Author Archives: cmsaunders

About cmsaunders

I write stuff. Pretty much any stuff. My dark fiction has appeared in Asphalt Jungle, Raw Nerve, Roadworks, Dark Valentine, Screams of Terror, Shallow Graves, Fantastic Horror, The Literary Hatchet, Gore and numerous anthologies. My first book, Into the Dragon's Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales was published back in 2003, and I've worked extensively in the freelance journalism industry, contributing features to numerous international publications including Fortean Times, Bizarre, Urban Ink, Loaded, Record Collector, Maxim, and a regular column to the Western Mail newspaper. I lived in China for over five years where I taught English during my search for enlightenment, before moving back to the UK in January 2013 to work as staff writer on Nuts magazine. Later, I was senior writer on Forever Sports magazine and associate editor at Coach magazine, before leaving to chance my arm in the world of pro freelance. In recent times I've devoted more time to dark fiction, my latest offerings being Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut), Human Waste and X3, my third collection. I also edit, copy write, proofread and ghost write and drink far too much craft beer.

RetView #24 – War of the Worlds (1953)

Title: War of the Worlds

Year of Release: 1953

Director: Byron Haskin

Length: 85 minutes

Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne

war of the worlds

I know, I’m genre-hopping again. Much like The Fly the classic 1953 version of War of the Worlds isn’t as much of a horror film as it is a pure sci-fi flick. But it is considered one of the greatest of all time, and contains all the elements considered typical of horror movies – tension, suspense, conflict, and the threat of imminent death, right down to the spooky music. Not least, it was such a significant event in the history of cinema that I feel it would be a huge mistake not to include it in this series. So here we are.

This Paramount Pictures production was the first in a slew of film adaptations based on HG Wells’ groundbreaking 1897 novel of the same name, which was also the source material of the controversial Orson Welles radio drama that sparked widespread panic throughout America in October 1938 because everyone assumed it was an actual broadcast rather than a play and legitimately thought it was the end of the world. At its core, War of the Worlds is a straight-up alien invasion story, which in a Cold War setting becomes a direct metaphor for the perceived threat of communism and the detrimental effect it could have on the Western way of life. This is perhaps what sets this version apart from subsequent adaptations and makes it such an interesting case study. That and the fact that the release exploited the deep impression left on the public’s psyche by the infamous radio play 15 years previously meaning that the market was already primed long before the film even came out.

If you aren’t familiar with the premise, it’s simple, yet terrifying. The aliens come. Martians, to be exact. You know, from Mars. At first, everyone thinks earth is simply being pounded by meteors, so groups of people head to the impact sites for a closer look. As you do. At a crash site near Linda Rosa, California, well-known scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Barry), who’d been on a fishing trip, meets star-struck young waif Sylvia Van Buren (Robinson). The shameless flirting commences instantaneously.

Sylvia: You didn’t wear glasses on the Time cover.

Dr. Forrester: They’re really for long distance. When I want to look at something close, I take them off.

*Takes off glasses and leans in, which isn’t creepy at all.

After the initial excitement of the crashed ‘meteorite’ subsides, everyone files off leaving three men to guard the crash site. No sooner has everyone gone, a hatch opens in what is now clearly NOT a meteorite, a futuristic weapon emerges, incinerates the guards, and simultaneously shuts down all the technology in the town via an electromagnetic pulse. Wowzer. And that’s just the start of it. Someone calls the army and they roll up all guns blazing only to be met with death rays a-plenty. Carnage ensues just as reports begin to filter through (it’s unclear how, given the tech-fucking effects of that pesky electromagnetic pulse) that similar objects have crash landed all over the world. The condition is now critical. Before we know it, a full-on war breaks out (yep, a war of the worlds). Mankind, even when using the atomic bomb, prove no match for the alien invaders and are soon reduced to running around in a blind panic trying to stay alive. Many of the world’s capital cities are now aflame, and in the chaos Dr Forrester and the God-fearing Sylvia become separated. They find each other again in a church, but just when they face certain death the Martians abruptly start keeling over and dying. Apparently, they are unable to deal with the germs and bacteria in the earth’s atmosphere to which people have ‘long since grown immune.’ A little bit anti-climactic but it was as easy as that, the quasi-religious take-away message apparently being that where man (and nuclear weapons) fail, the smallest and most innocuous things sometimes succeed, so we should never lose hope. The stupidly unlikely romantic sub-plot is maintained right to the bitter end, so I guess there’s also some observation to be made about the all-conquering power of love, something which went right over my head.

