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.

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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.

The Circle: A Brussels Anthology – Launch at Waterstones

If you’ve been following our blog, you might have caught a rumour about something brewing on BWC’s creative stove and wondered what it was. Wait no more! We’re excited to present to you our second anthology: The Circle.

This collection of short stories, poems, book chapters and screenplay is a work of 34 authors from 19 countries.

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On Thursday 22 November you can meet the authors, hear them read from the anthology and get your hands on your own copy of The Circle, still fresh from the print.

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One core theme of the anthology is naturally Brussels. Andreas Bergman’s Poetic Licence, by Gilbert Jones is a bitingly funny parody of writers’ circles and competition between authors. Hamed Mobasser’s screen plays Doggybag is a comedy about dog-sitting that goes awry. Dimitri Politis’s The Extraordinary Colours of an Ordinary Day and Todd Arkenberg’s Aftershock tackle the horrific 2016 terrorist events. Sarah Strange’s poem Saved by the Bell is about Brussels and the habit people have of leaving treasures in the road. Andrea Rees’ For Jorge is a tale of a last personal journey through Brussels. And Mimi Kunz’ The Museum of Favourite Things – looks back at Brussels from the future, uncovering bits of our present as she digs up treasures from her back garden.

Other themes include travel and immigration, life, love, and loss. Come and listen, come and read, and discover the voices behind the themes.

Who are the authors?
The Circle brings together new emerging voices and prize-winning authors, including:

Colin Walsh, whose The Flare Carving Itself through the Dark won the RTE Francis Mac Manus Short Story Award and was a prize-winner of the Bridport Short Story Award. Jeanie Keogh’s story in this collection, If at First You Don’t Succeed, was shortlisted for the Vancouver Writers Festival context. Mauricio Ruiz, a poet, short story writer and novelist, has been short-listed for numerous prizes, including the Bridport Prize, Myriad Editions Competition and the Fish Short Story Competition. In addition, other authors in The Circle, including Martin Jones, T.D. Arkenberg, Hamed Mobasser and Ocean Smets, have won prizes. Martin for short stories, Todd for his novels, Hamed for film-scrips, and Ocean for poetry. It is only a matter of time for the other emerging writers in The Circle to have their voices recognised.

For the full list of authors of The Circle: Andreas Bergsten ǀ Jeanie Keogh ǀ Colin Walsh ǀ Junko Oikawa ǀ Dimitris Politis ǀ S.R. Harris ǀ Aisling Henrard ǀ Mimi Kunz ǀ Mauricio Ruiz ǀ Joost Hiltermann ǀ Cynthia Huijgens ǀ Shyam Sunder Gopalakrishnan ǀ Antoinette Naomi Reddick ǀ Richard Boland ǀ Sarah Strange ǀ Ross Noble ǀ Andrea Rees ǀ Nicholas Parrott ǀ Ciprian Begu ǀ Lida Papasokrati ǀ David Ellard ǀ Alex Dampney ǀ Océan Smets ǀ Martin Jones ǀ Claire Davenport ǀ Genevieve Shapiro ǀ Klavs Skovsholm ǀ T.D. Arkenberg ǀ Paul Speight ǀ Barbara Mariani ǀ Jay Harold ǀ Patrick ten Brink ǀ Hamed Mobasser ǀ Kevin Dwyer

Who will be reading?
At the launch, we’ll have five short story authors presenting extracts of their works:

  • 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

And poetry by:

  • S.R. Harris: Sightings
  • Jay Harold: Corn Bread and Iced Tea
  • Patrick ten Brink: The Half-Apple

Many of the other authors will be there too – so come and ask them about their work, their dreams and their secrets as to why they write about what they write! And maybe you can get them to recite a poem or extract between the shelves of books while you sip a glass of wine.

See you on 22 November 2018 at 7 pm on Blvd Adolphe Max 71, Brussels!

Finding discipline and inspiration among writers

DavidEllard1When he is not busy helping Europe’s citizens and businesses navigate Single Market rules in DG GROW’s SOLVIT team, David Ellard writes epic science fiction. A self-described ‘aspirant writer’, David has been an integral part of the Brussels Writers’ Circle, a club he has chaired for years, where both beginners and seasoned pros gather weekly to share their work. Commission en direct talked to David about his experience.

What drew you to writing?
I think it started off with an interest in reading. Then, at a certain point, I began to wonder, well how do they make those words I’m reading on the printed page in the first place? And then the more geeky side of my personality has always been interested in imagined worlds, and wondered, how do I go about interesting other people in the products of my own imagination?

