Monthly Archives: January 2022

The Bookshelf 2021

It’s that time of year again, when I humbly present to you a complete list of the books I read this year. Or last year, by the time you read this. I’m sure there’s a few missing. This list seems pretty short! In my defence, there are a few 600-page beasts. The pick of the long-form fiction was Stephen King’s Later. I read most of his books, and it can be hard to tell when his form dips because the overall quality is so high. It’s only when you read something as good as Later and then compare it to his existing arsenal that you realize he isn’t called The Master for nothing. I deliberately read some books last year by writers I’d never read before, the pick of which was The Book Club by C.J. Cooper, a thriller my mother urged me to read. I also read a Richard Bachman book for the first time in 20-years, that brought back some memories and reaquainted me with the word ‘rump,’ and A LOT of anthologies. By the way, that isn’t my bookshelf in the photo. It’s just a photo of a massive set of bookshelves I stole from Google. Sorry to disappoint.

The Greatest Survival Stories of All Time by Cara Tabachnick (2019)

Outpost H31 by Sara Jayne Townsend (2020)

Welcome to the Splatter Club by Various Authors (2020)

You Should Have Seen Her by Amy Cross (2020)

Jester of Hearts by Various Authors (2020)

Later by Stephen King (2021)

The Newspaperman by Sal Nudo (2018)

The Chill by Scott Carson (2020)

Dark Places, Evil Faces Volume II by Various Authors (2018)

Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates (2014)

Moth Busters – Freaky Florida Mystery Adventures 1 by Margaret Lashley (2019)

Nang Tani: She Takes her Vengeance in Blood by Lee Franklin (2020)

Watched by Iain Anderson (2021)

It Calls from the Forest by Various Authors (2020)

The Book Club by C.J. Cooper (2019)

Railroad Tales by Various Authors (2021)

Savage by Richard Laymon (1993)

Terror Tales of the Scottish Lowlands by Various Authors (2021)

JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation by Steve Thomas (2000)

The Legend of the Dogman by David C Posthumus (2022, ARC)

Handmade Horror by Various Authors (2021)

You can read my 2020 list here.


RetView #54 – The Burning (1981)

Title: The Burning

Year of Release: 1981

Director: Tony Maylam

Length: 91 mins

Starring: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian B, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexanda

Like The Slayer and the original Evil Dead, this is another film that got caught up in the whole ‘video nasty’ storm of the early eighties. Not that it did The Burning any harm. Quite the opposite, actually. Directed by Englishman Tony Maylam and featuring an original score by Rick Wakeman of Yes fame, it was partially based on the Cropsey Maniac urban legend and produced by Miramax, but let’s not talk about that. Yet.

One night at Camp Blackfoot, some teenaged fun-seeking campers pull a thigh-slappingly funny prank on an alcoholic caretaker named Cropsy (David) by placing a skull next to his bed with candles in the eye sockets and banging on the window to wake him up. Being a bit pissed (the British version, which means ‘drunk’ rather than the American version of pissed – angry – though by this point it’s very possible he’s both) he accidentally knocks the skull onto his bed starting a fire, which soon engulfs both him and his cabin. Still ablaze, the caretaker runs outside and stumbles down an embankment into a river as the boys flee. Years later, the disfigured and vengeful Cropsy is released from an extended stint hospital, where he had also become the butt of jokes (“This guy’s burned so bad he’s cooked. A fucking Big Mac!”) and goes on the warpath with a set of garden shears. Marvellous.

The early eighties were the peak of the slasher film, and The Burning almost got lost in the crush. As slasher films go, it has to rank near the top end of the scale, if only because there have been so many worse ones. The effects are sketchy and it seems formulaic and derivative at times, but the plot has enough about it to it to keep you entertained. Plus there are some textbook jump scares and a kill every ten minutes or so. Which, incidentally, is by design rather than happy accident. It’s also notable for marking the big-screen debuts of Holly Hunter, who went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1993 for her role in The Piano, Jason Alexanda whose greatest triumph was playing George Castanza in Seinfeld, and Fisher Stevens, who appeared as Ben in the Short Circuit films.

These days, however, The Burning is probably most famous (or infamous) for launching the career of one Harvey Weinstein. In 1980, he was a fresh-faced young concert promoter desperate to break into the movie business. Recognizing the success of low-budget horror films such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Halloween (1978), he began swapping horror stories with various acquaintances, including producing partner Michael Cohl. Having heard about the aforementioned Cropsy legend as a youngster, Weinstein sounded out the concept to Cohl, who loved the idea. They roped in Weinstein’s brother, Bob, as a screenwriter and together the trio came up with The Burning. It would be the first film put out by Miramax, the production company named after the Weinstein brother’s parents, Miriam and Max.

In light of the later Weinstein controversy, there are several uncomfortable themes running through The Burning; horny boys forever trying to coerce unwilling girls into having sex with them and voyeurism being just the tip (sorry) of the iceberg. There are more than a few uneasy moments, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons, like the camera lingering on a topless girl in the shower far too long and the wholly unnecessary premature ejaculation scene (“I’ll do better next time, baby.”) I don’t know, maybe this movie is just a product of its time. As the cliché goes, things were different then. Sure, you could say Weinstein and his crew were simply portraying teenage life, testosterone-driven urges and all, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it’s definitely full of creepy vibes and it’s difficult to imagine a world where any of this was ever okay.

