Cruel Spring, Cruel Summer!

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By Cynthia C. Huijgens

After enduring months of lockdown and with on-going travel restrictions, you might be feeling nostalgic like me. Pining for familiar things, procrasti-baking, and singing old pop tunes like that summer hit of 1983 by English girl band Bananarama. You remember: “It’s a cruel, cruel summer, leaving me here on my own…It’s a cruel, it’s a cruel, summer…”

And why not have a gloomy outlook? Many experts are forecasting a second wave of Covid-19 infection that could signal a return of those dreaded lockdown restrictions. “I sit around, trying to smile but the air is so heavy and dry…” Yah, those lyrics are looping through my head.

But maybe you’re nostalgia doesn’t stretch so far back. Maybe you’ve got Taylor Swift’s 2019 chart topping hit of the same name piercing your post-Covid thoughts? “Fever dream high, in the quiet of the night, you know that I caught it.” It’s almost scary isn’t it? Things that once made you want to pull your hair out have come to represent something else, a mental escape. Who could have predicted such a cruel spring, and now a cruel summer? “Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes, what doesn’t kill me…” Okay, enough of pop lyrics.

The threat of Covid-19 remains real and we need to play safe this summer if we are to ride our way through it. The infection continues to disrupt our daily lives in myriad ways and many of us won’t be back to BWC and Maison des Crepes until things are more settled.  Instead of singing schlocky 80s pop songs, I suggest a return to writing may be our greatest escape? 

I polled a number of BWC members and asked them to share where they spent lockdown, how they coped with the restrictions, and how the lockdown enabled or disabled their creative writing process.  Here’s what they had to say:

“I have been in my home in Brussels. The lockdown has been an enabling force for my writing and I have been very focused and productive. Ceasing my social activities, and not having to prepare and commute to work has created additional time for me to write, read and contemplate. I will finish the first draft of a manuscript in the coming weeks and get started on a novel, the idea of which has been lingering in my mind for a long time.  I have also written short stories and am preparing an Amazon publication of my novel ‘She, the island’, which went out in Bulgaria in 2017.  I guess all of this will keep me busy to the end of the year!””

“I sheltered in my apartment in Brussels with my boyfriend and cat.  Being cooped-up was a challenge for me as it sapped my ability to concentrate.  Also, allowing work and study to invade the physical space where I usually write was counterproductive. My goal is to write five new chapters before the end of the year.”

“I sheltered in a two bedroom apartment with my wife and two-year old daughter. My wife and I split childcare during the day, allowing each of us to get about a half-a-day’s work in. I wrote perhaps twenty fragmentary lines of poetry – not finished pieces – and nothing in my personal diary. That journal writing seems the most urgent to catch-up with.  My plan for the year is to collect the last ten years of work into a collection that I can share with my writing contacts. I want to submit more pieces than I usually do. And then, I have absolutely no idea what is ahead for my writing.”

“I was locked at home in the Matongue Quartier of Brussels in a house without a garden. I passed from writing in the evenings to writing in the early morning. The first few days I wrote a few short stories and later on I turned my focus to writing in my diary. Work became very intense with too many videoconferences.  I decided to change for a while to handwriting with, I think, successful results. I will put my diary in order for possible publication. Also, I would like to write a couple text on a different subject to ‘clean the brain’ of the many reflections about the pandemic.”

“I’m keeping inside unless I have a good reason to go out. We’re privileged in our big flat with only two cats to take care of. I’ve had some time to rethink how I want to handle my writing in terms of representation/publishing, and decided to have my manuscript copy-edited, but first perhaps a manuscript assessment. I’m currently taking part in Jericho’s online Summer Festival of Writing and absolutely loving it.”

“The crisis reached me in Detroit, Michigan on 11th of March while attending an international conference on Human Resources. Flights were stopped and it took me at least 10 days before I could return to Brussels. Being the responsible European Commission person for corporate teleworking (telecommuting) rules, I was landed with an incredibly arduous task: trying to accommodate some 30,000 expats working in Brussels, Luxembourg and 7 other sites across different European countries- each one with his/her own family problem, all looking for some sort of quick solution, amidst quarantine laws, sick elderly parents, living afar from spouse and children, transport between countries blocked, staff having family sometimes affected by the virus. Anyhow, we managed thanks to my dedicated team but it was an experience I would really not wish on anybody. As you can imagine, this affected my whole life profoundly including my writing practice, which since then has been practically non-existent.

Something worth celebrating: the English translation of my second novel was published in the UK at the end of April but sadly I haven’t had the time nor energy to promote it. I do hope in the next couple of months to catch up with this as a priority. Lastly, I sent a short story written long before the crisis to a UNESCO competition in Greece (deadline for submissions: 20th of July). I do hope to go back to some writing in the next couple of months, but it will all depend on how the crisis evolves.”

Thanks to Mimi Kunz, Xavier Queipo, Irina Papancheva, Ross Noble, Karmen Spiljak, Dimitris Politis and M.E. Grey for their contributions. BWC continues to meet via Zoom on Thursdays and on Tuesdays throughout the summer in Brussels parks and outdoor spaces.  I’ll leave you with this: “It’s a cruel, cruel summer, leaving me here on my own…It’s a cruel, it’s a cruel, summer…” Stay safe out there!

Weekly BWC Tuesday Workshop On Hold

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Dear BWC-ers,

With everyone’s health, safety, and wellbeing in mind, we will be putting the weekly Tuesday workshop on hold given the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ll let you know when we’ll be resuming the workshop. After the Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès announced the closing of schools bars, and restaurants last night, we’re hoping to resume the workshop in April when bars and restaurant will be open again.

