Brussels Writers’ Circle up to snuff

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BWC writers have been busily upholding literary standards over the past few years. Look who’s been earning distinction, having works published far and wide . . .

Colin Walsh’s debut novel, Kala, was sold to Atlantic via five-way auction in a two-book deal. Kala will be Atlantic’s biggest debut novel of 2023 and will be backed by a significant publicity and marketing campaign. Colin’s short stories have won several awards including the RTE Francis MacManus Short Story Prize and the Hennessy Literary Award. In 2019 he was named Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year.

Sarah Reader Harris new book, entitled On the Move: Poems and Songs of Migration, was chosen as a finalist in the 2021 Amateo Award for Arts Participation Projects across Europe.

Kevin Dwyer and Hamed Mobasser have written and produced a movie entitled I Heard They Change Color, a semi-finalist in the Indie Shorts Awards, Cannes Film Festival 2022. 

Stephan Theo won an Indie Book Award, and worked on the film ‘Dog’, winner of the Thessaloniki IFF 2021 Special Youth Jury Award. He is currently undertaking a Masters in Creative Writing in the UK, and building his list as a literary agent. His writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines including Brussels Express, and Library Journal.

Luciano Di Gregorio, a freelance writer and travel author for Bradt Travel Guides (UK), is currently undertaking an MFA in Creative Writing at New York University. Based in Belgium, Italy and Hong Kong, he is working on a novel and a collection of short stories.

Claudia Delicato, an Italian living in Gent, Belgium, published her first novel in Italian titled Una cena (A Dinner). You can find her at claudiadelicato.com.

Michael Adubato recently published a book of poems entitled Missing the Exit. He is a former Brussels resident who can still be found on occasion milling about Sablon. 

Jeanie Keogh published the short story collection Press 9 for Pig Latin. The ebook is widely available everywhere online (Barnes and NobleChapters-IndigoAmazon, and FNAC). 

Claude Forthomme, writer, economist, painter and poet, is now Senior Editor at Impakter, a swiftly growing online magazine for millennials. A writer, economist. and graduate of Columbia University, Claude gained a broad range of experience before starting a career at the United Nations (Food and Agriculture), finishing as Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia. She authored many fiction books under various pen names in both English and Italian. She is considered a prime exponent of Boomer literature and founded the Boomer Lit Group on Goodreads. Her poetry has been included in the international poetry anthology Freeze Frame.

Vyacheslav Konoval’s poetry was published in Anarchy Anthology Archive, International Poetry Anthology, Literary Waves Publishing, Sparks of Kaliopa, Reach of the Song 2022, Diogenes for Culture Journal, ‘Scars of my heart from the war’, ‘Poetry for Ukraine’, ‘Rhyming’, ‘La page Blanche’, Norwich University research center, ‘Impakter’, ‘Military Review’,  ‘The Lit’, ‘Allegro’, Innisfree poetry journal,  Atunes Galaxy Poetry,  Ekscentrika,  Mere Inkling,  EgoPhobia,  Fulcrum,  Omnibus,  Adirondack Center for Writing,   Lothlorien Poetry Journal. Vyacheslav’s poems were translated from Ukrainian into French, Scottish, and Polish languages. 

Giorgia Pavlidou’s poem “The Alchemy of Misperception” appeared in Kallisto Gaia Press in October, 2022. Ireland-based Strukturriss Magazine selected her as the main visual artist for their January 2022 issue 3.1. Also, trainwreckpress.com published her chapbook inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel in 2021and Anvil Tongue Books launched her book of poems and paintings, Haunted by the Living – Fed by the Dead. Georgia has also published in CaesuraLotus-Eater, Zoetic Press, Maintenant Dada Journal, Unlikely Stories, The Room, Puerto del Sol, Thrice Fiction and Entropy. She’s an editor of SULΦUR literary magazine.

Muntpunt Library published a gazette including stories by Brussels Writers Circle writers:

  • Ahtziri Gonzalez
    • Jamuna Gopaul
      • Irina Papancheva
        • Melissa Watkins
          • Layla Sabourian

Layla Sabourian also had her story, ‘The Discovery of Magic,’ published through EdiLivre. She has published numerous children’s books, hosts a cooking show, and recently did  a TV segment on Bruzz TV station. 

Teodora Lalova published her debut poetry collection Afternoons Like These. She is currently a PhD candidate at KU Leuven and lives in Brussels. Her poetry has been featured in numerous Bulgarian and international outlets including Eurolitkrant. She holds awards from several Bulgarian poetry competitions.

Ann Milton has won her first competition in the category ‘writing without restriction‘. Her poems about the experiences of herself and others in becoming the parents of a trans child. The judge said some wonderfully encouraging things. She extends her thanks to all the Tuesday nighters who commented on some of the poems in draft, and has acknowledged the contribution of the BWC on the competition page. A sample:

The first shock, by Ann Milton

I knew what the words meant
‘he’ ‘is’ ‘trans’
But I couldn’t add them together
find any sense, instead
for days I lived in a haze
wanting to cry
not daring to reach out.
Grief combined with shock
led to pain,
pain for his suffering
pain for all the family
pain for me as the body I created
is rejected.

JL Morin’s fifth novel, Loveoid, won an eLit Silver Medal in 2022.  It is also a Cygnus 1st Place Sci-fi Award Winner; Book Excellence Award Finalist; ScreenCraft Semifinalist; and the short story kernel was shortlisted by the Fish Prize

Mauricio Ruiz’s second book, Silencios al sur, was published in early 2017. His work has appeared in Words Without Borders, CatapultThe CommonThe RumpusElectric LiteratureJMWWRiver TeethLiteral Magazine, and has been translated into Dutch and French. He’s been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and Myriad Editions Competition in the UK, as well as the Fish Short Story Prize in Ireland. He has received fellowships from OMI writers (NY), Société des auteurs (Belgium), Jakob Sande (Norway), Can Serrat (Spain), and the Three Seas’ Council (Rhodes).

