Meet the Circle: Patrick ten Brink

MTCPatrickPhotoThe 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 Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Patrick ten Brink, the co-chair of our Tuesday evening sessions and responsible for the BWC Anthology 2. Patrick is, I am told, a German with a Dutch name who grew up in Melbourne, Tokyo and London, and thought for ages that he was a Brit (but not any more). He has written a load of non-fiction and, coming home one day six years ago with a new book, was encouraged by his daughter to write something that everyone could read, not just those in offices. So he has written close to every day since, complementing the daily non-fiction, with early morning and late evening magic realism.

When did you join the group?

November 2015. I had just finished a draft of the first book of a three part novel I was working on – The Tides: Accidental Spring – and I had a growing niggle saying that I should find a writers group to get constructive feedback on what works well and what could work better with a bit (or even a lot!) of effort. So I googled it, wrote an exploratory email, got an impressively speedy reply, and within a week I was reading out the first chapter to a dozen writers of different background, age and origin.

What were your first impressions of the group?

Friendly but scary. There is a round of introductions, a concise two or three sentences each. Just enough. Not too much, communicating the purpose: we are here to read, listen and comment. This first time is a bit freaky. I hand out copies, and read three, four pages. Twelve faces watch as every word leaves my mouth. It is odd how you can see that they listen, like musicians, with a different part of their brain firing than painters. It is not the eyes that anchor them. There is a way the head cocks to the side to orientate the ear. The last word uttered, the twelve heads drop as one to focus on the copies in front of them, pens scribbling. No eye contact, no signal of delight or disdain, joy or boredom. Ten minutes of scratching paper.

These are the oddest minutes, each second stretching. I wonder whether it really is wise to volunteer my thoughts to this jury, await judgement and advice from people I didn’t know.

Then one by one the pens are laid down, the heads lift, eye contact re-made and the comments tumble out. Advice like sandwiches, a first layer of compliments (Oof, I sigh), a rich filling of constructive criticism (diverse, complimentary, sometimes contradictory, close to always useful), and some words of encouragement. You need the bread, but it is the filling you really came here for.

A round of thanks, another round of drinks and the next writer is on and now it is my turn to listen, underline the great, point out the potential that is not yet fully there, and the bits that inevitably could merit more attention. By the end of the first day I feel welcome in a community helping each other to learn the writer’s craft, encouraging each other to keep going. I am told that occasionally some don’t come back after the first reading. Most do, and they, as I, really do benefit from this wonderful mixed bag of people.

What are you currently working on?

Patrick doesn’t only draw with words…!

I am working on my three part fantasy novel – The Tides: Accidental Spring – and two books of illustrated travel poetry. I’ve completed the first two parts of the Tides (though these are in full edit-and-polish phase) and have started the third.

The books are about three children – Celeste, Newton and Clementine Wells – who start a new life in St. Estelle, a tidal town in France with miles of windswept beaches that get cloaked in mists. The children are drawn into helping two old eccentric beachcombers (Freya de L’Etoile and Georgiu de la Roche) deal with mysterious treasures and creatures swept up in spring tides. They discover that nothing is quite as it seems in this town and with the old couple.

MTCPatrickSquidFreya secretly sculpts animals out of words and brings them to life, but accidentally creates creatures that stalk the lands. The children soon become essential to protect St. Estelle from these Accidental Creations and, in the second book, from the return of St. Estelle’s prodigal son, Darius de Grey.

In the third book, Celeste gets trapped in the magical Land of the Black Sands and meets a pale ghost of a boy. She… Well I can’t say more as it hasn’t written itself yet.

