Tag Archives: humour

Review of X3 by Bloody Good Horror Books

Review of X3 by Renier Palland at Bloody Good Horror Books:

“X3” by author Christian aka C.M. Saunders is a short collection of short horror stories he had published over the years. He begins his anthology with a piece called “Introduction: The Final Curtain” where he muses over death and mortality, and how it permeates everything, including literature. It’s what Friedrich Nietzsche called the “Death Drive”. Oddly enough, this rather obtuse opening led to some rather interesting short stories. The first story, “‘Til Death Do Us Part” is zombie fiction without the zombies. It’s primal, brutal and asks us what we’d do to survive for one more second on this godforsaken planet. Saunders brought the point home with this valiant line: “They were fighting and fucking everywhere like animals”. This matter-of-fact method of writing immediately piqued my interest. I knew I was onto something good.

Throughout the good short stories – not the bad ones – Saunders weaves a tapestry of horrifically fun humour and below-the-belt madness. There’s even a short story about a troll, with a sequel to the short story about the troll! As with all short story writing, each piece has to end in a solipsistic finale, a final twist to end all twists. I liken it to twisting the knife in a piece of meat. It’s an extremely difficult, well-documented feat. There are essays written about how a short story should be structured, compiled and created. If a writer lingers on a paragraph for too long, the short story is ruined and ends up in the tried-and-failed dustbin. Aside from poetry, short story writing is the most difficult literary art form. When an author gets it right, he or she really gets it right. But a short story can also turn into a bizarre, self-indulgent and experimental freak show. My point being, Saunders’ short story anthology has a touch of Bipolar, with extreme lows (“Gwraig Annwn” and “Slots-a-Pain”) and manic, thrilling highs (“The Delectable Hearts”, “Switchblade Sunday” and “The Elementals and I”).

He is an extremely friendly guy who wrote exactly what was needed to get our attention for an immediate review. He is also an excellent writer, but I don’t agree with putting all of your eggs into one basket, i.e. Putting short stories together from over the years into one volume. He should have been much more careful with his choices. I understand what it feels like to have that specific short story you wrote, the one which didn’t get the recognition it deserved, finally published. I’m also an author and I understand that inherent need. However, as a reviewer I have to follow extremely harsh guidelines in order for my review to have any merit or credibility in the real world.

Saunders failed with some of his short stories. I wanted more. I needed more. But there was nothing except an experimental foray into death literature. The stories which did work were extremely well done, brilliant even. I can easily say that “‘Til Death Do Us Part” will stick with me (no pun intended – look out for the ending) for a very long time. It was interesting, tragically beautiful and filled with a post-apocalyptic essence akin to “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. “The Delectable Hearts” was a curious and interesting meta-commentary on the entertainment industry. I used to be a writer and reviewer for a worldwide entertainment media group, so I understood the character’s journalistic instincts to get the scoop on a new music band. The ending, as with the former, was both unsettling and optimistic – an awkward, albeit exciting paradox. I enjoyed every second of the better short stories in the anthology, but much like a music album, an anthology has to be structured in a specific way to maximise the audience’s interest. This was not the case with “X3”. It felt haphazard and loose, as I went from a high to a low. Perhaps Saunders intended for the anthology to read like a rollercoaster? It’s possible, not wise in my opinion, but possible.

The anthology was fun to read. I think Saunders’ dark humour played a role here and he managed to save several of the shorts by using the gallows’ humour literary mechanism. Technically, some of the shorts were ravaged by editorial oversights, e.g. “twist in the tail” instead of “twist in the tale”. Malapropisms shouldn’t be left untreated as they can easily infect a literary wound. However, for the sake of this review, I am willing to overlook the technicalities because everything else was written perfectly. Saunders didn’t make many mistakes. His tempo was fluid, his narrative structure was constrained enough to allow the short stories to develop on their own, and his literary mechanisms were used correctly.

Saunders is definitely a great writer with unparalleled potential. His shorts were good enough to make me seek him out when I’m looking for my next read-of-the-day. Imperfection is sometimes more beautiful than perfection. This is true in Saunders’ case.

And the fact that he knows how to truly imbed subtle humour into his work – something most writers are completely unable to do.

RATING: 4 out of 5

X3 is available now. Check out more from Bloody Good Horror Books HERE.

X3

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No More Chinglish?