Fintan O’Higgins, former script editor at Lime Pictures, the UK’s oldest TV series, ‘Coronation Street’, gave an inspiring workshop in 2022 for Brussels Writers’ Circle members at Muntpunt Library. Fintan has also written for the TV series Emmerdale Farm, and has led workshops in drama, poetry and prose fiction.

Brussels Writers’ Circle writers with blogs:

Sarah Strange, Poet in the Woods   

Jack Gilby, Make Sense of English

Alys Key, Sorry We’re Prosed

Layla Sabourian

Simon Conheady  

Claudia Delicato

Claude Forthomme

The Brussels Writers’ Circle is brimming with talent! Get involved.

Writers’ Workshop

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Join us for a writers’ workshop on Friday 25 Nov. from 19:00 to 21:00, at Muntpunt, Zinneke 1 Salon, Munt 6, 1000 Brussels

Delving into device in fiction, writers will explore characterisation, symbolism, and the creativity that goes into writing prose. You can work on a new text or on an existing one. Prose writers from all walks of life are welcome. The workshop is led by Fintan O’Higgins.

Fintan O’Higgins has written for the UK’s oldest TV series, ‘Coronation Street’, and has led workshops in drama, poetry and prose fiction. He also developed playscripts, and feature films. Fintan’s television drama writing experience also includes popular TV series such as ‘Emmerdale’ and ‘Hollyoaks’, and ‘Coronation Street’.

25 euros payable on the day, with Registration via e-mail: brusselswriterscircle@gmail.com

Food and drinks available for purchase at the Muntpunt café downstairs.

Back to the Circle

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Brussels writers are sharpening their pencils and gearing up for an amazing Back-to-the-Circle season, after a series of milestones, most importantly our collaboration with Muntpunt Library.

The fun started with entries for Muntpunt’s ‘City of Stories’ writers’ festival. The festival broadened its reach and was an overwhelming success. For one day, The Brussels Writers’ Circle, Passa Porta, Muntpunt, the Foire du Livre de Bruxelles, Theatre 140 and twenty more cultural associations enchanted our routines by imagining new ways of telling stories of public space.

Brussels Writers’ Circle authors read out their stories on the 4th of June 2022 at the multimedia and multilingual “Brussels City of Stories: Connections” Festival. Writers took over trams, buses and metros offering passengers readings, exhibitions and original performances of hundreds of stories. Their stories were also published in a gazette produced and distributed by Muntpunt Library.  It includes this selection of stories from the Brussels Writers Circle:

‘Porte de l’ Amour’, Ahtziri Gonzalez
‘Diversion’, Jamuna Gopaul
‘Lost and Found’, Irina Papancheva
‘The Bobby Dazzler’, Melissa Watkins
‘The Viomint’s Prelude’, by Layla Sabourian

Fifteen entries came from Brussels Writers’ Circle members Ahtziri Gonzalez,  Alys Key, J. Gopal, Georgia Pavlidou, Tom Morgan, Stephan Theo, JL Morin, Jeanie Keogh, M. O. Pirson, Mauricio Ruiz, Patrick Ten Brink, Melissa Watkins, Irina Papancheva, and Layla Sabourian. We will also be posting many of these entries over the coming weeks!

Writers’ Workshop with TV Scriptwriter Fintan O’Higgins

The Brussels Writers’ Circle held a Writer’s Workshop led by Fintan O’Higgins on Tuesday, 14 June 2022 from 19:00 to 21:00, at Muntpunt Library, Literair Salon S1, Munt 6, 1000 Brussels.

Fintan had writers take a closer look at device in fiction, including characterisation and symbolism, at work in the writing process. Participants were free to work on an existing story, or a new new one. They created stories by answering a series of questions and playing with character development.  The exercise was a step away from linear storytelling towards a more horizontal, layered approach to plot and character. Some commented that they were eager to try this again at home, and that they were happy their creative minds were teased.

The Circle has a few new people joining from the workshop, so the event was a resounding success. Fintan O’Higgins has written for the UK’s oldest TV series, ‘Coronation Street’, and has led workshops in drama, poetry and prose fiction. He also developed playscripts, and feature films. Fintan’s television drama writing experience also includes popular TV series such as ‘Emmerdale’ and ‘Hollyoaks’. Our heartfelt thanks to Fintan and Muntpunt Library for making it happen.

Garden Party under the Trees

Our season ended with a garden party on July 5th, 2022 at Tom’s. Bearing bottles and nibbles, unknown writers stole through the trees toward the sound of popping corks, to alight upon a glade pulsing with joyous laughter.

Camouflaged in Nature, the pre-famous shared their thoughts, ideas, writerly experiences, and vaulting ambitions for R&R during the summer holidays. The convivial atmosphere was ideal for an informal meeting of the minds, à la BWC

Muntpunt Backup

Thankfully, the Brussels Writers’ Circle has secured ongoing backup from Muntpunt Library. Our meetings will be included in the library’s quarterly calendar along with all the cultural happenings at the busy Muntpunt.

The library has graciously offered us a room for our in-person meetings. The Zinneke room will be decked out, or at least unlocked, for us every other Tuesday come September.

The Zinneke offers easy access, as it is part of the back building, and also separately accessible from the café, where we can buy our drinks and bring them up to the meeting. At 7 pm you can access by the library or by the café. At 8 pm the library closes, but in the back building with the café stays open until 9:30 pm.

Spread the word!:

The Brussels Writer’s Circle is an international group of creative writers that get together to share and receive constructive feedback on their work. We meet every first and third Tuesday in person at Muntpunt and second and last Tuesdays virtually in a Zoom meeting. There is no registration needed to attend, but there is a sign up for reading slots. Fill out the form at the join our mailing list link here to receive current BWC news and instructions on how to request to read your work-in-progress to the group for constructive feedback. We are looking forward to seeing you!

