Tag Archives: writing

The Stigma of Self-Promotion

Self-promotion is a huge part of being a writer in the technological age. It’s even more important if you’re self-published, because then you’re completely alone. If you don’t sell books, nobody else is going to do it on your behalf. But even if you have work traditionally published, you can’t expect the publisher to shoulder all the expense and responsibility of shifting books in a crowded market place. Especially small-to-medium sized publishers with limited resources.

I’ve noticed that when they sell the rights to a book, a novella, or even a short story, some writers just move on instead of doing a bit of promo to help the publisher shift copies. Don’t do that. Every bit of attention you can generate helps, while simultaneously raising your own profile and giving you something to shout about. So tweet the link a few times, write a promo post for your blog, share it in a few Facebook groups, mention it on your Insta timeline, in short, tell all your friends. You might even choose to invest in some paid promotion, which I investigated in depth before.

A lot of writers maintain blogs, and a lot of writers struggle for things to blog about. Writing a promo post about an anthology or other market that has accepted one of your stories is an easy win. You can even use the cover art to illustrate it. Throw in a few comments about where the idea for your story came from and some buying links and you have the makings of a decent, informative, entertaining post to keep things ticking over. Just try to be creative with it. Inform or entertain, rather than just telling everyone you have a new book out. Make a few jokes at your own expense, or share a few extracts or obscure facts you maybe unearthed while researching the book or story.

If you’re worried about being seen as needy, don’t be. You’re a writer, and you’ve achieved something. Be proud. If nobody else ever gets to hear about your achievement, what was the point?

If this really is a deal breaker for you, try shifting the focus onto other writers instead.

So happy to be rubbing shoulders with Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Dean Koontz in this brand new anthology from This Massive Publisher!

As if that would ever happen. It would make that antho the literary equivalent of Woodstock. But trust me, any other writers you credit, not to mention the publisher, will love you for it. Even the stellar names. It’s a great way to kick-start some cross-promotion, where other writers in your genre chip in give you some mentions, or at least the book you both contributed to. There’s no better way to take advantage of overlapping readerships. Over and above all that, if the publisher sees you are willing to make an effort on the promotional front they just might look at any future submissions of yours slightly more favourably. It’s all about networking and forging mutually beneficial relationships, so don’t neglect your responsibilities and leave all the hard work to other people.


Taking shelter in the Hiraeth Chair

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.


The War on Verbosity

Definition: 

Verbosity (noun): “The fact or quality of using more words than needed; wordiness.”

I know. For years you’ve been hearing about wars against drugs, obesity, terrorism, racism andmale pattern baldness. The last thing you want is another one. But trust me, when considering the future of the written word, verbosity is just as much of a problem as any of those Real World issues, especially among young, inexperienced writers.

We all know those people who talk incessantly, dancing around whatever it is they want to say but lacking the confidence or courage to do so directly. Instead, they hope you connect the dots and do the dirty work for them.

It’s annoying, right?

Likewise, there are the people who hit the point right on the head with deadly accuracy. But then they just keep on hitting, saying the same thing over and over again, maybe using different words in an effort to give the impression that they’ve moved when in reality they are rooted to the spot.

Both these kinds of people waste our time, agreed?

In the literary world, verbosity has a similar effect. Consider this sentence:

“The skies opened, unleashing a slick torrent of rain which lashed against the dirty, lightly condensed window glass sounding like untold numbers of heathens banging their fists against the cold, unrelenting gates of heaven.”

Now consider this alternative:

“It was raining heavily.”

Or maybe:

“The rain lashed down.”

Granted, neither option is as evocative or spectacular as the first passage. But in effect they say the same thing, and move the story along to the same point in a fraction of the time. By comparison, the first sentence is dense and unfocused. You have to wade through a lot of padding to get the point.

You are probably wondering why verbosity bothers me so much.

Let me explain.

A lot of people send me samples of their work to read or critique, something I am usually more than happy to do. If you do this enough, certain patterns or traits begin to emerge. I can spot a novice writer because most of them take forty or fifty words to say something a more experienced writer would say in six or eight. It was raining. Got it. What more do you need to know? Anything else is just superfluous. Set the tone by all means, but know when you are entering ‘overkill’ territory. In the early stages of your writing career it is simply a matter of cutting out the bullshit. It might sound pretty, but does it actually serve the story?