The Chinese government, anxious that certain unfortunate ‘Chinglish’ phrases are showing the country in a bad light, are trying to stamp out comically bad translations by introducing a national standard for English language use in public places. That’s right. Come December 1st 2017, China’s Standardisation Administration and General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (an actual government department) will oversea a clampdown and introduce strict new guidelines which could mean the end of Chinglish as we know it.

This makes me sad, because while some Chinglish in nonsensical, other examples are hilarious. The crux of the problem is that English and Chinese are so vastly different, not all the words ‘match.’ Heck, some don’t even come close.

Luckily, during my five years in the Middle Kingdom, I managed to capture lots of evidence of classic Chinglish at work. Here are some of my favourites.

I’m sure there’s some good advice buried deep in this notice. But…

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From a shopping bag in Tianjin…

‘Ainol’ is actually a legit brand name. I just don’t think they realise how close it is phonetically to ‘Anal.’ My teaching assistant couldn’t understand why I thought this was so funny, and i didn’t have the heart to explain it to her. Especially as it probably would have necessitated the use of diagrams.

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Er… no.

As it turns out, it seems describing toilet habits pose a particular challenge to translators.

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They have a tendency to, er, overstate things. Fantastic.

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And some make no sense whatsoever.

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Echoes & Bones

My group (of writers), The Deviant Dolls, have released our first anthology, Echoes & Bones. And it’s not your usual collection of short stories. I know. That’s what they all say, right? But I, ahem, mean it. What we did was decide on a theme, then each of us wrote a story adhering to said theme.

The results were… interesting.

Some of us kept things civil, others toed the line. Then, as always, there were a couple who said “Fuck the line,” and took the extreme route. Suffice to say, if this book was a movie it would probably be one of those weird, dark, Eastern European snuff films. Still, at least we can say there’s probably something for everyone.

Here’s comes the blurb, followed by the splendid cover art (shout out to Renee Miller) and finally the hard sell. That’s the best bit.

The Florida Keys, a psychic, and a chipped teacup; not very interesting on their own, but together, they weave dark, sometimes twisted tales of secrets, death, mystery and fantastic discovery. Join us as we listen to the echoes and wade through the bones, to unearth the treasures hidden in our deviant minds.

DDP Antho

Including:

CONSTRUCTIVE DISMISSAL – Michael Keyton
Cheating a houngan is bad news. A classroom won’t save you.

THE LAST READING OF MADAME SHAHRAZAD – Steve Wetherell
Stacey James makes a comfortable living pretending to talk to the dead, but a dangerous stranger is about to put her talents to the ultimate test.

THE PAST ENTOMBED – C.M. Saunders
Amanda has a tragic past. She also has a gift. Or maybe it’s a curse. Psychometry. The art of ‘reading’ inanimate objects. It’s something she has struggled with her entire life, but learned to accept. Until one morning, when she stumbles across an object at a market which brings the past and the future crashing together.

WASHER WOMAN SHOALS – Liam McNalley
Between her part time job mixing drinks at her landlord’s bar and deceiving tourists as Madame Ezora, Belle earns enough money to allow for a simple new life in Key West. A strange object found on the beach, though, turns her world upside down. Now, the only way to avoid certain death is for Belle to actually contact a spirit from the other side.

MISBEGOTTEN – Frank E. Bittinger
Haunted by a memory or haunted by an actual spirit, that is the question. Even in paradise, it seems you cannot outrun the past. Will turning to one who communicates with those who have passed beyond the Veil provide answers or will it only lead to a dead end?

THIS ONE IS MINE – Katrina Monroe
Patty will look into a stranger’s past for a small fee. Now, it’s time to confront her own.

KEEPER – Renee Miller
Ford’s dusty pawn shop in the Florida Keys is full of both trash and treasure. The items he hides in the room behind the store, though, are his most prized possessions, and definitely not for sale. Rare beauty, exquisite gifts; each worth a price only Ford comprehends.

Echoes & Bones is available for a limited time at a reduced price on ebook and paperback.


Writer’s Block – Pros and Pretenders

For better or for worse (usually worse), I’m involved in a lot of groups on Facebook, Linked In and the like, where writers of varying descriptions flock together to discuss all aspects of ‘the craft.’ The one topic that crops up more than any other in these groups is writer’s block.

The thing is, and feel free to fight me on this if you want, but I don’t think writer’s block exists. It’s a myth perpetuated by hobbyists with delusions of grandeur. The kind of people who sit in the corners of cafes and coffee shops with expensive tablets and skinny lattes because ‘that’s where they do their best work.’