Missing the Exit

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The recently published book of poems, Missing the Exit, by Michael Adubato, a former Brussels resident who can still be found milling about Sablon on occasion, takes readers on a journey brought to life through literary form.

The majority of his poems focus on the theme of travel as they were written during Adubato’s numerous trips around Europe, where he has lived most of his life, while some are his reflections on the time spent back home in New Jersey, USA.  One particular poem was written in a Dunkin’ Donuts in the city of Newark, where his ancestors settled during the great American migration of the 19th century. 

With a passion to write, Adubato is at his best when he can hit the roads, the rails and the skies, and scratch his itch to write and travel.  In one of his poems he says that, “Home is nice, but you cannot really live and learn and discover in a familiar and confined space.”  Considering his extensive travels, this does seem to be so, for this Mons based poet. 

He writes about what he sees during his travels, his experiences while sitting in a café, a bookstore, walking among the ruins of an ancient Greek city, or while flying at 35,000 feet above Earth.  By exploring the spaces without, he is inspired to mine the places within his interiority.

His free verse style depicts slices of everyday, ordinary life, which as such does not elevate him to some esoteric plane of poetry, but instead keeps him earth-bound and close to his reading audience.  His kitchen is the setting for a couple of his poems where he is seen, rather read, roasting up a Thanksgiving turkey and on another occasion “making waffles with maple syrup”, where he lives life in all its glorious simplicity, rather than merely contemplating it.

He writes about drinking Romanian wine, the country of Afghanistan, where he spent a few weeks, the passing of another year, and about reading Charles Bukowski, one of his favorite diversions.  The simplicity of Adubato’s poems effectively transports the reader into the scene depicted, one of Adubato’s gifts. 

His poetry also gives us his insights into society with commentary on world affairs, such as the horrors of the Syrian war. Overall, Adubato is perceptive without being overly analytical. He acts as an observer whose task is to state facts without aestheticizing them for art’s sake.

Missing the Exit gives the readers a glimpse into the poet’s life, enticing them to journey back to his poetic world time and again.  Adubato shows that missing the exit brings us “to a new destination”, and can be a good thing.   

Brussels City of Stories

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Let’s fill the city with stories! For its second edition, Brussels City of Stories will gather personal stories from all over the city. This is the second year the Brussels Writers Circle will be participating in the Brussels City of Stories, an initiative of Passa Portathe 140Muntpunt and La Foire du Livre de Bruxelles. See last year’s publication full of stories from our circle!

This time City of Stories will explore the theme of public transport as a place and setting for stories of encounters. Help us fill the city with stories… In the coming months, Brussels City of Stories will work together with different associations and groups to collect stories. We suggest reading out your stories and getting feedback from the Brussels Writers’ Circle, and then emailing the revised stories to us at brusselswriterscircle@gmail.com by the 1st of March. The results will be presented on Saturday 4th of June on the STIB-network and in 4 metro stations. Participate and send us your story!

Connections

Like stories, urban transport connects people and places. Sometimes, during a journey or while waiting for the bus or the train, these stories cross paths. Some of these interactions mark us, positively or not. They become stories that we tell ourselves to make us laugh, to reflect on or to challenge reality, to imagine, to dream. Help us capture, connect and spread these unique moments!

Practical

  • Deadline = 1st of March
  • Maximum 700 words
  • 1 piece for each writer
  • Label your piece with your name and email address, and include a short bio
  • Email your story to brusselswriterscircle@gmail.com
  • Muntpunt will select the stories for the issue

Muntpunt and the STIB we are looking into forms of presentation by billboard, QR-code (audio or text), print, visual art, and live performance in the streets of Brussels on the 4th of June. Discover more on the process of Brussels City of Stories on the web.


Why can’t I publish my book in my first language?

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The Trouble with Kindle’s Fine Print

By Layla Sabourian

Saying Goodbye to Madar, a children’s book about loss & grief, now available in 5 languages!

Picture this:

After weeks of scrolling through articles, putting your work up for workshop, and tediously editing, you’ve finally done it. You’ve labored and huffed and stared so long at that Word document that your eyes have threatened to fall out of your head. But here you are, scrolling through BWC as the author of a full manuscript. You’ve finally stopped typing. No more markups with a red pen—no more late nights spent yawning, thinking Just one more paragraph… 

No more! Finally, your book is finished. Hooray! 

…What now?  

If you’re me (and you have a budget), you create a team of editors prepared to send off submission queries to every publisher on Earth that’s accepting unsolicited manuscripts. We’ve been researching agents and editors like mad! Spreadsheet after spreadsheet, query letter after query letter—the publishing industry is not for the faint of heart. I’ve received more rejections than I can count. 

After writing two books—over 200,000 words of my life—I was exhausted. Nobody wanted to give me the green light; I felt like I was back in the venture capital industry, fighting tooth and nail for funding. Why didn’t anybody think my story was as special as I did? How much harder was I going to have to work to prove myself? What was I doing wrong? 

That’s when I hit Google and I learned the truth: 

The odds of getting published are simply not in your favor.  

If the numbers are right, and only 3 manuscripts in 10,000 get published, where does that leave us unagented authors? Do we not deserve to be seen and heard, too? 

As I’ve been searching for a home for my memoirs, I’ve also been writing and submitting a number of multilingual children’s books to agents and publishers. Maybe fiction would be a more fruitful route for my dreams of being a big-wig author? My dream was always to be traditionally published, and to become a bestseller with a passionate, like-minded audience around the world. 

Well, I was correct, in part. One of my stories, The Discovery of Magic was published through EdiLivre—but that yielded few sales, and they now own the English version of that story in its entirety. Finding high-quality publishers that not only accept unsolicited manuscript submissions, but adequately promote their works has proven to be quite a challenge for an unagented author of color writing nonfiction about her true life experiences as an Iranian orphan. 

