For the first time ever writing legend Richard Thomas will be hosting his world leading online course "Contemporary Dark Fiction" at a European friendly time slot.
Are you ready to take your writing to the next level? It’s important to not only write and read on a regular basis, but to understand the genres that you write in, and how you fit in. This class will talk at length about many different genres that contribute to the current dark fiction landscape (fantasy, science fiction, horror, Southern gothic, crime, neo-noir, transgressive, magical realism, and literary fiction) while simultaneously learning techniques, mechanics, structure, and essential elements that can be applied to ALL writing.
This course is reading and writing intensive. You will read four books in four months—one novel per month.
Each week you will complete the weekly assigned reading:
The weekly Skype call lasts 1.5 hours and will cover that week’s short story, the column and subject, and the novel.
Additional discussion will occur in a private Facebook group.
At the end of the month, you will turn in an original short story, up to 4,000 words, based on whatever inspired you over the course of our studies. Richard will read, edit, and critique each story, and return it to you with advice on what to do next (keep editing, drop it, polish it up, send it out). You are also responsible for providing feedback on the stories workshopped each month, in a timely basis.
At the end of the semester you will get one hour of private Skype time with Richard to talk about anything you like—your work in class, other projects, the industry in general, markets, query letters, how to get an agent, what to do next, etc.
TRIGGER WARNING: We will read stories and novels that contain sex, violence, and other potentially upsetting material.
WHO IS THIS CLASS FOR:
Clara sees the trees sticky with sunlight. She can taste heat on the roof of her mouth, her tongue sitting close to her throat as she breathes in. She doesn’t mean to open the car window, knowing only that her fingers find the handle slippery as she turns it.
‘Keep it closed,’ her father says, his voice marred with the same slick of tar that’s been there since her mother’s accident.
‘It’s too hot,’ she says. Can’t you tell, she wants to add.
She feels his eyes watching her in the rear-view mirror, looking from her to the road, to her brother, to the road. Beside her, Stephen traces his finger on the glass, whispering something only he can hear.
‘What are you doing, Stevie?’ she asks, using the material of her dress to brush the crease at the back of her knee.
‘It’s an antler,’ he replies.
‘You saw a deer?’
‘It was on the road,’ he says.
Clara doesn’t remember the animal, although she’s sure she would have seen it if it had been there. There’s been nothing to do for hours but stare out as the world changed; the streets she’s always known – the close-knit houses, the lamp-posts, the bus stop – disappearing behind them until the homes and shops were replaced by endless, endless fields and trees. She hasn’t even been able to draw, the jagged lines of her pencil in her sketchbook making her ill.
‘Stop kicking my seat, Stephen,’ their father says.
‘ I’m bored.’ Stephen’s scowl is instant, exaggerated, his feet a steady pendulum beating a rhythm that Clara knows must grate between their father’s teeth.
Her father takes his left hand from the steering wheel and wipes his palm across the back of his neck. The speckled line of dirt on the fold in his collar makes her suddenly, crushingly sad; if the fire hadn’t happened, then their mother would have washed it. She’d have been able to stand in the kitchen, pressing the iron flat onto the shirt. Clara thinks of the heat in the hospital room, the starched bed-linen, the tubes unceremoniously pushed into her mother. The degradation of lying motionless as strangers prodded her skin.
‘You must do as you’re told when you’re with them,’ their father says. He grips the steering wheel again, Clara feeling his tension in her own shoulders, a subtle grasp of fingers that aren’t there. ‘It’s good of them to take you on.’
He’d told them only yesterday, how he couldn’t keep working and look after them. How someone had to pay the bills. Your aunt and uncle have the time and the space. I don’t know who else to ask. Stephen’s tantrum. Their home filled by their father’s resulting bellow, the echo of which Clara still feels deep in her core.
‘I don’t want to stay with people I don’t know,’ Stephen says.
‘They’re not just people. They’re family.’
Who we haven’t even met, Clara nearly says.
She looks out of the window as their car breaks free from the trees, at a marshy stretch where the grass slides into darkened dips and purple thistles rise up in hazy clusters. Beyond that, there’s the silent roar of mountains, their outline picked out in thick, grey ink.
‘See those, Stevie?’ she says. ‘They’ll be ours to explore.’
He forgets his anger. ‘Did mummy go there?’
‘Maybe.’ But it’s impossible for Clara to grasp, their mother as a child, her footsteps running in and out of the heather.