At the time, War of the Worlds was celebrated for its use of movie-making technology, winning an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Okay, there were no other nominees that year, but it still won. Producer George Pal originally wanted to shoot the entire final third in 3D, but that plan was blackballed for being too expensive. Instead, the alien ships were superimposed over stock footage. It might sound tacky, but there’s a lot to admire. Whatever trickery was used results in a beautifully dark, apocalyptic landscape against which people are portrayed as being awfully weak and vulnerable. Not least the US Marine who catches fire. You don’t often see people catching fire in movies from 1953. Many of the visual techniques used became industry standards for years to come, the echoes of which are still being felt today. A bona fide classic people will still be watching in another 65 years.

Trivia Corner:

As a homage to the 1938 radio broadcast, at one point voice specialist Paul Frees appears on-screen as a radio reporter and does a pretty convincing vocal impersonation of Orson Welles.

 

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Boss Blogs #2: I’m 27 Years Burnin’ Down the Road

Anyone who knows me will tell you how much of a Springsteen fanatic I am. This is a guy who dragged his then-girlfriend all the way from south Wales to Philadelphia for a gig on the E Street Band reunion tour that ended up being cancelled because of a hurricane. Anyway, the first time I ever saw him live in concert was a few years before that, at Wembley Arena on July 10th 1992 – 27 years ago this week. By the way, I also have a weird fascination with the number 27, and I absolutely love it when things come together like this. Sometimes, life could almost be scripted.

I was eighteen at the time, and a friend and I decided to travel up to London by coach to catch one of the dates on the Boss’s four (or maybe it was five) night stand on the Human Touch/Lucky Town tour. You know the one, it was when he fired most of the E Street Band and hired a bunch of session musicians to play their parts. Bruce has always been a bit funny like that. He was and is very wary of people sticking labels on his music and is always trying new things, or at least trying old things new ways. After a brief spell in the very early seventies pretending to be the next Bob Dylan at the behest of his record company, he spent the next decade or so playing straight-up rock shows. Hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands. After the mammoth Born in the USA run, he was burned out. He decided he’d gone as far as he could in that direction and brought in a horn section for his next tour in support of tunnel of Love in 1988, which was full of bombast and theatrics. His next tour would be stripped down to solo acoustic (Ghost of Tom Joad, 1996/97), and in between those two extreme states of being we had… this.

A lot of people didn’t like the Human Touch/Lucky Town albums when they first came out. Personally, I loved them. I loved Human Touch, with its slick production and pure pop hooks slightly more than the more rootsy and raw Lucky Town. But weirdly, over time that situation has been reversed and it’s now the latter which is remembered with more fondness. With a couple of patchy albums to promote and no E Street Band, I suspected it was going to be a slightly surreal evening in London.

And so it proved.

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Not to take anything away from the band, who were about as polished and tight as you could hope for. The thing that struck me most was how charismatic the Boss was in the flesh. The moment he strutted onto the stage, greeted the crowd, and counted down into Better Days, he was captivating. For the first few songs I simply stood there with my mouth hanging open. I was in awe. The stripped down version of dancing in the Dark segueing into Darkness on the Edge of Town which appeared a couple of songs in still stands as one of my all-time greatest in-concert moments. All this was helped by the fact that without even trying, my friend and I had somehow managed to blag a couple of amazing seats. Centre stage, about half a dozen rows back with a completely unobstructed view. I would remember those seats over a decade later when my seat at the San Siro in Milan turned out to be on the wrong side of a massive concrete pillar.

The spell Springsteen was weaving was all ruined shortly after when he launched into an extended version of 57 Channels and Nothin’ On. I mean, the 2:57 album version is bad enough. He may have had good intentions when he wrote that song but man, it’s a stinker. It’s one of life’s great mysteries why some A&R clown at Columbia Records saw fit to release it as a single. In fact, I came to realize years later that Springsteen chose this particular night to play all my least-favourite songs. Right after 57 Channels came The River, which always struck me as a overlong and sombre (sacrilege, I know) and a bit later came Cover Me, possibly THE worst track on Born in the USA. Predictably, the set was littered with unremarkable deep cuts from the two new albums: Man’s Job, Roll of the Dice, With Every Wish, Leap of Faith, Local Hero, Real World. All these came at the expense of some bona fide classics that were dropped from the set-list. There was no Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, no Rosalita, not a single track from Nebraska, and not even a Badlands. He did, however, play Living Proof, in my opinion one of the most underrated songs in his extensive repertoire. Granted, it’s another one from Lucky Town, but not one he pulls out often. Certainly not often enough. Brilliant Disguise and Souls of the Departed also stood out. However, the absolute highlight for me was an epic version of Light of Day, complete with audience call and response. This was a track he’d given to Joan Jett for the movie of the same name five or six years earlier, and I didn’t even know he’d written it until that night. Jobbing session musos or not, by this point he had that band (along with every member of the 12,500-strong crowd) dangling on a piece of string.

