Craig Saunders is a brilliant writer. A man of diverse subjects ranging from Science Fiction to Horror to just plain strange. But as the saying goes The Writing Remains the Same: Clear, concise, thought provoking, interesting and sometimes humorous. Saunders has the true mark of a writer that will one day I am sure be a Writer. I have read his work for a few years now and I still think that The Seven Point Star is an under-appreciated work of art; horror and philosophy wrapped up in twisted tale of good and evil and where mankind fits.
1. When did you start writing horror?
First story I ever wrote (to completion, anyway) - The Martyr's Tale. It was fantasy, mostly, but there were elements of horror in there. It was a fairly simple story, a short, about an assassin who makes a terrible mistake. But there was a snippet of his back story in a jail, where the torturers liked to take out people's bones and sew back the flesh. I think I wanted to write fantasy (I still like to) but mostly my mind takes a darker turn, whether I want it to or not. It's like being left or right handed, or gay or straight. You don't have a choice about stuff like that.
2. Have you written in any other genre?
I have. I still do. Hopefully I always will. I write some comic noir kind of stuff (the Spiggot stories, the Sarah House stories), some heroic fantasy (the Rythe stories). I prefer to write horror, though. It's what's natural, for me. The fantasy is hardest, the comic stuff somewhere in between. I find fantasy harder, because it's large, and that makes it unwieldy and I really don't like to take notes or plan. I don't like to do the same job twice, if I can help it. Writing longhand and transcribing onto a PC is too cumbersome, for me, and plotting feels similar. It's a storyboard. So you spend a long time sitting down and figuring it out, and then you have to go back and write it all after you've done that. It seems a bit like painting by numbers. I know the old carpenter's saying, measure twice, cut once. It's sound advice, I'm sure, and it obviously works for others. It's just not for me. When I come to the actual writing, having a plan turns it from fun to just another chore.
3. What makes you uncomfortable?
Boxer shorts. You know, sometimes you're walking, and your bits pop out, so you shuffle 'em round to get comfortable, then you get where you're going and sit down and bam! you sit right on an errant nut. Oh. OK.
I'm going to go ahead and assume you're referring to horror, and mental rather than physical discomfort. I'm actually pretty difficult to offend, but torture porn makes me uncomfortable - sure there's a place for it, and others probably enjoy it, but I don't. But horror stuff that actually freaks me out general concerns madness, rather than gore. Gore doesn't worry me. Insanity does. Maybe casual, inescapable violence. Yes, that's disturbing. I think Cormac McCarthy does that very well.
4. Does your family read your work?
Kids, nope. My wife reads everything, my mum reads the ones that take her fancy. Some, like The Walls of Madness, my wife complains about, then tells me off. 'You've gone too far,' she said about that story, and plenty of others. Which I think means 'It's really good,' but I don't really listen. Sounds very much like 'Have you fixed the shower', or 'Have you taken out the bins'. I think she might be Portuguese, or maybe Spanish. I don't know.
5. Does your writing make you uneasy?
Like the question above - number 3, if memory serves - most of the time I try to write horror with a kind of hopeful element, something uplifting, perhaps, though that's not quite it. But the mental stuff, when the narrator is unreliable, perhaps. That's the stuff I find harder to write - Bloodeye, The Walls of Madness...those kind of stories. The Estate, maybe. They feel more personal, more troubling.
6. Who would you say you write like?
All sorts, I suppose. An agent once said I write like Dashiell Hammett. But he didn't take the story on. So, a nice compliment but ultimately pointless. Other people have said, content-wise, like Barker or Gaiman. Some people have said Terry Pratchett. It's all nice and very pleasant, but I don't necessarily think it's comparable. People write like themselves, I think. Or, like so many other people it becomes moot, maybe. I don't know. I write pretty short sentences, in short chapters, about horrific and/or fantastic happenings. In a book. Does that help? Er. I give up. What's the answer?
7. Who are your favourite authors?
I like Charlie Huston an awful lot. I enjoyed King, a few years ago, and still have a soft spot for him. I like Mieville and Pratchett and Banks and Murakami. I don't think I'd want to marry any of them. I like McMahon, McCammon, McBain...all the Mc's. Deininger and Curran I enjoy, more often than not. I'm pretty eclectic in my tastes. I like Vonnegut more than most, Heller, Williams (Tad), Child (Lee), Gemmell, Maugham, Alastair Reynolds, Isaac Asimov, Sagan, Poul Anderson. Joe Abercrombie definitely qualifies as a favourite, as does Eoin Colfer. I read anything by Garth Ennis and Alan Moore and Mark Millar on the comic book side. I don't read much non-fiction, outside of research, or poets. I like classic poetry more than classic fiction. I used to try to read big fat tomes, or heavy books in other ways, that were genius, classics, or touted as must-reads, because I thought it would make be a better, more erudite reader. Melville and Dostoyevsky and Kafka spring to mind. I didn't enjoy them. There are other writers people love that just don't work for me. On the horror front, I don't really like Lovecraft or Poe, either. Sorry! How terribly rude...
