Tag Archives: C.M. Saunders

Twenty Years!?

I saw a Facebook post recently which reminded me of something. Well, not so much ‘reminded me’ of something, more like hit me over the head with something. It’s been twenty years since I had my first story published. Twenty fucking years. I was going to say it’s been twenty years since I started writing, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. My first published story was called Monkey Man, and it came out in a Welsh literature magazine called Cambrensis some time in 1997. It was a different landscape back then. In the late-nineties there was a thriving small press consisting of various genre mags as opposed to a glut of websites. I also had some early success in Raw Nerve, the Asphalt Jungle, Roadworks, Tales of the Grotesque & Arabesque and several others. The thing was, even back then I was very conscious of getting paid for my efforts, and the vast majority of these titles didn’t offer anything except ‘exposure.’ In fact, when you consider materials, printing and postage expenses, in the pre-digital age it actually cost money to submit to publications. It was a two-way street. Being physical entities, it meant these magazines cost money to put together and distribute.

Having flunked all my exams (even English) I was working in a factory at the time for minimum wage. Mostly, I put things in boxes. Soap, shampoo, pills. You name it, I’d put it in a box. I wanted to find some way of generating extra income, so I started submitting feature ideas to newsstand magazines. This was when shows like the X Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were at their peak, and this was manifested in the popularity of paranormal-themed publications like Fortean Times, Enigma and Beyond. I soon found my little niche, and what was more, they paid! They paid pretty well, actually. Sometimes, I would get as much money for one 2000-word feature as I would for an entire week slaving in the factory. My magazine work and general fascination with the weird and fucked-up led to me researching and writing my first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales, which was eventually published by a mid-size Welsh publisher called Gwasg Carreg Gwalch in 2003. Into the Dragon’s Lair set my life on a different path. It was targeted mainly at the tourist trade, and generated a lot of media interest. Several national newspapers did stories about it, and I was a guest on a live Radio Wales programme. It all resulted in a division of the Welsh government giving me a grant to go to university as a mature student.

51bpjWruJKL

I had a choice of two; Carlisle and Southampton. I chose the latter because growing up I was a big Matt Le Tissier fan, who played for Southampton FC. It was that simple. Two weeks later, I was enrolled on a journalism degree and working part time as a barman at the football stadium. I’d hardly left Wales before. In my spare time, I decided to knuckle down and write ‘The Great Welsh Novel,’ a partly autobiographical tale called Rainbow’s End. It took a couple of years, but as soon as it was finished it was snapped up by a new start-up publisher called Flarefont, who promptly went bankrupt. During this time, I also started working on a book about Cardiff City FC, which eventually came out in 2014, again on Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, after another publisher strung me along for about three years until eventually pulling the plug.

From the Ashes F

During university, one of the most beneficial things I did, was go on work experience placements at every magazine that would take me (Front, Ice, Maxim, FHM). I learned more during those two-week placements than I did in three years of university, and I managed to form relationships that would serve me well later in my career. After I graduated from university, I freelanced for a year, writing features for Nuts, Record Collector, Rock Sounds, Urban Ink, Chat… It’s Fate, and anyone else who would pay me, before bunking off to China to teach English. I mainly worked at universities, which meant I had a lot of free time during which I continued to freelance, adding China to my list of specialist topics. One freezing Spring Festival in Tianjin, through sheer boredom, I started writing fiction again, a full nine years after my last published effort. Perhaps this explains why some people assume I am relatively ‘new’ to the scene. Nah, mate. Been here a while. Just had a rest. Over the next couple of years I wrote Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story and Dead of Night (both published by Damnation Books), and Devil’s Island (Rainstorm Press), as well as a clutch of short stories, which would appear in Screams of Terror, Gore, Siren’s Call, the Literary Hatchet, Trigger Warning, Deadman’s Tome, and a few anthologies.

Then, in 2012, I had another huge stroke of luck. A Staff Writer job came up at Nuts magazine and I was given a shot at it mainly because the deputy editor had somehow noticed some of my funny quips on social media. I flew back from China and was suddenly zipping around London fraternizing with models and film stars. But times were already hard in the ‘lad mag’ market, and getting progressively harder. I was soon got laid off as the sector went through its death throes. I reinvented myself as a sports journalist, and landed a job on the new-fangled Sports Direct magazine. That, too, went belly-up for entirely different reasons, and was re-launched as Forever Sports (later FS). After a couple of years as Senior Writer I was offered a promotion and a pay rise, and asked to move to another new launch at a different publishing company. It didn’t work out. I butted heads with my new editor for a while, then left to go back to freelance, and the new launch sank like the Titanic. By this time I was beginning to realize that the magazine industry was a ruthless arena with very little in the way of job security.

