Friday 28 February 2014

The Great War - A call to America

Although the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915 would not bring America into the Great War it was a key event to the nation eventually joining the allied forces.

The Sinking of the Lusitania, released in 1918, is an animated short film by American artist Winsor McCay. It features a short 12 minute explanation of the sinking of RMS Lusitania after it was struck by two torpedoes fired from a German U-boat. The film was one of many animated silent films published to create anti-German sentiment during World War I. McCay illustrated some 25,000 drawings for the production. The film is stylized as a documentary, informing viewers on details from the actual event, including a moment by moment recap, casualty list, and a list of prominent figures who were killed.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Sexton Blake and the secondhand books incident

I picked up this old pulp, one of the Sexton Blake Library, largely because the title amused me. I found the book in Cardiff's excellent Troutmark Books which is situated in the Castle Arcade. The character of Sexton Blake of course came about in 1893 in the Halfpenny Marvel paper. The character owed much to Sherlock Holmes - in fact he's  been called the poor man's Sherlock Holmes - and was often drawn to resemble Doyle's most famous creation.

This particular book was published in 1952 and written by Walter Tyrer, a man who wrote a fair number of Sexton Blake adventures. I think the name is likely a pen name but I cant find anything out about the writer on the internet other than a list of titles he penned.

There's a rather good blog HERE that reviews many of the Sexton Blake adventures but the blog doesn't seem to be updated on a regular basis - pity.

Together with the Sexton Blake book I also picked up a bunch of old paperbacks as well as several issues of Warlord Comic. I do love browsing in secondhand books shops and Cardiff's Troutmark Books is an excellent store. I'd recommend a visit to anyone who finds themselves in Cardiff. You'll find it in the Castle Arcade which is across the road from Cardiff Castle.

Monday 24 February 2014

Garth Ennis presents Battle Classics

Physically Titan Books have thrown everything into producing a highly quality deluxe hardback book that will take pride of place on the shelves of anyone interested in not only 1970's UK comic culture but anyone who likes intelligently told war stories. When I first heard this book was coming out I'd assumed it would be another anthology like the recent Best of Battle and collect together several episodes from the best known Battle strips but this is not the case. It is an anthology but it collects together the complete runs of both HMS Nightshade and The General Dies at Dawn as well as a several one off stories.For that latter think Tharg's Future Shocks from 2000AD but in a war setting.

 This is a far better idea than the 2009 Best of Battle collection (which I felt was a missed opportunity) since by collecting together the complete runs of each story the book really does these classic tales justice.

There's an introduction by comic books superstar Garth Ennis and this is not the standard couple of hundred words liberally sprinkled with a few 'Greats' a lot of 'Cors' and several 'Wows', but a full scale in depth essay that looks at what the original writers and artists achieved with the story.

And Battle often achieved great things - personally I think that Battle is the best British comic of all time and
easily eclipses 2000AD, which came from the same publishing house and shared many creators, but war stories fell out of vogue while Sci-Fi continues to prosper. Hence 2000AD is still here while sadly Battle is not. To my mind Battle was better at telling stories and in their very best stories such as Charley's War, Hellman, HMS Nightshade, Johnny Red or even Major Easy the strips had characters that defied the conventional comic book stereotypes and were presented as very real people with very real concerns. 2000AD has been very much influenced by Battle and over the years has tried to retell Battle stories in a SF setting but I don't think they've ever been truly successful at this. Battle at its best seemed real...very real indeed.

HMS Nightshade then, the lead story in this collection, originally ran in Battle for about a year and told the story of the HMS Nightshade, a Corvette class (a small easily maneuverable warship) warship which is assigned to protect the convoys taking supplies across the U Boat infested seas.

