in the fashion of her time. She was separated from the man by some old biddy, maybe a friend or relative. I didn’t know who either of them were but one thing was absolutely certain in my mind: the younger one was looking at me. Not looking to her right. Not looking at something out of camera shot. At me. Which was just crazy. I was there in the present and she was a slightly blurred image of black and white on a thin piece of developed paper. Yet the longer I looked the surer I became that she could see me, that she knew I was there. I stared back and as the seconds passed a weird sense of connection crept over me, as well as a feeling of inevitability. A scent from nowhere tickled my nostrils, cheap perfume and low price alcohol laced with stale tobacco. A touch of erotic heat caressed my loins but at the same time a chill entered my bones, a sharp, cutting-edge tremble of freezing ice.
If ever I knew that something was about to happen it was there and then.
“Hey, buddy. What’re you doing in there?”
That wasn’t it. A burley uniformed guard was standing by the open doorway. I’d not realised I’d stopped breathing but his sudden presence forced a gush of stale air from my lungs.
“Uh, oh. Sorry, I was just…”
The man advanced into the room. “What’s your name, pal?”
My name? It took me a moment to recall that simple fact but eventually I managed to tell him.
“I’m with the party,” I added.
“Yeah? Well, you stay just where you’re at.”
He picked a walkie-talkie from his belt and engaged in conversation with an unseen ally, all the time holding me in close scrutiny as he relayed my name and described my appearance. Finally he seemed satisfied.
“Okay, sir. You check out. But you shouldn’t go wandering around. There’s work been going on, you know, equipment lying around. You could easy trip over something.”
Yes, I knew. I thanked the guard for his advice, commended his diligence and, conscious of his eyes still on me, returned to the elevator. In my hand I still held the photo. Pushing it into a pocket I thumbed the button.
“Thanks again,” I called out as the doors hummed shut.
This time I made it back to the party.

…continued in Part Two.

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©2014 by Nigel Edwards. All rights reserved

Copyright of Cover Images remains with their originators: and

Monday, 23 March 2015

Ian Watson on Stanley Kubrick (an interview)

The following is an interview conducted in 2009 with Ian Watson about Stanley Kubrick.  It was published in the souvenir booklet of an Italian film festival in Pescara and this is the first time it's been published in English.

Emilio d’Alessandro, Christiane Kubrick, and Ian at the Festival Internazionale della Fantascienza in Trieste, September 2001

1) How was working with Stanley Kubrick on the script of A.I.?

A bit like navigating a 4-dimensional maze designed by Escher, because Stanley would switch topics suddenly every ten minutes or so, including topics that had nothing at all to do with the movie.   I don’t know whether this was a conscious or unconscious technique, but it served to keep your thinking in top gear all the time.  So the process could be a bit exhausting – for Stanley, also.

2) Why was he attracted by that subject and by science fiction in general?

In general, a new frontier for the creative imagination.  But without repeating himself, so he himself never made a sequel to 2001.  I see a magical fairytale mirror-image of 2001, a way of learning to love the artficial beings we create, rather than distrust them as in the case of HAL.

3) How much did he rely on the writers of his films as far as your experience with him can tell?

Considerably.  Stanley had a vision and an instinct, but he needed these embodied in narrative events, which is the writer’s job.

4) How did the making of a movie and, in your case, the writing of one intertwine with his real life?

Stanley most certainly had a real life, upon which he lavished a lot of care and attention and love.  But this did not happen in public, particularly after the crazy newspaper publicity following A Clockwork Orange.   While I was working with Stanley he talked about his family, and about mine.  We didn’t just work.  Partly this was because Stanley wanted to know the person he was working with, on his dream project.  I call it a dream project because he wanted to make a modern scientific fairytale which should be magical – as well as having a dark side, as magic and indeed fairytales do.  But I never assumed I had become a close friend, as I understand Malcolm McDowell came to believe, mistakenly.  Stanley had too much to do to become best friends with the world, no matter how closely he focused upon individuals while he was working with them.  But at the same time Stanley was in constant contact with the outside world.  He was no recluse.

5) Was he a control freak? And why?

