Horror Reviews with C.M. Saunders

Film Review: The Void (2016)

By C.M. Saunders

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It isn’t often a horror movie leaves me feeling as emotionally drained as this one did. Other worldly cosmic horror, body horror, splatter horror, this film is a mash-up of every kind of horror you can think of, and probably some you cant. It’s hard to know where to start talking about it. Dismemberment? Check. Pyramids? Check. Demon babies? Check. Hospital-cum-gateway-to-hell invaded by knife-wielding devil worshipers in hoods? Check. You get the picture. Possibly.

          It all starts innocently enough when sheriff’s deputy Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole, who excelled in 2012’s The Conspiracy) stops one night to help what he assumes is a drunk dude crawling down the side of the road. When it transpires drunk dude isn’t drunk at all, but severely traumatised, Deputy Carter takes him to the hospital where his ex-wife works. There, whilst going through the administration procedure, he finds one of the nurses cutting her face off and stabbing a patient in the eyes with a pair of scissors. She then attacks Deputy Carter who shoots her dead. Not a regular occurrence. But his shift gets worse when he goes outside to his patrol car to call in the incident and is confronted with the aforementioned knife-wielding devil worshipers in hoods. Back inside the hospital, things take an even more disturbing turn when the dead nurse transforms into a slithering, slimy, tentacled creature, which is the last thing anyone needs, and matters are compounded when a gateway to Hell (aka, the void) opens. There are numerous twists and turns along the way, which I won’t spoil for you, ensuring the plot moves along with pace. The downside of this is the fact that of you blink, you are liable to miss something important.

            A lot of reviews compared The Void (favourably) with the low-budget horror flicks of the 80s. I don’t see it myself, though there are certain similarities with Josh Carpenter’s The Thing. Some of the cartoon violence comes across as a little bit gratuitous and the cosmic horror aspect adds some trippiness to proceedings, but the package works well. I love the return to ‘real’ special effects, rather than an over-reliance on CGI which has become the norm these days. The Void made quite a splash on 2016’s festival circuit and currently holds a 76% approved rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is remarkably high for a film of this type. Definitely not one to aVoid. Sorry.

The Swearing Corner: The N-Word and other words I won’t say (mostly)  

by Steve Wetherell

I’ll never say the n-word. Well, not in any official capacity. I might sing along to an Anderson Paak song, and my usual tactic of replacing it with ‘fella’ doesn’t always scan well. Also, I might write the word in the mouth of a racist character or such. Also, I might get drunk and scream it at someone’s wedding. Not the last one. That was a joke.

 

I wouldn’t say the word because it’s a very sensitive, contentious word, with a dark and terrible history, and it makes people uncomfortable. Saying it, to me, is far more effort that it’s worth. I mean, really, considering the fallout, I’d need a really, really good reason to say it. Maybe to prove some point about free speech and sensible conversation or such, or because Samuel L. Jackson commanded me to say it on national television. And that’s not really going to be an issue for me. I’m slightly suspicious of anyone who does think it is an issue. Why do you want to say that word? Is it because you were told you can’t? You coy little minx. Wash your mouth out. Also your soul.

 

Should the word have such power, though? The short answer is yes, but I may live to see a time when it loses that power. For example, when I was a young kid, referring to a black guy as a black guy was thought to be extremely crass. More sensitive people would say ‘the coloured chap’ or ‘Dave’ depending on how well they knew him. These days referring to anyone as ‘coloured’ is career damagingly offensive, and as ‘black’ is fine. Things change.

 

Faggot is another word I won’t say, apart from just then, obviously. Although it’s a fun word to say. (In England, a faggot is something you eat. It’s also a meat dish.) I won’t say faggot for the same reason I’ll never un-ironically say ‘cuck’, because it’s too often used by macho types with the self-awareness of a dick shaped lollipop and the compassion of an alligator. Also, it too has a pretty damned dark history. Again, not being able to say this word is really no skin off my nose.

