The Busker: Book of the Month – September 2016

By the mid-1990’s traditional genre publishing, including horror, had virtually disappeared. It was a trend which was not doing fans any favours.

At that time I was doing very well with Zebra/Kensington, USA, but out of the blue they informed me that they were discontinuing their horror list and concentrating on self-help books and romances. In view of my encouraging sales I was not pleased to put it mildly.

So I decided to try self-publishing. This was in the days before e-books and Print-on-Demand so I had to go down the traditional road and found a very reasonably priced printer in Ireland. There was much work involved in preparing a manuscript for the printers and I am indebted to Hal Astell for his help in this.

“The Busker” was published in 1998. It had already been short-listed for the Lichfield Prize and, following other short-listings in previous years, would have been published by Sphere who sponsored these awards. But, of course, Sphere were no longer interested in horror!

I had set this unusual horror novel in the City of Lichfield. A somewhat unusual dark fantasy theme, it was launched there at the James Redshaw bookshop with a very encouraging attendance on the evening.

The cover picture was provided by my good friend, Andrew Compton, a professional press photographer. As we decided upon a picture of the Busker, the central character, I decided to pose for this, clad in ragged garb, a hat pulled down over my face in order to hide my identity.

Then, one of the fans at the launch, raised a hand and asked “who’s the Busker then?”

I had my explanation ready, that there had been this tramp in the district for some time and I had paid him a quid to lie down in the grass and have his photo taken.

“Then why is he wearing your pullover?” the fan fired back at me!

Okay, I then had to admit to being the Busker on that photo shoot.

Dixon Hawke Stories

Dixon Hawke Stories

From boyhood I had always been fascinated by the adventures of Dixon Hawke and his young assistant Tommy Burke. They were really carbon copies of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, as were Sexton Blake and Tinker.

Hawke stories were launched by D.C. Thomson in 1919 in a small 100-page booklet, ‘The Dixon Hawke Library’, which was published until 1941, 576 issues in all. Then we had the annual paperback of short stories which lasted until the early 1960s.

Alongside these publications were Hawke stories in Thomson’s boys’ paper, “Adventure”, launched in 1921. They were somewhat different, though, as here the Dover Street detective featured in yarns which were full of action, whereas in the case books and the earlier ‘libraries’ he solved his cases by his powers of deduction.

Then in the late 1960s on a holiday in Scotland I discovered that the “Sporting Post”, Thomson’s weekly football paper, carried a complete DH short story. So I decided to give it a go and submitted a 1,000 – word mystery.

The outcome was that my story was accepted and the editorial director wrote and invited me to meet her for afternoon tea at a Birmingham hotel. Over tea and scones she explained that they needed a weekly DH story and was I interested in writing more for them? I didn’t need asking twice!

My next two submissions were accepted, followed by a rejection of my third for a trivial reason. I could have amended it but D.C. Thomson did not work like that – it was either an acceptance or a rejection. Eventually I sussed it out. They considered that 52 stories a year was too heavy a workload for one writer so the purpose of the editorial director’s tour of the UK was to assemble a team. That way they had more than enough stories so some had to be turned down.

In due course I had a file of around half-a-dozen stories that had not been accepted. However, it became clear to me that DH editors were changing around every six months. So I tested “newcomers” with some of my rejections – and in many cases had those stories accepted!

I wrote numerous DH stories up until around 1974. By that time I had had my first horror novel accepted and another commissioned by New English Library. Nevertheless, writing Hawke stories, creating mysteries and the various ways in which they were solved, was an excellent learning curve for a young writer.

Sadly Dixon Hawke disappeared when the “Sporting Post” ceased publication in May 2000. His adventures were many, outnumbering most other fictional sleuths. Gone but not forgotten, at least as far as I am concerned. He was a good friend to me.

Night of the Crabs: Book of the Month – August 2016

By 1975 I had achieved my ambition to become a professional author and that year I left my job in banking to go full time. It was a nail-biting move, though, and my main concern was for the future. Would it be sufficient to provide an income which would sustain a wife and three children? Angus, our fourth child, was born in 1976.

I had already submitted the manuscript for “Night of the Crabs” to New English Library but they had not advised me of their publishing plans except that it was due to be released in the summer of 1976.

In July that year we went on holiday to Barmouth where the book was set. So, one balmy evening we were meandering through the town where most of the shops were still open. Gavin, our eldest son, wandered into W.H. Smith’s and suddenly there was a loud shout from him that had heads turning. “Dad, they’ve got hundreds of your books in here!”