Their father steers the car from the road, stops in front of a gate. On a post, the name Ballechin is written in faded blue paint, yet there’s no sign of the house from here. The children watch as he gets out, arches his back with his arms above his head before he opens the gate, pushing it far enough so that it catches in the long grass. He brushes his hands together as he gets back in.
‘Let’s go and meet them.’
It’s a narrow drive and their father curses as he steers around ruts that threaten to scratch the vehicle. On either side there are thick branches with early blackberries twisting and looping among them.
‘Can we pick some?’ Clara asks, wanting to have the sweet taste of something she knows.
‘We can’t,’ her father replies. ‘They’ll be waiting.’
Clara catches glimpses of brick between the trees, sees the elbow of a window’s edge through parted leaves. From here, she can tell that Ballechin isn’t a small house and as it steps out from behind the shadows of the pines, she loves it immediately – the window frames with glass cut neatly into separate squares, the curved porch supporting a honeysuckle, surrounding a front door made of dark wood. Roof tiles slant down, holding two tall chimneys and a pair of round windows nestled so far back that they’re almost impossible to see.
Gravel crunches under the car’s wheels before it stops and, as their father turns off the engine, silence takes over the air.
‘Did mummy really live here?’ Stephen asks.
‘Yes.’ Their father laughs and Clara notices how his shoulders relax, as though strings that have been forcing them up have been cut.
‘What’s that?’ Stephen is pointing to a small footprint of grass with a stone column at its centre. It’s no higher than Clara’s waist, with a metal fin balanced on the top. Part of her wants to lick the metal, to taste it on her tongue.
‘It’s a sundial,’ their father says. ‘Although I doubt it works very well, surrounded by so many trees.’
‘It tells the time,’ Clara tells Stephen, but already he’s looking elsewhere, at a vegetable patch that runs away around the corner of the house.
‘There she is.’ Their father’s seat rubs quietly as he turns to his children and they all look to the woman standing on the front doorstep with an apron tied tight around her waist, the red poppies on it smothered by the folds of the material. ‘Come on,’ her father says, pushing up the middle of his spectacles. ‘We can’t keep your aunt waiting.’
Stephen scrambles from the car, the blur of his eight-year-old self already rushing towards Ballechin, his arms reaching forward. Clara wants to follow him, but for a moment she finds it difficult to move, instead watching the flower bed nestled along the length of the house, where fuchsia bushes reach high enough to touch the windows. She feels a need to pop the red buds between her fingers.
‘Clara?’ It’s her father’s voice, bent slightly with irritation. She picks up her satchel, puts it over her shoulder and gets out of the car, to see Stephen standing close to their aunt. Clara ambles over the gravel to them, struck by the mismatched smells of honeysuckle and soap.
‘They’re beautiful,’ Auntie says. She crouches as though to hug Stephen, but his wide eyes make her hesitate and embarrassment settles among them all. Their father’s cough breaks through it.
‘That’s kind of you,’ he says, his hand on Clara’s shoulder.
Auntie seems to struggle with the right thing to do and her smile begins to falter with the effort.
‘Do you have any luggage?’
‘The suitcase is in the boot.’ And their father steps away from them to return to the car.
Clara looks towards the vegetable patch, where the runner beans overstretch their bamboo sticks, slumped leaves interspersed with almost glowing orange flowers. She’d like to go and sit among the plants, to draw a picture of their stillness.
‘I’ve brought my toys.’ Stephen stands so close to Auntie that his fingers brush against the material of her skirt.
‘We’ll find space for your things.’ She watches them in a way that Clara has never seen before, as though she and Stephen are some sort of miracle standing on her doorstep. The feeling slips under her skin and she thinks that perhaps she can be happy here.
‘I’m Clara,’ she says, almost laughing at her desire to curtsey.
‘Clara,’ Auntie echoes. ‘And how old are you?’
‘I was fourteen two weeks ago.’
‘Of course,’ Auntie says. ‘And here’s Stephen.’
‘Does anyone else live here?’ he asks, and Clara knows he’s hoping somehow for other children, secret cousins to appear behind the windows.
‘Only my husband Warren,’ Auntie says. ‘We’re so happy you’re coming to stay.’
‘How long can we be here?’ Stephen asks.
‘I’ve already told you,’ their father tells him. ‘A few weeks. Perhaps a bit longer.’
Clara only realises she’s biting her nail when she takes her finger from her mouth, reaching over to squeeze her brother’s hand.
‘It’ll be fun,’ she tells him.
As Auntie stares at them again, Clara studies her face, but she can’t find any trace of their mother. Perhaps that’s a good thing. It’ll be easier to stay here if she can pretend that there never even was a fire.
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