Category Archives: Life

Time for Horror

Funny thing, time. And not funny ha-ha. It’s the one commodity you can’t buy, yet is by far the most valuable. And anyone who says that money can’t buy you love has obviously never been to Bangkok. It’s often said that a dying millionaire will gladly give up all his riches in exchange for just a few more minutes of life. Since I’ve never died or been a millionaire I can’t vouch for it’s veracity, but it certainly sounds plausible. The vast majority of people don’t want to die, and do anything to avoid it. That’s why you read about murder victims being stabbed 130 times or something. I’d wager the person doing the stabbing didn’t want to wield their blade that many times, either. Imagine how exhausting stabbing someone 130 times must be. I need a sit down after chopping up a chilli pepper. The stabber would probably much prefer the victim keel over and drop dead with a soft, world-weary sigh after one strike the way they do in movies, but that rarely (if ever) happens. I once saw someone get stabbed at a football match. It just pissed him off.

It grates on me when I see people complain that they’d love to write something, but just haven’t got the time. Not enough that I’d want to stab them 130 times. But close. The reason is, we all have shit going on. Day jobs, night jobs, kids, pets, hobbies, demanding relationships, drug addictions, all of which we balance with the countless other responsibilities that come with being grown up. However, the harsh truth is that we always find time for the things we really value. Things we really enjoy doing. Things we can’t live without.

We all have the same 24-hours in a day. You, me, Stephen King, Lady Ga Ga. The only difference is what we do with those hours. Most writers seem to be ‘morning people.’ I know, right? The mere thought is enough to make most people’s blood turn to ice. The aforementioned Sai King is a shining example; his routine involves getting up early, going for a walk, getting the bulk of his writing done before midday, then slacking off as the day grinds on to its inevitable conclusion.

One of my most productive times as a writer was in my early twenties when I worked full-time at a local packing factory. It was my job to put the little bar codes on boxes of pills. Hundreds of boxes a shift. Thousands. You probably know the score. Your supervisor sets you a target of 15,000. You bust your balls to hit it, and when you finally achieve as much, they simply raise the target to 15,500. this, I’m told, is management.

At its best the job was fraught with difficulty, like when the bar codes won’t go on exactly as they should, or they were blurry or something. And at its best, when everything was going well, the work was mind-numbingly boring. I was alone a lot, meaning that I had hours and hours every day to think about what I was going to write about when my shift ended. I’d run through endless scenarios in my head, putting my characters through all kinds of shit and filling in ever conceivable plot hole. It helped pass the time. When I finally got home I could easily knock out 1500 words or more in an hour or two before going to bed. No messing around. No hesitation marks. No gazing off into space waiting for the perfect word to pop into my head.

Later, when I left the factory and writing became my actual job, and I could spend all day writing if I wanted to, I just didn’t. You know what it’s like; you get wrapped up in a juicy news story or disappear down some rabbit hole or other and everything else fades into the background. Recently, I wasted almost half a day reading about Biffy Clyro b-sides and CD bonus tracks. I don’t even fucking like Biffy Clyro. Who does? They haunt that horrid middle ground between indie and rock without ever fully committing either way, trying to be all things to all people and only succeeding in being nothing much to anyone. So yeah, as my deadline looms ominously closer I procrastinate and generally do anything except write. And it’s not just me. I’ve worked with dozens of writers, and we’re all the fucking same. Well, most of us. There’s always that one guy who does everything on time, and perfectly. Don’t we all hate that dude? The rest of us just watch the clock tick down until, when we can put it off no longer, we start writing. At least that’s my modus operandi. And guess what? I never miss a deadline.

The point I’m trying to make is you can achieve anything you want if you put your mind to it. You just have to put your mind to it. I don’t want to look back at a life of wasted time and missed opportunities, being all bitter and resentful. If only I’d done that, or this, if only I’d found the time. Don’t wait until it’s too late, and don’t you dare point fingers and blame other people for your own shortcomings. Take control of your life, take responsibility, and most importantly, figure out what’s important to you and then spend as much time as is humanly possible doing it. If your thing is horror, immersive yourself in it. Read books, watch movies, explore abandoned mental hospitals, sit in graveyards at midnight. Hell, tie yourself to a chair and force yourself to watch the Star Wars Christmas special from 1978 on repeat if you have to. Trust me, it’s probably the most horrible thing you will ever experience. Savour the dread and soak in the blood.

