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Monday 29 October 2007

Happy Halloween

And since I'm going to be tied up for the next day or so with my daughter's 21st birthday, let me jump in early with no shame and a reminder that Halloween is also publication day for my second short story collection.

Two books out in one year! Haven't had that happen in a while.

One of the novellas in the collection is Doctor Hood, originally written for Ellen Datlow's anthology The Dark. And perhaps worth noting because it was the story that introduced the emeritus physics professor Alan Hood, who went on to become the central character in the Eleventh Hour TV series.

Some nice reviews for The Kingdom of Bones out there, including this one from The New York Times. And check out this amazing endorsement from the great Ed Gorman.

Modesty prevents me from quoting from it.

Aww, f*** it...

"I read Stephen Gallagher for two reasons. First because he's one of the most entertaining writers I've ever read. And second because I can't read a short story of his let alone a novel without picking up a few pointers about writing. He's an elegant stylist, a shrewd psychologist and a powerful storyteller with enormous range and depth.

"I finished his latest novel The Kingdom of Bones and I was honestly stunned by what he'd done. The sweep, the majesty, the grit, the grue, the great grief (and the underpinning of gallows humor from time to time). This is not only the finest novel I've read this year but the finest novel I've read in the past two or three years."

Be honest. Would you be able to keep quiet about a lulu of a writeup like that?

Luan Gaines at Curled Up with a Good Book writes one of those reviews that involves a retelling of a lot of the story, but she manages to do it in such a way that you feel encouraged to go and read it for yourself.

It's weird, but these days people seem to like to know exactly what they're getting before they'll buy into it. Endings are sacrosanct but everything else is up for grabs!

OK, advert over and back to the birthday prep. The cake alone has been a production on a West End scale. We parents get to go along to the Sea Zoo and to host a Bistro meal, but we bow out gracefully for the day at the Pleasure Beach and the evening at the tranny bar.

And to think that kids used to be happy with an afternoon in the village hall and that slightly strange bloke who made balloon animals...


Read Paula Guran's review of Ellen Datlow's new anthology, Inferno, here.

Monday 22 October 2007

What's Entertainment?

I have to admit that, for entirely positive reasons, I was hoping that NBC's new zen cop show Life would tank and that its leading man, redheaded Brit Damian Lewis, would have to come home to the UK.

Well, I call them positive reasons. But only if you're prepared to view it in a selfish, world-revolves-around-me, dreams-and-schemes sense that takes no account of others' needs and pays scant attention to reality.

I was pitching a TV project that I thought he'd have been perfect for, and I was hoping he'd be available if it were to be picked up. That's all. In the event, the tiny handful of of UK people with greenlighting power all passed on the project and, in the meantime, I'm warming to Life. The pilot was a bit shaky and the zen stuff was off-putting, which is bad news for something that's supposed to be the show's Unique Selling Point; but that's receding now (the main character ain't half as zen as he wants others to think he is) and the show's beginning to find its balance.

(For those who haven't had access to the series in any form yet, Charlie Crews is a police officer convicted of murder and now exonerated by advances in DNA evidence analysis after more than a decade in prison. The whole zen thing was his way of getting through the daily beatings from other prisoners, for whom finding a cop in their midst was almost as big a treat as getting a pre-op transsexual for a cellmate. His settlement involved a whopping package of cash and reinstatement on the force which, frankly, would rather not have him but has little choice in the matter. Charlie applies his annoying philosophy to policework, and the prospect of another twenty-odd episodes of this threatens to sink the show right away; but thankfully there's more to it, and the More To It is what makes it work.)

Lewis shoulders the duties of a series leading man as if born to the job. It's no mean feat, but after his performance at the centre of Lodge Kerrigan's Keane I'm prepared to believe that he's capable of anything. See it, he's awesome. The film is essentially a tight three-hander (with Amy Ryan and Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) and has the feel of some of the best American cinema of the 70s; while William Keane is haunting the Port Authority bus terminal and obsessing about a missing daughter who may or may not exist, I can easily believe that Joe Buck is retrieving his suitcase from a Greyhound just out of frame.

