Meet the Circle: Patrick ten Brink

MTCPatrickPhotoThe members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle are a varied bunch. Prose writers, poets, playwrights, memoirists, screenwriters and bringers of silly bits and pieces, we sweep in from all different occupations and locations twice a week to share our scrawlings with one another.

In ‘Meet the Circle’, we introduce you to some of our members, hopefully providing an insight into who we are, what we do, and what we think about Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Patrick ten Brink, the co-chair of our Tuesday evening sessions and responsible for the BWC Anthology 2. Patrick is, I am told, a German with a Dutch name who grew up in Melbourne, Tokyo and London, and thought for ages that he was a Brit (but not any more). He has written a load of non-fiction and, coming home one day six years ago with a new book, was encouraged by his daughter to write something that everyone could read, not just those in offices. So he has written close to every day since, complementing the daily non-fiction, with early morning and late evening magic realism.

When did you join the group?

November 2015. I had just finished a draft of the first book of a three part novel I was working on – The Tides: Accidental Spring – and I had a growing niggle saying that I should find a writers group to get constructive feedback on what works well and what could work better with a bit (or even a lot!) of effort. So I googled it, wrote an exploratory email, got an impressively speedy reply, and within a week I was reading out the first chapter to a dozen writers of different background, age and origin.

What were your first impressions of the group?

Friendly but scary. There is a round of introductions, a concise two or three sentences each. Just enough. Not too much, communicating the purpose: we are here to read, listen and comment. This first time is a bit freaky. I hand out copies, and read three, four pages. Twelve faces watch as every word leaves my mouth. It is odd how you can see that they listen, like musicians, with a different part of their brain firing than painters. It is not the eyes that anchor them. There is a way the head cocks to the side to orientate the ear. The last word uttered, the twelve heads drop as one to focus on the copies in front of them, pens scribbling. No eye contact, no signal of delight or disdain, joy or boredom. Ten minutes of scratching paper.

These are the oddest minutes, each second stretching. I wonder whether it really is wise to volunteer my thoughts to this jury, await judgement and advice from people I didn’t know.

Then one by one the pens are laid down, the heads lift, eye contact re-made and the comments tumble out. Advice like sandwiches, a first layer of compliments (Oof, I sigh), a rich filling of constructive criticism (diverse, complimentary, sometimes contradictory, close to always useful), and some words of encouragement. You need the bread, but it is the filling you really came here for.

A round of thanks, another round of drinks and the next writer is on and now it is my turn to listen, underline the great, point out the potential that is not yet fully there, and the bits that inevitably could merit more attention. By the end of the first day I feel welcome in a community helping each other to learn the writer’s craft, encouraging each other to keep going. I am told that occasionally some don’t come back after the first reading. Most do, and they, as I, really do benefit from this wonderful mixed bag of people.

What are you currently working on?

Patrick doesn’t only draw with words…!

I am working on my three part fantasy novel – The Tides: Accidental Spring – and two books of illustrated travel poetry. I’ve completed the first two parts of the Tides (though these are in full edit-and-polish phase) and have started the third.

The books are about three children – Celeste, Newton and Clementine Wells – who start a new life in St. Estelle, a tidal town in France with miles of windswept beaches that get cloaked in mists. The children are drawn into helping two old eccentric beachcombers (Freya de L’Etoile and Georgiu de la Roche) deal with mysterious treasures and creatures swept up in spring tides. They discover that nothing is quite as it seems in this town and with the old couple.

MTCPatrickSquidFreya secretly sculpts animals out of words and brings them to life, but accidentally creates creatures that stalk the lands. The children soon become essential to protect St. Estelle from these Accidental Creations and, in the second book, from the return of St. Estelle’s prodigal son, Darius de Grey.

In the third book, Celeste gets trapped in the magical Land of the Black Sands and meets a pale ghost of a boy. She… Well I can’t say more as it hasn’t written itself yet.

 

You’re a busy man then! Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

MTCPatrickStarbookGabriel Garcia Marquez and Ben Okri gave me magic, myths and imagery, a joy of life and freedom to let the imagination run riot. MTCPatrickNerudaPablo Neruda gave the real poetry of reality and the art of seeing things how they are. Matsuo Basho gave me crystallised reality, taking a photo of the world with words and whispering them to others. Finally, and more recently, I’ve enjoyed Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which has not only been an immense pleasure, but showed that writing a philosophical novel can be a dream and hugely entertaining even if deep. In summary – it is okay to give one’s imagination free rein over one’s words, it is okay to be deep, but capture reality and whisper it to the reader in packaged, glinting crystal words. Then you can tell your story and maybe others will read it and smile.

MTCPatrickBasho

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

The annual retreat in May 2016 was particularly memorable. In an exercise Hamed led, we sought the questions in the text, noted where the answers came and how it affected reading the text. We quickly saw that questions and answers drove the reader forward, some to the next sentence, others to the next paragraph, and a few larger questions were only answered at the end of the story. And one or two were left unanswered so that readers look forward to the next story. While obvious with hindsight, it was a really good exercise to do. When reviewing my own writing with these tools, I realised that I’d posited way too many questions in one of my chapters.

The other exercise that was fascinating was one where everyone wrote a bit of a story and someone else had to continue the story and then read it out. It was interesting to see how easy (and fun) it was to get into the style-skin of another writer and keep the story going. Even more eye-opening was what others did to one’s own story. In my case Mimi made my character do more in a paragraph than I had in a page, as if liberating her to race along the now fast evolving plot-line. That revealed another side of one of my novel-characters to me. So thank you for that!