 

You’re a busy man then! Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

MTCPatrickStarbookGabriel Garcia Marquez and Ben Okri gave me magic, myths and imagery, a joy of life and freedom to let the imagination run riot. MTCPatrickNerudaPablo Neruda gave the real poetry of reality and the art of seeing things how they are. Matsuo Basho gave me crystallised reality, taking a photo of the world with words and whispering them to others. Finally, and more recently, I’ve enjoyed Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which has not only been an immense pleasure, but showed that writing a philosophical novel can be a dream and hugely entertaining even if deep. In summary – it is okay to give one’s imagination free rein over one’s words, it is okay to be deep, but capture reality and whisper it to the reader in packaged, glinting crystal words. Then you can tell your story and maybe others will read it and smile.

MTCPatrickBasho

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

The annual retreat in May 2016 was particularly memorable. In an exercise Hamed led, we sought the questions in the text, noted where the answers came and how it affected reading the text. We quickly saw that questions and answers drove the reader forward, some to the next sentence, others to the next paragraph, and a few larger questions were only answered at the end of the story. And one or two were left unanswered so that readers look forward to the next story. While obvious with hindsight, it was a really good exercise to do. When reviewing my own writing with these tools, I realised that I’d posited way too many questions in one of my chapters.

The other exercise that was fascinating was one where everyone wrote a bit of a story and someone else had to continue the story and then read it out. It was interesting to see how easy (and fun) it was to get into the style-skin of another writer and keep the story going. Even more eye-opening was what others did to one’s own story. In my case Mimi made my character do more in a paragraph than I had in a page, as if liberating her to race along the now fast evolving plot-line. That revealed another side of one of my novel-characters to me. So thank you for that!

What do you get out of the group?

I get constant encouragement to master all the tools in the writer’s tool kit, and insights on how to use them – not only through comments when I read, but seeing others’ work. Some have a great sense of voice, with characters instantly alive. Others have stories that grab you, pull you in and embark you on a high speed journey. Yet others offer poetic puzzles where every word is chosen with care and fits. The fascinating thing is that one can have ten people commenting, with complementary angles, all relevant – on voice, on plot, on characters, repetition, point of views, internal consistency, balance, readership and even marketability. Some evenings I am tempted to take on board all comments, on others to ignore them all. The key is to work out why people have said what they have said, what lies behind it, how relevant it is for the story one is writing and what solutions work, given the characters, the plot and one’s own narrative voice. Then the story stays one’s own, but more accessible and rewarding to others.

It is also great to meet both like-minded and differently-minded people with the same ambition of writing something that people would have fun reading.

 

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Meet the Circle: Andreas Bergsten

MTCAndreasPhotoThe 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 Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Andreas Bergsten, a psychologist from Stockholm, avoiding his purported mission to write a Swedish college textbook by indulging in English-language fiction writing.

When did you join the group?

In March 2014. I was surfing some ex-pat sites for advice on how to make the Belgian postal service actually deliver parcels when I saw a link to the BWC. I made contact the same day, went to the next session, and have been a regular ever since. Last year I also went to one of the BWC writing retreats.

What were your first impressions of the group?

I had three immediate impressions. Firstly, how passionate and serious everyone was about writing. Secondly, the welcoming and sociable atmosphere. Thirdly, what a diverse and interesting group of people the BWC is. Something refreshing in ex-pat Brussels where you can find many uniform, conformist cliques. All three impressions have been reinforced over time.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve tried out some different stuff in the group, both fiction and non-fiction. Now I’ve settled on a story that demands space, so let’s say I’m working on a novel. At the same time, I’m supposed to be writing this psychology book in Swedish, so there is both competition and interference. The protagonist of my novel, then, seems to be a psychologist on a confused mission (no, it’s not really autobiographical fiction, he’s even more of a whack job than I am) and the writing appears to be an odd fusion of chick lit and noir. Yeah, I know, that’s not really a description to approach an agent with…

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

MTCAndreasJeevesImpossible to say. I’ve been reading English-language fiction daily since I was twelve, when my father drowned me in P.G. Wodehouse paperbacks from Penguin to supplement the school teaching he deemed inadequate. Then I went off on my own and have had so many loves since.