The list of publishing gimmicks is endless (and growing). 

Even if you do manage to find the publisher of your dreams, pricey editing packages and long time frames from big names are dissuasive. In the modern era, lots of people are turning to self-publishing—namely through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing services. 

Uploading to KDP is nothing short of excruciating for a newbie, I won’t lie. The road to publication—an underwhelming and tedious three-stage process by comparison to the months of work you’ve poured into your submission packages—requires a number of particularly formatted files that KDP moderators run through the wringer. A number of employees manually review every submission, and they remove content that doesn’t meet their standards. 

Unfortunately, publishing frustrations don’t end there.

It can take up to 48 hours to learn that you’ve made an error along the way, even if it’s a miniscule fix like realigning the cover or dragging a text box inside a border. Regardless, you have to manually edit and reupload the entire document, which can be a bit of a time-suck. 

All things considered, you’ll still be published at the end of the day—or week, rather—if you decide to self-publish through Amazon. It’s free to upload, and you receive up to 70% of the royalties from all of your book sales, which is more than most publishers offer. 

The real trouble for me came in Language selection. 

As the head of a multiracial-multilingual household, it was important to me that children be able to see themselves reflected in the stories they read, and I made it a priority to make my work as accessible as possible. My stories have been translated into English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Farsi, and even Chinese and Slovak! 

But as I tried to self-publish Saying Goodbye to Madar, a story that features my eldest daughter learning of the death of her great-grandmother, I was humbled to find that Amazon doesn’t allow self-publications in Farsi. That story has strong cultural themes, and it was important to me that I be able to release that book in Persian as well as English—my late grandmother deserved to be able to understand a story written for her, I figured. As I struggled to understand why I couldn’t publish in my first language, I could only imagine Madar staring down at my work with strained eyes, appreciating the illustrations and nothing more. 

I tried publishing the Farsi version of Saying Goodbye to Madar as an Arabic book, hoping the KDP moderators might be able to overlook the differences, but they have hawk eyes. Then I tried to publish another of my stories in Chinese after I’d been fortunate enough to locate a team member that could provide a translation for us. Again, to my surprise, we couldn’t publish My Recipe for Good Mental Health in Chinese. There was no option for Mandarin—only Japanese—so I tried again. The mods weren’t having it, which begs the question: 

Why does Amazon—the world’s largest book retailer—

insist on censoring certain languages?

From what I’ve read, because Amazon is an American company first, the corporation is heavily influenced by American foreign policy. A number of Persians have been crying out for justice—Afghans, Iranians, and Iraqis alike. Over 100 million people on the planet speak Farsi, but Amazon remains silent. 

Some speculate that Amazon is fearful that the books they distribute will wind up in Iran, where book bans are frequent and guidelines for forbidden materials change. Given the United States’ tumultuous relations with Iran, it’s understood that Jeff Bezos doesn’t want to ‘stir the pot’ and create any friction with Iran or with China, who’s also struggling with rigid censorship policies. 

So what does that mean for me and my team of editors?

If I decide to self-publish my memoirs on Amazon, I won’t be able to upload the story of my life in my native language. Part of my audience will always be excluded, through no fault of their own, as I was through most of my life as an Iranian orphan in the midst of a religious war. In the face of my mission to create educational, inclusive spaces for adults and children alike, there are few things more heartbreaking than that. 

My team and I have started creating bilingual editions of books as a means of ‘skirting around’ Amazon’s linguistic restrictions, and I’m proud to report that Saying Goodbye to Madar is now available in Bilingual English-Farsi on Amazon. We’ve yet to find a way to publish My Recipe for Good Mental Health in Chinese, however.

If anybody in the BWC has had trouble publishing in their language of choice, I’d love to hear about your experience. Have you found a viable workaround my team and I haven’t come up with yet? What are your thoughts?

BWC’s Teodora Lalova publishes debut poetry collection “Afternoons Like These”

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Written in Brussels, Sofia and everywhere in between, “Afternoons Like These” is the first poetry collection of Teodora Lalova (published by Ars, a publishing house based in Bulgaria and established in 1991). The book is a bilingual edition, both in Bulgarian and English. Teodora collaborated with Jason Spinks (a fellow BWC alum), Kalin Petkov and Gabriela Manova for the translation of the texts. The poetry is accompanied by several of Teodora’s black-and-white photos (for more of her photography, check her Instagram page @sledobedi).

“Afternoons Like These” can be found in Brussels, at Librairie Filigranes, and can also be ordered via the author herself. You can read one of the poems included in the book below (an earlier version of it has been previously featured in Porridge magazine).

Brussels, winter

The station breathes in just as bloated and exhausted as before.
Across the square, there are tourists buying chocolate in a last minute shopping spree;
and the rain, in a show of manners,
is tiptoeing gently – there are some stories in the streets around
that still await their promised time to happen;
they mustn’t be disturbed before it’s come.

Look, I could put it like this:

There is something not right with time here.
I’m not sure whether I age faster or, quite the contrary –
Once we’re introduced a second time, I’ll be annoyingly young again.

Maybe this time is drowsy, you know, it cannot see well,
Or it could be limping, dragging one foot behind (a wounded sparrow)
outside the markings of the road.
But what the right time would be,
and what makes the paths
of our every choice align,
I prefer not to ponder that now.

But all of these are wind-blown words. Time is perfectly fine,
it’s at peace with itself, as it should be. Actually, you know, “As I walk,
As I walk I curse at the wind”, is what I should probably say.

I was careless with the winter of this capital, and that’s that.
I was counting the hours of sunshine the way a soldier rations his cigarettes.
Only now did I begin taming it, playing it Coltrane when it’s least fitting,
we’re learning how to be wise together. And now I know:
this city prefers to hear the ‘80s on the radio.

