Pipe Dreams: Chapter Six

Pipe Dreams: An Autobiography

PRIVATE DETECTION

I have always been an aficionado of mystery and detective fiction. Sherlock Holmes is my favourite sleuth, followed by Dixon Hawke (naturally so, as I wrote a number of stories about him), Sexton Blake and a few others. I often wondered, though, what private detection was like in reality. In the late 1960’s I found out.

It came about as the result of a chance meeting in a Tamworth pub with Sam Bradley, a retired police sergeant turned sleuth. Sam had been an old fashioned copper and in his own words, “when I came off duty I changed into civvies and went back out there to find out what the local crooks were up to.”

We chatted and eventually he enquired how much free time I had, evenings and weekends. As it was I had recently closed my small cartridge loading business and I was looking for a new challenge.

“I’ve got a lot of enquiries on,” he went on, “too much work in fact. I could use an assistant. If you fancy earning a bit of extra cash I’ll show you the ropes and we’ll see where we go from there.”

So I began accompanying Sam two or three evenings a week. Work varied from debt collecting and serving writs to observation in order to gather evidence for divorce proceedings. Sometimes we had a long, cold wait in a street waiting for a particular car to arrive and park outside a house which we were watching. Sam made a note of the vehicle’s registration, noted its time of arrival and sometimes its departure.

Debt collecting was often an unpleasant business. Excuses led to a confrontation bordering on physical violence. Sam was a big, florid-faced man, not to be trifled with. I knew that I had a difficult and risky act to follow.

A month or so later my colleague informed me that I was now capable of working solo. Each week he provided me with a handwritten sheet of pending jobs and a few guidance notes where necessary.

Private detection was nowhere near as glamorous as I had believed in my naivety. It was simply hard graft combined with common sense and an ability to observe.

There was one investigation which I shall always remember, light relief from checking out extra-marital affairs. A lady living in a village asked me to call as a matter of urgency. Over a cup of tea she explained the nature of her problem.

She had an on-going feud with her neighbour, a bad-tempered old widower who never ceased to complain about anything and everything. Now, suddenly, a few of her prized rose bushes were dying and she was certain that he was creeping in through the sparse adjoining hedge and poisoning them. Would I be good enough to undertake a nocturnal vigil?

We agreed a fee and the following evening just before dusk I seated myself on a bucket just inside her rickety garden shed and propped the door ajar.

It was damned cold and a severe frost was setting in. Next door’s lights were still on and I was willing the old chap to decide on an early night. He didn’t seem to be in any hurry to retire, though.

The nearby church clock struck ten. Then, after what seemed an eternity, eleven. By midnight my feet were numb. In all probability nothing would happen and the lady had imagined it all.

Suddenly I heard the neighbour’s back door open and a gruff voice said, “go on, make it quick, it’s bleedin’ freezin’ out here.”

Something was snuffling about on the other side of the hedge, then I heard the brushing of branches like somebody or something was pushing their way through. Undoubtedly a dog had been let out to do its final business of the day.

A sound like a tap being turned on reached my ears. I leaned forward, switched my torch on and its beam revealed a large boxer dog cocking its leg against one of those rose bushes. Mystery solved! I could not resist a smile as I went back indoors, explained to a surprised and embarrassed client why her rose bushes were dying, pocketed my fee and went home.

Then, a few weeks later, Sam died from a sudden heart attack. I had lost a good friend and maybe I would have packed up the detective business there and then except for the fact that I had one of his files in which there were several outstanding jobs. Well, I owed it to him to finish those which I had agreed to undertake.

For some reason, being in sole charge of a number of investigations motivated me. He had told me about the Victor Meek College of Private Detection, based in Exeter, suggesting I might enrol on one of their courses. So, I did just that.

It was a 4 month course and I can honestly say that it was a lot more interesting than the work I had been engaged upon previously. It covered both practice and theory, and the former was more like that which I had envisaged private detection to be.

One learned how to follow a suspect without being seen. You went to a busy town area such as a bus or railway station and singled out your ‘victim’ from the disembarking passengers. Then you trailed him, or her, keeping your distance.