I think my own English writing aspires to a light touch on heavy subjects, but what amalgam of influences brought me there is too hard to unpack. Let me just say that right now, I’m crazy about Ali Smith, Jenny Offil, Ben Lerner, Donald Antrim and Zia Haider Rahman. And I’ve just discovered Iris Murdoch’s amazing oeuvre. Go figure.

 

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

Oh, yes. More than I can share, really. But to pick an anecdote at random, I remember this one time a guy read out a lyrical and moving short story. Everyone seemed excited and the feedback session was intense. The first feedbacker insisted he condense it into a poem, since the diction, metaphors and rhythm practically yelled out ‘poetry’.

The next one said it would be a crime not to expand on such a gripping theme and develop it into a novel. The third had quite specific instructions on changing characters, switching locations etc; The fourth had actually re-written a few lines to make some transitions smoother.

Now we all know that, when it comes to feedback, detailed suggestions for changes are less helpful than just explaining one’s reaction to the text. Since words are the writer’s medium, it’s like taking the brush to someone else’s half-finished canvas. But sometimes we just can’t help ourselves, and it’s often when we get really enthusiastic that we go overboard.

After the fifth feedbacker told him the only sane thing would be to convert the text into pop lyrics or a technical manual or whatever, the poor author threw up his hands. “Please, stop,” he said. “My head hurts!”

What do you get out of the group?

Well, as for the writing (kind of the obvious point of the circle), you get so much interesting feedback. Wildly different and sometimes contradictory reactions and ideas (see above), but that is part of the art and actually quite liberating. If the responses were unanimous, they would be harder to resist and probably influence me too much – especially in the early drafting stages. With such a smorgasbord of reactions, if I may use that expression, I can pick and choose in a way that leaves my feedback diet nutritious and challenging, but not belly-achingly hard to digest. And I get such a rush from having a room full of perceptive and skilled readers doing their best to improve my work.

Then, for me, there has been a most welcome side effect. In Brussels, I mostly skulk around in the shadows. I’m a stay-at-home dad, but the kids live in Sweden (grown-ups, nominally), and my breadwinner wife is constantly on the road. So the BWC is the main provider of great company for me. At the sessions, sure, but also the frequent post-session beers and the friendships growing out of socializing with other lost souls. If you like writing, and you like people, I can’t recommend the BWC enough.

It's not always this cold in Stockholm - honest!

It’s not always this cold in Stockholm – honest!

Meet the Circle: Dimitris Politis

MTCDimitrisPhotoThe 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 Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Dimitris Politis who hails from a tiny whitewashed village on the Greek island of Tinos.

When did you join the group?

Back in 2009, when I followed all the sessions until 2012, when I moved away from Brussels for a while. I then rejoined the Circle in early 2015.

What were your first impressions of the group?

I was delighted to meet other writers and people who were interested in reading and writing. Their views gave a different perspective and often useful advice on my writing. There are always things that a writer might miss, forget or misrepresent. Often little details that can nonetheless make a huge difference in the end. I have found the help of the group in this sense priceless.

What are you currently working on?

MTCDimitrisMetroMy second novel “The Next Stop”, a psychological thriller taking place in a metro carriage right here in Brussels, is already finished in Greek and its English translation is also 95% done. Now I am working on my third nail-biting thriller in Greek: the story of a female archaeologist who gets entangled in the dark Mafia underworld of selling looted antiquities and pieces of stolen art. The story is linked to some antiquities snatched by the Taliban during the Kabul Museum raid back in Afghanistan in 1992. .

Several short stories of mine in Greek have been published on the web and in Greek literary magazines (links in Greek, here, here and here). One of them has been selected by a Greek publisher from more than a thousand submissions to an open short story competition with the theme: “On the edge”.

Another short story of mine in English about the Greek financial crisis has been selected to be published in an anthology of English speaking/writing writers who live here in Brussels, Belgium. So, all in all, not a dull moment!

