Author Interview with Christian Saunders about his novella “Apartment 14F”
Hello Nanci! Thank you for inviting me; it’s a pleasure to be here....
A short bio on Christian: Hailing from the village of New Tredegar, south Wales, Christian Saunders began writing in 1997. His early fiction appeared in titles such as Asphalt Jungle, Raw Nerve, Roadworks and several anthologies. His first book, Into the Dragon's Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales was published in 2003, shortly before he moved to Southampton, England, to study journalism at Solent University. After graduation he worked extensively in the freelance market, contributing features to numerous international publications including Fortean Times, Bizarre, Urban Ink, Beyond, Enigma, Record Collector, Maxim and Nuts, and a regular column to the Western Mail newspaper. Since his return to the horror fiction fold he has had stories published in Screams of Terror, Fantastic Horror, Dark Valentine and Shallow Graves and another featured in the anthology Return of the Raven.
His current novella, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story, is available now and his next, Dead of Night, is scheduled for a June 2010 release through Damnation Books. He currently teaches English writing in Hunan Province, southern China, whilst traveling the long road to enlightenment and still fostering ambitions to become a world-famous rock journalist...
Christian, tell us a little more about yourself!
I am from a very small village in south Wales called New Tredegar. It used to be a coal-mining community but the mines all closed and nothing really replaced them except a few foreign-owned factories. It's a beautiful part of the world but it can be quite a hard place to grow up; there's a lot crime and unemployment. I was admittedly the worst student ever, I had little interest in academic subjects, nothing seemed to interest me very much, so I left school with no qualifications and went straight to work in one of the factories, packing pharmaceutical and cosmetic goods.
I always wanted to be a writer but never really thought I could do it, a life like that was always for 'other' people, so at first I just wrote stories for my own amusement. This was in the late 90's, when the small Press was at its peak. Most of the titles couldn't afford to pay any money for your work, but you did get a few contributor's copies and, most importantly, a publishing credit. Because there were so many of them it wasn't too difficult to get your work published if you weren't afraid of collecting a few rejection slips along the way.
Then in 1999 I traveled to America to see Bruce Springsteen in Philadelphia, I had always identified with his music, and during the trip it was like as if someone flicked a switch in my head. Almost overnight I discovered a self-belief that had never been there before – or maybe it had been there, just very well hidden. I suddenly realized that my life was my own and I could do whatever I wanted, as long as I worked hard enough.
After this I started believing that I could achieve my dream of being a writer, but also knew that I needed some kind of formal training so at the age of 27 I finally left Wales and enrolled on a journalism course at university in Southampton, England. There I was exposed to new kinds of music, different cultures and I was learning so much every day at university; about things like the internet and how the publishing industry works. People laughed when I told them that I wrote a book before I even knew how to send an email. After I graduated I stayed in Southampton for a while freelancing for anyone I could, but by 2007 I began to feel a little stale. I didn't want to go back to Wales because I knew a life of obscurity waited for me there, and I didn't want to move to another city in England to start the whole process again. I had no real ties in the UK, except my parents, so I decided to move abroad.
With a university degree its not difficult to find a job teaching English, so I settled on China and took a job teaching airline pilots in Beijing.
I continued freelancing, and after that I moved to Tianjin, where one day I had another epiphany moment: I realized that I had strayed off-course a little and become a mercenary. I only wrote for money, and I didn't really care what I wrote as long as I got paid for it. Writing had become a job to me, and I had been suppressing my creative instincts for too long. It had been almost a decade since I had written any fiction, so I decided to apply myself to one project, see it through to completion, and see where it led. That project turned out to be Apartment 14F.
About his Novella, “Apartment 14F”
When/how did this story come to you?
I started writing Apartment 14F in December 2008 in Tianjin, China. In January and February its Spring Festival, Chinese New Year, and all the schools and universities close for around 2 months so I had sufficient time to devote to it. I wanted to write something about the culture clash between east and west, what happens when two worlds collide, and also try to convey the sense of alienation and isolation that comes with being a stranger in a strange land where you know very little of the language and culture.
I know this is corny but the genesis of the story actually came from a dream I had. The dream is transcribed more-or-less directly into the book, the part where the protagonist, Jerry, who lives alone, dreams he is in bed with a woman – he can feel her heat and smell her skin, but when he reaches out to touch her there is no one there. The rest of the story grew from there.
Do you have a favorite character?
The character I identify most with is, Jerry. A lot of the book is written from personal experience. I never lived in a haunted apartment, thank God! But I tried to describe what it is like living in China as accurately as I could. Most of the larger cities here are very westernized; they have MacDonald's, Starbucks and department stores, but even so it is still very traditional in a lot of ways.
Since Opening and Reform China has been going through a transitional period and at the moment there is this weird East-meets-West culture clash going on. Its certainly a very interesting time to be here.
Can you tell us more about the cultural differences between China and the West?
Well, the food here takes some getting used to. Since I've been in China I have eaten silk worms, snakes, frogs, cow's stomach lining, and lots of other things I'd rather not go in to! Also, in the west we are used to buying our food pre-packed and processed. Here they like everything to be fresh, so if you go out to buy a fish for example, you'll go home with the fish still alive in a bag. For me, personally, it’s quite hard to deal with. I am not a vegetarian but I am a great animal-lover, and I need some separation between me and the things I eat!
Without getting too political, because it is officially a communist country I think a lot of western people have pre-conceived ideas about China being an authoritarian dictatorship where you can't do anything. But in practice, the China of the 21st century is actually a land of free enterprise, especially in a business sense. I think the average person has just as much freedom as they would in the west, maybe even more so.
