Spinneyhead Blog


The digital evidence disaster

There’s a story in the Police’s problems with properly handling digital evidence. I don’t know what it is, but I’m linking to a couple of stories from today’s Guardian for future reference.

Justice system at ‘breaking point’ over digital evidence

Public faith in the fairness of trials is being eroded and the justice system is approaching “breaking point” due to failures to disclose key digital evidence, the head of the criminal bar has said. The comments from Angela Rafferty QC come as a leading forensic scientist, Dr Jan Collie, exposes the difficulties defence experts have in obtaining downloaded material from police and prosecutors, including dealing with “games” officers play in pursuit of convictions.

Police outsource digital forensic work to unaccredited labs

The Guardian has learned that:

At least 15 police forces, including Greater Manchester police and the Metropolitan police, have outsourced digital forensics work – typically the analysis of mobile phones and computers – to unaccredited private companies, some of which are subject to no regulatory oversight.
One private company that holds a major contract covering more than a dozen forces had its accreditation revoked last year after failing its first audit, but continued to perform forensic work for the prosecution.
Just 15 out of 43 police forces met a government deadline in October to bring their in-house laboratories in line with minimum quality standards for analysing mobile phone, computer and CCTV data.


Break It Down!

Breaking the story down

This is the next stage in creating Uninvited Guests. I’ve taken the brief scene descriptions I wrote over Christmas, and laid them out as pages, ready for thumbnailing. Now I’m going to do a Marvel-ish method of partial scripting and page layouts as the next part of the process.


Progression

Uninvited Guests rough v2

I’ve done a couple of pieces of very rough concept art for the comic I’m planning. This is version two, done yesterday. Version one is below.

Obviously, I’ve got a lot of work to do. The monster isn’t going to be the clunky lupine thing in the second drawing, nor the flat black one in the first. I think I need to get to planning some layouts, and letting them suggest how to have it sneak into full view over a few pages.

Uninvited Guests rough v1


I’m being censored! Censored, I say!

Anyone who isn’t buying and reading all my books is complicit in the ongoing censorship of my awesome ideas, and should be ashamed of themselves. It’s my absolute right to sell millions of books, and you’re infringing my rights by not doing your part.

I exaggerate, of course, but I’m only a little leap of illogic from some of the cries of ‘Censorship!’ that have been raised since Virgin West Coast announced they won’t be selling the Daily Mail on their trains. It’s nonsense, of course, but proclaiming their victimhood when people are no longer going to take their shit is a very right wing thing to do.

The ‘newspaper’* is still going to be on sale at other shops, presumably even ones on the station, and, as far as I can see, no-one’s stopping people displaying their narrow-mindedness by reading the rag on VWC trains. Virgin made a commercial decision. They barely sell any Daily Fails anyway, and were reacting to complaints.

The corner shop nearest to me stocks only tabloids. I don’t for a minute think they’re censoring the Guardian, Times and Telegraph. I live in the sort of area where broadsheets aren’t commonly read. They’re stocking what they will sell, not making political or ideological statements.

The Daily Mail is, sadly, the largest source of opinion dressed up as news. The paper has railed against all manner of far less offensive material over the years, and practically led a campaign to have Channel 4 closed down. They’re not about to collapse because they’ve lost a dozen or so sales on Virgin trains. But they can see that this decision is another example of a significant shift in public opinion against them, and they’re scared that it’s getting harder for them to get away with their bullying and obsessing over the bodies of women and girls. Which is a good thing.

[But, seriously people, why aren’t you buying my books? It’s a terrible constraint upon my freedom to be a millionaire author. I say it’s your civic duty to pick up a copy of Sounds of Soldiers, Northern Gorehouse, or any of the other great (if I say it, it must be true) books by myself or Garth Owen.]

*I don’t know whether it deserves the title, if I’m honest.


Lever Street

Lever Street 060118

Amongst this year’s plans is a comic, so I’m going to get more sketching done, to boost my confidence with pencil, pen and brush. I fully intend to improve, and this is here as much to provide a reference to check against at the end of the year as anything else.

The drawing was done in the coffee shop across from (and slightly to one side of) the building depicted. I’d have put in more details, but the windows steamed up and obscured my view.


Paramount Books

Paramount Books

Paramount Books is the shop I wish I bought more stuff from. If I had more money, and a lot more bookshelf space, I could happily go wild in this shop. As it is, I’ll pop in every so often to pick up a few old copies of Starblazer or similar sized cowboy adventures or romances.

It’s only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so you can’t always pop in on a whim. There was a worrying time, last year, I think, when it looked like it might be closing down. As it’s still there, I shall continue topping up my Starblazer collection.


