Meet the Circle: Jay Harold

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 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 growing alien life forms in a jar. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Jay Harold, brand new co-chair of our Tuesday meetings. He is a proud graduate of the University of Essex, where he earned his MA in Creative Writing in 2018. He also has a BS in Psychology and is currently working towards obtaining his MS.

When did you join the group?
18403721_294989217624826_8062105951356024910_nI joined the Circle in February 2016. I’ll never forget my first meeting. It was a Thursday night and very busy, and I didn’t have a pen on me. I must have turned red in the face when I asked to borrow one and the chair that night looked at me like: ‘Are you kidding me?’ Good times! I learned my lesson in the meantime.

What were your first impressions of the group?
I immediately thought the Writers’ Circle was a fantastic group of people and felt right at home straight away. The prospect of an upcoming BWC meeting leaves me just as enthusiastic and excited today as it did back then.

What have you published so far?
My first real adventure with creative writing was during my year at the American University of Paris, where my writing professor encouraged me to submit a short story for publication in Paris/Atlantic, a student-run magazine. I was seventeen and very proud at the time. The story, ‘Scarred For Life’, was set in 2025 in an apocalyptic World-War-III Paris. It described the life of young American hippie with a dark past.

In the second semester, a piece of flash (non-)fiction of mine was published in a really cool ‘Zine’ called ‘The City Project’, which was founded by a girl who had taken the writing class with me.

I think my most productive time has to have been my year in Essex, though. I had several poems published in anthologies of the University of Essex Writing Society (a fantastic gang of merry misfits who were crucial to my creativity at the time). Speaking of anthologies, some of my poetry has been published in the BWC’s second anthology, ‘The Circle’ (now available on Amazon and at the Brussels Waterstones).

Finally, I post poetry, short stories and sometimes essays on my blog, jayharold.blogspot.com.

What are you currently working on?
I have been working on a novel called ‘Leaving Paradise’. It’s an expansion of my MA dissertation, which explored the relationship between the Beat Generation and the Punk movement. It features characters loosely based on Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Rimbaud, and my writing professor at AUP, all of whom have had a significant influence on me as a writer.

I am also in the research phase of a book on dyspraxia / developmental coordination disorder, which is an issue that I care deeply about. I want people to learn more about it and dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding the issue (I’ll give you one for free: it does not disappear with adulthood).

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?
Jays (1)I’ve already mentioned the influence that Kerouac and Ginsberg have had on me. Their close relationship to jazz captivates me. As a result, the exploration of the relationship between writing and music, in the broadest sense possible, is a key point in my work. Though I enjoyed ‘The Dharma Bums’ more, ‘On The Road’ is the novel that originally made me want to become a writer. Ginsberg’s poems ‘Howl’ and ‘America’ blew my mind and shifted my perspective on poetry. Some would say that my reverence for the Beats has taken on unhealthy proportions.

Joan Didion’s ‘Play It As It Lays’ fascinated me as well, because where the Beats’ sentences could go on for lines and lines and are more psychologically and emotionally driven, Didion has an incredible talent for brevity and objectivity. Didion and Kerouac, to me, are polar opposites in many ways, and I’m currently exploring how, if at all, their styles could possibly be integrated into one. I think I’m slowly starting to zero in on the answer. On a side note, if anyone is interested in Joan Didion’s beautiful and tragic story, I highly recommend watching ‘The Center Will Not Hold’ on Netflix.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?
I came to the launch of ‘Circle of Words’ – the first anthology – back in ’16 and remember seeing the whole group come together in a joint effort to promote the book and, even though I hadn’t contributed anything to the first anthology, I felt distinctly proud to be a member of the BWC. I’m even more proud to be the Tuesday co-chair now and look forward to working with Niamh, who will be the other co-chair.

What do you get out of the group?
Inspiration, feedback, validation, motivation – everything that should come along with a collective of writers, does in the case of the BWC. It’s also a great way to keep your ego in check, because there is lots of constructive criticism and we’re such an eclectic bunch that you get a whole range of opinions, approaches and talents.