Another lesson was learning to eavesdrop in a crowded pub or cafe. Again, choosing your ‘suspects’, you bought a drink and sat at a table a little distance from them. The knack was in learning to shut out the buzz of conversation all around and concentrate on theirs without looking at them and thus drawing attention to yourself. It isn’t easy but it can be done, a mental exercise in concentration. Eventually I mastered the art.
Examination time arrived and I passed, ‘First Class with Honours’ and received my certificate, together with an identification card. Then it was back to the old familiar ‘grindstone’, debt collecting, status enquiries and observing adulterers.

A few months later I decided that I had had enough. I had cleared up Sam’s backlog so I decided to call it a day.

It had not been a waste of time though, for I had learned a lot about the seedy side of life with a few minor crooks thrown in for good measure. All of which was good experience for the future when I became a full-time writer.

Night of the Werewolf: Book of the Month – November 2015

In the 1970’s Erich Pabel, Germany, published a huge list of horror novels. I know that there were at least 421 titles, many translations of the works of writers in both Europe and the UK. Amongst the latter in their ‘Vampir Horror-Roman’ series were 7 of my own novels:

  • 152  King Crabs Nachtmahl (Night of the Crabs)
  • 309  Die Todesvogel (Bats out of Hell)
  • 318  Die Killer-Krebse (Killer Crabs)
  • 332  Das Schleim-Monster (The Slime Beast)
  • 336  Die Ruckkehr des Werwolfs (Return of the Werewolf)
  • 375  Die Geburt der Krebse (origin of the Crabs)
  • 421  Die Todesgloche (Deathbell)

These were in magazine format and today are highly collectible, commanding high prices.

Always with an eye to new markets, both at home and overseas, I contacted Erich Pabel and enquired if they would be interested in an original novel by myself. They replied within a week, “yes please, but it has to be a werewolf novel.”

Fair enough, so I wrote ‘Night of the Werewolf’. This is in no way connected to my Werewolf trilogy (New English Library), instead a one-off. The latter were set around my home on the Shropshire/Welsh border so this time I chose Scotland as the location.

It was published as No.186 in the series and entitled ‘Der Ruf des Werwolfs’.

Shortly after publication Erich Pabel wrote to me to inform me that before they could pay me they needed written proof from a UK Income Tax inspector to the effect that I would be liable for tax in my own country.

So I made an appointment to meet an Inland Revenue official. I was kept waiting for the best part of an hour and then this staid, humourless inspector turned up. I presented him with the publishers’ letter and my contract. He read them and then regarded me with what I can only describe as suspicion. Was I pulling a fast one? What had werewolves to do with payment from Germany? Maybe he thought it was some kind of money laundering fraud!

Anyway, after numerous questions, the answers to which seemed to satisfy him, he signed the German tax document. I think by this time he thought I was some kind of nut case but quite harmless!

Years later ‘Night of the Werewolf’ was serialized in my fan magazine ‘Graveyard Rendezvous’ and the book is now published in English by Black Hill Books.

What’s Guy Up To This Halloween?

Down here in deepest, darkest Shropshire we have regular movie screenings made possible by Dilys Thorpe.  Dilys is our local volunteer who runs ‘Sebunctious Productions’ and runs Flicks in the Sticks for our local area.

Well, being Halloween Dilys wanted to bring something a little out of the ordinary, with a local flavour to cinema night.  Enter Guy both local and a little out of the ordinary.  In an interesting way of course!

‘Flicks in the Sticks’ are proud to present a special screening of ‘Island Claws’.  The action takes place on a tropical island where marine biologists are experimenting with growth hormones on crabs.  This results in radiation-mutated crabs taken from Guy’s ‘Night of the Crabs.’

Not exactly a block busting, big budget production but hopefully everyone will have a good laugh and enjoy the film for what it is.  Long live the ‘Crabs’!

Accursed : Book of the Month – October 2015

A question which I am frequently asked is “where do you get your ideas from?”  In many cases something occurs to me and I jot it down for future reference and expansion.  It either works or it doesn’t.