So, that drew me inevitably to science fiction and fantasy as genres for writing. And then I start analysing the world in terms of, how can I transcribe this stuff into a novel? The people I meet, situations I encounter, articles on science and philosophy that I read and so on… I think there’s a sort of ‘aspirant writer’s eye’. Most of us will walk past a beautiful building and think, wow that’s nice! But an architect (or someone who aspires to the part) will look at it and note the symmetry of the columns or the construction of the portico…

What have you written already?
I’m most proud of a short novella I wrote which is dream fiction. It actually came out of a dream (or rather nightmare) that I had one night at about 3:00 in the morning. I woke up and was too scared to go back to sleep, so I noted mentally the main points and then started to write it up as a sort of post-facto rationalisation of what the nightmare was actually about. I am also working on an epic science fiction novel. I started with the idea of the opening chapter, and the end, and worked my way to the middle from two directions. I set out with the concern that I would not have enough material for even a short novel. And I spawned a monster in the act of writing it! Needless to say, I’d probably write the next one differently.

What is the Brussels Writers’ Circle (BWC) and what role did you play in its development?
I started going to the Circle in about 2001, and took over running the group in 2010 until 2016. I’m very pleased by how things grew from there on. It was a once-a-week group that subsequently expanded to two, and even three sessions a week, for a while. During my time, the BWC blog was launched and the annual retreat became a fixture.

I should stress that there were many other people who were involved in all these new activities, but I like to feel that I acted as a sort of point of encouragement, even when I wasn’t directly involved! We also moved location from the Cercle des Voyageurs to the current venue of the Maison des Crêpes on rue du Midi. Very close to where I live. That may not be a total coincidence, I concede…

How has being part of the Circle helped you develop as a writer?
Partly it’s the discipline provided by, in my case, announcing I am going to read out on a given evening before I have written the damn piece. So my back is against the wall. That’s how I wrote my novel In Search of Y at least. It’s also inspiration. Sometimes seriously good writers come along to the group.

That can make me jealous, frankly, but it’s also the best way to learn, by analysing what makes really great writing great. And then of course it’s also the specific concrete feedback people give. Actually, it’s more than that. Some of the feedback is well intentioned but not very useful. This teaches you to filter advice and that is an amazing advantage if you can do it. Filter too little and you will be blown about by the wind. Filter too much and there’s no point in asking for feedback in the first place. The trick is to find the golden spot in between.

Are there any upcoming events?
THECIRCLE Front10.18A very exciting event is the upcoming Waterstones soirée to launch the second BWC Writers’ Anthology, The Circle – a collection of writing from a broad range of our members including short stories, prose and poetry. This will be taking place at Waterstones bookshop in Brussels (Boulevard Adolphe Max 71-75) from 19:00 on 22 November.

 

This article was originally published in Commission en Direct by Ciprian Begu.

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 .

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.

Time to celebrate

It’s always great to see writers getting rewarded for their hard work, especially when they belong to your writers’ circle.

This year has been especially fruitful for the BWC’s writers: another proof that Brussels is a city of inspiration.

Antoinette Naomi Reddick published her book, “Waiting for Oz, Follow the Lessons Along the Road”.

Colin Walsh won the Francis MacManus Short Story Competition with his “The Flare Carves Itself Through The Dark”. His short story “The best thing” was highly commended by the Bridgeport prize and was published in the latest anthology.

J. L. Morin’s “Nature’s Confession – Climate Change” is among the Book Excellence Award finalists and was listed a top 10 Best Science fiction book. “Nature’s Confession” was also chosen as The Best Climate & Environmental Fiction Book and got an honourable mention on Reader’s Favorite.

Lida Papasokrat published her story “St Roman the Melodist” in Offshoots 14: Writing from Geneva.

T. D. Arkenberg’s short story “Marguerite and the Grand Sablon” is a semi-finalist and “Parvis de Saint-Gilles” is among the finalists in the Faulkner-Wisdom Literary Competition.

Martin Jones’s “What women want” got a third prize in Story Comp and is now published in the Writer’s forum.

Patrick ten Brink’s short story “The take” got an honourable mention in Glimmer Train’s short story award for new writers. His short story “Amelia Borgiotti” is long-listed in the Hourglass short story competition.

Some of our more modest writers, Kevin Dwyer, Claire Davenport,  Joachim Schloemer and Hamed Mobasser aka Punchdog Productions, received awards for their film scripts.

Congratulations to all!

BWC Member Nick Foster on publishing his True Crime book ‘The Jolly Roger Social Club’

The BWC is thrilled to announce that member Nick Foster’s True Crime book ‘The Jolly Roger Social Club’ is being published by Henry Holt next month. Huge BWC congratulations are therefore in order!

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Nick Foster, who hails from Liverpool in the UK, has been a member of the Brussels Writers’ Circle since 2000 – when the ‘Circle’ was a ‘Group’, Belgians spent francs in the shops, and we were all a lot younger. The commitments of family life mean that Nick doesn’t attend meetings as much as he would like; the rest of the time he cheers on the efforts of the group from a distance.