The modern corvette appeared during World War II as an easily built patrol and convoy escort vessel. The British naval designer William Reed drew up a small ship based on the single-shaft Smiths Dock Company whale catcher Southern Pride, whose simple design and mercantile construction standards lent itself to rapid production in large numbers in small yards unused to naval work. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, later Prime Minister, had a hand in reviving the name "corvette". Wiki

The story uses a device similar to that used in Charley's War but where that classic World War 1 story was narrated largely by letters home from serving soldier Charley Bourne, Nightshade is told by aging George Dunn who is telling his grandson all about his adventures in the second world war as a member of the Nightshade's crew.

There are some stunning secondary characters and all are capable of surprising us. Take for instance the character of Parsons - at first this bullish man who delights in making the lives of weaker crew members a misery seems to be the stereotypical school bully placed in a war situation, but he grows over the space of several issues and even dies a deeply touching and incredibly heroic death. This unexpected act of Parsons throws the reader a curve ball and is as powerful as anything ever seen in the best war movies. In fact I'm going to use a 1970's comic bookism here - WOW!

Other characters were equally well flushed out and by the time the reader reaches the last story he is left exhausted though all the better for it. This story really is a fitting tribute to the brave men who served on ships like the Nightshade.

The General Dies at Dawn in another classic story and unusual in that the protagonist is a German character. Battle did several stories from the German point of view, most notable Hellman but The General Dies at Dawn is easily the best. It originally ran for eleven issues, the complete run is collected here, and also uses the device of one character relating the story.

 This time the narrator is Otto Von Margen who has been condemmned to death for cowardice and treason. He is the holder of the Knight's Cross and as he relates his story to his jailer we learn how this great man has fallen so  low. Again Garth Ennis precedes the story with a detailed essay and here's another comic bookism - COR!

This book then is a must have for anyone who enjoys stortelling in a graphic medium, and comic book fans brought up on Superman, Batman and others could give this book a try and discover that there is far more to comic books than brightly coloured lycra and unusual muscle development.


Weekly Stats Report: 17 Feb - 23 Feb 2014 


Unique Visits133117118122112143152897128
First Time Visits120109111113107137149846121
Returning Visits13879563517

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Action Stations

Four new Commando titles have just hit the shelves - Deadlock at Marne written by one time Commando editor, George Low with art by Keith Page is another in the series set during the Great War. I'm enjoying these First World War stories and hope that Commando continue publishing stories set around the conflict on a regular basis.

Duel in the Jungle is a World War II story set in the Burma Theater of war.

Escape from Singapore is another second world war tale, this time concentrating on the war at sea.

Finally we have Last Stand at Berlin which takes place during the closing months of the second world war. You'll notice from the banners on three of these issues that they boast bonus stories. Well actually it is the one story split across the three issues - part 1, 2 and 3. I've not read the story yet but this looks like a good idea and I do hope they prove popular - might open up a new market for short war stories there.

Monday 17 February 2014

You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them......

Reduced for a limited period, from those wonderful folks at Piccadilly Publishing - Play your cards right and take a gamble on this anthology - you'll be onto a winner

The brainchild of Amazon Kindle bestselling western writers Mike Stotter and Ben Bridges, PICCADILLY PUBLISHING is dedicated to issuing classic fiction from Yesterday and Today! 


Legendary western writer and noted anthologist Robert J. Randisi offers up a winning hand with fourteen never-before-published tales of the Old West, each revolving around the central theme of gambling. Among the stories you can expect to be dealt here are: 

Jacks or Better by Johnny Boggs 
A Cold Deck by Phil Dunlap 
The Reckoning by Randy Lee Eickhoff 
It Takes a Gambler by Jerry Guin 
Odds on a Lawman by Christine Matthews 
Pay the Ferryman by Matthew P. Mayo 
White Face, Red Blood by Rod Miller 
Hazard by Nik Morton 
Acey Deucy by John Nesbitt 
The Mark of an Imposter: An Evelyn Page/Calvin Carter Adventure by Scott Parker 
Horseshoe and Pistols by Robert J. Randisi 
Too Many Aces by Charlie Steel 
Missouri Boat Race by Chuck Tyrell 
The Legend of 'Blind Ned' Baldwin by Lori Van Pelt

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 10 Feb - 16 Feb 2014 


Unique Visits162137123113135130116916131
First Time Visits153129114108116121110851122
Returning Visits98951996659

Thursday 13 February 2014

Is Reading for Pleasure a Dying Art?