What do you get out of the group?

I get constant encouragement to master all the tools in the writer’s tool kit, and insights on how to use them – not only through comments when I read, but seeing others’ work. Some have a great sense of voice, with characters instantly alive. Others have stories that grab you, pull you in and embark you on a high speed journey. Yet others offer poetic puzzles where every word is chosen with care and fits. The fascinating thing is that one can have ten people commenting, with complementary angles, all relevant – on voice, on plot, on characters, repetition, point of views, internal consistency, balance, readership and even marketability. Some evenings I am tempted to take on board all comments, on others to ignore them all. The key is to work out why people have said what they have said, what lies behind it, how relevant it is for the story one is writing and what solutions work, given the characters, the plot and one’s own narrative voice. Then the story stays one’s own, but more accessible and rewarding to others.

It is also great to meet both like-minded and differently-minded people with the same ambition of writing something that people would have fun reading.

 

Works-in-Progress: Plums Taste Different Here

WIPSarahHPhotoThe Brussels Writers’ Circle features members who are hard at work chipping away at various monumental and epoch-making pieces of literature. Or so we would hope. In this new segment, we interview Sarah Harris about her current masterpiece-in-the-making.

First off, what is it, novel/short story/non-fiction and what is it called?

It’s a novel called ‘Plums Taste Different Here’. It is contemporary fiction, similar to ‘The Road Home’ by Rose Tremain. I got the title from an Afghan refugee I got to know in Petit Chateau (a reception centre in Brussels for asylum seekers, web site here in French or in Dutch) who told me that he missed the fruit from his country because it tasted so different here.

Where and when does the action take place?

It’s set in present day Aberdeen and is about Malcolm, a middle-aged forester, who takes in a young Afghan asylum seeker called Jawid. Alma, an enthusiastic community worker, has set up a scheme pairing asylum seekers with people who have a spare room in their house and Malcolm is the first unwitting candidate. Since the death of his mother, Malcolm has led a solitary life and is more at ease with trees than with people. The authorities have decided Jawid is over 18 and therefore has to leave the children’s home where he’s been staying and is no longer eligible to have his family brought over here. Over time an unusual friendship is forged between Malcolm and Jawid but, unknown to Malcolm, Jawid is being blackmailed by a previous contact from the children’s home. In desperation Jawid decides to leave the country, but Malcolm isn’t willing to abandon him to his fate …

Aberdeen on a typically sunny day (honest!)

Aberdeen on a typically sunny day (honest!)

You were obviously inspired by current events in coming up with the storyline of this novel, can you tell us more about that?

WIPSarahHRefugeesI run poetry workshops and teach English to refugees in Petit Chateau and this last year there has been a huge increase of asylum seekers. In particular young people, mostly from Afghanistan, who arrive here without their families, and attempt to build a new life here. I have recently undertaken a training course to become a guardian for young non-accompanied asylum seekers, so have learnt more about their situation and how refugee policy works in Belgium. This all inspired me to write this story.

Which, if any, of Christopher Booker’s ‘Seven Basic Plots’ are you following?

I guess you could say that there’s element of voyage and return and also rebirth in the story. Basically it’s about an encounter between two very different people with very little in common and how this encounter shapes and changes them. And hopefully there’s humour in it too.

How long have you been working on it?

I started it a while ago as a short story but have only been working on it as a novel these last few months.

A work of great length?

No – maybe around 75000 words.

And where are you at now? Where are you going with it?

I’ve just finished chapter five so I’ve a long way to go. The two main characters have only just met each other. I usually take a few years to write a novel, but I hope this one won’t take so long.

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work? What was the best feedback you got from the group?

The BWC is a great source of inspiration – reading out gives me a deadline to work to and the feedback is always really useful. The main feedback I have got so far is that people want to read on, so I need to carry on writing. It’s really important for me to have people believe in it.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?

I think it’s suitable for everyone but not everyone will be interested. There’s a lot of negative press about migration and you almost never hear about the possibilities and enrichment it can offer. There’s a sense of us and them about the issue, when in fact we are all economic migrants. Hopefully this will turn into a funny and uplifting story about it.

We assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?

Two unknowns – an Afghan asylum seeker and an unemployed Scot – who will both become rich and famous by acting in it!

Thanks and good luck with the current draft!

WIPSarahHEinstein

Brussels Writers’ Circle Retreat May 2016

Continuing with what some may now dare call a tradition, members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle gathered for its annual retreat at the Siddartha Centre in Tremelo in the heart of Flemish wine country on 20-22 May.  Although the number of participants was lower than in previous outings, a spell of sunny weather and an engaging pallet of both practical and discussion-based workshops allowed participants to open their minds, and their notebooks, and reflect on essential questions about their writing methods and practices.

After settling in and sharing dinner on Friday evening, retreat participants sat around the fire and broke the ice in a mind-meld activity that involved staring into each other’s eyes and transmitting poems to the other person by telepathy!

EVERetreatMay16NickPThe first morning session on Saturday was devoted to Writing Discipline.  Nick Parrott led the group in an open discussion, firstly about the constraints and blockages that prevent us from writing with serenity and efficiency, and then about strategies to remain motivated and inspired throughout the writing process.  Among the solutions found by the group were finding pleasure in writing, realizing and accepting one’s limitations of space and time, turning off or away from the internet, and sharing one’s work with others (and we all agree that the Brussels Writers’ Circle is a great place for that!).

