Haunting Lives

deadline for submissions: 
November 30, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
York St John University
contact email: 

Haunting Lives, edited collection, call for abstracts

Are you a creative writer who consciously plays with techniques that transgress the borders between fiction and nonfiction? What is it that attracts you to this liminal space between the two, and what new writing territory do you want to form there? Your work might be in auto/bio/fiction, the historical or nonfiction novel, speculative history or a hybrid genre. You might balk at these categories as reductive and antipathetic to this genre-defying writing. Haunting Lives is an edited collection that will illuminate this border country, help readers to navigate or succumb to its strange terrain and examine the spectres that live there.

We are looking for chapters that interrogate creative practice, to investigate how you came to this border country and what you are doing with your writing there.  We want chapters that explore your transgressions and subversions of these borders. We want you to map your challenges to a rigid borderline and to illuminate the effects you create. We are looking for chapters which do this in relation to your own work and with reference to the work of other writers and conceptual frameworks. Think Gordon Burn, Ali Smith’s Seasons quartet of novels or Jay Bernard’s poetry collection, Surge.

You might draw on personal/family/cultural memory in your work. You might make stories out of archival documents and objects. How do you bring your imaginative processes to bear on this material to turn it into creative writing? You might be interested in:

  • The subjective
  • The intersectional
  • Telling historical stories from new perspectives
  • Challenging the hegemony of dominant versions of history
  • Bringing hitherto invisible and silenced characters and voices to the fore
  • The creative art of braiding personal and researched stories together
  • Collage techniques
  • Formal experimentation and playfulness
  • Hauntology

We are particularly interested in the ways that such writing creates powerful haunting effects and sheds uncanny light on real events and people. Ghosts have become a significant trope in recent border writing – Alison MacLeod’s short story collection, All the Beloved Ghosts, experiments with form to tell family histories, combine an autobiographical story with that of Princess Diana and to speculate about making a citizen’s arrest on Tony Blair. Edward Parnell’s Ghostland is both an exploration of the landscape of British ghost stories and a ghost story about his own family. Dylan Trigg says, of returning to a place which holds memories, ‘I am not alone in this memory… I am followed at all times by the ghosts who continue to coinhabit my memories, despite no longer existing in the material world’[1] Liminal space is the privileged place where ghosts can be brought to light and the past can be brought back to haunt us. Ethan Kleinberg has begun to theorise the concept of hauntological history and the importance of creative writing to it. He foregrounds the role of the imagination in how we make meaning: ‘I use literary fiction as a privileged site that exposes the way the past haunts history’[2]. You might make a virtue of the gorgeous unreliability, peculiarity and rich singularity of memory or you might conjure ghosts/characters from old photographs and official documents. Dan Coxon and Richard V Hirst have identified the uncanny turn in recent fiction: ‘in modern literature, the Uncanny, ‘has become one of its dominant features.’[3] We want to extend their discussion.

Teaching on a creative nonfiction module while my students are simultaneously studying a fiction module seems increasingly nonsensical to me. I begin the module by suggesting that nonfiction is not the opposite of fiction and by the end I steer students toward the border country where they can cross between fiction and nonfiction to tell haunting stories of reality. If you teach Creative Writing, your chapter might also interrogate pedagogical issues raised by these border writings.

Such writing is as old as literature itself – Plutarch’s Parallel Lives were more morality tales than they were reliable biographies. In the twentieth century Virginia Woolf turned to fantasy and magical realism to illuminate the life of Vita Sackville-West in Orlando. But in recent times the ’truth’ contract, as outlined by Philippe Lejeune (although even he rescinded it), has been a guiding premise of so much Creative Nonfiction. It has become limiting and debilitating. The litigation against James Frey and his publishers, which resulted in A Million Little Pieces having to be moved across the border and sold as fiction rather than nonfiction, might be seen as a low ebb in this rigid categorisation of creative texts, driven as much, if not more, by marketing as by creative imperatives. We want to highlight and showcase the richness, variety and complexity of writing which claims to be neither or both at the same time.

The collection will be co-edited by Dr Helen Pleasance and Professor Robert Edgar, of the York Centre for Writing at York St John University.

Chapters should be between 4 and 6000 words.

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words and a short biography of no more than 150 words or questions about the project to hauntinglives@outlook.com by 30 November 

[1] Dylan Trigg, The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny, Ohio University Press, 2012, xiv

[2] André da Silva Ramos, ‘Ethan Kleinberg: Theory of History as Hauntology’ in História da Historiografia, vol 10, no 25,2017, https://doi.org/10.15848/hh.v0i25.1263


[3] Dan Coxan and Richard V Hirst, Writing the Uncanny, Dead Ink, 2021, 3