So it was. A major instore display on shelves and a central revolving rack labelled “The No.1 Beach read.”

The shop manager approached me, enquired if I was the author, and then asked if I could possibly do a signing session – there and then! The outcome was that I ended up sitting at a table inside the doorway signing copies for a seemingly endless queue of buyers.

That was just the start. “Night of the Crabs” was on sale just about everywhere, had already been reprinted before publication, and saw 9 subsequent reprints and a number of foreign translation rights sold. Four months later the movie rights were purchased by Amicus.

A year later I fulfilled another of my ambitions, selling our house in Tamworth and moving to Black Hill, a remote area of the Shropshire/Welsh border hills where I already had the shooting rights and had been travelling here for the past 14 years.

Jean and I still live here today as my fans are well aware, many of them having attended my annual Fan Club Convention here. This year is a special occasion with my convention celebrating its 25th anniversary on Sunday, September 4th.

Aliens, Monsters, Mounties & Cannibals

Aliens, Monster’s, Mounties & Cannibals

My writing career began at an early age with 56 stories published in a local newspaper “The Tettenhall Observer”.  I was inspired by the boys’ papers of the 1950s, Adventure, Rover, Hotspur, Wizard etc., all of which I read weekly.

Times changed to meet the demands of a new young readership.  Many of those story papers either ceased publication or had their original text content replaced with picture strip stories.

As the years progressed I tried to find a market for my kind of stories.  Then, by chance, a copy of “Our Boys” came my way.  It was published by the Educational Company of Ireland, Dublin, and part of it was in the Irish language.

Tales of the Mounties (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) have always fascinated me so I introduced a character of my own, Kincaid.  He featured in 5 stories; “The Coming of Kincaid” (October 1971) “Kincaid Cleans Up” (November 1971) “A Man called Blaze” (December 1971) “Scourge of the North West” (May 1972) and “Yukon Pursuit” (June 1972).

The September 1971 issue carried a story entitled “The Dive of Death”, about a stunt man featuring in a sports film”.

Science fiction was another genre which I had read extensively in my boyhood, nothing sophisticated like modern stories, virtually all concerning aliens landing on Earth or spaceships visiting a variety of planets in the Universe.  My “The Beast from Space”, was set on Dartmoor where a monster from space lands, armed with a gun that shrivels up anything at which it is aimed.

All very basic, but reflecting stories which had once enthralled young readers.  “Cannibal Island” (March 1972), a story of a cargo ship on its way to Hawaii to deliver a load of grain, is swept off course by a hurricane.  The crew survive and they go ashore on an unknown island which happens to be inhabited by cannibals… Was this the germ of an idea which led to my novel “Cannibals” (Arrow 1986)?

Sadly, “Our Boys” is long gone, but for a short time it had provided me with a market for the type of fiction I would have loved to write had I been old enough in the days of those story papers which had thrilled me in my boyhood.

Guy

 

 

Bamboo Guerillas: Book of the Month – July 2016

As mentioned in last month’s Book of the Month, Mews Books, a newly formed small USA publisher in the 1970’s, commissioned me to write “The Truckers” series.  All their UK books were distributed by New English Library under the editorship of the late Peter Haining in 1977.  Hardly had I had time to change the ribbon in my manual typewriter before Peter phoned me to say that Mews wanted me to write a war series.  Peter told me to set it in Malaya, focusing on the inhumanities and cruelty inflicted on captured British servicemen and told me “go over the top, there are no boundaries in these books!”  So I did just that and both books were completed in about six weeks.

However, all was not well at Mews.  Series books were fast becoming unfashionable and they decided to close their project.  The outcome was that NEL took on the remaining books.

Soon after I received a phone call from a young editor at NEL.  She said that the violence and sex in Bamboo Guerillas was far too explicit and could I tone it down!  I said ‘no!’  I had been directed to write it as such and I was not prepared to spend time on a lengthy, unnecessary rewrite!

So in 1977 “Bamboo Guerillas” was published by NEL, with some editing (!), but no mention of it being no.1 of a series, no.2 never appeared.

It went to a reprint without mention of this in the latter.  The first edition has a red cover depicting an Allied Forces soldier gruesomely stabbing a Japanese soldier.  The front cover blurb is “Kill or be killed in a savage Jungle War.”  The reprint is in very slightly larger format showing a charging Japanese with extended bayonet.  The cover is predominantly white yet it is stated that this is a first edition!  Curious.

Some years ago I was introduced to the cover artist of the “reprint”, Tony Masero, who kindly signed my own copy for me.

