Announcer: Please put your hands together for the Royal Tigress herself, the Queen of the Jungle, The Teigr Princess!
Audience cheer and applaud as the TP enters the stage, a white Tigress padding along at her side.
TP: Thank you, Mr A. Well hello everyone! I hope you’re all having a good time this evening and you enjoyed the Olympics?
TP: Good, weren’t they wonderful? Of course, in the writing world, we have our own ‘athletes’. Some of them are the literary equivalent of Usain Bolt, selling thousands of books by word of mouth alone. Others are graceful, elegant writers, the Charlotte DuJardin’s of the publishing industry, selling their work because the writing is just so good.
Announcer: So who have we got today, your Highness?
TP: Very good question, Mr A! Smiles.
Today we have an athlete of the Horror genre. His short stories have hit the target more than two dozen times and four of his novels have found their way to the bullseye with different publishers.
He lives in Norfolk, England, with his wife and three children, who he pretends to listen to while making up stories in his head.
Please welcome Craig Saunders!
Audience applaud as Craig appears on stage, accompanied by a pair of dark haired girls dressed as a vampire and a zombie.
TP greets Craig. The girls take the Tigress off stage and TP & Craig sit down.
TP: Welcome to The World of the Teigr Princess, Craig. How are you?
Craig: I’m fine, thank you.
TP: We’ll do a Tom Daley and dive straight into the questions. What age did you start writing?
Craig: I think I was probably 14 or 15 – I started out writing love letters and poetry to my then girlfriend. She was my first proper girlfriend, and I think the poetry, in particular, worked a treat 😉 She’s my wife now.
Though, thankfully, she didn’t keep the poems. Come to think of it, I think she threw them out because they were so utterly, completely, hopelessly, terrible.
TP: You write Horror stories – what started that off? Why Horror?
Craig: I’m not sure, if I’m honest (which I try not to be – after all, writing’s about telling lies, right?). I don’t think there was a defining moment in my life that led to horror. In fact, I began by writing fantasy. I read a lot of fantasy, and wanted to be like David Gemmell, probably my fantasy hero after reading ‘Legend’…I never could quite pull it off.
My first stories were fantasy, but of the dark variety – I think the horror, too, is an extension of the fantastic.
That doesn’t answer your question, I know, but sometimes there is no spoon.
TP: Where is your favourite place to write or garner inspiration?
Craig: My favourite place to write, ever, is in my current shed. It’s my man cave and my retreat. I have a desk, a coffee machine, my PC, bookshelves, and a tumble dryer. The tumble dryer helps me keep things in perspective. If I ever make it big, I’m going to have a tumble dryer in my study, facing the sea. I’ll be facing the sea. I don’t think the tumble dryer cares where it’s looking.
Inspiration wise…cheesy, I know, but the graveyard – it’s a two minute walk from my house.
TP: How much writing do you do on a daily basis? Do you have a routine?
Craig: No routine whatsoever! I’d love to have a routine, but I’m a house husband, as well as a writer, and routine and small children…let’s just say it never goes to plan. That said, I write whenever I can, and aim for 500 words a day minimum every day…unless I’m editing!
TP: Time for a quick fire round, just to wake the audience up a bit… Not that you’re boring, they just look a little… well… zombiefied!
Craig: Okay, fire away.
TP: Cat or Dog?
Craig: Cat. I used to have cats and thought I was a dog person. Now I have a dog, I realise how much I miss my cats. Cats are so much easier!
TP: Coffee or Tea?
Craig: Coffee! I love coffee. I’ve got a pot of coconut coffee on the go right now, sent to me by a friend from Miami Beach.
TP: Chocolate or Alcohol:
Craig: Neither! Haha – I don’t care for chocolate, and I don’t drink. I used to drink, but I spoiled it 😉
TP: Morning or Evening:
Craig: Evening. I hate mornings with a passion.
TP: So, let’s really get into it now. If you could meet any Writer for a pint (living or dead), who would it be and why?
Craig: Bill Hussey. He’s my favourite author, although he’s ‘retired’ from horror to write YA fiction. The only problem is, I’d be too shy to talk at all! Every time I meet a famous author on Facebook (not for real – I don’t leave the shed) I clam up and become all bashful…
TP: How do you prefer to read – Kindle or Print? Why?