It doesn’t even need to be good horror. If you’re a writer, for example, you can learn just as much from reading a terrible book as you can from reading a classic. You just learn from the other end. You learn what NOT to do. What’s deemed ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ is subjective, anyway. Have you seen Death Ship from 1980? About the tourists whose cruise ship sinks and are then picked up by a WWII-era German prison ship controlled by a mysterious dark force? No? I’m not surprised. Not many people have. TV Guide called the movie “ludicrous” and gave it a one-star rating. Me, I loved it. Fuck the TV Guide. What’s not to love? Shipwrecks, Nazi zombies, Richard Crenna from the Rambo films. And if all that wasn’t enough, look at that poster!

I advise you to seek it out immediately while you still can, before a rogue terrorist cell nukes the internet or something and you won’t be able to stream it or order it from Amazon. All this calls to mind a depressing yet entirely accurate line from Iron Maiden’s classic tune The Clairvoyant, “Isn’t it strange that as soon as you’re born you’re dying?”

Like I said, it’s a funny thing, time. And not funny ha-ha. We should make the most of it because as someone much smarter than me said, ‘time we enjoy is not time wasted.’ Or something. And if you’re reading this I am 100% sure you’d enjoy Death Ship. By the way, you can read about more hidden cinematic gems, both old and new, in my RetView series.

This piece was first published in the Terror Tract ezine.


The Promotion Experiment

Like most hybrid or indie writers, the most difficult things for me is making sales. Writing is the easy part. They say you have to spend money to make money, so for the past three or four months I’ve been doing an experiment; instead of spending all my spare dosh on booze and kebabs (can’t go out in the midst of a global pandemic anyway) I decided to put all the money I make from writing during that period back into writing. Or more specifically, into marketing and promotion.

As you may be aware, there hundreds of promo sites and services out there and most of them cost money. Bookbub is the undisputed king, which I wrote about before, but as far as the multitude of others are concerned, it’s hard to know which ones are truly worth the money they charge and which aren’t. Hence this little experiment. There is little scientific basis behind it. I didn’t do a ton of research, I just looked around to see how much various promo sites cost and what people were saying about them, and tried a few. I’m going to be completely honest and transparent with my figures, so don’t laugh. Believe me, I’m well aware that some people out there sell more books me.

It’s a sad fact that one way to grab new readers is to get on your knees and beg them to read your work for free. Though it’s not really free for them, they’re still giving up their time and energy. Giving away free books is a controversial marketing technique in itself. Some writers feel it devalues the product, and makes things worse for everybody in the long run. If readers get used to being given free books, why would they ever bother buying another book again?

I can see their point, but in my experience giving away freebies has been hugely beneficial. To clarify, I’m talking about free Kindle promos here which run for a limited time, one to five days, rather than permafrees or books given away on newsletter sign-up. For starters, people who would never normally read my books are given the opportunity to check them out, and if they like my stuff it might encourage them to pick up another one and pay for it. They might even leave a review somewhere. Plus, an increase in downloads, free or otherwise, improves your author ranking and skews various algorithms in your favour, all of which adds to your visibility. For obvious reasons, if you’re going to run a free promo on one of your books you’re better off making it one of a series, or at least having a healthy back catalogue.

CONFESSION: I also write rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books under a super secret pseudonym. It’s difficult to promote something when you can’t even put your own name to it, so because THAT GUY had a new release a while back (book 3 in a series), I thought I’d invest the lion’s share of my budget into giving him a little boost. The Fussy Librarian is one of the better-known services but they aren’t cheap, and some strategizing is required to make it worthwhile. The series is about China, so to capitalize on the Western media coverage I scheduled the promotion to run during Chinese New Year. I made the first book in the main series free, left book two up at normal price (1.99) and put book three up for pre-order at a reduced 0.99. Then I paid a whopping $48 for a spot on the FL site and in their ‘non-fiction’ newsletter blast, and waited to see what would happen.

