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Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Dead Burying the Dead Under a Quaking Aspen - book review


Screenwriting guides advocate “leave plenty of white space on the page”; effectively, “less is more”; or “give the reader/viewer space to visualize”. David Cranmer accomplishes that with this slim yet thoughtful and often poignant book of 29 poems. Indeed, his words “create fuel for the soul” – “The Need”. Herein you will find a “carefully crafted house of words” – “Daughter”.

The range of subject matter is considerable. From Haiti to Texas; from New York to the intergalactic void of space.

“The Inconsiderate” puts you into a grim gory scene laid out by the dreaded Tonton Macoute, for example.

Cranmer has the neat knack of sometimes deliberately forcing a space – a pause – in a line, mainly to make it more telling. Of course poetry is best appreciated when read – the listener gets the cadences, soaks up the emotion through the tone.

“reaching out to take my hand

asking to be   familiar again.” – “Cri de Coeur

Many of the poems feature death in all its guises. He quotes Martin Amis pointing out that “poetry alone… can face death on anything like equal terms.”

As Cranmer says in “Blue”:

“capturing the poetry of a slow death.”

There’s the unresolved murder of Hugh Chaffin, a man who loved gardening and was bound, gagged and bludgeoned to death; there’s the internationally abhorred murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, journalist and a resident of Virginia.

So, yes, there’s anger here, too.

And there’s the poignant “On the Border” where the narrator is visiting his Mom in a hospice and is reminiscing about those times when they’d watched westerns on TV together. “Except in these rooms, Alzheimer’s is the ruthless gunslinger.” He swats a mosquito and feels like a “much-needed paladin” – a fine reference to Have Gun Will Travel.

Perhaps pride of place must go to “Under the Quaking Aspen” where a few moments spent with his daughter Ava prove almost ineffably tender. His wife Denise is not forgotten: for their daughter is “cut from a priceless diamond”.

A fine production that will bear re-reading.

Friday, 11 February 2022

Illustrators Quarterly Magazine - #1


The ongoing series of quarterly perfect-bound full colour magazines began with this issue in 2012.

Anyone interested in illustrating art will cherish these magazines.

This issue features a lengthy article about Denis McLoughlin – 44 pages lavishly illustrated with his often gritty book covers. McLoughlin mainly concentrated on hard-boiled crime but also westerns, including the Buffalo Bill annuals I recall from my childhood. Indeed, McLoughlin, who hailed from Bolton, Lancashire, was so knowledgeable about the Old West that he produced The Encyclopedia of the Old West (original title Wild and Woolly) in 1975: a veritable mine of information!

There follows 22 pages of an interview with artist Ian Kennedy. Again, every page features samples of his comic illustrations and paintings, notably from the Commando comics that have been around since 1961. An outstanding artist, sadly missed (he died 5 February this year).

Next is a feature on the ‘Alluring Art of Angel Badia Camps’, one of a host of Spaniards who began plying their trade in Britain to good effect in the 1960s. We get fifteen pages of samples of his work from the covers of romantic fiction and women’s magazines; distinctive, atmospheric and colourful.

Two regular features are: The Gallery and The Studio. For the Gallery there are six pages of ‘the Fin de Siècle Erotica of Cheri Herouard’. He illustrated the covers of La Vie Parisienne, but also posters, postcards and menus. The Studio features Mick Brownfield’s iconic Christmas cover of the Radio Times in 2009 with Santa and a Dalek. The end pages consist of art-book reviews and contact details for art supplies, illustrators, museums and other related subjects.  

Copies of most back issues are still available, many at reduced prices.

It’s published by The Book Palace and can be obtained through their website Back issues can also be obtained from

The Book Palace also issues, from time to time, special issues on certain illustrators, and most of these are destined to become collectors’ pieces.

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Mort Kunstler - The Godfather of Pulp Fiction Illustrators

Mort Künstler – The Godfather of Pulp Fiction Illustrators

Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle

My daughter bought this for me for Christmas.

There are 110 pages; the first ten comprise illustrated text – reminiscences by Mort about how he got into the illustrating business. For many years he’d turn out three covers and two interior illos for men’s adventure magazines. He also worked for other publishers at the same time, ‘twelve-hour days, fifteen-hour days, sometimes seven days a week.’

The remaining pages are full colour full page paintings full of action from magazines between 1952 and 1972. He also produced lots of film posters for adventure films such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Hindenburg, as well as advertising promotions and then broke into historical paintings for The National Geographic.

He relates that the word 'künstler' means ‘artist’ in German.

If you appreciate art, this book is an excellent addition to your collection.

Monday, 7 February 2022



Nick Ryan’s sixth book in his World War III techno-thriller series is gripping stuff. Where the earlier books relate to combat in Europe, this one concerns submarine warfare in the Pacific against China.

Commander Chris Coe is an old-school submariner and is abrasive with regard to his XO, Richard Wickham, so we have two types of conflict – personal and military.

The nuclear boat Oklahoma City is tasked with searching for a Chinese convoy and destroying it. The technical details seem authentic: the tension is raised as the vessels employ counter-measures, guile and gutsy experience.

Interestingly, Ryan’s website gives a blow-by-blow account of WWIII – without recourse to nuclear weapons! He must have been prescient, anticipating the January 2022 announcement from the five powers that they would not resort to nuclear weapons in any conflict!

The website is – and it makes fascinating reading. Gradually, he appears to be writing thrillers of similar length based on this timeline.

Let’s hope it all stays as fiction.

Editorial comment

Nothing that follows spoiled my enjoyment and appreciation of the book. However:

I bought the paperback so my comments relate to that; some of the comments won’t apply to the e-book version.

