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Monday, 4 March 2013

Windy Market Stalls Full Of Books

Richard Laymon was a Californian horror writer, who died early, at the age of only 54, on February 14th 2001. He was primarily a novelist and always in the horror genre; his books featured supernatural themes and vampires, mutant beasts etc, but most often Laymon's books were about human pyschopaths; oddballs, freaks, weirdos, generally people you don't want to sit next to on the bus. I began reading Laymon when I was 15. I found his book DARK MOUNTAIN on a windy market stall -  [I loved that market stall and went there eagerly every Saturday morning in the early/mid 90's. The bloke who had it was called Bob, and he had a big van, like a removal van, and the back of it was just filled with stuff, mainly books. He would spread out as much as he could on his stall or in boxes around it, but also kept the back of his van open sometimes; when I'd become a regular to his stall he would let me get in the back of the van and rummage around among the books; I remember, at its fullest, it was like exploring a mountain of books, the ground forever slipping, and books falling out of the back.

After I'd had a rummage and found an armful of books, I'd get out the van and have to spend about ten minutes picking up the books that had fallen out. Many-a-time I remember happily walking home with lots of books; I remember occasionally having two carrier bags full. They were mostly old paperbacks, of all different genres, but I was most interested then, as I am now, in the horror, fantasy and science-fiction titles, and his paperbacks were all around 20 p or 6 or 7 for a pound, very affordable for a not-very-rich teenage lad like me. Here, among hundreds of books, was where I discovered all the names of the genres; E.E. Doc Smith, Graham Masterton, Asimov, Heinlein, Moorcock, Guy N. Smith, Lin Carter, and carrier-bag loads of wonderful oscure 60's onwards titles; I found and devoured many anthologies, The Pan Books Of Horror Stories, Fontana Ghost Books, Lin Carters fantasy collectiions, and half a dozen books with weird covers, edited by a guy with a weird name called August Derleth, and featuring odd olf-fashioned stories by writers I'd never heard of; H.P.Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E Howard etc. -- Saturday afternoons were often spent looking over and through my books, and putting them in ever-changing order of when I would read them. Sometimes I even DID read some, on those Saturday afternoons, but mostly that came later. Then I was just happy to spread them out on the floor and examine the covers and the contents, my imagination squashed out all over my bedroom floor in bright lurid illustrations.

While I'm writing about Bob and his market stall, I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to him, twenty years later, for stealing one of his books; even though they were really cheap, and he seemed to let me have them even cheaper ["Oh," he'd say after glancing at a pile of books I had selected, maybe 15 or so paperbacks, "just give us two pound for them ones."], I still stole one book from him, because, at about 13 or 14, I was too embarrased to buy it; it was CONFESSIONS OF AN ASTRONAUT, or somesuch title like that, and had a very risque cover, and hints of all sorts of strange sex happening inside the book. I don't remember exactly, but I must have hidden it in my pocket or up my jumper or something, paid for my other books, and then, away, I had done it, I was a thief. I'm pretty sure, now, that if he'd somehow caught me - if the offending "adult" book had fallen out of my jumper at an inopportune moment - he wouldn't have carted me off down the cop-shop, but just looked dissapointed at me [which would have been worse] and probably told me just to keep it anyway, "you little 'scallion.".

Anyway, I'm sorry I nicked that book Bob but young teens didn't have the internet then, and the sex-on-a-friday night Channel 4 programmes hadn't started yet. If it's any consolation to Bob, or to my three blog- readers, then I DID read that book, CONFESSIONS OF AN ASTRONAUT, and it was crap, a huge dissapointment, like buying a blow-up doll with a puncture, and - hang on, I'll consult my notes - yes, here we are - it was by a guy called Jonathan May, I read it in 1992 [no exact date unfortunately], I gave it 4 3/4 out of 10 [in my complex rating system], and gave it the one-word review "different", but I remember differently, and believe me, it was crap; in fact I think it was one of those books you read when you're young and think "I can write better than this crap." Also any sex scenes or whatever were pathetic, and there were much more explicit scenes of sex in the pulpy horror novels I had been reading, or would soon read. I think just 'cos there was a bum or boobs or something on the cover it was going to be life-changing. In fact, I'm going to try and find the cover now on tinterweb, hold on - there it is off to the side, looking embarrassingly not very embarrasing. I also found another, look, how much fun is this: I wonder how much Jonathan May made from writing all these awful books.
Confessions Of A Something-Or-Other

 Anyway, I don't know exactly what happened to the book but I don't have it now; I probably sold it to a second-hand book store like dozens of other books, some of which I wish I'd kept.

Incidentally [and I think we'll get back to Richard Laymon another time; I've gone off on a tangent] aren't my book-notes really cool: they go back to mid 1992, and list every book [yes, really] that I've read since then. It's often really interesting and amusing to read some of my comments on books I'd read; here are some choice picks [from 1992];

        TITLE          AUTHOR       SCORE [out of 10] ---- Original Comnment

     A DRAGON IN CLASS 4 - ---- - 4 3/4 ----- Childish     (It was a childrens book!)
     SPACE 1   ---- Varied Authors ---- 6  ------   Anthology   (Helpful comment, that one).
     JULIUS CEASER  ---- Shakespeare--- 4 ---- Hard To Understand  (Nothing changed there, then.)
     DIARY OF A TEENAGE HEALTH FREAK -- ... - 6.5 -- Ideal For Teenagers
     MOONFLEET -- J.Meade Faulkner --- 1.5 ----- Crap!    (Followed by, a few entries later,...)
     MOONFLEET --- J. Meade Faulkner ---5.25 ----- Actually Not Bad  (I had to read it properly for school.)

