Coming Full Circle – BWC says Farewell to Chairman Todd Arkenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About Colette:

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

Learning objectives:

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

Why this course ‘Creative Writing for English Speakers?’

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

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

Practical Details

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

Registration

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

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

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

 

BWC Recommends – Jeanie Keogh

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BWC Recommends is a segment asking our members to talk about their favourite literary meals. Those paragraphs that are so rich they take a while to digest, that packet of word crisps you put in the cupboard but keep going back for until the whole thing is empty, that comforting poetry soup you heat up when you’re not feeling well. What is it about these novels, plays or poems that makes them so delicious?

This time we’re talking with BWC member Jeanie Keogh. Jeanie’s short stories have been published or are forthcoming in the Canadian literary magazines Riddle Fence, Broken Pencil, Grain, FreeFall, Room, and The Puritan. Her play Baby Making was produced by Thought Bubble Theatre and staged at both The Geordie Theatre in Montreal, Quebec, and The Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, Ontario as part of the Summerworks’ theatre festival. She has completed degrees in creative writing, journalism and theatre. On this side of the Atlantic, she currently works as an editor for a press agency and is the fashion and travel writer for Together magazine.

What are your five favourite books (or poems or plays)?

I can’t answer questions like this without feeling seriously muzzled and tranquilized so I’ll cheat and list my top favourite contemporary fiction reads in the past two years.

In the long fiction category: ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver and ‘A Girl is a Half-formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride.

In the short fiction collection category: ‘Better Living Through Plastic Explosives’ by Zsuzsi Gartner, ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You’ by Miranda July, and ‘This Cake is For the Party’ by Sarah Selecky.

We would never try to muzzle you Jeanie, and we so rarely tranquilize people. Choosing one book from the list above, can you tell us what you found tastiest about it?

Cheating again. I’m choosing two. I’d have to say Shriver’s bravery in taking on such a daring subject in ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ and doing so from such a controversial point of view. From a socio-political standpoint, it was a story that needed to be told and was so unapologetically. Reading her feels like being in freefall with no parachute.

And ‘A Girl is a Half-formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride reads like the voices you hear in dreams. The tone is lone Yo-Yo Ma cello meets Nirvana. Her style is brutally raw, the plot is take-no-prisoners, her characters are headed from the first page toward a train wreck end.

Who is your favourite writer? Why do you like him/her?

There is nothing that Joseph Boyden could write that I wouldn’t read. Same for Ali Smith, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, David Mitchell and Jose Saramago. Wow, I’m really not following rules here….

Cracking the spines of these books, you know you’re in for a good literary ride. Personally, I have a sense that I’m going to close the book a changed being, or at the very least, my perception of “the way things are” will have radically shifted. In each, you learn something about the human condition you didn’t know before. What they all have in common is their ability to write characters so complex and well-defined that even the most unsympathetic ones are people whose motivations you understand and can even feel compassion towards. Not to mention they tackle subjects head on in a way that makes the reader come to realisations about themselves that even the best psychologist could never unveil.

Eddie Murphy once said, “Anything you have to acquire a taste for was not meant to be eaten.” Have you ever forced yourself to read something because you were told it was ‘good for you’? If yes, what did you learn from this experience? If no, tell us about a book that you hated.

I read ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert because I was sick of telling people why I would never read it and how I didn’t need to read more than twenty pages to know how terrible it was.

What put me off the book was that it was shelved as literary fiction in the bookstore rather than as well-written self-help. Beyond that, the premise bemoaning the broken-hearted, well-off American woman in search of herself while travelling seemed a bit thin and there didn’t seem to me to be much in the way of suspense, unless you belong to the first-world problems set.

Then I watched a TED talk featuring her and she didn’t seem like a totally pretentious self-help charlatan after all. As much as she is a one-hit literary wonder, the book was not as egregious as I thought it was going to be. And it withstood my initial scathingly critical and biased attitude towards it.