EVERetreatMay16KevinThe second morning session conducted by Kevin Dwyer was more practical in nature and dealt with Story Design and Structure.  After considering a number of ways that stories are traditionally constructed (in scenes, acts, movements, sequences) participants were then invited in a collaborative exercise to build a structured scene based on characters created by other members of the group.

EVERetreatMay16PatrickThe outdoor afternoon sessions on Saturday also combined discussion and practice.  In a workshop on Writer’s Craft, Patrick ten Brink led the group in a wide-ranging and eye-opening discussion about narrative voice, internal dialogue, and point of view.  Brainstorming around the table, the group shared their approaches and preferences on how closely they as authors stay to their characters and on how to develop personal style and voice.

To conclude the Saturday sessions, Hamed Mobasser guided a workshop on Building Suspense.  Hamed emphasized that suspense is necessary in any type of storytelling and is based on the judicious planting of questions in the reader’s mind and then gradually revealing the answers to those questions as the story moves along.  The group was then invited to put these ideas into practice, with many discovering hidden talents as mystery and horror writers.

EVERetreatMay16Ensemble

After pre-dinner walks and games, Saturday evening was devoted to meditation, discussion and a veritable orgy of wine and cheese by the fire.

A blurry shot of Hamed and Patrick, we assume not due to the amount of wine being drunk

A blurry shot of Hamed and Patrick, we assume not due to the amount of wine being drunk

The final session of the retreat on Sunday morning was devoted to a workshop by the tandem of Leda Papasokrati and Mimi Kunz on Writing Love in Fiction.  In a number of prompt-driven collective and individual exercises, participants brought love to the page, while Leda and Mimi tried to steer the group away from cliché and stereotype, despite the heart-shaped pink balloons.

During the Sunday afternoon feedback session, retreat participants expressed their unanimous appreciation for the mix of workshops and the overall convivial and challenging atmosphere of the weekend, none of which would have been possible without the devotion and care that Hamed put into the organization of the retreat.  Thank you Hamed!

Planning for next year’s retreat is already under way, so please check back here or on the Brussels Writers’ Circle Facebook page for further details as May 2017 approaches.

Meet the Circle: Andreas Bergsten

MTCAndreasPhotoThe members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle are a varied bunch. Prose writers, poets, playwrights, memoirists, screenwriters and bringers of silly bits and pieces, we sweep in from all different occupations and locations twice a week to share our scrawlings with one another.

In ‘Meet the Circle’, we introduce you to some of our members, hopefully providing an insight into who we are, what we do, and what we think about Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Andreas Bergsten, a psychologist from Stockholm, avoiding his purported mission to write a Swedish college textbook by indulging in English-language fiction writing.

When did you join the group?

In March 2014. I was surfing some ex-pat sites for advice on how to make the Belgian postal service actually deliver parcels when I saw a link to the BWC. I made contact the same day, went to the next session, and have been a regular ever since. Last year I also went to one of the BWC writing retreats.

What were your first impressions of the group?

I had three immediate impressions. Firstly, how passionate and serious everyone was about writing. Secondly, the welcoming and sociable atmosphere. Thirdly, what a diverse and interesting group of people the BWC is. Something refreshing in ex-pat Brussels where you can find many uniform, conformist cliques. All three impressions have been reinforced over time.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve tried out some different stuff in the group, both fiction and non-fiction. Now I’ve settled on a story that demands space, so let’s say I’m working on a novel. At the same time, I’m supposed to be writing this psychology book in Swedish, so there is both competition and interference. The protagonist of my novel, then, seems to be a psychologist on a confused mission (no, it’s not really autobiographical fiction, he’s even more of a whack job than I am) and the writing appears to be an odd fusion of chick lit and noir. Yeah, I know, that’s not really a description to approach an agent with…

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

MTCAndreasJeevesImpossible to say. I’ve been reading English-language fiction daily since I was twelve, when my father drowned me in P.G. Wodehouse paperbacks from Penguin to supplement the school teaching he deemed inadequate. Then I went off on my own and have had so many loves since.

I think my own English writing aspires to a light touch on heavy subjects, but what amalgam of influences brought me there is too hard to unpack. Let me just say that right now, I’m crazy about Ali Smith, Jenny Offil, Ben Lerner, Donald Antrim and Zia Haider Rahman. And I’ve just discovered Iris Murdoch’s amazing oeuvre. Go figure.

 

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

Oh, yes. More than I can share, really. But to pick an anecdote at random, I remember this one time a guy read out a lyrical and moving short story. Everyone seemed excited and the feedback session was intense. The first feedbacker insisted he condense it into a poem, since the diction, metaphors and rhythm practically yelled out ‘poetry’.

The next one said it would be a crime not to expand on such a gripping theme and develop it into a novel. The third had quite specific instructions on changing characters, switching locations etc; The fourth had actually re-written a few lines to make some transitions smoother.

Now we all know that, when it comes to feedback, detailed suggestions for changes are less helpful than just explaining one’s reaction to the text. Since words are the writer’s medium, it’s like taking the brush to someone else’s half-finished canvas. But sometimes we just can’t help ourselves, and it’s often when we get really enthusiastic that we go overboard.

After the fifth feedbacker told him the only sane thing would be to convert the text into pop lyrics or a technical manual or whatever, the poor author threw up his hands. “Please, stop,” he said. “My head hurts!”

