My short story The Hiraeth Chair, is included in the spring 2022 edition of Shelter of Daylight, edited by Tyree Campbell.
Hiraeth is a Welsh word. There is no direct English translation, but it is basically used to describe a deep longing or sadness, often tinged with nostalgia and homesickness. I think the most accurate description would be along the lines of missing something, or some place, to which you can no longer return. You can find a more in-depth explanation here.
I played with the concept for a long time. I find it fascinating. I think it’s partly symptomatic of the human condition; whatever we have, wherever we are, most of the time we wish we were somewhere else. Running parallel to this is the notion of time travel. What if we found a way to return to those places we yearn for so much? And what would we leave behind?
This isn’t actually a horror story, which makes a change for me. Nobody dies, and there are no decapitations or slayings. It would probably more accurately be described as soft sci-fi. One reader told me it was one of the saddest stories they’ve ever read. To my mind, it’s not sad. It’s optimistic. It’s whatever you want it to be, I guess. If what that reader says is true, though, then I’ve done my job.
It’s a nice little coincidence, or pure irony, that Shelter of Daylight is published by Hiraeth Books.
My short story Eeva is included in the new anthology Trigger Warning – Speaking Ill, edited by John Baltisberger and published by Madness Heart press.
From the blurb: “Through strange, terrifying, and disgusting horror, these 9 authors ensure that death is no safe space. No corpse will escape their due through death, but will instead be allotted the full measure of what our authors have in store.”
This is your trigger warning.
Eeva is ostensibly a story about getting a Facebook friend request from some murky figure in your past and all the memories that it might dredge up. That’s probably something we’ve all experienced. On a more personal level, its about a Finnish exchange student I met (who wasn’t called Eeva) at university who may or may not have been a vampire. Vampire or not, the bit about her inviting three blokes on a weird group date simultaneously really did happen. By the end it turned into a ‘last man standing’ scenario. Maybe they do things differently in Finland.
Writing for Horror Tree, Rebecca Rowland said, “For those readers trapped in the monotony of working “stuffed in a corporate box,” C.M. Saunders’ “Eeva” revisits the youthful excitement and nostalgic novelty of strange desires. The narrator receives a friend request from a woman he knew briefly in college. Most of his social media inquiries are from “obviously-fake catfish accounts made in the image of busty Russian beauties called Layla, or Filipino women who tell me they love me then ask me to buy them a new phone,” but this notification piques his interest, and that’s because Eeva isn’t a textbook case of lost love. Hidden beneath her bohemic façade was a primal nature that went deeper than the narrator ever could have imagined. To reveal any more would be to spoil the climax, but be warned: readers should go forth with a strong stomach.”
Despite the unprecedented fuckery of 2020, it proved to be one of the most productive years of my writing career, certainly as far as fiction goes. I had to do something to fill those endless hours of lockdown. I like to see progress in the things I put my energy into, so while it was pleasing to have such a productive spell, I knew I had to maintain momentum. 2021 got off to a great start with the publication of my gross-out murder mystery Siki’s Story via The Splatter Club in January and my drabble (100-word story) Faces on the Walls appearing in the first anthology out out by Ghost Orchid Press. Alone, Or, a more traditional ghost story with a literary flavour, was included in the Spring edition of Frost Zone Zine on Cryoseism Press and shortly after the same publisher snapped up my Halloween-themed shocker Misshapes & Rejects for an anthology called Handmade Horror Stories.
I finished the first draft of the first Ben Shivers novel (working title: The Wretched Bones), about a paranormal investigator who lives in a mobile home with a cat called Mr. Trimble back in in 2019. The first draft of anything is always a mess, so I immediately set about writing a second draft and then a third in the first half of 2021. The intention was to bring the total word count down from 88,000 to a more manageable 80,000. However, that didn’t go to plan and after all the edits and rewrites, the final version ended up at just under 92,000 words. Life, eh? Whilst pitching the first book to agents and prospective publishers I wrote the first draft of the sequel and hope to have the second draft completed in the first quarter of 2022. I also put some time into finding a home for my Joshua Strange YA series, which is about a boy who inadvertently becomes a time traveller. That series, kind of my pet project, currently stands at three completed novels and a novella.
In 2021 I also completed a couple of novellas. Strzyga, about a warehouse worker on the nightshift who takes possession of a mysterious crate, stands at just shy of 10,000 which is a pretty weird length. Slightly too long for a short story, and not long enough for a novella. The other is a horror western called Silent Mine featuring a new character called Dylan Wilder who I like a lot, and might well involve in some more shenanigans in the future.