Sometimes I wonder what you’d say when you cross for the first time
the yellow hall of the station designed by Baron Horta.
To me it looks like an idea of Berlin.
Or our Sofia many years ago.
Like a scratched vinyl of lullabies
.

Look, I could put it like this,
but the rain? The rain has started to run.

“Afternoons Like These” (Ars, 2021) by Teodora Lalova
Editor: Valentin Dishev
Cover: Anna Lazarova
Translation: Jason Spinks, Kalin Petkov, Gabriela Manova

Teodora Lalova (1992) was born in Varna and grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria. She studied at the National Lyceum for Ancient Languages and Cultures, obtained a Master of Laws degree from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, and holds an LL.M. in International and European Business Law from KU Leuven (Belgium). She is currently a PhD candidate at KU Leuven and lives in Brussels. Her poetry has been featured in numerous Bulgarian and international outlets, and she holds awards from several Bulgarian poetry competitions.

❤

Newfound Time

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By Layla Sabourian

Because I’ve always been extremely social, my loved ones all assumed COVID would bring loneliness and depression my way. What they didn’t realize was I’d been dreaming of writing the story of my life for years, but I could never find the time to sit down and do it. Amidst all of the social gatherings, birthday parties, work-related soirees, and both American and Iranian holidays my family celebrated, I hardly had time to breathe. Our family’s forced relocation to Belgium opened up a world of creative opportunity for me, though. With the Belgian schools closed, I finally had the luxury of time, so I decided to sit down and write the darn thing. 

For the first time in my life, I treated myself to a revitalized, ergonomic workspace. I bought a brand new desk (with a slide-out keyboard tray!) and a beautiful 27-inch Apple computer. Though I do have to share my workspace with my husband, the breathtaking lakeview from our office window whisks me away from the stress of work—all I have to do is turn my head.

All good, right? I sat down at my desk, but recanting the details of my life suddenly seemed daunting, isolating, and overwhelming. How was I supposed to start? Blinking at a blank Word document, I realized why I’d placed my writing on the back burner for so long—this was going to be a solitary activity. I did a simple Google search on how to write a book and was immediately showered with spam sent out by predatory publishers, marketing companies, and writing coaches who wanted to charge me for mere advice, without a single introduction to a literary agent. By some grace, as I was about to give up, I typed in “writers in Brussels” and boom! This group’s website popped up. I signed up right away and was surprised to receive an email the next day asking if I would be interested in sharing my writing at the next meeting.

That was my first prompt! I penned the words as fast as I could—the next meeting was only days away. Shakily, I read my piece in front of Brussels Writers’ supportive, constructively critical audience. As I soaked up all the feedback I received, I knew what I had to do. In six weeks, I managed to write not only my first memoir but its sequel, as well as a number of children’s books. I realized writing didn’t have to be solitary as I’d feared, returning week after week to the Brussels Writers’ Circle. Sharing my writing journey with other authors was nearly as rewarding as finishing my memoir!


Five months later, the group announced an opportunity to participate in a contest run by Book Voyage—an invitation to share an excerpt of my memoir outside of our now-intimate Writers’ Circle. I selected a chapter from the beginning of my memoir, and I was happy to be able to read it out and mesmerize the audience with a little bit of the storytelling magic I grew up with in Iran. Not only that, the interviewer and I hit it off really well; Meabh, a journalist from Ireland, is also a mother, and we had a lot to talk about. Her authentic interest in my story resulted in a follow-up meeting a week later, and she wound up doing a TV segment on me for Bruzz TV station. As fun as that was, I’m most happy that my writing helped me make a new friend in Belgium. After all, what good is writing and our stories if we don’t share them, too?

https://www.bruzz.be/en/videoreeks/bruzz-international-zondag-3-oktober-2021/video-entrepreneur-layla-sabourian-finding

“The Goddess of Light wrapped herself around me in luminous tendrils, anchoring me to the ground. Mithra nearly ripped my shoulder from its socket. As I held onto the wheel of the plane, her strength and her wisdom coursed through my veins like liquid sunshine. Her presence required no declaration; it was simply experienced and understood. When I turned to face her, I saw what I can only describe as a kaleidoscopic version of myself reflected in a thousand mirrors, amplified by some cosmic brilliance. Mithra was formless and unconfined: an iridescent entity without a face or a body, but I knew it had to be her.”

Read the story on page 15 of Book Voyage.

Layla Sabourian writes about food, culture, and motherhood. Her work has received starred reviews in various Journals. She is a San Francisco and Brussels-based author who lives with her husband, her especially naughty dog,  and two exceptionally perfect daughters. 

Before she started writing her memoir, Layla earned a graduate degree in International Relations from the University of Westminster in the UK. After that, just to shake things up, she moved to Silicon Valley where she spent 10+ years in tech. She now writes part-time, while leading her content creation company for kids, Chef Koochooloo.

http://www.laylasabourian.com

BWC’s Jeanie Keogh publishes short story collection Press 9 for Pig Latin

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Photo Credit: Eduardo Sanchez, Unsplash

It all started with a writers group. This one. An ever-changing group of different folks, a motley of cultures, diverse genres, and writing projects at different stages of development. The feedback was always valuable — thank you — whether they were of utter disinterest or impassioned, inspired and lengthy critiques. They kept me busy for weeks (and even months) afterward. From rough first draft to polished, published book of short stories, the BWC played an instrumental part in shaping the work. Each of the 10 stories that made it into the collection passed through at least one BWC feedback session. You showed up, read the words, and it meant the world.

Press 9 for Pig Latin began as a small print run of 100 books in September 2019 intended for distribution amongst close personal contacts and writing friends, a sort of informal advanced reader copy for my intimate literary circle (you know who you are). Then there was lockdown, a lull in creative work due to the birth of my daughter, and other paid professional writing projects that naturally took precedence. Since the travel restrictions, I decided it should become available as an ebook.

