Ginger Nuts of Horror
To celebrate the launch of his new collection of short stories author C.M. Saunders makes two stops at Ginger Nuts of Horror, here with his Five Minutes with interview and with an excellent entry in our Childhood Fears column.
C.M. Saunders is a freelance writer and editor from Wales. His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in over 70 magazines, ezines and anthologies worldwide, including Loaded, Maxim, Record Collector, Fortean Times, Fantastic Horror, Trigger Warning, Liquid imagination, Crimson Streets and the Literary Hatchet. His books have been both traditionally and independently published, the most recent being Human Waste and X3, his third collection of short fiction, both of which are available now on Deviant Dolls Publications.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I started writing fiction back in the small press boom of the late nineties. I had a few short stories published early-on, but drifted out of it for a few years because it’s very time-consuming and non-fiction generally pays better. I’m not all about the money, but I had a shit job in a factory then and needed every penny I could get. Eight or nine years ago, when I was working as an English teacher in China, I had some time on my hands and gradually got back into it. If you saw Chinese TV, you’d want to do something else as well. Since then, I’ve knocked out half a dozen novels and novellas and had over thirty short stories published in various places.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I play snooker, very badly, and sit in pubs drinking craft beer and reading The Times newspaper. I’m also a big sports fan. I particularly appreciate MMA, rugby, basketball and football. I’m a Cardiff City supporter, in case you were wondering.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
Travel. I’ve been in perpetual motion for years. There’s a quote attributed to St Augustus that goes, “The world is a book, and if you don’t travel you only read one page.”
It’s true. For the first twenty-odd years of my life I was stuck in a little corner of south Wales. It was like living in a bubble. The isolation gets to you. Wales is a beautiful country, but since the mines and steelworks closed it’s very economically depressed. There’s a lot of poverty and crime. I’ve moved 14 or 15 times in as many years, lived in three countries and visited over a dozen more. Every new place I go is like a new world. I’ve only ever been robbed twice. Once was outside a little café in the arse end of Rotterdam, and the other time was three miles from my home in Wales, which just about says it all.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
To me, ‘horror’ is a very loose term, and a very personal one. It means different things to different people. Personally, I prefer the term ‘dark fiction,’ to describe my own writing because although some of my work would struggle to be called ‘horror,’ it’s usually dark.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
Great question. We seem to have been stuck in the dystopian/post-apocalyptic quagmire for some time now, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Why would it? There is a growing concern that every day brings us one step closer to it. I only hope that when it finally comes we get proper aliens or zombies, and don’t all just blow each other up.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
I’ve been re-visiting some classic horror films on my blog, and watching them again through a contemporary lens, so to speak, is an interesting exercise. An American Werewolf in London was fucking terrifying any way you slice it, no wonder it damaged me so much when I was ten. Ditto the Evil Dead. When I was a kid I wanted to be Carl Kolchak so I could combine my two passions – writing and the paranormal. Book-wise, I would love to emulate Richard Laymon’s Body Rides. It’s genius. Also, anything by Stephen King, but I know everyone says that. I love how he makes his characters come to life, and how he can make the most mundane things interesting. About 80% of Dolan’s Cadillac is about a dude digging a hole in the desert.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off?
I do a lot of reviewing for various people, so I am lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of new authors. Off the top of my head, Renee Miller has done well recently and Amy Cross is just getting better and better. The only problem with her is she writes books faster than I can read them. It’s insane. I guess you are already aware of Josh Malerman, J Daniel Stone, Rich Hawkins, Duncan Ralston and Jason Arnopp. There are some talented British writers just breaking through; Mark Nye, Matt Hickman, Mark McGahan, and Simon Farrant, to name just a few.
How would you describe your writing style?
A reviewer once pointed out that ‘a thread of sardonic humour’ runs through most of my fiction, and I agree with that. I’d never even noticed it until it was pointed out. I worked on newsstand magazines for five years, and that taught me to keep it tight and be very economical with my words. They are a luxury, not a right, and should be used sparingly.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
My favourite review ever was one for ‘Out of Time’ that said: “Christian Saunders writes with a mirthful charisma and unveils a brutally astute understanding of humanity's dark side that places him firmly in the footsteps of the modern horror greats.”
I ignore the negative ones.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Would it be a cop-out to say the ‘selling books’ part? However good you are, it’s not enough for indie writers to just be writers. You also have to be your own publicist, accountant, and personal assistant. It’s very time-consuming. Other than that, being original is pretty difficult. I’m one of those cynics who believes that even though you can put your own individual mark on things, everything has been done before.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
I don’t believe in being controversial just for the sake of it. Yes, writing is art and art should challenge convention sometimes, but a lot of writers seem to go out of their way to offend people. Maybe they think they are being edgy. I don’t know, in most cases it just comes across as contrived. For the sake of decency, I don’t write about things like animal abuse and paedophilia. Nobody wants to read about that.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
A bit of both. I often name characters after people I know or admire, more as a kind of inside joke than anything else. There are a lot of pop punk musicians and ex- Cardiff City footballers floating around in my books.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
I’ve been writing professionally for five or six years now, and in that time especially I think I’ve improved a lot. You can’t do something for eight or ten hours a day for six years and NOT get better at it. Certainly the technical aspects like grammar and punctuation has improved. I think these days I get to the point faster. Waffling on too much in the mistaken belief that readers are digging what you are waffling on about is a rookie error. Why spend ten sentences saying something you can just as easily say in one?