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

There are and have been so many amazing authors from earliest times to the present day that it is unfair to pick out “favourites” as such. I could just mention Stieg Larsson for his amazing thrillers; he never ceases to amaze me as to how aware he was of the IT technology of his era and how cleverly he used all of that in his thrillers. Also the choice of outcast and provocative characters by John Irving and his eccentric, vivid, almost Dickensian protagonists. The beautiful flawless writing style of Jodi Picoult. The identity-defining novels of Luigi Pirandello.

Being of Greek origin, authors such as Odysseas Elytis, the Poetry Nobel Prize winner, and Nikos Kazantzakis with his constant metaphysical and existential concerns had a great impact on me. But there are no favourites, really. Each influenced me in different ways, be it in terms of writing style, pace, plots, characters, scenes or imagery.

Nikos Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis

 

 

Odysseas Elytis

Odysseas Elytis

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

I remember one evening a BWC member bringing a chapter from a very renowned bestselling author, presenting it as their own and asking for members’ feedback. While the overall critique was favourable, there was a lot of individual criticism on certain aspects of the writing and the presentation of the story. In the end our member of course revealed the identity of the true author and we all had a great laugh! This story proves once more that all is subjective and fluid in reading and writing and that there is not really one single golden rule!

What do you get out of the group?

Most of all, kind advice, support and friendship. The fact that it is a group composed of Brussels English-speaking ex-pats like me, gives us the opportunity to befriend and connect with like-minded people. To exchange views not only on writing and literature, but also on social, cultural and personal issues and interests which make life what it is.

Meet the Circle: Kevin Dwyer

Warning: this man is dangerous around bacon

Warning: this man is dangerous around bacon

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 Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Kevin Dwyer who has been living in Belgium since 1988 and has been actively writing fiction since about 1995, initially as a form of procrastination while doing his doctoral research on food and film. He teaches American Studies at the Université d’Artois in northern France. He has also been busy ably chairing the BWC’s Thursday evening meetings since the start of this year.

When did you join the group?

I first inquired and joined the BWC mailing list via this fine blog in the summer of 2013 and attended my first actual Circle meeting at the (now defunct) Falstaff venue the following September.

What were your first impressions of the group?

Coming to join a group of strangers is not an easy thing to do, and even more so in this case as it represented for me a public “coming out” as a writer. Up to that point only a few of my friends and acquaintances knew about my writing activity. I approached the meeting with much trepidation, but soon found a group of generally friendly, and at times quirky, people who were truly interested in the writing process, and who were eager to discuss and offer advice about my writing projects. One thing that never ceases to amaze me, and this remains true for new members who are continually joining, is the high level of almost palpable intelligence and acumen emanating from the group.

I read my first piece to the group a few weeks later, with shaky voice and trembling hand. I sipped my beer with much foreboding, watching my document get thoroughly scribbled over by those around the table, but I was quickly comforted and encouraged by the reactions. Members are for the most part generous and kind with their remarks. Some claim that we are too nice to each other and would prefer more tough love, but I think it is better to err on the side of kindness, and take what you can from the comments.

What are you currently working on?

After a few months of attending meetings and occasionally reading out stories that I had already written, I finally committed to writing a novel based on my interest in food and eating, on which I have already published quite a bit of non-fiction. My story takes place mainly in the present-to-near future and deals with the relationship between a brother and a sister who are evolving in a society where being overweight and eating fat have become taboo. The current working title is “Bodily States” and it amounts to a critique of current attitudes to food, eating and body perception, and includes bodies smeared with Nutella and Lucky Charms, fasting women in hanging cages, and sex with bacon! I do not quite have a complete first draft yet, but I am getting there, thanks in large part to the motivation and encouragement provided by the group.