While I much prefer putting a physical, signed book in the hands of the people who want to buy it, I do put as much love and care into writing heartfelt dedications in cyberspace to those of you who buy a digital copy so feel free to reach out. For those who want a hard copy, there are some still available at Waterstones bookstore downtown. The ebook is widely available everywhere online (Barnes and Noble, Chapters-Indigo, Amazon, and FNAC. Here’s a teaser from the story ‘Somewhere Over Greenland‘. Thanks for reading.

You put the completed pregnancy test in a silk-lined bag with a note on it for the baby-to-be. On one side of the paper, you write “Hello.” On the other, you write “Goodbye.”

The silk-lined bag goes into a drawer.

Other things you’ve put in silk-lined bags include sprigs of lavender, special gemstones and charms, an engagement ring from a love gone south. Those were keepsakes. You’re not sure what this is. Some kind of wish, maybe even a prayer.

You pull the silk-lined bag out every day and look at the two parallel lines. One plus one. A very different thing, this math involving human life.

Brussels Writers’ Circle launches new anthology at three Brussels events

Featured

The Circle 19: a Brussels Anthology is the third collection to mine the talent of the Brussels Writers’ Circle. It showcases twenty-seven writers representing fourteen countries. Some of the award winning authors included in The Circle 19: a Brussels Anthology are: Patrick ten Brink (Germany), TD Arkenberg (USA), Irina Papancheva (Bulgaria), Niamh Moroney (Ireland), Xavier Quiepo (Spain), and Teodora Lalova (Bulgaria).

If you like science fiction, you’ll love Zoheb Mashiur’s Brand New Me or Karmen Spiljak’s The Collectors. Romance? Check out Katja Knezveic’s The Dinner. If you’re a fan of historical fiction or contemporary poetry, you should definitely read Larisa Doctorow’s The Immortal Regiment, or ME Grey’s Impact Pathway Metric.

Please join members and friends of the Brussels Writers’ Circle to celebrate this latest literary project at one of these upcoming events:

26 November, 17:30 – 19:00, Waterstone’s Bookshop, Boulevard Adolphe Maxlaan 71-7 (Facebook event);

30 November, 19:00 – 21:00, Muntpunt Grand Café, Leopoldsraat 2 (Facebook event);

14 December, 19:00 – 21:00, Are We Europe, Boulevard Barthélémy 20.

To request wholesale copies of The Circle 19: a Brussels Anthology for your store, please contact Cynthia Huijgens at +32 (0) 470 326335. For more information about any of the above events, please email your query to bwcsubmission@gmail.com.

Thank you for supporting Brussels-based writers!

Claw

A short story by Tom Morgan

Freedom!

The thrill of anonymity crackled through JanJanssens’ chest. He pulled down his hunting cap and nestled his chin deeper into his college scarf that smelt of cigarettes even though he’d quit six years ago.

Head down, he elbowed through the turnstile and shunted onto the escalator. Down into the bowels of the metro. Down where no-one knew who he was.

Here he was invisible. Here he was free.

Janstepped onto the platform. Stale air belched into his face, the stench of dust and dogs and discarded dinners peppered his throat. Beside him, behind him dozens of sweaty commuters glared at phones. They saw no-one, heard no-one.

Jan saw and heard them all.

He would rather be here than at a Hollywood gala, than at a premiere or a Sunset Strip restaurant. It was only here, deep in the Brussels metro, overdressed and masked, that nobody recognised him. No selfies. No autographs. No shouts of “Hey, it’s the Claw!” or “Hey, Super Claw, save me from the OctoFiend!”

Everywhere he went. Always.

He was a serious actor. He swore he’d only do the one superhero film. But SuperClaw had catapulted him onto the world stage. Claw II had bought the LA penthouse. And then he had III to thank for his Academy award. The gift that kept on giving. Jan snarled into his scarf. His pants itched, his armpits tickled.

He jiggled his arms, stretched his legs. He could feel the slippery, satiny material of his Claw costume against his skin. Every time he had a new role he would come back home to Brussels and wander incognito through the metro wearing his superhero suit, sweating. It was his Method, as the Hollywood webzines called it. Getting back into the character. Becoming the Claw one more time. Believing it.

“I am the Claw”, he muttered into his scarf. “I am here to save humanity.”

The satiny plum-coloured Claw suit lay hidden beneath his crumpled jeans and thick sweater. He pulled his raincoat tighter over his chest. The fraying gabardine with the hole around the second button. He grimaced again.

“The hole where Anna shot me through the heart”, he whispered bitterly to himself.

“Anna”, he whined in his silent monologue, “why, for god’s sake? And for him!”

Billy Jones. His so-called friend. His so-called co-star. His rival. His nemesis. Billy Jones, the Silver Bullet. It would only be a bit part, they’d said. Just for Claw II, they’d said. A one-off. And then the kids had loved him, with his comic-book smile and his stupid shiny silver costume. And then he’d won Best Supporting Actor. And he was here to stay.

And then Jan had got that e-mail from Anna. An e-mail for god’s sake! After three years. His forehead burned. He hadn’t deserved that. And now he had to see them together…

A shriek ripped through the station.

The cry of terror uprooted all eyes from GSMs. They were all suddenly aware of each other. And the man at the end of the platform waving and shouting.

“My baby!”

He shook an empty pushchair and screamed incoherently. Dozens of eyes followed his frantic gaze. A bundle of cherry-red puffiness was crawling over the tracks. A toddler’s head, oblivious to the shouts from above, peeped out one end.

A gust of wind whistled through the tunnel. A grimy yellow light and a chuntering growl followed. In seconds, the metro would be hurtling into the station.

The red-coated toddler pricked up its ears. The father wailed. Blood hammered through Jan’s head. He closed his eyes. He tasted fear. He scratched at his sweating cheeks. He hesitated.

“But I am the Claw”, he said out loud. “I can. I must”.

