Tuesday, 30 December 2014

December Will Be Magic Again.

Well The Doctor was right again when he said that every Christmas is last Christmas. There goes another one just disappearing out of view. Whilst we are on the subject though and before we move past it for another year I would like to share some details of a December ritual one likes to indulge in(OH-ER!). I realise of course that such a statement is little more than a bloated conceit from one who is little more than a partially evolved ape-descendant but here goes. Anyway, every December just before Christmas, some times even a little after it, I reread Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol and this is my favorite edition of that incredible wee book. A lovely hardback, one of the oldest books I possess, with the most stunning composed plates by the very talented Peter Fluck and Roger Law. I picked it up many years ago in Willis Bookshop in Calendar Street in Belfast. Another bookstore now long gone. It was one of those stores I used to haunt in search of Doctor Who Target Novelizations. Which was not an easy task as it sounds as I never had much money so if an item was not cheap I just had to do without it. Oh yes I had the freedom from possessions that comes with no income. I must have really, really wanted this volume because it was a whole four ninety five back in 1979. Mind you, A Christmas Carol is a story for the ages and it is nice to think one has a favorite version.
                  It was first published in 1843 which makes it exactly..er,well..it makes it pretty old.
                  But a tale that remains young at heart.
                  And what a heart. A big old dusty Victorian heart that still beats with all the vigor of a musical hall romp from the good old days...
                 My Old Man Said Follow The Van And Do'nt Dilly Dally On The Way!

Friday, 26 December 2014

A Season Of Myths.

Capaldi Who 2014.
One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite stories of the last season. Heck of  the best stories in years. Like so many things this year it felt new and bold and fresh and just worked on so many different levels. Another surprise from this hugely creative and ground breaking television show whose presence on the television we must never ever ever take for granted. In a world where generic mac plain wrap television programming is the norm and the next big broadest demographic format is the holy grail Who remains the John Lydon of the Block and never conforms.
The Big Fifty and the departure of Matt Smith were so huge and mythic it required a bit of gravity, of gravitas to bring it all down back to Earth and a footing we could all dander behind together, From the stunning clock works and time pieces of the opening credits and reworked musical theme to the changed dynamic of the Doctor and Clara it was as though a new and yet familiar mission statement had been embraced by the creative team. A desire to truly push the boundaries of what you think you know about The Last Of The Time Lords. A fresh start rooted in the past.
So much will be written about this series. It will be dissected and laid bare, its innards exposed for all to see. To the point where it will never feel as fresh and new as it does at this moment. Last Christmas beautifully book-ended  this season and even gave us the title of the next opening chapter. 2015 begins with the release of some amazing Big Finish Audio Adventures which will keep the flame of classic Who burning through the first half of that year with a new season of telly Who to follow in August...probably. Everyone will say it much better than I can. I enjoy the show so much I am probably too forgiving off its flaws or mis-steps. I am quite prepared to let others get on with that and if affords them some small comfort I am sure the Doctor would not mind.Witty insights and reviews will rub shoulders with Who forums which take on a Dante like quality detailing a spiraling downward painful descent into an inferno of neurotic critique.

Noe Room on The Shelf.

One of the very best things that I saw this December. My own work sitting on a comic book store shelf with Daryl S' 1945 and Stephen Downey's Noe and Flash Gordon Christmas Special. It was the first time I ever saw a shelf in a comic book store filled with the work of people from Belfast. Yes, it is a small shelf I know but it is still something to see sitting amid a forest of titles mostly grown in America.
             It is not a starry alignment or a heavenly portent..
             Just a beautiful sight for these tired old eyes of mine.
             If you bought any of these and made it happen you made my Christmas.
             Thank you.

Where Monsters Dwell.

Tyrannosaurus Fop from the land before Timey-Whimey. Thanks to young Connor Barbour for this lovely..er,sketch of me.
            But do I really look so old to young eyes?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Lost In Space.

Wow, had one of those one sitting reads with this book by the author James Smythe; The Explorer. Picked it up to get a flavor for a later read and ended up having to see where it was all going( I am like that with pavlova;Just one more bite,just one more bite..)and I am glad I did. I went, I explored and I put that moment here. The tone is so melancholy and shot through with the blackness of the space between stars. What begins as a daring and heroic adventure to the very limits of man's reach becomes a timey-whimey ground hogs day of a nightmare.
               When you are on your own in space you are really really on your own.
               Or are you?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Breakfast Time 1977 All Over Again.

Off course growing up in the Catholic Ghetto of Ardoyne at the height of The Troubles me and my mates would have considered the Wheatie goodness of Weetabix little more than a bourgeois indulgence. We would have breakfasted on a bowl of history washed down with a steaming mug of nationalism. This was such an exciting ad though glimpsed in an issue of 2000AD Weekly(the greatest British comic ever produced) in the April/May of the year 1977 whilst Doctor Who(the greatest British television show ever produced) was at the height of its powers. An ad so powerful it would have tempted me to eat Corn-Flakes(the most boring British cereal ever produced.)