So far, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of the Circle. More importantly, it’s been a learning experience on both an artistic and a personal level thanks to everyone who frequents the meetings. You get a little taste of everything at the BWC, including published and award-winning authors, and that’s what makes it so truly unique. What’s even more exciting is that we get new members all the time. If you’re not a member yet, please don’t hesitate to shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our mailing list.

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Microfiction

Could you recount the Iliad in less than 50 words to save your life? After the microfiction workshop at this year’s retreat, many participants reported that they were indeed confident they could, should a Sphinx accost them on Rue de la Loi.

During the session we crafted tiny stories about big things and enjoyed building narrative arcs that could be read in one breath. Microfiction means stories finished within a few minutes. Rarely do writers get to feel that level of dopamine.

For those who were emotionally blocked because their 400-pager was taking forever to finish, microfiction propelled their confidence to literary canon levels, or so the story went…

Here are a few of our microstories.

kid: “Is he still breathing?”
parent: “Mhm.”
kid: “I’m bored.”
parent: “Don’t say that – he might hear you!”
kid: “I AM BORED!”
grandparent: “Me too.”
by Mimi Kunz

I needed out. An eternity in this church was not my chosen afterlife. A young artist saw me floating above the altar, bade me close. I am in him now, outside the church, seeing the pine trees, painting the pine trees, seeing the men in white coats. Together forever, in a sanatorium. Damned. by Patrick ten Brink

He was everything she ever dreamed of; charming, funny and intelligent. What she didn’t know was that his admirable knife skills didn’t come from cutting turkeys. by Karmen Špiljak

David Graham, the first President of Earth did not hesitate to give the order to annihilate the demons’ spaceship, in full knowledge that he would also be killing the king and queen of demons, his parents.by C.S. Begu

It’s no surprise that Twitter is THE place for microfiction. There are lists and many microfiction accounts in different genres to follow, like Ciprian’s Truly Tiny Tales .

Works-in-progress: Just the three of us by Martin R. Jones

21E5ly9S+cL._UX250_What are you currently working on and what inspired you to start writing it?

I have just finished a novel set in Malta in 1930. I wrote a novel a couple of years ago set in Borneo in the 1920s but I couldn’t really get it to work. I realized the problem was that I was, in fact, writing two different books, one about a man coming to terms with his wife’s death and a straightforward adventure story. There was too much of a mismatch. I already had the idea for a story set in Malta in the interwar years.

Most British people have a cosy idea of the relationship between the two counties based on the legends of the Second World War and the presence of red telephone boxes in the streets of Valletta. The reality was that in the interwar years many Maltese regarded Britain as an occupying power. At the same time Mussolini’s Italy had plans to expand into the Mediterranean, so I had the kernel of a story for an espionage thriller. I decided to split up the Borneo novel and cannibalized the first part for the Malta book. Hopefully, it works. This does mean I have the second half of an adventure novel set in Borneo so if anyone out there has the first half of a similar book I’m up for a bit of collaboration!

Where and when does the action take place?

Just the three of us starts in England in 1930. I have always been fascinated with the interwar years. It was a time of huge social and technological change where it was possible to fly the Atlantic while at the same time much of the world was little changed since feudal times. It was also a period of clashing ideologies and huge political upheaval. Plus, the clothes were cool.

The main protagonist decides to start a new life in Malta following his wife’s death, hoping to find some peace. Fat chance. He becomes embroiled in a plot to assassinate the Maltese prime Minister and de-stabilize British rule. The usual concomitant mayhem ensues, but it all ends happily. Sort of.

How long have you been working on it?

I already had part of the book when I began so I had a head start but it took me about 18 months to pull everything together.

What were some of the best and some of the most challenging parts so far?

Most of the pieces I have written up to now have been historical thrillers. I wanted to make this a love story as well, which is beyond my comfort zone. I emerged from the process with a new respect for the writers of romance fiction. Boy, getting this stuff down without descending to hackneyed drivel is HARD.

And where are you at now?