I can hardly call Stanley a control freak when he wished me to write whatever I chose to write, within the general framework of the idea of A.I.   Stanley might receive what I wrote with joy or disdain, but he was always open to any new possibility, such as when I invented Gigolo Joe who became a mainstay of the film.  On that occasion I remember Stanley saying, “Well, we’ve lost the kiddy audience now – but what the hell!”   He would recognize what he wanted when he read it, but up until then he wouldn’t know, so he couldn’t dictate what I did with the story, just give general guidelines – or hopes -- based on the brainstorming which we did for hours.  It’s true that Stanley would tend to try to consume your life, but if you stood up for yourself he was reasonable enough.  The problem with some writers is that fundamentally they were scared of him, or scared of losing potential money or potential “fame,” but this didn’t bother me at all.  
If only a lot of other directors were “control freaks” in the sense of meticulous attention to every detail, not least (from my point of view) the Story – which in Hollywood is often skimped on, butchered, or thrown together at the last moment even in the midst of shooting.

6) What were his true obsessions in his life and in his work?

Death and love.  This is what came to me immediately.  But maybe you could also say: Beauty and Truth, in the sense of the perfect integration of all aspects of cinema including costume, music, lighting, whatever.  Perhaps he is the Wagner of Cinema.  Beauty and Truth, in the sense that mathematicians recognize Truth because of the Beauty of an equation.  To ordinary mortals an equation might seem a bit formal and cool, but to a mathematician it is passionately exciting.

7) How do you remember your working daily schedule with him?

Since I work best early on, in the morning I wrote scenes we’d discussed previously and faxed them before lunch.  Stanley would phone for maybe an hour, and encourage me to carry on or write different scenes entirely, or rebuke me.  I visited him on average twice a week, for lunch followed by three or four hours’ brainstorming.  I never wrote scenes in the afternoons or at weekends because I told him I had to have a life or else I would just burn out; and by this I survived.  My brains only turned into scrambled egg a couple of times during 9 months.

8) Which was the best part and which the worst?

The best part was when I came up with Gigolo Joe and we saw a whole new way forward, because up until then little David and Teddy weren’t going to have much chance on their own.  There wasn’t really a worst.  Despite his impatience to get the Best Right Now, Stanley was also very patient – able to wait for years, for example.  So occasional impatience with me also contained patience.  And when we agreed to part company (because he thought that we’d failed, even though he changed his mind 3 months later) he did so in a civilised and friendly way.

9) Could we say that he was always an American author notwithstanding his long stay in UK?

Auteur, you mean.  Often I felt he was more European than American.  Deeply admiring the Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski for example.   I never felt that he was particularly an American.  Though he certainly wasn’t remotely English.  He belonged to a separate country called Kubrickland, which in a sense spanned the whole world, certainly as regards his interests.

For more on Ian's dealings with Stanley Kubrick, he wrote an essay which appears on his website and can be accessed here

Monday, 16 March 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett

Memories of a Master - thoughts on the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett

Terry and Me: an anecdote

Terry and Ian - photo by Peter Michaleczky
A few years before this photo was taken, Terry and I were at a convention in Düsseldorf.  We took the elevator up the Rhine Tower to the observation deck which has glass windows slanting forward at about 45%.  Strong glass: German youths without vertigo throw themselves upon the glass hanging 170 metres above the ground to impress their girlfriends.  Terry wisely retreated, his back to the elevator wall.  I calculated: obviously no German youths had died so far due to any panel of glass giving way beneath their weight.  To Terry's horror, I lowered myself upon the glass, carefully—and I did get a story out of this, called "Looking Down on You", with a walk-on (or rather stand-rigid) role for Terry.

Despite my alarming misbehaviour, Terry generously offered to drive to my house from his own about 70 miles away to put useful programmes on my hard disk with names which I forget, such as QuickSkip or something similar—Terry was much more geek than me.

This was extremely kind of him.   A few minutes after Terry drove away from my house in my dark little village quite late at night, in his Ford...

I pause to mention that Terry drove a Ford back then because it was a very standard car with spare parts available everywhere.  A few years later, to indulge himself, well justifiably, he decided to buy a Rolls-Royce.  So he walked into a Rolls-Royce showroom and told the salesperson, "I want one with all the trimmings."  The salesperson led Terry to the top-of-the-range Roller and Terry looked around inside it while the salesperson was opening up the bonnet.
"Fine," said Terry, "I'll take it."   
"But Sir," gasped the salesman, "don't you want to see the engine?"  
"No," said Terry, "I assume it works."

...anyway, in his Ford Terry had been gone a few minutes when I saw on my floor Terry's black bag containing all his disks, and maybe discworld too, left behind.