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Bellman And Black.

Last Christmas I watched a real atmospheric BBC thriller called The Thirteenth Tale written by Diane Settlerfield .A story about stories within stories and the threads that weave a life together and about how dangerous it is to pluck at those threads. How reason may unravel. it hinted at how the influences that endow certain stories with a chilling edge are sometimes born in dark corners of the mind. A fading author has one tale left untold and the time has come to tell it. It was one of those wee gems you find around this time of year when certain repeats have you grinding your teeth.
                 I learned Dianne Setterfield had also written this; the intriguingly named Bellman And Black. I picked it up thinking it was going to be a ghost story set in a Victorian Flour Mill. It turned out to be so much more. It turned to be the tale of a haunted lifetime. This book was so beautifully composed and almost poetically realised it could not help but impress. The period, the attention to detail, draw the reader into a world now long passed. We also witness the power of self reinvention and the disintegration of a once powerful personality and the harrowing effects caused by delusion and distress.
                  Rooks, Crows, Ravens, all manner of black winged birds populate the narrative. Caw-cawing their way out of the shadows. After reading this book I feel I know a lot more about birds than I did. Although I now feel I know even more about Victorian funeral arrangements. That vast sense of elaborate  mourning.
                  I may well take to the black to mark finishing this melancholy missive for the life of a man who made death his business.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Capaldi Who Two.

Wow. Check out these covers. Issue two of the new Titan Capaldi Who. Just amazing. Love how the second looks like an old punk album or the cover of an Ian Dury album.
             Ian Dury.
             Now there was a diamond geezer.
             What A Waste was one of the first singles I ever owned. I used to play it and Germ Free Adolescence by X-Ray Specs over and over. On an old monogram record player that made everything sound like the sound track to The Clangers.
              And who says all progress is positive.

The Demon Down Our Street.

(From my sketchbook)Meet mister Harry Webb. He is a character from a short story I have written called Wyrms In The Milk. About a warlock living on a back street in Belfast. The second drawing is the heroine of the piece Ms Agnes Rocke. She is not just some harmless old lady. She is the only one who sees Harry Webb for what he truly is.
                Anyway,thought I would share a bit of a work in progress.
                Hope it does not put you off your bedtime coca(Whilst your are listening to the shipping forecasts on the BBC World Service. Sterling Chaps.)
                I let a friend read it and he said he will never drink milk again.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Run!Its The Tribe Of Gum!

               ...With the safety of the Tardis within reach The Doctor paused breathlessly and looked back for signs of the pursuing cavemen of the Tribe Of Gum. With a resigned sigh he thought to himself
               A hail of spears and stones answered his unspoken question.
               And he ran for his life.

Wanted;Unit Scientific Advisor.(Regenerative Abilities Essential).

Death spitting plastic daffodils? Shape shifting Giant Alien Ugly Baby Faced Zygons??Polymorphous energy sucking tentacle covered Axons?Taking on whole armies of Sontarans with anger management issues? You name it this group have dealt with it. Nothing is too unusual for this group to handle.
            Question is do you have what it takes to help them in a semi-regular decades spanning outward appearance changing capacity?
            Exiled to Planet Earth in one time zone brilliant minds status welcome but not compulsory.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Noe Second Helpings.

A big shout out and resounding thank you to everyone who showed up for the Noe The Savage Boy#2 signing at The Forbidden Planet International Store in Belfast and for making the day such a memorable one. Thank you for having the patience to stand through the late start(flooding on the railway line between Dublin and Belfast delayed the arrival of one of the Noe crew and even the comics themselves. Yet let the storm winds blow and the Tempests rage The Coney Express always gets through.)Thank you for queuing with such good humour and good graces. It was nice to see friends old and new , to see those who had turned up for the first issue and came back for the second. Your good judgement and taste pleases no end. Thanks David who made Noe#1 the first comic he has bought in years I LIKED YOUR EARLY WORK.CAPTAIN SPUNKY!( He meant Major Power and Spunky off course by Sean Doran and myself. He said they always made him laugh. They always made me and Sean laugh too. They had such a life of their own and the dirty antics they got up to would have made a whore blush. Wonder where the good Major and his wee side-kick are hanging out these days. The Major was always hanging out, he was blessedly endowed.) And thank you for young Matthew for making Noe#1 and Noe#2 the first comics in his collection. I hope your new hobby enriches your life for years to come.
                 Thank you to all the guys at the store for making the event run so smoothly. You make juggling the many variables of a signing seem easy. Hours of nerves go into the build up to a signing and then it is all over in a flash. Like a Vietnam flashback only slightly less muddy.
                     Despite the misspelled promise on the original flyer for our signing there was in fact no singing. Just signing and a bit of sketching. I would have been more than happy to warble for the  pleasure of our attendees but my singing is not for the faint hearted. You ought to hear my rendition of Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair from the musical South Pacific. Palm trees have swooned and bent. I have always had a soft spot for South Pacific and who could forget Captain Sensible's version of Happy Talk. Check out the TOTP segment on Youtube. You will always associate it with good times...
                     And so, in just such a spirit,especially for you...ahem..
                    HAPPY TALKIN' TALKIN' HAPPY TALK,
                    TALK ABOUT THINGS YOU LIKE TO DO,
                    YOU GOTTA HAVE A DREAM,
                     IF YOU DONT HAVE A DREAM,
                     HOW YOU GONNA HAVE A DREAM COME TRUE?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Wolf Hall.