The film originally had a vastly different ending, and Maylam has since said that there was talk of a sequel around the time it was wrapping. However, Maylam was weary of being type-cast as a horror director and the disappointing box office performance of the original stalled the sequel’s production. It has since attained cult classic status, but upon release it made back less than half of its $1.5 million budget in the US. It was, however, very popular in Japan, which probably tells its own story.

Trivia Corner:

To create Cropsy’s distorted POV shots, the cinematographer rubbed Vaseline on the outside edges of the camera lens. I bet he didn’t learn that in film school.


2021 in Review

Despite the unprecedented fuckery of 2020, it proved to be one of the most productive years of my writing career, certainly as far as fiction goes. I had to do something to fill those endless hours of lockdown. I like to see progress in the things I put my energy into, so while it was pleasing to have such a productive spell, I knew I had to maintain momentum. 2021 got off to a great start with the publication of my gross-out murder mystery Siki’s Story via The Splatter Club in January and my drabble (100-word story) Faces on the Walls appearing in the first anthology out out by Ghost Orchid Press. Alone, Or, a more traditional ghost story with a literary flavour, was included in the Spring edition of Frost Zone Zine on Cryoseism Press and shortly after the same publisher snapped up my Halloween-themed shocker Misshapes & Rejects for an anthology called Handmade Horror Stories.

I finished the first draft of the first Ben Shivers novel (working title: The Wretched Bones), about a paranormal investigator who lives in a mobile home with a cat called Mr. Trimble back in in 2019. The first draft of anything is always a mess, so I immediately set about writing a second draft and then a third in the first half of 2021. The intention was to bring the total word count down from 88,000 to a more manageable 80,000. However, that didn’t go to plan and after all the edits and rewrites, the final version ended up at just under 92,000 words. Life, eh? Whilst pitching the first book to agents and prospective publishers I wrote the first draft of the sequel and hope to have the second draft completed in the first quarter of 2022. I also put some time into finding a home for my Joshua Strange YA series, which is about a boy who inadvertently becomes a time traveller. That series, kind of my pet project, currently stands at three completed novels and a novella.

In 2021 I also completed a couple of novellas. Strzyga, about a warehouse worker on the nightshift who takes possession of a mysterious crate, stands at just shy of 10,000 which is a pretty weird length. Slightly too long for a short story, and not long enough for a novella. The other is a horror western called Silent Mine featuring a new character called Dylan Wilder who I like a lot, and might well involve in some more shenanigans in the future.

As the year progressed I had stories about genetically engineered giant cockroaches and a demon that sucks the eyeballs out of people’s heads while they sleep published in Scare Street anthologies, and a twisted little tale called Painted Nails in the extreme horror collection No Anesthetic on Splatter Ink Publishing.

Also on the extreme side, Eeva appeared in Books of Horror Collective Vol 3, Hell-bent was included in an anthology called Unleashed, and a reprint of Harberry Close was published in the the anthology Railroad Tales. In a bit of a departure, If You’ve Ever Eaten Toad, one of the few stories I’ve written where nobody dies, was published in the lit mag The Quiet Reader and I had other short pieces published in Every day Fiction, 101 Words, twentytwotwentyeight and Meghan’s superb blog, where I also did an interview. I did an interview with Willow Croft too, where we discussed everything from classic horror movies to eating brains in order to impress a date (hey, it worked!) and I also popped up on Dylan Roche’s blog. Most recently, reprints of earlier stories have appeared in the winter issue of Siren’s Call and the charity anthology The Colour of Deathlehem.

On the non-fiction front, I wrote about the Sai Kung mystery for Fortean Times magazine and podcasts, horror markets, alt fiction, and gothic fiction, for Writer’s Weekly. If you want to access my archive there, just search go to this search bar and enter Chris Saunders. Perhaps my biggest news of 2021 was releasing my latest book Back from the Dead: A Collection of Zombie Fiction which compiled half a dozen similarly-themed stories which have been published elsewhere, along with a brand-new novellette called The Plague Pit.

Surprisingly, my most popular blog post of the year was this one about live Bruce Springsteen recordings which got over 180 views in a single day. If you ever want to drive traffic to your blog, just say Winterland ’78 isn’t the best live Springsteen recording ever and post it in a fan group on Facebook where approximately 179 of those 180 people will disagree with you. Finally, my RetView series is still going strong, the most recent additions being Shutter and The Gorgon. You can access the entire archive of over fifty installments HERE. If you’re looking to explore some cult horror movies, that’s a good place to start. Lastly, you may have noticed I’ve updated this site and added a couple of new sections, including a place where you can purchase signed copies of my books and read some free fiction.

To summarize, I had 16 short stories published through various channels in 2021, which is a personal best. I also released a collection of fiction and finished a novel and two novellas, at least one of which will see the light in 2022. Also scheduled to drop very soon is the latest installment in my on-going X series and I have a few new short stories up my sleeve. A couple have already been commissioned.

And that’ll do it for one year. Remember, if you want to achieve your dreams you have to get out there and make it happen. Find solutions, not excuses.

Thanks for reading!


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