Put a lid on it (if you want)

I put off writing about it at the time, but The Helmet Debate resurfaced just before Christmas, along with rumours that the Government may consider making cycle helmets compulsory*.

So a few quick thoughts on the subject.

The argument for making helmets compulsory is that they’ll make cyclists safer. This is toss. My helmet doesn’t make me any safer. It doesn’t throw up a forcefield to deflect close passing cars, or fill in potholes in the road ahead. Nor does it psychically alert pedestrians that they should look both ways before stepping into the road- even if all those cars are standing still. It’s not there to make me safer. It’s there to minimise a specific type of damage, for when its nonexistent magical abilities don’t prevent an accident caused by bad driving, crap roads, inattentive pedestrians, or my own mistakes.

So many of the things that people think of as safety devices are, likewise, really just damage limitation features. Staying on the roads, seatbelts aren’t safety devices. Nor are airbags, crumple zones, side impact protection, or strengthened pillars. Whilst you want your car to have all those things built in, to save your life, you don’t want to ever have to use them.

Safety devices are the things that can help you prevent the damage limitation features being used. Brakes, good tyres and suspension, a well maintained and marked road, and, most of all, actually using that thing between your ears.

If campaigners and politicians are genuinely interested in making the roads safer for all (but especially cyclists, in this context), they should ignore all calls for mandatory helmets, and look at ways to improve driver awareness, and build better cycling infrastructure.

*Based upon flimsy evidence, admittedly. But we have a ridiculously flimsy Government at the moment.


Meet the New Year, just like the Old Year?

Well, we made it out of 2017. Which is nice.

I’m trying to imagine that we’ve now entered the third act of a bizarre tragi-comedy. 2016 was the first act, where a bunch of really bad decisions were made. 2017 showed the first effects of those decisions, and signposted potential future horrors, but it also signalled the beginnings of resistance. 2018, hopefully, is when the resistance begins to undo the damage, and gives us signs of a more positive future.

One can hope.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. But I have a few aims. I had begun to hit a work rhythm that combined my freelance job with writing and other creative work, but that got disrupted in the weeks before Christmas. I’m going to try to get back into it this week.

Cycling is something I’ve been doing less of in the last few years. That’s another thing I hope to do more of.

And I’ve not been experimenting with food as much, either. So more of what I call Collision Cooking is called for. In fact, I managed tp start the year with a little bit of it.

Some of Christmans was spent in Cumbria, which meant I got to have Rum Butter for the first time in years. It’s basically alcoholic, coarse grained, butter icing, and is more-ish in that way all the least healthy foods are. As a last bit of Christmassy decadence, I had some on my porridge this morning, instead of honey.

And it was nice. The butter melted, and added a rich creaminess which was a nice counter to the dark richness of the brown sugar and rum. I’ve still got about three quarters of a jar of it left, so it’ll be appearing on porridge in the future, when i really want to spoil myself.

So, I’ve begun the year in one way I intend to go on, as well as getting some (but not enough) writing done.. Tomorrow, I’ll try to get a few more started


Who’d have thought that Police cuts would lead to an increase in crime?

I’ve heard of people being told that the crime against them won’t be investigated because the sum stolen was too low. Even though the criminal had cleared out their bank account. If they were wealthier, perhaps the Police would have investigated, but poor folks aren’t covered because the return is too low.

Something to remember when I get started on the next Rain and Bullets story.

Crime is rising in the region as crooks ‘take advantage’ of policing cuts, force insiders and fed-up victims have told the Manchester Evening News.

Home Office figures show that crime rose by 31 per cent – an additional 70,000 crimes – in the year up to June 2017.

The statistic represents a crime report every two minutes.

Source: ‘We can’t keep up’ – crime rising as crooks take advantage of police cuts – Manchester Evening News


White Supremacists Share Bomb-Making Materials Online

US white supremacists, but we have our share of home-grown equivalents.

In May, federal agents searching the Tampa home of 21-year-old Brandon Russell discovered an array of explosives and bomb ingredients: fuses made from rifle shells, a white cake-like explosive substance called HMTD, more than one pound of ammonium nitrate and other explosive precursors, and two different kinds of radioactive material. The agents promptly arrested Russell, who was both a member of the Florida National Guard and a leader of Atomwaffen, a small fascist group calling for a “white revolution in the 21st century.”

Source: White Supremacists Share Bomb-Making Materials in Online… — ProPublica


Were-sharks and Nazi leprechauns: the rise and fall of the horror paperback | Books | The Guardian

The Lost Picture Show series I write as Garth Owen, is inspired by genre film. But horror paperbacks of the seventies and eighties are sneaking a bit of influence in there as well.

