Adventures in University Study

As some may already be aware, I am finally embarking on a Master’s degree in October, ten years after graduating from Middlesex University’s ‘Creative and Media Writing’ degree programme. This time, I’ll be studying ‘Modern and Contemporary Literature’ at Birkbeck – a university which offers part-time study and evening classes, which is essential as I am (sadly!) in no position to give up my day job just yet.

Initially I was terrifically excited about the whole venture, and I still am, but a certain trepidation has begun to creep in. Can I do this? Am I capable? Will I be able to balance studying with a full-time job and living my life? More than that, though, my old friend impostor syndrome is making itself known, though not without basis. In preparation for studying at MA level, I’ve embarked upon a summer school programme offered by Birkbeck, designed to prepare the new intake of students for the intricacies of MA level study – the module covers research, seminar skills, academic English and so on.

I feel horribly out of my depth all of a sudden. Some of the academic essays contained within the programme seem almost impenetrable, both in their use of language and introduction of concepts I’ve never encountered before. I’ve always considered myself reasonably intelligent, but I’m struggling to understand quite a lot of what’s being presented to me – and I feel incredibly poorly-read in terms of schools of thought, literary conventions and concept, philosophies and even the texts themselves. (How have I got to be 31 years of age and never even attempted to read James Joyce’s Ulysses? Which, by the way, I am absolutely dreading.)

I know that this is probably normal, to some extent. I know that the entire point of me studying is to learn, and to broaden my mind; hopefully at the end of the course I will find all of this far easier to grasp, but for now I am trying to swallow down a quiet terror of failing horribly, or of being the only person on the course who doesn’t understand half of what’s being said. I’m worried I’ll study for two years, incur a vast debt on top of my existing vast debt, and emerge with barely a passing grade.

There’s also the matter of time, or lack thereof. The amount of reading and work entailed by the course almost guarantees that I will barely be able to read for fun, or to write stories. The fear here is twofold: how much will I miss out on? How can I support my fellow writers if I can’t read or purchase their work? How big will my TBR pile grow? And also, selfishly: if I don’t write for the next two years, will I fade into obscurity? Am I about to miss out on big opportunities? Will anyone even care if my stories disappear off the face of the earth? (And I assure you, I am not fishing for kind words here: I am aware of how daft my worries are, and how little any of this matters in any case.)

It’s not all bad. There is a horror module to be studied, which I am very excited about, and Angela Carter features prominently in the compulsory second-year module. Plus there are modules on postcolonial literature and feminist literature which look fascinating. I know this is a risk worth taking, but – sometimes, my brain is only ever able to focus on the word ‘risk’.

A Suggestion Of Ghosts

Esteemed horror author & editor Johnny Mains has unearthed some real treasures and compiled them into an anthology – the result is A Suggestion of Ghosts, a compilation of supernatural stories by female authors, previously published but never reprinted. The stories date from between 1826-1897, putting paid to the notion that women in horror is a relatively new phenomenon. I’m terrifically excited to discover some long-hidden gems.

The book is available for pre-order from Black Shuck Book.

Launching the Bones at Edge-Lit

I had anticipated that my first ever Edge-Lit would be a universally terrifying event. Besides the usual people-related nervousness (horror people are lovely, social anxiety less so) there was also the fact that I would be launching my novella. In person. In front of people. Cue visions of a mountain of unsold books, Eric Carmen’s ‘All By Myself’ playing in the background.

Fortunately I had underestimated the friendly, cosy atmosphere – a multitude of familiar faces and some new ones, all equally lovely, crammed into a small space filled with likeminded people. I’d brought my husband along too, and while he was a stranger to most of the people there it wasn’t long before he’d been welcomed into the fold as well.

The launch itself went better than I could have hoped for. It was a shared launch, both for my novella and for Mark West’s excellent collection ‘Things We Leave Behind’, both published by Dark Minds Press. (A word about Dark Minds Press: they are superb to work with, take excellent care of their authors and I would recommend them to anyone in a heartbeat.) Mark and I each read from each other’s work, which was Mark’s idea and in my opinion a stroke of genius – it’s much easier and less nervewracking to read from someone else’s story, which you are enthusiastic about, than it is to try to ‘sell’ your own!

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(l-r Mark West, Ross Warren, me)

We managed to sell all copies of both our books, which was obviously incredibly exciting. (Mark’s traditional post-con bloggage can be found here.)

Though there were some notable faces missing from the event (who I very much hope will be at Fantasycon, as they were missed!) it was a great day – the redshirts were on typically good form and everything ran like clockwork. I also got to see Joanne Harris, Alison Moore, Andrew Michael Hurley, Marie O’Regan and Catriona Ward talking about literary horror and the interplay between the two genres, which was a great panel – Joanne Harris in particular was persuasive and a joy to listen to.

As to the general classiness and excellency of the Dark Minds team – check out the special gift I got from Ross & Anthony. I’m glad my eternal love for Alex Krycek is so well known!

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Naming The Bones is here…

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My debut novella Naming The Bones is now available for purchase over on Amazon. Hooray!

As I mentioned a few days ago, Dark Minds Press are holding an official launch for Naming The Bones (alongside Mark West’s new collection Things We Leave Behind) at Edge-Lit on Saturday 15th July, and you can also pick the book up there. Mark & I will be there, and we can even put a squiggle in your copy if that’s your thing.

To whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt:

She frowned, turning a circle in search of a sign. Loman Street. Offices on the right, a long, windowless building on the left. Somewhere along the way she’d taken a
wrong turn.
The mosquito whine of a building alarm sounded from somewhere nearby. She heard the low thrum of traffic ahead; a main road, still busy even at this hour. It would be easy enough to get her bearings there. She set off, suddenly aware of how dark it was down here, how few of the street lights seemed to be functional. The sour smell of overripe binbags drifted in on the wind. The shrill sound of the alarm seemed to carry a long way in the quiet. Her shadow waxed and waned as she passed between the lights, limbs stretched, form distorted. Just like…
No. She shoved her hands in her pockets. It wasn’t real. I proved that.
Behind her, close by, something skittered out into the road.
A fox, she told herself, though she felt her pace quicken, her muscles tightening. Lots of foxes around here. The sound came again, closer still, and it seemed that there were eyes on her, tracking her frantic motion; her fingers closed around the keys in her pocket, slipping them between her knuckles.
Occipital, parietal…
She was tipsy and alone, and a woman walking solo on a dark, isolated street was an
easy target. Her screams would be lost beneath the wail of the alarm. Nobody would
come for her. Nobody would know she was here.
Frontal, temporal, sphenoid…
She sucked in a deep breath and peered over her shoulder.
Something long and thin retreated into the shadows.

Naming the Bones at Edge-Lit 2017

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My debut novella ‘Naming the Bones’ is being released at Edge-Lit in Derby on 15th July, and I am lucky enough to be sharing a book launch with the excellent Mark West, whose superb collection ‘Things We Leave Behind’ is also being released at Edge-Lit. Both books are published by Dark Minds Press.

If you’re there, please consider popping along and saying hello – and maybe even picking up a book or two.

Shadows and Tall Trees 7

The new edition of Shadows and Tall Trees is now shipping, and you can order it at Amazon.co.uk in both paperback and hardback (as well as eBook). It boasts an absolutely killer lineup of writers including V.H. Leslie, Robert Shearman, Steve Rasnic Tem, Alison Moore, Conrad Williams and a host of other top-notch authors.

And then there’s my story, ‘Sun Dogs’, which is as close to a love story as I have ever written, and which I hope people will enjoy as much as I enjoyed writing it. Sometimes a story comes to you fully formed, and you find yourself opening the conduit between your brain and your keyboard in order to shape that story, and I hope I’ve done it justice.

The cover art for both the hardback and paperback editions is stunning:

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Both covers are courtesy of the superb Vince Haig

it’s the doing that kills you

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I have a motivation problem.

This could apply solely to writing, and it undoubtedly does apply to writing in some ways – it’s coming up for four weeks since I last wrote anything. But largely, this applies to Life In General. I have a problem with motivation. Specifically, I have a problem with maintaining it: oh, I’ll gladly take on all number of hobbies, challenges, pastimes etc. I’ll take them on with great enthusiasm and pour myself into the task. I’ll watch myself improve and I’ll take pride in that. I’ll probably show off a bit, too, because I do that.

And then it just….fizzles out.

I’m not sure why this happens, but it happens with almost everything I do. Japanese lessons – I studied for almost two years, and then lost the will (in my defence, I was struggling to afford the classes, but…) Sewing plushies – I made a couple, bought a load of sewing kit, and then found myself utterly unmotivated to continue. My personal history is awash with abandoned, half-finished things: the Good News twitter which I rarely update anymore, weightlifting progress which comes in fits and starts. I promised myself at the start of 2017 I would keep a basic daily diary – I did great until about mid-March and now empty pages abound. I promised myself I’d relearn how to read Tarot cards. I promised myself I’d update this blog regularly.

I can’t put my finger on why this happens. Sometimes, it’s because something becomes very challenging and I give up. (I admit to having a problem with this: if I’m not instantly good at something, I get incredibly discouraged and find my motivation crushed.) Sometimes something new comes along and grabs my attention – inevitably another ten-minute wonder. My brain seems incapable of maintaining a level of enthusiasm for anything for very long.

Writing is the only thing I have stuck with – I’ve been writing (mostly) consistently for about five years now. And even that’s a struggle sometimes. I try to form a ‘writing habit’ – writing at lunchtimes, in the evenings, early mornings, take your pick. It never sticks. Sometimes I can go weeks without writing a word. I always think about writing – I’m forever planning stories and scenes in my head. But when it comes to actual motivation, there are a great many times when I find it completely absent. (Says the Imposter Syndrome: clearly you’re not a real writer then.)

I toy with the idea of writing myself a schedule – allocating myself time outside of work to write, exercise, practice Japanese, time on the internet as well as time to relax. I toy with it, and never do it, because oops, it turns out that involves a degree of motivation as well.  It’s frustrating, especially since I can’t work out why I’m like this. Why I dive into something with unbridled enthusiasm only to find it dwindling weeks or months later. And the worst part is, I am incapable of enjoying doing ‘nothing’. I hate it. I can’t stand just sitting around, watching telly – I feel at my best when I am ‘doing’, but sometimes the ‘doing’ is so difficult.