 

I do miss “Gaaaaay” though. No, hear me out. We pretty much said everything was gay when I was younger, largely due to South Park. It’s got a big dumb mooing quality to it that makes it silly. Geography? Gaaaay. Newspapers? Gaaaay. Any outward sign of affection between two straight men? Gaaaay. In fact, the only thing we wouldn’t derisively call gay was actual gay people, because that would have been mean. Obviously, as we matured we realised that setting a tone where the word gay was used derisively was a problem in itself. It didn’t peter out entirely though. One of my favourite jokes in one my favourite movies- Shaun of the Dead- was the following exchange.

 

Shaun: We have to save Liz!

Ed: Why?

Shaun: Because I love her.

Ed: Alright… gay.

 

One grown man calling another grown man gay for admitting he loves his girlfriend is still hilarious to me. It’s absurd, and silly. I didn’t really stop saying gay in that way until my best friend and housemate came out to me in university. We had a frank and serious discussion about whether we were both supposed to stop calling things gay now, and he suggested that we should just carry on as normal. We didn’t though. I gradually phased it out. Now that it was more personal to me, it didn’t seem as silly.

 

Like retard. Remember when everything was retarded? Again, you’d call everything retarded apart from someone who was actually retarded, because what are you, a monster? Same situation as Faggot though. Phased that out. I’ve replaced it with fucktarded, but that’s still a bit dicey as the clue to its origin is fairly embedded in its structure. But here’s the problem- where I come from, flat out calling someone an idiot is a bit serious. It can be used light-heartedly, sure, but it’s also the word you use when you stop fucking around and want someone to know that they’ve sincerely fucked up. So, I sort of need a less serious word than ‘Idiot’ and less heinous word than ‘Retard.’

 

Answers on a postcard.

 

 

 

Inspiration Series: The Readers

by Renee Miller

I think the number one question I’m asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Maybe it’s because some of my stories are fucked up, but I think most authors find this question pretty common. Anyway, it’s a hard question to answer, because inspiration is everywhere. There is no one place authors get their ideas from. So, we thought, let’s look at where we get our ideas, and try to answer this question in a series of posts. For me, a big source of inspiration is you. The Reader. Yes, I freely admit that I use ideas pitched to me by others, although what I end up writing isn’t usually what the pitcher had in mind.

For example, CATS LIKE CREAM, my horror novella that’s coming out in November via DarkFuse, is about a real estate agent who takes the process of buying and selling a home to a very dark place. The inspiration for the story came from a friend who was a real estate agent, but in his mind, it was a comedy. A caper, if you will. And it had huge potential as a comedy. I loved the idea. I mulled the idea over in my mind for a long time, almost a year, but every time I sat down to flesh it out, I wasn’t really thrilled with what I came up with. So, I set it aside. And then the friend passed away suddenly, and I thought about the conversation we had again. It was a good idea, and I wanted to use it somehow. Sort of a tribute. I sat down, thought about his sense of humor, which was fantastically warped, by the way, and using his many weird ideas as inspiration, I began writing. A few days later I had a draft, and now, we have the twisted nightmare you’ll get to read soon. It’s not what he pitched me, but I think he’d have loved it.

But that’s not the only time someone has suggested an idea I’ve used. Our very own, Christian Saunders once tossed an idea my way. Once I was sure he really didn’t want to use it, I wrote KILLERS. Now I think I owe him my soul or something. Whatever. Worth it.

Over the past ten years, when I started letting people read what I wrote, I’ve had more ideas pitched to me than I can count. These range from actual stories to just characters, settings or themes. Many are duds, or just something I haven’t been able to work with. A few are brilliant and I’m not sharing them with anyone. They’re locked away in a top secret idea file for future use. Christian might get one, but only because I think I want to keep my soul.

You might wonder if using someone else’s idea is plagiarism, or maybe you think it’s not very creative. To you I say, suck it. Just kidding. No, I’m not. It’s not plagiarism, because an idea isn’t a tangible thing. You have to take it and make it into something worth reading. You still have to iron out the plot, create characters, and build the world the idea is set in. If you’re not creative, you can’t do that. A dozen people can take a single idea and produce completely different stories from it.  Writers toss ideas around all the time. We give, take, and add to what’s already written. We call it brainstorming and it’s wonderful.

