Beat Girls, Love Tribes, Real Cool Cats draft cover & pre-order information

test pulp cover layout-3b (1)

I’m incredibly proud to be able to show you the draft cover to the upcoming book I’ve co-edited with Iain McIntyre, Beat Girls, Love Tribes & Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction & Youth Culture from the 1950s to 1980s.

Iain and I were both keen to do an examination of pulp fiction that went beyond simply focusing on paperback covers, as most pulp fiction related books do and I am sure we and the twenty plus writers who contributed to this tome, have delivered.

Beat Girls is first comprehensive account of the rise of youth culture and mass-market paperback fiction in the postwar period in the US, UK and Australia. It is not just a comprehensive selection of covers, but an in-depth look at the authors, how they worked and what influenced them. It is a must-read for anyone interested in retro and subcultural style and popular fiction.

As the young created new styles in music, fashion and culture, pulp fiction followed their every step, hyping and exploiting their behavior and language for mass consumption. From the juvenile delinquent gangs of the early fifties, through the beats and hippies, on to bikers, skinheads and punks, pulp fiction left no trend untouched. Boasting wild covers and action-packed plots, these books reveal as much about society’s desires and fears as they do about the subcultures themselves.

Featuring over 300 pulp covers, many never before reprinted, as well 70 in-depth author interviews and biographies, articles and reviews, Beat Girls offers the most extensive survey of the era’s mass market pulp fiction. Novels by well-known authors like Harlan Ellison, Lawrence Block, Evan Hunter/Ed McBain, and by filmmakers Samuel Fuller and Ed Wood Jr, are discussed alongside neglected obscurities and contemporary bestsellers ripe for rediscovery.

Beat Girls will be out in the US, UK and Australia later this year, via Verse Chorus Press, but you can pre-order now on Amazon here.

Pulp Friday: Pulp Confidential: Quick & dirty publishing from the 40s & 50s

Dope Island

When I first started researching the history of Australian pulp paperback publishing I thought libraries would be crammed with old papers from the various publishers who churned the books out in the fifties, sixties and seventies. I have since realised that paper takes up a lot of space to store and space is something that is at a premium at most libraries, be they public or university.

That is assuming individuals even had the presence of mind to realise that the records relating to pulp publishing were something worth keeping for future generations.

This is why Pulp Confidential: Quick and dirty publishing from the 40s to 50s, an exhibition currently showing at the State Library of NSW, is so interesting and unusual. The exhibition showcases papers, manuscripts, correspondence and artwork relating to Frank Johnson Publications, a small pulp-publishing operation active in Sydney in the 1940s and 1950s.

Johnson was member of the Sydney bohemian set in the twenties. He had high literary pretensions but moved into pulp publishing in response to the gap in local reading material resulting from the tariff placed on foreign imported printed matter in 1938.

Johnson died in 1960, after which the State Library wrote to his family, asking whether they had kept his papers. His daughter responded five years later, saying there was a considerable amount of paperwork relating to Johnson’s work in a shed at the back of her house.

The Library, hoping to unearth documents relating to Sydney’s early bohemian scene, dispatched several field librarians to the house. Much of the paperwork had been destroyed. What was left related to Johnson’s pulp publishing activities. Luckily, for us, the Library had the foresight to realise the material was still of value and purchased what they found. It sat in the archives for years, unknown to researchers, until this exhibition.

Frank Johnson Publications published Westerns, horse racing stories (arguably, the only Australian only pulp genre), war stories, crime and true crime.

The exhibition includes some fascinating correspondence, much of it concerning money (authors wanting it, Johnson withholding it) and a lot of original artwork, including material from the comics Johnson published and early work by Phil Belbin, who would go onto be one of the Australia’s most prolific pulp paperback illustrators,

It is a must see exhibition for lovers of the history of Australian publishing in general and pulp paperback publishing, in particular.

More details about the exhibition are available here. It runs until May 10.

All the images below are courtesy of the collection of the State Library NSW.

Pardon my intrusion

The taste of death

1947, watercolour by Woolett

ear for Murder

Mystery in the Cactus (1)

Artwork by Phil Belbin

Son of Bidgee Bob 1947, cover art Peter Chapman,

1947, artwork by Peter Chapman

The Sheep and the Wolves, 1947

1947, artwork by Woolett


Book review: GBH by Ted Lewis


British author Ted Lewis is best known for his second novel, Jack’s Return Home (filmed in 1971 as Get Carter,  the title by which subsequent editions of the book would be known). But many believe his greatest work was his last, GBH, published in 1980, two years before his death.

