Over the course of the last couple of months in lockdown, I’ve been working my way through a box set of 21 Hammer films. Some are great, some are not. One of them – QUATERMASS AND THE PIT – just happens to be one of my favourite films of all time and, when I realised I’d not recommended it here, I thought I’d better correct that. It also gives me an opportunity to plug issue 60 of SCREAM MAGAZINE, which just happens to feature an excellent article about the various adaptations of Nigel Kneale’s tale.
Professor Bernard Quatermass is one of my fictional heroes. He’s a man in search of truth and explanation; someone who refuses to be bullied by the military or the media or politicians into making assumptions or rash decisions. It’s interesting – watching the TV news from around the world right now, you can see more than a few Quatermass-like characters biting their lips in the background while our so-called world leaders talk nonsense and bullshit their way around the truth about the pandemic and its effects.
There are four Quatermass stories, and all of them are worthy of your attention. The first, the Quatermass Experiment, was a ground-breaking serial first broadcast live by the BBC in 1955 which told the story of the first manned space flight. On the ship’s return, two of the three-man crew are missing. The sole survivor begins acting strangely and it soon becomes clear that he has been taken over by an alien presence. I can only imagine how terrifying this must have been for viewers back in the day, prior to the beginning of the space race, as they watched huddled together around their black and white TV sets. But it’s QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, the professor’s third outing, which is the most well-known of Kneale’s stories. To my mind, the 1967 Hammer adaptation is a classic.
During excavations in London a large unidentified object is unearthed. It defies definition although the area has always been associated with diabolical evil. Within its walls Professor Quatermass discovers the remains of intelligent alien creatures that attempted to conquer the Earth in prehistoric times and, through their experiments on early man, altered human evolution to its present state. Though dormant for many centuries, the power supply from the excavations is being drained by the ship until its terrifying force can be unleashed and the creatures can reinstate their violent dominance over man.
Stephen King’s ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT was first published in 2000. Part-biography, part-toolbox and instructional manual, and part-something else entirely, it’s a unique read. But I’m guessing you already know that. I’m assuming many of you may have already read it. A lot of fellow horror/ suspense/ thriller writers visit here, and of those of you who are more interested in reading than writing, I’m sure a large proportion are die-hard King fans. So why am I recommending it now?
When I signed my first major publishing contract back in early 2008 (I’d worked almost exclusively by myself until that point, and the contract I signed for the first version of STRAIGHT TO YOU definitely was not major), I began to mix with a large number of fellow authors from many different walks of publishing life. A number of them suggested I should read ON WRITING, and I duly followed their advice. I ordered a copy and devoured it quickly. I took on board a lot of King’s sagely advice, and thoroughly enjoyed the read. And then I put the book on my over-crowded shelf and left it there.
A few months ago, though, while looking for summer holiday reads in advance of getting on a plane and doing bugger-all in the sun around a pool for a week, I picked it up again. I read it voraciously in a single day, and it was revelatory.
Do away with The Stand: we’ve all read it (hopefully) and seen the TV movie. I am Legend as well – you’re not welcome here. Anything with zombies spelling the end of mankind? Please leave the building in an orderly fashion, kindly taking any severed limbs with you.
It’s all the Mayan’s fault. They ran out of days on their calendar and created a concern that touched almost every man, woman and child on the planet in the process. The big day came and went with about so much as a plane falling from the sky: an incorrect belief that circled the globe because an ancient mathematician was too lazy to count any further than he had too. Every soothsayer and psychic since we’ve been able to put quill to papyrus has had the fantasy of getting it right and guessing humanity’s ultimate demise, as if correctly guessing our extinction would earn them bonus points in the afterlife or perhaps to be smug for that last second before we’re all wiped out would make it all worthwhile.
Death is our last fetish and is as inevitable as taxes, as the adage goes. It greets us on the news, in soap operas and in our own little lives with our own sequence of tragedies that pepper our existence. There are many books that speculate on our end. Nostradamus had a good go. The Bible dwells on fire, brimstone and punishing sinners with the arrival of the Four Horsemen and the ultimate torture room, Hades. The recent surge in post-apocalyptic fiction, with the rise of The Walking Dead series for example has further cemented the end of days into popular culture. The end sells.
Many writers have explored this, some more popular than others. So I’d like to introduce you to five powerful novels which treat the end of us just as brutally as Stephen King preaches in The Stand, Richard Matheson explores in I am Legend and John Wyndham shows the dangers of meddling with nature in The Day of the Triffids.
In early 2009, around about the time HATER was released, I spent a lot of time mooching around various dark corners of the Internet wondering what people were saying about my book. On many genre sites I visited I remember seeing the distinctive covers for Joseph D’Lacey’s books, MEAT and GARBAGE MAN. Who is this D’Lacey character, I wondered, and how come he’s got a quote from Stephen King on his books (D’Lacey Rocks!)? I thought we were destined to become adversaries, competing against each other to try and conquer the UK horror market.
But it’s not all been plain sailing. Publishing is a fickle and sometimes cruel business, and through no fault of his own, MEAT and GARBAGE MAN failed to have the impact they should have. He told me “Going out of print is something I think a writer can quietly live with, difficult though it is to accept that a book’s life is over. However, having your books withdrawn from sale because your publisher goes bust is a situation most writers probably never even anticipate. It certainly came as a shock to me! I’d always believed that of my two Beautiful Books titles, MEAT was the one with the potential to grow a long tail. When the administrators stepped in at the end of 2011, though, I had to face the fact that any tail it was growing had been severed.”
Fast forward to today, and with a new agent, a new publisher and an expanding back catalogue behind him, both MEAT and GARBAGE MAN have been reborn. Not just reborn – revitalized. “The reissue was a perfect opportunity to improve the novels, so we edited them again and had them re-proofed. Garbage Man was originally published with all sorts of typos and problems with scene breaks. All that has been fixed. I’ve rewritten the acknowledgments section in each book, to make sure everyone who’s helped since their first publication gets a mention, and there’s a section of extra content in both novels. MEAT gets a new preface and Garbage Man a new afterword. The covers have been redesigned too, of course, and the eBooks are enhanced with extra content. I couldn’t be happier with the result.”