Marmite, that is how a chum described this wonderful book by Hilary Mantel. "you know what I mean, it is a bit of a Marmite read.". He deduced from my face from space I did not get the inference. "You either love it or you hate it", he explained. I thought he meant if you smeared a copy of this book book on a white shirt it will leave a stain that is difficult to get off. I never questioned the likelihood of my friend wanting to rub a historical novel on any part of his apparel or his anatomy. He enjoys listening to English rap artists such as Professor Plum so nothing else he does registers as any less questionable. He is quite wrong and even a little lazy to dismiss such an accomplished piece of work as this with such brevity. As a critical response to this rightly lauded book it has as much weight as a bucket of Marmite.
            The book charts the rise to power of Thomas Cromwell  within the court of Henry Vlll (talk about swimming with sharks..) from his base roots to a position of undreampt off, then and now, unscaled heights. Yet the very name Cromwell has a certain resonance, one that history has not dimmed, if anything perhaps mis-shaped and muddied. Popular thinking has led to us thinking of Thomas Moore in saintly terms whilst we revile Cromwell and his like. Yet Hilary Mantel explores just how much of that is perhaps historical black-ops and the blackening of a name fallen from favor. As a thought exercise it entertains on that level alone. As Henry himself puts it;
The court of the king, the inner circle and the powers festering there, was a dangerous place for the unwary and even the cleverest of men and women were apt to find themselves fodder for the big fish they thought themselves swimming with. We guess at the personal motivations of men such as Thomas Cromwell but they rarely committed to paper anything which could at a later date be used against them. Wolf Hall is a wordy work of historical prose, a memory play, a remembrance of all things Cromwellian. Novels based on the lives of the long dead reverberate with Proustian intent; all being remembrance of things past. It is in the author's hands that history may come alive again and in Hilary Mantell's it does that with a gritty hand held humanity. The pock marked dialogue and the rough and ready lives certainly feel very real. The imagined character of  Thomas Cromwell carries with it many negative associations not just for his own actions but for he actions of others with the same surname. Those who admire his actions pat themselves on he back smug in the knowledge of the historical nature of his acts. The statute of limitations that history endows. Those appalled by his actions demonstrate a similar smugness in that they attribute the blood on the hands of others directly to his. Not that those hands were clean and yet certainly no dirtier than the hands of the monarch he served. The blood and dirt of history clings to every page of Hilary Mantell's book, her record of a period of English history whose influence bleeds through to this day. She really pulls it off too.
                 I have only ever read one other book by Hilary Mantell. Beyond Black; a novel full of troubled and restless souls, ordinary and extraordinary, murder and magic, real and imagined. A bit like this one. I think she has always understood that history is not something that happens to other people, It is something that weaves all off us into it's tapestry. In that book she wrote about people capable of speaking to the dead which is in a sense what writers of historical fiction do. Well, they at least attempt to speak for the dead, not in the sense of functioning as table wrappers or oozing ectoplasm, but in a bold sense speaking as authentically as aurally possible. In a sense forging fictional memories. Strangely I have no memory of the book ending, just that words and sentences wound down in the way that a conversation might.
                  One without a full stop.
                  But then life is like that is it not.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Treasure Everywhere.

