Tag Archives: literary

If You’ve Ever Eaten Toad…

People often ask me why I don’t write more love stories. I’ve tried it once or twice and people still died, which is probably down to my intensely nihilistic interpretation of love. It’s supposed to hurt, right? It’s supposed to be destructive, or else it isn’t real. Right? Anyway, when people start dying I get confused about whether it’s a love story or a horror story. This particular effort, however, is (or was) my dirty little secret. A love story where nobody gets killed. Who would’ve thunk it? I was so embarrassed by it that I refused to put my name to it for years, and how it came about is a story in itself.

I wrote the first draft back in 2011 or so when I was an English teacher in Xiangtan, China. One day, one of my students asked to see me after class. I agreed, thinking she had a test and wanted some advice or a pep talk or something. But nope, she wanted to tell me about something happening in her life which would change it forever, and made me promise to share her story when she was ‘gone.’

She was ‘gone’ barely a few weeks later, packed off against her wishes to marry a doctor in Germany who had the financial ability to give her family a good life. I never saw or heard from her again. Her story was equal parts touching, sad, and tragic, and I hope I did it justice. At least I kept my promise to her.

The student’s story makes up the core of If You’ve Ever eaten Toad, You Would Know, which is told from her perspective, but the title comes from something the girlfriend I had around the same time told me. This is another sad story, so get ready.

When she was growing up in rural China her family were very poor. She said she knew when times were especially hard, because that was when her mother made chicken soup. Not so bad, you might think. Only years later did she realize the chicken soup wasn’t made from chicken, but from toads her parents caught in the countryside around their house. Even then, most of the meat went to her elder brother, boys being traditionally more valued than girls on account of their higher earning potential.

The title became a multi-layered metaphor for enduring hardships, sacrificing your own hopes and dreams to appease others, and making the best of things. Having eaten a lot of toad myself, both metaphorically and literally, I can tell you it really does taste a bit like chicken. If you’ve ever eaten toad, you would know.

One of the editors at new online lit mag The Quiet Reader called commented the story is, “A lovely insider’s look at Chinese culture loaded with detail and nuance.”

That was nice to hear.

If You’ve Ever Eaten Toad, You Would Know, is available to read FREE in Issue 3 (May 2021) of The Quiet Reader now.

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 Literary Hatchet #14

My short story, Never Go Back, can be found in the new edition of The Literary Hatchet (#14). It’s the third in a loosely connected collection of tales about a fictional village called Wood Forge, where some pretty weird shit happens. Ghosts and hauntings, trolls living under bridges, zombies, strange disappearances. You name it, Wood Forge has (or will have) it.

This story was rejected a bunch of times because of a particular scene which one editor called, ‘distasteful.’ He’s not wrong. But hey, I write horror, not pop-up books. I thought it was funny, in a twisted kind of way, so the scene stayed. Credit to The Literary Hatchet for having the balls to go with it and let me do my thing.

Coincidentally, The Literary Hatchet also published another Wood Forge story, What Happened Next,  (the sequel to What Happened to Huw Silverthorne) back in 2014. I’ve always been a fan, it’s a great quality mag with a huge reputation, and it’s an honour to be included. This bumper 318-page issue on Pear Tree Press also features fiction by Eugene Hosey, Cody Schroeder, Stanford Allen, Mary King, Molly Richard, Tim Waldron and a whole bunch of others, as well as some cool as fuck artwork. Don’t miss out.

Literary Hatchet14


“They always say never go back. I never really understood why, until I went back to Wood Forge, the little village where I grew up.”

You can download the PDF version for free, shell out for a physical copy, or you can be a chump and do neither. Your call.

The Literary Hatchet #14 is available HERE

Introducing… Rainbow’s End

Over the past couple of months I have been doing a series of edits on a novel I wrote back in 2006/7 called Rainbow’s End. In a nutshell its a first-person narrative about a young Welsh guy who works in a factory but dreams of becoming a writer. Eventually he escapes the constraints of valley life and moves to the city, only to face a whole new set of challenges.

The main theme is the perennial search for happiness, fulfilment and enlightenment everyone faces. That’s why we’re all playing this game, right? To some extent we are all looking for the big pay-off, that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, hence the title. Everyone is looking for something. Rainbow’s End is a more literary affair than most of my other published work, containing a healthy dose of youthful angst and a liberal sprinkling of social and cultural observation. It’s a big departure from my usual style of splatter punk horror fiction.

The edits took longer than expected because, frankly, there were a lot of them. Before the editing process, the book just wasn’t good enough. When I wrote it I was still living the student lifestyle in shared accommodation in Southampton, having just graduated from university. I was struggling to make ends meet as a freelance writer, whilst pulling pints at the local football club for extra cash. When I read Rainbow’s End in the cold light of day six years later those days seem so far away, almost like a dream. I am having problems relating to it. Maybe because it’s a book written by a young man. I’m not the same person I was six years ago, now I see the world through different eyes.

One of the main problems I have with it is the lead character. He comes across as being selfish, immature, irresponsible, a little arrogant at times, and just not very nice. Plus, he has issues with authority and commitment and frankly, isn’t very smart. In short, the guy is a dick. I dislike him intensely. And its not only me. One editor, who rejected the manuscript several years ago, said she did so because in her opinion nobody would relate to, or even like, the main character. That really hit home. It hit home because, in case you hadn’t guessed, that character is me.

Not only is Rainbow’s End the story of a prick, its also very personal. Even though it will be marketed as ‘fiction,’ most of the things in the book really happened. Mostly to me, but also involving people around me. Real people with real lives. I made sure I changed the names so nobody can sue me. I have to protect the innocent, as well as the guilty. But when certain people read it, IF certain people read it, they will recognize themselves or somebody they know, or some situation they once found themselves in with a guy called Chris Saunders. Or C.M. Saunders. Or Christian, Moony, Angel, Welshy, Boyo, or one of the other names I have become known by in various circles over the years.

Editing process complete, Rainbow’s End is now approximately 100% better than it was six years, or even six months ago. The cover, drawn by a graphic artist commissioned by the publisher, is almost complete, and the manuscript is going through final changes.

The dilemma I now face is whether or not to go ahead and publish it or not. If I decide not to it could be problematic, as I’ve already signed a contract with the publisher. I tell myself I’ve worked too hard on it to let all that work go to waste. But man, I’m nervous. I always get nervous before a book comes out, the way a boxer must feel before a fight, I imagine. But this is different, in every sense of the word. My horror fiction does quite well these days, but with this book I’ll be hitting an entirely different market, a market that has never heard of me before. It’s like starting all over again with no support network. I’m telling my story and laying myself bare.

Bring it.

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