Of course, there are times when a touch of verbosity is justified. Or even required. Especially at points in the story you want the reader to remember for maximum impact. Maybe a touching love scene, or the death of a leading character. By all means, dawdle a bit. But trust me, nobody wants to wade through three or four paragraphs of flowery prose describing in technicolour detail how much it’s raining outside and how wet the water is. What’s the point? You might think it’s the best thing ever written in the history of mankind, but the reality is, it probably isn’t. Unless you keep things moving apace, the reader will get very bored very quickly. With so much choice out there, once you lose a reader, it’s very difficult to win them back.

Any good editor will tell you that you shouldn’t use more words than absolutely necessary. Reading words takes time, and time is precious. Don’t waste it. There was a time when you could have gotten away with it, but this isn’t the 19th Century anymore. Treat words as precious commodities, not something you have a surplus of. Give your readers some respect, and acknowledge they are busy people. Get to the point with the minimum of fuss, and pretty soon you’ll begin to see marked improvements in your writing.

This post first appeared on the now-defunct Deviant Dolls website.

See here for my thoughts on the dreaded writer’s block.


2021 in Review

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.

As the year progressed I had stories about genetically engineered giant cockroaches and a demon that sucks the eyeballs out of people’s heads while they sleep published in Scare Street anthologies, and a twisted little tale called Painted Nails in the extreme horror collection No Anesthetic on Splatter Ink Publishing.

Also on the extreme side, Eeva appeared in Books of Horror Collective Vol 3, Hell-bent was included in an anthology called Unleashed, and a reprint of Harberry Close was published in the the anthology Railroad Tales. In a bit of a departure, If You’ve Ever Eaten Toad, one of the few stories I’ve written where nobody dies, was published in the lit mag The Quiet Reader and I had other short pieces published in Every day Fiction, 101 Words, twentytwotwentyeight and Meghan’s superb blog, where I also did an interview. I did an interview with Willow Croft too, where we discussed everything from classic horror movies to eating brains in order to impress a date (hey, it worked!) and I also popped up on Dylan Roche’s blog. Most recently, reprints of earlier stories have appeared in the winter issue of Siren’s Call and the charity anthology The Colour of Deathlehem.

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.

Thanks for reading!


Introducing the Books of Horror Community Anthology Volume 3!

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.


Time for Horror

Funny thing, time. And not funny ha-ha. It’s the one commodity you can’t buy, yet is by far the most valuable. And anyone who says that money can’t buy you love has obviously never been to Bangkok. It’s often said that a dying millionaire will gladly give up all his riches in exchange for just a few more minutes of life. Since I’ve never died or been a millionaire I can’t vouch for it’s veracity, but it certainly sounds plausible. The vast majority of people don’t want to die, and do anything to avoid it. That’s why you read about murder victims being stabbed 130 times or something. I’d wager the person doing the stabbing didn’t want to wield their blade that many times, either. Imagine how exhausting stabbing someone 130 times must be. I need a sit down after chopping up a chilli pepper. The stabber would probably much prefer the victim keel over and drop dead with a soft, world-weary sigh after one strike the way they do in movies, but that rarely (if ever) happens. I once saw someone get stabbed at a football match. It just pissed him off.

It grates on me when I see people complain that they’d love to write something, but just haven’t got the time. Not enough that I’d want to stab them 130 times. But close. The reason is, we all have shit going on. Day jobs, night jobs, kids, pets, hobbies, demanding relationships, drug addictions, all of which we balance with the countless other responsibilities that come with being grown up. However, the harsh truth is that we always find time for the things we really value. Things we really enjoy doing. Things we can’t live without.

We all have the same 24-hours in a day. You, me, Stephen King, Lady Ga Ga. The only difference is what we do with those hours. Most writers seem to be ‘morning people.’ I know, right? The mere thought is enough to make most people’s blood turn to ice. The aforementioned Sai King is a shining example; his routine involves getting up early, going for a walk, getting the bulk of his writing done before midday, then slacking off as the day grinds on to its inevitable conclusion.

One of my most productive times as a writer was in my early twenties when I worked full-time at a local packing factory. It was my job to put the little bar codes on boxes of pills. Hundreds of boxes a shift. Thousands. You probably know the score. Your supervisor sets you a target of 15,000. You bust your balls to hit it, and when you finally achieve as much, they simply raise the target to 15,500. this, I’m told, is management.

