Weekly BWC Tuesday Workshop On Hold


Dear BWC-ers,

With everyone’s health, safety, and wellbeing in mind, we will be putting the weekly Tuesday workshop on hold given the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ll let you know when we’ll be resuming the workshop. After the Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès announced the closing of schools bars, and restaurants last night, we’re hoping to resume the workshop in April when bars and restaurant will be open again.

If you signed up as a reader or contacted us about signing up, we will be in touch with you about it.

Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Take care and stay safe,
Claire & Anastasia

Brussels Writers’ Circle launches new anthology at three Brussels events


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!

Meet the Circle: Mimi Kunz

The 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 writing with one another.

This week we will hear from Mimi Kunz, an artist-writer who works with ink and paper. Her drawings, installations, and her writing link things in simple forms to open up poetic ambiguity. After a post MA at the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe, Germany, she joined her love in Brussels, where she founded Something Beautiful, a festival that brings together visual art and poetry.  Visit her website for more information or sign up for invitations for her exhibitions and readings.

When did you join the group?


Mimi Kunz – portrait by Maite Morren

Shortly after moving to Brussels in 2015… I think I googled “Brussels“ and “English Literature“ and the BWC came up

What were your first impressions of the group?
I liked the variety of people, the ease and sincerity of the session, the open atmosphere What have you published so far? poems, short stories, flash, some pieces for the Brussels Express.

What are you currently working on?
Poems and a novel about a time jumper and an angel.

IMG_20190325_171614Who are your biggest literary influences?
How have they influenced you?  Seymour, an Introduction by J.D. Salinger made a huge impression on me. I love the form, it’s immediacy and intimacy, and the way it talks about what writing is and can be. I love Ali Smith’s writing, the liveliness and the art in it.

I learn a lot from reading her, though I cannot say what exactly. The interactions between characters are life-like and funny and pull you into the moment, there are notions so true and familiar it makes you stop reading and then the story just skips along, not lingering long. It feels very fluid, full of life.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?
I recently found a note in my coat pocket that said: ‘if in doubt add an orgy’. It was written by another BWC member during Lida and my workshop on love scenes in fiction during a BWC retreat. It made me laugh and made it into a short story.

What do you get out of the group?
Pleasure, inspiring exchanges, a sense of community.

International writing competitions 2019 – part 2

Here is our selection of writing competitions for the second half of 2019. Do check individual website for details. Best of luck!

Buzzword Poetry Competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 70 lines
Entry fee: per post £4 per poem or 3 poems for £10, per email £4.35, two poems £8.70, three poems £11
Prize: 1st prize £600, 2nd prize £300, 5 x commended £50
Deadline: August 24, 2019

Aesthetica Creative Writing 
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 2000 words for stories and 40 lines for poems
Entry fee: Short Fiction: £18 | Poetry: £12
Prize: 1st prize £1000 for poetry and short fiction, consultation with literary agents Redhammer Management, Membership to The Poetry Society, a subscription to Granta and books courtesy of Bloodaxe and Vintage.
Deadline: August 31, 2019

Shore Script Screenwriting
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 2000 words for stories and 40 lines for poems
Entry fee: TBC
Prize totalling: $20,000
Deadline: August 31, 2019

Manchester Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2,500 words
Entry fee: £17.50
Prize: 1st prize £10,000
Deadline: September 20, 2019

Imison Award
Original radio plays by writers new to radio
Word limit: 2,500 words
Entry fee: £30
Prizes: £2,000
Deadline: September 30, 2019

Mslexia Women’s Fiction Awards (short story, flash, novel, monologue)
Theme: Short story
Word limit: 2,500 words
Entry fee: TBC
Prizes: £10,000 + prize pot
Deadline: September 30, 2019

Mighty River Short Story
Theme: Open
Word limit: Max 30 pages
Entry fee: $20
Prizes: $10,000 + prize pot & publication in an issue of Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley
Deadline: October 1, 2019

Zoetrope All-Story Short Fiction Competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 1,000 – 5,000 words
Entry fee: $15
Prizes: 1st prize $1,000, 2nd prize $500, 3rd prize $250 and publication
Deadline: October 1, 2019

Troubadour International Poetry Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: poems must be max 45 lines long
Entry fee: £6/€7/$7.50 for 1st poem (£4/€5/$5 for subsequent entries)
Prize: 1st prize £2,000, 2nd prize £1,000, 3rd prize £500
Deadline: October 21, 2019

