Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Casting Calls, or The Fantasy Fiction League

Today’s blog was inspired by two separate trains of thought, that converged like iron behemoths becoming derailed in the dark tunnels of the mind. An analogy too far, perhaps.

Firstly, I was writing my latest book, and I started to imagine each of my characters as an actor – asking myself the question ‘Who would play this character in the TV drama version, or the Hollywood blockbuster version’? I can dream, right? But it helped me a surprising amount with the characterisation. Suddenly I could picture them in my head – their expressions, their accents, the timbre of their voices. Like a virtual director, I was imagining them saying the key parts of the dialogue, and bouncing of each other’s performances, to the point where I could visualise their bits of ad-lib so clearly that the dialogue and interactions almost wrote themselves. A cool trick, I thought, and one that I’ll definitely use again. I can almost see the ITV drama adaptation of my latest in my mind's eye...

The second element of this blog came about recently as I was watching the movie version of one of my favourite books: The Hound of the Baskervilles. There are lots of film and TV versions, and as this particular version unfolded before my eyes (it was the old Peter Cushing one – great stuff!), I started to think about the cast of the movie, and how they differed from my reading of the characters in the book, or even exceeded my expectations. This got me thinking so much that, over the next few days, I actually re-watched all of the film versions of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Yes, I know… a bit obsessive! This in turn made me compare and contrast the various character portrayals, weigh up their pros and cons, and consider my favourites. Of course, in some versions the characters are completely different from the book, or even made up (the alteration of Beryl Stapleton to the very different Cecille in the 1959 version, for example), but they usually have a comparator somewhere in the other versions regardless.

So all of this set me up to think about my ultimate Baskervilles cast. If I had to choose my favourite member of the cast for each role, who would I pick? Well, that wasn’t an easy process, because so many of the actors are really good, and you kind of wonder if their performance was in part due to the chemistry they shared with their co-stars… but then you’re just over-thinking it. So here’s my list – my favourite actors for each key role in the Hound of the Baskervilles. Think of it as kind of a Fantasy Football League, but for literature-to-film adaptations. Do you agree with my picks?

Sherlock: Basil Rathbone
Watson: Edward Hardwicke
Sir Henry Baskerville: Martin Shaw
Stapleton: Richard E Grant
Beryl Stapleton: Marla Landi (as ‘Cecille Stapleton’)
Dr Mortimer: John Nettles
Barrymore: John Le Mesurier
Mrs Barrymore: Eily Malyon (as Mrs. Barryman)
Selden (Convict): William Ilkley
Honourable Mentions: Spike Milligan and Roy Kinnear (as the policeman and Selden respectively, from the 1978 spoof), and the hideously miscast William Shatner from the 1972 TV movie. Brilliant!

A quick point to explain – it’s no great secret that my favourite Sherlock Holmes (in any guise or setting) is the wonderful, late, Jeremy Brett. However, in the Hound of the Baskervilles, Rathbone puts in a particularly stellar performance, and he has the ‘look’ down exactly right. In this one movie adaptation of any Holmes story, Rathbone is my favourite, and Brett a close second.

One final note: this exercise benefits from the fact that there are at least a dozen versions to draw from. It’s a very different poser from ‘If you could cast ANYONE in the roles from your favourite book, who would it be?’ That’s a question I may return to in a future blog – the ultimate fantasy character list!

Monday, 17 February 2014

My Name’s Mark, and I’m a Book Addict…

This past week, as I ordered yet another book off the internet, and settled down to re-read one of my old favourites, I realised that I’m a genuine book addict. I hold my hand up: I own a silly number of books – traditional ones, not digital ones – and it’s long past the point where I have the room to physically store them in my house, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife.

The shelves of antiquarian books at
Bromley House are a sight to behold.
While I was thinking about the degrees to which my book addiction has taken hold of my life, I knew at once that I wasn’t alone. A quick browse around Twitter or Facebook will find hordes of self-confessed bibliophiles all sharing their passion for the printed word. So I had a think about the traits that define my addiction, and – in true internet style – I came up with a top ten. Let’s see how many of these you recognise in yourself…

1. You belong to more than one library
I’ve joined a local library everywhere I’ve lived (and never technically left any of them). These days, living in Nottingham
I also belong to a private subscription library – the wonderful Bromley House – which is a trove of treasures.

