Monday, 15 December 2014

Artists Against Police Brutality

Morning, Evening, whatever. Rosarium Publishing are running a submission for a charity anthology, dealing mostly with race and justice. I wrote an essay. I thought I'd share it here, because fuck me if I'm not in a preaching mood tonight.

On Being Human
Craig Saunders

I'm pretty white. I live in possibly the whitest county in England. But this...essay, I guess you could call it, really isn't about being white or black.
            I know nothing about America, I know nothing about race, I don't know what it means to live in fear, to live under a different set of rules, to tell my children to be careful when they go out at night. For the longest time I lived under the illusion that race didn't matter, that the world no longer needed to think in terms of colour, religion, social background, origin, nationality...
            But it does matter, it matters still, and wishing that people never had to think in terms of colour is akin to sticking my head in the sand. It is an issue.
            No, that's not accurate. It's not an 'issue'. An issue is running out of toilet paper after a curry shit. An issue is finding a lump on your balls. Those are things you can deal with in a sensible, reasoned manner. Either one might end up messy, but mostly, you can live with a dirty arse, or losing a ball.
            Is that mildly offensive? Tickles your sensibilities? Good. Because worrying about going out at anytime of the day, worrying about the people you love, that's offensive. It's not an issue. It's not something you can make a poster about, thinking it'll all go away.
            Being human's a strange thing. Wonderful, frightening, sordid, amazing, beautiful. We can think, reason, love, work shit out. We can do maths (yeah, I'm English. Our maths is plural. Weird, huh? Small differences...) and travel, should we wish, to the stars. Instead, as a race (it's the human race, not the English, the British, the European, the American, the Africa, the Chinese, Russian, whatever) we get stuck on petty things, like French people like cheese, Puerto Rican's like beans, Welsh people love sheep. Little things escalate into big things. That's my point, I think. Or one of them. Here, in England, people mock other's accents, or the clothes they wear, or the cars they drive. All the while, others can't afford to eat, or are stopped for random searches daily for being black or Asian or wearing a top with a hood. Really.
            In the UK, apparently, we have the highest concentration of CCTV anywhere in the world. Why is that?
            In the US, people shoot people just for the hell of it. Personally, I think a country that loves its guns should show a little more temperance. You know all those horror movies, where a town's built on an ancient Indian/native American burial ground? I wonder...the US is basically a nation built on the burial ground of the indigenous people, built on a history replete with slavery and civil war (not a rude war...God no). Does that make citizens of the US crazy enough to shoot each other, crazy enough to breed racists, or cops with lonely triggers that just need a hug? Is it right to make light, to use such terminology, to explain away the countless deaths of black people in the States?
            Is it just the US? No, of course it isn't. The UK? The Romans killed the hell out of all our druids. The Vikings raped and pillaged a fair bit, in days of yore. The Anglo-Saxons, the Normans...we're not even indigenous people. We don't have that many guns...but we, as most nations, are perfectly capable of being arseholes to each other.
            Yes, it's true that in general societies are happier when neighbours know each other. We, as humans, tend to like people like us.
            Sweden. In Sweden, people are laughing all the fucking time.
            Actually, I don't know that for a fact. I made that up. Just like all people from Malawi have to make love to the local witchdoctor on a Friday. The food in Vietnam will kill you. But...hang on...if we like people like us...we're people like us, aren't we?
            I don't think people care. There's a world of information right beneath our fingers. It's called the Internet. It's a global police force of information. But we don't use it. Well, maybe you and I, because we're reading this, maybe we use it. Plenty don't. But when education and intelligence becomes a subject for derision, then we have a problem.
            Erudition, plain fucking sense, have become the enemy. Hatred and suspicion, fear of that which isn't exactly the same as us. These things rule us. The media reinforces it. Because fear divides more brilliantly that razor-wire. Do we need internment camps when we can be just as horrible to each other?
            It's a bleak picture...but it's not the only picture. The bleak picture is there, on the surface. But look underneath, under colour, religion, xenophobia, there's the human heart. There's compassion, love. There are people being human across the entire world, and to be human isn't merely to exist, but to grow and love and live and enjoy.