By the way, spots in different FL newsletters have different prices, related to the amount of subscribers each one has. But if you’re a first-time user, you can input the code 10OFF at check-out to get $10 off the regular price, which for me knocked the fee down to $38. Not to put too fine a point on it, the results were incredible. On the day of the promotion, my book was downloaded 1016 times, and a further 258 times over the next few days. Okay, the pessimists might say that all I succeeded in doing was give away over £2500 worth of books. But if only 1% of those who downloaded it leaves a review or even just a rating (optimistic, I know) I’ll be more than happy. In addition, during the same time period the second book in the series sold a dozen copies and I picked up six pre-orders for the third which off-set the cost somewhat.

Verdict: Hit

EreaderIQ have a list of requirements almost as long as your arm. Novellas and collections are ‘unlikely’ to be accepted, your books should have at least five reviews and should be free or deeply discounted. A place in their email blasting in the ‘horror’ category which, according to the site, reaches 9,500 subscribers, costs $10 (other categories have different rates). I put my recently reissued and revamped novel Sker House forward for this, which was duly accepted. The day of the listing it sold 9 copies, and the day after it sold another 3. Not bad. But because I had to discount the book so much, I made a slight loss on my investment.

Verdict: Partial Hit

Readfreely are less particular. $6 (gold level, again there are different options) buys your book a spot in their newsletter and promotion across their social media platforms. It’s difficult to quantify how big their reach is, but as they have less than 4,000 Twitter followers, which is a great indicator, I’m guessing it isn’t great. I put X4, my latest collection, forward for this one at it’s regular price of £1.99 (though I said it was being discounted from 3.99. Shoot me). X4 sold one solitary copy on the designated date, which sucks, but over the next few days sales of my other X books increased and I sold several of each, which may or may not be related. I’m not convinced either way.

Verdict: Miss

Because this is one of the most cost-effective options, I repeated the process with one of my pseudonym’s rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books. The results were similar.

Verdict: Miss

There are two connected sites, Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy. One is for free books, and the other, surprise surprise, is for bargain (reduced) books. I opted for the latter, and paid $25 to have X4 included in an email blast to 77,000 subscribers. On the day of promotion, X4 sold a dozen copies and, mirroring the pattern in the last promo, my other x books also benefitted from a sales bump and sold another dozen or so between them.

Verdict: Hit

The last, and most recent thing I tried was Amazon ads. I’m a complete novice at this. You need an effing degree in economics and marketing just to work out which key words to use. Like most things it’s a case of trial and error. Basically, you set a daily budget, choose your settings, and are then billed per click. I set a budget of $5 per day for 5 consecutive days on my psuedonym’s latest release, which resulted in just five clicks at a total cost of about $3.40 and no sales. Then I ran a similar promo on X4 with a higher budget over a longer period of time and got similar results but for a bigger outlay (around $18). It was at this pint I realized I must either be doing something wrong or Amazon ads, like Facebook ads, were a complete waste of time. I hear stories about people making a killing from Amazon ads. I might try it again at some point in the future after I learn more about it but for the time being, I think I’ll lay off them.

Verdict: Miss

So, all things considered, it was a mixed bag of results. I must admit that in the back of my mind I’d hoped all this effort would at least give my Amazon ranking a lasting boost. But the moment I stopped actively promoting, my sales virtually flatlined. Turns out worthwhile promotion of any kind is expensive, but if you don’t promote you don’t get any sales and you throw money down the drain anyway. There are, of course, reasonably effective ways of marketing your work for free using social media and cross-promotion, if you have the time and the energy. Maybe I’ll write another post about that at some point. In the meantime, I hope other indie writers, who may be as confused and bewildered as me, can get a few pointers from this post. It all boils down to doing your research, knowing your target market, and choosing the right places to invest based on your budget and readership.