In addition to my readers, my husband (he wishes that I wouldn’t call him that as it’s “not legal,” but I do what I want), Kurt, is the source of many ideas, as are my kids (although they have much more PG tales in mind). We toss ideas around now and then (by that I mean, I sit them down and force them to listen to me brainstorm until they help me make sense of what I’m thinking just to shut me up), and occasionally, we come up with gold. I’m lucky to live with extremely imaginative people. My Milo Smalls stories were inspired by my kids, and an upcoming project, EAT THE RICH, was inspired by a conversation I had with Kurt while I had him trapped in the car with me. He said two words: Hobo cannibals. I’m thinking he believed the idea was so ridiculous, I’d just shut up, but I said “What would it be called?” Then one of us said “Eat the rich?” (can’t remember if it was him or me that said it first) And I knew it was something worth pursuing. We laughed at the crazy shit we plotted, but the idea stuck. I couldn’t shake it. And now I’ve got 50,000 words of apocalyptic horror with a dash of funny sitting here waiting for me to polish it into submittable form.

Anyway, my point is if you’re a writer and people are coming at you with ideas, don’t brush them off. Don’t act like you’re the shit and only your ideas are worth considering. Listen. Make a note. You never know when something will click in your head. Sometimes their idea blends with one of your own and you discover gold. Writers aren’t the only people with imagination. Be open. Don’t be a cocky piece of shit.

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And readers, if you feel like you want to pitch an idea to a favorite author, don’t be shy. Go for it. If he doesn’t use it, no big deal. Odds are, he is just mulling it over or saving it, because he’s not sure what to do with it. Or he could be offended you offered a suggestion, because his massive ego affects his common sense. Who knows. Maybe your favorite author’s a dick. Some of us are. You should read authors who aren’t dicks.

Don’t let it deter you, though, if an author doesn’t use an idea you pitch to her. Our biggest source of inspiration, ideas or no ideas, is our readers. We want to entertain and inform you. When we write, you’re constantly on our minds, so what you have to say about what we write should be the most important words we hear. I’m always open to ideas. Just saying. Creativity needs nourishment, and I find that my readers have lots of juicy morsels I’m happy to consume. (No, Kim. Jack doesn’t have a sequel yet.)

Anyway, now you know one of my sources of inspiration. Next time, I’m going to talk about murder, so stay tuned.

Doctor Who Has a Dick and You Just Need to Accept That

by Steve Wetherell 

 

 

Listen up you mindless sheeple, ‘cause I’m about to mansplain a few things to you. I’ll happily accept that women can be doctors (providing they’re not my doctor) but I draw the line that at women being Doctor Whos. They just can’t. Because Doctor Who is a man, and has been for generations. Through his various iterations, brought to life by various actors and writers each with their own unique perspectives on the character, the unifying characteristics have always been that the Time Lord has two hearts and two balls.

A woman being a Doctor Who is just ludicrous. I mean, Doctor Who is a calm, rational pacifist, and everyone knows that women are screeching lunatics with no sense of proportion. A woman Doctor Who would probably try to claw the Master’s eyes out before breaking down and crying into a tampon. Then they’d travel back in time to when they were prettier and never come back because they’d met a nice man and settled down. And exactly how much maternity leave does a Time Lord expect? Will the world be laid to waste by Cyber Men because Lady Doctor took nine hundred years off to stay at home watching daytime TV and eating toast? FUCK THAT!

It’s time we took back Doctor Who from the Cuck Travelling Time Lord he has become (sorry, that should read Time Travelling Cuck Lord) and made him a man’s man again. Maybe have a Doctor with a beard who just continuously flaps his balls onto the table whenever he’s talking. Maybe a Doctor who finally puts a decent spoiler on the Tardis, and kits it out with a plush leather interior. Some respectable subwoofers. A Doctor that smokes cigars and once hit someone with a pool cue because that someone said something about his mum. And give him a robot dog again, for fuck’s sake! And don’t even think about substituting with a robot cat. Cats are gay, and anyone who disagrees can travel back in time to when women still knew how to make sandwiches, and make me a fucking time travel sandwich. 

