My latest short story The Wailing is now live, and free to read, on the literary website twentytwotwentyeight, who you may remember published another of my stories, Those Left Behind, a while back. This is, I think, my tenth published short story of the year with a couple more scheduled to come before 2021 is out. That’s something of a landmark for me because I don’t think I’ve ever got into double figures before. Let’s call it a pandemic perk.
The Wailing is a re-working of a folk tale someone told me when I was living in China, so I can’t take complete credit for it. As far as I’m aware it’s a bona fide chunk of folklore and as we all know, folklore usually contains an element of truth.
I was working at a university campus in Xiangtan at the time, a beautiful place deep in the countryside of Hunan province which looks a lot like this:
The funny thing is, one night after I first heard this story I remember being in bed at night and hearing the sounds of a baby crying somewhere off in the distance. That was especially strange because as I said, I lived on a uni campus and there weren’t any babies there as far as I know. Weird.
You can find my short story Eeva in Part 1 of the third Books of Horror Community Anthology. Books of Horror is one of the biggest and best-established horror-centric Facebook groups around, and it’s always a good place for readers and writers to hang out and get to know each other. If you take a glance at the tables of contents in this two-book set it’s like a who’s who of horror fiction, and I’m very proud to be included.
The Books of Horror Community Anthology Volume 3, Part 1 is out now.
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.
I’m happy to report that my short story Hell-bent is included in the anthology Terror Unleashed 2 on Skywatcher Press, a new publisher specializing in, “Horror, thrillers, mystery and suspense, science-fiction, fantasy, and anything else that falls to the dark side.”
Hell-bent is about two friends, Leon and Gabriel, who go looking for war memorabilia in a forest in Belgium which saw some of the most fierce fighting in World War Two. They find an artefact, and then shit gets weird.
What they find is an old rotting gas mask, which ‘takes over’ anybody who puts it on and fills them with all the fury and bloodlust of a demented soldier hell-bent on revenge and destruction. Whilst this may sound terrifying, it might actually turn out beneficial for one of the boys who has a very dark family background.
I had fun with this story. I can usually point to something, a news item or an event, that provides the seed from which a story grows. But as far as I remember, Hell-bent is one of those that seemed to come from nothing. At least nothing I’m aware of. As macabre as it may be, war memorabilia is big business. People want to own a piece of history, so mass-produced reproductions just won’t cut it. Instead, they buy and sell knives and other weapons, spent cartridges, helmets, military badges and insignia, everyday items used by soldiers, literally anything you can imagine because there’s a story attached to everything.
My novella Tethered has been picking up some stonking reviews recently, like this one by E.B. Lundsford. By the way, you should check out her website if you know what’s good for you.
This is what she said:
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this book, but I’ve read some of the author’s short stories and really enjoyed them, so I decided to give it a shot. Boy, am I glad that I did! This novella blew me away. It was unique, the storytelling was good, the characters were interesting, and the twist ending was great.
A reporter stumbles across a young woman’s blog while researching for his next article and becomes hooked. He is fascinated by the girl and the rituals she posts about. When she goes missing, he decides to try and find her. To quote the book, “This wasn’t about sex. That would make it trite and cliched. It was about reaching out and taking a chance. Shining a light in a world of darkness and making a difference.”
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but the ending was superb. “It’s quite simple, really. You see, people are gullible. They see what they want to see, and believe what they want to believe. It would be a sin not to take advantage of such… stupidity.”
I can’t recommend this book enough. I look forward to reading more of Mr. Saunders work”
Back from the Dead is a collection of zombie fiction featuring two complete novellas alongside several short stories previously published in the likes of Morpheus Tales and Crimson Streets, plus a brand-new novelette. Both paperback and ebook also include an exclusive introduction and artwork by the award-winning Greg Chapman.
Praise for the stories in this book:
“This is very well written and not to ruin anything but the ending is amazing! Definitely check this one out. I am now a fan!”
(Dead of Night)
“C. M. Saunders does a fine job here with these long-lost Confederate dead in the North Carolina Piedmont. He manages a winning balance between gory horror and interpersonal relationship, between splatter and genuine human emotions.”
(Dead of Night)
“It’s a zombie story with an original twist that I appreciated. It’s well written, flows nicely, and both of the (live) characters are well developed and believable. Let’s face it – The woods are a creepy place even in the daylight sometimes and thanks to CM Saunders I won’t be camping anytime soon.”
(Dead of Night)
“Dan Pallister woke up one morning to find the world had gone to hell over night. The zombie apocalypse has arrived without warning. But wait… there is something odd about these zombies. Why do some of them seem to be going about their usual human habits? Oh well, Dan doesn’t have time to ponder all the gruesome details!”
(‘Til Death do us Part)
“Awesome read, a great story with a huge twist which I shall not reveal. Very enjoyable, very entertaining for lovers of splatterpunk and a great tale that draws the reader in as we see through the eyes of the zombie killer… I’m saying no more, find out yourself.”
Every year when Halloween comes around, I wish I’d written a Halloween story. Obviously, it’s too late by then, so last year I surpassed even my own pre-planning capabilities and wrote one in January. Kaboom. That also gave me a few months to sell the fucker.
The story I came up with is called Misshapes & Rejects, and in a nutshell it’s about pumpkins. Not pumpkins in nutshells, that would just be weird. I’ve always thought there was something creepy about the treatment pumpkins get around Halloween. All the cutting and carving and stuff. I also wanted to make a bit of a point about isolation and anti-social behaviour, and like a perfect storm all these elements came together. It happened quickly, too. Once I had the germ of the idea, the story followed quickly and was finished in a single sitting. That feat isn’t as impressive as it might sound, in its entirety Misshapes & Rejects is less than 1000 words.
