Friday, 25 August 2017

Getting Hammered Pt 2

So you want to write a book? Be careful what you wish for…

Hello again dear, neglected blog. It’s probably just you and me listening, but I’m still going to write about how it feels to have got the first draft of Infogothic: An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror, completed.

I’m sure such people must exist, but off-hand I can’t think of anyone else foolhardy enough to do every aspect of a project like this single-handedly.  In my day job I’ve been fortunate enough to be given opportunities as a published writer, designer and illustrator. I’ve designed books, researched information graphics and wrestled with the myriad technicalities of preparing a complex document for print.
So, why wouldn’t I do it all myself?

To answer to that question - I need to remind myself of the following: 
I have spent the last seven-and-a-half months working every possible spare hour I could find in my day, on this book. Whenever possible, I’ve started my day at 4:30am and worked in a freezing room (hello chilblains) until my day job or a grumbling stomach intervened.
I’m not a night owl but have burned the other end of the candle, too. I found that if I could get past my ’pain threshold’ of 10pm, I would end up having to make myself go to bed in the wee hours of the following morning.
Exercise has fallen by the wayside, as has sometimes even leaving the house. And to myself at least, I definitely look older. 
I’m not looking for sympathy though - I’ve loved every minute of it.

Whatever happens next, I hope that love comes through in this book.  My publishers might demand extensive changes, or lose confidence altogether. Even after it’s published I might end up with a garage full of unsold volumes, gathering dust and cobwebs like a Hammer film set.

But you know what else?  I’m proud of it. I’ve put everything I have into this book - most of my annual leave, every ounce of effort and what might pass for talent that I possess.
But not for a second am I forgetting any of the wonderful people who’ve supported and helped me - I will definitely thank them all properly in due course. But for now, you know who you are.

It’s an unusual product in an already very narrow market, but I know the ‘Monster Kids’ are out there - those of us who grew up adoring our horror films and learning to appreciate them like fine wines as they, and we, age.
I hope Infogothic finds them - and hopefully you - eventually. 

But for now, there is still some way way to go in bringing my very own ‘unholy creation’ to life.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Getting Hammered

Hammer horror, Hammer horror,
Won't leave it alone.
I don't know,
Is this the right thing to do?”

(Kate Bush)

Warning: spending too much time in your room could leave you looking like this...
(from Infogothic: A graphic guide to Hammer horror)

In my pre-teens I didn’t go out much. I spent too much time in my room and didn’t interact nearly enough with the real world. I didn’t do anything physically active, and if the very thought was not ridiculous to someone who still names his blog after a stick insect, I would almost certainly have been overweight and unhealthy. Instead I was immersed in a fantasy world of my favourite films and TV, pouring over books and magazines and writing and drawing pictures about them. It’s little wonder I had the social skills and physical coordination of a baby giraffe when hormones finally propelled me out of my bedroom.

Sometimes it feels as if I’ve lived my life trying to make up for this ever since - forcing myself outside in all hours and weathers for physical pursuits I might not even be very good at, pushing myself into social situations I’m probably equally ill-suited to.

So how utterly bizarre it is to come full circle all these decades later.

Instead of my bedroom, I now spend all my time at a keyboard in our office, and as much as I miss regular exercise, I’m still a stick insect. I’m even secretly glad we’ve just had the worst summer in living memory because I wouldn’t have been able to spend much time out in it. Much else has been neglected - needless to say this blog has been one of them. My wonderful wife has been incredibly patient and tolerant, only making occasional remarks about the anatomically-impossible position she believes my head to be lodged in, most of the time.

And I’m (only just) getting away with this blindingly anti-social and monstrously selfish behaviour because I’m writing a book, with a signed publisher’s contract and everything.

Coming soon...
I can’t remember the first Hammer film I actually saw, but do recall seeing a couple of seconds of a fanged, hissing Christopher Lee in an episode of Some mothers Do ‘Ave em when I was very young. Always like Frank Spencer in so many ways, this made an instant impression on me.

It’s taken forty-something years, but I’m now researching, designing, writing and illustrating a 94 page soft cover book about the horror films of Hammer Studios.
Very aware these productions have already been analysed, dissected and evaluated in molecular detail by authors all across the world (I was reading some of their books in my bedroom all those many years ago), I pitched a very different approach which astonishingly attracted some interest from a british publisher.

Over the last decade my day job has required me to produce infographics (information graphics) - visual representations of information which can be absorbed quickly by a reader, rather than having to be excavated from large bodies of text. These can be charts, diagrams, maps, graphs, schematics, illustrations - any visual device which analyses and informs.

Apart from the fact that successive generations of film fans are now delving deeper and deeper into the backgrounds and minutae of their favourite films, the perennially popular output of Hammer studios lends itself perfectly to this treatment. As with so many of their decisions, Hammer’s body of work was driven by cost considerations. Sequels were an efficient way to reuse props and costumes and calling upon the same actors familiar with the Hammer method of working saved time, as did reusing directors, writers and technicians.

The result of this ‘business model’ is a vast, interconnected world stretching across two decades of film-making. Sometimes it’s the fictional characters and settings which form the connective tissue, and sometimes it’s real-world factors. Either way, this gives me plentiful data which can be sifted and arranged into (hopefully) attractive and engaging infographics.

Will Infogothic - A graphic guide to Hammer horror sell? Will it actually see the light of day - will I even make my deadline? Even I’ve learned that many uncertainties lie between a project and a product in this industry.
The single best thing which has come out of this incarceration is the incredible generosity of fans and authors all over the world which I’ve encountered. They have been unfailingly encouraging and helpful with my every request and enquiry. I’m still reeling from the incredible kindness of one author who sent me a PDF of his entire out-of-print book for my own reference. Like Hammer films themselves, although the subject matter itself was often sensationalist or even tawdry - it was always executed with pure class.

This post is already longer than I intended, so it’s back to work. I’m not sure when I’ll return to this blog, but I definitely will - there’s been so much else to write about this year.
In the meantime; I’m learning a lot - not just about Hammer itself, but history, geography, languages and literally, rocket science. And I’m currently working on a fashion spread, charting the costumes of Hammer heroines from Raquel Welch’s doe-skin bikini in One Million Years BC to the PVC futurism of Moon Zero Two. So don’t feel sorry for me - and if you like what you hear - buy my book!