Novelist Ruth Rendell appeared on Radio 4's Arts program, Front Row last week and set alarm bells ringing by stating that reading for pleasure has become a minority pastime, almost a specialist activity. The 83 year old author bemoaned the fact that people are no longer ashamed to admit that they don't read fiction, which was something that only twenty years ago was unthinkable.

The story was picked up by a number of newspapers with both The Guardian and The Telegraph devoting column inches to the death of reading. The thought that this may be true depresses the hell out of me, and I suspect the majority of Archive readers will feel the same way. I read regularly, always have and I've always got a book (fiction) on the go as well as having written a fair few and hoping to write a lot more.

I Googled, 'Death of Reading' and within the blink of an eye my request had traveled the virtual highways, gone through the secret government surveillance bots and returned a mass of interesting articles, as well as a couple of pornography sites. Are there any keywords not used by pornography web sites? I found the piece on the blog Poetic Serendipity to be interesting. Written and posted back in 2010 it was concerned over a survey, the results of which can be downloaded as a PDF HERE, and again made for depressing reading for the writer.

'It is now possible to see the decline of literature in normal life.' Ruth Rendell

So is reading dying? I'm not so sure but I think, rather I know that the traditional ways of obtaining fiction are if not dying then at least being reshaped into something new.eBooks may have been around for a long while but it's only in recent years that they have become mainstream. And it's no use arguing that eBooks are not mainstream because they are. These days I think I see more people reading on electronic devices than I do physical books. So I think eBooks will be the Savior of fiction reading and that reading will enjoy a resurrection, a digital resurrection that ensures that reading fiction is something that will be done for a long, long time to come.

I bloody well hope so.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Granny's Cooking

Two years ago now I created a character called Granny Smith - I thought of her as a kind of Miss Marple on steroids, and I had the idea of creating a series of light crime thrillers that would be heavy on humor.

Of course Granny Smith’s real name wasn’t Granny but everyone called her Granny. It wasn’t because she was a grandmother, though she was three times over, but rather because as a child she had loved apples, would take one to school for her lunch each and every day. It seemed that wherever she went an apple went with her and so associated with the fruit had she become that eventually some bright spark had nicknamed her Granny Smith after that popular Australian variety of apple. 

Because of the ease of publishing to the Kindle format I used the initial launch in the way that Hollywood often use test screenings, and a few readers pointed out that Granny was a little too young. I'd put her in her early Sixties but the comments about her age struck home and so I took the book down, added ten years on her and republished. She does work better as an older character and those ten years made a big difference.

Two other Granny Smith works have been published - the novel, Granny Smith and the Deadly Frogs and the short story, The Welsh Connection. And I will be working on a new Granny Smith novel just as soon as my workloads lightens up a bit.

Over the last couple of years the books have sold at a small but steady rate but just recently the sales, particularly of the first book have skyrocketed both in the US and UK. The combined sales of each book have gone into three figures this week alone - I don't know why this is. I've done no promotion as such lately, but hey I'm not complaining and I hope the sales continue in this fashion - who knows by the end of the year I may be able to afford a secondhand Ford Fiesta.

Some reviews:

“It’s Miss Marple on steroids.” 

A brutal murder in a small Welsh village leaves the police without a clue. With no motive and no real suspect the investigation soon grinds to a halt. Enter Mary Anne Smith, otherwise known as Granny Smith, the seventy-one years young, pipe smoking, heavy metal loving, chaos causing amateur sleuth with a difference. 

Granny has a talent for mayhem and soon those talents are put to good use as our intrepid pensioner starts the unravel the case, which finds her provoking Chief Inspector Miskin as she comes up against a full scale police investigation, proving that you’re never too old to make a nuisance of yourself and that seventy-one is actually the new twenty-one. 

