Spectre of Springwell Forest release – five days to go!

The launch event for Spectre of Springwell Forest – my first ever novel published by a traditional publisher – is a mere five days away! Don’t forget to turn up for games, giveaways and more. The event is taking place here.

NOTE: times given are EST, so my hour is 7pm to 8pm UK time.

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Spectre of Springwell Forest is released on the 20th of December. Pre-order your copy on Amazon Kindle here (in the UK) and here (in the US). Paperbacks will be available from the 20th of December.

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Film Review – Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse

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Given the sheer number of recent Spider-man reboots, the question has to be asked: do we really need another Spider-man? These reboots are just one of many jokes made at the expense of the webslinger in the animated Spider-man Into the Spider-verse. But although directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, and screenwriter Phil Lord cram the film with plenty of spoof, they don’t forget to make this a funny, exciting and touching superhero film in its own right.

This narrative takes the Miles Morales plot from the comics and gives it a unique spin. As per the Peter Parker Spider-man story, teenager Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider and gets spider-related superpowers. An older, somewhat disillusioned Parker becomes a sort-of mentor figure and the pair try to take down crime boss Kingpin. But Kingpin has been tinkering with parallel universes, and that’s when things gets really weird. Other spider-people start appearing in Miles’s universe, including the monochrome Spider-Man Noir, Peni Parker (a Manga variation) and the hilarious Spider-Ham.

The animation is staggering. Making extremely clever use of widescreen space, the film has the look and feel of a comic book, right down to bubble captions that appear at key points, and the dots onscreen that echo classic comic book print. Visually this really is quite unlike any other animated film ever made, and for that alone this deserves major kudos for sheer retina-scorching brilliance.

A fine vocal cast – including Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Chris Pine and Nicolas Cage – all do a great job in bringing their characters to life. The poignant relationship between Miles and his father provides the heart of the story, and around this are plenty of action scenes amid the laughs. There are some good twists, even though one feels a bit similar to a plot turn in Big Hero Six, and in the end, for all it’s playful, spoofish glee, Into the Spider-verse celebrates the heroism of Stan Lee’s greatest creation, ending with a poignant tribute to the great man himself in the closing credits.

Amid the current glut of superhero films, you might not feel you can stomach another. But Spider-man Into the Spider-verse has heart and wit to spare, not to mention a unique visual aesthetic. In short, yes, in this case we really do need another Spider-man film.

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Disney Discussion – New podcast from The Tangent Tree now available

Spot the deliberate mistake in the title of this episode of The Tangent Tree podcast (you probably need to have listened to the previous two episodes to notice)…

…or don’t bother, and just enjoy another deluge of discussion between Sam and myself, commenting on Disney films well known and less well known.

Listen on iTunes, Spotify, Podcast Addict or the other usual platforms, or else simply click here to listen on The Tangent Tree website.

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Spectre of Springwell Forest – one week to go!

Just one week to go before my new novel is unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.

Published by Dragon Soul Press, Spectre of Springwell Forest is a nail-biting ghostly mystery, guaranteed to rattle the bones and keep you checking the shadows and dark figures you think you can see out of the corner of your eye…

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Here is the blurb from the back of the novel:

Lily Henderson has a horrifying secret buried far in her past. She hoped it would never be revealed. Now she has no choice.

To save her family, Lily must keep them from returning to the village of Springwell, where she lived with her first husband and young daughter decades previously.

In the past, after moving to Springwell, Lily encounters secretive locals, government scientists, and rumours of a ghost haunting the forest.

Are they linked to the mysterious deaths of local children? Do paintings by a local artist predict when tragic events are getting closer? Will Lily’s daughter be next?

“Two were taken. More will follow.”

Spectre of Springwell Forest is released on the 20th of December. Pre-order your copy on Amazon Kindle here (in the UK) and here (in the US). Paperbacks will be available from the 20th of December.

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Film Review – Three Identical Strangers

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Tim Wardle’s extraordinary documentary Three Identical Strangers proves yet again that truth is most emphatically stranger than fiction. If anyone presented this story as fiction, it would be rejected out of hand as utterly implausible. Nonetheless, despite my jaw hanging open at several points in sheer incredulity, the events related and recreated in this film really did happen.

It is best to know as little as possible going in, so I would urge you that if you are unfamiliar with the facts of this case, don’t research them beforehand. However, I will say this much. The documentary opens with Robert telling how in 1980, he headed off to college in a new town, and was surprised when people there appeared to recognise him. It turned out they knew his identical twin brother Eddy. Neither brother knew they had a twin, having both been given up for adoption in 1961. Their chance reunion made headlines, only for an even more extraordinary event to occur: they had a third twin, David, who had also been separated from them at birth and given up for adoption.

