Monthly Archives: August 2012

Going Back to China.

Back to work in a few days. Bummer. Goodbye friends and family, hello unknown.

On September 1st I have to get up at 06.30, travel to Cardiff by car, get a coach to Heathrow airport (London), take a long-haul flight to Shanghai PuDong airport, get a public bus to Shanghai Hongqiao airport, take a domestic flight to Changsha, and hopefully meet up with a representative from my new school who will then drive me to my apartment on the outskirts of the city.

All in all the journey will take around 28 hours I guess, providing I make all the connections and don’t die in a fireball somewhere.

I’ll be honest, the thought is a little daunting. Before a long journey I get apprehensive. So many things can go wrong. Adding to my trepidation is the fact that I am starting a new job in a new school in a new area. I have been doing this for 5 or 6 years now, and it seems I spend most of my life ‘settling in’ and walk around in a permanent state of mild culture shock.    

I work as an ESL teacher in China, which I will blog more about in the future (I pwomise!). I don’t pretend to be a real teacher. My job basically amounts to entertaining disinterested Chinese university students and being the token ‘foreign expert,’ that gives an educational establishment added credibility. I actually have a foreign experts certificate issued by the Chinese government which assures me that I am, indeed, an expert at being foreign.

People who pursue this pseudo-career are usually faced with three employment options:

1: Volunteer work. This, in my book, is an instant no-no and geared toward exploiting graduates who need work experience. The parents invariably pay the schools, so why should the foreign teachers be expected to work for free?

2: Private schools. These offer a higher salary, usually 10-13,000 RMB (£1000 – 1300) a month, sometimes more, but you have to work up to 40-hours a week and usually have to pay for your own apartment, transport and everything else. In short, its like having a real job.

3: State-run educational establishments (schools, colleges and universities). These offer a lower salary (on average around 5000 – 6000 RMB, or £500 – 600) but as part of a ‘package’ that also includes a fully-furnished apartment, travel expenses, visa fees, health insurance, return flights back to your country of origin, bonuses, and sometimes even phone, internet and utility bills. The main advantage is a much lower workload, and lengthy summer and winter holidays. It isn’t difficult to pick up extra part-time work to make up the difference in salary if one is so inclined.

Having experienced both sides of the coin, I decided long ago that option three suited my needs better, mainly because the general life hassles are minimized and I get a lot more free time. During the 2-month winter holiday I usually do some travelling around mainland China, and in the summer (when I often change schools, and sometimes cities) I go back to Wales to spend time with friends and family.

During the holidays is when I can apply myself fully to writing. I don’t pretend to be a professional.  I’m semi-pro at best. I don’t make much money teaching, and I make far less writing. But one thing I have learned on this epic journey is that life is about much more than money. It is a sad fact that if I made more I would undoubtedly waste it on stuff I don’t need. A truly fulfilling life should focus more on personal happiness, freedom, independence, setting and achieving goals, and making a difference.

Chris Jay of Army of Freshmen once said, “If experience can be considered a currency, then I am a rich man.”

And I agree.

Probably the worst thing about living and working in the PRC, apart from the general weirdness of it all, is the government-sanctioned internet censorship. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, You Tube and most blogging sites, including WordPress, are blocked, which makes social networking a constant game of cat n mouse. For this reason, combined with my own general laziness, my blogging over the next nine months or so may be a little sporadic, so please try to stick with me!



Update – August 2012

Your favourite media whore has been busy…

A great review of Devil’s island was very kindly posted by Jay Wilburn on the Perpetual publishing website recently:

Swamp Dweller also posted a new review of Devil’s Island. I can’t decide if this one is good or bad. I guess I’ll just have to settle for ‘balanced.’

I contributed to a multi-author interview recently to promote the forthcoming anthology Fading Light, which includes my story Roadkill. The interview is split between many writers and many blogs. I will try to keep up!

This is part one, it only has one of my lines, but it was a funny one! Even if I do say so myself.

Ditto part two:

Jake Elliot gave me and Fading Light a plug on his fantastic blog, cheers Jake!

Whilst on the subject, despite not being released to the public until September (I think) Fading Light has already been causing quite a stir, and even has its own Facebook page now!