 

By now you probably think I’m satirising all the misogynists who can’t stand the thought of a female Doctor Who, but I’m actually not. I thought I’d just contribute something controversial, because the people outraged about misogynists being against a female Doctor Who seem to vastly outnumber the actual misogynists who are against a female Doctor Who. I rather suspect that it’s just one person living in Croydon whose mum once stamped on his model Daleck. 

I don’t think there are really that many professed Doctor Who fans who also hate women, though there will be some, obviously, because chances are one in ten people you meet is an irredeemable cock-hole. (But which one? Look out, it’s the one dressed as a priest! He’s got a knife!) And as for those who aren’t Doctor Who fans, well they probably just don’t give a shiny golden fuck about your tea-drinking dimension-hopping train spotter.

I must admit, when I see people openly weeping about there being a woman Doctor, I feel like I’ve gotten up for a piss and then realised mid-flow that I’m actually at a Peruvian wedding. And then I realise it’s a dream, and I’ve pissed myself, and that I’m at an entirely different Peruvian wedding. I find it weird, is what I’m saying.

Is it important? It certainly seems like it. Freud died without ever answering the question “What do women want?” If someone would have just told him it was a female Doctor Who we could have saved the guy a lot of trouble. Likewise, if we’d known that solving equality would have been as simple as gender swapping a kids TV show character, we could have demanded this be done years ago.

So, what next? Why not a woman Robin Hood? Why not a woman King Arthur? Why not a woman James Bond? There is no real answer. It doesn’t matter. And if it sells more reboots? Have at it. (So long as you don’t get a fucking American to play it, because that kind of prejudice is fine, for some reason.) 

…One thing, though. If gender representation in pop culture is so important, and little girls need to be able to see themselves as Doctor Whos, and Ghostbusters and Iron Mans, then isn’t anyone a little concerned that we’ve just gender swapped the one pacifist, intellectual male adventure hero in the mainstream? 

…Just gonna leave that there…

 …and back away slowly…

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The Swearing Corner: USA vs UK

 by Steve Wetherell

Like much of the world, I grew up on American television, and so was comfortably exposed to a lot of American swear words. (‘Shit’ was the big deal when I was a kid. People always seems to be shouting “Ooooh, shiiiiiit!”)

However, I’ve also always been proud of the wonderful rainbow of swearwords in my own country. I don’t think you’ve really heard ‘wanker’ until you’ve heard it said by an angry cockney, and the sheer dismissive silliness of a northern Englishman calling you a ‘bell-end’ is a whimsical thing indeed.

So, I’ve always considered it a fine thing that I have two pots of foul language to draw from. But, let’s be real here, not all swear words transfer across the Atlantic particularly well. There are some words that just sound better in Americanese, and likewise some that sound better in Original Recipe English. 

Ass versus Arse is a great example. There are some British who seem to think these are interchangeable, and in fairness they both technically mean the same thing. There’s a whole different universe of inflection there, though. Arse is just…well… a bit grimy, and so is suited when a bit of dirtiness is called for. Ass is generally more positive, more action orientated. You’d kick an ass, you’d move an ass, you’d get some ass. Arse, has an insidious drawl to it. If you kick an arse, you might need to disinfect your foot afterwards, and god help the sinister pervert who openly says he wants to get some arse. People will, quite rightly, move away from him on the bus. 

On the other hand, if you call someone an ass, it’s very PG13. Call someone an arse, and it packs more of a punch. This stands up even to the addition of ‘hole’. 

On the flip side, Americans can simply not say ‘twat’ properly. They pronounce if ‘Twodt’ which sounds like a fish course for which you need an acquired taste (I realise there’s a solid innuendo there.) But that softening of the consonant robs it of any veracity. 

The British pronounce twat in two distinct ways. There’s ‘twadt’ with a soft T. This is when you roll your eyes because someone’s being silly. Then there’s ‘twatt’ with the hard T. This is for when the knives come out. 