At its best the job was fraught with difficulty, like when the bar codes won’t go on exactly as they should, or they were blurry or something. And at its best, when everything was going well, the work was mind-numbingly boring. I was alone a lot, meaning that I had hours and hours every day to think about what I was going to write about when my shift ended. I’d run through endless scenarios in my head, putting my characters through all kinds of shit and filling in ever conceivable plot hole. It helped pass the time. When I finally got home I could easily knock out 1500 words or more in an hour or two before going to bed. No messing around. No hesitation marks. No gazing off into space waiting for the perfect word to pop into my head.

Later, when I left the factory and writing became my actual job, and I could spend all day writing if I wanted to, I just didn’t. You know what it’s like; you get wrapped up in a juicy news story or disappear down some rabbit hole or other and everything else fades into the background. Recently, I wasted almost half a day reading about Biffy Clyro b-sides and CD bonus tracks. I don’t even fucking like Biffy Clyro. Who does? They haunt that horrid middle ground between indie and rock without ever fully committing either way, trying to be all things to all people and only succeeding in being nothing much to anyone. So yeah, as my deadline looms ominously closer I procrastinate and generally do anything except write. And it’s not just me. I’ve worked with dozens of writers, and we’re all the fucking same. Well, most of us. There’s always that one guy who does everything on time, and perfectly. Don’t we all hate that dude? The rest of us just watch the clock tick down until, when we can put it off no longer, we start writing. At least that’s my modus operandi. And guess what? I never miss a deadline.

The point I’m trying to make is you can achieve anything you want if you put your mind to it. You just have to put your mind to it. I don’t want to look back at a life of wasted time and missed opportunities, being all bitter and resentful. If only I’d done that, or this, if only I’d found the time. Don’t wait until it’s too late, and don’t you dare point fingers and blame other people for your own shortcomings. Take control of your life, take responsibility, and most importantly, figure out what’s important to you and then spend as much time as is humanly possible doing it. If your thing is horror, immersive yourself in it. Read books, watch movies, explore abandoned mental hospitals, sit in graveyards at midnight. Hell, tie yourself to a chair and force yourself to watch the Star Wars Christmas special from 1978 on repeat if you have to. Trust me, it’s probably the most horrible thing you will ever experience. Savour the dread and soak in the blood.

It doesn’t even need to be good horror. If you’re a writer, for example, you can learn just as much from reading a terrible book as you can from reading a classic. You just learn from the other end. You learn what NOT to do. What’s deemed ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ is subjective, anyway. Have you seen Death Ship from 1980? About the tourists whose cruise ship sinks and are then picked up by a WWII-era German prison ship controlled by a mysterious dark force? No? I’m not surprised. Not many people have. TV Guide called the movie “ludicrous” and gave it a one-star rating. Me, I loved it. Fuck the TV Guide. What’s not to love? Shipwrecks, Nazi zombies, Richard Crenna from the Rambo films. And if all that wasn’t enough, look at that poster!

I advise you to seek it out immediately while you still can, before a rogue terrorist cell nukes the internet or something and you won’t be able to stream it or order it from Amazon. All this calls to mind a depressing yet entirely accurate line from Iron Maiden’s classic tune The Clairvoyant, “Isn’t it strange that as soon as you’re born you’re dying?”

Like I said, it’s a funny thing, time. And not funny ha-ha. We should make the most of it because as someone much smarter than me said, ‘time we enjoy is not time wasted.’ Or something. And if you’re reading this I am 100% sure you’d enjoy Death Ship. By the way, you can read about more hidden cinematic gems, both old and new, in my RetView series.

This piece was first published in the Terror Tract ezine.


The Promotion Experiment

Like most hybrid or indie writers, the most difficult things for me is making sales. Writing is the easy part. They say you have to spend money to make money, so for the past three or four months I’ve been doing an experiment; instead of spending all my spare dosh on booze and kebabs (can’t go out in the midst of a global pandemic anyway) I decided to put all the money I make from writing during that period back into writing. Or more specifically, into marketing and promotion.

As you may be aware, there hundreds of promo sites and services out there and most of them cost money. Bookbub is the undisputed king, which I wrote about before, but as far as the multitude of others are concerned, it’s hard to know which ones are truly worth the money they charge and which aren’t. Hence this little experiment. There is little scientific basis behind it. I didn’t do a ton of research, I just looked around to see how much various promo sites cost and what people were saying about them, and tried a few. I’m going to be completely honest and transparent with my figures, so don’t laugh. Believe me, I’m well aware that some people out there sell more books me.