On the non-fiction front, I wrote about the Sai Kung mystery for Fortean Times magazine and podcasts, horror markets, alt fiction, and gothic fiction, for Writer’s Weekly. If you want to access my archive there, just search go to this search bar and enter Chris Saunders. Perhaps my biggest news of 2021 was releasing my latest book Back from the Dead: A Collection of Zombie Fiction which compiled half a dozen similarly-themed stories which have been published elsewhere, along with a brand-new novellette called The Plague Pit.
Surprisingly, my most popular blog post of the year was this one about live Bruce Springsteen recordings which got over 180 views in a single day. If you ever want to drive traffic to your blog, just say Winterland ’78 isn’t the best live Springsteen recording ever and post it in a fan group on Facebook where approximately 179 of those 180 people will disagree with you. Finally, my RetView series is still going strong, the most recent additions being Shutter and The Gorgon. You can access the entire archive of over fifty installments HERE. If you’re looking to explore some cult horror movies, that’s a good place to start. Lastly, you may have noticed I’ve updated this site and added a couple of new sections, including a place where you can purchase signed copies of my books and read some free fiction.
To summarize, I had 16 short stories published through various channels in 2021, which is a personal best. I also released a collection of fiction and finished a novel and two novellas, at least one of which will see the light in 2022. Also scheduled to drop very soon is the latest installment in my on-going X series and I have a few new short stories up my sleeve. A couple have already been commissioned.
And that’ll do it for one year. Remember, if you want to achieve your dreams you have to get out there and make it happen. Find solutions, not excuses.
My latest short story The Wailing is now live, and free to read, on the literary website twentytwotwentyeight, who you may remember published another of my stories, Those Left Behind, a while back. This is, I think, my tenth published short story of the year with a couple more scheduled to come before 2021 is out. That’s something of a landmark for me because I don’t think I’ve ever got into double figures before. Let’s call it a pandemic perk.
The Wailing is a re-working of a folk tale someone told me when I was living in China, so I can’t take complete credit for it. As far as I’m aware it’s a bona fide chunk of folklore and as we all know, folklore usually contains an element of truth.
I was working at a university campus in Xiangtan at the time, a beautiful place deep in the countryside of Hunan province which looks a lot like this:
The funny thing is, one night after I first heard this story I remember being in bed at night and hearing the sounds of a baby crying somewhere off in the distance. That was especially strange because as I said, I lived on a uni campus and there weren’t any babies there as far as I know. Weird.
You can find my short story Eeva in Part 1 of the third Books of Horror Community Anthology. Books of Horror is one of the biggest and best-established horror-centric Facebook groups around, and it’s always a good place for readers and writers to hang out and get to know each other. If you take a glance at the tables of contents in this two-book set it’s like a who’s who of horror fiction, and I’m very proud to be included.
The Books of Horror Community Anthology Volume 3, Part 1 is out now.
I’m happy to report that my short story Hell-bent is included in the anthology Terror Unleashed 2 on Skywatcher Press, a new publisher specializing in, “Horror, thrillers, mystery and suspense, science-fiction, fantasy, and anything else that falls to the dark side.”
Hell-bent is about two friends, Leon and Gabriel, who go looking for war memorabilia in a forest in Belgium which saw some of the most fierce fighting in World War Two. They find an artefact, and then shit gets weird.
What they find is an old rotting gas mask, which ‘takes over’ anybody who puts it on and fills them with all the fury and bloodlust of a demented soldier hell-bent on revenge and destruction. Whilst this may sound terrifying, it might actually turn out beneficial for one of the boys who has a very dark family background.
I had fun with this story. I can usually point to something, a news item or an event, that provides the seed from which a story grows. But as far as I remember, Hell-bent is one of those that seemed to come from nothing. At least nothing I’m aware of. As macabre as it may be, war memorabilia is big business. People want to own a piece of history, so mass-produced reproductions just won’t cut it. Instead, they buy and sell knives and other weapons, spent cartridges, helmets, military badges and insignia, everyday items used by soldiers, literally anything you can imagine because there’s a story attached to everything.
I’m pleased to announce that my short story Harberry Close is included in the anthology Railroad Tales on Midnight Street Press.