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After that came the obligatory gut-busting, crowd-pleasing, booty-shaking, six-track, 40-minute extended encore starting with a breathless one-two of Glory Days and Bobby Jean and culminating in an electrified Born to Run (he’d performed it acoustically on the previous tour)and poignant show-closer My Beautiful Reward. In its entirety the show ran for over three hours, pretty standard for Springsteen. It was exhausting just watching him. The man himself was drenched in sweat, and I was so close I’m pretty sure some of it landed on me at one point. Or maybe my fading memory has embellished that little detail. It’s been 27 years, after all.

For full set list see here.

Boss Blogs #1: Meet me in the City Tonight.

 


RetView #23 – Shocker (1989)

Title: Shocker

Year of Release: 1989

Director: Wes Craven

Length: 110 minutes

Starring: Peter Berg, Mitch Pileggi, Michael Murphy, Heather Langenkamp, John Tesh

shocker

I was 15 when Shocker came out, and so at PAA (Peak Appreciation Age) for horror movies. And a lot of other things, including heavy metal. One of the most attractive things for me about this movie was the soundtrack, which featured Megadeth covering Alice Cooper’s No More Mr. Nice Guy alongside songs by Bonfire and Iggy Pop. Most impressively, the title track was recorded by The Dudes of Wrath, a supergroup consisting of Paul Stanley (Kiss), Vivian Campbell and Rudy Sarzo (Whitesnake) and Tommy Lee (Motley Crue). It even featured powerhouse songwriter Desmond Child and members of Van Halen on backing vocals. All this considered, Shocker was a perfect storm of my two main obsessions coming together. Metal and horror. Although dubbed a critical and commercial failure at the time (though not really, as it raked in $16.6 million at the Box Office against a $5 million budget) it has since gained cult status, and deservedly so.

Parallels are often drawn between Shocker and Wes Craven’s seminal A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. While the former is much more light-hearted, often venturing into campy horror comedy territory, there are similarities. In his 2004 book Wes Craven: The Art of Horror, writer John Kenneth Muir says, “Shocker was basically Craven’s response to the Freddy Krueger film series and to Universal Studios, which informed him they wanted their very own horror franchise à la A Nightmare on Elm Street. Accordingly, moments in Shocker echo Craven’s earlier milestone film. Both films open with grisly serial killers working in their den of evil, both feature non-believing parents who also happen to serve on the local police, and both films also dramatize the now-expected ‘rubber reality’ dream sequences.”

In Shocker, the Freddy Krueger role is taken by a new anti-hero, Horace Pinker (Pileggi, later to make it big as Walter Skinner in the X Files) who appears to highschool footballer Jonathan Parker (Berg) in his dreams. This proves to be nothing but a precursor, when Horace (isn’t it more endearing when savage comic villains are referred to by their first name? Freddy, Jason, etc) then butchers most of Jonathan’s foster family, much to the chagrin of his police detective foster dad (Murphy). Using his dreams, Jonathan leads a police squad right to Horace’s door, but the killer escapes, brutally murdering all the cops in the process (except his foster dad, who yells at him). He then kills Peter’s girlfriend in revenge (Langenkamp, from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Obviously a favourite of Craven’s, she was also cast in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). Shortly afterwards, he is finally apprehended and it transpires that he is actually Peter’s biological father (bummer!). He is then sent to the electric chair. What his executioners don’t know, however, is that Horace has struck a deal with the devil. The chair doesn’t actually kill him, but ‘frees’ him and turns him into pure electricity, enabling him to continue his killing spree by hopping from body to body. Jonathan eventually wins through, with the help of his dead girlfriend, by trapping his nemesis dad inside a television set leaving the path open for a sequel. The much-touted sequel, which was supposed to be the second instalment in a horror franchise to rival A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday 13th never materialized, probably due to a combination of mixed reviews and shifting audience attitudes.