18199201_260830657657300_5084096714165985248_n

Parallel to my magazine career, I took advantage of the rise in self-publishing and put out a steady stream of material. To help keep a degree of separation from my day job(s) I modified by name for fiction. There were some things I wrote while I was in China (including Sker House, and No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches) which just needed tweaking, and I also started gathering my previously-published short stories into a series of collections. I’ve lost a lot of faith in publishing companies, so I much prefer to put these things out myself. That way I can maintain complete control over every aspect of the process from the cover art to the contents and pricing. These days, I make a living by maintaining several revenue streams, fiction and magazine work being just two components. It isn’t easy, but it’s the life I chose. The past two decades have been a hell of a ride. I’ve done things I never thought I would do, and seen things I never thought I would see. I’ve met some amazing people, more than a few cunts, and lived in 12 different places, in eight different towns and cities, in three different countries. I’ve come to realize that moving around is a big part of my identity. I get restless if I stay in one place for too long. I need the constant sense of ‘newness.’ It keeps me focused. All things considered, I’ve far exceeded my own expectations, and anything beats working in that factory.

I can’t wait to see what the next twenty brings.

 

Advertisements

Fearful Fathoms: Collected Tales of Aquatic Horror (Vol. 1 – Seas & Oceans)

You can find my short story, Band of Souls, in the fantastic-looking new anthology on Scarlet Galleon Publications, Fearful Fathoms: Collected Tales of Aquatic Horror (vol. 1 – Seas & Oceans).

Editor Mark Parker has done an amazing job pulling together a host of writers (Full table of contents below) who all contributed stories with the same watery theme. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The project proved so expansive that it morphed into two volumes, one based on seas and oceans and the other rivers and lakes. My own offering, about an old man sitting on his fishing boat contemplating life when things suddenly and irrevocably go sideways, was first published in the Edgar Allan Poe homage Return of the Raven back in 2009. It’s actually a lot older than that, and is probably one of the first stories I ever completed. It originally had the working title, ‘Faces in the Mist,’ and I remember spending months and months on it, making sure every word said exactly what I wanted it to say. For the longest time, I considered it one of my most accomplished efforts. But reading it now, it’s quite obviously heavily influenced by John Carpenter’s seminal film The Fog (1980) which I don’t know is a good thing or a bad thing. Anyway, Band of Souls then became an unfortunate casualty of my long sabbatical from fiction (2000 to 2008), and spent that entire time gathering virtual dust on a hard drive somewhere.

Fearful Fathoms vol 2

HOW DEEP DOES YOUR FEAR GO? Scarlet Galleon Publications and editor Mark Parker are here to help you find out!

Volume I of this new double-anthology features a long-unpublished story (“Seascape”) from Jack Ketchum, a landmark collaboration (“Widow’s Point”) from father-and-son writing duo, Richard Chizmar and Billy Chizmar, and many other eerie tales, accompanied by full-color illustrations by Luke Spooner.

In order of appearance, stories include:

“Widow’s Point” by Richard Chizmar & Billy Chizmar
“The Gray Man” by Mark Parker
“Fear Sun” by Laird Barron
“Carnacki: The Lusitania” by William Meikle
“Floodland” by Cameron Pierce
“Sirens” by Dallas Mullican
“Draugar” by Bryan Clark
“Old Bogey” by Lori R. Lopez
“The Lighthouse” by Annie Neugebauer
“Port of Call” by W.D. Gagliani
“Beneath the Surface” by Stuart Keane
“Once Tolled the Lutine Bell” by Jack Rollins
“She Beckons” by D.G.
“Cape Hadel” by Brad P. Christy
“Seastruck” by John Everson
“Alone on the Waves” by Eric S. Brown
“Band of Souls” by CM Saunders
“A Thousand Thick and Terrible Things” by David Mickolas
“Maelstrom” by Doug Rinaldi
“Hallowed Point” by Andrew Bell
“Wanderer” by Shane Lindemoen
“Canned Crab” by Nick Nafpliotis
“On Ullins Bank” by John Linwood Grant
“The Way We Are Lifted” by Aric Sundquist
“Surviving the River Styx” by Paul Michael Anderson
“The Water Elemental” by A.P. Sessler
“The Paper Shield” by James Lowder
“Seascape” by Jack Ketchum
“Corbett’s Cage” by Shawn P. Madison
“Jonah Inside the Whale: A Meditation” by Jason Sechrest

Fearful Fathoms: Collected Tales of Aquatic Horror Volume 1 is available now on paperback and ebook.