When I finish a story, I routinely go through it three, four, even five or six times, endlessly tweaking, polishing and modifying until there is nothing left to tweak, polish or modify. However, Misshapes & Rejects didn’t need much heavy lifting. Sometimes, you just know you’ve nailed it. It was accepted by the first place I submitted it too, a Halloween-themed anthology due to be released on [name redacted, like in the movies].
Then things got messy.
The would-be publisher refused to pay any contributors then eventually pulled the book from sale, but not before they pocketed funds they’d raised through crowd funding and pre-orders. Big scene. Long story short, the publishing rights on Missahpes & Rejects quickly reverted back to me and the dance began again.
Luckily, it soon found a new home, in the book Handmade Horror Stories put together by Frost Zone Press, the lovely people who just last year published my story Alone, Or… , and edited by the supremely talented MM MacLeod..
As the marketing material says, “Handmade Horror Stories is an anthology of art and craft-themed short horror fiction. From quiet horrors to chilling nightmares, these tales give new meaning to being creative.”
I’m pleased to announce that my short story Harberry Close is included in the anthology Railroad Tales on Midnight Street Press.
Table of Contents:
THE TRACKS THROUGH THE FOREST John Kiste
AWAYDAYS Allen Ashley
THE HOOSAC TUNNEL LEGACY Norm Vigeant
RAILWAY MUTTON CURRY Nidheesh Samant
THE NUMBER NINE James E. Coplin
GHOST-WALKER Andrew Darlington
SPARROW’S FLIGHT Nancy Brewka-Clark
HARBERRY CLOSE C. M. Saunders
GEISTERBAHNHOF Saoirse Ni Chiaragáin
THE ANNIVERSARY David Penn
ACROSS THE VALE Catherine Pugh
WHERE THE TRAIN STOPS Susan York
THE NIBBLER Gayle Fidler
SHORT PLATFORM Gary Couzens
WILSHIRE STATION Caitlin Marceau
AND YOU HEARD THE RATTLING DEATH TRAIN Simon Bestwick
NOT ALL TRAINS CRASH Steven Pirie
BALLYSHANNON JUNCTION Jim Mountfield
CABOOSE Andrew Hook
THE TRACKS Michael Gore
THE DEVIL RIDES THE NIGHT TRAIN Curtis James McConnell
THE PIER STATION George Jacobs
THE SAMOVAR A. J. Lewis
Between 2013 and 2017 I lived in London. I was working long hours and commuting for up to four or five hours a day, so I didn’t have much time to write fiction. I think of Harberry Close as a good representation of my ‘London period,’ along with Vicar on the Underground and maybe Subject #270374. I don’t think its much of a surprise that two of those stories feature public transport prominently and the other is about an overworked and under-appreciated journalist who goes mental and decapitates his boss.
I wrote about the origins of Harberry Close, which was first published in Dark Harvest, in more detail here. Thanks to Trevor Denyer for giving it a new lease of life!
And it’s a cracker! The only problem is, the review appeared on the Spanish version of Amazon which most people might not see. Unless you happen to be in Spain. Assuming that isn’t the case because we aren’t all that lucky, I’ve reproduced the review for you here.
Highly original take on the zombie trope
“As I said above, these are some of the most original zombie stories I have ever read which is hard to say nowadays considering how many there are already written. In these six stories you will find everything from sword-wielding zombies, a return to the Bubonic plague and all its consequences, possible alien zombies, an elderly couple starving to death with eyes set on each other, a different take on roadkill, and a private detective with an unusual request.
The whole collection thoroughly well edited making each story flow seamlessly, I read through this collection in just two days, and was left wanting more, much more. I hope the author returns to this trope and writes some more short stories because I enjoyed them all that much.
For zombie fans, definitely worth grabbing a copy-you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
In the market for some creepy holiday reading? Good. Your timing couldn’t be better, because my new book, Back from the Dead, has just dropped on ebook and paperback.
Here’s the blurb:
A collection of zombie fiction from British journalist and dark fiction writer C.M. Saunders, featuring two complete novellas alongside short stories previously published in the likes of Morpheus Tales, Crimson Streets and the anthology Digital Horror Fiction Volume 1, plus a brand-new novelette.
Also includes an exclusive introduction and artwork by the award-winning Greg Chapman.
Dead of Night: young lovers Nick and Maggie go camping in the woods, only to come face-to-face with a group of long-dead Confederate soldiers who don’t know, or care, that the war is over.
Human Waste: Dan Pallister wakes up one morning to find the zombie apocalypse has started. Luckily, he’s been preparing for it most of his life. He just needs to grab some supplies from the supermarket…
‘Til Death do us Part: When the world as we know it comes to an abrupt end, an elderly couple are trapped in their apartment. They get by as best they can, until they run out of food.
Roadkill: A freelance ambulance crew are plunged into a living nightmare when a traffic accident victim they pick up just won’t stay dead. He has revenge on his mind.
The Plague Pit: A curious teenager goes exploring the Welsh countryside one summer afternoon and stumbles across a long-abandoned chapel. What he finds there might change the world, and not for the better.
Dead Men Don’t Bleed: A gumshoe private eye is faced with his most challenging case yet when a dead man walks into his office and asks for help solving his own murder. Complete and unabridged version of the story previously published as ‘Dead Man Walking.‘
Drawn from a variety of sources, all these tales have one thing in common; they explore what might happen if our worst nightmares are realized and people came BACK FROM THE DEAD.