Wherever you look in American TV at the moment you'll find British actors playing native and looking entirely at home doing it. Better than just fitting in, they bring something that's just different enough to add spice and interest without them seeming out of place. Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson both walked out of Rome and into series leads (with Ray pausing on the way for just long enough to shoot my two-parter Life Line, which was a great piece of luck for me). There's Lena Headey in the upcoming Sarah Connor Chronicles, Michelle Ryan in Bionic Woman, Anna Friel in Pushing Daisies. Not to mention Louise Lombard in CSI, half the cast of The Wire, Jamie Bamber in Battlestar Galactica, and of course Hugh Laurie in House.

Keep on adding to the list, and it ceases to look like a handful of great opportunities for a few actors and begins to resemble a massive drain of talent from the UK.

But who's going to blame them? Laurie's last offer from British TV was to play Watson to Stephen Fry's Sherlock Holmes, casting that was instantly seen by press and public as a further addition to his gallery of comedy dimwits. His turn in House makes him the equivalent of a kid who has to change schools before he can shine.

Brits in America are picking up the kind of roles that don't exist at home. Flawed heroes. Complex villains. Mythic everyman figures in classically-structured story forms. American TV has its weaknesses but a failure to grasp the essentials of showbusiness isn't one of them. They make watching a lot of our homespun stuff feel like school homework.

Go to the circus, laugh at the clowns, and then go home and have nightmares about them.

That's entertainment.


I re-watched the pilot last night (because I was in company that hadn't seen it, not because I was being obsessive or over-analytical), and it plays significantly better when you've a good idea of where it's all going.

The first time around I'd approached it with wariness because, from a distance, it looked like a mere cop-with-a-quirk procedural. Whereas with Crews walking openly amongst his enemies it's actually a Count of Monte Cristo variant of the kind I wrote about in this earlier post.

I think I'd have liked to have known that up-front on my first viewing; it would have taken me a lot less time to be won over.

Monday 15 October 2007

PS Publishing Titles at Half Price

To mark the launch of its revamped website, multi award-winning indie publisher PS Publishing is offering a 50% discount on all online orders for pre-2007 titles.

So that'll include my short story collection Out of his Mind and the hardcover edition of White Bizango (the paperback sold out some time ago).

Both are signed and numbered, and both feature covers by Chris Moore. White Bizango carries an introduction by Joe R Lansdale, and the hardcover is also signed by him so you get a twofer. Out of his Mind picked up the British Fantasy Society Award for best collection and is introduced by the great Brian Clemens, Avengers mastermind and lifelong hero.

Now you know what to do with all the money you saved by getting The Kingdom of Bones so cheap.

Thursday 11 October 2007

The Page 69 Test

Here's an intriguing blog in which writers are invited to make some comment about their own work based on a reading of all, or part, of its sixty-ninth page.

I don't know about anyone else, but for years now my browsing method has involved opening any book that catches my attention and reading a paragraph at random. Three or four lines will usually tell me if this is a writer I'll want to spend time with. It may seem like a cavalier way to judge an author's work, but we pretty much apply the same test when we hear someone sing. It only takes a few bars to tell you that you're in competent hands and sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll sense the hairs rising on the back of your neck.

Ford Madox Ford once wrote, "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."

(There is, in fact, another blog titled The Page 99 Test - but forgive me for giving a boost to the Page 69 option because that's where you can find my piece on The Kingdom of Bones)

Unfortunately a spot-check offers no protection against the phenomenon that I call 'literary novel fade', where I spend the first hundred pages of a novel thinking that this qualifies as one of the best books I've ever read, only to find that I'm dragging my way to the end as the writer's grip on the narrative dynamic proves unequal to the intelligence of their prose. Usually it's big-name, prizewinning stuff.

Speaking of which, I see that Jeanette Winterson's publicists are now describing her new novel The Stone Gods as 'literary science fiction', implying the existence of a whole dark-matter universe of illiterary science fiction populated by the Lems, the Vonneguts, the Simaks, the Silverbergs, the Butlers, the Bradburys, the Besters, the le Guins...

I don't know if Winterson herself is behind any of this. I hope she's not one of those writers who decide they're going to 'use the form' of sf while vigorously distancing themselves from those whose form it is. It's meant to imply a kind of superiority but it reads more like cowardice, an unwillingness to be measured against the journeymen and women of a genre.