Inside Apartment 14F

My latest novella, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut), just came out. As the title suggests, it’s a partially re-written and expanded version of an earlier release. The original came out on Damnation Books eight years ago, and truth be told I was never really happy with it. By the time the publisher was absorbed by another company and consequently vanished off the face of the earth a few years later, our contract had expired and all rights reverted back to me. That meant, the story was free for me to do what I wanted with, and I felt a remix was in order.

So here we are.

I wrote the original version of Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story in January/February 2009, when I was living in the industrial city of Tianjin, northern China. Tianjin is like a Chinese Middlesbrough, only with much harsher winters. Yep, it really is that bad. I’d spent the year before in Beijing, where Apartment 14F is set, and had moved to Tianjin to be closer to my then-girlfriend. Obviously, the moment I moved there she dumped me for another dude, leaving me alone and heartbroken doing a job I hated (teaching English at a primary school) in a freezing cold foreign country far too close to Russia with no friends.

Like most teachers, during the Spring Festival period I had a long holiday. It was too cold to go out for any other reason than buying supplies and Chinese TV is a bit shit, so I decided to do something constructive. Though I’d had a few short stories published in the small press when that was a thing years earlier, I’d taken a long sabbatical from writing fiction to focus on feature writing for magazines (the money is better) and was just beginning to get back into the fiction side of things. To me, it’s always been more of a labour of love. I consider any money I make from it a bonus, but it’s so time-consuming and energy-sapping that I feel I have to justify it somehow.

 There’s a different skill-set involved when writing fiction. It’s a bit like opening a door into your mind, and I’m not always entirely sure I want people to see what’s in there. Subconsciously or otherwise, you write about some pretty personal shit. There’s a lot of my early-China experience in Apartment 14F. The sense of isolation, feeling like an imposter, or an alien, feeling strangely detached as lots of weird shit goes on around you. It all added to the loneliness and simmering resentment.

Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story started life as a short story called When Eyes Lie (Did I mention how bitter I was about the girlfriend thing?). I submitted it to Damnation Books, who were then a new start-up and had just put out a submission call. They loved it, but said it was too short and could do with being bulked up. It was good advice. There was a lot more I wanted to say, and I’d rushed through the short story. At over 17,000 words, the second version was almost twice as long as the original.

I’d hate to bite the hand that used to feed (they didn’t feed me much, but a little) but over time Damnation Books developed something of a reputation for being difficult to work with. I heard a lot of horror stories from other writers, and not the good kind. It’s not my place to air other people’s dirty washing. If you are interested, you can Google it. All the negativity came later. At the time, like most writers, I was just happy that someone liked my work enough to publish it.

In the case of Apartment 14F, there were a few things they wanted me to change. It’s not that I’m precious. I’m always open to suggestions from editors. It’s their job. But I don’t like making wholescale changes on the whim of someone who’s probably spent barely a few minutes skimming my manuscript, whereas I’d been working on it for months. I could have argued my case, but if you argue too much you get a reputation for being difficult and the publisher is liable to pull the plug on your book. I learned a long time ago to choose my battles. Some things are worth fighting for, and some things just aren’t.

Two key scenes came from different dreams I had. I had a lot of weird dreams when I was in China. Still do. It’s a fucking trippy place . The first dream I worked into the story is the hair in the bed scene. If you read it, you’ll know the part I mean. The second was the fortune teller with the inventive way of telling your fortune. That was one creepy nocturnal escapade, and luckily for me, the creepiness translated well to the page. I just described it as best as I could remember. The feelings, the sensations, the thoughts that ran through my head. That one scene has probably provoked more discussion than anything else I’ve written. Discounting the time I did an assignment for the sadly departed Nuts magazine and had the pleasure of telling the world what Lucy Pinder’s tits thought of the Southampton FC back four. But that was a different kind of writing in a different world.