The cover is excellent. However, there’s no text on the spine. This mitigates buying/collecting any others in the series as they'll all be 'anonymous' on my bookshelves!

As this was published on Amazon, I must assume Mr Ryan is using Kindle Direct. Any book published in this system can have spine text if the page-count is in excess of 130. This book has 185 pages; so no excuse.

There are no page numbers! (I agree, this doesn’t matter for an e-book). The new KDP process requires creating an e-book first. But the text that is loaded can contain headers and footers, including page numbers; the second process is converting to a paperback where these features will show in the paperback. [Check out my book Mission: Khyber, a psychic spy novel in paperback and e-book, which shows how it can be done.]

Chapter headings are cramped and amateurish.

Typos listed below aren’t traceable by page number – see above!

‘dressed in hiv-viz colored vests’ should be ‘hi-viz’.

It may be different in the US Navy, but certainly in the Royal Navy, when referring to the 24-hour clock, only the number is used: 2300 – not ‘2300 hours’. The British army and air force use the suffix ‘hours’ however.

‘loosen the reigns’ – should be ‘reins’ [occurs more than once, I think]

‘computer-like monitor’ – surely it should simply be ‘monitor’?

‘carried a compliment of largely outdated torpedoes’ – should be ‘complement’ [this occurs twice]

‘sober expressions on his officer’s faces’ – this should be ‘expressions on his officers’ faces’ – there’s more than one officer so the apostrophe follows the ‘es’.

‘men poured over the imagery’ – should be ‘pored’.

‘Code strode into the wardroom’ – should be ‘Coe’.

‘tone was edge with frantic desperation’ – should be ‘edged’.

‘taut and nerve-wracking minutes’ – should be ‘nerve-racking’ (as if the nerves are on a rack; wrack is seaweed)


Friday, 7 January 2022



Although J.G. Ballard had many short stories published, it was his second novel, The Drowned World, published in 1962 that established him as a writer of note, infusing his work with the emotional significance of ravaged landscapes and destroyed technology.

Dr Kerans was among a group of scientists studying the effects of the Earth’s transformation. Some six decades earlier severe solar storms stripped away much of the ionosphere and left the planet prey to increased solar radiation, which resulted in the polar ice melting and the oceans rising. Now, he and the team – comprising Dr Bodkin, Lieutenant Harman, Colonel Riggs, Beatrice Dahl and several troopers – dwelled on a waterborne testing station in a sunken London which more and more resembled the Triassic age. ‘Like an immense putrescent sore, the jungle lay exposed below the open hatchway of the helicopter.  Giant groves of gymnosperms stretched in dense clumps along the roof-tops of the submerged buildings…’ (p53). There were islands of silt, where exotic plant-life thrived and alligators roamed as their primordial ancestors had aeons ago. ‘A thick cloacal stench exuded from the silt flat, a corona of a million insects pulsing and humming hungrily above it…’ (p61) Enclaves of the surviving population existed in the northern pole area.

Confusing disorientating dreams invaded the group’s consciousness, while waking and sleeping. Kerans believes humankind is regressing mentally to a prehistoric age, doubtless affected by the heat of the sun, minds entering ‘time jungles’ of uterine dreams, submerging into their amniotic past, experiencing archaic memories: ‘However selective the conscious mind may be, most biological memories are unpleasant ones, echoes of danger and terror. Nothing endures for so long as fear.’ (p43)

What set Ballard apart from a lot of his contemporary sci-fi writers was his mastery of the metaphor and his ability to describe in effective detail the cataclysmic worlds he envisaged. Such as: ‘like the heady vapours of some spectral grail.’ (p46). Or: ‘Overhead the sky  was vivid and marbled, the black bowl of the lagoon, by contrast, infinitely deep and motionless, like an immense well of amber.’ (p47) And: ‘Now and then, in the glass curtain-walling of the surrounding buildings, they see countless reflection s of the sun move across the surface in huge sheets of fire, like the blazing faceted eyes of gigantic insects.’ (p40)

Not a great deal happens, perhaps echoed here: ‘… a white monitor lizard sat and regarded him with its stony eyes, waiting for something to happen.’ The heat, the humidity, the pressure on the brain, all combined to wear them all down: when it came time for Riggs to move the team north, there was considerable reluctance to go: the ennui of lotus eaters corrupted their reality. However, escape, conflict and encounters with renegade groups liven things up.

Like many of his tales, this book depicts the gradual disintegration, both physically and mentally, of a man. Significantly, Ballard uses the phrase ‘Day of Judgement’ twice.

Interestingly, when Ballard writes ‘Staring out over the immense loneliness of this dead terminal beach, he soon fell into an exhausted sleep’ (p168), he is using the title of a short story published in New Worlds in 1964: ‘Terminal Beach’, which later became the title of a collection of his stories.

Editorial comments:

Two main protagonists are Kerans and Riggs – both names ending with an ‘es’. There’s nothing wrong with this, but some writers tend to avoid adopting such names, primarily because of the possessive apostrophe – Kerans’s or Kerans’, for example – which can appear clumsy.

‘… a warning shell from his flare pistol.’ (p31) ‘Warning’ seems incongruous since flares invariably were used to signal distress, not a warning.

Good to see he uses the phrase ‘he murmured to himself’ (p34) instead of the ludicrous but ever popular phrase among many published writers, ‘he thought to himself’.

 ‘He was talking to Beatrice and I when it happened…’ – should be ‘Beatrice and me’.

‘His bare feet sank into the soft carpeting…’ (p149), This would be disastrous for his bare feet, as the place had been seriously vandalised with broken glass everywhere!