There is treasure everywhere if you know where to look. I do not know if that is true but I do know that Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island seems to have been with us always. Endlessly adapted and brought back to life generation after generation. Although it now seems to our thoroughly modern minds little more than dreamy escapist fantasy imagine it through the mind's eye of the equally modern eighteenth reader when the sequence of events between the covers seemed entirely plausible. Would you not have dreamed of putting to sea to have your own adventures beneath the mast?
            In writing Noe The Savage Boy I have tried as much as possible to portray the pirates in the story as realistically as possible and avoid the temptation to run with the stereotype embedded in our culture by the continuing success of Stevenson's book That one had it all; a one legged one eyed pirate with a parrot on his shoulder, a treasure map that leads to betrayal and murder, a world where X does indeed mark the spot and let us not forget the black spot itself. There are double-dealings and mutinies, heroes and villains and even surprisingly well developed characters rich in ambiguity and with nuances of good and evil.
              The above Disney version of the book released in 1950 with Bobby Driscoll and Robert Newton has in itself proved most influential on pirate lore and the perceived visual shorthand for what it is to be a pirate. Particularly Robert Newton's exaggerated west country accent which has become the stereotypical speech pattern for on screen pirates the world over ( To my ear it sounds like the modern Northern Irish professional golfer trying to casually affect an American accent which always sounds like an eighteenth century Cornish tin miner. )
              Both the book and the movie are a joy and I am presently trying to obtain a copy of the Big Finish audio version with Tom Baker as Long John Silver (YOU HAVE A WOMAN'S LEGS MY LORD!).  I am swashing my buckle as I write this.
               Hope to see you on Saturday at The Forbidden Planet International Store in Belfast where we can discuss Noe The Savage Boy,Good Craic, Tom Baker and pirates in general or any other buried treasure you might wish to dig up.
              Remember X truly marks the spot.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Two Pertwees.

Will you look at this. Felt my heart skip a beat. Sean Pertwee in costume as Jon Pertwee in costume as The Doctor. Just amazing. I want to see this on television some time soon. Capaldi and a Pertwee. It has to happen.( Still have not come down from Saturday nights episode. Not even the big reveal more the truly horrible underlying ghastliness of the three words.) Sean Pertwee posted this on twitter on Halloween. He is such a good actor in his own right there must surely be a way to use him in New Who. I still remember his Hugh Berengar in Cadfeal(With Derek Jacobi as Cadfeal, another Who connect).
                  The cover iff the 1975 Who annual is my own from back in the day. My poor old ma bought it for me as a Christmas present in 1974. I remember her taking me into this old shop called May Browns in Ardoyne and telling me YOU CAN PICK ONE THING. My family did not have a pot to piss in and May Brown would let trusted customers have things on lay over which they could pay off. I picked this annual and counted the days til that Christmas morning.
                  Best Christmas annual ever. I never had my nose out of it. Protected it like it was the rarest thing on the earth. Still have it as you can see. Hoped some day as a grown man to have a purple suit and a ruffled shirt like the most elegant Doctor of them all.
                   Still hoping.
                   To be a grown man that is. Got the suit and shirt long ago.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Sack Of Baltimore.

There is a superb and very moving poem that recalls this event in some detail but also never loses sight of the fact that it was very ordinary families and people who were caught up in this extraordinary event. The poem tells the story of that terrible night  in a lyrical and moving way. My sister cleans the house of a lady in the country, a retired ex-school teacher whom she told about her brother writing a story based on the raid by slavers on the small fishing village in Cork. She remembered a junior grade book from 1917 that she owned a copy of, one that contained this quite brilliant piece of poetry detailing that very subject matter. She loaned my sister the book so that I might see it with the effect of fleshing out the events for me, bring them alive as poetry can and in this case magically did.
              The poem moves from tranquil to tragic. It mirrors that dark night so long ago I suppose. My own scribblings pale in comparison to the poetry that dripped so readily from the pen of Thomas Davis.
              Why not have yourselves a wee adventure in poetry and do the same. Try a bit of detective work and try tracking a copy down for yourself.  You have to read this work. You will find yourself transported by the power of a powerful poem crafted by a gifted word-smith. One that never loses sight of the reality of the situation, the horror that overtook the people of Baltimore, Cork, Ireland.  it is a story of a community , of families ripped from hearth and home.
              Please try and track a copy down for yourself. Before returning the copy I was leant I copied it out by hand and will always treasure it. You might well feel the same. In two weeks time we will be having a signing at the Forbidden Planet International Store in Ann Street Belfast to celebrate the release of Noe the Savage Boy#2, our comic loosely based on what history has come to call The Sack Of Baltimore. If you have had a chance to read the poem please come along and tell me what you think. I would love to hear and to relay your thoughts to that kind lady who was good enough to lend me her own time worn copy book. To let her know know that even though she is retired she is still teaching people, all these years later.
                Do please come along.
                It would not be the same without you.