Tulip Tree Review Genre Contest
Theme: Open
Word limit: 10,000 words
Entry fee: $20
Prize: $1,000 and publication
Deadline: October 23, 2019

John Steinbeck Award for Fiction 
Theme: Open
Word limit: 5,000 words
Entry fee: $20
Prize: $1,000
Deadline: November 1, 2019

Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: unpublished poetry collections, over 48 pages
Entry fee: $25
Prize: $3,000
Deadline: November 15, 2019

VanderMey Nonfiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 5,500 words
Entry fee: $20
Prize: $1,500
Deadline: November 15, 2019

Bath Children’s Novel Award
Theme: Open
Word limit: first 5000 words & synopsis
Entry fee: £25
Prize: £2,500, manuscript feedback
Deadline: November 17, 2019

Fish Short Story Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 5,000 words
Entry fee: €20, (€12 subsequent entries)
Prize: 1st €3000, 2nd €300 & a week at Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat, 3rd €300, honourable mentions €200.
Deadline: November 30, 2019
Publication: Fish Anthology

Aeon Award
Theme: fantasy, science fiction, horror or anything in-between or unclassifiable
Word limit: Max. 10,000 words
Entry fee: €8.5
Prize: 1st €1000, 2nd €200, 3rd €100
Deadline: November 30, 2019
Publication: Albedo One

Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction
Theme: Open
Word limit: max 30 pages
Entry fee: $2
Prize: $1,000 & publication
Deadline: December 1, 2019

Cafe Writers’ Open Poetry
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 40 lines
Entry fee: £4, £10 for three, £2 each extra
Prize: £1,000, £300, £200, 5 x £50
Deadline: December 1, 2019

Ruth Rendell Short Story Competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 1,000 words
Entry fee: £15
Prize: £1,000 & commission to write further 4 short stories
Deadline: December 1, 2019

Futurescapes Writing Contest
Theme: TBA
Word limit: 8,000 words
Entry fee:  n/a
Prize: $2,000 and publication, 5 x $500
Deadline: December 31, 2019

Magic Oxygen Literary Prize
Theme: TBA
Word limit: 4,000 words, poetry up to 50 lines
Entry fee: £5
Prize: £1,000, £300, £100, £50 two highly commended
Deadline: December 31, 2019

Moth Poetry Prize 2019
Theme: TBA
Word limit: n/a
Entry fee: €15
Prize: €10,000, 3 x €1,000 & publication in The Moth
Deadline: December 31, 2019

BWC offshoot in Brazil

Brussels is one of those cities with a high flux of people. Because of this, the Brussels Writers’ Circle gets plenty of new members and occasionally loses some.

When I learned I was going to move to Brazil, some of the hardest things to leave behind were the people and meetings, that helped me grow so much as a writer. I started looking for a writers’ group in São Paulo, my new home. To my surprise, this was easier said than done. In a city of 15 million, I struggled to find a single English speaking writer’s group.

Would I manage four years without a writers’ circle? I decided that this would be very difficult. If there wasn’t an English speaking writer’s circle in São Paulo, then I would open one. I signed up for one of those expat platforms and opened a writers’ group there. The beginnings were slow, but promising. Some amends had to be made to fit in the Latin time and spirit, but for the rest, the group slowly started to grow. Along with two other female writers, a French person and a Brazilian, I started to organise different activities, using the BWC format.

Eight months later, we’re around fifteen regular members. We meet twice a month in a Latin American-style restaurant that offers great snacks and some pretty mean cocktails. Tuesdays, when we meet, are also known as two-for-one mojito nights. The group is a mix of Brazilians and expats from different walks of life, from their mid-twenties to their eighties. This makes for a lively palette of experiences and opinions, as we support each other in our efforts to write better.

Results so far?

Many new chapters, stories and poems. One member, who insisted he couldn’t write, especially not fiction, wrote several chapters of his memoirs and one short story. Poets shared their poems for the first time and got encouraging feedback. We exchanged helpful resources, did a workshop on descriptions, entered competitions, created a very active WhatsApp group and got to know each other through writing. Most of all, we’re having a lot of fun. Isn’t that an essential part of writing?

This isn’t the only offshoot of the Brussels Writers’ Circle, as Berlin got its own one about half a year ago. In this way, BWC can continue to inspire and support writers, wherever they move.

