The annual BWC retreat took place in May in Siddharta,Tremelo, with fourteen writers getting together for a weekend of writing workshops in the Flemish countryside. On Friday evening we found our way to Tremelo, defying rainstorms and rush hour traffic, and were rewarded with a delicious dinner and great company. Thirteen different nationalities from all over the world were represented at this year’s retreat – quite a feat for a group of fourteen! Some of the participants were familiar faces, having attended the retreat before and/or being regulars at the Tuesday and Thursday BWC meetings at the Maison des Crèpes; and there were some new faces as well, joining the group for the first time. In either case, once introductions were made there was no shortage of conversation topics, the most popular subject being, as expected, books and writing. The evening continued with an impromptu ice-breaker game of charades with a literary twist, before we retreated (ha!) to our cozy bedrooms to get some rest before the weekend’s workshops.
On Saturday we woke to the smell of pancakes and armed with notebooks, pens and coffee we settled in for a weekend of writing. Mimi Kunz and I were in charge of the first workshop of the retreat, called ”Short Stories: Beginnings, Endings and the In-Between”. Since we’re not experts on short stories, we turned to our favourite short story writers for inspiration. We started with a guessing game of ”Opening line or Closing line?” and a few other exercises around first and last sentences in short stories, and at the end, everyone tried their own hand at writing a very short story. We were quite nervous at first so we’re really grateful to the group for being so nice and participative – we hope everyone had as much fun as we did!
The morning continued with a workshop led by guest workshop leader Cynthia Hiujgens, on ”How to Inject More Creativity Into Your Writing Practice”. Cynthia began by illustrating some of the techniques writers customarily use to find inspiration (listening to music, going for a walk outdoors…) and suggested some exercises to get out of our comfort zone and experiment with stretching our imagination – from writing our name upside down with our non-dominant hand (easier said than done!) to drawing a scene from a work-in-progress to role-play using props to get under our characters’ skin. Cynthia’s workshop left us full of new ideas and perspectives on art and writing, and excited to try new ways of bringing more creativity into our lives.
After a quick lunch we gathered again for the much-anticipated meeting with agents Sharon Galant and Thomasin Chinnery of the Zeitgeist Media Group Literary Agency. Sharon and Thomasin explained what a literary agent does, what happens during the different stages of book publication and very patiently answered all our questions on how it all works. After the session, we were given the opportunity to individually pitch an idea and get feedback on our pitching technique. Thank you to Sharon and Thomasin for this wonderful workshop!
After all this excitement, we bid farewell to our guests and went outside to enjoy the brief spell of sunshine in between rainstorms. Some authors went off to write, inspired by the day’s workshops, others went for a walk or played a friendly game of pétanque (and by friendly, of course, we mean extremely competitive). Authors also had the opportunity to have a professional author’s picture taken by photographer Maite Morren, who joined us on Saturday evening. After dinner we indulged in the traditional BCW retreat cheese and wine extravaganza, against the backdrop of the the Eurovision finals (congrats Portugal!)
The next morning we woke up to bright sunshine and more pancakes (thank you Genevieve!) Given the warm weather, an executive decision was made to take the workshops outside, and we gathered around the picnic table sporting sunglasses and sunscreen for the first of the day’s workshops, “Writing Comedy”, led by Hamed Mobasser. Hamed talked about different techniques used in comedy writing both in screenplays (his specialty) and in other forms of writing. Participants then got to write their own funny bumper stickers and comedy scenes, with hilarious results.
Our last workshop of the retreat but by no means the least was led by author Karmen Špiljak, who put together a series of exercises on ”Descriptions”. After illustrating different types of description techniques by comparing passages from different books, Carmen had us write a description of the retreat’s setting, which was completely transformed depending on the genre the author had chosen: comedy, romance or thriller!
A Sunday feast was waiting back at the house, and everyone enjoyed a long lunch before returning to everyday life, hopefully full of new ideas and inspiration to write – I know I did!
An immense thank you to:
Sharon Galant and Thomasin Chinnery of the Zeitgeist Media Group (http://www.zeitgeistmediagroup.com/)Cynthia Huijgens (to find out more about the inspiration behind Cynthia’s workshop look at http://imgur.com/a/fPLnM and https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/19/kazuo-ishiguro-the-buried-giant-novel-interview) and Karmen Špiljak (http://www.karmens.net/about/) for taking time out of their weekend to lead workshops at the retreat,
Mimi Kunz (https://mimikunz.com/) for being the awesomest workshop co-leader,
Maite Morren for the professional photography (https://www.facebook.com/MaiteMorrenPics),
Hamed Mobasser, who has been organising the BWC retreat for four years now,
the Siddharta community for their kind hospitality (http://siddartha.be/nl/),
and of course to all the participants!