'Twas ever thus... in my yellowing copy of John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes, the author bio states rather disdainfully that in 1946 he went back to writing stories for publication in the USA and decided to try a modified form of what is unhappily known as 'science fiction'.

My 1964 paperback copy was published by Penguin. As is Jeanette Winterson. In fact, Penguin is probably second only to Victor Gollancz in its history of publishing quality science fiction in the UK.

So you'd think by now they'd know better.

A complete list of the books included in the Page 69 test can be found here.

Monday 8 October 2007

Teddy Alexander

Most of what follows is from an afterword that I wrote to accompany a short story titled Modus Operandi; I got the story from a childhood memory, and writing it triggered a few more of them.

My childhood home was a terraced house in Monton, just outside Manchester. Each street was a row of brick houses, each with a garden behind it and a ten-foot cobbled alleyway behind that. According to my memory the gardens were huge, but I've been back for a recent look and they weren't. My dad built a garage on ours (the comedy subject of my first film, hand-drawn on polythene strips and projected on the wall by a torch in a shoebox. . . find that one if you can, Kevin Brownlow). The garage eliminated a good two-thirds of the garden.

Every back garden had a washing line. Someone began stealing women's underwear from them. The police were called, backyard security was stepped up, the thief grew bolder. . . one neighbour grew most affronted when her enormous bloomers gave rise to a return visit. My mother couldn't stop laughing when she repeated how said neighbour had told her, grim-faced and displeased, D'you know, he came again the next day and threw them back!

There was no shortage of theories. Some even suspected our next-door neighbour, an entertainer who worked the holiday camps in summer and kept the house as his winter base. The grounds for suspicion? They were show folk, no other reason. He and his wife lived on the lower floor and let the upstairs rooms to a xylophone player named Frank.

I don't suppose it helped that he was unable to take the whole situation too seriously. When the phone rang he'd snatch it up and, without even waiting to identify the caller, say loudly and brightly, "Is that the knicker-snatcher?"

I thought that was hilarious. But then again I was only a kid and so, I now realise, was he. He had a hamster that he named Abie. He built Abie a hamster paradise out of interlinked tubes and cages. The design was more ambitious than it was well-engineered; Abie got out and disappeared forever under the floorboards. His owner poked sunflower seeds down through the cracks so the hamster wouldn't starve. This was around the same time that he bought a complete Punch and Judy rig – booth, puppets, whistle, routines, everything but the dog – from another performer who was either retiring from the business or had gone broke. He'd invite me around to test-run the show. My job was to shout in all the right places.

Joni Mitchell was right. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

I don't believe that the case of the missing underwear was ever solved, but our washing line was one of the targets and we did get a visit from the CID. That was the first time I ever heard the term Modus Operandi. I'd drawn a crayon map of the gardens to explain my theory of how the thieves got access (climbing onto the dustbin and then over the garden fence... brilliant stuff, I tell you), and I showed it to the officer. But I didn't have all the underwear stowed in a case under my bed. That was a twist I added to turn life into narrative, when refashioning the memories for Maxim Jakubowski's New Crimes collection.

Our neighbour took his comedy routine onto Opportunity Knocks one week in October 1966 and won the show, and a season or so later he and his wife and their new baby moved on. I've been able to glean a few more details from the net: he continued to make his living as an entertainments director and later as a children's entertainer before retiring and devoting himself to charity work following the death of his son Karl at the age of forty. His name is Teddy Alexander and I believe that performers like him are the backbone of all showbusiness.