Compared to what it was like 20 or even 10 years ago the standard of living has improved greatly and the crime rate is very low here. They have a big problem with pollution, as do most countries, and media censorship is something I will never agree with but the vast majority of people are very happy with their lives.
How long did it take you to write it?
The first draft took only a month or so but it was such an awkward length that I didn't know what to do with it at first. The original draft was about 10,000 words – too short to be a novel or novella and too long to really be a short story.
In the current climate everything seems to be getting smaller, which is probably a reflection of our busier lifestyles and the fact that more media is now internet-based. Novels are becoming novellas, and short stories are becoming 'flashes'. What the internet has done in recent years is make everything much more accessible, whatever you want you can find it quite easily through a search engine, but the downside of that is that the average person now has much more choice. It is more of a challenge to win people's attention, and keep it...
What was it like “shopping” the book to agents/publisher?
With my first book it took me a few months to find a publisher. I made up a list of companies that had published books on similar subjects and went through the list methodically. That takes time. Any writer will tell you that actually writing is the easy part; the real work begins after you have written your manuscript and you want to find a publisher...
I was very lucky with Apartment 14F. I heard about a new company called Damnation Books (www.damnationbooks.com) that had sent out a call for submissions. I sent them the manuscript and the owner, Kim Gilchrist, liked it and said they would publish it. But, only on the condition that I made a few alterations and made it longer. So I had to change the ending and double the word count.
How do you like working with Damnation Books?
Damnation Books are a very professional outfit and a pleasure to work with. They only started last year so it is still early days for them, but they are slowly taking the world of digital publishing by storm!
The editing process takes some getting used to – you have to learn to compromise and are prepared to sacrifice a lot. It can be frustrating at times, especially when the publisher or editor you are working with doesn't seem to share the same vision as you do, but you just have to accept that both parties are working toward a common goal and hope that the people you are working with know more about the business than you do!
You have other books out – let’s talk about those – titles, their story, how those came to be…
I decided to write a book about Welsh history and culture, focusing on the stranger parts. From a personal point of view, I wanted to find out more about the place where I was from, and I have always been fascinated with the paranormal and supernatural. I worked diligently every night for 3 or 4 hours after my factory shift, writing and researching. The book took three years to write. When it was finally finished I submitted it to several publishers and I was very fortunate that a small Welsh publisher called Gwasg Carreg Gwalch (in English the three words mean 'hawk, stone and press') accepted it.
Into the Dragon's Lair was released in 2003. After the book came out a lot of things changed: people started taking my work more seriously and lots of doors that had previously been closed finally started to open. One of the proudest moments in my life was walking into a book shop in Wales and seeing my book on the shelves.
What do you like best about being an author/Writer?
I like the idea of giving people pleasure through my work, and also perhaps having something tangible to show for my life that will still be there long after I am gone. Plus, I like the idea of doing my own thing and not having to answer to anybody. Obviously you have to be disciplined, you have to set targets and goals and stick to them, but by and large I can write when I want. Actually, writing is the easy part.
Probably the hardest thing about being a freelance writer in the 21st century is finding time to do everything that needs doing. Apart from the writing, researching and self-editing process every writer puts themselves through, in this day and age most writers work independently, without the help of an agent. So we have to market ourselves; we have to find suitable outlets for our work, submit the right kind of material in the right format to the right people, deal with editors and various other professionals, and then publicize the material we are lucky enough to get published. This means requesting reviews, arranging interviews, social networking, and doing anything else we can to spread the word.
It can be very difficult and time-consuming. Sometimes you wonder if it is really worth the effort and perhaps your time would be better served doing something else, but I think real writers write because they like it, because they want to write. Anything else is a bonus. I feel very lucky to be in the position I am in now, with more and more people beginning to notice my work.
Do you have any projects in the works, something new coming out? When?
Yes I do! My next book is called Dead of Night, and is coming out on Damnation Books in June. I just wanted to have some fun, and indulge myself a little with this one, so I wrote a fast-paced zombie story with a little Battle-of-the-Sexes stuff thrown in. Everyone loves zombies!
I've just finished working on a collaboration with two other writers called Place to Place , which is a trilogy of spooky stories all set in hotels, we'll start looking for a publisher shortly. And at the moment I'm working on a novel about a haunted house in Wales, which is based partly on fact. Wales is a country that has a lot of legends and folklore attached to it, and I'm trying to work some of them into a story.
What do you do when you are not writing? (Family, other work…)
I currently have two teaching jobs at two different schools in Changsha, Hunan Province, so between my teaching and writing commitments I don't really have much spare time. I do have a great girlfriend called Diana, so when I am not teaching or writing I spend time with her; watching movies or sightseeing. I am also trying, very unsuccessfully, to learn Chinese.
Otherwise I enjoy reading and I'm also a big fan of the UFC.
Christian, any last words for our readers?
I'd just like to thank them for listening, and invite them to drop by and say hello sometime! They can reach me via my website, which also has a few short stories they can download for free. The address is http://www.christiansaunders.co.uk/, or on myspace, www.myspace.com/valleyboy74.
Also, they can find my new book, and many other good reads, as well as some great special offers at my publishers website, which is http://www.damnationbooks.com/.
Thank You Christian for joining us and for sharing your story with us. It’s been a pleasure getting to know about you and your work.
Thank you so much for this opportunity! And happy Chinese New Year!
For our readers you can find more information and links to Christian Saunders and his book “Apartment 14F” at http://www.christiansaunders.co.uk/