An agent asked for a full, liked it but thought it would be hard to market as a thriller, given that it didn’t quite fit into what was expected of the genre. So I’ve given it a new title (from An unofficial spy) and will rebrand it as a historical romance thriller. I’ll need to rejig a couple of chapters and write another and then, hopefully, ready to go again.

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

The previous longer pieces of work I have presented at the BWC were, although I had an overall vision, done chapter by chapter. This time I had a reasonably complete draft to begin with. The problem with this approach is that you can’t always see the trees for the wood. Seeing it through other people’s eyes makes clearer what needs pruning, what needs uprooting and where new seeds could be planted.

Without the insights of the people at the BWC that would have been a much harder, and less successful task. Everyone is supportive, but more importantly, honest. It’s not always easy being told the chapter you’ve laboured over for weeks is not up to standard but this is the sort of thing you need to hear if you’re serious about producing your best work. You need to take any criticism in the spirit it is meant. And of course, if you come up with something that’s not total gibberish it’s nice to hear that from someone else, it gives you the motivation to keep on.

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

Well, it isn’t exactly A brief history of time, but apart from that….

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?

The world I have tried to create is not a glamorous one, so not really ‘A’ lister material. So sorry, Johnny Depp, don’t bother to apply. Matthew Macfadyen would be perfect for Jack Gibson, as would Toby Jones for Woodland. Minnie Driver would make a good Flavia. She has such a mobile face. And Cillian Murphy for Smith.

International writing competitions 2018 – part 2

If you have been sharpening your pencils and hitting that keyboard with fresh stories, then you’ll want to take a look at our selection of short stories and competition for the second half of 2018. Do check individual website for details. We will be updating this page.

Best of luck!

AUGUST
1/2 K Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 500 words
Entry fee: $20
Prize: 1st $1000
Deadline: August 15, 2018
Publication: Indiana Review

The End Of Our World short story contest
Theme: Destruction of environment (based on facts)
Word limit: 1,500 – 5,000 words
Entry fee: $25 per submission ($15 NCWN members)
Prize: 1st $1000, 2nd $300, 3rd $100
Deadline: August 31, 2018
Publication: Magazine

SEPTEMBER
Manchester Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2,500 words
Entry fee: £17.50
Prize: 1st prize £10,000
Deadline: September 14, 2018

Writers of the Future Contest
Theme: Sci-fi, fantasy, dark fantasy
Word limit: 17,000 words
Entry fee: n/a
Prize: 1st $1,500, 2nd $750, 3rd $500
Deadline: September 30, 2018

OCTOBER
All-story short fiction competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 5,000 words
Entry fee: U$30
Prize: 1st U$1,000, 2nd 500, 3rd $250
Deadline: October 1, 2018
Publication: Break Water Publication

Bath Flash Fiction Award
Theme: Open
Word limit: 300 words
Entry fee: £7.5 for one entry, £12 for two and £18 for three entries
Prize: 1st prize £1,000, 2nd prize £300, 3rd prize £100.
Deadline: October 14, 2018
Publication: Anthology

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 a week long creative course.
Deadline: October 22, 2018

NOVEMBER
Fish Short Story Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 5,000 words
Entry fee: €20, (€10 subsequent entries)
Prize: 1st €5000 & 5 days short story workshop, 2nd €300 & a week at Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat, 3rd €300, honourable mentions €200.
Deadline: November 30, 2018
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, 2018
Publication: Albedo One

Ink Tears Short Story Competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 1,000 – 3,500 words
Entry fee: £7.50
Prize: 1st £1000, 2nd £100
Deadline: November 30, 2018
Publication: InkTears Readership

DECEMBER
Peter Porter Poetry Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: poems must be max 75 lines long
Entry fee: U$15 for subscribers/students, $25 for non-subscribers
Prize: 1st U$5,000, 2nd AU$2,000, thee other shortlisted $500
Deadline: December 3, 2018
Publication: InkTears Readership

The Breakwater Fiction Contest
Theme: Open
Word limit: 1,000 – 5,000 words
Entry fee: U$10
Prize: 1st U$1,000
Deadline: December 15, 2018
Publication: Break Water Publication