What do you get out of the group?

Well, as for the writing (kind of the obvious point of the circle), you get so much interesting feedback. Wildly different and sometimes contradictory reactions and ideas (see above), but that is part of the art and actually quite liberating. If the responses were unanimous, they would be harder to resist and probably influence me too much – especially in the early drafting stages. With such a smorgasbord of reactions, if I may use that expression, I can pick and choose in a way that leaves my feedback diet nutritious and challenging, but not belly-achingly hard to digest. And I get such a rush from having a room full of perceptive and skilled readers doing their best to improve my work.

Then, for me, there has been a most welcome side effect. In Brussels, I mostly skulk around in the shadows. I’m a stay-at-home dad, but the kids live in Sweden (grown-ups, nominally), and my breadwinner wife is constantly on the road. So the BWC is the main provider of great company for me. At the sessions, sure, but also the frequent post-session beers and the friendships growing out of socializing with other lost souls. If you like writing, and you like people, I can’t recommend the BWC enough.

It's not always this cold in Stockholm - honest!

It’s not always this cold in Stockholm – honest!

BWC Member Nick Foster on publishing his True Crime book ‘The Jolly Roger Social Club’

The BWC is thrilled to announce that member Nick Foster’s True Crime book ‘The Jolly Roger Social Club’ is being published by Henry Holt next month. Huge BWC congratulations are therefore in order!

CNENickFPhoto

Nick Foster, who hails from Liverpool in the UK, has been a member of the Brussels Writers’ Circle since 2000 – when the ‘Circle’ was a ‘Group’, Belgians spent francs in the shops, and we were all a lot younger. The commitments of family life mean that Nick doesn’t attend meetings as much as he would like; the rest of the time he cheers on the efforts of the group from a distance.

In 2014 Nick got a deal with Henry Holt in New York to write a non-fiction book on the story of an American serial killer who murdered five of his compatriots in Bocas del Toro, Panama – an outwardly idyllic stretch of Caribbean coast, with azure seas and white-sand beaches.

Nick’s book, The Jolly Roger Social Club, will be published in July 2016 by Henry Holt in North America, and by Duckworth Overlook in the UK and other English-speaking territories.

So Nick, tell us about your book?

I was living in Latin America back in 2011 and I came across the story by chance. A young American man named William “Wild Bill” Holbert had, apparently, killed at least five of his compatriots in a vaguely sinister expat community located in a remote part of Panama. Holbert ran a bar called the Jolly Roger Social Club with a flyer promising that “over 90% of our members survive”. That itself seemed ominous. Then I wondered about the expats: Why were these people there at all? What were their motivations? And how did it affect things that this was an American crime transplanted, if you will, to Latin America? What kind of culture clash might this entail? My questions went on and on. That’s when I figured that this was the story I was looking for. There’s a longer description here: http://us.macmillan.com/thejollyrogersocialclub/nickfoster.

William "Wild Bill" Holbert

William “Wild Bill” Holbert

 

 

CNENickFCover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did you get a book deal for The Jolly Roger Social Club?

Through the traditional route of getting a literary agent (in London, in my case) and then a publisher. I took a month off work to visit Panama and to write the book proposal. For me, it was important to set a deadline to get the proposal ready and sent off. From then it took about four months to get a book deal. The North American rights to The Jolly Roger Social Club were put up for auction by my agent and he set a date and time for bids to come in from the States. Ten minutes before the deadline there were still no bids. I was getting despondent. Then two bids suddenly came in, including Holt’s. I could hardly believe it – it was a really happy moment. After that, the hard work really started. Everything had to be researched – non-fiction means precisely that: it’s all true. I went to Panama a further four times and once to the United States. They were all long trips. As I wrote the story, I discovered it had the most amazing twists and turns. You really couldn’t have made this one up.

CNENickFBocas1

You read your book out at BWC meetings along the way. How did the feedback you received help with writing the book? 

It was very useful. Even though most members write and read fiction, rather than true stories, I got really good feedback. I could instantly see which passages worked and which ones didn’t.

Any tips for aspiring non-fiction writers?

First of all, read a lot. In my case, before I even got on the plane to Panama I devoured a vast amount of narrative non-fiction to see how it was done, to try to break it down. That alone took six months. I needed to see how other writers structured their books. It’s a really important point: if my book just follows me, the writer, discovering a story by interviewing people and uncovering facts, it won’t be very compelling – it will simply be an account of me becoming gradually less ignorant about something. To make a story riveting, you need look how good writers approach chronology, how they use flashbacks, how they establish a powerful sense of place, how they arrange their narrative around strong scenes. You also need to get the pace right and your story has to be suspenseful.

When you pitch your book to an agent, you have to be absolutely focused. Most agents explain on their website precisely how they want to receive pitches. Follow their instructions to the letter. Do exactly what they ask you to do. Try and put yourself in their position: the publishing industry is a business and, if they take you on, they will pitch on your behalf to publishers. So don’t complicate things for them – be clear precisely what your book idea is about, and tell them clearly and concisely. Check this page out for some more tips: http://ducknet.co.uk/blog/ten-tips-writing-creative-nonfiction.

It helped me when I started writing my book to think of it in terms of building blocks. You have a certain number of chapters and then sections in each chapter. It’s easier to think of a book as forty sections of 2,500 words than a big job of 100,000 words you have to sit down and write.

What are your influences?