Some critics disagree, with Horrornews.net going so far as to call him ‘lame’ but IMHO Pileggi plays a remarkably convincing baddie, and with his bald head and trim physique is eerily reminiscent of a young Dana White. He does suffer a little from ‘Freddy Krueger Syndrome’ with all the banter and wisecracks (“C’mon boy, let’s take a ride in my volts wagon!”). However, despite its cult classic status, this film is not without its problems. One of the main sticking points is its length. At 110 minutes, it far exceeds the average 90 minute running time for this kind of genre staple and takes quite a while before it gets going. I blame the editors for that. Maybe a slightly shorter, more streamlined version would have fared better.

Trivia Corner:

According to Craven, the film was severely cut for an R (15) rating. It took around thirteen submissions to the MPAA before it was awarded an R instead of an X (18) which would have limited its appeal. Some of the scenes that were cut included Pinker spitting out fingers that he bit off of a prison guard and a longer and more graphic electrocution. An uncut version has never been released.


Internet Etiquette for Indie Writers

I know what you’re thinking. Internet etiquette? It’s the internet, there is no etiquette.

But see, you would be wrong.

So wrong.

Because everything you post online, every snide comment, scathing retort, and misquided or misunderstood witticism, is there for all the world to see and it stays there until you delete it. And even then there are ways to get it back, or so I’m told.

This means that past, present and future friends, colleagues, partners and employers can all see how you interact with people, and what kind of person lurks behind that cool exterior. Oh, and you can add the government to that list. Not just yours, but more than likely several, and even your great aunty Zelda. You didn’t think she used Facebook? Best think again. Even regular Joe’s who you don’t notice lurking online and don’t give much of a shit about anyway can pose a threat.

The DO’s are quite simple: DO use the Internet however you see fit, DO surf to your heart’s content, DO find some of its hidden corners, DO look up those old friends and flames, and DO find new ones. In short, have a blast. Just be aware of a few DON’T’s.

By the way, this (non-exhaustive) list is aimed primarily at indie writers and other internet marketers, but with a little improvisation, can be applied to just about anyone’s daily life. It is designed to help, not hinder.

DON’T post book links, or any promotional material, direct to people’s Facebook wall.

DON’T send book links, or any other promotional material, in the form of direct messages. This topic is particularly prickly amongst the Twitteratti. They fucking hate it.

DON’T tag people in political posts or rants about Lady Gaga, football, the environment, the refugee crisis, veganism, or anything else that could be construed as even vaguely divisive or controversial. The post likely reflects YOUR opinion, not that of the people you are tagging, and by tagging them you are associating them with your views against their will.

DON’T add people to groups without their permission, even if you think you’re doing them a favour. Just don’t.

When commenting on other people’s threads, DON’T see that as an opportunity to drop your book link. That, my friend, is spam, and it tastes like shit.

Similarly, when people ask for book recommendations, DON’T recommend your own book. Show some humility, you pretentious asshole.

Listen, I get that some people just aren’t very savvy. They might mean well, and just don’t know what they are doing is annoying the shit out of people. But the vast majority of social network users know exactly what they are doing. They know they are taking liberties and being annoying. They just don’t care. That’s just disrespectful.

Do yourself a favour, follow these unwritten rules, and make social networking less painful and awkward for the people who know you.

This post was first published on the Deviant Dolls  website.


What’s in the Dead of Night?

Last year, after the rights to Apartment 14F, one of my earlier novellas, reverted back to me, I was finally able to polish it up and put out the version I wanted to. Now, I am giving the other book published by Damnation Books the same treatment.

I haven’t read this story for years. I don’t tend to go back and read stories once they’ve been published. It’s partly because I see writing as a continuous process. I’m a better writer now than I was eight years ago when Dead of Night first came out, and I’m probably a better writer than I was last week. But I have to say, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

From the double-meaning title to the cheesy one-liners and OTT violence, Dead of Night probably represents my first shambling steps into splatterpunk territory. It’s one of the first things I wrote that had a female protagonist. And no, it’s not because I’m sexist. I just didn’t think I would be able to write a strong female character convincingly. It took me a long time to realize that well, men and women aren’t very different after all. For this story, I thought I’d turn the usual set of circumstances on their head and have the gal saving the guy for a change. During the course of the story I grew very fond of Maggie.

