Tag Archives: C.M. Saunders

Tiny Little Vampires & the Tell Tale Press

I hate mosquitoes. I mean, I really hate them. I hate them so much I wrote a weird little gross-out pseudo-rant about a guy in a hotel room being tormented by the little fuckers so much it drives him nuts.

Why mosquitoes?

Because with most creatures, even the gross or dangerous ones, you can usually find one redeeming quality. But not mosquitoes. Everything about them is vile and repulsive. They really are tiny little vampires. With wings. The problem is, as much as I hate them, they just love me and can’t stay away. They aren’t much of a problem in the UK. It’s not warm enough for them. But the moment I step off that chilly little island I get bitten to shit.

A few years ago I did a load of research about mosquitoes, either for my own amusement or for a non-fiction article I never wrote (I forget which) and ended up incorporating a lot of it into a story called Tiny Little Vampires. A flash version (less than 1000 words) of this story previously appeared in my collection X2, but the only reason it reached that state was because I cut it down on the advice of a prospective publisher who then decided they didn’t want it anyway.

Sigh.

Truth be told, I was never entirely happy with either the original or the flash version. I knew the story had potential, and thought it could be much better than it was. So sometime last year I stripped it down and built it again from the ground up, so to speak. Then, after a few edits and some polishing, I started submitting it again.

And here we are.

You can now find it on Tell Tale Press.


The Corona Book of Ghost Stories

I am pleased to report that my 6th short story of the year, Where a Town Once Stood, has been included in the Corona Book of Ghost Stories on Corona Books, UK-based independent publishers of the “brilliant, innovative and quirky.”

Corona

 

I’m not sure which category Where a Town Once Stood belongs, probably the third one. It’s a pretty straight-forward ghost story with a dash of social commentary based on a period of my life when I was trying to break into journalism. I was still working full-time in a packing factory, so I did a few voluntary shifts at a local newspaper called the Merthyr Express in my spare time. I just wanted to see what went on behind the scenes at a newspaper. Suffice to say it wasn’t exactly Fleet Street. In fact, it was far more boring than I thought possible, and while I sat in the office fielding phone calls about fetes and community meetings I yearned for something exciting to happen. A real-life ghost story would have been the dream, but there were times when I would have settled for a giant cucumber story.

Reading it now, Where a Town Once Stood would be a perfect addition to my series of stories set in the fictional Welsh village of Wood Forge. For some reason however, I named the village Tref y Meirw which (I think) means ‘Town of the Dead’ in Welsh.

A little private joke there.

By the way, to give credit where it’s due, I appropriated the title Where a Town Once Stood from an Alarm song about the decline of post-industrial Wales from the seminal album Change.

Check out the ToC:

Corona 2

The Corona Book of Ghost Stories is out now.


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.

 


Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts, oh my!

I am pleased to announce that my short story, Down the Road, is featured in part two of the new twin-volume anthology on Smoking Pen Press entitled Vampires, Zombies & Ghosts.

Here’s a sneak preview of the breathtaking cover art by Elle Rossi.

Vampires, Zombies, and Ghosts Volume2

I first wrote Down the Road, an alternate take on the phantom hitchhiker urban legend with one of my customary twists in the tail, several years ago. It was originally accepted by another publisher for a proposed new horror fiction magazine, but financial problems meant that project was put on hold indefinitely. After about two years in limbo, I finally accepted the fact that the project was probably never going to get off the ground, withdrew my story, started submitting it again, and here we are. It’s one of my more subtle, thought-provoking offerings. I am excited that thanks to the good people at SPP, it will finally see the light of day. Or the dark of night.

Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts (Volume 2) is out now on paperback and ebook.


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.


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

SAW_1Sheet_Comps

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.”

 


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