On the non-fiction side, the direct influence for The Jolly Roger Social Club was A Death in Brazil, by Peter Robb. Apart from Robb, Sebastian Junger and Jon Krakauer are both excellent. The late Gordon Burn was a terrific writer, and a northerner to boot. The Art of Political Murder by Francisco Goldman is beautiful and heartfelt. Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is the best true crime book I have read in a while, and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken – the survival story to end all survival stories – has a wonderful cinematic quality.

In fiction, and off the top of my head: James Salter, Graham Greene, Richard Ford, Kazuo Ishiguro, James Joyce, Philip Roth, JM Coetzee, Peter Carey, David Szalay, William Boyd, Geoff Dyer and Tobias Wolff (I’m not a big fan of memoirs but Wolff’s are superb). Finally, I don’t read very much poetry – at least not compared to prose – but I simply cannot get enough of Philip Larkin.

Thanks Nick, and congratulations again!

Meet the Circle: Dimitris Politis

MTCDimitrisPhotoThe members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle are a varied bunch. Prose writers, poets, playwrights, memoirists, screenwriters and bringers of silly bits and pieces, we sweep in from all different occupations and locations twice a week to share our scrawlings with one another.

In ‘Meet the Circle’, we introduce you to some of our members, hopefully providing an insight into who we are, what we do, and what we think about Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Dimitris Politis who hails from a tiny whitewashed village on the Greek island of Tinos.

When did you join the group?

Back in 2009, when I followed all the sessions until 2012, when I moved away from Brussels for a while. I then rejoined the Circle in early 2015.

What were your first impressions of the group?

I was delighted to meet other writers and people who were interested in reading and writing. Their views gave a different perspective and often useful advice on my writing. There are always things that a writer might miss, forget or misrepresent. Often little details that can nonetheless make a huge difference in the end. I have found the help of the group in this sense priceless.

What are you currently working on?

MTCDimitrisMetroMy second novel “The Next Stop”, a psychological thriller taking place in a metro carriage right here in Brussels, is already finished in Greek and its English translation is also 95% done. Now I am working on my third nail-biting thriller in Greek: the story of a female archaeologist who gets entangled in the dark Mafia underworld of selling looted antiquities and pieces of stolen art. The story is linked to some antiquities snatched by the Taliban during the Kabul Museum raid back in Afghanistan in 1992. .

Several short stories of mine in Greek have been published on the web and in Greek literary magazines (links in Greek, here, here and here). One of them has been selected by a Greek publisher from more than a thousand submissions to an open short story competition with the theme: “On the edge”.

Another short story of mine in English about the Greek financial crisis has been selected to be published in an anthology of English speaking/writing writers who live here in Brussels, Belgium. So, all in all, not a dull moment!

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

There are and have been so many amazing authors from earliest times to the present day that it is unfair to pick out “favourites” as such. I could just mention Stieg Larsson for his amazing thrillers; he never ceases to amaze me as to how aware he was of the IT technology of his era and how cleverly he used all of that in his thrillers. Also the choice of outcast and provocative characters by John Irving and his eccentric, vivid, almost Dickensian protagonists. The beautiful flawless writing style of Jodi Picoult. The identity-defining novels of Luigi Pirandello.

Being of Greek origin, authors such as Odysseas Elytis, the Poetry Nobel Prize winner, and Nikos Kazantzakis with his constant metaphysical and existential concerns had a great impact on me. But there are no favourites, really. Each influenced me in different ways, be it in terms of writing style, pace, plots, characters, scenes or imagery.

Nikos Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis

 

 

Odysseas Elytis

Odysseas Elytis

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

I remember one evening a BWC member bringing a chapter from a very renowned bestselling author, presenting it as their own and asking for members’ feedback. While the overall critique was favourable, there was a lot of individual criticism on certain aspects of the writing and the presentation of the story. In the end our member of course revealed the identity of the true author and we all had a great laugh! This story proves once more that all is subjective and fluid in reading and writing and that there is not really one single golden rule!

What do you get out of the group?

Most of all, kind advice, support and friendship. The fact that it is a group composed of Brussels English-speaking ex-pats like me, gives us the opportunity to befriend and connect with like-minded people. To exchange views not only on writing and literature, but also on social, cultural and personal issues and interests which make life what it is.

Brussels Writers’ Circle – December 2015 Retreat Redux

Following on the popularity of the May 2015 writers’ retreat in Tremelo, Flanders, participants were eager to organize an additional gathering after the summer holidays. Hamed Mobasser, BWC event manager and organizer of the May retreat, accepted the challenge, albeit with doubts about whether fond memories of the spring event would translate into a successful remake. Hamed put together a varied 3-day programme from 4-6 December of workshops and entertaining Yuletide interludes that met with general enthusiasm, and even a touch of primal screaming.

EVEReduxBarbaraPhotoRetreat participants trickled in in the early evening on Friday to settle in their rooms and enjoy dinner, drinks and some ice-breaking activities which included the writing of a collective surrealist poem. The retreat began in earnest on Saturday morning with a poetry workshop given by Barbara Mariani who explained Dante’s monumental use of the three-lined rhyme scheme in The Divine Comedy. Barbara then proceeded to show us the influence and creative possibilities of rhyme schemes used by Shakespeare, Shelley, contemporary poets, and, eventually, those in the workshop.