I think.


Roach on Scare Street!

Roach, my ‘creature feature’ short story, is included in the new anthology, Night Terrors Volume 12 on Scare Street Publishing.

Here’s the ToC:

1. Cross Words by Peter Cronsberry
2. Hybrid by Justin Boote
3. Pipe Dreams by William Sterling
4. “For My Next Trick…” by Bryan Clark
5. Blood Debt by Susan E. Rogers
6. Smudge the Head by Kyle Winkler
7. See Me by Charles Welch
8. Half Larva, Will Travel by Andrey Pissantchev
9. Just We Two by Shell St. James
10. Caustic Whispers by Zach Friday
11. Roach by C. M. Saunders
12. Unarmed by Warren Benedetto
13. Gwen Speaks by Ron Ripley

I wrote the first draft of Roach in the autumn of 2019 when I was teaching at a college in Guangzhou, southern China. There are a lot of cockroaches in Guangzhou. The nucleus of the idea came from a news item I read about Chinese cockroach farms.

I ended up doing a ton of research and writing an article for Fortean Times magazine about it. fascinating stuff. These farms breed millions and millions of the little critters, the official line being that they are used in Chinese medicine. As a bi-product, they can also be used in waste disposal and even as a food source. Who knows? The whole thing, like most things in China, is shrouded in secrecy. This has led to speculation that these genetically modified insect armies could be weaponised, though probably not in the way described in the story.

As if cockroaches weren’t scary enough, right?

Night Terrors Vol 12 is out now on ebook and paperback.


2020 in Review

Well, that was a weird year, wasn’t it? It started with a worldwide pandemic and flooding on an almost biblical-scale, and then just got progressively worse. These are scary, worrying times. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Not in my lifetime, anyway. At least it’s not boring. I always tell my students that only boring people get bored. You just have to make things happen, instead of sitting around waiting. Me, I spent a lot of time watching Starsky & Hutch and TJ Hooker repeats on the Sony Channel and listening to Dangerous Summer. Whatever keeps you sane, right? I also read a lot of books, which you can find a list of here.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a couple of new short stories, including Down the Plughole which I based on my student days in a grimy houseshare in Southampton, and an x-rated shocker called Painted Nails about a junkie who wakes up with a foreign body embedded in his cock. I also bashed out a rare sci-fi tale called Down to Earth and a couple of new drabbles (100-word stories). I’ll hopefully find homes for them later this year. On the subject of drabbles, Louie’s Room was included in 100 Word Horrors 4 at the turn of the year. That meant I was lucky enough to have stories in each of the first four volumes of the series.

Being locked down so much, I did a ton of promo. My Twitter audience grew by about 20% to around 8,600, and the ‘likes’ on my Facebook author page swelled. That stuff is important to prospective employers, agents and publishers. I also scheduled a year’s worth of blog posts. My RetView series is continuing to grow in popularity. Check out the most recent entry, Megan is Missing (2011).

Elsewhere, I sold non-fiction articles to Fortean Times about the Hong Kong protests and cockroach farming and a couple more instructional pieces to Writer’s Weekly including Writing the Perfect Blurb, High-Paying Flash Fiction Markets and How to Find Your Micro Niche, while I also picked up some work for a website called DaiSport, which allowed me to stalk Newport County legend Fraser Franks and pursue my two great loves; Wales and MMA. I’m still trying to find a way to incorporate beer into the mix.

In ‘fiction world’ my fourth collection of short fiction, X4, was released on February 20th just because I thought the release date 20/02/20 was kinda cool. It hit the ground running and picked up some great reviews. My story Demon Tree appeared on Haunted MTL, and in April Blood Bound Books put out a furry-based anthology entitled Burnt Fur, which included my story The Others. It is probably one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, not least because it was based on a story an old girlfriend told me. Later in the year, my story Holiday of a Lifetime appeared in another anthology by the same publisher called Welcome to the Splatterclub – Seasoned Meat. If The Others is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, Holiday of a Lifetime is probably one of the most balls-out disgusting things I’ve ever written. I actually threw up in my mouth a little bit whilst doing the edits.