After that my comments began to get more mundane and a bit more sensible.

Anyway, all those books from the market stall; I loved them, and even though I got rid of quite a lot, I still have lots of them today on my shelf. Though its difficult to remember exactly which ones I got off that stall [my notes sometimes help a bit, or sometimes I have written a date of purchase in the book cover] I recognise some of them, and know that there are quite a few, perhaps a dozen or two, that I never got round to reading at all. Poor books. I really should get around to reading them, seeing as I've had some of them for over 20 years now. Proper book hoarder me...

Ok, well, this post was originally going to be about Richard Laymon, his works, his writing techniques, and his problems with publishing houses, as I've recently read his intriguing autobiography/writers notebook A WRITERS TALE. But that'll have to wait for another time now, cos I've used up my spare time writing this, instead of writing the ghost story I'm supposed to be writing. Oh well.


  1. Bizarrely, I actually inherited a pair of similar books, Confessions of a Window Cleaner and Confessions of a Driving Instructor, in a big pile of other books when my grandfather passed away (which fortunately included some rather better things, including a complete collection of Jeeves and Wooster that I loved at the time).

    Reading the first of the two was more than enough to convince me not to read the second, though the first did include one scene I remember as memorably funny, when the character's brother tries to set him up to lose his virginity and he ends up accidentally getting himself stuck in her underwear and thinking he'd done the business. That happens very early on, and the rest of the book isn't very memorable...

    I never found a mountain of books to climb on, and my childhood is clearly the worse for it. But my mother bought just about every book she could find in second-hand shops, so I was often able to find something new just by looking through her collection. That was how I found Moorcock, for example, and with the books being as short as they were, I have fond memories of reading whole series of them on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

    There are still plenty of books I never got around to reading, though. It took me a long time just to get to Dune (a good experience which, unfortunately, led me to read the sequels. That wasn't a good experience.)

    And I'm deeply impressed that you thought to do that with every book you read. I wish I'd thought to do the same, as I've struggled to remember the answer to the question "What was that book?" more often than I care to think about.

    1. I always remember your house being full of books, and your mam was often reading when I came round. I remember the first time I came for my tea and your mam made something, no doubt lovely, with a funny name I cant remember;perhaggeldy or something similar. Anyway I was a very fussy eater and only really survived on fish fingers and chips, so remember just picking at it and eating almost nothing; I didn't like it, but it was just me, not your mums cooking. I thought I would never get invited again!

      Anyway, I wonder how many other people had a terrible time reading those awful Confessions books. However, the one you read seems at least slightly amusing. I think I remember you mentioning the Moorcock books when we were at school, and though I picked up lots of them on that market stall, I only got round to reading them later, when I was around 18 or 19. I read one a couple of years ago - Castle Brass - and was a bit dissappointed with it, and disappointed that time had taken my enjoyment of something else away.

      I've got Dune sitting on my shelf, as it has been for many years, but haven't gotten around to reading it as yet, but if I do, I'll try and avoid the sequels.

      While I'm here, although its not the best place ever for such news; I don't know if you are still in touch with our schoolfriend James, but his mam died last week, she was only 63.

      And, just so I don't end on sad news; regarding my book book, I'm really pleased I've kept it all these years, but also sometimes feel like its a bit anal and geeky, but the good thoughts always win out in the end. The book's falling to bits and my clever wife keeps sellotaping it back together. My Film Book, in contrast, has been going for under two years and is in tip-top condition.

    2. We always got a lot of oddball meals in our house. Dad would just throw something together from whatever we had when we were running low on food, and we got some good if unusual meals that way.

      I know we served a few different meals when you were over. I always liked having fish-fingers and chips at your place, though, because we almost never had that sort of thing, unless I requested it on my birthday. Meals at our place, though; I remember tuna flan being completely different than I expected when Mum cooked it, which was a bit of a disappointment, as I'd said it was something else. I did cook it myself later, and it's quite good, provided that you get what you're expecting instead of something else.

      And the meal you're talking about is a traditional northern dish called Pan-Haggledy, and it doesn't really have a fixed recipe (though you'll see one printed sometimes). At its heart, it's onions and potatoes cooked with left-over meat from other meals, but we used corned beef in ours a lot. I'd guess that you had an older version of it, too; the recipe and flavour improved a lot over the years since, and nothing improves flavour quite like bacon.

      I got a message from James the same morning his Mum died, chatted back and forth for a brief while then. I haven't talked to him much lately, mostly because my time online during the day is spent on work; by the time I'm relaxing, people in England tend to be unconscious.

      For his Mum, though, I don't think I ever met a more formidable woman in many ways. Even with everything she had to deal with, she remained a kind of force of nature, at least while I knew her. I gather she'd faded a bit, of course, but I still remember her mostly from when I was seventeen, and the way James tried hard to keep all traces of his smoking away from her. Pint glasses full of water in the living room seemed to do the trick remarkably well.

      And also deviating from the miserable end to the message, Dune is definitely worth a read. It starts off in the usual inscrutable sci-fi fashion, all strange words and stranger names that make your brain spin out of control a bit (which explains why I gave up about four pages in when I was a teenager). But if you let yourself get past all that, the story underneath is great, and certainly different than anything else I've read. Entirely deserving of its place in the ranks of sci-fi legends.

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