I don’t have anywhere near as many to read as the guy interviewed here (the book he’s just published is on my to-read list, though, so I can find more to look out for). My interest was renewed a couple of years ago, by re-discovering the works of Guy N Smith (Crabs, etc), and finding a big pile of them in a charity shop. I need to sit down and devour half a dozen or so over a week some time soon.

The next planned Lost Picture Show story is going to have a few nods to the sub-genre, with satanic rituals, sex in odd places, and gore. All updated and given a smartphone and internet twist.

Source: Were-sharks and Nazi leprechauns: the rise and fall of the horror paperback | Books | The Guardian


B-Movie Night: “Zombies! Thousands of them!”

In the run up to the launch of Northern Gorehouse, and then for the week until Halloween, I’ve watched a few zombie films. I shuffled over 70 of them to the top of my rental list at Cinema Paradiso (my chosen, and recommended replacement for Lovefilm). Obviously, I ddn’t get through all of them, but maybe I’ll keep adding undead reviews to this post as they arrive.

Zombie Creeping Flesh (AKA Hell of the Living Dead, in the print used for this disc)

Something called the Hope Project is working to solve the problems of overpopulation and food shortages. Of course, they’re doing this by creating a eugenics gas that will be used to kill off the world’s poor. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work, and has unforeseen side effects (can you guess what they are?)

After a couple of establishing scenes- a gas leak at the Hope plant, involving a cool zombie rat moment, and a hostage situation at the US consulate in an unnamed country- we get into the action proper. Four special forces operatives, previously seen gunning down the hostage takers, are in Papua, New Guinea on a secret mission. Pretty soon, they stumble upon a reporter, her cameraman, and their unfortunate guides. The guides have brought their seven year old son along, and he’s been attacked by a “crazed native”, and will soon die. Cue the soldiers’ first encounter with zombies, and an undead toddler who was genuinely creepy.

After this, the group stumbles around the jungle, meeting zombies everywhere and, each time, forgetting the lesson they’ve learnt about shooting them in the head. The best sequence is when they come upon a native village. The reporter says she spent nearly a year with local tribes, and knows how to gain their trust, promptly stripping off and daubing on body paint. The villagers are carrying out funeral rituals for their dead, who have all succumbed to a mysterious disease in the last few days. When the corpses come back to life, the soldiers and their passengers take off and abandon them.

One by one, the group are picked off by the undead, the soldiers proving too highly strung and incompetent to save themselves, let alone the rest of the world. They find the chemical plant and…. do nothing. The epilogue shows us how the gas has carried to the rest of the world and the true zombie apocalypse has begun.

This Italian production was one of the ‘video nasties’ banned in the UK in the early eighties. It certainly has the gore effects to merit that, all appropriately gruesome, backed up by stock footage for scene setting. It wanders from one bloody set piece to the next, lacking a coherent plot, But, be honest, it’s the blood that the story’s all about.

Not a classic of the genre, but a fun time capsule of blood and entrails.

Zombie Undead

Low-to-no budget efforts such as this should be applauded for seeing the project through to the end. However, a participation medal is all I’m willing to give out to this uninspired film.

The tautologically twisted title hints at the lack of invention inside. A dirty bomb has gone off in a British city, and a bunch of survivors are trapped in a provincial hospital filled with undead and with only one way out. They go nowhere for most of the film. Stilted acting struggles with a clumsy script, shot with little thought to production design and no obvious colour correction or grading to pump up the flat imagery.

Gore effects are good, and the mini movie in the closing titles is better than the rest of the film put together. So there’s hope. Best of luck to the team behind this, and I hope they come up with a more original idea next time, do a few more drafts of the script, and take the time to frame better shots.

Zombi Holocaust

Very few zombies in this one, despite the title. The ones who do show up are more brain damaged slaves than shambling undead. This is actually a cannibal film.

After a bunch of cannibal attacks across the US, a team of anthropologists is sent to the place the protagonists all came from. This place is the mysterious island of Kito in the not-at-all-insultingly-named Mullato chain. Along the way, they drop in on a famous surgeon who’s dropped out to do missionary service in the islands. Following his directions to the wrong island, they end up on Kito nonetheless.

Soon enough, their guides are being picked off and eaten by the natives. Whittled down to a final two, they eventually find out why one of this film’s alternate titles was Doctor Butcher M.D. (Medical Deviant).

The gore effects are mostly well done, there’s some gratuitous nudity, and the evil doctor gets his deserved comeuppance. But the storytelling is disjointed, the way so many Italian horrors of the era could be, and the racism inherent in the sub-genre.

Bonus material on the disc included a documentary about the short-lived cannibal genre, which produced few great works of art, but was well represented on the video nasties list.

Zombie Virus On Mulberry Street

Another case of false advertising, because it’s actually a were-rat virus. As the infection takes hold across Manhattan, the occupants of an apartment block on teh eponymous street fight to survive.