Magic Oxygen Literary Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 4,000 words for short stories and up to 50 lines for poems
Entry fee: £5
Prize: 1st prize £1,000, 2nd prize £300, 3rd prize £100
Deadline: December 31, 2018
Publication: Anthology

The Moth Poetry Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: n/a
Entry fee: €12 per poem
Prize: 1st prize €10,000, 3 x €1,000
Deadline: December 31, 2018

Meet the Circle: Océan Smets

foto africa girafaThe 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 butterflies. Well, maybe not that last bit. This week we will hear from Océan Smets, a poet turned science fiction writer with a special interest in language and human psychology.

Océan is a published author of poems, flash fiction and nonfiction. He’s the winner of 2015 Spanish 1st International poetry competition Writing Verses, the 2014 winner of  the First Literary Contest of Short Tales for Train Travelers by Thalys Kemkem, Argentina.

When did you join the group?
In February 2014, when I moved to Brussels. I read an invitation to join the Brussels Writers Circle in an English Magazine for expats. I directly emailed to enroll. Destiny?

What were your first impressions of the group?
What first struck me was the variety of styles among us, together with the ability to fold into other writers’ thoughts and be their editors. Our group , from all over the world, has been constantly renewing with pens. It’s so enriching!

What have you published so far?
Articles (non fiction), poems and short stories. I can’t stop writing “magic realism”. I am sort of hooked. Yet I would like to jump from there into something more consistent, diametrically opposite.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my second social sci-fi novel. I dream it. I can see its inhabitants in my nocturnal visions. I really can feel the touch of my characters at night. They are my imaginary friends. So I am never alone.

My Post (1)Who are your biggest literary influences?
Bashö’s haiku, Paul Éluard, Isabel Allende, impacting films like Clockwork Orange, and especially all the gender literature from my studies.

How have they influenced you?
My writing has been influenced by all these factors, so we can say I am a cross between a human and a beast. Well, rather a magical mutant.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?
Yes. The day Antoinette gave me the title for my novel in three seconds.
“What is your novel about?”
“A little wheel inserted in your body that sends you love and you have orgasms”.
“It’s Wheelgasm!”

So easy!

What do you get out of the group?
I mainly get a shower both of reality and humbleness whenever I read for it. As a writer, I tend to live in my magical world. English isn’t my mother language so I really need editors. Reading for the group also makes me write more. There is always somebody who likes my stories so I am also encouraged. I can see my lines published in an anthology. This gives my life meaning.

Brussels Writers’ Circle Retreat 2018

What do you get if you take fifteen international writers and poets to a remote location? Either a good thriller or a comedy or even better, a writers’ retreat.

For the last weekend in May, we were lured to Tremelo with a promise of exciting writing workshop, cheese and wine evenings and pleasant company. What we got was even more than just that:  two and a half days of seriously creative fun.

Workshop on creative brain

You have the right to be un-focused.

With her inventive exercises Cynthia Huijgens took us out of our creative comfort zones and helped us to look at our writing with fresh eyes. We turned into poets, looked for structures within images and used them to create story structures. We visited brown town and played with words, but most of all, we put our writing brain to a good use. Cynthia’s workshop equipped us with all sorts of tools to help us flip things around and do them differently.

Though most of us have heard of micro fiction, it was Ciprian Begu’s workshop that showed us how useful it can be. Did you know for example that you can write a whole novel in micro chapters, no longer than 40 to 100 words? Or even better, use the micro fiction to pinpoint each chapter’s essentials. There’s more. Cross genres, make it into a mystery, play with the meanings. Once you start it’s hard to stop. Yes,  the dopamine kick created by writing micro fiction can be insanely addictive. For many of us, Ciprian’s workshop opened the doors to new forms.

