I know one thing: that I know nothing

My MA classes started two weeks ago and while some of the initial trepidation (read: screaming anxiety) has mercifully dissipated, I still feel rather daunted by the whole thing. This week, while reading a Karl Marx essay, followed by a Dorothy Richardson short story, I felt very much as though I had forgotten how to read English – or perhaps that the texts on offer were in Klingon. (I’m still not convinced that Ulysses isn’t in Klingon.)

Adding to that sense of intimidation is the fact that everyone in my seminar group has had some kind of educational exposure to modernist literature, whereas I, the intrepid Creative Writing graduate (why, 18-year-old-me, why) am approaching this brand new, treacle-dense subject on awkward, clumsy feet. So it was a relief to sit down this week next to an English teacher embarking on the same MA, and to hear her express how difficult she’d found the assigned reading. (And then for the seminar tutor to admit it had taken her multiple reads to penetrate the meaning of it.)

Perhaps….whispering, so that the imposter syndrome won’t hear…perhaps I’m not thick after all. Perhaps it really is just difficult.

That’s a small comfort – I still have essays to write and plenty of texts ahead to wrap my already-tired brain around (though having been diagnosed & started on thyroxine this very week I’m hoping the tiredness will abate enough to allow more study!) But it is a comfort nonetheless. As I have been reminded, I am here to learn. The point of an MA isn’t to go in knowing everything already. And although it can be a knock to the confidence when everyone else in class knows X writer, or has read Y text, and I am sitting there clueless, I have to remember that everyone has to start somewhere.

(It’s not all crushingly overwhelming. I’ve already found my love for Virginia Woolf reinforced and have discovered things about William Morris – designer, sci-fi writer, ecosocialist and all-round top bloke – that I didn’t previously know, and which I find fascinating.)

Fantasycon 2017

22050155_1968304653426878_2773456462096325836_n

a politer bunch of reprobates you’ll never meet

Fantasycon 2017 has been and gone, and in its wake that peculiar sense of almost-bereavement. You forget, over the course of the year, how liberating events like Fantasycon can be. It really is a rare pleasure to find yourself surrounded by people who ‘get it’: the largely solitary pursuits of writing and reading, the near-obsessive tendencies of those of us who choose to pour our mental and emotional energy into creating weird little worlds and waving them at other people: here, experience this! If it sounds a bit mad, that’s because it is. And as for Fantasycon – as the Cheshire Cat famously said: we’re all mad here.

This year’s Fantasycon was held at the Bull Hotel in Peterborough and for the first time, I brought my husband along for the three days. He’d met several of the crew at Edge-Lit earlier in the year and was persuaded that the weirdos I hang out with one weekend a year are actually really pleasant weirdos. (I blame/credit Mark West for this in particular).

Speaking of Mark West – after two consecutive Fantasycons in his esteemed company I barely saw him this time around. That’s another thing about this event in particular: there are so many familiar, friendly faces around at any given time that you can easily miss people you’d normally spend ages nattering with. The flipside of this is that you end up nattering with people you missed last time around, and sometimes, people you’ve never met before.

This year I also experienced the joys of Staying Up Late. I’m a consummate ‘morning person’, which means I’m also usually crashed out in bed by 10pm. I was up and about til 2am on Saturday night and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in one night – between the Sinister Room (which I’ve shamelessly co-opted to finally give this blog a proper name) and Mr Mauro’s unfortunate experience in McDonald’s (it’s still Too Soon to talk about it) as well as a captive audience to very kindly allow me to wax lyrical about the adventures of my grandad, my jaw muscles were literally aching from laughing. We talk about ‘our tribe’ at Fantasycon, and connecting with others who understand what being a writer is like, but there’s also the fact that we are all incredibly daft, and usually a bit tipsy, and unashamed to be laughing at the most ridiculous, stupid things.

Then there was Little Jim McLeod:

22090113_1968304230093587_8306198160276837363_n

Since the man himself was sadly unable to make it, I made a tiny sock-and-felt effigy of him to ensure that he would have a presence of some kind. It turns out that people quite liked Little Jim – almost as much as they like Jim himself – and there are a great many pictures of him hobnobbing with the greats of the British horror scene.

I also did a reading – my first proper Fcon reading! – and people actually turned up to listen to Tim Major, Tracey Fahey and I reading our stories, which was nervewracking and lovely. I did a panel, which was also surprisingly well attended given that the mighty Adam Nevill was launching his book at the same time. And to top off a great weekend, the truly brilliant Georgina Bruce won a British Fantasy Award for her sublime short story “White Rabbit”, which I have waxed lyrical about in this very blog more than once.

I won’t name names, because I’m liable to forget people, but to everyone I spent time with, shared meals with, laughed & chatted with, or even just greeted in passing – thank you. You make Fantasycon special.

Fantasycon 2017 – my schedule

Not my entire schedule – I’m not that well organised (and my Fantasycon experience is that no matter how well organised you are, your plans WILL fall by the wayside!) But I am scheduled for a reading and a panel, and the details of those are below:

 

Saturday 11am – Sandringham Reading Room

Weird Fiction readings by myself, Tracy Fahey and Tim Major. I will be reading from my first published short story, “Red Rabbit”, which was published in Shadows & Tall Trees in  2012.

 

Saturday 7pm – FitzWilliam Panel Room 1

Women in Horror panel moderated by the venerable Theresa Derwin, and featuring Tracy Fahey and guest of honour Nancy Kilpatrick (and me!) It promises to be a very interesting panel indeed.

 

The rest of the time I will be wandering (with the lesser-spotted Mr. Mauro in tow) looking a bit lost, trying to put names to faces (which I am notoriously bad at) and hopefully nattering to lots of nice people. Please do say hello if you spot me!

Imposter Syndrome – this time in anthology form

20994355_10155702213864673_452374634596542038_n

Delighted to be a part of what promises to be a superb anthology with my short story ‘In The Marrow’. Published by Dark Minds Press and edited by James Everington & Dan Howarth, ‘Imposter Syndrome’ features stories about changelings, doppelgangers, Capgras delusion and pod-people.

I’ve had a sneak preview of two of the other stories in the anthology and if they’re anything to go by, it’s going to be very good indeed.

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.