I cannot find the copy manuscript of the books.  They probably got lost in our move from Tamworth to Black Hill and doubtless NEL destroyed the originals after publication of the first.  If I still had them then we would publish the second in the series.  The idea has crossed my mind to write a sequel.  “Bamboo Guerillas” is one of my most collectible titles, especially the “reprint.”  I guess the print run was small.  Copies do crop up from time to time, though, on the internet.

My First Love

Click on image to enlarge

Shooting Times Article

In addition to my fiction, horror novels and short stories, I have been writing shooting and countryside related articles for over half a century.  My first feature in this field appeared in the Shooting Times in 1963.  I well remember the legendary editor, the late Noel Sedgwick/”Tower Bird”, taking me for a drink in the Cheshire Cheese one of Fleet Street’s most famous pubs with its sawdust covered floor.

Through to 1996 I wrote about 90 articles for Shooting Times, along with contributions to virtually every other sporting journal of those days in addition to having around a dozen books published in this genre.  In 1999 I accepted the position of Gun Editor of “The Countryman’s Weekly”.  Having written around 2000 articles for this publication through to April last year, I then returned to the ST.

My contributions here include a monthly “Classic Cartridges” series as well as general shooting features.  Now it appears my sizeable fiction fan base have picked up on these, the reason being that articles are published under my own name instead of the former pseudonyms which I had used in the CW.

Fans are now buying issues containing my articles and I have been informed that some will be bringing a “pile” for me to sign at my next convention of Sunday September 4th.  One of my fans won the ST “letter of the week” in the May 18 issue.  I was delighted and flattered by the praise which he bestowed upon my articles.

The Truckers: Book of the Month – June 2016

During the 1970’s series were big business in paperbacks publishing, usually featuring a main character whose adventures continued from book to book.

Mews Books were located in Connecticut, USA, small publishers who decided to concentrate solely on series and had an arrangement with my own publishers at that time, New English Library, to distribute the books in the UK.

Mews contacted me in 1976 requesting synopses for horror, western and war series. I submitted all 3 genres and was expecting to be commissioned a horror series. Surprise, surprise they asked me to write a Truckers series, so it was back to the drawing board, more synopses and then one of the fastest “go-aheads” I’ve ever had.

The result was 2 novels, published together, “The Truckers No.1 – The Black Knights” followed by No.2 – “Hi-Jack!” The reason for Mews’ choice of this genre came from a smash-hit television series “The Brothers.” They hoped that my books would follow its success, even mentioning the TV series in the rear cover blurb of both novels.

Well, they did not follow in the wake of “The Brothers” because this time the theme had been overdone. The TV series finished and “The Truckers” made little impact.

However, today these titles are scarce and are avidly sought after by GNS collectors, fetching high prices on e-bay and elsewhere.

Mother Where’s My Pen

As the saying goes, “the truth is often stranger than fiction,” and over the years I have experienced this personally. However, I have refrained from using it as a plot for a horror novel as it is an emotive issue and one which I would prefer not to capitalize upon.

Back in 1996 we took my mother in to live with us. She was suffering from dementia and was no longer able to live alone. It was a difficult time for us seeing a strong, independent and extremely intelligent woman slowly become estranged to us. We did our very best for her up until her death on February 14th 1999.

Our grandson was born on February 19th so he never saw her. When he was about five he came to stay for a few days and slept in the spare bedroom which my mother had occupied. One morning, quite casually, he asked, “Who was that old woman in my bedroom?”

He was quite unperturbed and described whom he had seen and every detail fitted my mother!

Moving on several years, I had been writing the first drafts of my books with a Parker ballpoint which had been my mother’s. I left it on my desk whilst I went downstairs to make a coffee and when I returned it had disappeared. Of course, I assumed that I had put it down somewhere so a thorough search was made but there was no sign of it. Until about a month later it reappeared in clear view on the table in the gunroom! A week later it went missing again from my desk. This time its absence was only a fortnight before it turned up. Guess where?

Soon afterwards a regular scenario started. The walls of our games room are decorated with a display of vintage tobacco tins, all of which are affixed to sizeable cork boards. Then the clattering started at infrequent intervals. Three tins, always three, were found at the end of the passage by the doorway to my mother’s old bedroom. In order to arrive there they had to travel across the floor of the games room, turn a sharp corner and roll 3 metres before hitting the wall. There was no way they could have done this accidentally.