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

I’m afraid to say that my taste in “literature” does not include many of the classics, and I find myself reading a lot of popular fiction, history and biographies, mainly of Hollywood film stars. If I am trying to emulate any writers or style of writing, I would have to mention Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, and Edgar Allen Poe, when I’m feeling pretentious.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

I suppose that the most memorable moments involve unexpected happenings. During one quite ordinary session, the waiters started bringing us surprising quantities of food and drink. While we tried to stammer out that there must be some mistake, they insisted that there was plenty more on the way. Little did we know that one of the people in the group had the idea of turning the writers’ meeting into a birthday party! We all gladly obliged, and managed to carry on proceedings at the same time, although the usual meeting protocol was thrown to the wind. We straggled out at midnight onto the mundane Brussels street, all the happier for the surprising evening of creativity and fun. I have since been to a number of parties thrown by Circle members, and they certainly know how to do it!

What do you get out of the group?

Much more than I ever expected, especially from a social point of view, but it really comes down to the writing, and it is certainly the week-after-week kindness, motivation and encouragement from the group that not only keeps me coming back, but that also keeps me writing.

Meet the Circle: Tino Chibebe

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 Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

TinoBlogPhotoThis week we will hear from Tinotenda Chibebe. Tino is a 20-year-old student entrepreneur, born in Harare, Zimbabwe. He is currently the Digital Brand Manager at clothing brand, Sight, and a writer. He is studying Biochemical Engineering at the University of Leuven in Belgium. His interests include poetry, prose, technology, film, music and fashion.

When did you join the group?

I joined the group in October 2014.

What were your first impressions of the group?

The Circle was lovely. Everyone was welcoming and open. My young age, which I thought was going to be an issue wasn’t a problem at all. I seemed to seemlessly fit into the conversations because writers understand each other. To other people we might sound a  bit alien though.

Drake in cartoon format

Drake in cartoon format

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I am a contributor for www.greenlabel.com which is a Rap-centric art website and movement. I am also working on an allegory of Zimbabwe’s past, present and imagined future. It’s a George Orwell-esque novel which I am writing with a very close friend of mine, Tafadzwa Kufazvinei. We’ve given ourselves 8 years to drop this masterpiece.

 

 

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

Franz Kafka, Chinua Achebe and micro-bloggers, Lev Novak and Joao Matthews.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis is beautifully insane. He made something so strange into something so normal. That’s art and I feel that’s how writers and artists should aim manoeuvre at some point in their career, that is, “make light of what’s heavy”.

Achebe’s “There Was a Country” changed the way I think of myself, the world and matter in general. It made me question the term “it’s human to…” . That is, what is “being human”? If a human being can hack another to pieces with a machete all becuase they are “different” then what is “human”? This question inspires a lot of my poetry and is a big part of my novel that is yet to be actually written and given a name. We aren’t as good as we’d like to think.

As for the micro bloggers, their tweets are amazing. 140 characters and yet they say so much.

Jay Z also looking uncommonly cartoonish

Jay Z also looking uncommonly cartoonish

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

“You have made me think about and want to listen to rap music now.”

This quote was on a Rap and Hip-Hop piece that I was writing for my blog which the BWC helped me edit and it has stuck with me ever since. It makes me believe that I have what these people would like to call “talent”.

What do you get out of the group?

New ways of looking at things and new ways of writing. Apart from that, the people are lovely. Not a lot of people my age can say they have 40+ year old friends but I can.

Meet the Circle: Todd Arkenberg

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 every 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 Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Chicagoan Todd Arkenberg, who’s a relative newbie to the group, and therefore in a good position to give you a taste of what it’s like for fresh members.

Todd Arkenberg

BWC member Todd Arkenberg

When did you join the group?

I joined BWC in January 2014, the very month my spouse Jim and I relocated to Brussels.

What were your first impressions of the group?