Thursday, 30 October 2014


There is just something about a Who Radio Times is there not. For me it is probably some ghostly echo of the feeling ones young eyes got pouring over the Radio Times Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Edition a different century ago. It makes one feel like a time-traveler even if it is on the slow path, one second at a time. In just ten weeks we have gone from there to here with just two weeks to go of a season of Doctor Who that feels very special indeed. Ach, they all do to be honest but this one feels so new and so different and yet built upon traditions loved and trusted. It is as though we have all been spat up by a dinosaur and we all came crashing to earth together in our blue box.
             Just two weeks to go and we will all be looking back going WHEN CAN WE DO THAT AGAIN?
              You never get to do things for the first time again. That is what makes it so special.
              You can try to do it better and Who is one show that even after half a century never stops trying.
               Not just a good Doctor.
               A Great Doctor.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Noe Second Time Around.

Noe #2...

Just wanted to announce a signing for the launch of Noe The Savage Boy#2 on November the 15th at The Forbidden Planet International Store on Ann Street Belfast. Time to swash yer buckle and hoist yer colors, be there or by yer blistered barnacles be square. Stephen Downey, Robert Curley and myself will be there to meet and greet anyone who wants to pick up an issue. The signing for issue#1 was so much fun and we got to meet some lovely folk, hope all who attended felt the same.
              The story of Noe and his family takes another hard twist as they discover there are sometimes fates worse than death.
              The signing itself however will be just good Craic.

Pygmalion In Time And Space.

A second whole season of stories with simply one of the best Tardis teams ever. Last years season of Doctor and Romanna stories raised the bar pretty high and I could not help but wonder if it was an attainable height or at least one that could be equalled. Should not have worried, Big Finish have more than come through with these eight new adventures. With the wheezing and grinding grampus of Tardis engines the old adventures begin anew.
                This time around we get Sontarans in an introduction series opener that is huge in scale and excitment and very character driven. Especially with that Sonataran Everyman  Dan Starkey playing a very different Sontaran than the very popular Strax. Ironic when you consider they are a clone race. It is a story that introduces a strrong character arc for the developing character of Leela which they explore at greater depth than they did back in the day.Baker and jameson are on tip-top form and more than rise to the spirit of proceedings. The very next stop involves a trip to a place literally darker than most places The Doctor has travelled to. A place where, of all The Doctor's companions, Leela has the most chance of ensuring their survival. The Crooked Man of the next title is also the product of a dark place. A sea-side town during the winter. The story also acts as a sequel to a previous tale when the Doctor had a very different face. Yep, contain yourself, a Patrick Troughton story no less!( Now you have an excuse to dust off that old VHS or that DVD you have allowed to wait for your attention like an old friend you have not spoke too in a while. Like you would ever need an excuse.) The master returns in The Evil One, a story that may well have you scratching your head wondering just who the title of the piece refers to.
                  After that came a story that leapt to the top of my list of recent favourites ( a list that has no meaning really as they are in no particular order.) The Last Of The Colophon. Absolutely everything clicked for me during this one. To the point where I can remember watching it all those years ago one Saturday night in 1977. It is that good. The next story involves a new big bad for The Doctor Who Universe of Big Finish Productions. You get to hear The Doctor go bad in this one. Which off course we know could never The next story The Abandoned is a trip through the looking glass and into the memory of The Tardis. My brain almost popped out of my head when the Doctor used the expression"Curiouser and Curiouser". I had to replay it again and again. Since the script was written by Loise jameson herself ( Oh Yes-there is no end to this woman's talents) I have since convinced myself that she reads this blog (Surely someone does) and she is familiar with my blog (as opposed to having read Lewis Carroll at some point in her well read life obviously). If I owned a mobile phone I would make it my ring tone!
                     The final story of the season is a real treat and features the return of The Zygons. A monster who work so well on audio despite being also one of the better designed creatures. It is those whispery voices I suppose. Aliens should sound like this. The jungle planet setting is also one that allows leela to completely come into her own. Still, a stand-out in a season that gives Louis Jameson so much to do. Not only in terms of character progression but also in the fact she gets to write for an episode, co-scripting with Nigel Fair. Another damned talented fellow who can do a bit of everything. You can hear all the fun these various talents had during the making of the stories in the c/d extras. Sounds like Big Finish have one of the best green rooms in the UK.
                  No sooner is this season done than The Philip Hinchcliffe Boxed Set appears.
                  Keep this level of quality up and there will be no finish in sight...

Sunday, 19 October 2014


                 The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Well, you would like to think so...
                 Richenbach Falls is where the story begins. Scene of one of the most celebrated confrontations in the long history of literature. One that has bled beyond the medium that birthed it and even entered modern parlance to describe the inevitable showdown between two equally balanced forces. Holmes and Moriarty, James and Sherlock, both plunging to their mutual ends in a monstrous abyss where nature and super-nature meet in a maelstrom capable of devouring even fictional characters.

                   Richenbach Falls. A churning fury that roars and spits with all the unrestrained anger of an author determined to end the life of a fictional creation whom had come to define his career. One that overshadowed all other literary endeavours by Conan Doyle and one who's success his creator had grown to possibly resent. The end had come for Holmes and The Final Problem saw him and his nemesis sail over the edge and into history.

