photo by Paul Stallings
by Linda McVeigh
In the dark winter months of early 2009 I had a brush with the uncanny. First of all, a friend emailed me a copy of Freud’s essay, something I found a little baffling as I’d never expressed any particular interest in Freud, psychoanalysis, or The Uncanny. A couple of months later, I heard about Chichester University’s research forum on the uncanny and decided I’d like to go – not because of the subject, but because I’d been to a couple of events put on by their creative writing department and knew I wouldn’t be disappointed, and because people whose work I admired would be reading there. It proved to be a fascinating event, taking in the mysterious worlds of Conan Doyle and Madame Blavatsky, and looking at the ‘sibling double’ in Wuthering Heights. Shortly afterwards I was participating in the University of Brighton’s short creative writing course when the subject reared its head again: this time it was Tara Gould from Short Fuse presenting a workshop on doppelgangers, parallel realities and the unexplained. I was beginning to feel as if I was being stalked by The Uncanny, that it was not so much whispering to me, but shouting in my ear, demanding that I acknowledge it.
A short story idea took root: one which was set in the comfortably familiar setting of Victoria Station and had as its protagonist a middle aged ‘everywoman’. So far, so ordinary, but something is not quite right… when the woman goes into a station café, she finds herself already there, spooning sugar into her drink while reading The Daily Telegraph. And there she is again, outside W.H. Smith, staring short-sightedly at the train indicator board. She begins to see herself all over the place, hanging around near the ticket barrier, rooting through her handbag on the train, but it’s not until she gets home and finds a somewhat less inhibited version of herself already in bed with her husband that she understands what has happened. I submitted the story as part of some coursework I was doing, tucked it away in a folder on my laptop and forgot about it.
When I saw the Asham Award inviting entries for its short story competition in 2010 I felt disappointed that for the first time they’d decided to set a theme. Ghosts and gothic? I couldn’t write ghosts and gothic. Swirling mists, flitting shadows and dark horror were not my thing. I write about the everyday – about normal people doing normal things, although admittedly their concept of ‘normal’ might not be the same as everyone else’s. I had a couple of stabs at writing a traditional ghost story, which only served to confirm that spooky tales didn’t come easily to me, and then I noticed that entrants were invited to ‘interpret’ the theme widely and remembered the Victoria Station story I’d written almost a year before. I had a stab at some heavy editing in an attempt to make it more ‘ghostly’, but only succeeded in creating a Frankenstein’s monster of a short story – something that was neither one thing nor another. Trying to anticipate what the judges might like and squeezing my writing into a genre I wasn’t comfortable with was just not working: ‘All Over the Place’ was what it was, and seemed determined to stay that way.
Winning the Asham was hugely exciting and encouraging, as was seeing my story in print in Something Was There, and I still feel grateful to the readers and judges of The Asham Award for looking beyond the traditional theme and (as they acknowledge in the collection’s introduction) allowing the entrants to make the theme their own. From the first, to the last, it has been a truly uncanny experience.
All Over the Place is Linda’s first published story. She started writing in 2005, won the Small Wonder Short Story Festival Slam in 2007 and the Short Fuse Valentine’s Day Slam in 2008. In 2010 she was awarded first prize in the Creative Tourist Rainy City short story competition with Troubles and in 2011 took the Small Wonder prize for a second time. She has just abandoned her first novel after a four year tussle, but has optimistically embarked on a second.