You’ll find these pretenders haunting most establishments. The trendier the better. They’ll sit quietly, smoothing their beards thoughtfully, adjusting their beanies, and making a single hot beverage last three-and-a-half hours. A smug half-smirk will be tugging at the corners of their mouths, and if you listen carefully, you might be able to hear their inner thought process.

I am a gifted individual. People envy me. I write, therefore I am. My words will change the world. But wait, no I don’t want to write any more. Right now I’d rather be checking the Ted Baker website to see if the new knitwear collection is available for pre-order yet. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Must be writer’s block. I’m a tortured artist! The angst! Oh, dear creative Gods, deliver me from this hell!

I recently remarked to one of the many ‘WRITER’S BLOCK. AAARGH!” posts that clog up my newsfeed most days that, in my opinion, writer’s block is something that separates the pros from the pretenders. It didn’t go down very well with the supposed victim. I wasn’t being pretentious. The point I was trying to make is when faced with adversity, pros will find a way over, around, or through the obstacle preventing them achieving their goals. Whereas hobbyists, who would just as happily be doing something else anyway, will just give up.

But here’s the rub. They don’t want to admit giving up so easily. That would show weakness, and a lack of integrity. So they pin the blame on something other than themselves instead. Something intangible and unquantifiable, some mysterious ailment that only the supremely gifted can suffer from. Writer’s block is a luxury professionals can’t afford. If they don’t write, they don’t eat and they get evicted. Simple. Have you ever heard of plumber’s block? Dentist’s block? Estate agent’s block? No? That’s because there’s no such thing. Sure, sometimes they have days where they don’t feel like going to work. Just like there are times when you don’t feel like doing the washing up, or changing the bed. That’s when you put your head down, grit your teeth, rise above it and get the job done.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. Quite the opposite. In fact, I think the human race in general could benefit from reading and writing more. Then maybe a higher percentage of people would be able to spell and punctuate properly and we wouldn’t be such a nation of fucktards.

One acquaintance of mine who complained of suffering from writer’s block said the only thing that alleviates the condition is playing video games, so he did that for three months. Three fucking months. Wait a minute, are you sure you wouldn’t just prefer playing video games? Because it sure seems that way. Incidentally, this writer was unpublished, and it’s easy to see why. I’m not knocking his ability. Who am I to judge? The guy might be a very good writer. Hell, he might even be the best writer who ever lived. The thing is we’ll probably never know, because when the chips are down, he boots up Halo. How many dentists out there do you think take three-month sabbaticals where they don’t work, they just play video games?

I understand that maintaining writer’s block doesn’t exist might be a controversial view.  Message boards and chat forums, even the odd serious article or academic paper, argue otherwise. But what’s really happening here is people misdiagnosing the condition. Writer’s block is an excuse to give up when things get tough. Or, in most cases, a convenient excuse to not do something you don’t even have to do in the first place. Some people just like to blame their inadequacies on things that are supposedly beyond their control. It makes them feel better about being crap at their job or just plain fucking lazy.

I want to leave you with this thought. Real writers write. They don’t sit around pissing and moaning about how hard it is. Those that do it on a regular basis know it’s hard. It’s not the exciting, romantic existence some people seem to think it is. If you’re not enjoying it, or you’re struggling with your latest case of writer’s block, the one that stops you from ever actually writing anything, go find something else to do. Don’t take to social media to bare your soul every ten minutes. It’s boring.

If you want to be a professional, or at least acknowledged as such, act like one. Grow a backbone. Learn about sacrifice, resilience and endeavour. I’m sure Stephen King, Dan Brown and Robert Ludlum would love to kick back and spend three months at a time playing computer games, or watching Friends, or whatever the hell else floats their respective boats. But they don’t. If they did, they wouldn’t have written all those books.

You see? Pros and pretenders.

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This article first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.


Little Virgin Boy Pee Eggs

Today is Chinese New Year! That means it’s time for another China story from the vault. I’ve posted quite a lot here about China, like the time I ate brains and the time I got to be Bad Santa. There was also the snake shop, and when I got pulled in Shanghai airport and some beefy security guards tried to take my cheese off me. No way, mister! Even the most mundane things, like getting a haircut, take on a whole new meaning in the Middle Kingdom.