Writers creating micro fiction

Making every word count

It’s fairly easy to laugh. However writing something funny is a whole different ball game. In his excellent workshop Kevin Dwyer helped us turn into comedy writers, at least for two hours. We created characters with amusing names, gave them funny tics, threw them far out of their comfort zones and watched them try to find their way back, tripping over their fears and discomfort. Though most of us probably won’t turn to comedy full time, we left the workshop with some valuable tools and even more interesting story ideas.

We all know when dialogue sucks, but when instructed to write as badly as possible, many struggled to do so. In her workshop Karmen Špiljak shared a few tools  from James Scott Bell’s book that can help write dazzling dialogue. By adding more tension and conflict, even flat dialogue came to life. To test new skills the workshop finished with a short competition where everyone chose one of the pre-defined expositions, turned it into a dialogue and weaved in a random dialogue line, defined by another writer. The competition was tough and brought great results. Finally it was Lida who won the prize.

Writers' workshop on dialogue

Add a pinch of drama

Online publishing was a game changer for many writers. On the last day Patrick ten Brink helped us learn about different marketing approaches to promoting our work. We examined the advantages and disadvantages of traditional and indie publishing, talked about methods that work (and those that don’t) and shared useful templates, resources and tools that can help us showcase our work, including our ‘The Circle’ anthology, which will come out on 15th October this year.

Between and after the workshop, there was delicious food, sunny weather, beautiful nature (that caused allergy attacks) and the company of people who love words and stories.

See you there next year?  You can subscribe to Brussels’ Writers Circle updates and find out about weekly meetings and our yearly writer’s retreat.

Meet the Circle: Colin Walsh

Colin Walsh photoThe 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 other writerly nuggets.

This week we will hear from Colin Walsh. Colin is from Galway, Ireland, and writes fiction.

When did you join the group?
It was February or March 2017. I’d started writing short stories in 2016. Completing a story is a bit like screaming off a mountain and hoping for some echo that’ll prove you’ve climbed the mountain in the first place. Readers can offer a chink of light and fresh air on whatever it is you’ve been working on in the dark, and that does help you stay vaguely sane. I was having one of those ‘I AM ONLY WRITING INTO THE GAPING VOID’ moments when it’s hard to stay motivated. So I googled ‘writing group in Brussels’ and found the Brussels Writers Circle. I emailed the BWC asking if I could come along to a meeting, and that was that.

What were your first impressions of the group?
That it was totally nuts. Not in the sense of everyone being mad – you only discover that after a couple of meetings – but more in the sense of how wildly eclectic the mix of writers and readers was. It was great. People who were interested in very different things, literature-wise, approaching the world from different angles and backgrounds, all gathering around a large table over a few drinks and giving their time and energy to other people’s work.

Also, the basic kindness and openness of people to the work of anyone who reads – kindness that isn’t hollow back-slapping, openness that is genuine. The BWC is a place for constructive, helpful criticism and real encouragement. That made a very positive impression on me.

What have you published so far?
Last year I won the RTE Frances MacManus Short Story Award, and I was a prizewinner in the Bridport Short Story Prize, got shortlisted for the Bath Short Story Award and the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, and I won a prize at a cool literary festival back in Ireland a few months ago. All those stories ended up being published in anthologies or online in newspapers. I have another story being published later this year, which I’m very excited about.

When you list all those things out like that, it sounds like a big run of successes, but that’s a total misrepresentation of the reality. The fact is that every single one of those published stories, including those which won prizes, had all been rejected by (at least) one publication/competition before finding a home. There’s never any guarantee as to whether or not what you’re doing is ‘good’ in any objective sense. I find that pretty tough, to be honest.

Ultimately, your own quality compass (which shifts over time) is the only metric against which you should judge yourself, but that’s advice which I consistently fail to follow, haha. It does take a while to get used to just how subjective the whole submissions process actually is, and to not allow it destroy your self-confidence.

You see this type of radically diverging reception at the BWC too; a single text will provoke a huge variety of opinions/tastes around the table. Sometimes I’m bewildered by what other people like/dislike or fixate upon, and I’m sure they are equally nonplussed by what I blather about whenever I give feedback. It sounds harsh, but I really feel like anyone can write something that will be universally rejected, but no one can write something that’ll be universally approved. Like, Hilary Mantel and Flannery O’Connor and William Shakespeare could all read at the BWC and no doubt there would be people who would wrinkle their noses and have reservations about the writing of these giants.