This is my reading chair.
There are many like it,
but this one is mine.
2. You own a ‘reading chair’, or have a designated ‘reading space’.
A special place for reading just helps you switch off from the rest of the world and enjoy the written word for what it is. It's like working at a desk rather than on the sofa.

3. You’ve developed a taste for the finer things
If I read in the day, I like to drink fresh filter coffee. If I read in the evening, I like a smoky single malt, or a nice ruby port. Mmm, port.

4. You’ve bought books you already own by mistake
Sometimes because it’s in a different format, or with a different cover – sometimes the same edition. It matters not. I’ve done it more than once!

5. You’ve bought books you already own on purpose!
Because a special edition of an old favourite, or a single binding of a story from an anthology, is just too good a chance to miss.

6. You can’t pick a favourite
Books are my babies. You can’t have a favourite baby, can you?

An eclectic mix, representing
approximately 0.5% of my collection...
7. You’ve read your favourite novels more than once.
Remember, you can’t have just one favourite, so that’s a lot of re-reading. Christopher Lee apparently reads The Lord of the Rings every year. Even the bits in italics. He deserves a medal!

8. You own more books than you’ve read.
A sad, sad confession. My compulsion to amass books outstrips my reading pace by a fair margin. I’ll get round to them all one day. Probably.

I mean, just look at this one!
If you can walk past this shop
without looking, you have
no soul. NO SOUL!
9. You find it impossible to walk past a second-hand bookshop.
Unless it’s closed, of course. But even then, you can window-shop, right? And there’s always treasure to be found, especially if it’s a really disorganised, sprawling old shop (see right)!

10. You don’t even own an e-reader.
The only controversial point on my list, I think. I can’t bring myself to buy a Kindle, because it means I might have to replace my beloved books with… well, with nothing, really. My love of books goes well beyond the words on the page; e-readers are great for some people, and the effect they’ve had on the reading public is fantastic – but they’re just not for me. I’m print and I’m proud!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Game's Afoot

Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes CoverWith Sherlock Holmes being all the rage at present, it seems rather fortuitous timing to release an anthology of Holmesian short stories; and that's exactly what Titan Books is doing. And what's more, I'm in it!

The Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of short stories by a variety of genre writers, including Guy Adams, Lou Anders, and a certain Mark A. Latham. The stories range from the traditional to the steampunk, the supernatural to the comedic - in short, there's something for everyone contained within these pages. Compiled by George Mann, seasoned steampunk writer and author of Sherlock: The Will of the Dead, there's lots to entertain the avid Sherlockian.

My own story is an attempt at blending the canonical text with elements of Conan Doyle's supernatural fiction. In 'Sherlock Holmes and the Popish Relic', Holmes and Watson take up a case that is ostensibly not of this Earth; but Holmes, of course, doesn't believe that for an instant. Set shortly after Holmes's return from the dead, and just a few short years after the Baskerville case, the case takes them to an isolated, tumbledown estate and the ruins of a Catholic abbey to investigate the disappearance of an elderly peer of the realm. It seems that John H. Watson is far more inclined to trust his first instincts, and wonder if the things that go bump in the night aren't entirely of flesh and blood...

The Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes is available to pre-order online now, and is available from all good book shops come February 28th.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Season's Greetings

Christmas has come around very quickly this year (although I say that every year - you'd think I'd be used to it by now!), and so I just have time to send some festive greetings to my fellow Lost Victorians, before retiring to eat lots of turkey and unwrap presents. 

I've been raiding the bookshelves for some festive reading, and have found two fine examples. First up is the ever-popular A Christmas Carol (in a fine Collector's Library edition, pictured). Next is the faux-Edwardian The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill, a book full of period atmosphere. A pair of beauties for any bibliophile, I'm sure you'll agree!

So, with the reading material sorted, I shall wish you all the compliments of the season. Cheers!