The final comparison is in the old staple for when you desire personal space; ‘fuck off’. Again, there’s no separate meaning, but it’s all about inflection. American’s tend to emphasise the latter half of the phrase: “Fuck OFF” or even ‘Fuk’OFF’. Shortening the Fuck and elongating the Off. That’s got a real nice aggressive ring to it. Carries a lot of weight in a small package, like a pool ball in a sock. In Britain, it tends to be the opposite; “FUCK off.” A pronunciation particularly prevalent in Scotland. While this pronunciation acts the growl of its American counterpart, it does have an airy dismissiveness to it that can be useful. In short, the American version serves as a warning. It implies consequence. The British version merely scatters your opinion to the wind and then goes off to buy another drink.

Multiculturalism is a wonderful thing…

 

The Swearing Corner: The “C” Word

by Steve Wetherell

I was in Newfoundland once, for whatever reason, sitting in the smoking area in their seemingly eternal winter and talking to some locals. They were curious about my English heritage, and as a bit of fun, we got onto popular swear words. What, they wanted to know, was a common swear word unique to your neck of the woods.

“Bawbag,” I said, after some consideration. It’s essentially “Ball-bag” (or scrotum) filtered through the Scots-English heritage of my hometown. It’s a nice handy put down, often said with a half smile and a shake of the head when someone accidentally throws up on his own dog. My turn done, the locals turned their attention to my sister, a Londoner then of five years or so.

She squinted into the perennial snowstorm for a moment, before answering; “Cunt.”

Unexpectedly, the tone of the gathering changed almost instantly, and I was surprised to see genuine shock on the faces of our hosts.

It seemed that “Cunt” had a little more sting in its tail across the cold Atlantic than it did on our own side.

Since this worldly revelation, I’ve been more careful about using the word in company, particularly in front of Canadians, Americans, and other weirdos. Where I come from “Cunt” is a fairly genderless put down that can be used both casually and with venom. Someone leaves his wallet at home? He’s a silly cunt. Someone runs over your cat, deliberately? He’s a proper cunt.

However, whenever I see the word used in American media (and that’s rarely) it is always a man being venomous to a woman. it seems that, in a very popular sense, it is very much a word that hates women. That’s a shame, because it’s a create word. Think of it phonetically.

“Kk”

“UUUnn”

“Tt”

There’s so many hard, visceral sounds in that word its practically pornographic. It’s a word that can be growled, spit or screamed with utter confidence. It’s a word that carries.

Is it anymore offensive to women than, say, ‘prick’ is to men? Yes, I think so, simply because of the strength of the word. The soft ‘Puh’ or prick doesn’t sand up to the hard ‘Cuh’, and while Cock has a Cuh’ sound going for it ‘ock’ lacks the deep undulating ‘uh’ and the final disapproving ‘tttt’.

You can see why we Brits adopted it as punctuation.

Still, knowing its power, and because my audience is mostly American, its a word I try to use sparingly.

Other than in this article, of course.

You cunt.

Rosalia Lombardo, the Sleeping Beauty of the Capuchin Catacombs…

by Frank E. Bittinger

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There are so many interesting true stories out in the world, stories which fascinate me to no end. One such story concerns Rosalia Lombardo, the Sleeping Beauty of the Capuchin Catacombs.

Born 13 December 1813, little Rosalia died from pneumonia on 6 December 1920. She was one of the last to be entombed in the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo in Sicily. Yes, those famous catacombs.

What makes Rosalia’s story so infamous is not her life or her death but what happened after she died. Technically, what didn’t happen after she died. You see, little Rosalia’s body was embalmed in such a way, using a formula and technique that was thought lost until only recently, that it didn’t decay. So good was the embalming that x-rays of her body have shown intact organs still inside.

The photo below is very nearly the same image I first saw of Rosalia when I read about her for the first time quite a number of years ago and it has stuck with me. It hasn’t haunted me, at least not in a bad way.

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The nickname the Sleeping Beauty comes from the very same reason for which Rosalia is famous: for almost a century, little Rosalia looked as if she was a sleeping child instead of an embalmed corpse.