Craig: Print. I’ll always prefer print. I grew up with paperbacks. I love the smell of them, the feel of them in my hands. They just ‘fit’ so much better. I love paperbacks.
TP: What’s your latest book about?
Craig: I have two that came out around the same time, but I’ve spoken lots about one – The Love of the Dead – and not so much about the other – A Stranger’s Grave – …so I’ll talk about A Stranger’s Grave…
I go to the graveyard when I’m thinking about a plot point, usually, to clear my head. There’s a guy who lives and works on site – I started thinking about who he was, what his story was…and then I found out about an old practise of burying stillborn children, unmarked, in stranger’s graves…that’s how it came about.
It turned out the story wanted to be about something else, though – the custodian’s still there, the graveyard, but also the spirits of three witches and a few other ghosts thrown in for good measure – I’m a horror writer, what are you going to do?
I do have three books being published by Adam Millard of Crowded Quarantine in the next six months though. The Walls Of Madness is released in October, Rain in December, and A Home By The Sea early in 2013.
TP: So, to quote Adam himself; “It’s a hat-trick of Saunders awesomeness from Crowded Quarantine.”
TP: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next five years?
Craig: I think the eReader revolution has a lot to answer for, some good, some bad. I think it’s going to get harder and harder to get a traditional ‘big’ deal through the larger publishers. I think a lot of new writers with voices that wouldn’t otherwise be heard will make it big and surprise a lot of people – some already have.
It is, to my mind, a good place for the reader to be in, and many writers. I do think that there is rather a lot of dross for sale on Kindle etc. but I also think there’s a lot of gems out there, waiting to be discovered.
As for freebies, giveaways, etc, I don’t see them going away, although they are perhaps less effective than they were a few years, or even a year, ago.
Regarding smaller publishers and medium-sized publishers, I think the environment for them is really hard – but the good ones, same as the good indie authors, have a chance to shine.
There you go – you asked. Didn’t say it would be interesting.
Craig grins and the audience applaud / chuckle.
TP: If you had to have a theme song, what would it be and why?
Craig: That’s a good question. I like that. You know, I have no idea. I write with music as background noise, but I don’t pay that much attention.
My tastes are fairly eclectic, but I do like a bit of Zepplin. I think Gallow’s Pole. That’s one of my favourites.
Or No Quarter…hmm…I’m going to go with No Quarter… hang on, you already knew that! Are you psychic?
TP: Sadly, no, we just have very good researchers!
TP: If anyone would like to find you on the internet, where should they look?
Craig: I have a blog at: www.petrifiedtank.blogspot.com and an Amazon Page on both the US site and the UK site.
TP: And finally – if you could enter any Olympic Event, which would it be and why?
Craig: I’m so lazy. Almost heroically so. I think it would have to be something that didn’t involve a lot of heavy lifting or running around. I’d go with archery, because it looks *really* cool. Thunk.
Looks at TP sharply.
Are you sure you’re not psychic?
Just before I go – a massive thank you! I really enjoyed doing this, and I’m honoured to be featured. Thank you.
TP: You’re welcome!
And that’s all we have time for today. If you’d like to discover more about Craig’s work, hang on as there is an excerpt from A Stranger’s Grave straight after we finish… or you could just pop into his blog!
Come back again next week and I’ll have another athlete of the writing world for you to discover!
* * *
There’s a cemetery in a small Norfolk market town. It’s a peaceful place, a haven for the dead and the bereaved. There is birdsong in the trees no matter the time of year. Surrounded by hedgerow, the cemetery is hemmed in with roads running east and west to either side. The roads were there before cars, when people travelled in carriages, and before.
It’s an old place. The earliest headstone dates back to the year 1756. The trees are much, much older.
Nobody knows how far the trees go back, but in 1956 a great oak that overhung the small chapel was cut down, and should any have had a mind to look there were a hundred and seven circles around that stump, that fat stump that wasn’t anywhere near the fattest grown among the dead.
The chapel is old, too. The stone, brick and flint and granite, is long tarnished, occasionally cleaned, but not often enough.