Clutching that bag, immediately I raced over the road to my own car, a Mazda 3 (spare parts a nuisance to find), started up and went vroom.  Ten miles from my village Terry would reach the M40 motorway and be unstoppable, but late at night no traffic was on my rural road, I knew all the many bends, and any car coming towards me would reveal itself with its headlights.  What if I hit a badger or a Muntjac deer?  That would make a mess—of the badger or deer, and probably the front of my Mazda.  But over the course of many years I had only seen live Muntjacs twice, and live badgers never.

Vroom-vroom.  Where the road dives down and bends beside Thorpe Mandeville I knew exactly where to change down to third gear to boost Mazda out of the dip, revs raging, while avoiding both potholes before curving into three hundred yards of straight at high speed.  Go on, Mazda, you can do it!  I knew how late I could leave it to brake before twisting left and down.

After about seven miles I caught up with Terry's Ford, so I flashed my lights and indicators and hooted a lot.

Terry accelerated.  He must have thought an impatient drunk driver was following him.   Hmm, I must have drunk something while hosting Terry.

So next I flashed and hooted and overtook Terry.  Indicating left, quickly I pulled into an open space which I knew would be there by the road while opening my window and frantically waving my arm.

Failing to understand the intentions of an evidently dangerous lunatic, Terry sped past me fast.

Quickly I pulled out and revved. After another mile of bends—no sign of oncoming cars lights, or badgers—I caught up with Terry again.  By now the motorway was getting closer; this had to be my last attempt.

Straight stretch ahead—and vroom I overtook Terry again at about 80 miles per hour.  I needed to be well ahead of him, and he might have slowed a bit now that the madman was past—for then I did what before I had only seen in films: I braked and turned my car sideways to block the road.

Terry stopped fifty yards back.

I got out, gesturing with his black bag.

As I strode towards him, I swear that he became smaller and smaller till somebody more like a Carpet Person was clutching the open window of the Ford.

"What do you want?" said a tiny voice.  Evidently Terry totally failed to recognise me.

"You left your bag, Terry," I said.

"Oh," came the tiny voice.

I bundled the bag through the car window and little hands received it.   "Thank you."

He still didn't recognise me.

When I mentioned this car chase to Terry a few years later, he denied that any such thing ever happened.  Post-traumatic Stress, I suppose.

Ian Watson

* * * * *
‘Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.’

Twenty-odd years ago I was browsing in my (now sadly Amazonised to oblivion) local bookshop, searching for something to read to my children at bedtime. I happened upon a neat box set trilogy called Truckers/Diggers/Wings

That night I read my daughter and son chapter one of the first book, went downstairs, and promptly read the rest of the novel in one sitting, accompanied by the frequent rejoinder from my wife in the next room ‘What are you laughing at?’ The answer, of course, was Terry Pratchett’s effortless genius in writing a novel that on one level was a rip-roaring children’s adventure and on another was a wry and hilarious adult commentary on the state of the world.

I saw Sir Terry at the Hay Literary Festival a few years ago. He filled the main venue. It was clear that his cognition had slowed and that he was working hard to maintain his concentration, but the whole room was full of total admiration of the very fact that, under the circumstances, he was there at all, any snooty concepts of him being a mere ‘genre’ author long since dissolved.

I remember his 2010 Richard Dimbleby Lecture (delivered by his ‘stunt Terry’, Tony Robinson) on the BBC, a humane, logical, impassioned and essentially unanswerable plea for the availability of assisted dying to those who might want the option. He has also been vigorously fearless in putting the unglamorous topic of dementia into the public forum and keeping it there.

When genius dies young (and believe me, modern medicine means that for many of us, 66 is the new 46) there is always the thought ‘what if?’ Now there’s something to mull over as we re-read his 70 plus collected works.

Thanks for all the laughs Sir T.

‘The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.’

Steve Longworth

* * * * *
My route into Discworld is linked inextricably to my best friend, which makes it all the more special for me.  When we were growing up, I was always the reader whilst it’s fair to say Nick avoided books whenever possible.  Then, in the mid-80s, he discovered Discworld and was drawn into it completely.  In the early 90s, I finally gave in to his exhortations to “just try this one, you’ll love it” and read “Mort”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I haven’t read a great deal of him since but Nick has and he was jealous when I told him Sir Terry was to be a Guest of Honour at the World Fantasy Convention in 2014.  I went to his talk, which was very well attended (the auditorium was packed, people were standing around the sides) and the love in the room for the man was palpable.  Unfortunately he wasn’t having the best of days but he was funny and engaging and I hope he realised just how much he meant to everyone in that room.