                   Off course it was not the end. We know that now. The world screamed for more and three years after that fateful day Holmes walked in on a still grieving Watson, in disguise, and caused the stout hearted ex-military man to quite faint away. It was a more generous age capable of accepting even men were wont to swoon. This allowed Holmes to survive even longer after his death than he had existed prior to it. Even that reversal of fictional certainty has become a much mimicked exercise; the act of bringing back a character you should never have bumped off. That said we have had to wait considerably longer for anyone to do the same for the other person who went over the edge that day. The unloved James Moriarty.

                    Anthony Horowitz dives right in to the depths of that Sherlockian maelstrom where water always wins. In a bold move that would have Annie Wilkes reaching for her continuity hammer he convincingly reinvents what occurred in the heart of that churning abyss. He brings to the Final Problem a resolution that neither side steps nor undermines what Conan Doyle did himself all those years ago. No easy feat when you consider how even that power house of ideas that is the combination of  Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss dealt with their own Richenbach conundrum by disregarding the need to explain what actually happened with a grand shrug. Probably realising presumption and expectation had painted them into the corner of an already freshly decorated room at 221B Baker Street.

                       The book begins shortly after the events that occurred high up on that mountainside in Switzerland. An agent for The Pinkerton Detective agency Frederick Chase is in pursuit of an American criminal mastermind whom they had discovered had intended to join forces with Moriarty to create a criminal empire of evil to stretch between the continents. Chase is a determined and solitary figure chasing a very dangerous and shadowy figure every bit as ruthless as Moriarty with as vast resources to draw on. He is even bolder and certainly more blood drenched as the Napoleon Of Crime was with a greater appreciation of the notion of shock and awe. Despite Holmes absence his legacy and influence abound. I once heard Anthony Horowitz speak at the Ulster Museum as part of the publicity tour for his fantastic House Of Silk. He is an open and gregarious fellow who seems to find public speaking easy. At one point in the talk he addressed the public perception of the successful Robert Downey Jnr's take on Holmes or Indiana Holmes as he wittily called it. It is suggestive of a certain temptation amongst modern interpretors of Conan Doyle's eternal detective.The urge to apply whatever prevails as popular in the modern zeitgeist into the Holmes mythos. Not just in the sense of having Holmes tackle evils perhaps perceived as modern, As Horowitz did so successfully in The House Of Silk. More the notion of introducing anachronistic social conventions or manners of behaviour and speech to Victorian London. Since Conan Doyle was writing in the here and now of his world I think it does his creations a disservice to have them act as men out of time. Anthony Horowitz never does that and as such his stories will stand the test of time so much better for that. The book is a triumph that avoids the temptation of creating a minefield of continuity for newcomers to the world of Holmes and the London he roamed and protected.

                      As a Holmes fan I found lovely little Easter Eggs within the narrative. Ones that reference events in other stories. Friends and villans abound in situations new and yet familiar. Homes may have seemingly perished in the most fantastic and scenic of locations but his home turf remains as he left it. The dark corners of London truly are wretched hives of scum and villany. Enter Inspector Athelney Jones Of Scotland Yard  and the two men combine their considerable talents to traverse the unmapped regions of The London Underworld. Two good men drawn from both sides of the world to combat an evil that threatens both. They find their wits and sense of courage put to the test and stretched to their very limits by forces bereft of any moral code. The warning of this is quite clearly stamped upon the jacket of the book.

                       Sherlock Holmes is dead and darkness falls.

                        Conan Doyle created archetypes who are reborn and revitalised generation after generation. This is one of the superior additions to that honourable canon. Neither pastiche nor homage. In effect the real deal.

                         Quickly; The game is afoot.


One of my favorite covers from one of my favorite publications. It is a publication that surely represents the best of us. The inquiring human mind and the joy of discovery and learning. I am sure there are any number of reasons the discovery of the remains of a little creature that lived on this planet three point three million years ago is of outstanding scientific significance and goes some way to explaining the evolutionary arch between then and now. It is the smile that gets me. The thought that we might be the only living things in the universe that can actually smile and the equally stunning thought that we have been able to do it for millions and millions of years...
               Carry on smiling.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Still running After all these years.