Such was the love her father had for her that he sought out the best embalmer of the time. Yes, the formula and technique used by Alfredo Salafia, a famous embalmer of of his time, preserved Rosalia in such a manner that the first signs of decomposition, mainly a discoloration, did not begin to show until about 2009.

Steps have been taken to help keep Rosalia out of the grips of decomposition. Originally, she reposed in her glass-topped coffin in a small chapel at the end of the catacombs. Now, she and her coffin have been moved and placed in an hermetically sealed glass enclosure filled with nitrogen gas to stave off decay.

I’ve always found myself fascinated with this story. The scientific aspect of the near-perfect embalming technique/formula aside, wouldn’t it be nice to imagine the love her father had for her kept her in such life-like condition for nearly a century?

The Sleeping Beauty is beautifully creepy.

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The Dollhouse of Nadine Earles

by Frank E. Bittinger

I remember being entranced many years ago by an article I was reading about a dollhouse built by a loving father for his little girl. In fact, the article had such a profound effect on me I cut it out and kept it pressed between the pages of a big, thick book for safe-keeping, taking it out to reread every so often. The article remained pressed between the pages of that book for nigh unto twenty years.

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Image of Nadine Dollhouse grave, Lanett, Alabama via Flikr

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After I’d bought my home in my late twenties, I eventually got around to doing what I’d always wanted to do–frame the article to hang in my office/library in my house. The picture hung on the wall from then up until 28 May 2008 when an arson fire destroyed my home along with my possessions.

Miraculously, after all the debris had been cleared away and contractors had worked on the house enough for me to move back home, I started finding some things around the house I knew had been destroyed in fire, finding them in places such as in the new upper cabinets in the kitchen, under the cushions on the new sofa, in the new bathroom medicine cabinet. I still to this day believe the ghosts tried to save things they knew held great sentimental value to me and brought them back to me, but that’s a whole different story for another day.

One of the items that made its way back to me was the framed article about little Nadine Earles and her dollhouse that had hung on the wall of a room that had been completely gutted by fire. The frame and glass were somehow intact. The article itself had a few water stains on it and it’s yellowed, but other than that it was in perfect condition. This is the framed article. It is doubly valuable to me because it is something from my childhood and because it somehow managed to find its way back to me after the fire.

Like Rosalia Lombardo, I also wrote a little bit about Nadine Earles in my book Angels of the Mourning Light.

The place is Lanett, Alabama. The year is 1933. Four year-old Nadine Earles has been hinting she wants a dollhouse for Christmas. In November, she was diagnosed with diphtheria. Her parents, Julian Comer Earles and Alma Earles, hoping to make her feel better, gave her early Christmas gifts of a doll and a tea set. But what Nadine really wanted was her dollhouse, which, unbeknownst to her, her father had already begun to build on the property.

Her father told her she would have to wait until Christmas, to which Nadine replied, in the true fashion of an expectant child, “Me want it now.”

Unfortunately, little Nadine would never get to play in her dollhouse. Weakened from the respiratory tract infection, she contracted pneumonia and died the week before Christmas, on 18 December.

Nadine Earles was laid to rest on Christmas Eve 1933.

Her favorite wanted to fulfill his promise to his little girl. He had the partially-built dollhouse moved to the cemetery. By the Spring of 1934 little Nadine finally had her dollhouse. Nadine’s dollhouse was built over her grave so she would always have it. And each year on birthdays and holidays her parents would place gifts they’d bought for their daughter inside the dollhouse. They even held Nadine’s fifth birthday there, celebrating with cake and ice cream.
Inscribed on the headstone inside:
“Our Darling Little Girl, Sweetest In The World
April 3rd, 1929 – December 18th, 1933
Little Nadine Earles
In Heaven We Hope To Meet”

Along with Nadine’s demand:

“Me want it now”

Visitors can still visit the cemetery and see it for themselves. Over the years different people and organizations have taken it upon themselves to see to the upkeep on Nadine’s dollhouse, cleaning, painting, fixing, and even decorating for holidays and occasions. Visitors come by, some stop to talk to Nadine, others leave notes and cards in the dollhouse’s mailbox.

