Janus and the Art of Procrastination

by Jackie West

Janus: Romanesque high-relief stone sculpture, in the Museo del Duomo, Ferrara, Italy.

Just write something on any topic to do with writing, any length, for the first week of January, was my brief.

So Janus sprang to mind, which he rarely does but it is January, and he strikes me as the right kind of deity to personify a writer’s dilemma. Looking forward and backward at the same time, this Roman god not only personifies the month of January, he is also the god of openings, the animistic spirit of gates, archways, thresholds and new beginnings, of the day, month, year, farming seasons, and of endings. 

Writers are often caught between two contradictory impulses: the impulse to create, engage, look inwards and forwards. And the impulse that pulls them back: everyday life, the demands of family, home, health, money, the news, social media, engaging with the world. To say nothing of that critical inner voice that might be telling them they’re just imposters in the world of Literature.

This writerly gem from Dashiell Hammett makes me smile:

“I decided to become a writer. It was a good idea. Having had no experience whatever in writing, except writing letters and reports, I wasn’t handicapped by exaggerated notions of the difficulties ahead.”

Happily, or not as the case may be, many many experts are ready and willing to relieve us writers of the agonising stasis between these competing impulses. Mentors, gurus, consultants, courses, workshops and how-to-write books…an entire new industry dedicated to setting our timorous muses free, if we have the time and, more importantly, the means to let them. Having followed one or two over the last few years, I can say that some of them are really inspiring, but… you know how the adage goes, with horses and water.

The more we learn from this industry about writing, the more the whole process can lend itself to classic binary notions of good and bad, true and false, black and white – from writerly lifestyle methods to the craft itself.

Experienced writers might say that they are either a plotter or a pantser, but whichever way we set about it, we should remember that the crux of most stories is how far the characters exist in opposition to one another and how far the action plays out in opposition to the characters’ desires. And that we read for two reasons, to find out what the author is telling us and not telling us; the telling of a secret and the keeping of a secret.

On method, some writers swear by monastic early morning solitude and silence, aiming for 1,000 words before breakfast. Others can only write in busy cafés or bars or in the company of other writers, and just need to get out of the house.

Contradictory impulses can be a recipe for procrastination, which itself is just a way of delaying what we fear is going to be less than perfect.

I’m a terrible procrastinator and have wasted too much time trying to ‘save’ myself time by plotting out the chapters of my second novel instead of just writing it, i.e. turn myself into a plotter rather than a pantser – one of the black and white categories I do recognise. I haven’t found the optimal time or place to write, it just has to be somewhere quiet with a desk, a pen and preferably lined paper. Then I type up and revise the hurried longhand while I can still read it.

After an inspiring writers’ retreat in Yorkshire back in 2018, I wrote my first novel following the seat-of-the-pants method, running into turbulence, cruising at low altitudes, soaring, dive-bombing, flying and finally landing last year. That whole trip (I’m not going to use the word journey) might be the subject of another blog, but I hope I’ll get there a bit quicker with the second one.

So I look for somebody who will set me a deadline or set one myself (a bit less convincing) because the great thing about a deadline is the certainty it gives you of not having enough time to make it as good as you’d like it to be. You produce something. By March 21st, this year I will have written the first three chapters of my second novel! There, it’s a commitment now.

I guess all I’d like to say here is that if, like me, you’re stalling at a how shall I tackle this one hurdle, aim no higher than setting aside some time with a blank page or a screen, and see what happens. You might manage a scene, a rough plot, a random observation, a snippet of conversation, whatever intrigues. Just get out of your own way, is how one wise writer put it.

Here’s the advice of another:

‘You write what you write, and then either it holds up or it doesn’t hold up. There are no rules.’ – Jamaica Kincaid.

Wishing you all much peace, courage, joy and (divine) inspiration in your writing this year!

_____________

Thank you to Fintan O’Higgins for introducing me to the Brussels Writers’ Circle. I look forward to meeting some of you in person soon and to hearing about your writing journeys (dammit… couldn’t catch that cliché in the end).

My first novel, Shade of Violet, can be found here in the UK or in Brussels at Filigranes or Waterstones.