Karmen Spiljak is a Slovenian-Belgian writer living in São Paulo.

Time to get an editor?

If you’re a writer, you might come to a point when you want someone to take a look at your work. Someone who isn’t your friend, a spouse or a family member. Ideally, someone who knows about storytelling and can deliver constructive feedback.

Luckily, there was an editor at the Brussels Writers’ Circle meetings. Chris Dupuis is a Canadian writer, editor, and curator, based in Brussels. He has worked with several BWC members and helped them improve their manuscripts. He has also contributed text to uptight art magazines, gay travel guides, obscure poetry collections, and expansive theatrical encyclopaedias.

If you’re in doubt whether to bring in an editor or not, or when to do it, this double interview with Chris and a writer Karmen Spiljak, might help.

Why did you want to work with an external editor on the project?

Karmen: After being deep inside my story for a few months, I wanted to get an outside perspective on different aspects of the novel, from the storyline to sentence structure, characters and style. Getting unbiased critical feedback was crucial to be able to move on to the next stage. This is why I decided to look for an editor.

At what stage should a writer consider getting an editor?

Chris: An editor can come in at different points in the process. It may be when you’re preparing to send your project to publishers or agents. It may be early on, when you have a great idea but you’re struggling to articulate it. Or it may be somewhere in the middle, when you’ve been working on something for a while but find yourself confused or losing motivation.

An effective editor can assist you at any of these points. What’s important, I think, is the variety of techniques an editor has available to them to do this. When I’m working with a writer, my central task it to figure out what this particular person needs at this particular point in this particular process, and do my best to give it to them. That might be expanding the range of inspiration (“Look at this book/film/TV show…”). It might be some tough love (“This part really doesn’t work and we need to cut it”.) It might just be saying, “You’re doing fine. Keep going!”

An editor can also give a writer something incredibly useful—a deadline. I’ve had a number of writers bring me in at different points in a process in order to give them the push they need to finish a specific section. The goal at that point isn’t to make it perfect. It’s just to get some words on the page so you have a starting point to work from.

What did an editor bring to the process?

Karmen: Quite a few things. A fresh point of view and a micro perspective that helped me rethink certain aspects of the story. Questions, like why I chose this particular point of view, why I chose to write in the past tense instead of the present, and so on, made me re-evaluate certain decisions that I’d already made and reverse them.

As it turned out, just changing the point of view and tense made a massive change to the whole story and helped make it better. I also started to read my work from a different perspective, zooming in on specific sentences and revising descriptions and dialogue, so they would give more backstory.

What are the things that editing/editor cannot do?

Chris: One of the best analogies I’ve come across for an editor is a midwife; a person who helps you through a birthing process. They can give you advice, hold your hand, listen to your screams, and encourage you to push forward. But they can’t have the baby for you. That’s something only you can do. As an editor, I can give all sorts of support around a process. But I’m not writing the piece for you. It’s your baby, and you have to birth it.

Different editors follow different processes. But I always try to work in a way where I’m supporting you in the thing you want to make, rather than trying to convince you to make the thing I want you to make. Some of my work can be about clarification, pointing out inconsistencies in a story or points where things are over/under-explained. Why is a character doing this thing and not another? In Chapter 6 the reality of the world is one way, but in Chapter 8 it’s totally different. What is the reason for that change?

Sometimes writers can get confused about the geography of the spaces or environments they are creating. In one paragraph the window is next to the door, in the next it’s on the opposite side of the room; two characters are standing beside each other and then suddenly they’re five meters apart. Usually, there are reasons for inconsistencies like this—things need to be a certain way to make the action move forward. An effective editor can help you maintain the narrative structure you want, while making sure the reader isn’t confused by the basic story elements.

An editor can also be useful in helping you create consistent characters. Sometimes a writer will create a character that’s supposed to be 18, but speaks like they’re 30. This sort of thing usually isn’t an accident; there’s a reason for the dichotomy. Perhaps they have the intellect of a 30 year old but the vulnerability of an 18 year old? If so, how can help you show both while rendering a believable character? A good editor can help you pinpoint these things and figure out how to use them to your advantage, while keeping the story intact.

What is usually your biggest challenge when editing?