Table of Contents:
THE TRACKS THROUGH THE FOREST John Kiste
AWAYDAYS Allen Ashley
THE HOOSAC TUNNEL LEGACY Norm Vigeant
RAILWAY MUTTON CURRY Nidheesh Samant
THE NUMBER NINE James E. Coplin
GHOST-WALKER Andrew Darlington
SPARROW’S FLIGHT Nancy Brewka-Clark
HARBERRY CLOSE C. M. Saunders
GEISTERBAHNHOF Saoirse Ni Chiaragáin
THE ANNIVERSARY David Penn
ACROSS THE VALE Catherine Pugh
WHERE THE TRAIN STOPS Susan York
THE NIBBLER Gayle Fidler
SHORT PLATFORM Gary Couzens
WILSHIRE STATION Caitlin Marceau
AND YOU HEARD THE RATTLING DEATH TRAIN Simon Bestwick
NOT ALL TRAINS CRASH Steven Pirie
BALLYSHANNON JUNCTION Jim Mountfield
CABOOSE Andrew Hook
THE TRACKS Michael Gore
THE DEVIL RIDES THE NIGHT TRAIN Curtis James McConnell
THE PIER STATION George Jacobs
THE SAMOVAR A. J. Lewis
Between 2013 and 2017 I lived in London. I was working long hours and commuting for up to four or five hours a day, so I didn’t have much time to write fiction. I think of Harberry Close as a good representation of my ‘London period,’ along with Vicar on the Underground and maybe Subject #270374. I don’t think its much of a surprise that two of those stories feature public transport prominently and the other is about an overworked and under-appreciated journalist who goes mental and decapitates his boss.
I wrote about the origins of Harberry Close, which was first published in Dark Harvest, in more detail here. Thanks to Trevor Denyer for giving it a new lease of life!
This could be my favourite review ever, so I copied it from Goodreads to share with you. Thanks, Bruce!
Getting this out of the way. I know C.M. Saunders can tell a good story. The X Omnibus is my bookcase. That’s a sign I’ve really loved what he wrote. He made the top 10 of books read last year from the GoodReads account. This is now volume #4 of stories which cover the mindscape of possibilities where individuals meet the weird/strange/terrifying. One is very short, and the others are short story length which you can catch in those brief moments the world allows you to think.
To help you understand how the stories run, think of this visual:
Two fireflies flitting around a central core, which is the story itself. One firefly is the character with who they are and their thought processes, as in how they think. The other firefly is the landscape they are connected to, the matte painting they become involved in. You get to know the character and landscape and it becomes a fun process in how they both mix together. Though it’s on the verge of the fantastic, something resembling an X File, it becomes a natural mix. And he offers an Afterword to tell you something of the background of the stories, good reader/writer connections. Good stories here.
In that gloriously decadent pre-covid world, when I was working in Guangzhou, southern China, I met a girl through a dating app called Tantan. It’s a bit like a Chinese Tinder. The girl’s name was Siki, and she was fucking mental. That’s not an insult. She knows she’s mental. She takes medication for it, which doesn’t work. One way this mentalness manifests itself is through an addiction to extreme sex. It’s not quite as extreme as the sex I describe in the story which grew from that experience. At least, there were no beer bottles involved. But it was extreme enough for me. I had no idea I was so vanilla until I met Siki. She opened my eyes to a whole new world.
YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT??
An addiction to extreme sex combined with mental illness AND being the first and only Chinese satanist I’ve ever met was always going to make lively fiction fodder. Throw in a ghost that didn’t exist (thankfully) and an unsolved murder that didn’t happen, and you have the makings of what I hope is a pretty good, though definitely X-rated short story. The Splatterclub kindly agreed, and put their wholesome reputation at risk by using it on their website. It’s free to read, so you have nothing to lose except your respect for me and possibly your lunch.
In case you’re wondering, Siki’s cool with me using our brief fling as the basis for a horror story. She gave me her blessing, and didn’t even want me to change her name. It’s not her real name, anyway. It’s an ‘English’ name, which a lot of Chinese people take because most Westerners can’t pronounce their Chinese names. It’s typical Siki to take an English name that isn’t an English name.
This isn’t the first time I’ve drawn on my relationships for material. Last year I wrote about one of my exes who kept seeing massive animals dressed in ‘people clothes.’ So be warned that if you ever have a relationship with me, the odds are you’ll be immortalized in a story some day. Especially if you’re weird. If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die, as they say.
Here’s the real Siki, just to prove that she’s alive and well and the tattoo I talk about in the story is real. Picture shared with permission.
A lot of my fiction isn’t suitable for people who are easily offended. This time I really mean it.
Siki’s Story is live now at the Splatterclub. Try not to worry about her. She’s going to love it there.
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 mycontribution, 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.