I found the story flowed quite well, there weren’t many grammatical errors, and I was happy with the overall pacing. The only thing that lets it down is the fact that in some parts, it’s pretty dated. It’s been almost a decade since I wrote it. At the beginning, I had Maggie and Nick Arguing over what CDs to play in the car. Do cars even have CD players anymore? I suppose some still do. But for how much longer?

Dead of Night is packed full of pop culture references. Music, films, books. In the first version the dead celebrity Nick and Maggie discussed in the beginning was Michael Jackson. Since then Prince died, so for the reboot, Prince gets the nod. I always preferred his music anyway. There was a period in the second half of the eighties when he was untouchable. MJ does still get a name check, though, and I gave Meatloaf a nod by nicking one of the lines from ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ (I’ll probably get sued for that). I even slipped in the phrase ‘motley crew.’ Proud of that one.

If you’re a connoisseur, you might catch some of the movie references, too. The ‘Romero’s zombies’ one is easy to get, and the whole Nick losing a hand thing is a thinly-veiled homage to Evil Dead. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid also makes an unlikely appearance.

In a lot of my stories I drop the names of Cardiff City FC players, past and present. It’s kind of an in-joke nobody fucking notices except me. Steve McPhail and Jay Bothroyd are definitely from the past. I was going to update them, but then I decided it wouldn’t make much difference. McPhail and Bothroyd are still great players and deserve their place in history.

Reading it back now all these years later, though I might not have been aware of it at the time, Dead of Night is clearly a tribute to the King of splatterpunk, Richard Laymon. I even use the word ‘rump. ’ If you aren’t familiar with his work, the joke is that he used ‘rump’ A LOT. At every opportunity. A couple of times a page. It was one of his trademarks.

Perhaps the hardest adjustment I had to make when I knocked out the original version was that I had to write it in ‘American.’ I rarely do that. The vast majority of my stories are set in places I have lived – Wales, England or China. However, because the story is about American Civil War zombies, this one had to be set in America. There was no way around it. I have visited a few cities in America, but never the Deep South where the story is set. Some artistic license was used there.

I found a couple of continuity errors, even after two rounds of editing by the publisher. That sucked. I had my happy couple hiking several hours to their camp site, then ‘nipping back’ to their car to grab hoodies when it got cold. That was improbable. Perhaps even more improbable than the other stuff going on. Oh, and I know guns probably wouldn’t still work after being in the ground for 150 years or so but fuck it, I wanted them to work so they did. It’s my story.

Finally, I added about 2000 words, took out the chapters, and inserted more line breaks. I originally wanted to tell the story through two POVs simultaneously, flashing back and forth from one to the other. But of course, that’s extremely difficult to do without head-hopping all over the place, so line breaks it is.

Check out the all-new cover art by Greg Chapman:

dead-of-night-reissue

All things considered, I’m pretty happy with this reissue. The book has been out of print for a couple of years now, apart from a few ropy second-hand paperbacks floating about on Amazon. It’s an important part of my back catalogue, and I’m glad it’s finally available again.

Dead of Night (Revised edition)  is available now on paperback and ebook.


RetView #22 – The Descent (2005)

Title: The Descent

Year of Release: 2005

Director: Neil Marshall

Length: 100 mins

Starring: Shauna MacDonald, Alex Reid, Natalie Mendoza, Saskia Mulder

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Following the runaway success of Dog Soldiers, British director Neil Marshall was inundated with offers to make films in a similar vein. Anxious not to be typecast, he was initially reluctant but finally agreed to make The Descent because the two projects were, “Very different.” He did, however, insist on making drastic changes to the script to make them even more different. The film was originally to feature a mixed cast, but realizing how common that is, Marshall opted on an all-female cast instead. The decision proved to be a masterstroke, winning the film plaudits and instantly setting it apart from many of its contemporaries. Discussing the film after its release, Marshall says, “We wanted to show all these terrible things in the cave: dark, drowning, claustrophobia. Then, when it couldn’t get any worse, make it worse.”

