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Writing the Uncanny: A Short Story Course

All you need to know about my Comma Press workshop series in July 2023

Thrills and Chills

Tremendously exciting news to share. Come July, when we'd all rather be outside in the warm sun of our summer evenings, I'll be running a moody six-week 'Writing the Uncanny' short story course with Comma Press via Zoom. We'll be closing the curtains, lurking with beasts, checking our shoulders for shadows, slipping through the veils to the thin places, and doing double-takes at marionettes holding mirrors in carnivals in our attics. And we'll be writing stories. And, at the end of the course, they'll be published.

Permit me to be blunt. I'm writing this post to try and entice you, dear reader, to join. I want to offer you a flavour of what to expect. You can see all the official blurb over on the Eventbrite page of course, but if you dwell awhile in my blogswamp I'll waft a few extra scents to your curious nose. Firstly: me. This is what you'll see:

A Zoom with a View

Well, I might be wearing different clothes, I'll probably have shaved, and some of those books might have shifted around a bit, but pending any late Spring housing disasters or early summer personal mishaps of suitable magnitude, this will be the view. That wallpaper, those bookshelves, that poster for Stalker (one of my favourite uncanny movies), that incredible stack of Goosebumps books, and that face of mine. Hello! I'll likely say hello at the start of the first session, and all the sessions thereafter. Just so you know.

As for the content, well I'll confess that it isn't quite ready yet. But fear not! I have a good handle on the shape of things to come and I'm well practiced at whipping up a decent workshop. We'll have homework readings of cool short stories (none of which will be too long, don't worry), we'll have fun-time knockabout exercises, we'll have serious think-time exercises, we'll chat a bit about the things that unnerve us as well as the things that delight us, we'll take quick nervy peeks into other art forms - music, art, photography perhaps - and we'll work away on the craft of damn good storying. There will be chances to share bits of your writing in a safe and supportive environment, and part of my contract involves giving feedback, so get a load of that! Also, in case it reassures you, I'm pretty shit hot at Zoom these days, and I have a strong internet connection and a decent computer. Humblebrags perhaps, but I've invested the time and money for this very reason. So, we can all relax on the technical front (I hope. You never fully know. But I have fast reaction times to misbehaving tech).

I can sense you have some more questions. Let me try and answer them:

Q: OMG, I'm a total beginner. Never written a story in my life. Can I come?

A: Yes, of course! All humans are storytellers, it's what we naturally do. Everyone's a storyteller! All the exercises will be accessible and flexible and low pressure. You should know, this isn't really a total back-to-basics nuts-and-bolts style workshop series, but I aim to shape my sessions around key factors like character, setting, dialogue, endings, structure, and all that good old fashioned story stuff. And if anything feels too advanced, I'll be happy to receive a nudge if you need something simpler.

Q: Hey there. I'm a seasoned writer. I do this all the time. Can I come?

A: Of course! Even the most seasoned of writers benefit from fresh perspectives and challenges. Treat this workshop series as a chance to inhale a whole load of new inspiration nuggets, or a chance to push yourself to some weirder realms. I love a weird story. The weirder the better. Want to write a tale from the perspective of an undead flamingo who only speaks in iambic pentameter? Let's go, girl!

Q: I'm a bit worried all the material will be super horrible. I don't really like horror stuff. Should I not come?

A: It's true that the Uncanny tends to go hand-in-hand with horror. Doppelgängers, clowns, dolls, darkness, that kind of thing. Uncanny stories tend to dwell on violence, death, trauma, and suffering, all of which can get a little grim. I can't guarantee that all of this will be avoided, but I'll do my best to ensure that nothing is too extreme. The homework stories will be dark by their nature, but they won't be gratuitous and I'll distribute content warnings for those who need them (and if you choose not to read them, there'll be no judgement or punishment). If you intend to write about difficult and sensitive issues absolutely feel free, but please be mindful of others when it comes to sharing (also: you won't be pressured into to sharing if you don't want to). The sessions themselves will be lovely and lighthearted, I promise. There will be opportunities to show off pets and/or favourite teddy bears on your screens. There may even be some banter. All easy, all good.

Q: I'm neurodivergent, and things like this can make me a bit nervous. Can I come?

A: More than welcome. In fact, I'm actively encouraging it. As you might have noticed, I have a keen interest in neurodiversity, particularly autism, and I've worked with a lot of ND folk in recent years. In fact, I've just finished a series of 10 workshops for autistic adults with Writing East Midlands and we're just about to create a zine of work written by the participants. It's been a roaring success and I've loved every minute of it. So, ND folk: I'm here for you, I'm more than happy to accommodate, adjust, and adopt to your needs. You can come along, join in as much or as little as you like, stim on camera and interrupt me with non sequiturs, or keep your camera off and never say a word. There'll be no judgement from me. I also believe ND people may have a unique perspective on uncanniness, and I'd love to help you explore that.

Q: Should I come to the first session with a clear idea for a short story?

A: No, that's not necessary at all. Our first session will be angled towards firing up your imagination to help you get to the start of an idea. I'm confident something will leap out and grab you, or at least something will lodge in your subconscious and bubble up in a weird dream later that night. Equally, if you do have a clear idea, that's all good too. You can treat that first session as an exercise in coming at your idea from a new angle, or using the material to fill in any blanks that you already have. You may even find yourself hitting a shinier, better idea than the one you showed up with. How exciting! By the end of session one, we'll all have made a start on an opening, and then it'll be up, up, and away we go, my lovelies.

Q: I'm new to Uncanny literature. I've got time to read some stuff over summer. Any recommendations?

A: Yes, flipping loads. Here we go: Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson; Dark Entries by Robert Aickman; Jagganath by Karin Tidbeck; Looking for Jake by China Mieville; We All Hear Stories in the Dark (three volume set) by Robert Shearman; The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman Perkins; Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka; The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley; Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor; Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin; City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer; The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher; and for extra bonus pre-preparedness points Writing the Uncanny: Essays on Crafting Strange Fiction (Dead Ink) eds. Richard V Hirst and Dan Coxon. Also, not forgetting Comma's own books on this area: The New Uncanny and The New Abject, both edited by Sarah Eyre & Ra Page.

Ok, that's enough for now. I've got a workshop series to prepare. In the meantime, if you want to take the plunge and join me for a swim in Lake Unnerving (so much better than Lake Erie), you are more than welcome, whoever you damn well are. Spend a few weeks wandering in weird thin places, reading some unsettling tales, playing unnerving games like Kentucky Route Zero and Control, watching weird movies like Stalker and Under the Skin, and thinking about ghosts, ghouls, and a twin you've never met whose living a double life in a house just like yours except for the choice of fridge magnets.

Hope to see you in July.


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