EVEReduxLedaPhotoThe next workshop was presented by Leda Papasokrati on Myths, Legends and Fairytales in Fiction. Leda first described how narrative elements, motifs and formulas recur in many classical stories that have been told and re-told for millennia around the world, before leading the group in a collective fairy tale rewriting exercise, which, using the forms of recipes, text messages, rhyming couplets, and journalism took Snow White to curry shops in London, converted the seven dwarfs into radical feminists and landed Prince Charming in the ladies’ toilet.

EVEReduxClairePhotoSaturday afternoon sessions began with Claire Davenport, who ran an exercise-based workshop on Character Building, in which the virtues of showing over telling when it comes to character description became abundantly clear. Claire’s workshop concluded with an exercise in which characters in conflict were developed and acted out in pairs, proving the usefulness of anger management.

EVEReduxFrankVPPhotoSaturday concluded with a visit from Frank Van Passel, a Belgian film producer, who spoke on the principles of screenwriting and the daunting process involved in going from screenplay to film. Frank spoke about the importance of character and gave tips on how a script should be developed and presented to potential producers. Frank emphasized the importance of perseverance, paraphrasing Louis Armstrong saying that “the air that you don’t blow into the trumpet will never come out as music.”

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There was time on Saturday evening to explore the surroundings and visit the local Tremelo Christmas market. After dinner, there was a Christmas party with dancing and fun by a roaring fire.

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BWC Members are of course accomplished dancers…

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… in addition to their undoubted skills as writers!

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday morning’s session was devoted to a workshop by Ciprian Begu on self-publishing. Ciprian gave a very convincing and detailed presentation on the trends in self-publishing and the steps required to self-publish with success. Ciprian’s workshop was certainly enriching and intrigued many attendees who were hesitant about self-publishing.

 

The retreat closed with a final workshop on Native-American poetry by Ocean Smets. Ocean concentrated on two forms, the acrostic and the epitaph, and the session finished with the creation of a teepee village.

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The retreat participants greatly appreciated the diversity of the workshops on offer and many thanks go to Hamed for putting it all together so convivially and efficiently. The next BWC retreat is scheduled for May 2016, so make sure to check back for further information as Spring approaches.

 

2016 International Short Story Competitions

Another year, another chance to give those tales of yours a chance to win some dosh. Here we go again with our fourth annual list of international short story competitions you might consider trying your hand at in 2016.

Since there are more writing competitions than you can shake an armadillo at, our search was narrowed to competitions that are (a) international, (b) preferably include publication in either anthologies or magazines, and (c) do not require the donation of one or more of your limbs in order to enter.

Most of the competitions listed below require that your submission has not been published elsewhere beforehand (or at least not in a publication with more than a certain threshold of sales), but you can check each site individually for comprehensive entry rules. Some also include poetry and flash fiction categories, so these have been indicated where applicable.

Good luck people!

JANUARY DEADLINES

Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: Max. 12 double-spaced pages
Entry fee: $25USD
Prize: $1000USD
Deadline: January 30, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: n/a
Publication: The Thomas Wolfe Review
Website: http://www.ncwriters.org/index.php/competitions/3587-thomas-wolfe-fiction-prize

FEBRUARY DEADLINES

Glimmer Train Short Story Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 12,000 words max.
Entry fee: $18USD
First Prize: $2,500USD
Deadline: February 29, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: n/a
Publication: Winner published in Glimmer Train Stories
Website: http://www.glimmertrain.org/pages/guidelines/short_story_award_for_new_writers_guidelines.php

Exeter Writers Short Story Competition 2016
Theme: Open (but no children’s stories)
Word limit: 3000 words max
Entry fee: £6
Prize: £500
Deadline: February 28, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Exeter Writers website only
Website: http://www.exeterwriters.org.uk/p/competition.html

MARCH DEADLINES

Nivalis Short Story Contest 2016
Theme: ‘Nivalis’, meaning ‘Winter’, no children’s stories, young adult, chicklit, hardcore sci-fi
Word limit: 1,500-7,000 words
Entry fee: $10USD
Prize: $250USD
Deadline: March 31, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Winners anthology
Extra information: biannual competition,

Website: http://www.fabulapress.com/the-contest/

The Fiction Desk Ghost Story Competition 2016
Theme: Ghost story
Word limit: n/a
Entry fee: £8
Prize: £500
Deadline: March 31, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: The Fiction Desk Ghost Stories Anthology 2016
Website: http://www.thefictiondesk.com/submissions/ghost-story-competition.php

The Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction 2016
Theme: Open
Word limit: Under 50 pages
Entry fee: US$15
First Prize: US$2000
Deadline: March 14, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Fall/Winter 2016 edition of Colorado Review
Website: http://coloradoreview.colostate.edu/nelligan-prize/submission-guidelines/

The Pinch Literary Awards
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 5,000
Entry fee: US$20
Prizes: 1st prize $1000USD
Deadline: March 15, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Spring edition of The Pinch Journal (University of Memphis)
Extra information: Also includes poetry and nonfiction categories
Website: http://www.pinchjournal.com/2016-contest-guidelines/

Mslexia 2016 Women’s Short Story Competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2,200 words max
Entry fee: £10
Prizes: 1st prize £2000, 2nd prize £500, 3rd prize £250
Deadline: March 14, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Mslexia Magazine
Extra information: Women writers only
Website: https://mslexia.co.uk/competition/short-story-competition/

Short Fiction Journal Short Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 6,000
Entry fee: £7
Prizes: £500
Deadline: March 31, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: The Short Fiction Journal
Website: http://www.shortfictionjournal.co.uk/?page_id=33