Fiction as a Living Entity

I have a general rule. When something is finished, its… finished. Get over it. Move on. Its a general life rule, but it also applies to writing fiction. Write a story, edit a story, re-write a story, start another story. You can’t keep living in the past.

I haven’t always been like this, when I first started writing I would get stuck on the same piece, for years sometimes. I would keep starting again, unhappy about some minor detail in the opening paragraphs, or maybe just because the story I finished wasn’t the one I started. It didn’t help that in those days I wrote in note books with rollerpoint pens. Black ink. Had to be black ink. The point is, once something was down on paper I couldn’t change it without making a mess on the page. Presentation was important to me then, for some reason. And it wasn’t like today where you write on computer and can easily go back and change things as you go along. I used correction fluid sometimes. But I had a natural aversion to the stuff, it was too messy. It was much easier to sniff than to use for its intended purpose. It never occurred to me to use a pencil and eraser.

Thinking about it now, much of this behaviour probably stemmed from a lack of confidence in my writing. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say, and I just didn’t think my stories were good enough. And I was right. Those early stories were shit. They all had eighteen opening lines, nine first pages, six different middle sections, a selection of random misplaced characters, and no ending between them. Or I might have several endings with no beginning.

It took me a long time to realize that one of the biggest hurdles a novice writer has to overcome is knowing when to let go. When to go and when to stop. When to turn left and when to turn right. It was a bit like driving a car, but less of an exact science. Unlike driving a car, with writing there is very rarely an out-and-out wrong way to do something.

So I started cultivating the popular practice of completing a story – putting it aside for a few days, going back to it with a new perspective to brush it up and fix any errors, then drawing a line under it and moving on to the next piece. It became easier when I started writing on computer, I could just file the finished stories away and hope to forget about them rather than having to leaf past them every time I opened my note book. Knowing when to let the baby birds fly is the most important part of the creative process.

But the temptation is always there. You still have contact with these stories. Admittedly there are a few that slip through the cracks and stay on my hard drive gathering virtual dust for years. But you maintain a relationship with most of them while you are submitting them to magazines and websites and gathering the inevitable rejection slips. A bit like an absent father who only has minimal contact with his grown-up children.

Every time you get reacquainted with a story a little voice inside says, ‘Is that story as good as it can be? Could you have done better? Is there a weak point somewhere?’

Often the temptation is too much and you open the file, just for a read-through. But then you notice something, and change it. That leads to something else and before you know it you are pulling the guts out of the thing and re-arranging it all. For better or for worse. Before you know it you are left with something very different than the original story. Sometimes I ask myself, are the stories alive?

Not in a physical walking, breathing sense, obviously (that would be very Dark Half!), but in some less definable way. Not flesh and blood, but never-the-less a living creation that gets old and changes with time. Sometimes maintenance is required. For example, some of my stories are so old now they read like retro pieces. I talk about Walkmans’ instead of MP3 players, typewriters instead of laptops, and landlines instead of cellphones. Unless there is a very specific market, most editors and publishers today wouldn’t even consider running something so obviously dated, so from that perspective it’s in my best interests to update things occasionally. From what I know of other writers it is common to re-visit old stories, either to update or re-write them, so I know I’m not the only one.

I only have one rule: If the story is published somewhere, anywhere, then afterwards I consider it untouchable, and can’t find it within myself to mess around with it. I just leave it be. Like an old working horse at the end of its days grazing in a pasture. I can’t keep messing around with the same pieces all the time, to my mind it is the literary equivalent of being stuck in a rut. I hate ruts. Ruts will suffocate you in the end.

The Worst Month Ever

“When is life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, “Why God? Why me?”

And the thundering voice of God answered, “There’s just something about you that pisses me off…”

(From Storm of the Century, original screenplay by Stephen King)

I’m not one to complain. I am usually pretty successful at convincing myself that however bad things get, there’s always someone worse off. But honestly, July 2012 was a bitch. My family wasn’t killed and my farm wasn’t destroyed, but I definitely think I pissed God off.

My run of bad luck started back in China, where I work most of the year.