So yeah – in terms of publication, rejection, etc., I suppose the fingers pointing at the moon are not the moon.

What are you currently working on?
A novel. I have a pretty tight deadline on me now, so I’m focusing on that entirely these days – no short stories. It’s a very different experience to working on short stories, but I’m enjoying it. Hopefully I haven’t just jinxed myself by saying that. I have to submit a draft by the end of the summer. Nicely primed for a total meltdown by mid-July, I reckon. I’ll be running naked through the streets screaming ‘show don’t tell.’ In Brussels, I don’t think people would even notice.

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?
My PostI think different writers and books have all had very different influences, at different times and in different ways. I remember Zadie Smith said something about how reading is not a passive form of entertainment like watching TV. She said it’s much more like sitting at a piano with sheet music written by a composer, a composer who is usually light years from you, musically; sometimes you can sit at that piano and you’re able to access all the magic that the composer has put there for you, but the onus is on you. The pleasure is richer the more you lean into it. Sometimes, I find myself years away from being up to the task of honouring what a writer has actually done. Other times, a novel or short story hits me at just the right time, and has a huge ripple effect on both my writing and my reading.

All of which is a very long way of saying that I don’t think I have any specific writers in mind that I’d single out as clear ‘influences.’ I’m neither coherent nor consistent enough as a reader to say that.

But I can name a couple of books that I think have been important for my writing over the last two years:

Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. This is really the book that made me decide – okay, this is what I want to do. I mean, sweet Jesus, that novel. What he’s doing with voice, language, pace, drama, rhythm, time. Unbelievable. The sheer nerve and courage it would take to even attempt writing such a book. I read it over Christmas 2015. At the time I was buried deep in the pyramid scheme of academic philosophy. I hadn’t read a work of fiction in years. Literally, years. All I was reading was philosophy, theory, history.

Then I read A Brief History and remember being just totally overwhelmed with the depth and breadth of what James was weaving. The throb of life in the prose. It really made me reassess what the hell I was doing with my life. A total Eureka experience. A couple of months later, I left academia for good. I started my first short story on the same day. Best decision I ever made.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. This novel represents a sort of Platonic ideal for me in terms of the balance between literary prose and the popcorn-munching thrills. Fantastic writing and a totally compulsive story, both powering each other. One of the most purely pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had in the past couple of years – the closest to the pure joy I had when reading as a child.

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye and it absolutely wrecked me. Reading it was like swallowing a grenade and feeling it gradually explode inside you. But in a glorious way, you know? She’s doing so many things simultaneously, and she is doing all of them at the highest possible level, in prose that really doesn’t call attention to itself as it quietly sets about rearranging your guts. I was totally shook for a few days after I finished. Standing with a wobbly lip in the middle of the street, that type of scenario. Absolutely devastating, in the best way. Exhilarating.

Other writers: Anne Enright for her psychological acuity and the type of sentences that slice your eyelids off; George Saunders and Donal Ryan for their sheer heart without mawkishness; Kevin Barry and Lucia Berlin for their swagger and mastery of the short story; Angela Carter, Mike McCormack, Elizabeth Bishop, Danielle McLaughlin, William Blake, Ezra Pound, Doireann ní Ghríofa, Ginsberg, Heaney, Hughes, the essays of Zadie Smith… blah blah blah…

What do you get out of the group?
An education! I’ve learned so much attending the group – both on the page and in terms of how people approach what’s on the page. Like, you might have someone reading from a genre-mash-up novel they’re working on, and they’ll be receiving considered and in-depth feedback from an experimental poet, a memoirist, a songwriter, a YA author, a playwright, etc. All of these different lenses through which work can be approached, critiqued and enriched.

The sheer generosity of what people are doing at the BWC every Tuesday and Thursday is really incredible. You learn a lot from that alone. People can be so good.