The Crooked Road to Publication

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by Martin R. Jones

My novel, The Crooked Road Back, had its genesis in a novel set in Borneo in the 1920’s. After struggling to make it work I decided to chop off the opening chapters, alter the plot and relocate the action to Malta in 1930 (which, by the way means I still have half a manuscript about Borneo so if any one has the opening of a novel set in that neck of the woods in 1923 I’m happy to collaborate).

I wrote the book over a period of about 18 months and presented almost every chapter to the BWC whose advice and constructive criticism helped hammer it into shape. After the fourth (or maybe fifth) draft I had something I was sufficiently happy with to submit to agents. Several months later I had enough rejections to paper the smallest room in the house. It seems that historical novels, bar Regency romances, the Tudors or anything featuring a Nazi or two lurking somewhere in the undergrowth, are a hard sell. Not a lesson learned as it happened. I still think you have to write about the things that interest/move you rather than kowtow to the prejudices of the industry. Anyway, I more or less gave up on The Crooked Road Back and embarked on another book. Then a stroke of luck. Alex Vella Gera, a BWC member and a published author in Malta asked to read the manuscript. On the basis of this he was kind enough tp propose it to Maltese publisher Horizons. They decided to take it on.

After coming to terms, which also took in such aspects as marketing and distribution, the whole process lasted about 5 months. Which is probably quicker than usual but the publisher wanted the book available for the Malta Book Fair at the end of November.

The first stage was a structural /content edit which proposed certain changes for my approval or rejection and which meant rereading the MS for the first time in over a year – not always a comfortable experience as in ‘did I actually write that? I was then sent the draft revised version for my approval which also allowed me to propose some additional changes.

When that version was mutually agreed there was a further proofread to double-check things like punctuation/spelling and so on Then came the design of the book involving agreement on font size and style, formatting, paragraphing, chapters etc. The publisher then sent the draft formatted version which I had to read again. To be honest by now the process becomes a bit of a grind, the words on the page beginning to blur. Again, I was able to propose one or two minor changes, including shifting one chapter.

Then came the cover design. They asked me for my input and I sent them some ideas, for example my preferred colour palette, style and so on. I gave them some ideas and sent them images of other covers which I rather liked. A couple of weeks later I saw their proposed design. I must admit it wasn’t quite what I was expecting but I think, works better than the ideas I had. We had to alter some of the wording on the back cover but all-in-all, a painless process.

Then, aaargh, a final proofread and we were ready to go!

During the whole process the publishers couldn’t have been kinder or more helpful. Patient too, I did wonder if at times they thought they were dealing with a borderline imbecile.

I suppose the takeaway from this is that don’t despair. If you have struggled to find an agent, and that includes 99% of writers whatever their talent, there are alternative routes. Small independent publishers still exist despite the efforts of the big publishing houses to gobble them up. And you know what? They actually care. So, good luck. And don’t give up!

If you want to see the final product, it is here: Martin R Jones, The Crooked Road Back

Claw

A short story by Tom Morgan

Freedom!

The thrill of anonymity crackled through JanJanssens’ chest. He pulled down his hunting cap and nestled his chin deeper into his college scarf that smelt of cigarettes even though he’d quit six years ago.

Head down, he elbowed through the turnstile and shunted onto the escalator. Down into the bowels of the metro. Down where no-one knew who he was.

Here he was invisible. Here he was free.

Janstepped onto the platform. Stale air belched into his face, the stench of dust and dogs and discarded dinners peppered his throat. Beside him, behind him dozens of sweaty commuters glared at phones. They saw no-one, heard no-one.

Jan saw and heard them all.

He would rather be here than at a Hollywood gala, than at a premiere or a Sunset Strip restaurant. It was only here, deep in the Brussels metro, overdressed and masked, that nobody recognised him. No selfies. No autographs. No shouts of “Hey, it’s the Claw!” or “Hey, Super Claw, save me from the OctoFiend!”

Everywhere he went. Always.

He was a serious actor. He swore he’d only do the one superhero film. But SuperClaw had catapulted him onto the world stage. Claw II had bought the LA penthouse. And then he had III to thank for his Academy award. The gift that kept on giving. Jan snarled into his scarf. His pants itched, his armpits tickled.