Metamorphose Novella Fiction Prize
Theme: Fantasy, Science fiction
Word limit: 20,000-40,000
Entry fee: n/a
First Prize: US$50
Deadline: March 31, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Metamorphose Volume 2
Website: http://metamorphoselit.com/category/news/

Tethered by Letters Short Story Fiction Prize

Theme: Open
Word limit: 1,000-7,500
Entry fee: US$18
First Prize: US$1,000
Deadline: March 31, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Friction
Website: http://tetheredbyletters.com/submissions/contest-submissions/

APRIL DEADLINES

Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 3,000
Entry fee: US$16
Prize: US$2,000
Deadline: April 30, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: 3 submissions max.
Publication: Winner published in Glimmer Train Stories
Extra information: This is a quarterly competition, so future deadlines will be announced for April, July and October 2016
Website: http://www.glimmertrain.org/pages/guidelines/very_short_fiction_guidelines.php

The Bath Short Story Award
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 2,200
Entry fee: £8
Prizes: 1st prize £1000, 2nd prize £200, 3rd prize £100
Deadline: April 25, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: The Bath Short Story Award 2016 Anthology
Website: http://bathshortstoryaward.co.uk

Momaya Press Short Story Award
Theme: ‘Treasure’
Word limit: up to 3,000
Entry fee: £8
Prize: US$200
Deadline: April 30, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Momaya Annual Review 2016
Website: http://momayapress.com/momaya-short-story-competition/

Bristol Short Story Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 4,000
Entry fee: £8 per entry
Prizes: 1st prize £1000, 2nd prize £700, 3rd prize £400
Deadline: April 30, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology (Volume 8)
Website: https://www.bristolprize.co.uk/rules/

MAY DEADLINES

The Bridport Short Story Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 5,000
Entry fee: £10
Prizes: 1st prize £5000, 2nd prize £1000, 3rd prize £500
Deadline: May 31, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Bridport Prize 2016 Anthology
Extra information: Also includes poetry and flash fiction categories
Website: http://www.bridportprize.org.uk

Cinnamon Press Annual Short Story Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2000-4000 words
Entry fee: £12
First Prize: £500
Deadline: May 31, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: up to 4
Publication: Cinnamon Press winners’ anthology
Extra information: Cinnamon Press also includes annual competitions for poetry and first novels/novellas
Website: http://www.cinnamonpress.com/competitions/annual-short-story-prize/

JULY DEADLINES

Highlands and Islands Short Story Competition
Theme: Open (no link with Scotland necessary)
Word limit: 2500 words max.
Entry fee: £5 (or 3 stories for £12)
Prizes: 1st prize £400
Deadline: July 31, 2016
Multiple entries permitted: Not stated
Publication: Online only (HISSAC website)
Website: http://www.hissac.co.uk/CompetitionDetails

ROLLING DEADLINES

Writers’ Forum Short Story Competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 1000-3000 words
Entry fee: £6 (or £3 for subscribers)
Prizes: 1st prize £300, 2nd prize £150, 3rd prize £100
Deadline: Rolling
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Published in Writers’ Forum Magazine
Extra information: Also includes poetry and flash-fiction competitions
Website: http://www.writers-forum.com/comps.html

If any BWC members or other site visitors know of a competition that fits our bill (i.e., it’s international, includes publication, and doesn’t cost too much to enter), just leave a comment here and we’ll see about adding it to the list.

Disclaimer: we cannot speak for the legitimacy of any of these competitions. They all seem bona fide, but we advise that you check the individual websites to make up your own mind!

 

Coming Full Circle – BWC says Farewell to Chairman Todd Arkenberg

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” Andre Gide.

CNEToddPhoto2That quote, one of my favorites, speaks to the necessity of risk—courage to leave behind the safety of the familiar—in order to grow. As authors, we soar highest I think when we push ourselves away from the familiar. Readers crave fresh perspectives, unique storylines, and unfamiliar settings. Experimentation is a great teacher.

But as rewarding as discovery may be in our writing, losing sight of the shore in our personal lives can unsettle. As I prepared to leave the USA two years ago, apprehension tempered the excitement. What would life be like in Brussels? What about my writing? A new continent and city would certainly provide fresh material. But writing is lonely, an occupation often pursued in silent refuge. In Chicago, I found a cure for isolation. I joined, Off Campus Writers Workshop and The Barrington Writers Workshop, the city’s two oldest writing groups. The bonds formed with fellow writers fulfilled me, personally and professionally. Camaraderie was only one benefit. Members inspired and motivated, helping me to become a better writer.

Surfing the Internet from the security of my Chicago home, I found the Brussels Writers Circle. The website was informative and welcoming. With a very favorable first impression, I dashed off an email of introduction. Upon receipt of David’s reply, I felt comforted. A safe haven awaited me on that distant, unknown shore.

Within a fortnight of my arrival, during the dark, drizzly evenings of early January, I made my way to La Maison des Crêpes on Tuesdays and Le Falstaff on Thursdays. The first tour de table of introductions allayed fears that I was alone. All of the writers had made their way to Brussels from some other shore, near and far. Many had even crossed another frontier, language. BWC members for whom English is not their native tongue amazed me.

Weeks turned into months. BWC didn’t disappoint. Among the writers, I found the same dedication, resourcefulness, imagination and support that endeared me to the colleagues left behind in Chicago. Similar passions, I guess, drive those who yearn to write. We have a need to tell stories, stir emotions, and share truths.