Meet the Circle: Klavs Skovsholm

54DD994B-63CB-4C9E-96B2-5B114EF1DA22 (1)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 scrawlings with one another.

This week we will hear from Klavs Skovsholm who has been an member for several years. Klavs is probably best known for writing Christmas stories over the summer.

When did you join the group?

I am not entirely sure. I believe that it was Autumn 2011 or Spring 2012. I do remember it was a mild day and that it took place in the library of Cercle des Voyageurs.

What were your first impressions of the group?
BWC members were a very welcoming and congenial bunch of personalities. I felt immediately at ease and many have become personal friends over the years.

What have you published so far?
I have self-published two short historical novels “Golden Fields” and “At the Bay” in which we follow the lives of a lovely elderly lesbian couple in South Africa during the Boer war. I have published a children’s book in Danish “Grantræet” in 2017, and

I am involved in making teaching materials, in the form of a children’s book called “Die Kokerboom” in Afrikaans and is in Xhosa with illustrations to colour in. Last year 3000 copies were distributed; this year another 5000 kids in poor rural schools in the Western Cape will have the pleasure of getting to know the story of an unfortunate Quiver tree which ends up as a Christmas tree. Finally, I have a Christmas story included in Anthology 1 & 2 (and hopefully also in the future Anthology 3).

What are you currently working on?
Nothing of my own. I am helping edit an amusing novel written by a very creative Dane who sadly suffers from serious dyslexia . Serious but rewarding work! And not to forget: I am been honoured by the task of being part of the editorial team for Anthology 3.

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?
History books and historical novels! I have a very keen interest in Colonial African history so writers like Thomas Pakenham and Wilbur Smith have certainly played a role.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?
What springs to mind is a few evenings where I was reading aloud of a fantasy short story set in the Middle Ages. As the story progressed, my audience was convinced that the mushroom the poor people had to survive on, had to be magic mushrooms! Maybe I should add that, in my view, the audience had had too many Leffe!

What do you get out of the group?
It is a wonderful place to come for inspiration and exchanges of ideas. The social aspect is very important. Let’s not forget that otherwise writing is a solitary activity.

Meet the Circle: Cynthia Huijgens

www.decoroportraits.com

The members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle are a varied bunch. Prose writers, poets, playwrights, memoirists, screenwriters, we sweep in from all different occupations and locations twice a week to share our work 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 the social life of tardigrades. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Cynthia Huijgens, co-chair of our Tuesday evening sessions. Cynthia earned a BA and MEd in Art Education, and spend many years working in museum education writing guides and school curriculum to enhance visitor experiences and introduce viewers to artists and the creative processes that inspired them. Today, somewhere between the screaming sirens of Brussels and the muffled silence of falling snow in the mountains of British Columbia where she spends a few months each year, Cynthia finds subjects for her writing which is almost exclusively fiction.

“Dream up big, hairy, audacious goals that you are passionate about and pursue them relentlessly. You have to begin with the end goal in mind, knowing that a goal is a dream with a deadline.” Clay Clark

When did you join the group?
I first attended a Thursday evening session back in October 2016 and loved it. The following week I attended a Tuesday session, and I’ve been a Tuesday regular ever since.

What was your first impression of the group?
Spirited. Fun. Diverse. At the time I joined, I was a new student of The Writer’s Studio Online, a program of Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. Through the program I had a virtual writer’s circle, but I was hungry for contact with local writers. BWC provided that.

What have you published so far?
An article for a fitness magazine in Egypt, an excerpt of my first manuscript, for upper middle grade readers, in an annual anthology of SFU. In October 2018, a short story will appear in the BWC second anthology, Circle 2.

What are you currently working on?
A work of creative nonfiction about my grandmother and things she left behind. I’m also working on a thriller for adults and several short stories, in addition to a sequel to my first MG manuscript. Whew! I’m trying to approach writing not as a hobby, but as a business. I want to get really good at writing and make money from it, so I am now giving myself multiple projects, deadlines, timelines, and real commitment. I’m dedicating resources too, and, if all goes according to plan, by the end of this year I will have extended my publication list of credits!