He stepped back, ripped off his hat and scarf, struggled to wrench himself free of his sweater. He stood there in his bold, scarlet costume. He was the Claw.

“The Claw is here”, he bellowed, striding towards the platform edge.

Before him, a tall, muscular figure clad in a silver suit held the child triumphantly aloft. People cheered. The father wept for joy.

Tom Morgan

Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.

Tom was born in London 50 years ago, and has spent chapters of his life in Wales, Paris, Luxembourg and Spain.

He has always written because he loves writing but, until now, he was too busy bringing up children, having a career and any number of other excuses. The pandemic changed all that.

He currently lives in Belgium where he is a dull civil servant by day and a writer and comedian through the long winter evenings. He has written a collection of short stories and a novel.

Tom has three kids. He just got married again. He is happy. This story is dedicated to the City of Stories festival.

An Easy Ride Home

by Giorgia Pavlidou

Uber driver cancelled the moment he reached the customer.  

“Damn, I’m working tomorrow,” the customer said to his wife.

She squeezed her phone, swiping and tapping feverishly. Her fingers look red. Dark circles decorated her eyes.

“Already $200,” she said. “Should we try to take the bus to Union Station?”

“And from there?” husband snubbed her off. His irritability added weight to the woman’s fatigue.

She wanted to shout back. Didn’t. Bit her lips. Ate it.

“At least there we’ll have two options: Uber and the train.” The word “train” tensed up her stomach. Husband hated public transportation.

“Okay,” he sighed. Impatience gnawed at him.

The couple wriggled and zigzagged through the crowd.

“How come the airport in Mexico City is more efficient than LAX?” the man said. Trying to catch up with his wife, he puffed running after her. Why does she always need to walk so fast? 

At the bus stand a girl explained the Uber drivers were on strike for health care benefits.

“Okay,” the man said, “but where can we buy bus tickets?” He craved wine, snacks, Netflix. Holidays are so exhausting, he concluded, ignoring the girl.

“Use the app,” girl said. This time the man did the tapping on the phone. Looking intently at the little screen he mouthed a few unintelligible words.

“The bus is there,” his wife said.

“This damn app,” he hissed. When the bus doors opened and the driver exited shouting “Union Station” at the top of his voice, the man chuckled and puffed, “got them.”

In the bus the woman asked, “he didn’t check our tickets?” “Seems they don’t,” the man smiled. He looked more relaxed. At least they were moving. Thinking of his glass of wine comforted him.

After about 45 minutes they arrived. The driver screamed his lungs out: “validate your ticket if you want your luggage back!” He fits perfectly in this city, the woman thought.

“Validate?’’ she said. “Seems so.” A wrinkle appeared on the man’s forehead. If the wrinkle could speak it’d probably say, “what the hell?”

Eager to drink a glass or two, the man didn’t care about how weird all this was and volunteered to stand in line.

***

Thirty minutes fast forward and three hours after they landed, the woman moaned, “Uber keeps on cancelling.”

The man ground his teeth, sighed, and slapped the wall, hard. He went almost nuts craving his glass of wine, food, a movie. The woman couldn’t eat it anymore, yelled at him and left, brisk walking toward the platforms. “Taking the train,” she said without looking back. It was scorching hot that day. The man’s burning cranium had turned red.

He ran after her, reaching the ticket machines. There they seemed to be gesticulating, making faces, kicking at their luggage. When a police officer approached, they instantly calmed down.

Walking to the train the man tried to comfort his wife. A few tears rolled down her cheek. Possibly he apologized. The woman rested her head on his shoulder.

When they finally arrived at their seat in the train, a homeless man jumped up from the bench in front of them. He shouted at them, calling them little bitches and ran wildly out of the train.

An hour later they arrived. Should I order an Uber, the woman wondered.

She didn’t ask her husband. Instead she walked off, dragging her luggage behind her. Trying to keep up with his wife, the man compulsively thought about his glass of wine and his French fries.

Twenty-five minutes later and five hours after they landed at LAX, they arrived at their apartment. The man ran to the fridge and drank from the bottle. The woman locked herself in the bathroom. He had ordered food on the train. “Should arrive anytime,” he said to himself. He switched on the TV. A short while later, watching and munching, he had already forgotten that it took three hours to fly from Mexico City to LA, but five and a half to reach his home at about only fifty miles from the airport.

He related this story at work three years ago. We laughed. I wonder what happened to his wife.

———-

Giorgia Pavlidou is an American writer and painter intermittently living in Greece and the US. Her work is in CaesuraLotus-Eater, Zoetic Press, Maintenant Dada Journal, Unlikely Stories, The Room, Puerto del Sol, Thrice Fiction and Entropy. Ireland-based Strukturriss Magazine selected her as the main visual artist of their January 2022 issue 3.1. She’s an editor of SULΦUR literary magazine. Additionally, trainwreckpress.com published her chapbook inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel in 2021and Anvil Tongue Books launched her book of poems and paintings, “Haunted by the Living – Fed by the Dead,” May 2022. This piece is dedicated to the ‘City of Stories’ festival.

Travel in Civility

A short story Stephan Theo

Back in my Brussels days, my friends were from Germany, France, South America and Greece. Mostly ‘mixed’ like me, we shared common ground due to our differences. It made us the same, living in the same place. Ben, one of my childhood friends, is half Peruvian half German, living in Brussels like I used to.

I decided to sacrifice a few hours of sleep before packing to fly back home to Cyprus. I wanted to see Ben, since he was around when I was. The metro to Petillon took 15 minutes. I watched the green and grey, garden metal houses and far-away tall buildings go by as I tried to read my books. My mind kept wandering to what a long time it had been since Ben and I had chilled—more than four years. The tracks kept me in a trance-like state that formed my thoughts into sentences which I arranged in rhyme as best I could.