Just this week I was reminded of a wee strip I did for fortnight magazine a long time ago. Part of Ouija Board Ouija Board which was a monthly strip I did for the arts, politics and culture magazine. Slice of life observations by someone with a broken brain. This was one a strip subtitled The Spide Remains The Same and was a glimpse at the toll taken by years of abuse at the hands of people who had decided I was their enemy because I did not dress like them. Honestly not as Unusual as it may sound; wars have started for less...
             Anyway, there I was just Tuesday past walking along in a reverie contemplating the crumbling moon in the sky called the moon and what may lie beneath. It was that episode of Doctor Who Kill The Moon and the horrible spider infestation that troubled me. The moon being an egg I could take but the thought of it swarming with arachnid bacteria...I thought a huge Racnoss Queen was going to hatch. Then suddenly I found myself being verbally abused by three drunken fellows in a loose ensemble of sports casuals. They were bumping off each other and holding each other up and raving like three mad crows from an old Disney cartoon. Although Uncle Remus never told stories about this carrion company. The Song Of The South has a completely different meaning in Northern Ireland.
              They actually followed me into a second hand charity bookshop. I was mortified and tried to feign indifference by being absorbed in a book about the history of The Queen's Household  Cavalry when really I just wanted to be anywhere but being serenaded by this Greek Chorus of naysayers. They were asked to leave the store which they drunkenly did all the while acting all put upon and obviously the victims in this scenario.  Is it sheer arrogance to believe one may walk the streets unmolested? After all a spide gotta slag or burst...
               WHAT DID WE DO BASHARDS?
                I am no longer the fiery young buck ready to fight the world for the right to wear a bowler hat with a kilt and bondage trousers. These days I will may wear a bow tie with no sense of irony and cannot fathom why anyone would feel inflamed by the sight of such a sartorial choice. Not so much a red flag to a bull as a penguin paperback being used to beat out a malicious fire.
                Someone I knew to determined to defeat their enemies by being better dressed than them. I think this an ultimately futile gesture as one can only ever really be differently dressed than them. As anyone who has ever being given a kicking by Mods can testify. Oh yes, I remember racing across the patio next to the art college being chased by some angry young men in the most amazing ace face suits and parkas. The kicking hurts as much. A rose by any other name blahdey-blah...The peasants are no longer revolting they are reality television stars. It is strange but the faces I saw growling at me the other day are the basically the same faces I have been listening to growl forever. I suppose the sports casuals change color but the spide remains the same..
                Ah well although it is a battle I never chose there are worse ones to fight.
               This will never end. Certainly not in my lifetime.
                For they are spides and their number is Legion.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Maggie Stables A Time Lady.

Was very saddened to hear that the actress Maggie Stables has passed away. Maggie played the character Evelyn Smythe the companion of Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor in a number of very entertaining stories from Big Finish Productions. From her introduction in The Marian Conspiracy to her very moving exit in A Death In The Family she excelled. A talented character actress whose easy warmth came through in her performances and whose down to earth attitude and natural intelligence made her the perfect foil for The Sixth Doctor's often vigorous excesses. In grounding the mercurial nature of Baker's interpretation she actually brought out the best in the man and their pairing was one of this company's triumphs. You could hear in the actor's voices how much they cared for each other. Indeed Evelyn's final words about the character of The Sixth Doctor in A Death In The Family are amongst the nicest things ever said about this era.
              Lovely writing delivered from the heart by a woman who probably meant what she said.
              Sympathy to all who were fortunate enough to know and love her.

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August.