Who are your biggest literary influences?
unnamed (1)I’m going to go with a contemporary influence: Canadian writer Eileen Cook. Not only because she’s found a way to craft really fun stories for young adults ( I think she has eight or nine novels to her credit), but she’s very generous with her time in helping me and other emerging writers to grow our craft and realise our potential.

I think its important to have different role models, but I’ve never been comfortable trying to follow in the footsteps of some 19th century literary master. I want to be inspired by real writers who are living in my times, dealing with issues I can relate to, enjoying success that I can see is possible for myself.

kingThat said, craft books have greatly influenced me. Among my go-tos: Startle and Illuminate, Carol Shields on Writing, Edited by Anne and Nicholas Giardini; On Writing, Stephen King; On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner; and Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark.

What do you get out of the group?
Good advice, support, and a sense of community. If I’m not there on Tuesday evening, I miss it.

You can read more about Cynthia at CCHuijgens.com

Meet the Circle: Barbara Mariani

 

Barbara Mariani

Barbara Mariani

The members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle are a varied bunch. Prose writers, poets, playwrights, memoirists, screenwriters, we sweep in from all different occupations and locations twice a week to share our work 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 Barbara Mariani, our Thursday evening sessions’ co-chair. Barbara is Italian but a happy resident outside her own country. Brussels has brought her back to her university literary interests, which she left aside too long to dedicate herself to what she thought was a more promising profession in environmental policies and public affairs. She is an enthusiast reader of literary fiction, the only fiction she is really passionate about, and has decided to write her first novel in English.

When did you join the group?
In 2014, as I was looking for a writing course.

What were your first impressions of the group?
My impressions were so great that I never stopped going to the weekly meetings since then. What captured me was the mix of informal atmosphere of the gatherings and genuine talent and generosity of spirit of many of the members, some of whom unfortunately have left the Circle as they have headed back to their own countries. Since the first meeting I attended I have felt a sort of sense of “belonging” to the Circle. For me it has been like finding an escape from everyday work routine to a territory where I could switch off and become absorbed in artistic creation with people who share the same passion, even though we come from diverse cultures and are all very different.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a novel which I have started a couple of years ago, evolving from a short story. It’s set in our times and tells the story of a young woman, Caterina Del Canto, whom life has put in front of many unexpected reversals of fortune which have taken away from her origins but also, projected her into unknown worlds. It’s a story about the recklessness and sense of uncontrolled speed, the confusion and profound loneliness that characterises our age.

What are your biggest literary influences ? How have they influenced you?
Raymond Carver book coverThere are so many. I’m a passionate reader of classics and those who have influenced me most are Tolstoj, Proust, Mann, Miller, Hemingway, Flaubert, Maugham, Marquez, Nabokov, Fitzgerald. But I have also found inspiration in many writers of the late 20th century, such as R. Carver, P. Auster, M. Richler, D.F Wallace, J. Irving. I think that these writers have in common the capacity to write in a way that the experience in front of our eyes is really authentic (even though it may be all invented… but that’s the real talent!), something we can connect to emotionally, and at the same time so special in the way they are telling it. It’s the perfect mix between the universal and the particular that make these books unique. They are all style masters, they have found the right “voice”, so difficult to find for a writer, that makes their books stand out in a special place in people’s souls. Finally, each time I re-read them is a new experience. They really are like precious Chinese boxes.

book cover by marquez

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?
I have some beautiful memories from the BWC annual retreats in Tremelo. I felt like we were a big family and that those winter evenings spent in front of the fireplace playing ice-breaking games or talking about writing tricks, politics, religion, philosophy, music or whatever was the issue of the moment are priceless and stand out. Another great emotion was the publication of the first BWC Anthology in 2016, a project in which very few of us had really believed at the beginning but that finally went through thanks to the tenaciousness of some members.

What do you get out of the group?
Inspiration, challenging thoughts and ideas, good vibes & good company.