The reunited brothers bonded immediately and became big news in Reagan’s America. Although they had been raised in different backgrounds – one more blue-collar, one more middle class, one more affluent – the similarities between them seemed extraordinary: identical mannerisms, interests, tastes in food, cigarettes and so forth. Despite this feel-good, seemingly happy-ever-after reunion, the adoptive parents began to ask why were the twins separated? Why were they not informed that they had twin brothers? These questions gradually revealed an extraordinarily sinister conspiracy that had the audience I saw the film with gasping in utter disbelief. At this point, you probably think I’ve said too much, but trust me, I’ve barely scratched the surface.

As with any great documentary, it isn’t just that there is a great story, but that the story is told really well. In this case, Wardle uses interviews, archive footage and some very well-directed reconstructions to reveal the genuinely shocking twists and turns. There are dark places this film goes to that are guaranteed to twist your insides and jab at raw nerves, in its themes of nature versus nurture in particular. I must confess I ended up so emotionally involved that it took me a while to write this review, because I didn’t feel I could be objective. I say that to praise the film, because any film that can get under my skin in that way is something very special indeed.

In conclusion, I suspect Three Identical Strangers is going to haunt me for a very long time. I really don’t want to say too much more about it, other than to urge you in the strongest possible terms, do go and see it.

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Better late than never – The Tangent Tree podcast “Greatest” versus “Favourite” part two now available

Part two of our latest podcast on The Tangent Tree, on “Greatest” versus “Favourite” films, is now available on The Tangent Tree website, as well as iTunes, Spotify, Podcast Addict and the other usual places. My apologies for the delay.

In this episode, I try (and fail miserably) to predict Sam’s favourite films. And as ever, there are some amusing tangents… Enjoy! (Normal service should now be resumed, so expect another episode this Friday).

Click here to listen.

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Spectre of Springwell Forest release party: You are invited!

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You are hereby all invited to the online launch of my new novel Spectre of Springwell Forest on Facebook. This is my first novel published via the traditional publishing route (as opposed to self-published) and Dragon Soul Press, my publisher, has arranged this event.

Hosted by several Dragon Soul Press authors over a number of hours, it begins at 10am Eastern time (3pm UK time) on the 20th of December. The launch event will feature games, giveaways and other amusing things.

My “hosting” hour will between 7 and 8pm UK time, so please do drop in, if only for a few minutes, glance at the posts, interact and enter the competitions if you so wish. In addition, by all means check out the other talented authors, who will also be showcasing their work at this event, during the other hours.

The event link can be found here.

Thank you for your support of my writing endeavours over the years. It is much appreciated.

Spectre of Springwell Forest is released on the 20th of December. The Kindle version can be pre-ordered here (in the UK) and here (in the US). Paperbacks will be available from the 20th of December.

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Film Review – Ralph Breaks the Internet

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The original Wreck-It Ralph was a terrific film that took me quite by surprise when I first saw it. I went in with low expectations and came out elated, which was especially wonderful because I had just endured a glut of worthy-but-depressing-and-dull films, and had forgotten what it was like to come out of a cinema feeling better than when I went in.

This sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, isn’t quite as good, but it is still worthwhile. The story picks up with video game characters Wreck-It Ralph and best pal Vanellope having fun together on a regular basis, but Vanellope is longing for a break in her predictable routine. After Vanellope’s video game Sugar Rush is damaged, Vanellope and Ralph go “online“ to find a replacement part. Here they discover just what a brilliant and terrible place the internet can be, whilst learning important lessons about friendship.

It goes without saying that the animation is stunning. The vocal cast (which includes John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Gal Gadot) all do well, and directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore work hard to ensure the film isn’t just an unashamed celebration of corporate monopolies. One sequence soaked in Easter Egg overdrive involves a Disney website, and threatens to tip over into a hymn to capitalism. However, then the Disney princesses turn up to save the day with great satirical gusto (indeed, it’s one of the film’s big highlights).

Elsewhere there are amusing trips to the dark web (sanitised for family audiences), and some surprisingly poignant insights into the vile corners of humanity displayed on video upload sites (“Never read the comments”). I also rather liked the King Kong inspired finale.

Ultimately Ralph Breaks the Internet isn’t going to change the face of animation, nor does it live up to its predecessor, but it is still a good deal of fun.

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Film Review – The Old Man & the Gun

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Onscreen text at the start of The Old Man & The Gun informs us that “This story is also, mostly, true”. Deliberately echoing the “Most of what follows is true” text that opens Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kind, the film that made Robert Redford a superstar, perhaps this is intended to bring Redford’s career full circle, with another film supposedly based on fact about a bank robber. The fact that Redford has claimed this will be his final acting role only underscores that idea, and quite honestly if it is true, then The Old Man & the Gun is a fine role to go out on.