In 2009-2010 I lived in an extremely inhospitable northern industrial city called Tianjin. Think of it as a bit like a Chinese Middlesbrough. I only went there to be closer to a girl I was dating, who then promptly dumped me for another dude leaving me alone, miserable and stuck in a job I hated. Said job was teaching English in a primary school. It wasn’t the teaching I disliked. it was the kids. There, I said it. It’s probably hard enough trying to educate children that young when you speak the same language, but at least then you can reason with them. If you don’t speak the same language, forget it. It’s like fighting a war with no weapons. Every class was anarchy.

Eventually I hit on the bright idea of rewarding the good kids with lollipops, hoping the naughty ones would see what they were missing and fall in line. It didn’t quite work out like that. Instead, every kid who didn’t get a lollipop wanted a fucking lollipop and threw an epic temper tantrum until they got one. Mostly products of the one-child policy, they were a mass of Little Emperors. They broke me. Regularly. I would cave in and give them all lollipops just to shut them up, costing myself a small fortune in sugary bribes.

One of the few things I liked about this school was the little breakfast stall stationed outside, selling a selection of traditional local food, along with some more normal fare like boiled eggs and corn on the cob. I stopped by there most mornings. It was cheap, and saved me time.

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There was a lot I didn’t like about the school. But the worst thing were the toilets. Toilets in China are gruesome places at the best of times. But in this school there were no locks on the doors, apparently because the little shits would shut themselves in. That meant whenever I used it, I had a swarm of kids around me pointing and laughing at my penis. It was enough to give anyone a complex.

I noticed the boys all peed in buckets, which struck me as a bit weird. But lots of things struck me as a bit weird in China, and the buckets of piss just blended in with all the other weirdness. People would come in sporadically, carry the full buckets out, and come back with empty ones. I assumed they were emptying them down a drain somewhere. I didn’t know for certain, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t think much about it. Until one day, when I was talking to my teaching assistant and he told me something that first confused me, then repulsed me, then horrified me to the core.

The school was selling the pee. Those people who came in to take out the buckets of piss were actually paying the school for the privilege.

“What? Who would buy buckets of pee?”

“People.”

“What people?”

“The people at the breakfast stall where you go in the mornings.”

“Why?”

“Tong zi dan.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Not sure. Little virgin boy pee egg or something.”

“Excuse me? Little virgin boy what?”

He explained that in some regions of China, Tianjin included, urine from young boys, preferably under the age of ten, is harvested. It’s boiled, and eggs are soaked in it for a few hours. Then the shells are cracked, presumably to let more of the pissy goodness inside, and it is boiled some more. The practice has been going on for centuries, and is tied to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Eating little virgin boy piss eggs is said to reduce high blood pressure, stop you catching a cold, and relieve joint pain. I’d been unwittingly eating them for months.

I’ve never been able to look at a boiled egg in quite the same way since.


Dear London

This isn’t an easy letter to write. I think you know, things haven’t been right between us for a while now. I’m not sure they ever were. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun together. Those early days, when there was so much to discover and indulge in, were very special. So new new and exciting. For a while, I really thought you might be ‘the one.’ I thought I’d finally be able to settle down. But those feelings didn’t last. After a couple of years, all the little annoyances I used to find so charming started getting on my nerves. These days, I find it difficult just to be around you. Everything’s such hard work, and I derive so little pleasure from what we do together. It comes down to balance, I suppose. This relationship is all take and no give.

I would give you that time-honoured “It’s not you, it’s me,” line.

But that wouldn’t be fair, because it’s mostly you.

I know the score, okay? I know how things are. You are this rich, powerful, older woman and I’m just A.N. Other guy. I have to work my balls off to impress you and stay in your good graces. Do you have any idea how exhausting that is?

Didn’t think so. You act like I should be happy just to be here. To have the opportunity. But my best was never good enough. You have ridiculously high standards, and even higher demands. I know if I let my guard down for just a few moments, there’ll be a line of would-be suitors queuing around the block. Like vultures. Half the guys in the world want to get with you. That’s a lot of pressure. Plus, you go through my money like it was piss in the rain.

God, you make me feel like such a failure sometimes. On the other hand, you make me proud just to be with you. That’s the paradox of love. Anyway, enough waffling. The bottom line is our relationship is turning destructive, and it’s probably best I leave before someone gets hurt.

There, I said it.

Sorry to be so abrupt, but you broke my heart, London. At least three times, you cold, heartless bitch.

I know you are fucking other people, okay? You always were, and you always will. It’s just what you do. You don’t care. And why should you? You don’t owe me anything. You’re thinking, “You came to me, remember? Feel free to leave at any time.”

I also want to thank you. You taught me how to be humble, how to be strong, and how to grow. Along the way you taught me a few hard life lessons. But someone had to teach me, and I’m glad I learned from the best.