He jiggled his arms, stretched his legs. He could feel the slippery, satiny material of his Claw costume against his skin. Every time he had a new role he would come back home to Brussels and wander incognito through the metro wearing his superhero suit, sweating. It was his Method, as the Hollywood webzines called it. Getting back into the character. Becoming the Claw one more time. Believing it.

“I am the Claw”, he muttered into his scarf. “I am here to save humanity.”

The satiny plum-coloured Claw suit lay hidden beneath his crumpled jeans and thick sweater. He pulled his raincoat tighter over his chest. The fraying gabardine with the hole around the second button. He grimaced again.

“The hole where Anna shot me through the heart”, he whispered bitterly to himself.

“Anna”, he whined in his silent monologue, “why, for god’s sake? And for him!”

Billy Jones. His so-called friend. His so-called co-star. His rival. His nemesis. Billy Jones, the Silver Bullet. It would only be a bit part, they’d said. Just for Claw II, they’d said. A one-off. And then the kids had loved him, with his comic-book smile and his stupid shiny silver costume. And then he’d won Best Supporting Actor. And he was here to stay.

And then Jan had got that e-mail from Anna. An e-mail for god’s sake! After three years. His forehead burned. He hadn’t deserved that. And now he had to see them together…

A shriek ripped through the station.

The cry of terror uprooted all eyes from GSMs. They were all suddenly aware of each other. And the man at the end of the platform waving and shouting.

“My baby!”

He shook an empty pushchair and screamed incoherently. Dozens of eyes followed his frantic gaze. A bundle of cherry-red puffiness was crawling over the tracks. A toddler’s head, oblivious to the shouts from above, peeped out one end.

A gust of wind whistled through the tunnel. A grimy yellow light and a chuntering growl followed. In seconds, the metro would be hurtling into the station.

The red-coated toddler pricked up its ears. The father wailed. Blood hammered through Jan’s head. He closed his eyes. He tasted fear. He scratched at his sweating cheeks. He hesitated.

“But I am the Claw”, he said out loud. “I can. I must”.

He stepped back, ripped off his hat and scarf, struggled to wrench himself free of his sweater. He stood there in his bold, scarlet costume. He was the Claw.

“The Claw is here”, he bellowed, striding towards the platform edge.

Before him, a tall, muscular figure clad in a silver suit held the child triumphantly aloft. People cheered. The father wept for joy.

Tom Morgan

Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.

Tom was born in London 50 years ago, and has spent chapters of his life in Wales, Paris, Luxembourg and Spain.

He has always written because he loves writing but, until now, he was too busy bringing up children, having a career and any number of other excuses. The pandemic changed all that.

He currently lives in Belgium where he is a dull civil servant by day and a writer and comedian through the long winter evenings. He has written a collection of short stories and a novel.

Tom has three kids. He just got married again. He is happy. This story is dedicated to the City of Stories festival.

An Easy Ride Home

by Giorgia Pavlidou

Uber driver cancelled the moment he reached the customer.  

“Damn, I’m working tomorrow,” the customer said to his wife.

She squeezed her phone, swiping and tapping feverishly. Her fingers look red. Dark circles decorated her eyes.

“Already $200,” she said. “Should we try to take the bus to Union Station?”

“And from there?” husband snubbed her off. His irritability added weight to the woman’s fatigue.

She wanted to shout back. Didn’t. Bit her lips. Ate it.

“At least there we’ll have two options: Uber and the train.” The word “train” tensed up her stomach. Husband hated public transportation.

“Okay,” he sighed. Impatience gnawed at him.

The couple wriggled and zigzagged through the crowd.

“How come the airport in Mexico City is more efficient than LAX?” the man said. Trying to catch up with his wife, he puffed running after her. Why does she always need to walk so fast? 

At the bus stand a girl explained the Uber drivers were on strike for health care benefits.

“Okay,” the man said, “but where can we buy bus tickets?” He craved wine, snacks, Netflix. Holidays are so exhausting, he concluded, ignoring the girl.

“Use the app,” girl said. This time the man did the tapping on the phone. Looking intently at the little screen he mouthed a few unintelligible words.