            To let people live and enjoy is to be human. To crush that spirit isn't innate, I think. We are social creatures...but if a man or woman roars at us, we roar back, don't we?
           In psychology, it's called 'mirroring'. It's a simple thing. If someone shouts, we shout. If someone's angry, we're angry. If they're afraid, we...attack?
            No. That's doesn't seem right, does it? Do people hate people who aren't like them? Some might...because human nature isn't uniform. Some of us, the best of us, love. Some hate, yes...but some are just doing what they know. Because they're told to fear that which isn't like them...told to fear, and fear leads to anger (Yoda, that...the wise green dude).
            As I'm writing this piece, I realise I haven't actually come up with any answers. It's not meant to be an answer. It's an article about thought. Will it make a difference?
            No. The simple answer is no. Alone, it cannot.
            But together? As part of a wave, a movement, an ideology, a way of thinking?
            Then perhaps.
            So many times people have banded together to fight oppression, to fight evil and hate and misunderstanding and cruelty and fear. So many times those same people have been gunned down in the street, or imprisoned, or tortured, or disappeared.
            To my point, then? Yeah, fair enough. I hate to outstay my welcome.
            My point is that the things we fear - the differences between colours and religions...these things aren't our fears. We bought our fears, we paid for them. There are no refunds. But if you bought a shit takeaway meal, would you eat it? Would you cram down those funky smelling prawns, thinking, 'I fucking paid for this, I'm going to eat it even though I'll turn green and possibly end up in hospital'?
            No. No you wouldn't. And hate is just as evil. You bought it, bought into it, bought shares, even. You own that shit, we all do.
            But you don't have to swallow it.
            Mirroring. You can rage back. Or you can just throw that shit away. Be lighter. Hate feeds hate. Violence feeds violence. It's an old message, hippy shit. Probably Ghandi, or Yoda. But it's true. Hate and killing and violence simply don't make sense. None of those things ever made sense, even when the Khans rode as a horde.
            Yes, policemen and women shoot people in the States. Yes, cops stop and search and harass people in the UK. Yes, in other countries people are taken from their homes, tortured, killed, because they don't tow the party line or because they're not exactly the same in colour, or religion, or thought. And yes, we should fight it. Fuck yes. Because wrong is wrong.
            I'm not saying roll over and take it. I'm not saying turn a blind eye. Fight, fight to your last breath, to our last breath. Stand and give what you're able. But to throw hate back to hate?
            Is that the answer?
            If your own Government and its institutions are wrong, and those things don't work, do you go to war? Do you turn to a democracy that doesn't work, that's skewed or just plain broken?
            I don't think so. You can't vote to not be shot. That's not the domain of a political system that probably doesn't work anyway. You can spread education, spread love, and aim for a better society, a better people. If people, all people, understand that we're all in it together, rather than beating each other down in a vain attempt to reach some lofty height of wealth and power...then you have power. Not the people with their millions...but you. One person with a ton of money has no power if those people in the engines of society aren't interested in their money. And why do we want money, anyway? I'm not Karl Marx...but chasing after another dollar or pound isn't going to help...it's just divisive, like hate, like envy. We need to eat, yes. Do we need to eat caviar, or fillet steak? I think probably not.
            If you say no to all the things those self-same institutions are selling, whether it is hate or guns or the latest mobile phone that you don't really need...then the power is no longer theirs. What I'm saying, I think, is that racism isn't the problem. Hatred is. Misunderstand is. Dividing humanity along arbitrary lines...that, to me, seems more dangerous than a single man or woman's hatred.
            Once, people dreamed of the stars. Of being better. Of advancing, not economies, but humanity itself.
            We gave this dream up for a big television that plays us advertisements for a bigger television.
            Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Learn. Think. Fucking dream again. Let's dream. Iain M. Banks wrote two books, once. He's dead now. But one was called Consider Phlebas. One called Look to Windward.
            Those titles are in reference to a poem by T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland'.
            Here's the relevant part:

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

People analyse The Wasteland. I'm not going to bother. Iain M. Banks did it better than I ever could within the pages of those two books.
            But I think it means beware pride, beware standing still and admiring what we've wrought. We reached the stars, once. So why not aim higher? And higher still?
            Instead, we clamber over each other, trying to reach the promised land...when we should be holding each other up.
            Anyway, fuck me, that's maudlin, eh? I hate preaching. I'm not a preacher. But we, humanity, don't need any more of those. Thinkers, maybe. Lovers, certainly. Humans? We've got plenty of those. I just hope we remember that. I really do.

            Love you. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Days of Christmas: A Sarah House Novel by Craig Saunders

Evening. Been keeping busy. Just uploaded this. Blogger won't let me have enough pages to upload samples of everything, so I'm putting a sample here until I set up a real webpage...if you wanna read :) This is from Chapter Two - Salted Nuts.


The 2nd Day of Christmas

 Salted Nuts

 I.

On the second day of Christmas, most people would be eating leftovers, tidying up the wrapping paper or swearing about the bins not going out.
            Me, I'm in the men's toilet in a Heathrow bar with a mouthful of nuts. They're far too salty, and a little bit sweaty, like old nuts tend to get when they've been tucked away too long; the ones you thought about having in September and prudently waited for Christmas instead.
            You probably think the opening paragraph is some kind of pun, like I'm eating KP salted peanuts in the men's toilets. Why would I be doing that?
            Nope. I have a man's balls in my mouth. The fact that he has a peg-leg is almost, but not quite, just the icing on the cake.
            When I said I wanted to get some action...this really wasn't it.

*

II.

I'd expected my husband back on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas Day, but in that kind of tentative, hopeful, not-really-expecting-anything-way. He's abroad, or he's supposed to be, at least. Where, what country, doing what, I have no idea. He probably said, and I probably didn't listen.
            His flight's due in at three. British Airways, first class, of course. We're not poor people. Not stinking rich, but we have a wine cellar, rather than a wine rack.
            I'm working my way through it that morning, after seeing mum off in a taxi. When I tell her my husband's coming home, she gives me a look.
            'Shut up,' I say, and bundle her into her taxi.
            'Uh-huh,' is her reply, but thankfully she leaves it there. We're pretty clear where she stands on the issue of my absent spouse.
            Dad shrugs his shoulders in the seat beside her. That's his only contribution, but for a ghost, it's pretty expressive.
            Normally, I don't start drinking until later in the day (around 11, most mornings, I suppose...seems civilised enough), but by the time the taxi arrives to take me to Heathrow I'm a fair way drunk. I like it better that way.
           
*

III.

'You alright, love?'
            The taxi driver makes me jump when he speaks, and I realise I've been staring out the window most of the ride. Probably gawping like an idiot, a couple of glasses of wine away from licking the windows and hurling into my handbag.
            'Thank you,' I say. I don't qualify it. I don't really want to talk. In a roundabout way I'm thinking of how I'm going to greet my husband when he gets into the airport. Meeting him in the arrivals area. Me, pissed and hung-over at the same time, swaying in the midst of happy families waiting on loved ones. He'll breeze in, kiss me on the cheek, trailing a suitcase on wheels because he's never lifted anything heavy in his life, unless it's maybe his bank balance.
            Do I have a right to complain? I'm comfortable, aren't I? Isn't that enough?
            I wonder if I'd be just as happy alone with a bottle of cider as alone in a too-big house with expensive wine.
            Probably. I think that's as close to an answer as I can get.
            Probably.
            'Terminal Four, love?'
            'Thank you,' I say again.        
            When I get out of the taxi, I realise they're the only two words I said to the taxi driver the whole trip.

*

IV.

It's one in the afternoon, so I go and sit on my own in the airport bar and order a Tia Maria and Coke to sober up. The Coke bit, not the Tia Maria. The alcohol's there so I don't start feeling tired. Or sober. Or something.
            Fuck it, though. It's Boxing Day, my husband's coming home.
            I don't think I'm entirely happy or unhappy about it, either way.
            'Excuse me...do you mind...?'
            I turn my head and there's a man around my age, maybe, smiling with good teeth and kind of waving at the stool at the bar beside me.
            Brilliant, I think. Some crap pick-up in an airport bar?
            I could do worse, I think.
            Then, sadly, another thought tags along.
            I already have.
            I nod, and notice he has a bit of trouble getting into the seat. It's high, and there's something wrong with his leg.
            'Do you need a hand?' I ask.
            'Funny you should say that...I'm in a bit of trouble. To be brutally honest...I'm desperate,' he says.
            I look at him. I'm British. I don't run away when people prove a little odd. We just kind of raise our eyebrows. I'm a public bar. There are plenty of other people around.
            'Go on,' I say, expecting some flaccid chat-up, or some kind of begging sob-story about needing a ticket to New York to see his dying mother or...
            'I've got a kilo of drugs stuck to my balls and I can't get the bag off...wouldn't have a pair of nail clippers or the like handy, would you?'
            To be honest, as chat up lines go...that's one of the better ones. I wasn't walking, anyway. I laughed.
            'That's good,' I say.
            He smiles. 'Actually...I really do.'