There are occasions when something springs to mind from either a personal experience or maybe related to me by family members when I was a small boy.  One of these ideas came to me from my grandfather who was Tamworth’s only professional photographer, upon his return from the Boer War and through to the 1950’s.  He had a wealth of unusual stories to tell, one of which spawned my novel ‘Accursed’ many years later.

The Reverend William MacGregor, vicar of Tamworth, was also a keen Egyptologist who made several expeditions to the pyramids, bringing back many of his finds.  During the 1920’s he returned with a pair of mummies.  My grandfather was requested to photograph them.  These formed part of the MacGregor collection in the vicarage until, in the vicar’s own words, they began to “niff a little.”  So he gave them a Christian burial within his own grounds.  Sadly, many years later, the Vicarage was sold and became a Working Men’s Club with the mummies’ graves lying forgotten beneath the tarmac of the car park.

Surprisingly few, if any, of the local residents knew the story of the mummies.  I wrote a magazine article about these strange events which in due course led to me appearing in a short TV documentary.  The landlord of the WMC was far from impressed and commented, “before you know it folks will be digging up the car park!”

Anyway, it was a germ of an idea for a novel.  Of course here the mummies were evil, seeking revenge on those who had stolen them from their original last resting place in Egypt.

“Accursed” was first published by New English Library in 1983 and then re-issued by Arrow in 1988.

The Werewolf Trilogy : Books of the Month – September 2015

  • Werewolf by Moonlight – 1974
  • Return of the Werewolf – 1977
  • Son of the Werewolf – 1978

Werewolf Trilogy

With numerous magazine articles and short stories published by the early 1970’s I was desperately trying to land a novel.  The problem was that most of the mass market paperback publishers had their own teams of regular genre authors.  Then I heard on the grapevine that New English Library were seeking a werewolf novel to add to their horror list.  There was a gap in the market and I was determined to fill it.

Most werewolf stories are set in Europe so I decided to try a plot in England and where better than the dark, mysterious forest which bordered the home I was in the process of buying?

At the time we were still living in a conventional house in Tamworth.  So one pouring wet Sunday afternoon I began work on a fairly brief synopsis.  Suddenly there was an ear splitting explosion in the room.  Jean and I and children dashed outside.  All was quiet however, and eventually we returned indoors.  It transpired that our chimney had not been lined and a pocket of gas had gathered.  No harm done.

An omen?  Well, NEL commissioned ‘Werewolf by Moonlight’ on the strength of that short synopsis and the book saw print in 1974.  Sales were modest but further commissions followed, ‘The Sucking Pit’ and ‘The Slime Beast.’  Then came ‘Night of the Crabs’ this time a 2-book contract with ‘Return of the Werewolf.’  Shortly after we left Tamworth in 1977, ‘Son of the Werewolf’ was published and I was on my way to around 100 books between then and 2015.

This year’s Fan Club Convention celebrates my 40th year as a full-time writer.  But we must not forget that early werewolf trilogy.  Those three books opened the door to my writing career.  I owe much to them and they certainly came in with a big bang!

The Sabat Series: Books of the Month – August 2015

Mark Sabat is a psychic detective.  Along with fighting evil in a variety of forms, his greatest enemy is his brother Quentin whose soul is constantly trying to destroy him.  This is an ongoing background against Mark’s encounters with the forces of darkness.

Sabat 1 & 2 (‘The Graveyard Vulture’s’ & ‘The Blood Merchants’) were published simultaneously by New English Library in 1982.  No.3 ‘Cannibal Cult’ followed in the same year with No.4 ‘The Druid Connection’ in 1983.

With hindsight I would have written these a few years earlier for as the 1980’s progressed Series were going out of fashion, another illogical decision by the publishing industry.  Mews Books, a subsidiary of NEL, had already folded after publishing numerous series including my ‘Truckers’ and ‘Bamboo Guerillas’.  Nevertheless Sabat continued to sell and then in 1997 Creation Books launched ‘Dead Meat’, the complete Books of Sabat’, now a much sought after collector’s item which included 3 short stories.

Dead Meat – Sabat Compilation

Sabat, however, was destined to become noticed at media level in South Africa.  The Johannesburg Star, October 23, 1982, carried a front page list of ‘undesirables’ compiled by the Commission for Justice and Reconciliation of the Southern Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Pretoria.  I was included in the list and Sabat No.1 was mentioned!  It was added that ‘from today it will be an offence to import and/or distribute this publication’.