In a bid to overcome a recent tragedy in which her husband and young daughter are killed, Sarah (MacDonald) meets a group of friends. They decide to go caving together in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Not my idea of a fun time, but ya know. No sooner are they underground, then a cave-in traps them there. Then it transpires that the cave system is unmapped, and that one of their number, Juno (Mendoza) had led them there deliberately so they could become the first people to explore it. This means rescue is impossible, and they are going to have to find their own way out. Whilst seeking a way out they make several discoveries that would indicate that all might not be as it seems, among them cave paintings, a mass of animal bones, and some old climbing equipment. So far, so weird. Things then take a turn for the gross when one of the girls takes a tumble and breaks her leg. I don’t know why open compound fractures (where the bone sticks out of the shattered limb) are so common in movies, but they are and the rest of us have to stomach them. While the rest of the girls are debating how to get themselves out of this mess, Sarah spies a pale, humanoid creature drinking from a subterranean pond. This, my friends, is our first glimpse of a ‘Crawler.’ Hideously deformed, carnivorous, cave-dwelling creatures who were once people, we are led to believe, but have been underground for so long they have mutated and evolved differently to the rest of us. Blind, they have enhanced senses of hearing and smell to compensate. They’re sprightly little fuckers, too. A bit like a cross between the inbreds in the Wrong Turn series and mini-golems. They aren’t very friendly, either, and soon attack our little group of transgressors. Suffice to say, it doesn’t go well for the girls. Juno accidentally stabs Beth (Reid) in the neck and leaves her to die, before later running into Sarah and lying about the whole thing. It is also revealed that Juno had an affair with Sarah’s husband before his death. After a confrontation, Sarah leaves her nemesis at the mercy of the Crawlers and makes good her escape, finding a way out of the cave and back to civilization. Except, in a brilliant twist ending, her ‘escape’ as actually a hallucination, and when she wakes up she’s in just as much trouble as her friends. More, in fact.

Whilst it is set in North America, The Descent was actually made in the UK. The exterior shots were filmed in Scotland, and the interior at Pinewood Studios, as it was deemed too expensive, problematic and risky to film in a real cave system. I don’t know what this says about different audiences, but it is interesting to note here that the US version ends with Sarah’s escape, leaving out the part where she wakes up still strapped in the caves. It was suggested in Entertainment Weekly magazine that this was done because after such an emotionally draining cinematic experience, American audiences wouldn’t appreciate the ‘uber hopeless’ finale. Evidently, however, British audiences prefer their endings to be uber hopeless. The more hopeless and depressing the better. Something else about this film that fucks with your head a little is the depiction of the Crawlers, who count females and vulnerable-yet-still-nasty children amongst their number which obviously means they’ve been multiplying down there. The Descent was followed in 2009 by a sequel, again staring Shauna MacDonald. However, despite having a much bigger budget, this was a comparative failure and struggled to break even.

Trivia Corner

The film’s marketing campaign in the UK was disrupted by the London bombings of July 2005. Advertisements on the city’s public transport system had included posters carrying the quote, “Outright terror… bold and brilliant,” and depicting a terrified woman screaming in a tunnel. The posters were recalled, and the campaign reworked to exclude the word “terror” from advertised reviews of the movie. The distributor’s marketing chief, Anna Butler, said of the new approach, “We changed tack to concentrate on the women involved all standing together and fighting back. That seemed to chime with the prevailing mood of defiance that set in the weekend after the bombs.”

 


Flame Wars!

I’ve had a few interesting experiences recently. My life is full of interesting experiences. I seem to attract them. But these particular interesting experiences involved social media.  What a strange world we’ve created. Sometimes, it’s a free-for-all. Other times, it’s worse. I’m talking about flame wars, people!

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A couple of weeks ago, a guy sent me a friend request on Facebook, closely followed by a copy-and-pasted ‘Please fund my Kickstarter’ message. He was trying to raise funds to make a horror movie. I replied, saying I’d be happy to support him, if he supported me in return. If he would be so kind as to buy one of my books, I would gladly make a comparable donation to his Kickstarter scheme. Seems like a fair deal, right?

You know what he did? He blocked me.

Rude!

Even Kickstarter guy couldn’t match another dude I ran into recently for pure assholery. This guy added me out of the blue claiming to be a ‘Hollywood Celebrity.’ It was actually in his Facebook bio. I messaged him, out of genuine interest, and asked how he won this celebrity status. In all fairness, he took time out of his busy superstar schedule to respond with a chirpy, ‘Hard work, motherfucker!’

I replied with, ‘What work is that?’ Quite reasonable, I thought. I wanted to get to know my new celebrity friend. Yup, that sucker blocked me, too.