If you signed up as a reader or contacted us about signing up, we will be in touch with you about it.

Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Take care and stay safe,
Claire & Anastasia

Brussels Writers’ Circle launches new anthology at three Brussels events

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The Circle 19: a Brussels Anthology is the third collection to mine the talent of the Brussels Writers’ Circle. It showcases twenty-seven writers representing fourteen countries. Some of the award winning authors included in The Circle 19: a Brussels Anthology are: Patrick ten Brink (Germany), TD Arkenberg (USA), Irina Papancheva (Bulgaria), Niamh Moroney (Ireland), Xavier Quiepo (Spain), and Teodora Lalova (Bulgaria).

If you like science fiction, you’ll love Zoheb Mashiur’s Brand New Me or Karmen Spiljak’s The Collectors. Romance? Check out Katja Knezveic’s The Dinner. If you’re a fan of historical fiction or contemporary poetry, you should definitely read Larisa Doctorow’s The Immortal Regiment, or ME Grey’s Impact Pathway Metric.

Please join members and friends of the Brussels Writers’ Circle to celebrate this latest literary project at one of these upcoming events:

26 November, 17:30 – 19:00, Waterstone’s Bookshop, Boulevard Adolphe Maxlaan 71-7 (Facebook event);

30 November, 19:00 – 21:00, Muntpunt Grand Café, Leopoldsraat 2 (Facebook event);

14 December, 19:00 – 21:00, Are We Europe, Boulevard Barthélémy 20.

To request wholesale copies of The Circle 19: a Brussels Anthology for your store, please contact Cynthia Huijgens at +32 (0) 470 326335. For more information about any of the above events, please email your query to bwcsubmission@gmail.com.

Thank you for supporting Brussels-based writers!

Brussels Writers’ Circle Retreat 2018

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

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

Workshop on creative brain

You have the right to be un-focused.

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

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

Writers creating micro fiction

Making every word count

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

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

Writers' workshop on dialogue

Add a pinch of drama

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

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

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

Meet the Circle: Barbara Mariani

 

Barbara Mariani

Barbara Mariani

The members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle are a varied bunch. Prose writers, poets, playwrights, memoirists, screenwriters, we sweep in from all different occupations and locations twice a week to share our work with one another.In ‘Meet the Circle’, we introduce you to some of our members, hopefully providing an insight into who we are, what we do and what we think about Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Barbara Mariani, our Thursday evening sessions’ co-chair. Barbara is Italian but a happy resident outside her own country. Brussels has brought her back to her university literary interests, which she left aside too long to dedicate herself to what she thought was a more promising profession in environmental policies and public affairs. She is an enthusiast reader of literary fiction, the only fiction she is really passionate about, and has decided to write her first novel in English.

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

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

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

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

book cover by marquez

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

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

2017 BWC WRITER’S RETREAT

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.

retreat 1

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.

retreat 2

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!

retreat 4

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.

retreat 3

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!

Anthology 1 Book Launch!

“Hereby I summon all the scribes of the world…”  –Ocean Smets

On Thursday, September 29th, 2016, the Brussels Writers’ Circle held the launch of Circle of Words: Anthology 1 a collection of short writings by members of the BWC.  Hosted by Waterstones Books in the heart of Brussels, guests enjoyed wine and cheese (oh, yes, and pretzels, cake, and chocolate), and despite the weather turning rainy and cold, so many people turned out that the reading room was overflowing, and latecomers had to stand and listen from around the corner.  The Circle of Words is on sale in Waterstones Brussels, can also be bought from Circle of Words – Harvard Square Editions, and is available as Kindle version via Amazon.

Seven of the contributors to Antho 1 read excerpts from their pieces, and here is what we learned.

  • Patrick ten Brink hinted that sometimes a tattoo is more than just a tattoo, in The Birdman.
  • Sarah Harris gave voice to the oaks in The Legacy.  Asked “How long have you been here?” they answer “All the time. “
  • Klavs Skovsholm introduced us to Robert, the power-walking rat in Paper Angel, and asks “What’s sentimental about a rat’s life?” Then he shows us that some things in the gutter glitter, so the answer might be: everything.
  • Ciprian Begu knocked the ground out from under our feet with his flash fiction piece, Picnic on the White Cliff.  The dangers around the Carpathian waters near Transylvania are not what you might expect.
  • Barbara Mariani described Antonio’s Room for us, which includes a bookshelf made from a boat, and a mysterious photo of Marcelo Mastroianni.
  • Larisa Doctorow evoked the passion and loss of Orpheus, through her husband’s expert reading to us about crystal songs and shrieking furies.
  • Claire Davenport read a chapter from The Long Way to You on families and values (and the mysterious reference to the Phallus Impudicus).

 

After the readings, everyone chatted with the authors, bought books, had one last glass, and headed out into the night, hopefully to write.  Because, as Kevin Ireland says, “our planet is chockablock with…writers.”

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The Brussels Writers’ Circle is a group for English language writers young and old from across the continents, writing across all genres.

BWC meets Tuesday & Thursday at 7pm in La Maison des Crêpes,  Rue du Midi 13. For more info, write us at Brusselswriterscircle at gmail.

PS!  We are now putting together Anthology 2!  Deadline to submit is end of November. Please send submissions to the BWC email and Patrick_ten_Brink at yahoo.