Now, I just read what I fancy and mostly that turns out to be genre fiction. There are lots of writers I like very much. Those mentioned above are just a few.
8. Who influences you as a writer?
Almost all of the things I've read over the years, certainly, but at some point I think people just start writing the stories they want, rather than the stories that they're re-interpreting. Do I think that? I'm not sure. I'm going to try it out for a while, as a thought, and see if it sticks...
All the authors I mentioned before. I'm forty-two right now, and as a complete guess I must have read at least a few thousand books. I think they all add something into your head, somewhere. Now, I find the people that influence me on a conscious level (rather than in the undermind where the thought-dwarves toil) are people who work at their craft and the business of being a writer. People who are consistent and make a bit of effort. Joe R. Lansdale, Matt Shaw, Ray Bradbury, J.A. Konrath, Stephen King...people who work hard. Writing is easy enough, I think. Being successful, it seems, involves either a bolt of lightning or putting in some hours. Kids these day seem to want everything to be easy. Pfft. Kids these day.
Putting in some hours and earning your way seems like something to aspire to. For me, anyway.
9. Do you remember what your first horror book was that you read?
First 'horror', no. First 'gore', yes. Michael Slade, Headhunter. My granddad had it on his bedside cabinet. As kids, we'd go and stay with my nan and granddad, and sometimes he'd have a book on the bedside cabinet. I'd sit under a dodgy electric blanket, with the bedside light on, and read it. It didn't matter what it was on that bedside cabinet. If it was granddad's, I'd read it. His books had things about lady-nipples and soldier's intestines and occult rituals. They were dangerous books, exciting books. At a young age (pretty young, though I don't remember the exact age) I'd pick up books like that, or Dennis Wheatley or maybe Sven Hassel, but Louis L'amour or Zane Grey, too.
10. How old were you?
Then? I don't strictly know. I remember reading The Lord of the Rings around that time, too. The bedside cabinet of illicit delights was in an old house of theirs, and they moved when I was around ten or eleven, so sometime between the ages of eight and eleven. That's a fair guess, but I might be off. My childhood memories are extremely unreliable.
11. Is there any subject you will not touch as an author?
Katy Perry, certainly. Otherwise, I don't think a writer should censor themselves. There are plenty of other people to do that for you, later on down the line. Like a good editor, a disgruntled reader, or an Amazon-bot.
12. What was the best advice you were given as a writer?
'Don't assume the reader knows what you do'. About clarity, I suppose, and making assumptions as to what the reader will 'get'. Sometimes, of course, it's best to allow the reader to make those assumptions, or read between the lines. But sometimes I'm just a wordy hack, full of vague blather. My wife gave me that advice, and also the vague blather line...I think. I don't speak Spanish, though.
13. If you had to start all over again, what would you do different?
I don't honestly know...maybe one thing, yes. I started out hitting up agents and big publishers, like some wet-eared kid, hoping for that aforementioned bolt of luck. I wasn't good enough, they weren't interested, and I had no background. Imagine a garage band asking for a gig at a stadium. Wouldn't happen. I think if I had known then that you really need to work at it, have a publication history behind you, I wouldn't have wasted years. It was probably necessary to learn that lesson. I suppose I wish I'd learned it a little bit sooner. I'm a slow learner, though.
Of course you can come straight out and self-publish. You can learn that way, or not learn. But I think, still, that gatekeepers are useful. Editors, the good ones, will give you feedback, tell you if a story is hot or cold. That's still worth something. I didn't want to be a Kindle author, and never set out to be. I still don't, though there's nothing wrong with it and I put books straight on Amazon sometimes. But I like having a publisher behind me and that's what I wanted and still do. If that's your goal, then at some point you're going to have to get past an editor, and having a history will certainly help.
So, yes, I'd do that differently. I'd work toward something, I think, rather than simply hoping it would drop into my lap.
14. How many books do you read a year?
I used to read three or four a week, but working seriously as a writer spoiled reading for pleasure for a while. I'm only just starting to enjoy reading again. Currently, probably half a book a week, maybe one a week, if I'm enjoying it and have the free time.
But between the ages of around ten and thirty, probably an average of four a week. So, what's that? Maybe two hundred? Over twenty years? Four thousand books, at a very sketchy estimate. But it's not a competition. Now, like I said, I just read when I can be bothered, when I want to, or if someone asks for an endorsement, maybe. I probably read no more than fifty books a year now, some years maybe only ten. Like the 'write every day' question below, I think other authors swear by reading a ton of books. I think what works for you, personally, makes more sense. Stephen King's 'On Writing', I seem to remember, said something along the lines of 'if you don't read, you can't write.' He's not my real dad, though, so I don't have to listen to him.
15. Do you write every day?
I know some writers adhere to this, too. David Gemmell used to, Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale. Sure, I try to. I like to, even. But sometimes it's not possible or it's just not going to work. It's fine to have a day, a week, a month off. As above, so below: what works for you is fine. I don't think there are any rules to being a writer other than the part where you actually have to write. Either way, I try not to be a grump about it. I like writing, though, so mostly, if I'm able, I write every day.
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