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
A decent computer or Mac fitted with a good word processing program (Word or OpenOffice), a well-stocked library, a willingness to learn, an open mind and a refusal to quit. Anything else is superfluous.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
I don’t know if this constitutes advice, but an editor I worked on a magazine with once told me to give him diamonds, not turds. Because you can’t polish turds. You can try, but it’ll still be a turd. I took that to mean don’t be sloppy. Check facts and don’t make any silly mistakes in your writing that someone else then has to pick up.
Getting your worked noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
It’s no secret that we all operate in a crowded market. These days, anyone can be a writer. There are good and bad aspects to that. The biggest minus is that there’s no quality control on Amazon. I’ve seen writers do all kinds of things to try to stand out from the crowd. I can see how some of it might work, while some is just cringeworthy. Me, I’m old school. I think connecting with readers on a personal level is very important. I reply to every message I get. Even the Filipino women who want to marry me and the Nigerian princes who want to give me $18 billion in exchange for my bank details.
I’m part of a small collective of writers called the Deviant Dolls who share and cross-promote each other’s work. In theory, it’s a sure-fire success, but obviously it doesn’t work quite so well in practice. There are always passengers who want to get out more than they are prepared to put in.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children, who is your favourite child, and who is your least favourite to write for and why?
I think my favourite would either be Dale in Sker House, because he’s me at twenty years of age, Jerry from Apartment 14F, because he’s me at thirty, or the survivalist Dan Pallister from Human Waste. Just because he’s crazy as fuck and I hope he isn’t me at fifty.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
My 2016 novel Sker House. It’s partly a historical novel based on fact, but incorporates a lot of Welsh legends and folklore. It’s probably my most meaningful and substantial piece of work.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
No. I’ve written my share of rubbish, but in my mind even my worst story serves a purpose, if only to bridge a gap between A and B. Writing is a constant learning curve, and to exclude certain parts of the journey would be akin to denying some harsh truths about yourself.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
I try to balance that sardonic humour with a general unease which sometimes crosses over into out-and-out horror. I think I achieved that with Human Waste and shorts like The Devil & Jim Rosenthal (to be found in the anthology DOA and my first collection, X) and ‘Til Death do us Part (Morpheus Tales and my third collection, X3).
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
Certainly. This is from apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story:
Then she did a most unexpected thing. She raised Jerry's palm to her mouth, and licked at it hungrily, greedily. He could feel the hot, moist roughness of her tongue probing at every contour of his hand, over his outstretched palm and between his fingers.
The old woman moaned. It was either a moan of confirmation, or a moan of pleasure. It was impossible to tell for sure, but the moan seemed to have almost sexual overtones. Even from a distance of a couple of feet, Jerry could smell the sickly, stench of her breath. It smelled like sour milk.
He wanted to scream, pull his hand out of this crazy hag's reach and run away. Somewhere where she would never find him. The wetness of her tongue against his skin felt so unnatural, so intrinsically wrong, that it made his skin crawl until goose pimples peppered his flesh, despite the clammy humidity of the late autumn afternoon. Occasionally, his palm would brush against one of the few remaining teeth standing sentinel in her gums like tombstones in a forgotten graveyard. Each time it did so, it gave him a start like a mild electric shock.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
My latest book is a collection of short fiction called X3. As the title suggests, it’s the third volume and mainly covers the period between 2011-2014. Most of the stories have been published before in various places, but I always include one or two surprises. Next up, I’m re-releasing one of my novellas, Dead of Night. The publishing rights have finally reverted back to me, so I put it out the way I always intended. I’m aiming for an autumn release.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
I think technology has revolutionized everything, including the way we view horror. Stranded on a remote stretch of road or lost in the woods? Use your GPS. Don’t know how to banish a demon or exorcise someone? Google it. Being chased through the back country by a band of hungry cannibals or stalked by a deranged serial killer? Call the police. Therefore, the horror cliché I would like to erase would be not being able to get a signal.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
The last great book I read was either The Ritual by Adam Nevill, or Friend from the Internet by Amy Cross. Both are great. The biggest disappointment was a non-fiction book called Last Man Off. It was marketed as one of the great survival-at-sea stories. The first half of the book is about fishing, then the boat sinks, the survivors are in a raft for a few hours, then they get rescued. It was all a bit anti-climactic.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Great question. This has nothing to do with writing but I wish people would ask me about sport more. In particular footy and MMA. Cardiff City were my tip for promotion from the Championship at the beginning of the season when they were 18-1. Don’t you wish you’d listened to me now? What’s that? Who will be the next big thing in MMA? That’s easy. Despite being in a stacked division, Darren Till has the world at his feet. Also, I’m backing Brett Johns to do well. And I’m not just saying that because he’s Welsh. Thirty-odd fights and not a single loss between them. They both have incredible desire, and they always find a way to win.
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