The city’s subway’s like a spiderweb underneath the ground,

A grid of synched energy we use to get around.

Sometimes we travel with our enemy or ones we don’t like

But nothing can compare to family or friend in life.

It feels I’ve been away a century since I came back,

Can’t remember much of anything about the tram tracks.

My country’s surrounded by Mediterranean waters

The bus system is pretty broken but the boats are in order.

In a country like Belgium, in a city like Brussels,

It’s got busses & metro, trains and bicycle paths.

I’m getting inspired ― a certain lifestyle of balance,

I can get from here to there without much on the bank.

I’m young so I still got my mama to thank… tuthtuthmhmhmum nah I got nothing else.

I got off at Volontaires and walked a few steps, and there was Ben in front of me when I looked up! We were really happy to see each other. Ben hadn’t changed much; he’s still a student. He told me Ben stuff about what happened while I was gone and what things are likely to come once I leave again. 

_____

Stephan Theo is a young entrepreneur, artist and ecologist looking to contribute to a good cause that will change the world for the better. He has written for Library Journal and Brussels Express; was interviewed in Culturescope on his children’s book Tuck-a-tuck Dragon, translated into French and Greek; co-wrote, -directed and acted in a short film Ne Pas Gaspiller that was a Finalist in the United Nations Short Food Movie contest; and acted in the feature film, Dog. ‘Travel in Civility’ is dedicated to the ‘City of Stories’ writers festival.

Writing workshop: Lines of Communication

Tuesday 14 June 2022 from 19:00 to 21:00, Muntpunt, Literair Salon S1, Munt 6, 1000 Brussels

We will take a closer look at device in fiction, including characterisation and symbolism, at work in the writing process. You can work on a new text or on an existing one. Prose writers from all walks of life are welcome. The workshop is led by Fintan O’Higgins.

About Fintan O’Higgins
Fintan O’Higgins has written for the UK’s oldest TV series, ‘Coronation Street’, and has led workshops in drama, poetry and prose fiction. He also developed playscripts, and feature films. Fintan’s television drama writing experience also includes popular TV series such as ‘Emmerdale’ and ‘Hollyoaks’, and ‘Coronation Street’.

25 euros payable on the day, with Registration via e-mail: brusselswriterscircle@gmail.com
Food and drinks available for purchase at the Muntpunt café downstairs.

On the Move: Poems and Songs of Migration

by Sarah Reader Harris

What’s the point of poetry?

When I used to go round the refugee centre inviting people to a poetry workshop, I would often meet with incomprehension: ‘But how will that help me get my papers?’ When people’s lives are in turmoil and they are desperately trying to navigate their way through the confusion of red tape and piece together some sort of future for themselves and their families, how can poetry possibly be relevant?

And yet I remember once going to a talk given by a woman who had been taken hostage and imprisoned and she told us what kept her going was poetry. Lines of poetry that she remembered and would repeat to herself through the endless hours of torture and deprivation. When everything else had been stripped away, she held on to these poems in her head as pearls of great price that nobody could take from her. They gave her comfort and solace and the courage to carry on.

Twelve years ago I started organising poetry workshops in Petit-Château, the biggest and oldest refugee centre in Belgium. We would start off with a poem, originally in Dari or Arabic or Tigrinya, and see if it said anything to us today. We discovered Rumi that way. And Nizar Qabbani and Reesom Haile. And many, many more. Poets are greatly respected in the Middle East and nearly every Palestinian would smile at the name of Mahmoud Darwish as if I had mentioned a friend. The poems brought us together. Sometimes we didn’t understand them. Sometimes they generated a discussion. Sometimes they touched our hearts and we recognised something of ourselves in them. Often it was just seeing the letters of our own language on a page that made us feel less alone.

Music is a universal language

But we were limited by the constraints of our many mother tongues and Google Translate couldn’t do justice to the intricacies and nuances of what we wanted to say. And that was when I had the good fortune to meet Marieke, a talented singer and songwriter, who came along one wintry afternoon in 2017 with her ukulele, and added a whole new dimension to the project. By then I had decided poetry needed to breathe and moved my workshop from the classroom to the open air.  Every Monday, rain or shine, I stuck a large piece of brown paper on the wall and invited passers-by to create a poem with me.

Marieke’s music lifted these words from the page and made them sing. She would bring along percussion instruments and encourage everyone to join in, so that even the most reticent could participate. Music is a universal language which brings people together and transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries. Marieke not only brought music with her but also a whole new method of songwriting called Story to Song. This is a collaborative process, where a person is invited to share a story from their life which is then guided into a song. You can read more about this and our project on her website Migration Songs – Marieke is Guiding Song.

Last year we were honoured to be chosen as one of five finalists for the 2021 Amateo Award for arts participation projects across Europe for which we produced this video: On the Move: Poems and Songs of Migration [Amateo Award 2021]. There is also a podcast made about our work which you can find here.

Out of this fruitful partnership our book was born – On the Move: Poems and Songs of Migration – highlighting 27 songs from 18 different countries with lyrics in 11 languages. It’s illustrated with photographs and available in black and white and colour from all Amazon marketplaces. A portion of the proceeds from every sale will be donated to an organization that works with refugees. We are now working on a project for children about creatures on the move so will keep you posted!

Introducing the Monthly WordPrompt

Introducing the Monthly WordPrompt.

Each month, WordPress invites writers to entertain a single word that serves as a prompt for your writing, your art, your coding — “whatever it is that makes you, you.” 

For March, the WordPrompt is: BRIDGE. Use that word as a jumping off point to publish a new post, whether you’re a lifestyle blogger or a foodie, a photographer or a poet.

If you’d like to post your writing on the Brussels Writers’ Circle site, just let us know in an email to brusselswriterscircle@gmail.com. However you create, participate on a broader level by adding the tag #WordPrompt to your post and join others on WordPress.com using the prompt. Next month, they’ll share a few of their favorites