He once said “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away” and if that’s the case, Sir Terry Pratchett will live on for many years to come.

Mark West

* * * * *
If greatness can be measured by the number of people who grieve at your passing, then surely Terry Pratchett must qualify.  I didn’t know Sir Terry, and only met him a few times, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the great upwelling of loss being expressed on social media.  My first encounter with him was at Worldcon in Glasgow, 2005, when he very graciously stopped in a corridor and signed a small pile of books I was carrying.  He didn’t need to.  There was an official signing slot at which such things were supposed to be done, but he did so without quibble and with apparent pleasure, joking and nattering as he wrote.  Later that evening I met him again in the bar, where he continued to be in fine spirits.

This was before the illness.  I only saw him once after he was diagnosed, at the SFX Weekender in 2010.  He was sitting in the ‘pub’ bar, alone, though all the tables around him were occupied by fans who must have recognised him but were perhaps too over-awed to speak, which is a shame because Terry looked like someone who really wanted a chat.  I did speak, though only in passing – I was due to be heading home and was trying to hunt down an author who had disappeared with signing sheets for a forthcoming anthology.  I don’t think he recognised me but doubt that had anything to do with the illness; how could someone who meets so many people be expected to recall a brief encounter from years ago among so many thousands of similar?  He seemed no different – yes I looked for signs, I’m only human – though of course he was.  A fact that has been brought home so forcefully in the past twenty-four hours.

No, I didn’t know Sir Terry, but I miss him.

Ian Whates

* * * * *
Really I don't have the words to express how sad I feel.  Terry Pratchett was Tolkien with a huge dash of  Humour.  I just hope Death teaches him to play lead guitar so he can strum his way up the stairway to heaven.

Nigel Edwards

* * * * *
I’m saddened by the death of Sir Terry Pratchett at the young age of 66. Probably one of the few people who actually deserve a knighthood in my opinion. Okay, I’ll be honest. I only ever read half of one of his books. I didn’t finish The Colour of Magic. I gave up on it not because it was a bad book but because I wasn’t in the mood for it. I was young, pretentious and wanted to read something dark and moody. Now I’m older and less cynical I’d probably love it. I’m really tempted by Wintersmith after having heard the fantastic concept album by Steeleye Span based on his work with a narration by the man himself.

Okay, so I haven’t read any of his books but Sir Terry has indirectly been responsible for some great conversations between myself and his fans. I feel I know the plots to his books better than any reader as Terry’s fans eulogise about the walk that Death takes across the desert. Conversations usually go like this.

Me: ‘Oh, you like terry Pratchett. You’d love Neil Gaiman and what about Michael Moorcock?’

Pratchett Fan: ‘No, but have you read Geroge RR Martin/Tolkien/CS Lewis etc’

These conversations usually take place in the dull reality of the work place and many an afternoon has been lightened by such conversations. For those moments alone, Sir Terry I thank you and I will get round to reading Wintersmith soon. Honest.

Paul Melhuish

* * * * *

Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015) was an English author of fantasy novels, best known for his Discworld series of 41 volumes. His first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971, and since his first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983, he wrote two books a year on average.  He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 and was knighted for services to literature in the 2009 New Year Honours

Sir Terry died at his home from a severe chest infection with final complications from his Alzheimer's, according to his publisher.  A sequence of tweets from his account written by his daughter Rhianna just after his death started with "AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER." then "Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night." The third tweet was a link to an obituary notice, followed by the final tweet of his account, which simply read: "The End."

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett, thanks for it all

Monday, 9 March 2015

‘Were my Parents Satanists?’ Childhood Paranoia exposed by Paul Melhuish

NSFWG member Paul Melhuish examines childhood worry (and has fun doing it...)