Chris:  Feedback on any creative work is largely subjective, so one of the big challenges is striking a balance between your personal tastes and what the writer is trying to achieve. For me, the starting point of any writing relationship is critical. When a writer approaches me about a project, I’ll ask for a short excerpt, maybe 8-10 pages, and look at it to see if I find it interesting. If I can quickly see I’m not the audience for it, I’ll let them know I’m the wrong person to work with. If the text does resonate with me, the next step will be to give the writer some feedback and see how they respond. If the writer likes what I have to say, it’s a sign we’re well matched and we should start working together.

What do you think a writer should look for in an editor?

Karmen: Someone they can trust. Ideally, they should look for a person with expertise in storytelling or literature who understands their genre. Though an editor won’t be your best friend, it should be someone you feel comfortable talking to, someone who isn’t afraid to challenge your writing to help you get to the next level.

International writing competitions 2019 – part 1

Ready for new writing challenges? So are we! Here’s our selection of short stories and competition for the first half of 2019. Most of the competitions listed below accept only submissions that haven’t been published anywhere else. Do check individual website for details.

Best of luck!

Mogford Food and drinks short story prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2,500
Entry fee: £10 per submission
Prize: £10000
Deadline: January 7, 2019

2019 Let down your hair – Speculative Contest
Theme: Open
Word limit: 1,800
Entry fee: $32.95 per submission
Prize: 1st prize $1000, 2nd prize $150
Deadline: January 20, 2019

Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: Max. 3,000 12 double-spaced pages
Entry fee: $25 per submission ($15 NCWN members)
Prize: $1000
Deadline: January 30, 2019
Publication: The Thomas Wolfe Review

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Short Story Competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2,000
First Prize: Writing course of their choice (valued at £1000)
Deadline: February 13, 2019
Publication: Winner published on writersandartists.co.uk.

Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2,000
First Prize: €1000 & A week’s residency at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation & A consultation with a US Literary Agent from Foundry Literary + Media.
Deadline: February 14, 2019, 2nd and 3rd prize: €250
Publication: Winner published in limited edition Risograph booklet

Exeter Writers Short Story Competition 2019
Theme: Open
Word limit: 3,000
Entry fee: £7
Prize: 1st prize £700,  2nd prize £250, 3rd prize £100
Deadline: February 28, 2019
Multiple entries permitted: Yes
Publication: Exeter Writers website

The Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction 2019
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2,500 – 12,500
Entry fee: $15 per story
First Prize: $2000
Deadline: March 14, 2019
Publication: Fall/Winter 2019 edition of Colorado Review

The Bath Short Story Award
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 2,200
Entry fee: £8 per story
Prizes: 1st prize £1200, 2nd prize £300, 3rd prize £100
Deadline: April 15, 2019
Publication: The Bath Short Story Award 2019 Anthology

Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 3,000
Entry fee: $16
Prize: 1st prize $2,000, 2nd prize $500, 3rd prize $300
Deadline: April 30, 2019
Multiple entries permitted: 3 submissions max.
Publication: Winner published in Glimmer Train Stories
Extra information: This competition is open twice a year  – the other deadline is August 31

Momaya Press Short Story Award
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 3,000
Entry fee: £15 per story
Prize: 1st prize $150, 2nd prize $75, 3rd prize $55 (plus one copy of the Momaya Short Story Review 2019)
Deadline: April 30, 2019
Publication: Momaya Short Story Review 2019.

Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction Contest
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 6,000
Entry fee: $20  per entry
Prize: 1st prize $2,000, 10 Honorable Mentions will receive $100 each
Deadline: April 30, 2019

Bristol Short Story Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 4,000
Entry fee: £9 per entry
Prizes: 1st prize £1000, 2nd prize £500, 3rd prize £250
Deadline: May 1, 2019
Publication: Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology (Volume 12)

Raymond Carver Short Story Contest
Prizes: 1st prize $1,500, 2nd prize $500, 3rd prize $250
Deadline: May 15, 2019
Publication: Annual fall issue in October.

The Bridport Short Story Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: up to 5,000
Entry fee: £10 per entry
Prizes: 1st prize £5000, 2nd prize £1000, 3rd prize £500
Deadline: May 31, 2019
Publication: Bridport Prize 2019 Anthology
Extra information: Also includes poetry and flash fiction categories

Moth Short Story Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 5,000
Entry fee: £12 per story
Prizes: 1st prize £3,000, 2nd prize €250, 3rd prize €1,000
Deadline: June 30, 2019
Publication: The Moth

Highlands and Islands Short Story Competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2000
Entry fee: £5 (or 3 stories for £12 or 5 for £18)
Prizes: 1st prize £250, 2nd prize £50, 3rd prize £25
Deadline: July 31, 2019
Publication: Online only (HISSAC website)

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

Have more competitions you would like to add? Great! Leave a comment and share the link to more information.