A copy was sent to my mother by a friend in S.A.  Why was I listed as an undesirable along with my book?  Was it because the cover illustration was that of a naked girl within a pentagon?  Obscene, perhaps, in the view of those bishops, or was it because I might be teaching the natives black magic?

Shocked as my mother and her friend were, I regarded this notification as a compliment.  My book had been noticed at high level and in spite of its ban sales increased.  Such proclamations simply drive a novel ‘underground’ and increase demand.

A recent Sabat story is included in my latest compilation of ‘shorts’, ‘Hangman’s Hotel’, entitled ‘The Witch of Warsaw’.  Will there be more Sabat stories?  Like my giant crabs I don’t think he will disappear for good.  Only time will tell.

The Resurrection: Book of the Month – July 2015

The Resurrected by Guy N Smith

I am reminded of my early writing days when I contributed 4 stories monthly for ‘My Love Story’ magazine.  This continued for 2-3 years until this publication folded after which I turned to horror.

Several genres can contain an element of horror with the exception of romantic novels.  I thought long and hard about this and in 1991 ‘The Resurrected’ was published by Grafton.

There is no more terrible experience than to lose a loved one.  Merryn Bartram married Bernie Oldroyd, both of them aware that she had a terminal disease.  She dies soon afterwards and in desperation Bernie seeks the help of Richie Howe, a master of the Dark Powers.

Richie resurrects Merryn but Bernie’s exultation soon turns to revulsion and terror for she is not the wife he remembered.  She reeks of decay.  Can he return her to the grave to rest in peace?

The Walking Dead: Book of the Month – June 2015

The Walking Dead - Guy N Smith Book Cover

‘The Sucking Pit’, due to its remarkable sales, was always deserving of a sequel.  Yet it had to wait nearly a decade.

This was because the original novel had on-going reprints and my concern was breaking the continuity.  Likewise, was there another story to that vile, stinking bomb crater which was rumoured to be bottomless?

Yes, of course there was!  Those who had fallen into its depths and were never seen again were the nucleus of the plot – the evil living dead who lurked deep down awaiting fresh victims.

Then came the day when Mick Treadman, working nearby with his JCB, was lured into the Sucking Pit.  Heavy machinery was used to drag it up onto dry land, a steel coffin with the driver dead inside.  Yet it was the expression of sheer terror on the corpse’s features which spoke of an unholy end deep down in the black, stagnant water rather than just death by drowning.

The Sucking Pit was alive and well and more dangerous than before.

The Sucking Pit: Book of the Month – May 2015

‘The Sucking Pit’ was my second novel, published in May 1975. Its origins however, go back to my early childhood.

The book’s location is in Hopwas Wood, Staffordshire. The wood bordered my family home, ancient woodland of approximately 180 acres.

During World War II enemy bombers targeted the nearby railway which they failed to hit. One of their bombs fell in Hopwas Wood resulting in a large crater. Gradually this filled with rainwater and its surface was covered in thick algae.

On Sunday afternoons my grandfather used to take me for a walk in the wood when, at around the age of five, I became fascinated with this flooded bomb crater. Fearing that I might sneak off to it on my own, he told me that it was a bottomless pit and that anybody who fell into it was never seen again.

This disconcerting thought remained with me throughout my childhood. Then, decades later, it became the basis for the plot of ‘The Sucking Pit’. The latter had several reprints, sold in the region of 100,000 copies and was resurrected as a Signed Limited Edition in hardcover by Mansion House Books in 2011.

In 1984 I wrote a sequel ‘The Walking Dead’ in which the undead still inhabit ‘The Pit’.

In 1981 Stephen King wrote in his book ‘Danse Macabre’, (his analysis of horror, ‘a moving rhythmic search for the place where we live at our most primitive level) that “Guy N. Smith, the author of paperback originals beyond counting, has written a novel whose title is my nominee for the all-time pulp horror classic: The Sucking Pit.”

Kind words indeed and who am I to disagree!