*

V.

I'm pretty drunk, so it seems like a laugh. But it's not.
            'Go on...I'm curious enough to wait for the punch line...you're good so far,' I say, downing my drink and ordering another, which he pays for along with a crap lager that he grimaces at when he drinks it.
            'I swear, worst beer I ever tasted in this place.'
            'Come here often?' I say.
            'Hey, that's my line.'
            He's got twinkling eyes, full of humour. Also, as I mentioned, I'm drunk and very unsatisfied on the home front. I don't tell him to piss off. At the very least, it's a good distraction.
            'But, yes,' he says. 'Yes I do. Will you hear me out? I really need help...I'm straight as I can be. I'm in so much shit...I just need a hand.'
            'A hand, eh?'
            'Not like that...well...a little bit like that. But just a pair of clippers or...' he shrugs. 'Honestly, I just thought a good-looking woman like you might have something in her bag, like scissors or something.'
            'You think I carry a pair of scissors around in case...I want to cut my hair in the car?'
            'Ah, no, then?'
            'I've got a nail file.'
            'That'll do.'
            'It's blunt. Are you really carrying drugs strapped to your balls?'
            I ask him this out of pure curiosity, in a low voice, like all of a sudden we're conspirators in some great airport game.
            'I have. It's a long story and you won't believe me.'
            'I might,' I say. 'I'm pretty drunk.'
            As I say that, I realise it's true. Of course I'm drunk. If I wasn't, I wouldn't be talking to a stranger about his balls in an airport bar. It's not really my thing.
            Not until today, I correct myself. Who knows what your thing might be tomorrow?
            'Earlier today, a man gave me a fake passport and a plane ticket, told me he's got my sister in a house somewhere in London. He showed me a photograph, so I'd know it was for real.'
            As he says this, he's not smiling or twinkling. He looks afraid.
            'My god...'
            'I know. He tells me I've got to take these drugs through customs...give them to a guy on the other side, who'll take them onto a plane. Then, I'm going to get a photo with my sister somewhere public, safe. I'm up to my neck in all kinds of shit...I can't go to the police...I'm worried they'll...hurt her.'
            'Can't you tell airport security or something?'
            'I don't think so...I wouldn't be surprised if I'm being watched...'
            'If you dump the drugs?'
            'I thought about it...on the way to the airport. I even picked up a bag of sugar on the way in. It's in my carry on. That's what I'm planning on. I'm going to swap it. They can't see me in the toilets, right?'
            'I'm confused,' I said, honestly. My head was swimming from the drink (we ordered a third one) and I really, honestly, didn't get this man's reasoning. His face, though...he looked earnest, honest, worried...almost like he might cry with worry for his poor sister.
            What was I going to do?
            'If I can switch the bags,' he said. 'Then I can maybe bargain...or...something. These Eastern European gangs...they sell women, you know?'
            'No?'
            'Prostitution...that kind of thing...I...'
            A tear leaks from his eye. 'I can't trust them...got to get my sister out. She's...so innocent...'
            'Switch, then...how are you going to bargain?' I'm in, I realise. The thought of a woman used like that...
            'Use the real drugs to get her back...swap...her, for the drugs.'
            'I'll help,' I say. 'Come on. There are toilets in here...follow me.'
            'I can't go in the ladies' toilets,' he says, like suddenly he's shy.
            'Then we'll use the men's. Come on.' I hiss the last two words, but I'm pissed and probably shout them.
            I'm drunk, so when the nail board doesn't work, like I knew it wouldn't, I get down on my knees and use my teeth on the packing tape wrapped around the poor man's blue balls.

*

VI.