Set in the early 1980s, the film follows career criminal Forest Tucker (Redford), whose habit of holding up banks in a very “gentlemanly” way earned him a certain notoriety. With his fellow gang members Waller (Tom Waits) and Teddy (Danny Glover), Forest made several petty scores. At the same time, disillusioned cop John Hunt (Casey Affleck) became determined to track him down, dubbing Forest’s outfit the “Over the Hill gang”, in view of their ages.

Forest’s relationship with widow Jewel (Sissy Spacek) forms the touching heart of the story. Director David Lowery (who made the astonishing A Ghost Story last year) is smart enough to downplay the thriller aspect in favour of the chemistry between his two leads, fully aware of the baggage Redford carries as an actor and channelling it very astutely. It goes without saying that the resultant performances are terrific. Lowery and his cinematographer Joe Anderson give the film a warm, nostalgic haze by shooting on Super 16mm, further enhancing the melancholic, bittersweet themes of growing older but not necessarily wiser.

Forest’s monomania in spending his life in an endless cycle of stealing, getting sent to prison and then escaping is psychologically fascinating, but the film rarely delves very deeply into the why. Instead it simply encourages its audience to enjoy Robert Redford’s immense charm, as wonderful here as he was as Butch Cassidy, all those years ago. The pace is slow and possibly unlikely to play well with impatient viewers used to more high-octane heist thrills. Nonetheless, this is an elegiac and memorable film that, should it really prove the swansong Redford claims it is, brings the curtain down on a splendid acting career.

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My Five Favourite Ghost Stories

This December, my novel Spectre of Springwell Forest is released by Dragon Soul Press. A chilling and mysterious ghost story, this adheres to supernatural horror genre traditions, whilst exploring certain corners that are (I think) unique to me. However, I would be foolish to deny being influenced by the greats, and in that spirit, here are my top five ghost stories, in no particular order of merit:

FN-AC446_FN_Scr_P_20171213111825A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) – What is often forgotten about Dickens’s tale of Christmas cheer is just how bleak and scary much of it is. The appearance of Jacob Marley is particularly bone-chilling, as is Ebenezer Scrooge’s vision of the future, when the final spirit shows him what will happen if he doesn’t mend his ways. Yes, it all ends happily, but for me, the horrors of “Ignorance and Want” linger long after the triumphant resurrection of Tiny Tim.

DDMDon’t Look Now (Daphne Du Maurier) – John and Laura Baxter visit Venice in an attempt to recover from the death of their daughter. Here Laura meets two psychics that believe they are getting beyond-the-grave messages from her departed child. This is only a ghost story in the loosest sense, but it is, above all, a profoundly chilling study of the way grief can tear people apart. The Nic Roeg film is justly famous (and adds/changes a few key elements), but Du Maurier’s original text is equally startling, and if you’ve only ever seen the film, I urge going back to the source material.

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The Ash Tree (MR James) – Everyone has their favourite MR James story, with Oh Whistle And I’ll Come To You My Lad proving particularly popular. I’m going with The Ash Tree for this list – a truly unsettling tale about a vengeful woman who was accused of witchcraft and executed. Exactly how her revenge is administered in subsequent generations forms the backbone of the plot. The denouement sends a shiver down my spine whenever I read it. (“There is something more than we know of in that tree, my lord. I am for an instant search.”)

the-turn-of-the-screw-windowThe Turn of the Screw (Henry James) – If this isn’t on the list of everyone’s favourite ghost stories, there is something seriously wrong with the list. Memorably adapted as The Innocents for the big screen in 1961, the original text is nonetheless worth revisiting time and time again. The plot concerns a young governess who comes to believe her charges are possessed by departed spirits. However, many readers have since questioned whether the supernatural elements of this tale are all in her mind, thus creating one of the great debates of the genre. Are the ghosts real? Or is she insane? The ambiguity is the story’s greatest strength.

woman-in-blackThe Woman in Black (Susan Hill) – This giant of the genre was probably the biggest influence on Spectre of Springwell Forest. Solicitor Arthur Kipps is menaced by a vengeful ghost in a haunted house by the sea, resulting in a famously bone-chilling tale that has been memorably adapted in television, film and a long running stage show. However, the original prose remains unsurpassed, particularly in the vivid descriptions of the remote Eel Marsh House, and the spine-freezing finale, which I find infinitely more disturbing than the altered ending in the film. I particularly love the Hill’s terse final sentences: “They asked for my story. I have told it. Enough.”

Spectre of Springwell Forest is released on the 20th of December, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon Kindle here (in the UK) and here (in the US). Paperbacks will also be available soon.

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