And maybe even more important than providing a place to hone my craft, the writers of BWC offered friendship to Jim and me. That social outlet allowed us to adapt much quicker to our Expat life. Once settled, I could focus on writing.

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And, I’ve been very productive. While living in Brussels, I self-published two novels, Jell-O and Jackie O and None Shall Sleep, and nearly completed the initial draft of my next project, a memoir. Throughout this time, BWC members offered encouragement.

Perhaps that explains why so many BWC writers are published authors. Sessions provide a safe forum. I felt comfortable experimenting with non-fiction and poetry. Honest critique based on trust and respect explains BWC’s success. The opportunity to co-chair Tuesday night sessions pleased and honored me.

Jim and I both hoped that we could have stayed in Brussels longer, but a life open to adventure knows few certainties. A new job for Jim within the Nielsen Company takes us back to Chicago. As for me, I plan to take a playwriting course to turn two ideas into dramas.

CNEToddPhoto1Things are starting to disappear from our home as our departure date nears. A barbecue grill, vacuum cleaner, blender, even Jim’s car. Of course this is merely stuff. We’ll miss many things about Brussels. But most of all, we’ll miss the people, especially, our many good friends of the Brussels Writers Circle.

As Jim and I prepare to leave Brussels, we face resettlement with a mix of apprehension and excitement. Yes, we have come full circle. But we return richer people because of our experience. And, I’m a better writer because of the Brussels Writers Circle. Thank you, BWC.

Creative Writing Workshops with Colette Victor – Brussels January-April 2016

The BWC is delighted to announce a series of workshops to be held in Brussels starting in January 2016 and hosted by former BWC alumnus and now twice-published author Colette Victor.

EVEColettePhotoCreative Writing for English Speakers is for native or second language English speakers who would like to learn the basic ingredients of qualitative creative writing, be it short or longer fiction or memoir.

Short stories, novellas, longer works of fiction and even poetry all require the same basic ingredients to draw readers in and to keep them turning the page. Collecting ideas to write about, characterisation, dialogue, points of view, plotting your work, creating tension, editing and revising – these are all topics that you will be introduced to over the course of 8 workshops. You will also learn to access your creativity and switch off your logical brain half during the initial stages of writing. This course aims to introduce you to the joy and creativity of writing as a form of self-expression.

Creative Writing for English Speakers covers a wide range of exercises to hone your creative writing skills, to write lively and vivid prose and create unforgettable characters. This course will help you cultivate a productive writing habit and teach you how to edit and revise your work.

Over the course of 8 workshops you will learn how important it is to employ your creative brain half when writing creatively, you’ll be guided through many creative exercises, experience a significant improvement in your style and quality of writing and ultimately communicate more effectively with your (future) readers. Besides the workshops, you will be expected to complete about 1,5 – 2 hours of homework per week. The exercises will be discussed in the group and you’ll receive feedback from both your peers as well as the tutor.

This course is for beginners and beginners with some experience. It is for anyone who has a good command of the English language and wants to express themselves in it creatively. It is not a language course for people still trying to get to grips with English.

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About Colette:

Colette Victor is a twice published author (‘Head Over Heart’, Chicken House 2014, Young Adult fiction and ‘What To Do With Lobsters In A Place Like Klippiesfontein’, Cargo Publishing 2015, literary fiction.) She is an experienced writer of many years and a trained creative writing teacher. Colette has extensive experience in coaching new writers, teaching workshops, organising writers’ retreats and giving constructive criticism.

Learning objectives:

  • Stimulate creativity during the writing process
  • Produce livelier and more readable content for your readers
  • Improve your writing skills
  • (Re)discover the pleasure of writing
  • Learn with and from your peers
  • Find new and fresh topics to write about
  • Learn new ways of releasing your creativity
  • Get a first introduction to and understanding of the following elements:
  • Genres, setting, characterisation, dialogue, point of view, plotting, descriptive language, plotting and revising…

Why this course ‘Creative Writing for English Speakers?’

  • Practical workshops with a maximum of 10 participants
  • Qualitative personal attention and feedback from the tutor
  • Learning with and from peers
  • Intensive creative writing training with many exercises
  • Cover a lot of ground in a short space of time
  • A qualified tutor with many years of writing experience
  • In the centre of Brussels, easy access by public transport

P.S. PLACES ARE LIMITED AND FILLING UP FAST!

Practical Details

DATES: 30 January; 6, 13, 20, 27 February; 5, 19 March and 2 April 2016
LOCATION:   MicroMarché / MicroFactory / DIY DAY
Steenkoolkaai 9
1000 Brussels
NUMBER OF WORKSHOPS: 8
NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS:8 – 10
TIME:  10h00 – 13h00
FEES: €250 for early registrations (until 31 December 2015) and €280 for students registering thereafter. Payment secures your place on the course. Confirmation of payment will be by email.
TUTOR: Colette Victor

Registration

You can register your interest in this course by sending an email to info@colettevictor.be
with ‘Creative Writing for English Speakers’ in the subject line.

After registration you have 14 days in which to change your mind. Within these 14 days you are entitled to cancel your enrolment without providing a reason (by email to the above address). After this, your enrolment on the course is irreversible.

In case that there are fewer than 8 participants enrolled at the start of the course, we
reserve the right to cancel it. We will undertake to inform all enrolled participants of the
cancellation. In the case of a course cancellation, we will refund all participants the full
amount of their fees paid.