When he takes down his trousers, his balls are actually blue from having the circulation cut off. There really is a hefty bag strapped round them with thick, tough tape, going right back to his hairy behind.
            I hand him the nail board, and he winces, looking away from me like a man probably does when he has a prostate exam. Men are pussies about things like that.
            He tries, bless him, standing there wincing while he tries to get the board between tape and nuts, but the tape's tight and he's never plucked errant hairs from his privates before, or had a Brazilian wax at the hands of a sadistic beautician.
            'Oh, give it here,' I say. My hands a bit shaky, and I'm a bit rough.
            'Fuck! Jesus!' he shouts and I get the nail board all snapped off right there, somewhere between his balls and his arse. He's dancing around, suddenly, and his trousers fall all the way to his ankles and I realise he's actually hoping, rather than doing a weird jig.
            No wonder he struggled to get to the barstool...he's got a peg-leg.
            'Oh,' I say. To be honest, I'm more shocked at the sight of his wooden leg that I am at the sight of his blood-starved scrotum.
            'Motorbike accident,' he says, bouncing from his good foot, then back to the wooden one, trying to extricate the rough nail board from his nut-sack.
            I haven't got anything else, the man's disabled, his sister is prisoner to some kind of Eastern European slave gang...and he's got a nail board stuck somewhere extremely uncomfortable.
            'Stand still,' I say, and get to my knees and use my teeth.
            It's far from the worst thing I've ever done.
           'Oh...Jesus,' he says while I'm nibbling away somewhere around the back of his balls, and when the tape falls free I go to stand up and his cock sticks in my ear.
            'My...' I say.
            'I'm so sorry,' he says. It's an impressive hard-on. 'Blood...sudden rush of blood...how embarrassing.'
            If he thought I was going to do anything about it...he was seriously wrong.
            He tucked himself away, looking even more uncomfortable now he's got a burning erection making a dent in the front of his trousers.
            'This is so embarrassing...I can't...I can't apologise enough.'
            'As embarrassing as a woman having to take packing tape from your balls with her teeth?'
            'Yes,' he says. 'Good point.'
            'Think of your mother, in the nude,' I said. Usually that works.
            'What? Shit...what?'
            But the tent's going pretty damn fast.
            'There,' I say, pointing. 'And...er...good luck?'
            What's the appropriate parting remark to a stranger who had their balls all over your face? Cheers?
            'Thank you,' he says. 'Thank you so much.'
            We part ways.

*

VII.

My husband isn't there, in arrivals. I wait. I don't get a call. I call him, on his mobile phone, and I don't get an answer.
            I think about the man with the peg-leg, idly wondering if that was the last stiff cock I'd see for the rest of my life.
            I wait in a small, uncomfortable seat for an hour.
            He's not coming, I tell myself finally when I see the last of the passengers pass through arrivals. People hug and kiss and smile.
            I don't.
            I get a taxi and pay cash from a small purse I keep in my pocket for just that reason (I've been mugged for my handbag before. A good way to remember not to keep all my eggs in one basket) and go to a hotel, because I can't face another night alone in my stupidly large house.
            When I get to the hotel, I don't have any luggage, of course. I don't have much at all, but I have a credit card. I reach into my bag for find my credit cards to pay from the hotel. I find my credit cards where they should be, in my purse. But something else, too. A bag of drugs weighing, I should imagine, around a kilo.


*

Monday, 1 December 2014

End of Year Round-Up #2

Next year is promising to be as busy as 2014. I don't expect I'll get all of the following done and dusted, but I'm not due to deliver another book to Darkfuse until the end of 2015, and I've written it already (it's waiting on a second draft), so for once, I have no deadlines at all. This is nice...but I like deadlines, too. Hoping to get another one at some point!


Coming Soon:

From Darkfuse, definite titles are Masters of Blood and Bone, Left to Darkness, Flesh and Coin, Unit 731. At some point, Hangman will be released, too, though as yet I don't have a date for that.


Indie publishing I'm hoping to get the final installment of the Rythe Quadrilogy done (titled Beneath Rythe at present). 

Current Works:

(First Drafts)
Spiggot, Too
Highwayman
The Mulrone's Vampire

(Ongoing)
The Temple of Art
Ghost Voices

Future Works:

Beneath Rythe
Masters of Blood and Bone (Book Two)
Left to Darkness (Book Two)
Hangman/Highwayman (Book Three)
Spiggot Three
The Warrior's Soul

Lastly, there will be edits and art for all Rythe Books, paperback issue of Vigil, The Dead Boy rewrite as a novel for Grand Mal Press, two collaborations, and if I can get to a convention or two, I hope I'll see you there :)

Love you!