When I was eight years old I thought that my parents were part of a satanic cult, or they might have been demons in human form, I wasn’t quite sure.  Anyway, I got it into my head that they couldn’t be trusted because they were up to something. My dad would stop at the top of the stairs after he’d put me to bed for some reason and I imagined that he was talking to the devil, or a demon, or an alien, or an alien demon. In reality I think we was just fiddling with the thermostat. Childhood paranoia was nothing new; I was also convinced that the house where we lived was haunted. In my bedroom the cupboard door never closed and I was sure there was someone in there looking out at me.
is this what my parents were up to on a Friday night? And they told me they were line dancing down the British Legion
We lived in an isolated part of Oxfordshire in a hamlet of around 15 houses located halfway down a hill. Directly north of the hamlet was a massive dark wood which was definitely haunted and that’s where they were going to take me when they sacrificed me, or took me to be possessed by the alien demon or whatever. My parents weren’t the only ones involved in this cult, everyone else who lived in this hamlet were also part of it. Mr Griggs opposite, Mrs Vernon next door. Even Mr and Mrs Howlett who walked their dog past my house every day.  However, I couldn’t be absolutely sure that any of this was true, I just had unfounded suspicions. A psychoanalyst would have a have a field day if they’d used the eight year old me as a case study.

There were other terrors to face, real terrors, such as the school bully and authoritarian teachers at the village primary school I attended. (step forward Kingham Primary School and particularly Mrs Anderson) so I couldn’t fully concentrate on my imagined terrors. As I said, I also doubted their validity.

By the time I was ten I eventually worked out that my parents weren’t Satanists and the tiny hamlet of Kingham Hill wasn’t populated by weird sect members. The school bully got moved to another class but Mrs Anderson was still a twat.

So, this is a pretty weird thing for a kid to imagine but I was a pretty weird kid and, some would say, I’m a pretty weird adult. I’ve always had an overactive imagination and I believe, as a child, you begin to identify what is real and what is not. This was one of those learning curves, I guess. My doubts about the validity of these hypotheses kept my behaviour in check; I never acted on these fears and tried to run away for home. I never of actively distrusted my parents to the point that affected our relationship abnormally. As far as I know they knew nothing about my paranoid fantasies. As an adult I’m not ‘coming to terms’ with it or ‘seeking closure’ because the experience wasn’t real.

These days I channel the same ‘what if’s’ into my writing and it gets pretty close to the knuckle sometimes using current realities I’ve twisted into fictions. The spark of the idea has to come from somewhere, so where the hell did this paranoid fantasy come from? How did I know of the existence of Satanist cults at the age of eight? Where did I get the idea of immediate family and a whole community being part of something that wished to harm or forcibly subsume me?

I dimly remember seeing the film The Devils Rain as a child. The plot runs like this: a man returns to his family to find out that they are all part of satanic cult. I don’t think my parents would have let me watch such a film at that age or let me stay up that late so as an explanation this doesn’t fit. There must have been some other stimuli to trigger this.

I think I’ve found it.
ah, there's the culprit!
I got the DVD Children of the Stones for Christmas. I watched it the other day and was quite surprised at what I saw. Children of the Stones is a TV series filmed in Avebury, the village built within the famous stone circle. Everyone in the village, apart from the protagonist and his father, are part of this cult The Happy Ones. There is one chilling scene where the protagonist stumbles upon the whole village standing on the village green holding hands singing at night.

Gotcha! So this is the guilty party. Children of the Stones was shown in 1977 and I remember watching it. I think that scene was the trigger. One year later I thought that my parents and the rest of the community were all in on something weird. Ironically, the TV series was shown at tea time, being a children’s television programme. The DVD has a 12 certificate.

I’m not saying that this should never have been shown. If I’d not seen this then something else would have triggered my paranoia. I watched Doctor Who every week, maybe I’d have believed my parents were Autons or something. I also believe these fantasies were by products of my real fears of school bullies and teachers.
The Rollright Stones - definitely a portal to another dimension
I grew up to be a normalish teenager and a normalish adult. My parents moved when I was 24 to Great Rollright, the village with the stone circle nearby. I think if they’d moved there when I was eight that really would have sent me over the edge. They’ve moved to a stone circle, they’re definitely going to sacrifice me/possess my soul/send me to the mother ship.

When I was in my twenties I asked my mother is she had ever been part of a Satanist cult when I was a child. She laughed.

‘Of course not,’ she said. ‘We were too busy working in the underground lab testing the subsonic paranoia machine for intended for use on children.’

Names have been changed for the purposes of anonymity.

(originally published at Paul's blog)

Monday, 2 March 2015

Thinner, reviewed by Donna Bond

As part of NSFWG member Mark West's "King For A Year" project, fellow member Donna Scott (as Donna Bond) has contributed a review of Stephen King's novel "Thinner".

The review can be read here.