For a long time, you could only read GHB if you could find and afford a scarce second hand copy. Thankfully, it has recent been re-released by Syndicate Books (along with the rest of Lewis’s work) a subsidiary of the prestigious and well known crime fiction press, Soho Crime.

GHB is the story of George Fowler, former head of a powerful London based criminal organisation that controlled the largest porn distribution network in the UK. His products are far worse than being merely ‘blue movies’, as they are rather innocuously referred to, and include, it is strongly inferred, snuff films, which Fowler sells to a small group of very deranged and very rich clients.

Fowler has everything: money, muscle, a wonderful penthouse with a sunken lounge (the key signifier in Lewis’s books, of any underworld villains worth their salt) and a beautiful, intelligent girlfriend, Jean, who helps run his empire and isn’t at squeamish about what Fowler does.

Then someone starts undermining his organisation from within. People disappear, bodies start to turn up. Fowler gets increasingly paranoid, doesn’t know who to trust, which leads him to take revenge on those members of his ‘Firm’ he believes might be betraying him, with terrible consequences.

These parts of the story, set in the past, are interspersed with chapters set in the present in which Fowler is cooling his heels in a small English beach town, biding his time, or so he thinks, until he can regain what is left of his empire. These scenes have an air of complete unreality about them as Fowler, by now a hopeless alcoholic (much like Lewis in the closing years of his life), gradually sinks deeper into a paranoid funk.

I’ll leave it to others to make the judgement call as to whether GBH is ‘a noir masterpiece’, as it has been referred to. What is fascinating about the book is how Lewis simply refuses to compromise on just how repellent Fowler is. So much crime fiction these days features main characters that are little messed up in a sort of boutique way, nothing too serious, just something to give them an edge, something they are usually hugely regretful about. Fowler is a vicious, brutal, calculating criminal who made his fortune through terrible means and whose only regret is that he lost it through hubris and poor business decisions and now wants it back. Badly.

I’m certainly not saying crime fiction needs to be gratuitous or even ‘noir’ (whatever that means) to be authentic or good. But I also find the opposite, the preponderance of politically correct, socially acceptable characters, equally wanting.

I recently wrote a lengthy piece about the re-release of the Jack Carter trilogy, Jack’s Return Home, Jack Carters’ Law and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon, for the Los Angeles Review of Books (which you can read in full here) in which I touched on Lewis’s life. Nine books, of which Jack’s Return Home saw him achieve a degree of fame never matched by any of his subsequent novels. He sunk into alcoholism and died at the age of just 42. Lewis was, by all accounts, a talented, charming but unpleasant individual, especially when he’d been drinking. While he was not deeply enmeshed in the underworld, he would have amassed some other fairly unsavoury links in the after hours drinking clubs he frequented, and with these, knowledge of some dark deeds.

I found it impossible to read GBH without thinking about how much of it was art imitating life. The loss of fame, the drinking, the mental anguish, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the book as a coda on Lewis’s brief life and incredible contribution to crime fiction.

GBH won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if well written, unapologetic, hard boiled crime crime fiction with a very dark edge is your thing this book is definitely worth your time.

GBH is available from Syndicate books here.

50th anniversary of The Ipcress File


If the on-line excitement in response to teaser images from Spectre, the 24th James Bond film, is anything to go by, we’ve lost none of our fascination with the Bond franchise. Spectre promises to have a stripped back, almost retro feel, as evidenced by images of ditching his tailor made suit in favour of a black turtleneck and leather shoulder holster, harking back to previous Bond incarnations in From Russia With Love (1963) and You Only Love Twice (1967).

If you don’t want to wait until Spectre’s scheduled release at the end of this year for a dose of retro spy thrills, look no further than The Ipcress File, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this week.

Based on the 1962 debut novel of the same name by Len Deighton, The Ipcress File hit UK cinemas on March 18, 1965. It was nominated for a Palme d’Or at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival and won the BAFTA for best British film the same year. The British Film Institute lists it number 59 on the hundred best British film of the 20th Century.

