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.

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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.