I formed my first impression of BWC back in Chicago. Deeply involved with Chicago’s two oldest writers workshops, I searched the Internet for a group in Brussels to ease the transition into our new home. The website was robust – great information on the group and welcoming to newcomers. Three weekly sessions impressed me as a sign of serious writers committed to their craft. A prompt reply to my inquiry was a bonus.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on several projects in various draft stages. I self published my first novel, Final Descent shortly before leaving Chicago. Promotion efforts are complicated by our relocation. A second novel, JELL-O With Jackie O. is in its fourth draft with an aim of publishing in fall, 2014. I expect to publish a third novel, None Shall Sleep, in 2015, having just completed an initial draft. A fourth project, a memoir, is in very early stages of development.

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

I was an English Literature major in college, focusing on the nineteenth century. While Hardy, Dickens and Austen fed my desire to write, modern readers have different tastes. Current literary mentors include John Irving, Alice Munro and Ian McEwan. They fill stories with rich characters, people with whom contemporary readers can identify. Alice Munro teaches me an economy of storytelling. Her short stories offer brilliant lessons in crafting works complete with mood and feelings using few words. As a writer of long fiction, I’m always looking for ways to economize on words without compromising impact. That’s something with which, I think, all writers struggle. Now and then, I still grab a Classic but consider it a decadent treat like a waffle smothered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

I’m racking my brain to find my most memorable moment. Perhaps I haven’t been involved with the group long enough to distinguish memorable from routine. I enjoy the diversity of members and the amazing quality of the writing. I’m impressed with those for whom English is a second or even third language. I struggle every day to write in my native tongue, grasping for the right word. I can’t imagine writing in another language. Perhaps the surprising richness of the non-English native speakers is most noteworthy.

What do you get out of the group?

BWC offers a comfortable, supportive forum in which to hone writing skills. The workshop format, whether I read or critique, makes me a better writer. From a wide variety of styles and genres, I learn what works. I applied group feedback to strengthen a piece, offered for critique. By definition, there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ reader perceptions. Discussions help decipher how writing affects readers’ minds, a key to all good writing. BWC also offers camaraderie. I’ve formed friendships with many members that helped me ease into my new life in Brussels.

 

Meet the Circle: Simon Boylan

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 every 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 Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Irish born-and-bred-but-now-Brussels-based Simon Boylan.

Simon Boylan

When did you join the group?
I’ve been in Brussels since 2010 but I only joined the group last summer. I decided it was time to start taking my writing more seriously.

What were your first impressions of the group?
I found it very welcoming. I must admit I was very nervous the first time I read out but the feedback was extremely encouraging. Any criticism I have received has been very constructive and helpful.

What are you currently working on?
I’m currently bashing away at the second draft of my first novel, The Hard Road. It’s a crime/mystery novel set in Ireland.

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?
I was an obsessive Fantasy reader as a kid. Tolkien, Feist and the like. I think I may be one of the few people to have read The Silmarillion at age thirteen and loved it.

Once I left school I started reading anything and everything. Novels that have stood out for me are 1984 by Orwell, Norwegian Wood by Murakami, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’Brien, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger and I could go on but this is supposed to be a short interview…

… Okay one more thing. The author that has had the biggest influence on me in recent years is David Mitchell. Anyone who has read Cloud Atlas will be familiar with his beautiful use of language and ability to give a unique and convincing voice to a wide range of characters but for me his best work is Black Swan Green, a truly mesmerising bildungsroman about a teenager with a stutter. It’s magical.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?
I think my favourite moments are probably not printable! There was a moment when I knew that my Irishness was starting to rub off on some of you when I heard Julien using the word “shite” in the group. Not to describe someone’s work of course. That wouldn’t be very constructive.

What do you get out of the group?
It has definitely made me a better writer. Receiving regular feedback on your work helps you to realise what works and what doesn’t, what your strengths are, what you need to pay attention to, etc. I have made some really good friends through the experience as well.

Meet the Circle: Robert Grandcourt

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 every 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 Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from the inimitable Robert Grandcourt. By way of introduction, Robert says: “Growing up on the island of Praslin in the Seychelles, my mind took me on wonderful journeys beyond the horizon. Ever since, I have wandered from one country to another and from one continent to the next, each time aiming for the highest peak. Having settled down in Belgium and the Seychelles, my wandering mind is now navigating through a sea of words towards a novel world.”