The shine has gone from the marble headstones. The sandstone, the granite, the limestone, long illegible.
Trees grow from forgotten graves and roots crack the pathways and tunnel through the old dead.
But something older than all of this came in 2007. A trio of angels carved from basalt and polished to a black sheen.
The evil those angels brought was the oldest of all.
The big gates shut behind Elton Burlock and for the first time in twenty-six years he breathed free air under a free sun.
The sun that shone back in 1985 was the same sun. The air he breathed back then, the same. The clouds drifting through the sky were no different.
But time brings subtle changes. The sun didn’t seem as bright. The air didn’t smell as clear.
This road, before the gate, was only twenty-six years old. Probably once fresh and wet when he’d left the world, it was now potted and cracked and repaired time and time again.
Cloud drifted across the sun and the air was instantly chilled.
When he’d gone into prison he’d brought a coat and a bag with the things he might need again on the outside. He hadn’t planned on staying so long, though. It wasn’t that his coat wasn’t warm enough for a mild spring day – though it seemed out of fashion now – nor was it that the day was especially chilly.
He shivered because prison was always warm. Now he was sixty-one and he was cold because age had somehow caught him out, too.
Elton turned his face up to the sun, taking what warmth he could. It felt good, his skin tightening, his eyes burning behind his eyelids.
Was the memory of the sun worth it?
He was still a powerful man, still strong enough when it mattered. His hair might be grey, a little thinner, and his stomach a little thicker. Maybe his skin was paler, too. He’d missed sunshine. You didn’t see a lot of the sun in prison.
He stroked his stubble, thick and rough. He saw his face most days in jail, but somehow it felt new, puckered and tight, even though he’d only stood in the glare of the sun for a few minutes at best.
Hard time done, then soft time. Once he’d hit fifty and transferred to Wayland prison it seemed like he was set, all hope of freedom gone, and educated man without no other purpose in life than to live.
Now, shifting his weight on feet that were once spry, once used to a boxer’s stance, shifting his bag in strong scarred knuckles, he set out on the road into town to meet the bus.
He wasn’t the same man out that went in. Back then, at thirty-five, he’d done what he thought was his share of fighting, in the ring and out. Maybe he’d have been wary, then, walking down the street on his own in the night, past pubs kicking out, piss heads and druggies and punks.
Thirty-five, he’d been married. Settled. Comfortable. His first degree earned, a teaching position, and his baby…
Thirty-five years old with a wife and a child on the way he might have been worried by these young people passing, wearing hoods and walking like hard men, even though they looked like they were made of twigs. Once, back when. Now?
He wouldn’t even touch them. He’d been down that road. Twenty-six years worth of it.
Prison didn’t take your pride. It didn’t take your strength. It didn’t take your will.
The thing of prison was…
The thing of prison…
He stopped walking. The bus pulled up in town and he watched people get off, get on while he thought about what it was that was niggling away at him.
What had prison given him? A second degree that would never get him a job. Eyes in the back of his head. A stomach like cast iron from eating shit food and arms like steel from curls and bench presses for the last twenty years. A broken hand, a once broken knee that ached all day long and a shit shoulder since he took a wild stab with sharpened toothbrush for his trouble.
But what had prison taken?
He’d been fed. He’d been happy enough, late on.
Maybe not back in the early days, when he’d fought it, railed against it, but late on, when he’d all but given up on getting out? Yeah, he’d been happy then.
Soon enough now he’d be on a state pension, living out an empty life, somewhere he didn’t know with strange people all around him. Nothing to do all day. Food he didn’t recognise.
He blinked at the receding bus, unable to make out the number.
He looked at the directions to the doss house on the print-out he’d been given. Hoped it wasn’t his bus he’d just missed.
It wasn’t dying he was worried about, either. Prison didn’t make you afraid of dying, not at all.
He was afraid of living.
Prison didn’t hurt you when you were in. It was when you got out. It was only then that you knew you were in prison still, and you always would be.
He pulled his coat tighter as he sat at the bus stop and stared at the sun for a while, until it hurt his eyes. It felt good.
Like it was worth the wait.