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!

A Brussels winter’s tale

This short story is meant to be read in the future, perhaps in bed on a rainy night. When the mind wonders down memory lane, when recollections come to warm us up, to fill us with nostalgia, joy and hope. So, here it goes.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness. It was the autumn of hope in Brussels, on a cool and crisp 22nd of November evening, year A.D. 2018.

The clock hands showed 7 in the evening. Waterstones bookshop in Brussels was extraordinarily busy that night. The second floor was packed with eagerness and anticipation as invitees, visitors and passers-by awaited the launch of the second Anthology of the Brussels Writers Circle. The enthusiastic audience soaked up spoken extracts from the accomplished works of:

  • Colin Walsh: The Flare Carving Itself through the Dark
  • Jeanie Keogh: If at First You Don’t Succeed
  • Cynthia Huijgens: The Things We Do For Love
  • Klavs Skovsholm: Belle of the Ball
  • T.D. Arkenberg: Aftershock
  • S.R. Harris: Sightings
  • Jay Harold: Corn Bread and Iced Tea
  • Patrick ten Brink: The Half-Apple

There was camaraderie, there was wit and laughter, there were friendly exchanges and chat and signing each other’s copies. There was delight for those who managed to make it from afar.

There was sadness and nostalgia for those who didn’t. There was speculation, there was aspiration: what about a new Anthology? The BWC Anthology number 3?… But that is another tale. As I said in the beginning, this is just a short story meant to be read in a comfy bed in an old house on a rainy night.

Works in progress: The Guardians of the Tides by Patrick ten Brink

Patrick ten Brink EEBWhat are you currently working on and what inspired you to start writing it?

I am writing a fantasy trilogy, The Guardians of the Tides, that was inspired by two things: one “story night” my daughters gave me three ingredients – a beach, insects, children – and I had to thread a story around them. This became the seed for my story. The second inspiration: I came home one day proudly holding a book of non-fiction I’d just published, and my eldest daughter said, ‘Dad, only people in offices will read this. Can’t you write a book everyone will read, like Harry Potter?’ While I laughed at the wonderful ambitions that children have for their parents, it rekindled a dream I had in my early twenties and I started to develop the story from the earlier story night. Who was I to refuse my daughters?

So, what is the story about?
The Guardians of the Tides a tale of three siblings – Celeste (15), Newton (12) and Clementine (5) Willow – who move abroad to the coastal town of St Estelle after an accident back home makes them chose a new life in France. There they befriend Freya de L’Etoile and her brother, Georgiu de la Roche, a story-teller, who are secret guardians of St Estelle and Travellers of the Mists to the Borderlands. They begin to introduce the Willow children to the secrets of the Tides and Mists, that connects their world to the Land of the Black Sands, the Green Lands and the Land of the Silver Sands. Both Freya and Georgiu have lost loved ones to those lands and want to protect the children from its dangers, but need the Willow children’s help.

bugsIn Book 1: Accidental Creations, the Willows discover strange things swept in through The Tides –phytoluminescent squid, silver-beaked birds, and a fountain of blue letters. They also come across a strange woman in the mists who tries to tempt Celeste across to the Land of the Black Sands, and who sends a box full of black beetles formed out of twisted black words to contaminate St Estelle. Soon Accidental Creations stalk St Estelle – Shadow-people who suck out music through long thin trumpets, Spark-flies that leech colour, and a wooden Golem that saps ideas. Will Freya and Georgiu and the Willow children manage to defend St Estelle?

WP_20160720_005 2In Book 2: Temptations in the Land of the Black Sands – The Lady of the Black Sands, whose past is closely connected to Georgiu’s, gets her eye on the town’s prodigal son, Darius de Grey, a talented musician, who is infected by living tattoos from the Land of the Black Sands. Darius tries to get back a stolen voice of his ex-love Elodie in this desolate land, but is seduced its secrets – the vast granite cliffs are covered in crystals, each housing the last memory of a passing soul who unravelled in this land. Darius becomes addicted to the stories and music from The Wall of Words and wagers his soul. Freya and Georgiu engage the Willow children to help bring Darius back, but not all ends as it should.