In 2014 Nick got a deal with Henry Holt in New York to write a non-fiction book on the story of an American serial killer who murdered five of his compatriots in Bocas del Toro, Panama – an outwardly idyllic stretch of Caribbean coast, with azure seas and white-sand beaches.

Nick’s book, The Jolly Roger Social Club, will be published in July 2016 by Henry Holt in North America, and by Duckworth Overlook in the UK and other English-speaking territories.

So Nick, tell us about your book?

I was living in Latin America back in 2011 and I came across the story by chance. A young American man named William “Wild Bill” Holbert had, apparently, killed at least five of his compatriots in a vaguely sinister expat community located in a remote part of Panama. Holbert ran a bar called the Jolly Roger Social Club with a flyer promising that “over 90% of our members survive”. That itself seemed ominous. Then I wondered about the expats: Why were these people there at all? What were their motivations? And how did it affect things that this was an American crime transplanted, if you will, to Latin America? What kind of culture clash might this entail? My questions went on and on. That’s when I figured that this was the story I was looking for. There’s a longer description here: http://us.macmillan.com/thejollyrogersocialclub/nickfoster.

William "Wild Bill" Holbert

William “Wild Bill” Holbert

 

 

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How did you get a book deal for The Jolly Roger Social Club?

Through the traditional route of getting a literary agent (in London, in my case) and then a publisher. I took a month off work to visit Panama and to write the book proposal. For me, it was important to set a deadline to get the proposal ready and sent off. From then it took about four months to get a book deal. The North American rights to The Jolly Roger Social Club were put up for auction by my agent and he set a date and time for bids to come in from the States. Ten minutes before the deadline there were still no bids. I was getting despondent. Then two bids suddenly came in, including Holt’s. I could hardly believe it – it was a really happy moment. After that, the hard work really started. Everything had to be researched – non-fiction means precisely that: it’s all true. I went to Panama a further four times and once to the United States. They were all long trips. As I wrote the story, I discovered it had the most amazing twists and turns. You really couldn’t have made this one up.

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You read your book out at BWC meetings along the way. How did the feedback you received help with writing the book? 

It was very useful. Even though most members write and read fiction, rather than true stories, I got really good feedback. I could instantly see which passages worked and which ones didn’t.

Any tips for aspiring non-fiction writers?

First of all, read a lot. In my case, before I even got on the plane to Panama I devoured a vast amount of narrative non-fiction to see how it was done, to try to break it down. That alone took six months. I needed to see how other writers structured their books. It’s a really important point: if my book just follows me, the writer, discovering a story by interviewing people and uncovering facts, it won’t be very compelling – it will simply be an account of me becoming gradually less ignorant about something. To make a story riveting, you need look how good writers approach chronology, how they use flashbacks, how they establish a powerful sense of place, how they arrange their narrative around strong scenes. You also need to get the pace right and your story has to be suspenseful.

When you pitch your book to an agent, you have to be absolutely focused. Most agents explain on their website precisely how they want to receive pitches. Follow their instructions to the letter. Do exactly what they ask you to do. Try and put yourself in their position: the publishing industry is a business and, if they take you on, they will pitch on your behalf to publishers. So don’t complicate things for them – be clear precisely what your book idea is about, and tell them clearly and concisely. Check this page out for some more tips: http://ducknet.co.uk/blog/ten-tips-writing-creative-nonfiction.

It helped me when I started writing my book to think of it in terms of building blocks. You have a certain number of chapters and then sections in each chapter. It’s easier to think of a book as forty sections of 2,500 words than a big job of 100,000 words you have to sit down and write.

What are your influences?

On the non-fiction side, the direct influence for The Jolly Roger Social Club was A Death in Brazil, by Peter Robb. Apart from Robb, Sebastian Junger and Jon Krakauer are both excellent. The late Gordon Burn was a terrific writer, and a northerner to boot. The Art of Political Murder by Francisco Goldman is beautiful and heartfelt. Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is the best true crime book I have read in a while, and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken – the survival story to end all survival stories – has a wonderful cinematic quality.

In fiction, and off the top of my head: James Salter, Graham Greene, Richard Ford, Kazuo Ishiguro, James Joyce, Philip Roth, JM Coetzee, Peter Carey, David Szalay, William Boyd, Geoff Dyer and Tobias Wolff (I’m not a big fan of memoirs but Wolff’s are superb). Finally, I don’t read very much poetry – at least not compared to prose – but I simply cannot get enough of Philip Larkin.

Thanks Nick, and congratulations again!

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.