Firstly, after spending a sleepless night at Shanghai Hongqiao airport, at 6am the next morning I transferred to Pudong International airport on the other side of the city. On arrival I tried to check in for my 9am flight, only to be informed that the flight was overbooked and I had been shunted onto a later flight. I didn’t mind too much. I only had to wait another 3 hours and was paid compensation. Then, after a 10-hour flight I arrived at Heathrow airport and went to get a National Express coach to Cardiff. It was late. As were all the coaches. My 7pm coach finally arrived at around 8.30.

Again, not such a big deal. You expect these things when you travel regularly. But by now circumstances were beginning to mount up, and I began mentally checking my Karma account. Little did I know, things were about to slip into a higher gear…

I have had my Toshiba laptop for just over a year – long enough for the 12-month warranty to expire – and never had a problem with it. Until, of course, the warranty expired. Then I turned it on one morning to find that there was no file association. I had no idea what to do, so I took it to a repair shop where it was held captive for two days before the owner presented me with a large bill. Problem solved, or so I thought.

I live for my laptop. Don’t mess with my laptop. When I am away it is my TV, my stereo, my communication device, and my work station. At approximately the same time the warranty on my laptop expired, so did my virus protection. For a matter of hours, my baby had no protection and was open to attack.

Obviously, she was attacked.

Some cyber turd hacked into my hotmail and Microsoft responded by blocking my email account indefinitely. Cue several long-winded calls to the Customer Care department and another hefty bill, this time for a software engineer, before my computer was declared ‘safe.’

Next, I travelled to London to see Bruce Springsteen at Hard rock Calling. But the gig was cut short when over-zealous council jobsworths pulled out the power cord as punishment for exceeding a curfew by 15 minutes (see earlier post).

The following weekend, I was mugged by three teenagers who stole my phone and money and left me bleeding by the side of the road. I spent a night in casualty and the next several days giving witness statements to the police. The police took my favourite jeans, and my new trainers, for DNA testing. I still haven’t had my clothes back, nor the items that were stolen, and though the police have suspects they are yet to arrest anyone.

Finally, I recently posted a bad review of a book I purchased on Amazon I don’t usually write bad reviews, but this was a bad book!

Somebody (I suspect the author of the book I reviewed) responded to my criticism by writing shocking, fake, 1-star reviews of all my published work for the same site, under several aliases.

To their credit, Amazon investigated and removed the offending reviews for breaching user guidelines, but while they were investigating, the reviews were there for all to see for several days. I can only imagine how it impacted on sales.

They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, but after this soul-destroying run, I am left pondering… whatever next?

Order in the Chaos

It’s a crazy world, right? Where things happen without rhyme nor reason. 

Or is it.

This week I watched a documentary on TV called The Code. It’s a science programme. Science really isn’t my thing. But this episode was about order in the universe, a concept that has always fascinated me. Specifically, the show explored the theory that there is a series of patterns and values underpinning everything around us.

I am not religious, as such. I don’t believe there is a single divine entity overseeing everything. I don’t believe in fate or destiny, the romantic notion that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe in something.

I just don’t know what.

I do know there is some kind of order in the chaos. You just have to look for it. If you look hard enough, the signs are there.

And so, to the Code…

One experiment outlined in the documentary was designed to show what they called the ‘wisdom of the crowd.’

Researchers asked 160 people to guess how many jelly beans were in a glass jar. We all know how difficult a task this is.


Obviously the estimates varied wildly, from as low as 400 to as much as 50,000. The actual number of jelly beans contained in the jar was 5,110, which nobody correctly guessed. Nobody was even close.


The researchers added up all the incorrect guesses they received, all those 400’s and 50,000’s. Then they divided the total by the amount of people participating. So… total number of every estimate combined, divided by 160.

Using this method they arrived at a mean average answer of 5,115. That is less than 1% away from the actual number of 5,110.

Crazy or what?

NB: I didn’t record the documentary or take notes, I wrote this from memory the next day, so forgive me if there are inaccuracies. I’m pretty sure I have most of the main facts, though!




First review of Devil’s Island!

Devil's Island by C.M Saunders [Review].

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