Her mother and father are now buried in the little yard that surrounds the dollhouse, not far at all from their beloved little girl. Instead of a macabre tale, it’s a demonstration of the profound love a parent possesses for their child.

I have always wanted to visit Rosalia Lombardo in Palermo, Sicily, and Nadine Earles in Lanett, Alabama. Perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to do just that.

 

A Window Cleaner’s Curse

by Michael Keyton

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I had a window cleaner once. A real window cleaner who carried his own ladder and bucket, and climbed said ladder at what ever the angle or height of the house. He also whistled so you could choose not to be in or draw the curtains hurriedly depending on circumstances. In every sense, this man was a paragon, and more – a bibliophile.

One summer’s day, as I was pruning roses, he accosted me like an ancient mariner in search of an albatross:

“Tell me your favourite book of all time.”

“I don’t have a favourite book of all time.”

“Well then, tell me one you’d recommend to me – one I would like to read.”

“It depends on what kind of books you enjoy.” I was floundering, and still holding the bucket of fresh water he’d initially requested. He ignored my outstretched arm, the water dripping strategically over his shoes.

“Complex fantasy with a Victorian feel,” he said.

This was no ordinary window cleaner – but my answer was swift. “Gormenghast,” I said, “by Mervyn Peake.” He made me spell it, but didn’t write

it down. He took the bucket from me and placed it on the floor.

“Now I’ll recommend a book to you.” His finger touched me on the chest with conviction and zeal. He could have been saving my soul.

I smiled, caught in a book-trap I hadn’t seen coming.

“You must read Barnaby Rudge.” His eyes burned into mine. “You must read Barnaby Rudge.”

“Dickens, eh,” I said, as one bibliophile to another. “So, what’s so good about Barnaby Rudge?”

“Ah, and there you have it, sir, there you have it.”

This alarmed me. The man spoke Dickensian and without a Newport accent.

“It’s a wonderfully baggy novel, cavernous and windblown with all manner of characters, all manner of characters.”

I raised an eyebrow, wondering when my windows were going to get done.

“Listen to this, sir, hark to what he says about the Secretary Gashford:

This gentleman had an overhanging brow, great hands and feet and ears, and a pair eyes that seemed to have made an unnatural retreat into his head and to have dug themselves a cave to hide in. Ain’t that good, sir. Tell me it’s good.”

“It’s very good, sir, capital in fact.” I was beginning to speak like him.

“Or this…”

“No. The windows. I get it. Barnaby Rudge.”

There were noises coming from the other side of the garden fence.  I thought I heard giggling.

I’ll end on this, sir – just so you know this is a book you must read. He’s talking about Mrs Miggs:

With an expression of face in which a great number of opposite ingredients such as mischief, cunning, malice, triumph and patient expectation, were all mixed up together in a kind of physiognomical punch…

“Physiognomical punch, isn’t that wonderful? Can you see it… Physiognomical punch.”

I told him I could, and that I would read the book, and that the water was cold; would he like more?

The strange thing is that I did read Barnaby Rudge and lost myself in its vast, sprawling, chaotic and evocative world. The bugger was right. But I’ll leave it there in case any of you fears the ancient mariner’s curse is infectious, and the window cleaner will one day knock on your door.

Sometimes I wonder whether he ever did read Gormenghast and what he thought of Prunesquallor and Nanny Slagg:

Do you like babies my dear Mrs Slagg?’ asked the doctor, shifting the poor woman on to his other acutely bended knee-joint and stretching out his former leg as though to ease it.  ‘Are you fond of the little creatures, taken by and large?’

‘Babies?’ said Mrs Slagg in the most animated tone that she had so far used.  ‘I could eat the little darlings, sir, I could eat them up!’

I never found out. I asked him on his next visit and he just tapped his nose and winked, like window cleaners do. And then soon after that we moved from Newport to Monmouth and never saw him again. I still live in hope that one day he might accost another householder with the same artfully designed trap, but this time proclaiming the merits of Gormenghast and Titus Groan.