One Sunday morning I was in the kitchen when I heard a loud clattering from up above. I ran upstairs and that was when one of the greatest shocks of my life greeted me. Standing at the end of the corridor, just outside her former bedroom, three tobacco tins at her feet, was my mother. I had an unrestricted view of her for maybe twenty seconds before she moved away. I looked in the room but there was no sign of her. I went back downstairs quite shaken.

We seem to go for long periods without any inexplicable happenings, believing that she has left us. Then, suddenly, something else occurs as it has recently. Only last week when Jean was in the kitchen she heard her name called out from the stairway. She opened the stair door but there was nobody in sight. A couple of afternoons later it happened again. During my mother’s stay here she was forbidden to descend the stairs unaccompanied, in case she fell, but on occasions she disobeyed. Then, half way down, she would lose her nerve, cling to the bannister and call for help…

A couple of nights later I let Ellie, our springer spaniel, out in the yard prior to bedtime. As I stood in the doorway waiting for her, my name was called out from upstairs. We have clearly moved on to a new level now, a vocal one.

Throughout all of this I have been most grateful for the support of Paul Adams, the well-known paranormal author. Paul has published around eight excellent books on the subject. I wrote the foreword to his “Extreme Hauntings,” written in conjunction with Eddie Brazil in 2013. (www.pauladamsauthor.co.uk)

So we go on, awaiting the next happening. An exorcism has been suggested but I refused this as it would be a case of kicking one’s own mother out the house. At least I know what it is all about and neither Jean nor myself are disturbed by it. In some ways I think it is rather nice to have my mother still with us, and do I really want to upset a ghost that is very handy in hurling articles around the house, I think not!

Guy

Fiend: Book of the Month – May 2016

During the 1980s & 1990s I became friendly with the late Craig Thomas, author of ‘Firefox’ (filmed and starring Clint Eastwood) and several other spy thrillers.  Jean and I used to visit Craig and his wife Jill whenever we were in the Lichfield area.

Craig was keen for me to write a thriller and in the late 1980s I conceded to his persuasion and wrote ‘Fiend’. In this instance I had to combine it with a horror theme or else my publishers at that time (Sphere) would not have been interested.

It is set in the Kremlin prior to an important conference in which the Russian leader’s presence is vital.  Unfortunately the latter had died shortly before.  The Soviets were in a state of panic and as a last resort they sought the help of a black magician to raise him from the dead, which he did successfully.

The outcome was an undead leader exerting his evil power over the Soviet delegation but not as they had planned!

I was rather shocked by the gory cover of the book but it proved its worth, the first printing selling out and going to a reprint.

In a strange way ‘Fiend’ reflects President Brezhnev’s final days.  In March 1982 it was reported by U.S. intelligence that Brezhnev had suffered a stroke while making a four-day trip to Tashkent, but there was a cover-up.  The Kremlin denied that he was gravely ill but just ‘on his regular winter rest!’  Brezhnev managed to hang on to power until his death eight months after he had fallen ill.

Truth is, as the saying goes, stranger than fiction.

Several of my books have been pirated in Russia but I doubt whether these underground ‘publishers’ would risk issuing ‘Fiend’.  They would probably be sentenced to a long stay in Siberia!

An Unholy Way To Die: Book of the Month – April 2016

I have written in numerous genres over the years but until ‘An Unholy Way to Die’ I had not penned an historical mystery.  I probably never would have done had I not attended the opening of a new bookshop in Telford Town Centre in 1998.  Here I met Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) author of the famous Cadfael series.

We had a very informative chat during which she suggested that I write a mystery set in a bygone age.  I thought long and hard about it and then decided to give it a go.

I settled for the Shakespearean era and set the book in Stratford-upon-Avon.  It required an enormous amount of research but a year later saw publication.

I decided to launch my novel in that town so hired the town hall for an evening.  In keeping with the occasion I dressed in an Elizabethan costume!

The launch was highly successful, well attended by friends and fans.  It was certainly a memorable evening.

I wrote this book under the Gavin Newman pseudonym which I used for my crime & mystery fiction.

An Unholy Way To Die Book Launch

An Unholy Way To Die Book Launch

Full photo caption: Shropshire novelist Guy Smith officially launched his latest book ‘An Unholy Way To Die’ in Stratford-on-Avon. Guy, from Black Hill between Knighton and Clun, has written the novel under the pseudonym of Gavin Newman. The book launch was held in the town hall where Guy and his family and friends donned medieval costume for the signing. Guy puts quill to paper for the Mayor of Stratford Councillor Angela Colbeck.