The Ipcress File was a major success for Canadian born director, Sidney J Furie (another being Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross in 1972). Harry Saltzman, who helped oversee the Bond franchise, produced it.

Although not nearly as well known as Bond, The Ipcress File influenced a string of subsequent British espionage films. Its mood and sense of pace were also reportedly used as a model for the US TV series, Mission Impossible, which went to air the following year. The film launched the big screen career of hitherto unknown actor Michael Caine.

You can read the rest of my 50th anniversary tribute to The Ipcress File, on the Daily Review site here.

The Homesman


A spur of the moment decision over summer to watch Howard Hawk’s 1959 Rio Bravo, led to me view a number of Westerns I hadn’t previously seen.

A so-called classic that regularly appears on best of lists of Westerns, Rio Bravo is the story of a small town sheriff (John Wayne) who enlists the aid of a cripple, a drunk and a young gunfighter in his efforts to hold the brother of a local outlaw in his jail.

A lot of people I know love the film but I found it overlong, wooden, and there was zero chemistry between Wayne and Angie Dickinson. I watched Hawk’s earlier effort, Red River (1948), which I enjoyed more, especially Montgomery Clift’s performance, and John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), in which an embittered racist civil war veteran (Wayne again) embarks on a journey spanning several years to rescue a niece (somewhat unconvincingly played by Natalie Wood), stolen in a Comanche raid. It is a terrific piece of story telling, as much for what is not said and shown as what is.

Also on the list was Lawman (1971), a pretty average effort, in which a sheriff (an ageing Burt Lancaster) arrives in a town to arrest all the cattlemen whose celebration in his town the year before resulted in the death of an old man, and the excellent 1959 Andre de Toth film, The Day of the Outlaw. Set in a small Wyoming town in the middle of a harsh winter, it opens with a cowboy, Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan) arriving to settle a long standing feud with a rancher whose wife (Tina Louis – Ginger grant in Gilligan’s Island) he has been sleeping with.

Soon after Starrett arrives, the town has more visitors, a gang of outlaw Confederate soldiers led by Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives). This is a wonderfully layered film, which includes conflict between the townsfolk, the townsfolk and the outlaws and within the outlaws. Bruhn is wounded, lessoning his authority over his men, who have their own ideas for what to do with the town, its whisky and, particularly, its women.

Good or bad, these films had one thing in common – they all told the story of the ‘West’ from a male perspective. To a greater or lesser extend they contained female characters, some of them very strong, but the men were the main focus. Even most revisionist Hollywood Westerns, like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992) are overwhelmingly masculine in tone.

This is what makes Tommy Lee Jones’ fourth directorial effort, The Homesman, which opened in local cinemas today, so interesting. Based on a 1988 novel by US writer Glendon Swarthout (who also penned the 1970 book, Bless the Beasts and the Children), it is the first Western I can recall that looks at the reality of the West mainly from a woman’s perspective.

That woman is Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank). Cuddy lives a hardscrabble solo existence on a farm near an isolated town, eking out a living while trying to find a husband from the shallow gene pool of eligible local males. In the latter endeavour she is singularly unsuccessful due to the fact she is too opinionated, pious and too threatening to the males.

When three of the local women go insane (one of whom is played by Miranda Otto), the town pastor (John Lithgow) asks for a volunteer to take them to a large town where they can be looked after better. It is clear the women have literally been driven made by the savagery of their lives and the brutal actions of their husbands who, for the most part view them as no better than cattle.

The women’s husbands refuse or find excuses not to undertake the long, dangerous journey, so Cuddy agrees to do it. She enlists the aid of George Briggs (Jones), a drifter and claim jumper who she rescues from being hanged in return for accompanying her.

On the trip, Cuddy and Briggs have to deal with Comanche Indians, rogue male settlers and the harsh climate. The ordeal seals them as team of sorts, but just when the film appears to be going in the obvious direction, a romantic liaison between them, two thirds in it takes a totally unexpected turn of events. You will either agree or disagree with this shift but I guarantee you will not expect it.

In interviews, Jones has denied the claim, made by some reviewers, that this is ‘the first feminist Western’. Indeed, that would require much more than simply looking at the West from a woman’s perspective. But it is a fascinating and intriguing film that is well worth seeing.