I promise to write some more on the CBS/Bruckheimer/Eleventh Hour deal as soon as I can. So much of it's in the air and my role in it, if any, is yet to be defined. But it's the biggest deal of its kind in American TV this decade, according to the people I'm working with. It's weird for me because I'd already let the show go, and this news came out of nowhere. More than anything, I'm curious to see how it'll develop in the hands of the very people whose methods I studied in order to create it.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Plots and Misadventures

At the end of this month, Subterranean Press will be publishing my second collection of short stories. The cover's by Edward Miller, and here's the advance review we got from Publishers' Weekly:

"Veteran British horror writer Gallagher (The Kingdom of Bones) shows off his versatility in this collection of 11 stories and a review of Joseph Payne Brennan's Nine Horrors and a Dream. Among the best are The Back of His Hand, a shocking description of the unexpected dangers involved in tattoo removal; The Plot, a Victorian tale in which a mill girl enacts a bizarre revenge on the kindly priest who refuses to let her illegitimate baby be buried in sacred ground; Doctor Hood, a touching ghost story concerning a world-famous physicist, his daughter and the recently deceased loved one haunting their family home; and My Repeater, a grim science - fiction story about the fruitlessness of using time travel to correct one's past errors. Capable of being either subtle or blunt depending upon the needs of his plot, Gallagher has assembled a fine and varied collection of weird fiction that should find many admirers."

Which is great, but... veteran? What the f*** did I do to become a veteran???


Inferno is Ellen Datlow's first non-theme horror anthology and will be out from Tor in early December. Here's an early peek and the finalised jacket art. I get a namecheck on the back cover!

"Inferno promised twenty original tales of terror, and it wasn't kidding. Killer stories by Gallagher, Cadigan, Ford and Jeter, make it worth the price alone. But the others are no slouch in the terror department either; they're jacked up and creeped down,and perfect for late night reading when you want to get your chill on. An excellent anthology." Joe R Lansdale

"Ellen Datlow is the queen of anthology editors in America. She has great taste, an amazing talent for finding good new writers, and many, many enduring friendships in the community of sf/fantasy/horror writers, which means that she can always call upon the cream of the crop. Inferno isn't just good, it is astonishingly good, the product of an editor who really knows what she is doing." Peter Straub

My story is titled Misadventure.


In the first review of the collection at The Green Man Review website, Denise Dutton writes:

"This is a smorgasbord for any horror reader, regardless of where his or her interests may lie; horror, terror or gross out. And a small word of warning, those who are not quite as (used) to graphic violence as I am may find themselves truly grossed out by a few. But mostly, and more importantly, this book serves up excellent, high-quality creep. That's something anyone can sink their teeth into. Bon appetit!"

And specifically, of Misadventure:

"Misadventure by Stephen Gallagher is the kind of story that sneaks up on you. I thought I was reading one type of tale, only to have it shift into another type entirely, and back again. A wonderful story about interactions with the dead and how those interactions can lead to gruesome, if necessary, things."

Tuesday 2 October 2007

Too Much Monkey Business

There's been a lot of online coverage about the Cadbury's drumming gorilla ad... viral activity that felt spontaneous and justified at first but which (or maybe it's just me) is beginning to feel more than a little manipulative now.

After some speculation as to whether it was actually Phil Collins in the gorilla costume (duh?) it's been revealed that the wearer of the Stan Winston-created prosthetic suit is "a little-known actor called Garon Michael."

It turns out that Garon Michael is actually an ape movement specialist with a string of feature credits to his name. To my eye the 'little known' tag is an unnecessary putdown - far from being plucked from a deserved obscurity he's actually one of the go-to guys for this kind of job.

Sometimes you wonder if people realise that there's a whole other world behind what they're seeing on the screen. Back around 1990 I adapted my man-animal hybrid novel Chimera for ITV, and the crew included a primate movement and behaviour specialist named Peter Elliot. He worked closely with Dougie Mann, who wore the mask and played the role.

Peter was then, and continues to be, one of the top-ranked choreographer/performers in the field. His credits can be traced back to Greystoke and Quest for Fire, and he teaches animal study at London's Central School of Speech and Drama.

He can be seen on the right of the picture, talking to Paul O'Grady on one of the Chimera sets (I think it's the village hall in Kettlewell, Yorkshire, which we'd turned into an emergency morgue for the victims of a mass slaying. O'Grady played a sign language interpreter, some time before he became more widely-known for his Lily Savage persona).

Dougie Mann had also worked on Greystoke. I think I've got a shot of him without the mask somewhere and if I can dig it out, I'll post it. Whenever there's a Congo or a Gorillas in the Mist in production you'll find a whole community of these specialists being pulled together.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is, there's a lot more to it than just showing up and putting on the monkey suit.