In other news, K Trap Jones started his own publishing company (go Trap!) and accepted my short story Grower into his very first anthology, Brewtality, which had a beer theme. Right up my dark alley. Elsewhere, Surzhai, about sex trafficking, immortal ancient Chinese warriors and revenge, appeared in ParABnormal magazine and my tragic love story Loose Ends was included in the lit mag 34 Orchard. The fun didn’t stop there. Later in the year, I contributed to the charity anthology It Came From the Darkness, Scary Mary appeared in Jester of Hearts and Finders Keepers in the Christmas charity anthology on Terror Tract publishing.

Terror Tract also published my novella, Tethered, the story of a journalism graduate who inadvertently gets sucked into a dark world of internet rituals, serial killers and strange disappearances. TT is fronted by Becky Narron, who is a living legend of the horror scene and it was an honour and a thrill to work with her. After the release of Tethered I entered into a promo cycle and did some interviews and guest blogs with the likes of Redrum Reviews, EB Lunsford and Kendall Reviews, where I took up the temporary post of warden, to add to the interview I did with Haunted MTL earlier in the year.

After that I focused my attention on finishing my novel Bones: A Ben Shivers Mystery (working title), the first in a planned series about a P.I. (Paranormal Investigator) who travels the country in a VW camper with a cat called Mr. Trimble. I started it in the summer of 2019, then got sidetracked by other stuff. The first draft was an absolute mess, but four drafts later, into September 2020, it was in much better shape. Before the metaphorical ink was wet, I launched straight into the next book in the series, Cuts, which currentky stands at about 40k words. Amidst all this I revised, remixed, revamped and reissued Sker House, my attempt at the great Welsh haunted house story and explained my reasoning for doing such a thing here.

To sum up, 2020 was a weird, yet productive year. Personally, I’m hoping for the same level of productivity in 2021 but with slightly less weirdness.


Loose Ends @ 34 Orchard

I generally try to avoid literary fiction. In my experience, it is a path lined with pretentious smugness and people all trying to sound more clever than the next. On rare occasions, though, I stumble across a literary magazine which is filled with quality writing but less elitist and altogether more accessible. 34 Orchard, edited by the incredible Kristi Petersen Schoonover, is one of these. Its tag line, “The most frightening ghosts are the ones within,” sums up 34 Orchard’s ethos nicely, in that it deals more with uncomfortable and no-less terrifying topics like grief and abandonment, rather than the usual horror tropes. Also, it doesn’t cost the earth. You can get the e-version for free, or you can pay a voluntary donation. Trust me, it’s worth it. 

34 Orchard is published biannually, and you can find my contribution, a short story called Loose Ends, in issue two. Loose Ends is about a young couple who fall in love, and are forced to confront the hopelessness and sheer futility of it all. They are isolated in a small village, their parents don’t agree with the relationship, and they are stuck in dead-end jobs. They can see no way out, no route to happiness, and come to a horrific final decision.

The title, and the general concept of the story, comes from a Bruce Springsteen track of the same name from his Tracks compilation. It carries many of the same themes as my interpretation, and is just the kind of dark, self-destructive love song The Boss is famous for. Check out the lyrics:

“It’s like we had a noose and baby without check
We pulled ’til it grew tighter around our necks
Each one waiting for the other, darling to say when
Well baby you can meet me tonight on the loose end.”

The rope in the song is clearly intended as being metaphorical, perhaps not so much in my story.

Issue 2 of 34 Orchard featuring Loose Ends is available now.


The Facebook Album Cover Challenge

I usually try to avoid these things. They are a drain on my time and resources, and more often than not completely pointless. This challenge, though, caught my attention. So much so, that I want to share it here. My Facebook page is a shit show. Things get buried and I often delete stuff without warning – usually when two or more of my acquaintances start arguing on one of my threads about Bigfoot or something. But this is my permanent record. It’s where things are kept for posterity, which is why you will find a near-complete record of everything I’ve ever had published here.

