After such an outlandish introduction (quoted from Twitter. We're not really calling him a…you know), you can be sure that Christian Saunders here holds some controversial opinions and has had a few interesting experiences. Originally in music journalism, these days Christian's work can be found in men's lifestyle titles such as Nuts and Sports Direct magazine, as well as on book shelves in scary novels, and in less frightening tomes about growing up in Wales (hopefully less frightening anyway. We didn't grow up in Wales…).
During our chat, Christian shares stories of commissions he's had to turn down, what really scares him, and some thoughts on objectification in 'lad's mags' that might frighten YOU.
About freelance journalism
Hello Christian! What’s the most memorable/enjoyable work you’ve done so far as a writer?
My first cover story (for Record Collector) about Bruce Springsteen was a landmark event, but the work I am most proud of is my book, 'From the Ashes – The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC' [pictured, right]. I started writing it over ten years ago, and it took that long to research, write and find a publisher. It just came out last month.
Any commissions you’ve undertaken that were a torment (the Royal Marine piece you did for Nuts looks like it was hellish…)?
Haha, yes! That was also one of my favourite assignments ever. It was my first for Nuts, around 2006. I went training with the Royal Marines for a couple of days and stayed at their base in Devon. It gave me a real insight into the lives of those guys and what they put themselves through on our behalf.
What stuff from PRs do you find useful?
A steady stream of press releases pouring into my inbox is an invaluable resource. It's good to have prior notice of events, activities, launches, etc., because then you can prepare yourself, plan features and approach editors. Press releases covering things that have already happened are generally a waste of time.
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
It depends. I'll go anywhere and write about anything as long as I can make it cost effective. But I have had to turn down some amazing opportunities because I simply couldn’t find a market for it. I turned down an interview with Stephen Hawking recently. The biggest one was an all-expenses paid trip to LA to go biking with the cast of 'Sons of Anarchy'. The only stipulation was that you had to have a motorcycle license. Quite reasonable. But unfortunately I’ve never ridden a motorcycle in my life, so that was an epic fail.
About work as a dark fiction writer
What inspired you to start writing dark fiction? Were you a reader of 'Point Horror' books/Stephen King at school?
Haha, yes, absolutely. King is still my favourite writer. Any aspiring writer should study his style; you can learn so much from him. I think I've read everything he's ever put out. I was also heavily influenced by video nasties, my big sister's heavy metal record collection, and my granddad telling me ghost stories when I was a kid. The 'M', which I use as a middle initial when I write fiction, is a tribute to him.
Do you ever watch Garth Marenghi in ‘Darkplace’ and think “that’s my life”?
No, I'd never heard of 'Darkplace'! But I've just Googled it, and it looks like my kind of show! I was a big fan of 'Night Stalker', about the reporter always getting mixed up in supernatural goings-on.
Can you tell us a bit about your latest book?
The latest novel I have out isn't actually dark fiction. Called 'Rainbow's End', it's loosely based on my own experiences of leaving Wales to seek my fortune in my twenties. Wales is a beautiful country, but the opportunities are limited there.
About work as a “dirty media whore” in general
What features/interview would you still love the chance to do? What would be your dream commission?
I'd love to tour with a rock band and write about the experience, a la 'Almost Famous'. There's something magical about seeing a good band perform live at the peak of their powers, their interaction with the fans, and I'd love to try and document it. It would be a test. If I could choose the band it would be the Foo Fighters or Green Day. If I had a time machine it would be the Ramones.
What do you make of the controversy around 'lad's mags' that’s going on in the media industry at the moment?
It's all a bit of a joke, isn't it? I get the impression a lot of people just want to kick the lad's mags when they are down. While I agree that some things are not suitable for children, it's easily remedied – put the mags on the higher shelves where children can't reach them. Simple. None of the lad's mags even show complete nudity. The pictures are glamorous and tastefully done. Rather than make women sex objects, in my opinion they give women something to aspire to. Visually, there really isn’t much difference between the photographic content in gossip magazines and lad's mags. If it’s the written content certain sections of society have a problem with, how about starting a media backlash against '50 Shades of Grey' and all its impersonators?
Unfortunately, it could be a case of the majority buckling to the whims of a vocal minority. There was a 'Lose the Lad's Mags' demo in York recently. Eight people showed up.
How important is it to diversify in today’s journalism industry?
It’s more important than ever to become a jack of all trades. You also have to work a lot harder. Most magazines and newspapers are understaffed, with one person doing the same amount of work that used to be allocated to two or three. If you are resistant to change, and a lot of people are, maybe the media industry isn’t the place for you. But I like it. It’s always evolving, and every day throws up new challenges. Nobody knows what the next big thing will be, and that makes it all very exciting!
Do you find social media useful in your work, or is it a time-sucking distraction that must be stopped immediately?
Not at all! Social media is a great way of getting the latest news, gauging the public’s opinion, and communicating with like-minded people. Of course, a certain amount of disclipline is required as there is always the danger of getting lost on that girl from uni that you used to fancy's timeline!
What media do you enjoy in your spare time (books, TV, films, blogs)?
All, really! I have to keep up with what's hot and what's not because it helps with my work so I try to watch the latest TV and films. Obviously I can't watch everything, so I prioritise. I read The Sun newspaper from back to front every morning to get the sport and buy one or two magazines a week. Everything from Kerrang! and Classic Rock to FourFourTwo and Loaded. As for books, I have a two-hour commute to contend with most days so my Kindle helps pass the time on the train. I read a lot of dark fiction, and I also like autobiographies.
Horror creature of choice (zombies, vampires, werewolves, witches, Cujo)?
Werewolves scare the crap out of me. I think it's more the fact that apparently normal people can just change into these monsters at certain times of the month. There’s a really interesting back story to the werewolf legend about the monster inside, as there is with all supernatural entities. The traditional George A. Romero-style zombies have to pose the least threat. They are so slow you’d be able to run rings around them!
And do horror films/horror novels/the Royal Marines scare you anymore, now you have direct experience of them?
No, not really. I think I've become desensitised to most forms of horror. It’s all a bit of fun, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone takes it too seriously. The very best horror always had a touch of sardonic humour. There were some uneasy moments in the remake of the 'Evil Dead', though! War is where the real horrors are. There’s nothing funny about war.
Christian Saunders is tweeting @CMSaunders01. We would advise any werewolves out there to stay well away. But you're okay, Cujo.