BWC member Colette Victor published for the second time

Two thousand and six congratulations to BWC member Colette Victor, who has recently published her second book! Her novel What to Do with Lobsters in a Place Like Klippiesfontein was released by Cargo Publishing earlier this month.

We interviewed Colette back in November 2013 about the publication of her first book, Head Over Heartso we thought it only fitting to sit her down again to talk about her latest success. Here she talks about her novel which may never have become a novel at all if it wasn’t for the prompting of the keen members of the BWC.

What to Do With LobstersCongratulations on the publication of your second book, What to Do with Lobsters in a Place Like Klippiesfontein! Could you tell us, briefly, what the book is about?

Oom Marius, storeowner in a conservative, rural town, has long harboured a crush on Patty, but fails to impress her when he installs a lobster tank in his shop. Tannie Hettie, Oom Marius’ wife, must have cancer treatment in Cape Town, creating a predicament for Oom Marius. Petrus, Oom Marius’ mute helper for twenty-two years suddenly speaks! He volunteers to run the shop asking if bookkeeping-skilled Precious, a young township woman he secretly loves, can work with him. Oom Marius agrees.

In church, the dominie (pastor) informs the congregation that a black man will manage the shop while Oom Marius is gone. Many white inhabitants do not want black people taking traditionally held white positions. A group of white men barricade Oom Marius’ shop front, while Charlie, one of Oom Marius’ supporters, helps Petrus and Precious. An attraction develops between Precious and Charlie: Petrus helplessly watches.

In South Africa there are towns where the dominance of whites and contempt for blacks still exists despite twenty-one years of democracy. This bittersweet comedy raises aspects of the dilemma. A gentle story, set at the beginning of summer, always hot and dry, revolves around the shop and a lobster tank. Will the lobsters survive? Will Charlie and Precious’ feelings come to fruition? Will Tannie Hettie survive cancer? How do Patty and Oom Marius relate when Shawn leaves?

How long did it take you to write the novel?

It started off as a short story probably about four or five years ago. The novel itself took me more or less two and a half years to write, including the various edits and redrafting.

Colette (right) with fellow BWC member Sarah Van Hove at the launch of 'What to Do with Lobsters' at Waterstone's Bookstore in Brussels

Colette (right) with fellow BWC member Sarah Van Hove at the launch of ‘What to Do with Lobsters’ at Waterstone’s Bookstore in Brussels

Did you read out draft versions of your novel at BWC meetings? If so, do you have any memorable moments you’d like to share from this experience? 

I remember reading out the short story in someone’s flat at the height of summer, I think it was Kathleen’s place. Several people commented that it was too short, that the characters were too interesting to abandon to such a short piece of fiction. It was on my way home in the train that I decided to develop it into a full-length novel.

I read many chapters out at the meetings and always took the advice or comments I was given to heart. There was no point being defensive about my work and defending each and every sentence because that way I’d be stuck with a well-defended piece of writing and nothing more. If I wanted to grow then I had to listen to what people were saying. If a single person made a comment on some or other obscure phrase I would ignore it, but if several people commented on the same thing I knew I was doing something wrong. Eventually I started anticipating the comments while I was writing and I think it was at that point that my writing started improving.

This is your second experience with publication, following Head Over Heart. Was it just as exciting, second time around, learning that the book would be published? How did you feel when you found out?

The news of publication for both books followed each other pretty quickly. First I went through years and years of rejection emails from agents and publishers and then suddenly both books did well in two separate competitions – The Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition 2012 and the Dundee International Book Prize 2013. On the back of this success I found an agent and then two publishing contracts followed within a couple of months of each other.

And yes, it’s definitely just as exciting getting this one published. What to do with Lobsters in a Place Like Klippiesfontein is probably a little closer to my heart than Head Over Heart. Cargo Publishing is a small publishing house with a lot of attention for its authors. So saying I’m thrilled would be a sad understatement. There probably isn’t a word big enough to describe what this feels like since it’s something I’ve hankered after since I was nine.

Do you have any other books/novels in the works right now? If so, can you tell us about them?

I’m working on a book called The Godforsaken. It’s set in a run-down bar in the middle of Brussels and is frequented by a bunch of characters who live on the seedier side of life. It takes a look at poverty in Belgium, in Europe, and society’s prevalent pastime of blaming poor people for their situation while sitting happy and insulated on a cushion of middle-class contentment. Hopefully it should be finished to send off to my agent by the summer.

Last but not least, what a title! Did you have any other possible titles in the offing, or was this one always it?

The book started off as an entry for a short story competition under the title of ‘In the Deep’, but it changed pretty quickly after that, to What to do with Lobsters in a Place Like Klippiesfontein when I decided to develop it further. I played around with ideas and word combinations until I found something I was happy with.