Apart from being forced into making changes to the story, the other sticking points I had with Damnation Books were the amount of promotion they did for the book (none) and the price they set. Both the paperback and the ebook were on sale for over $7, that’s a lot for a novella-length work by someone you’ve never heard of.

Despite being overpriced, on it’s initial release Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story did extremely well. When Damnation Books imploded a couple of years later, it was still second in their all-time bestseller list. Okay, I know it’s not like being on the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means something to me. DB released A LOT of books. But like I said, I never really felt comfortable with it. I turned a corner with my writing not long afterwards. Must have been the 10,000-hour rule in effect. I went from being a part time writer to a full-time writer, and started doing a lot more fiction as a kind of release from the day job.

Whenever I went back and read the original version of Apartment 14F, some parts made me cringe. I think I have much more insight now. I lived in china another four years after I wrote the original story. I also like to think I’ve improved a lot as a writer since then, and maybe now I can finally do the idea I had back in ’09 justice. It also has a snazzy new cover…

14f

As an extra little sweetener, I’m also including a bonus short story, Little Dead Girl, which was first published in a short-lived publication called Unspoken Water (2011) and later in X2: Another Collection of Horror (2015). It’s a story written in a similar vein, ironically based on another deeply disturbing dream I had whilst living in the Middle Kingdom, and also featuring a teacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown as the lead character. You could probably say they are set in the same spooky-ass far eastern universe. The two stories kinda compliment each other well, I think.

This is an edited version of an essay which appears in Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut). Available now on Amazon:

UK LINK

US LINK


Subject #270374 in DOA III

After six years and more than fifty authors, the Unholy Trinity is complete. This third instalment in the DOA series offers thirty stories from the originators of splatterpunk as well as the newest voices in extreme horror.

You’ll laugh…you’ll cry…you’ll vomit
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

51lVzpF0IyL

Last year, I wrote one of the most twisted short stories I’ve ever attempted. It’s too twisted to even go into much detail here. Suffice to say it involves clinical drug trials, revenge and dismemberment, among other things. I called it Subject #270374.

Coincidentally, just as I finished it I saw a submission call from Blood Bound Books who were putting together another volume of their legendary DOA anthologies of extreme horror. Because they had published another of my stories in a previous volume, and because I honestly thought I had crossed too many lines for the story to interest any other publishers, I sent them Subject #270374 and sat back to wait for the rejection slip.

It didn’t come. Instead, a few weeks later, I received an email. They liked Subject #270374, but it wasn’t gory enough for them. They didn’t want me to tone it down, they wanted me to tone it UP. So that’s exactly what I did, even though I was sick in my mouth a couple of times.

After some discussion, and a few rounds of edits, Subject #270374 was finally accepted for DOA III where it sits with a veritable who’s who of extreme horror writers including Jack Ketchum, Bentley Little, Wrath James White, Shane McKenzie, Richard Christian Matheson, Edward Lee, Jeff Strand, Betty Rocksteady, and a whole host of others. I am very proud, and humbled, to be in such renowned and illustrious company.

So if you like your fiction bloody and bizarre, and have a strong stomach, come and check out DOA III.

We’ll be waiting.

18446815_1460985963923742_1421612908086755553_n


Sker House – Cover Reveal

I have a new book coming out on March 1st (bonus point if you know why I chose that particular date). Sker House is a traditional haunted house story, with a contemporary twist and a distinctly Welsh flavour. Damn thing took over five years to write, though I was doing other things in between, obviously, like sleeping, eating, and the day job.

Out on DeadPixel Publications, Sker House will be available for pre-order soon. Further details will follow imminently. But first things first, I wanted to share the all-important cover with you. The cover and the blurb are probably the two hardest things to get right. Below is a collaboration between myself and my good friend Greg Chapman. I think it fits the bill, and sums up the mood perfectly.

SKER-OPTION3_SMALL

Sker House is a real place, situated on the Welsh coast near Bridgend. It has a very long and chequered history, which I will tell you more about in a series of blogs after the book’s release. The cover is based on an old postcard I found online. There’s something about this particular image that I love. Looking at it, how can the place NOT be haunted?

sker house


%d bloggers like this: