Tag Archives: magazines

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Reading Habits

Like a good little writer, I read a lot. You might say obsessively. All things considered, I guess I read between 2-4 hours a day. I read widely, across a lot of platforms and topics, but mostly in the sport, lifestyle, travel and paranormal areas. These are the areas I usually work in, so being knowledgeable helps me follow trends and keep my finger on the pulse.

Newspapers

Yeah, I know they are going out of style, but I’m keeping the dream alive. For me, The Times is the best newspaper out there. I don’t agree with all their politics. In fact, I usually skip those sections. But they have excellent writers and the articles are usually not only newsworthy but informative and often a bit quirky. There’s something quintessentially British about The Times, and I love how it treads the line between broadsheet and tabloid. My ‘happy place’ is a quiet pub on a rainy afternoon, with a pint of craft ale and a copy of The Times.

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If I can’t get a copy of The Times, the Guardian will do. Or the Observer on a Sunday. I never get The Sunday times because it’s like a metre-squared fucking Argos catalogue. My tabloid of choice is The Sun. It gets a lot of bad press (ho ho!) but it serves a purpose and the sports pages are outstanding. Wales on Sunday and the Western Mail are my regional newspapers when I’m in Wales but I rarely buy them these days. The quality of local journalism has nosedived. It’s largely due to less people reading newspapers and consequently their resources taking a hit, but you could argue that one reason less people are reading newspapers is because the quality of the product isn’t what it used to be. It’s the chicken or the egg scenario. My most hated newspapers would be the Metro, because it reads like it was written by a bunch of 6-year old’s, and the Daily Mail, because that’s why.

Magazines

Ten years ago, there were eight or more different magazines I bought religiously every week or month, depending on their frequency. Sadly, most of them are gone now. Of the few that remain, the only one I subscribe to (and I have done for twenty years or so) is Fortean Times. I like the crazy. I also buy Classic Rock almost every month, and either GQ or Esquire. Both are slightly pretentious, but they are the closest thing remaining to FHM and Loaded, and they make decent toilet reading. I also like going to large newsagents and impulse buying whatever catches my eye. I grab Kerrang! Empire, Fighters Only and Mojo semi-regularly, along with the occasional travel title or hobbyist writing magazine. One day I woke up hungover, fully-clothed in my bed, covered in about £35 worth of mags. What a glorious day that was. When in London, I make sure I pick up whichever free mag is being distributed that day, Sport and Shortlist being pick of the bunch, with Escapism and Red Bulletin third and fourth.

Websites

I spend a lot of time surfing the net, but there aren’t many websites I use on a regular basis apart from Facebook and WordPress. Does Wiki count? How about Bet 365? Otherwise, MMA Fighting, Louder Than War and BBC News are probably my most visited. I habitually used Wales Online a lot until recently. But this outlet is suffering in much the same way as the print products Media Wales oversees is. In an effort to maximise profits, the quality of reporting has declined to laughable levels and the site is literally clogged up with advertising. It often takes several minutes to load, and when it finally does you are inundated with pop-ups. Sometimes you have to participate in a survey before you can even read the article you clicked on. I understand they have to (try and) make a profit, but that’s just intrusive. Life’s too short.

Books

I try to read widely, both fiction and non-fiction. I love sports autobiographies, travelogues, and rock memoirs, along with a healthy dose of true crime and the occasional tale of survival-against-the-odds.

The fiction I read is almost exclusively in the horror genre (as broad as that is). If there are no ghosts or zombies, or at least a demented serial killer on the rampage, I get real bored real fast. I’ve never been the kind of person to read one book at a time, but only when I wrote this post did I realize how bad things have got. I really should show some more composure, but there are just so many books and so little time. At the moment, I have no less than seven on the go. For the interested, these are:

Physical copies:

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, Neil Strauss

PDF’s on the PC:

DOA 3, various authors

Wild Talents, Charles Fort

And on the Kindle:

Sinister Scribblings, Matt Hickman

Unit 731, Craig Saunders

Battlefield, Amy Cross


Feverish Dreams #2

My twisted little paranoid sci-fi chiller, Other Me, is available now in the latest edition of Feverish Fiction, which is limited to just 50 print copies.feverish_fiction_2

Feverish Fiction is a new player on the scene, and is a paying market looking for: Pulp, Sleaze, & B-Film-inspired flash fiction stories and poetry inspired/influenced by Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, Creepshow, Roger Corman, John Carpenter, Grindhouse, Troma, Night Gallery, etc.

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I first wrote ‘Other Me’ back in 2013 (I think). It immediately aroused some interest at a publishing house, who advised me to extend it to novella-length, as they felt it should be ‘part of a longer work.’

I rejected that idea. In my opinion, Other Me felt complete. I wanted it to be short, thought-provoking, nightmarish and shocking. I had no desire to spend weeks, or even months, bowing to the whims of a publisher with no guarantee they’d like the finished product, anyway. I shelved Other Me and waited for the right home to present itself, which it duly did with Feverish Fiction.

Thank you to Michael Faun for the opportunity, and good luck with this exciting new project.


The Light in Shotgun Horror Clips

A bit late, I know. But if you are interested, my flash fiction story The Light, which addresses the question we all think about from time to time, is included in issue #3 of Shotgun Horror Clips, available to view online now.

Edited by David Wilson, Shotgun Horror Clips is a FREE companion title to Dead Lights which launches in February 2017. Check out the awesome cover art by Shawn Langley:

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Rolling the Dice, Man

I don’t know how many people reading this would be familiar with the now-defunct British magazine Loaded. For men of a certain age, it was something of a lifestyle bible, and told you everything you needed to know about, well, life and style.

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In a 1999 issue they named an obscure (to me, anyway) American writer by the name of Luke Rhinehart, ‘Novelist of the Century.’ He was awarded this accolade largely due to a book he wrote called The Dice Man, which carried the rather catchy tag (on some editions) ‘Few novels can change your life, this one will.’ Until that point, I’d thought Stephen King was ‘Novelist of the Century.’ Still do, actually. So this was news to me. Loaded were very rarely wrong about such important things, so I went out and found a copy of said book in HMV. Then I stuck it on my ever-expanding book shelf and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward a few years, and I’m a mature student with a lot of free time on my hands. Enter The Dice Man.

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In a nutshell, the book tells the story of a psychiatrist called Luke Rhinehart (which makes it kind of a mock autobiography) who, feeling bored and unsatisfied with life, decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he rolls a dice, and lets fate decide which path he should take. As far as I remember, the rule of the ‘game’ is that you give yourself six options, one for each number on the dice. Five reasonably attractive things that you wouldn’t mind doing, and one thing you don’t want to do. But you have to be prepared to do it.

On the surface, its a book about freedom, the search for adventure, and fucking the system. I’m sure many of the deeper psychological concepts and themes were lost on me at the time. You kind of grasp most of them, but not with much clarity. The result is that they linger in your subconscious for years after.

I was so taken with the book that one summer I bought a one-way ticket to Spain and decided to live by the dice for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t let the dice decide anything important. That would be stupid. I just let it dictate the little things like which places I should travel through and in what order (as it tuned out, it was Alicante, Benidorm, Murcia, Granada and Malaga, in that order), and when I got there which tapas bar I should I stop at, which hostel should I stay in, and whether or not I should hit on the cute American tourist with the flower in her hair. Nothing remotely negative happened, apart from the cute American tourist with the flower in her hair saying no. But even that wasn’t a total blow-out. The two of us got talking to a Spanish gypsy girl called Estrella (Star) and I took her home instead.

Playing the dice was a liberating experience, and I spent most of the time strolling through the sunshine wallowing in a carefree attitude sadly missing from my daily life. But at the same time, it was slightly unnerving. I wasn’t in control of my life anymore. Something else was, some higher force. Call it what you want; fate, destiny, the Cosmic Joker, God, whatever. After a while you begin to wonder what path you are on, and why. Is it really all random? Or is there some kind of plan involved? Interesting times, indeed. It’s also kind of dangerous, in the sense that the dice allow you an excuse to be reckless.

Why did you do that stupid thing? 

Because the dice told me to do it.

Ironically, it was Tim Southwell, writer and one-time editor of Loaded, who said:

“A man without responsibility is like Genghis Khan.”

Luke Rhinehart is the pseudonym of George Cockroft, who has written numerous books and essays, including several other ‘Dice’ books. The original, first published in 1971, has attained cult status, and been published in over 60 countries. In 2012 he pranked his own death, the mentalist, but in reality is still going strong at the age of 83. Throw a dice for him. You won’t regret it. Actually, you might. But that’s part of the fun.

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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.

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“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


Jumping Through Hoops

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As a jobbing freelance writer, I’m a self-confessed media whore. I’ll write for whoever pays me. It’s what I have to do. I make a living through a number of channels, one of those channels being dark fiction. Dark fiction with a twist of sardonic humour, as reviewers often point out. I’m not going to lie. I don’t make a lot of money from it. I sell a few books a month, and place a couple of short stories a year in various magazines, ezines, literary journals and anthologies. It’s never going to make me rich. But I enjoy it, and I count myself lucky that I am in a position to make a little extra income to supplement my day job writing for sport and lifestyle magazines.

In order to have your work published in one of the many outlets there are, you have to submit your work according to the publication’s specific formatting guidelines. Some want a particular font, in a particular size, some want single-spaced copy, others double-spaced. Some request a cover page with your name and contact details, while others want ‘blind’ submissions with no identifying information. About the only thing all publications have in common, is that they all want something different. I don’t mind going through every individual story I have and changing the font or whatever if the potential pay-off makes it worth my while. The more a publication pays contributors, the more I am willing to do. Unfortunately, this is a practice that occurs right across the board, even down to ‘exposure markets’ that don’t pay any actual money. In fact, they are often the worst offenders. I once had an extremely bitchy email from the ‘editor’ of an ezine complaining that I hadn’t followed the guidelines not just in the manuscript I submitted, but also in my cover letter. He took particular offence at my use of the word ‘hi’ instead of the more formal ‘hello,’ and the smiley-face at the end of my email was a deal-breaker. He clearly wasn’t a fan of the friendly approach. When I checked their guidelines again, I saw how much they paid per word. Not a penny. Zero. Nothing. You would think a publication expecting established writers to work for free would be a bit more forgiving, but it served me right. If I’d read the guidelines properly I would have realised they didn’t pay and wouldn’t have submitted to them in the first place.

Anyway, I digress. On the face of it, it all seems like a massive ball ache for no good reason. I was always of the opinion that if a story is reasonably and legibly laid out, what difference does it make if its double-spaced in 12pt courier or not? But then I started thinking about it, and looking at the situation from the point of view of the publication. If a prospective contributor doesn’t pay any attention to the guidelines, why should the publication pay any attention to the prospective contributor?

The publication don’t put all these guidelines in place just for the sake of it (though some probably do take some perverse pleasure out of making you jump through hoops on their behalf). They are a test, designed to ascertain in an instant how closely you read those guidelines. Or if you read them at all. It reminds me of Van Halen and their infamous tour riders. In the decadent 1980’s, when they were among the biggest bands in the world, Dave Lee Roth and co insisted that all the brown M & M’s be removed from bowls backstage at their gigs. Years later, they confessed they weren’t just being pretentious dicks, but making sure the venue adhered to their requests. If they didn’t take care of the small things, they couldn’t be trusted to take care of the big things, either. In retrospect, it all adds up, and maybe these editors are thinking along the same lines.

Check out some of the times I jumped through enough hoops on my Amazon Author page:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christian-Saunders/e/B0034QAX0E

 


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