Murder’s never been so much fun. 

" I liked the story, entertaining, easy to read." 

"laugh out loud funny and Granny Smith is a wonderful invention" 

"Granny Smith complete with pipe , what a vision... proves where there is a way she will take try it...enjoyed this book easy reading ."

"I was brought up on Miss Marple. I loved the idea of an old lady solving cases through sheer nosiness and this is a modern day version.
It starts with a murder at the Village Fete. Unfortunately for the murder, she happens to be Granny Smith's next door neighbour and when the poor husband of the victim is arrested, Granny Smith leaps on her bike into action. With a surveillance team comprising of long suffering husband and gay son, she is on the case!!
A lovely easy read and a good plot- a real winner :)"

Monday 10 February 2014

Are Sony on their way out of the eBook market?

Speculation that Sony are to get out of the eBook market is at fever pitch after the company recently announced that all Sony eBooks bought from its US and Canadian stores will automatically be transferred over to Kobo in March 2014. This means that the US and Canadian Sony eBooks stores will no longer exist and customers will be directed towards the Kobo site. Sony is still operating in the UK and the rest of the world markets but it must only be a matter of time before UK Sony users find themselves using the Kobo store.

In 2011 Sony had 21% of the eBook market but today the company find themselves able to claim less than 1% of the overall eBook market. Readers who own Sony eReaders will find an update placing the Kobo AP onto their devices and future books will come from the Kobo store. Sony are to continue producing eReaders but for how long this will continue is anyone's guess.

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 3 Feb - 9 Feb 2014 


Unique Visits163151138148110115124949136
First Time Visits152139129137108111120896128
Returning Visits1112911244538

Monday 3 February 2014

Sherlockathon - The Blind Banker

The Blind Banker was the second story from the BBC's Sherlock, and was broadcast back in August 2010. The plot involves a series of murders and at each scene a mysterious cipher is left behind. This baffles police but it doesn't stop them concluding that the first murder was suicide.

However Holmes eventually discovers that the ciphers are based on an ancient Chinese numeral system.  Several stories from the original canon as by Conan Doyle are used for this locked room mystery - the ciphers are coded messages which are a similar plot device as used by Doyle  in both The Valley of Fear and The Adventure of the Dancing Men, and the fact that a victim is found in a locked room which is only accessible by climbing is an allusion to The Sign of Four. There are other nods to the original canon in the story and a great blog for detailing all of these references can be found HERE - the author knows the canon far better than I and regularly list the references to the original Holmes canon which makes his blog essential reading for Holmes fans both old and new.

Towards the last quarter of the episode there is a scene where Holmes and Watson visit a Chinese circus and it is then that a familiar face pops up - yep that's me! I had a day's work on this episode, helping to make up the audience at the circus. However I may have only been an extra but I've got a knack of getting myself in the right place and as the camera swung around I found myself standing next to Holmes and Watson as can be seen in the picture to the left.

If I remember correctly the scenes inside the Chinese theater were actually filmed deep in the Cynon Valleys - the Abercynon Institute I think it was -  a disused cinema. The thing that sticks in my mind about the day is looking around the old cinema and reading the  posters on the walls, some of these went back to the early days of cinema. It was an enjoyable day and although I only appear on screen for just under a minute the scene took most of the day to film. Of course at that time I didn't realize that Sherlock would become such an iconic series. I think at that time I was still smarting at the show depicting our beloved Holmes without the famous pipe and as far as I was concerned it was just another job, in just another show that would be quickly forgotten. How wrong I was.

Now that the basic characters have been set up this second story is propelled totally by the mystery to be solved, and whilst I don't think the episode was quite as good as A Study in Pink it is still damn good television.

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 27 Jan - 2 Feb 2014 


Unique Visits1311541371531641631381,040149
First Time Visits121146131136141154133962137
Returning Visits10861723957811


 The UK's new tax on vaping which will come into force in 2026 is not only immoral but patently insane, and will hit those reformed smok...