Reading Habits

by C.M. Saunders

 

Like a good little writer, I read a lot. You might say obsessively. All things considered, I guess I read between 2-4 hours a day. I read widely, across a lot of platforms and topics, but mostly in the sport, lifestyle, travel and paranormal areas. These are the areas I usually work in, so being knowledgeable helps me follow trends and keep my finger on the pulse.

Newspapers

Yeah, I know they are going out of style, but I’m keeping the dream alive. For me, The Times is the best newspaper out there. I don’t agree with all their politics. In fact, I usually skip those sections. But they have excellent writers and the articles are usually not only newsworthy but informative and often a bit quirky. There’s something quintessentially British about The Times, and I love how it treads the line between broadsheet and tabloid. My ‘happy place’ is a quiet pub on a rainy afternoon, with a pint of craft ale and a copy of The Times.

If I can’t get a copy of The Times, the Guardian will do, or the Observer on a Sunday. I never get The Sunday times because it’s like a metre-squared fucking Argos catalogue. My tabloid of choice is The Sun. It gets a lot of bad press (ho ho!) but it serves a purpose and the sports pages are outstanding. Wales on Sunday and the Western Mail are my regional newspapers when I’m in Wales but I rarely buy them these days. The quality of local journalism has nosedived. It’s largely due to less people reading newspapers and consequently their resources taking a hit, but you could argue that one reason less people are reading newspapers is because the quality of the product isn’t what it used to be. It’s the chicken or the egg scenario. My most hated newspapers would be the Metro, because it reads like it was written by a bunch of 6-year old’s, and the Daily Mail, because that’s why.

Magazines

Ten years ago, there were eight or more different magazines I bought religiously every week or month, depending on their frequency. Sadly, most of them are gone now. Of the few that remain, the only one I subscribe to (and I have done for twenty years or so) is Fortean Times. I like the crazy. I also buy Classic Rock almost every month, and either GQ or Esquire. Both are slightly pretentious, but they are the closest thing remaining to FHM and Loaded, and they make decent toilet reading. I also like going to large newsagents and impulse buying whatever catches my eye. I grab Kerrang! Empire, Fighters Only and Mojo semi-regularly, along with the occasional travel title or hobbyist writing magazine. One day I woke up hungover, fully-clothed in my bed, covered in about £35 worth of mags. What a glorious day that was. When in London, I make sure I pick up whichever free mag is being distributed that day, Sport and Shortlist being pick of the bunch, with Escapism and Red Bulletin third and fourth.

Websites

I spend a lot of time surfing the net, but there aren’t many websites I use on a regular basis apart from Facebook and WordPress. Does Wiki count? How about Bet 365? Otherwise, MMA Fighting, Louder Than War a and BBC News are probably my most visited. I habitually used Wales Online a lot until recently. But this outlet is suffering in much the same way as the print products Media Wales oversees is. In an effort to maximise profits, the quality of reporting has declined to laughable levels and the site is literally clogged up with advertising. It often takes several minutes to load, and when it finally does you are inundated with pop-ups. Sometimes you have to participate in a survey before you can even read the article you clicked on. I understand they have to (try and) make a profit, but that’s just intrusive. Life’s too short.

Books

I try to read widely, both fiction and non-fiction. I love sports autobiographies, travelogues, and rock memoirs, along with a healthy dose of true crime and the occasional tale of survival-against-the-odds.

The fiction I read is almost exclusively in the horror genre (as broad as that is). If there are no ghosts or zombies, or at least a demented serial killer on the rampage, I get real bored real fast. I’ve never been the kind of person to read one book at a time, but only when I wrote this post did I realize how bad things have got. I really should show some more composure, but there are just so many books and so little time. At the moment, I have no less than seven on the go. For the interested, these are:

Physical copies:

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, Neil Strauss

PDF’s on the PC:

DOA 3, various authors

Wild Talents, Charles Fort

And on the Kindle:

Sinister Scribblings, Matt Hickman

Unit 731, Craig Saunders

Battlefield, Amy Cross