It’s another low budget effort, but not as low as Zombie Undead, and definitely more better scripted and directed. It also helps that it takes place in the Big Apple, rather than some non-descript English market town.

Rec

Similar in many ways to Mulberry Street, this Spanish horror is even more tightly paced and chilling. Its creatures are closer to the traditional zombie as well.

A two person film crew from a local television station is shooting a night in the life of a fire station. Responding to a call in an apartment block, they’re soon out of their depth as an unknown infection turns the occupants into flesh eating monsters.

With its found footage technique of viewing everything through the news cameraman’s lens, and the characters trapped in the block for most of the film, it’s more effectively claustrophobic than Mulberry Street. In that one, at least they got to pop to the bar next door. There aren’t many occupants in the block, but the confined space means that each one that changes increases the threat level immensely.

Vampire Apocalypse

This one sneaked in as a last gasp from Lovefilm. A low budget vampire romantic dark comedy, it stars Jason Mewes, who’s initially unrecognisable without the long hair he sports as Jay in all those Kevin Smith films. He plays Jack, a lovelorn paramedic trapped on the night shift with his arse (well, ass, as this is a US/Canadian productio- but I can’t bring myself to say ass) obsessed co-driver and only friend.

When Jack meets Danica, she’s covered in blood down a dodgy alley near his home. Trying to help her out, and clean her up, he falls in love almost immediately. Things are going great, until he comes home to find she has taken a big chunk out of his ex-girlfriend’s neck.

Desperate to sate his vampire girlfriend’s thirst, Jack initially helps her feast on the local drug dealers and hide their bodies. But things soon get out of his control.

Not a masterpiece, but I’d definitely call this a little known gem. The Apocalypse part of the name is a bit off, and it seems the original name was Bitten, which is more appropriate.

Zombie Hunters

This one hits the new low, taking the prize away from Zombie Undead. On top of the poor script, direction and acting, there’s also some really bad CGI as well.

In the future, everyone lives on walled cities, spending all their time in virtual reality. Five wannabe real-life hunters break out, intent on bagging a deer. Unfortunately, the place they’ve chosen is just over the hill from a secret military research establishment which has just created, and leaked, a magical wound healer that also raises the dead. Cue boring, tension-free, useless zombie killing.

Undead

Another little gem, this one is full of inventively gory Aussie humour. After meteor chunks and/or aliens- it’s kept nicely ambiguous, right to the end- land in an outback town, people start turning into white eyed walking corpses. A slowly dwindling bunch of survivors tries to fight their way out of the town. I won’t try to break down the action for you, but recommend going off and watch it yourself.


Kalashnikov Electric Motorbike, Anyone?

Harking back to an earlier Garth Owen book These bikes are just the sort of thing the characters in Pickers would have been riding around on.

Kalashnikov company, the one that makes AKs, started making electric bikes. They have been already ordered by Russian Army and Moscow police. Till next year fifty or more electric police bikes gon

Source: Kalashnikov Electric Motorbikes | English Russia


Northern Gorehouse: Zombies vs Vampires on the streets of Manchester

Available from Amazon.

An ancient evil looks down on the city of Manchester. But there are things even immortals fear.

Manchester’s newest tower is home to a coven of vampires, headed by the woman known only as Mistress. They have corrupted local government, and prey on the city’s most vulnerable.

When Mistress turns a homeless boy, to take as the latest in a long line of lovers, she sets in motion events that could destroy the coven, and will scar the city.

As the boy’s sister tracks him down, another, hungrier, kind of undead creature has been raised. Zombies stalk the streets, heading for the tower and Mistress.

Northern Gorehouse is available now.


B-Movie Night: Battles Without Honour And Humanity

This five film series- based very loosely on a Yakuza member’s prison memoirs- traces gangland conflicts in Hiroshima and neighbouring Kure from teh late forties to early seventies. Shozo Hirono is the character based upon the author, but not the lead in every one of the films. Calm and honourable, he’s permanently being undermined by the hot-headed behaviour and back stabbing of Yakuza in his own and others’ families.

The Yakuza life, is presented as less than glamorous, shabby, even. Violence, when it breaks out, is realistically gritty, clumsy and brutal, more scuffle and brawl than bullet ballet. If, like me, you have problems keeping track of characters’ names, it gets tricky following exactly which factions are working with or against each other. But that’s just me.

The series is- Battles without Honour And Humanity, Hiroshima Death Match, Proxy Wars, Police Tactics and Final Episode. Special features on the Arrow Video releases include some interesting featurette documentaries, interviewing the series’ fight co-ordinator, one of the script writers and an assistant director, as well as revealing the ‘Piranha Army’ of bit players who kept the backgrounds full of activity.