I HATE it when people block me. I rarely feel strongly enough to block others. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a universal rule. Some blockings are completely justified. Like the fake profiles fronted up by stolen pics of babes in bikinis that just want to spam your page with ads for sunglasses, or the ridiculously attractive Filipino girls who want you to send them money for a new phone. You can also add angry exes, terrorists, asylum seekers, and assorted gold diggers and career criminals to that list. But the truth is, it’s rarely so dramatic. Most blockings result from trivial online disagreements.

For example, you might be involved in one of those ridiculous group chats at two in the morning discussing the merits (or not) of Metallica’s latest album, when someone disagrees with something you say and instantly hits the block button. That really gets my goat. It’s the equivalent of farting and leaving the room. What would happen if we all just blocked everyone who had a different opinion to us? Our narrow online world would soon be populated by a bunch of people who all think the same way we do. It world would become one big echo chamber. And how boring would that be?

It’s a sad indictment of the human condition that most people just want their ego stroked. In short, they want validation.

What they DON’T want is to be challenged. Some do, obviously. That’s why they actively seek out controversial topics and discussions and say stupid shit. But the vast majority just want people to agree with them. Say how right they are, and how wrong everyone else is.

Well, here’s an idea. How about us, as a race, manning the fuck up? If someone doesn’t agree with you, stand and fight your ground, put your ideas and opinion across in a calm, rational manner. Help the other person see things the way you do. Don’t just go crying off like a little gutless princess. That’s weak.

Some people jealously guard their Facebook page, as if anyone actually cares what they say on it. They keep their ‘friends’ to a minimum and have rules like, ‘If I don’t know you in real life, I don’t want to know you on FB.’

That’s understandable. But it’s not how I roll. My Facebook page is a free-for-all. An open window into my life. Being a struggling indie writer (we’re all struggling) I need the exposure, so the more ‘friends’ I have and the more interaction I can promote, the better. It’s an integral part of my platform. I also move around a lot. I’ve lived in eight cities in three countries over the past decade or so. Facebook makes it easy to stay in touch with people who would otherwise disappear from my life. So yeah, my Facebook page is utter carnage sometimes.

One of my pet hates is people coming on to one of my social media profiles and telling me off. My pages are my domain. You may as well run in my house and yell at me. Not cool. The Brexit debacle of 2016, closely followed by the American election, prompted a whole new level of Internet assholery. One acquaintance wrote ‘Get a better brain, get better friends,’ on my wall then promptly unfriended me. I messaged him to ask what his problem was, and apparently my crime was ‘liking’ something he didn’t like. I shit you not. This is how petty things were.

In the resultant fallout from Brexit, I was called things I’d never been called before, including right wing thug, fascist, and Nazi sympathiser. All those came from the same guy.

His issue stemmed from the fact that at the time I had a red dragon as my cover picture on my Facebook page, because Wales were doing well at the Euros (it’s a football tournament). Some people decided that because I had a dragon on my page, the national symbol of Wales, I must be a racist. What’s gone so wrong with society that people confuse national pride with racism?

When you take these accusers to task, they invariably try to show their superior intellect by nit-picking. In one conversation I misplaced an apostrophe. In another, I used the common abbreviation ‘U’ instead of ‘you’ because I couldn’t be bothered typing three letters when one would do. Both were jumped upon with great delight, as if that was the only thing that could justify their argument. MISPLACED APOSTROPHE? HA! YOU MUST BE A THICK XENOPHOBIC RACIST!!

Not really, mate.

Block.

The saddest and most ironic thing of all was that these ‘Remainers’ who supposedly pride themselves on a liberal attitude and racial tolerance made a snap judgement based on a picture. That isn’t very tolerant, is it? They believed what they WANTED to believe. They wanted to assume the moral high ground and label me a ‘Leaver’ and, by extension, right-wing, fascist, Nazi-sympathising scum. The truth is, I didn’t even vote to leave. Okay, I didn’t vote to remain, either. I was one of the apathetic 27.3% who couldn’t be arsed to vote at all. Far from being neutral, it turned out to be the only position guaranteed to piss almost everyone else off, except other people who by then had run out of all their fucks.

More recently, I made a tongue-in-cheek comment on a friend’s status, about him posting too many statuses, and one of his friends told me to go and kill myself.

Harsh.

And another block. I don’t need that level of hostility.

So what’s the takeaway from all this? Use social networks as tools, not weapons, and don’t be dicks about it.

This post first appeared on Deviant Dolls


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