In Book 3, Travellers through the Mists, Celeste gets abducted by the Lady of the Black Sands, who chooses her as her successor. Celeste escapes but is infected by black tattoos that creep up her feet and legs, whispering the longing of souls that have passed through the land. When she meets Freya’s grandson, Asgar, who got captured by the Land of the Black Sands, she must decide about the course of her destiny, which in turn, also affects the destiny of St Estelle. There’s a lot more in the books, so I hope you are not sated by the summaries above.

Where and when does the action take place?
It is a contemporary but also timeless novel taking place in St Estelle, a fictitious coastal town on vast tidal estuarine beaches in France. It also takes places in the borderlands, particularly in the Land of the Black Sands – the land through which souls pass and unravel, leaving their most precious memories or dreams as crystals on the granite cliffs. Their longings raid down as black sands, and the rest of their soul becomes threads of white letters that are abducted by the mists and taken to the Land of Silver Sands, where the souls reside. The Willows manage to get to the Green Lands, a world of unbridled nature, a source of new species reaching St Estelle via The Tides, that, together with the Mists, create a portal between the worlds.

How long have you been working on it?
Close to every day for six years for the trilogy. I sometimes slowed as I focused on other projects – poetry, short stories, and the BWC anthology -The Circle, but it never went far from my thoughts. I’ve a day job, so I write from 7:30 to 8:45 in the mornings before work, and when I’ve time on planes or trains or the sofa.

Did you writing change from book one to book three? How?
Immensely. I think the first draft of book 3 was better than the 11th draft of the first book! (Though I’m in the process of rectifying that).

I had to learn the tools of the craft the hard way in Book 1, PoV, narrative voice, narrative arcs, character arcs, dialogue and inner voice, “show don’t tell”, realistic 3-D characters, active verbs, oh, and the non-trivial issues of grammar and punctuation. When my daughter saw me reading a book on punctuation, she said to my wife that she thought I’d been abducted by aliens and replaced by a doppelganger.

The first two books were in omniscient third person. No matter how close I tried to get to the characters, I always felt a little too far away, so when I got to book three I adopted a new approach – I wrote the chapters led by Celeste, C-Sharp the magpie, and a new character, Amelia, in first person. I really enjoyed that.

What were some of the best and some of the most challenging parts so far?
The best bits came when the characters take over the story, and it writes itself. My crazy little magpie, C-Sharp, drove chunks of book 3 forward, as did Celeste who had to cope with being alone and lost in the Land of Black Sands, gradually discovering its true nature.

I also had so much fun in creating the world and populating it with odd creatures – Freya’s birds and snakes she makes out of letters, the Silver-beaked birds, the Kookaburra made out of chalk and words, and the insane five Sages that form out of seams of crystallised memories smashed together.

I enjoyed creating the contaminating black word beetles that infest everything they touch with longing and even more with the Shadow people that are like cloaked monks that suck music in through their long thin trumpets, leaving but silence.

And one scene that I really enjoyed writing was the one in the Cave of the Five Sages in Book 3. Celeste, Asgar, C-Sharp (the magpie), Kook (the kookaburra), and The Lady of the Black Sands had to solve the riddles of the cantankerous sages.

The challenging part?
I’ll answer in two halves – one half on the process and the other on the writers’ craft. On the process – the getting feedback is, when one can be dispassionately lucid, great. But one has to breathe in deeply and steel one’s nerves and resolve to address yet another writer’s tool discovered in the prose. This is particularly intense (but also rewarding): I sent off the manuscript for a professional manuscript assessment, attended online courses (inter alia, by the inimical Scott Bradfield), and asked for alpha and BETA readers. I got a range of wonderfully positive feedback, but at least an equal amount of critical feedback. It was probably in the ratio of 1 to 2. The positive 1/3 really helps address the 2/3.

So what kind of challenges are there? For me, the main ones are:

  • I’ve a lot of characters and with the three Willow children together had a multiple PoV; giving them all space to be themselves, while keeping the text clear and having the reader get attached to the characters has had me rereading and rewriting a lot.
  • I like the complex – too much. One sentence should do one thing and do it well. So, I read and reread to make whatever complexity I keep as clear as I can.
  • I adore the visual and can forget the emotions. So, I’m forever asking myself ‘how would they react?’ as I reread.
  • I’m motivated by curiosity rather than tension, yet accept that readers need tension in a book – they want to read a book and not look at a painting after all. So, I try to see where tension makes sense and try to communicate it to the readers. That said, part of me still believes that novels can be paintings. So, don’t expect a thriller, though I am discovering a darkness creeping into the story while editing.
  • I’ve tried to write a cross-over novel that threads in poetic, scientific, metaphysical, philosophical elements (basically anything that I feel exciting and relevant as the story develops), while at the same time keeping it an accessible adventure. The Willow Children in the Borderlands is like a slow-discovery Alice in Wonderland.