Robert Grandcourt… navigating a sea of words

When did you join the group?

In 2002.

What were your first impressions of the group?

Besides meeting in a dilapidated place, the BWG as it was then known consisted of two incompatible factions: a serious and ambitious one and an amateur one. The latter faction moved into our present and more pleasant location to create what we now call the Brussels Writers Circle.

What are you currently working on?

An historical novel set in my country, the Seychelles, which started as a family history and turned into a never-ending saga. I have so much fun with my characters that I’m reluctant to let them go.

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Amin Maalouf and Chinua Achebe.

As a pioneer of historical fiction, Dumas, the prolific French writer of slave origin, democratised literature with his unique style of story telling. His descriptions and metaphors are so powerful. Images such as that of Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo) bringing the fully-clothed Pharaon into port with the ensign at half mast lingers in one’s mind for life.

Dickens, like his French contemporary Dumas, was sensitive to the injustices of his time. How can a creative person be indifferent to the metaphor of children, in Hard Times, as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge? “Teach these girls and boys nothing but facts… Plant nothing else and root out everything else.”

Although not as prolific, because of his early death and involvement in the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell was to the 20th Century what Dickens was to the previous one. He challenged the established order and warned us of the consequences of the abuse of power facilitated by modern technology. Today, Orwellian eyes are watching us; newspeak such as collateral damage, terrorist, neutralise, downsize, rendition… have entered the English language without us batting an eyelid.

When the Lebanese writer Maalouf takes one on a journey in time and space, be it from 16th Century Andalusia to Rome via the Sahara Dessert (Leon the African) or to 11th Century Samargand, one feels having been there with Omar Khayyam.

Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a milestone in literature as it is the first novel to give an African perspective of Colonialism written by someone who has been colonised. He has encouraged me to write about what I know best: my country of birth and its history.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

Sometimes when the BWC meets, I wonder whether the most interesting characters are not ourselves. On a sad note, I often think of one our members, who wrote so well about her eventful life and lost her fight against cancer before she could make the changes to her book requested by her agent to have it published.

What do you get out of the group?

After working for rigid organisations, I like belonging to a creative group where rules and obligations are minimal. Most of all, I enjoy the creativity, diversity, joviality and the constant support of other members.

Meet the Circle: David Ellard

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 every week to share our scrawlings with one another.

In this new segment, ‘Meet the Circle’, we will 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 David Ellard, current chairperson of the BWC, about his current projects, his history with the group, and what he gets out of it.

David Ellard, BWC Chairman

When did you join the group?

Way back in about 2002, so long ago it’s a bit lost in the mists of time!

What were your first impressions of the group?

I was a bit intimidated at first; I remember how serious everyone was. Things have loosened up a bit since and now it’s one of the mainstays of my life in Brussels!

What are you currently working on?

Mostly my sci-fi novel ‘In Search of Y’, although I wrote a sort of psychological short story last year (with considerable help from the Circle) which I’m planning to rewrite and then try and enter for writing competitions.

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

My favourite novels are Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Woolfe and First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. If I can do anything approaching those, I’ll be happy.

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of classic sci-fi from the likes of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, John Wyndham, etc. However, I don’t generally think sci-fi writers pay enough attention to description, styling or characterisation. I suppose my current writing ambition is to combine the subject matter of the sci-fi authors of my late childhood with the literary style and quality of my general literature faves above.

We’ll see how that goes!

Do you have a memorable moment from a BWC meeting that you could share?

I’m very shallow. Once we had a new, fresh-faced and very beautiful new member. I read out a chapter I had been working on for a long time and she liked it.

What do you get out of the group?

Many things. Inspiration, firstly. Motivation, because telling people I’m going to read out forces me to write the bloody thing. Education, because you never stop learning from other people. And just having a great time with really interesting people.