It’s a sad fact that one way to grab new readers is to get on your knees and beg them to read your work for free. Though it’s not really free for them, they’re still giving up their time and energy. Giving away free books is a controversial marketing technique in itself. Some writers feel it devalues the product, and makes things worse for everybody in the long run. If readers get used to being given free books, why would they ever bother buying another book again?

I can see their point, but in my experience giving away freebies has been hugely beneficial. To clarify, I’m talking about free Kindle promos here which run for a limited time, one to five days, rather than permafrees or books given away on newsletter sign-up. For starters, people who would never normally read my books are given the opportunity to check them out, and if they like my stuff it might encourage them to pick up another one and pay for it. They might even leave a review somewhere. Plus, an increase in downloads, free or otherwise, improves your author ranking and skews various algorithms in your favour, all of which adds to your visibility. For obvious reasons, if you’re going to run a free promo on one of your books you’re better off making it one of a series, or at least having a healthy back catalogue.

CONFESSION: I also write rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books under a super secret pseudonym. It’s difficult to promote something when you can’t even put your own name to it, so because THAT GUY had a new release a while back (book 3 in a series), I thought I’d invest the lion’s share of my budget into giving him a little boost. The Fussy Librarian is one of the better-known services but they aren’t cheap, and some strategizing is required to make it worthwhile. The series is about China, so to capitalize on the Western media coverage I scheduled the promotion to run during Chinese New Year. I made the first book in the main series free, left book two up at normal price (1.99) and put book three up for pre-order at a reduced 0.99. Then I paid a whopping $48 for a spot on the FL site and in their ‘non-fiction’ newsletter blast, and waited to see what would happen.

By the way, spots in different FL newsletters have different prices, related to the amount of subscribers each one has. But if you’re a first-time user, you can input the code 10OFF at check-out to get $10 off the regular price, which for me knocked the fee down to $38. Not to put too fine a point on it, the results were incredible. On the day of the promotion, my book was downloaded 1016 times, and a further 258 times over the next few days. Okay, the pessimists might say that all I succeeded in doing was give away over £2500 worth of books. But if only 1% of those who downloaded it leaves a review or even just a rating (optimistic, I know) I’ll be more than happy. In addition, during the same time period the second book in the series sold a dozen copies and I picked up six pre-orders for the third which off-set the cost somewhat.

Verdict: Hit

EreaderIQ have a list of requirements almost as long as your arm. Novellas and collections are ‘unlikely’ to be accepted, your books should have at least five reviews and should be free or deeply discounted. A place in their email blasting in the ‘horror’ category which, according to the site, reaches 9,500 subscribers, costs $10 (other categories have different rates). I put my recently reissued and revamped novel Sker House forward for this, which was duly accepted. The day of the listing it sold 9 copies, and the day after it sold another 3. Not bad. But because I had to discount the book so much, I made a slight loss on my investment.

Verdict: Partial Hit

Readfreely are less particular. $6 (gold level, again there are different options) buys your book a spot in their newsletter and promotion across their social media platforms. It’s difficult to quantify how big their reach is, but as they have less than 4,000 Twitter followers, which is a great indicator, I’m guessing it isn’t great. I put X4, my latest collection, forward for this one at it’s regular price of £1.99 (though I said it was being discounted from 3.99. Shoot me). X4 sold one solitary copy on the designated date, which sucks, but over the next few days sales of my other X books increased and I sold several of each, which may or may not be related. I’m not convinced either way.

Verdict: Miss

Because this is one of the most cost-effective options, I repeated the process with one of my pseudonym’s rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books. The results were similar.

Verdict: Miss

There are two connected sites, Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy. One is for free books, and the other, surprise surprise, is for bargain (reduced) books. I opted for the latter, and paid $25 to have X4 included in an email blast to 77,000 subscribers. On the day of promotion, X4 sold a dozen copies and, mirroring the pattern in the last promo, my other x books also benefitted from a sales bump and sold another dozen or so between them.

Verdict: Hit

The last, and most recent thing I tried was Amazon ads. I’m a complete novice at this. You need an effing degree in economics and marketing just to work out which key words to use. Like most things it’s a case of trial and error. Basically, you set a daily budget, choose your settings, and are then billed per click. I set a budget of $5 per day for 5 consecutive days on my psuedonym’s latest release, which resulted in just five clicks at a total cost of about $3.40 and no sales. Then I ran a similar promo on X4 with a higher budget over a longer period of time and got similar results but for a bigger outlay (around $18). It was at this pint I realized I must either be doing something wrong or Amazon ads, like Facebook ads, were a complete waste of time. I hear stories about people making a killing from Amazon ads. I might try it again at some point in the future after I learn more about it but for the time being, I think I’ll lay off them.