I was nominated by Douglas Sutherland (a madcap Canadian I first met when I worked at Southampton FC a lifetime ago – we later became house mates) to share one album per day for 10 consecutive days that influenced my taste in music – no explanations, no reviews, only the covers. It was pretty hard not to explain myself sometimes. I found the first few albums came easily, but the less choices I had left the harder it became and by day 10 there were five or six albums vying for a mention. 

So here they are for your perusal, in the order I posted them (which wasn’t in order of preference).

dark

word

once upon a time

whitesnake 87

ad2

astoria

enema

 

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27 Everywhere

The number 27 has been a big part of my life for, well, since forever. I’ve blogged about it before here and there. It just seems to follow me, cropping up far more than it should. I’m still none the wiser about how it works or what any of it means, but as I get older I have become better at recognizing signs and patterns. I used to think that when I encountered number 27 it was like a ‘thumbs up’ from the universe, meaning I was somehow on the right track. But over time it has slowly become apparent that I was wrong.

Now, I firmly believe that the arrival of 27 heralds a period of seismic change in my life. Kind of like an early-warning system. It happens in clusters, and the more incidences involving the number 27 there are, the bigger the changes I am to expect. I know it’s just a number, and by the law of averages I’m going to come across it occasionally, especially if I’m already sensitive to it. But I can go for months without seeing it once, and then bang. It’s everywhere, all the time.

When I tell people about this they usually think I’m nuts, or they just put it down to coincidence. So this time I decided to take some photos to document it. As a bit of background, when this all happened between late 2019 and early 2020 when I was living in Guangzhou, China, and working as an IELTS instructor.

My then-girlfriend and I talked about destiny a lot. And one day she bought me a surprise gift, mostly because I was born on March 27.

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That seemed to kickstart the ’27 burst.’ And how.

Just to clarify, all these instances happened within a few of weeks of each. Sometimes there were several a day and became so commonplace that and I didn’t even bother documenting all of them. What you see here is a selection of the most impressive. 

Anyway, here goes.

One day I had to go to the government offices to file some paperwork. I took a cab.

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When I arrived, I was early so I popped in a nearby McDonalds. This was my bill…

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On weekends, my girlfriend and I would sometimes buy a takeaway. The delivery guy would leave it in a bank of numbered lockers outside my apartment, and send a code to your phone to open it. There are hundreds of lockers them, but that particular evening…

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In the midst of all this, I was reading on my Kindle a lot. the name of this book escapes me, but it struck me as especially relevant because that line, “It’s Christian, but just call me Chris,” is one I rehash on a remarkably regular basis, and it appeared at 27%.

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A few days later, my girlfriend and I went to McDonalds again (shoot me). You very rarely have to wait for food, but when you do they give you a number.

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Then there was the Chinese New year gala at my college. Every teacher was given a raffle ticket with a number. Here’s mine:

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Incidentally, I won a prize that night. A suitcase. Which I now take to be another sign. Another came when I treated my girl to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Our bill came to 702 RMB, which is 27 backwards.

It was cloudy but uncharacteristically warm at that time, even for Guangzhou.

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I had planned a trip back to the UK during the Chinese New year holiday, and treated myself to a box of craft beer. When it arrived, it had a random number scrawled on it…

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Whilst home, I published my fourth collection of short fiction. I paid an graphic artist to do some artwork for it. Here’s my bill:

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Then I received word from my college in Guangzhou that due to the coronavirus, we wouldn’t be able to return to work on February 27 as planned. Instead, we will have to wait until May at the earliest. This was not ideal. Consequently, my girlfriend and I decided to call it a day.

Presumably, these are the seismic changes the universe was warning me about.

As I write this (on 27 February) the current death toll of the coronavirus stands at 2,798.

(EDIT: Of course, as we now know the virus then went on to ravage the worldwide economy and claim tens of thousands of lives).