The history man cometh. Timey whimey. A throwaway lazy verbal dodge of a logical explanation by David Tennant's glorious Tenth Doctor has off late become the Get Out Of Jail Card for every writer who talks themselves into the baffling cul-de-sac of time travel stories. It is the "Reverse The Polarity Of The Neutron Flow" of this generation.
             Time travel is a difficult genre to write convincingly about. The second most difficult genre material to tackle. The first surely being stories about the comic book character The Flash. He runs fast. He runs very, very fast. In the name of Philip K Dick that man runs very fast.
              Timey whimey.
              Reverse the polarity.
              They are the literary bulletproof vests used to hopefully dodge the bullet points of logic. In most cases just dodging or deflecting the bullets that can kill your story stone dead.
               An entirely different strategy would be to embrace the complexity of such a story. To struggle with it as a determined scientist might construct and convince by strength of one's own intricately constructed  and reinforced storytelling. In short, damn good story telling that obeys the internal logic of a tale that most time travel stories confound. As in the case of The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August. It is a brilliantly complex yet utterly gripping exploration of an idea that you can explain briefly in a few choice lines and then wax lyrically about for a hundred more.
                Imagine it were possible for you to go back into the time-stream of your own existence. Relive the twentieth century over and over again. What advice would you give to your younger self? If such things were in fact possible what advice could you possibly give? Not even counting the big moments, you know;"do not buy those tickets for the maiden voyage of The Titanic" (if your time-stream extended back that far.) You know the kind of moments I mean, the game changers. Yet while we live with life altering moments all the time we are just not aware of the repercussions of taking roads not chosen. Foreknowledge would make all the difference. There are a hundred myriad moments that make up a single day of our existence , all of them experienced but not all remembered. Our timelines are as meandering and complex as as the nature of the human brain and the way it processes memory. The saved data that makes us who we are, that determines our personalities. change a single day in that timeline and we may alter the course and development of that personality.
               Factor in that you are always reborn in the same skin and at the same point of origin and well...
               Spoilers,spoilers,spoilers. To borrow from the life of The Good doctor once more.
               How does one discuss a time travel narrative without giving too much away about what has happened, what is happening, what will happen,how everything that happens or has happened will be affected by what...you see what happens when you pluck at the threads of a time travel story. Well, the threads that show. To Claire North's credit there are no dangling threads in this vast narrative despite it spanning lifetimes and hundreds of years. The ideas within the narrative are so well realised they spill over with their own potency. In that I mean you find yourself speculating, playing mind games in the theatre of operations of your imagination. at one point nearing the middle of the book I looked across the room and saw myself in a mirror reading the novel which also in its reflection caught a smaller mirror behind me showing the same thing from a slightly different perspective. Which meant a reflection mirroring a reflection infinitely regressing along my limited perspective.I thought; is this the only time travel it is possible to witness. Oh it is a joy when a book sparks imaginative impulses like this. It is the alchemy that occurs when a novel bursts and bristles with fantastic ideas and characters that feel alive and worth following. Harry August is just such a character as is his best friend/nemesis Vincent. The nature of their friendship and on-going rivalry is an addictive draw that pulls one deep into the actions at the heart of the book. She under stands the nature of male friendships so well, the warts and puppy dog tails and all. I suppose the emotional tug of war that can come when friendship sours is not just a male or a female preoccupation, it is a human thing. I however can only speak from my own viewpoint and I can identify with Harry August's dispassionate knowledge of what he must do and the emotional knowledge of what he wants to do. Claire North is a pseudonym which the author chose to use for her own reasons. None of them to do with gender but there is no denying she writes men so well.
               I imagine the author Clair North's work area must have been like a spider's web of post-its with character histories and plot developments, beginnings and endings, with strings and threads crisscrossing the room in the hope of weaving the recursive nature of the ever changing nature of the novel together. Or perhaps she has just been working on this for more than one lifetime.
               For all its SF trappings there are moments of genuine horror in this novel.Those who find they live their lives in a non-linear fashion may find that pain and suffering are not transient experiences. There is a certain mortal relief that comes with the knowledge all things will pass. We mourn the brevity of happy times and find the bad cannot pass quick enough. Adjust this to an eternal perspective and you begin to see horrific implications.
                This book is an outstanding debut with someone with not only a special understanding of the way time works but also the effect it has on the nature of relationships.
                Claire North what will you do next?
                Or have you already done it and we are just in your slipstream waiting for it to come round again...

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Where Man Once Ruled Supreme.

A fellow Apes fan said to me recently that he thought the two recent Apes Movies had got their titles in the wrong order. The first should have been Rise and the second Dawn and not the other way around. And you know, he was right, the revised title would have served the progressive nature of the movies better. But hey, that is a minor quibble in the face of their sheer simian brilliance. Particularly the driving force of primate nature that is Andy Serkis. His turn as Captain Haddock was like movie magic to me. Stand up Jamie Bell, you also achieved greatness in that Spielberg/Jackson/Herge collaboration.
           I remember reading the above Planet Of The Apes annual aloud to my mate Paul who was dyslexic but loved The apes television show. We all did on our street and could be found acting out the adventures of the two astronauts trapped in a world they never made. Paul would be Burke, my other mate Fergie would be Virdon and I was always the chimpanzee Galen. I think perhaps I still am. Adopting the improbable chimpanzee crouch to mimic Galen probably contributed greatly to my accelerated decrepitude and arthritis. I suffered for my art
            I miss Paul very much. He took his life in a moment of acute depression. We did not know at that time what troubled him and made him see the many ups and downs of life as insurmountable. Depression is a condition which haunts so many and yet hides in plain sight. One that so many suffer under in silence compounding their sense of isolation. Wounds of the mind, mental illness or mental health issues seem Taboo subjects to admit to for fear of social isolation.
             I remember us sitting out on warm summer evenings feeling the night drawing on, speculating if the two astronauts ever made it home and if they did did they take Galen with them. What if Galen came to Belfast and got a job as a caretaker in Holy Cross Boys School. A talking monkey caretaker. That would have been magic. We wondered would he be able to watch himself in planet of the apes. You know, the kind of important things boys will speculate sitting on a yard wall watching a red streaked sky promise a sunny tomorrow.
               It is after all a monkey planet.
               We just live on it.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Texas Chainsaw Marzipan.

                                                            Just one of those days.