I’m not bitter. It hurts to know that you’re so ruthless and callous, but I get it. It’s not personal. And don’t worry, even though I knew all along you were using me I have no regrets, because I was using you, too. We were just having fun. I always knew it wouldn’t be long term. How could it? We both value our freedom and independence too much to make any kind of lasting commitment. Many better men (and women) than me have tried to have a relationship with you and failed.

Thinking about it, I suppose we were only ever fuck buddies. At first, there was only passion and lust. I wanted to do everything with you. But then, the spark died. The dream ended and reality bit down on us hard. We stopped going out as much, most of our ‘friends’ slipped away, and our sex life went down the toilet. When we did manage it, which wasn’t often, it was functional and mechanical. Like we were just going through the motions. Yeah, we’d blame things like work and family and the weather and whatever else. But the truth is, we just drifted apart. I know that you never gave all of yourself to me. There was always that part of you that you kept hidden. And no matter what I did, you were never going to reveal it to me. I could spend a lifetime trying and still not discover ‘the secret of you.’

Maybe I was the same way.

I admit, I haven’t exactly been faithful. There’s this other girl called China. I don’t understand half the things she says or does and she has these really strict parents who make things difficult, but she’s just so beautiful and exotic. Then there’s my mental ex, Wales. She was my first love, so I guess she’ll always be in my life. We went through too much together for me to ever really forget her, but we are so volatile together we fight like mad.

Anyway, goodbye, London. I don’t know where this journey will take me next, but I do hope we can stay in touch and who knows, maybe we can hook up again further down the road. The future is a place where anything is possible.

Take care of yourself, and stay beautiful.

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2016 – The Greatest Year in Music for Three Decades?

No, this isn’t satire. This is some serious shit. Don’t mock. I know it’s a massive two-fisted claim, but when you think about it, 1986 was an outstanding year in music. Most of us just didn’t appreciate it at the time. Through no fault of their own, half the people who read this post probably weren’t even alive thirty years ago, which is a thought that absolutely terrifies me.

Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi, License to Ill by the Beastie Boys, The Queen is Dead by the Smiths, Invisible Touch by Genesis, Graceland by Paul Simon, A Kind of Magic by Queen, Master of Puppets by Metallica, So by Peter Gabriel, Liverpool by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Classics, one and all. Thirty-year old classics. Well, except that last one. Apart from Rage Hard Frankie’s long awaited follow-up to Welcome to the Pleasuredome was utter crap. But it was memorable crap.

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You might not think it, but look beneath the surface and you’ll see that three decades on, 2016 has been another stellar year in music for people of a certain persuasion. Not only did Blink 182 return revitalised and reinvigorated, but there were new albums from Bouncing Souls, Biffy Clyro, BabyMetal, Bayside, Bowling For Soup, and even a few bands that didn’t begin with ‘B,’ like Taking Back Sunday, Feeder, Good Charlotte, Yellowcard, Against Me! A Day to Remember, and the kings of modern punk rock (yes, I said it), Green Day. Still to come we have releases from Jimmy Eat World and Sum 41. Even the Ataris, who haven’t put out anything new since 2007, came to the party. Granted, October in the Railroad Earth is an EP made up of studio outtakes, so it’s neither a proper album nor new, but I’m including it here because I want to, and it’s fucking awesome.

You could say 2016 has been something of a pop punk renaissance, a fact further underlined by imminent new offerings from Billy Tallent, Tonight Alive, Set it Off, and the Starting Line. I think this speaks volumes about the state of the world we live in right now. People are fucked off and miserable. We want the happy back. Break out the fart jokes and beer, all is forgiven! ADTR, Blink and All Time Low even toured the US together in what is probably the greatest live bill I’ve never seen. Thanks for that. A slightly more unsettling alternative is that pop punk now qualifies as retro, and is benefiting from that warm, fuzzy nostalgia buzz that people yearn for when they hit their late-thirties. It’ll be popping up in Classic Rock mag next.

I realise all this might not mean much to some of you. But to get to the point, pretty much ALL my favourite bands of the past fifteen years or so are releasing new albums at roughly the same time. And not only that, but most of them are good! This is a truly unprecedented event of near-cataclysmic significance well worthy of a blog post. Like an inter-planetary alignment over Stonehenge or something. Now, if someone could get Funeral for a Friend to reform and knock out a new album by the end of the year, we’ll be golden. Ta.


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