Verdict: Miss

So, all things considered, it was a mixed bag of results. I must admit that in the back of my mind I’d hoped all this effort would at least give my Amazon ranking a lasting boost. But the moment I stopped actively promoting, my sales virtually flatlined. Turns out worthwhile promotion of any kind is expensive, but if you don’t promote you don’t get any sales and you throw money down the drain anyway. There are, of course, reasonably effective ways of marketing your work for free using social media and cross-promotion, if you have the time and the energy. Maybe I’ll write another post about that at some point. In the meantime, I hope other indie writers, who may be as confused and bewildered as me, can get a few pointers from this post. It all boils down to doing your research, knowing your target market, and choosing the right places to invest based on your budget and readership.

I think.


Eyeless on Scare Street

A couple of months ago one of my short stories, Roach, about a cockroach farm in China (it’s a thing), appeared in the anthology Night Terrors 12 via Scare Street Publishing. I’m pleased to announce that as Scare Street continue their all-out assault on the world of horror fiction, this month sees the release of Night Terrors 14, which includes my creepfest Eyeless.

Eyeless is a gruesome little tale about an elderly gent who is moved into a care home where the residents receive visits from a mysterious supernatural entity after lights out. My intention with this was not just to write a straight-forward horror story, but also a dressed-up disquisition on life and the slow-death ageing process that we all have to endure, if we’re lucky.

Also in this volume you will find a realtor desperately tries to sell a haunted house before it consumes her body and soul, a young couple’s vacation at a campground takes an ominous turn when something menacing lurks nearby, and a haunting melody leads a curious girl to a bittersweet tale of love and loss. Because when night falls, a dance of death begins. And once the music ends, the only sounds you hear are your own screams of terror.

As always, Scare Street have assembled a killer cast of authors, including my old buddy and peerless sick, twisted bitch (she likes it when I call her that), Renee Miller, the full table of contents reading something like this:


1. Marshmallow Murderer by Melissa Gibbo
2. Organ Manipulator by Justin Boote
3. Camping with the Carnival by Jason E. Maddux
4. Serenade by Craig Crawford
5. Sold by Renee Miller
6. Gram’s Garden by J. L. Royce
7. The Gift that Keeps on Giving by Peter Kelly
8. The Womb by Edwin Callihan
9. Eyeless by C. M. Saunders
10. Dark Home by Simon Lee-Price
11. The Wooden Box by P. D. Williams
12. The Limb Farmer by Caleb Stephens
13. Ouroboros by Melissa Burkley
14. Crow’s Books by Ron Ripley

Night Terrors 14 is out now on paperback and ebook.


2020 in Review

Well, that was a weird year, wasn’t it? It started with a worldwide pandemic and flooding on an almost biblical-scale, and then just got progressively worse. These are scary, worrying times. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Not in my lifetime, anyway. At least it’s not boring. I always tell my students that only boring people get bored. You just have to make things happen, instead of sitting around waiting. Me, I spent a lot of time watching Starsky & Hutch and TJ Hooker repeats on the Sony Channel and listening to Dangerous Summer. Whatever keeps you sane, right? I also read a lot of books, which you can find a list of here.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a couple of new short stories, including Down the Plughole which I based on my student days in a grimy houseshare in Southampton, and an x-rated shocker called Painted Nails about a junkie who wakes up with a foreign body embedded in his cock. I also bashed out a rare sci-fi tale called Down to Earth and a couple of new drabbles (100-word stories). I’ll hopefully find homes for them later this year. On the subject of drabbles, Louie’s Room was included in 100 Word Horrors 4 at the turn of the year. That meant I was lucky enough to have stories in each of the first four volumes of the series.

Being locked down so much, I did a ton of promo. My Twitter audience grew by about 20% to around 8,600, and the ‘likes’ on my Facebook author page swelled. That stuff is important to prospective employers, agents and publishers. I also scheduled a year’s worth of blog posts. My RetView series is continuing to grow in popularity. Check out the most recent entry, Megan is Missing (2011).