I was discussing all this with one of my students online one afternoon. She said the situation is not improving much, but at least the weather is getting better over there. She sent me a screen shot of her phone, unprompted, to prove it…

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The Bell in Dark Moments

Without getting all preachy about it, one of the best things about writing fiction is that it gives me a platform to address, often indirectly, issues that I usually tend to shy away from. In the past I have used this medium to write about suicide (Those Left Behind) social decay and rising violent crime rates (Switchblade Sunday, Vicar on the Underground) and the decline of the print industry and the changing face of the rock scene (The Delectable Hearts). It’s not that I’m trying to be some kind of social justice warrior. In fact, sometimes I don’t know what themes my stories are addressing until after they are finished. It’s more cathartic than anything else. Maybe it’s my way of dealing with the shit. I believe that to some extent art should be like a mirror, held up to reflect us, and our lives.

The Bell, my fifth story published so far this year, is now free to read on Dark Moments, an online zine published by Black Hare Press. It’s a micro-fiction piece about cancer, so be warned it makes for uncomfortable reading.

That’s the point.

I’ve lost several family members to cancer, as we all have. I’ll be donating my fee to Cancer Research UK, and I encourage my readers to think about making a small donation to this or an equivalent charity because FUCK CANCER.

 


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


Where the ‘M’ Comes From

I’ve been doing this for a while now, and you may have noticed I use different names for different kinds of writing. For academic writing and more formal or serious stuff, I use my full given name. It looks more official. For sport, lifestyle and comedy writing, I use the slightly snappier moniker Chris Saunders. And for fiction, I usually use the name C.M. Saunders . There are practical reasons for doing this. I like to keep different facets of my writing career separate because it’s easier to get my head around. Besides that, the people who read my horror fiction would probably be deeply disappointed if they accidentally picked up one of my travel books, or the one I wrote about Cardiff City FC, and vice versa.

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me why I use C.M. Saunders, especially since I don’t actually have a middle name, and so no middle initial. It’s kind of a happy coincidence that my boyhood nickname was Moony. Because I have a round face, apparently. I guess it could have been a lot worse. There was a boy in my street called Dickhead. Anyway, no. That’s not where the M comes from. It’s not as straightforward as that. But there is a very good reason for it and I’m going to tell you what that reason is.

It’s for my grandfather on my mother’s side. Firstly, he’s probably part of the reason I grew up to be so into the whole horror thing. He was a big reader, and would go to the local library a couple of times a week. This was back when libraries had books. Whenever I went to visit him and my grandmother in his bungalow at the top of the village when I was a kid, he would always have the latest horror novels lying on the table next to his reading chair. I was too young to read them, or even remember much, I just loved looking at those covers. Stephen King, James Herbert, Graham Masterton.

A little word about my granddad, or Pop as we called him. His name was Stanley Martin. Here he is with my gran and my sister in 1982.

thumbnail_lilian,stan and tina 1982 (2)

And here’s where he lived, New Tredegar, south Wales.

New Tredegar, South Wales

Like my other granddad on my father’s side, he was a coal miner almost all his life. Proper old school Welsh. This is Elliot’s Town colliery, where he used to work.

_45605014_elliot_colliery

Being a miner was a hard life. He would delight in telling me, my sister, and cousins horror stories. Some were things that really happened to him or his friends, some were local myths or legends, and he probably made the rest up just to entertain us. The man was covered in little blue scars where coal dust had got into his cuts when he was underground, and he was still coughing up black shit twenty years after he was pensioned off. He and my nan Lillian had three daughters, including my mother. All three daughters grew up and got married. As per tradition, when they got married they took the names of their husbands so pretty soon, the Martin name disappeared. I always thought that was a bit sad, and when I started taking fiction a bit more seriously and was looking around for a pseudonym to distinguish it from my journalism, I thought using the ‘M’ initial might be a cool way to keep the name ‘Martin’ alive. Stanley Martin died a long time ago, and when he did his surname died with him. Now, every time I have something published under the name C.M. Saunders, it’s a silent nod to the man who introduced me to horror. If there’s a heaven, I know he’s up there looking down and winking at me.


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