And where are you at now? What are your plans after you’re finished?
I’ve been really lucky to receive excellent comments from BETA readers – from big picture comments on character, story arcs, tension, to specific comments that highlight where things could be more powerful, clearer, where to speed up or slow down to emphasise key plot points.

I’ve an intense day job so it will take me at least to the end of 2018 to get the trilogy in a good draft state. In 2019, I’ll start seeing if I can tempt an agent.

So, I suspect it will take another two years before I can dream of it being on the shelves of Waterstones down the road. So be ready for 2020! And I’ve been doing some illustrations to go with the text, so maybe it will be 2021 for an illustrated edition.

As for wider plans, I’m working on a ghost story – The Adventures of Amelia Borgiotti (the short story: Amelia Borgiotti, which forms chapter 1, was published by Coffin Bell Journal this October) – and a collection of poetry: Urban Enigmas.

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work? What was the best feedback you got from the group?
Week in, week out, over two years, the BWC writers give me a good balance of encouragement and critical advice as I read much of book 1 and parts of the other two tomes. Perhaps the best advice:

  • The writing is like a De Chirico painting – a beautiful, well-crafted world, but we need more emotions to engage.
  • It is poetic, but it needs more tension. Everyone is too nice, and the conflict is with a faceless threat (initially). Make it darker (it is seeping in through the edits…)
  • You have stories within the story – this is a risk, make sure you structure the novel well so that the right stories come at the right moment.
  • Finally, get that book out there!

Where will it fit on a bookshelf?
In my dreams, it would fit next to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Ben Okri’s Starchild, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Mazuo Ishiguru’s The Buried Giant, C.S. Lewis’ Alice in Wonderland, as well as Studio Ghibli’s works by Miyazaki. I must admit that for a cross-over novel it could fit on different shelves. This is a book I’d have loved to have discovered as a 12 to 15-year old. It is also one I’d welcome reading as an adult who likes Ursula Le Guinn, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Stroud, Lemony Snicket and JK Rowling.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?
Those who want an action-packed thriller with one main protagonist and an easily recognisable villain and simple linear storyline. Anyone adverse to poetic, philosophical reflections, or a lace-work of parallel, then inter-twining plot lines may be on a new adventure.

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?
Assumptions are amazing things, but let’s run with it. Now, if dreams were to come true, I’d love the books to become not only a Tim Burton film but also a Studio Ghibli animation. At the moment the book is more Studio Ghibli, but a dose of Tim Burton’s magic would add the darker side that I’ve so far not managed to raise from the sea of words. I’d be very curious about such an adaptation. For Freya and Georgiu: I’d quite like Octavia Spencer (from The Help, The Shape of Water, Hidden Figures) and Robert Downey Jr. (Ironman, Sherlock Holmes) or perhaps even better Albert Dupontel (French film director and actor in the film Au Revoir La Haut) – all aged somewhat, of course.

Octavia Spencer would be a bit more mystical than the characters she plays, and Robert Downey Jr. transforms into a crazy artist. Albert Dupontel would be able to step right into the role with due ageing creams. For Celeste, Newton and Clementine, it gets more difficult. I could imagine an actress like Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter) for Celeste; Louis Hynes (Klaus Baudelaire in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) for Newton, and I had thought my daughter for Clementine, but this doesn’t work anymore as strange things happen – children grow up. Gina McKee (Mirror Mask, Notting Hill) or Charlotte Gainsbourg (Samba) could both make an intriguing The Lady of the Black Sands. And Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) could be the violinist Darius de Grey who sells his soul.

In Studio Ghibli the characters would be themselves – I’d be curious to see what they’d look like stepping onto the screen. If I’m allowed another dream to come true, I’d love the astonishing illustrator – Chris Riddell (author Ottolinda series, illustrator of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree) to graphite The Willows, Freya and Georgiu, and the other Guardians into life.

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