Elsewhere, I sold non-fiction articles to Fortean Times about the Hong Kong protests and cockroach farming and a couple more instructional pieces to Writer’s Weekly including Writing the Perfect Blurb, High-Paying Flash Fiction Markets and How to Find Your Micro Niche, while I also picked up some work for a website called DaiSport, which allowed me to stalk Newport County legend Fraser Franks and pursue my two great loves; Wales and MMA. I’m still trying to find a way to incorporate beer into the mix.

In ‘fiction world’ my fourth collection of short fiction, X4, was released on February 20th just because I thought the release date 20/02/20 was kinda cool. It hit the ground running and picked up some great reviews. My story Demon Tree appeared on Haunted MTL, and in April Blood Bound Books put out a furry-based anthology entitled Burnt Fur, which included my story The Others. It is probably one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, not least because it was based on a story an old girlfriend told me. Later in the year, my story Holiday of a Lifetime appeared in another anthology by the same publisher called Welcome to the Splatterclub – Seasoned Meat. If The Others is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, Holiday of a Lifetime is probably one of the most balls-out disgusting things I’ve ever written. I actually threw up in my mouth a little bit whilst doing the edits.

In other news, K Trap Jones started his own publishing company (go Trap!) and accepted my short story Grower into his very first anthology, Brewtality, which had a beer theme. Right up my dark alley. Elsewhere, Surzhai, about sex trafficking, immortal ancient Chinese warriors and revenge, appeared in ParABnormal magazine and my tragic love story Loose Ends was included in the lit mag 34 Orchard. The fun didn’t stop there. Later in the year, I contributed to the charity anthology It Came From the Darkness, Scary Mary appeared in Jester of Hearts and Finders Keepers in the Christmas charity anthology on Terror Tract publishing.

Terror Tract also published my novella, Tethered, the story of a journalism graduate who inadvertently gets sucked into a dark world of internet rituals, serial killers and strange disappearances. TT is fronted by Becky Narron, who is a living legend of the horror scene and it was an honour and a thrill to work with her. After the release of Tethered I entered into a promo cycle and did some interviews and guest blogs with the likes of Redrum Reviews, EB Lunsford and Kendall Reviews, where I took up the temporary post of warden, to add to the interview I did with Haunted MTL earlier in the year.

After that I focused my attention on finishing my novel Bones: A Ben Shivers Mystery (working title), the first in a planned series about a P.I. (Paranormal Investigator) who travels the country in a VW camper with a cat called Mr. Trimble. I started it in the summer of 2019, then got sidetracked by other stuff. The first draft was an absolute mess, but four drafts later, into September 2020, it was in much better shape. Before the metaphorical ink was wet, I launched straight into the next book in the series, Cuts, which currentky stands at about 40k words. Amidst all this I revised, remixed, revamped and reissued Sker House, my attempt at the great Welsh haunted house story and explained my reasoning for doing such a thing here.

To sum up, 2020 was a weird, yet productive year. Personally, I’m hoping for the same level of productivity in 2021 but with slightly less weirdness.


Brewtality

My short story Grower is included in the new anthology Brewtality, out now on Evil Cookie, a new publishing company set up by the uber-talented K Trap Jones. All the stories in this book have a common them, which is something very close to my heart: alcohol.

Without giving too much away, Grower is about a guy who finds a tooth in his beer, and things just get weirder for him from there. It’s one of the most bizarre and flat-out surreal, stories I’ve produced in a long time. In fact, it’s probably one of the most bizarre and flat-out surreal, stories I’ve produced EVER. I wrote the original draft in the heady pre-COVID summer of 2019 whilst living in Guangzhou, and drinking far too much cheap Chinese beer. I was swigging on a can one night when I started thinking… what if?

This story was rejected by another prospective publisher I sent it to on the basis of being, “Too skin-crawlingly gross.” They also added, “The descriptions throughout this story were uncomfortably visceral and gruesome.” That’s a win for any horror writer, and I’m glad Trap wasn’t as squeamish and sensitive.

The original version featured a can of Budweiser as the vessel of doom, because I wanted to emphasise the discovery of something weird deep inside the ordinary and I hate Bud with a passion. Too gassy. But later I had a rethink, and decided it would be much more fun if I ditched the Bud in favour of a made-up brand of craft beer (just as I would in real life). Also, credit for that final killer line has to go to Trap himself.

Just look at this ToC!

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I am truly humbled to be in such great company.

Brewtality is out now on paperback and ebook on Evil Cookie publishing.


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