“The bus is there,” his wife said.

“This damn app,” he hissed. When the bus doors opened and the driver exited shouting “Union Station” at the top of his voice, the man chuckled and puffed, “got them.”

In the bus the woman asked, “he didn’t check our tickets?” “Seems they don’t,” the man smiled. He looked more relaxed. At least they were moving. Thinking of his glass of wine comforted him.

After about 45 minutes they arrived. The driver screamed his lungs out: “validate your ticket if you want your luggage back!” He fits perfectly in this city, the woman thought.

“Validate?’’ she said. “Seems so.” A wrinkle appeared on the man’s forehead. If the wrinkle could speak it’d probably say, “what the hell?”

Eager to drink a glass or two, the man didn’t care about how weird all this was and volunteered to stand in line.

***

Thirty minutes fast forward and three hours after they landed, the woman moaned, “Uber keeps on cancelling.”

The man ground his teeth, sighed, and slapped the wall, hard. He went almost nuts craving his glass of wine, food, a movie. The woman couldn’t eat it anymore, yelled at him and left, brisk walking toward the platforms. “Taking the train,” she said without looking back. It was scorching hot that day. The man’s burning cranium had turned red.

He ran after her, reaching the ticket machines. There they seemed to be gesticulating, making faces, kicking at their luggage. When a police officer approached, they instantly calmed down.

Walking to the train the man tried to comfort his wife. A few tears rolled down her cheek. Possibly he apologized. The woman rested her head on his shoulder.

When they finally arrived at their seat in the train, a homeless man jumped up from the bench in front of them. He shouted at them, calling them little bitches and ran wildly out of the train.

An hour later they arrived. Should I order an Uber, the woman wondered.

She didn’t ask her husband. Instead she walked off, dragging her luggage behind her. Trying to keep up with his wife, the man compulsively thought about his glass of wine and his French fries.

Twenty-five minutes later and five hours after they landed at LAX, they arrived at their apartment. The man ran to the fridge and drank from the bottle. The woman locked herself in the bathroom. He had ordered food on the train. “Should arrive anytime,” he said to himself. He switched on the TV. A short while later, watching and munching, he had already forgotten that it took three hours to fly from Mexico City to LA, but five and a half to reach his home at about only fifty miles from the airport.

He related this story at work three years ago. We laughed. I wonder what happened to his wife.

———-

Giorgia Pavlidou is an American writer and painter intermittently living in Greece and the US. Her work is in CaesuraLotus-Eater, Zoetic Press, Maintenant Dada Journal, Unlikely Stories, The Room, Puerto del Sol, Thrice Fiction and Entropy. Ireland-based Strukturriss Magazine selected her as the main visual artist of their January 2022 issue 3.1. She’s an editor of SULΦUR literary magazine. Additionally, trainwreckpress.com published her chapbook inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel in 2021and Anvil Tongue Books launched her book of poems and paintings, “Haunted by the Living – Fed by the Dead,” May 2022. This piece is dedicated to the ‘City of Stories’ festival.

Travel in Civility

A short story Stephan Theo

Back in my Brussels days, my friends were from Germany, France, South America and Greece. Mostly ‘mixed’ like me, we shared common ground due to our differences. It made us the same, living in the same place. Ben, one of my childhood friends, is half Peruvian half German, living in Brussels like I used to.

I decided to sacrifice a few hours of sleep before packing to fly back home to Cyprus. I wanted to see Ben, since he was around when I was. The metro to Petillon took 15 minutes. I watched the green and grey, garden metal houses and far-away tall buildings go by as I tried to read my books. My mind kept wandering to what a long time it had been since Ben and I had chilled—more than four years. The tracks kept me in a trance-like state that formed my thoughts into sentences which I arranged in rhyme as best I could.

The city’s subway’s like a spiderweb underneath the ground,

A grid of synched energy we use to get around.

Sometimes we travel with our enemy or ones we don’t like

But nothing can compare to family or friend in life.

It feels I’ve been away a century since I came back,

Can’t remember much of anything about the tram tracks.

My country’s surrounded by Mediterranean waters

The bus system is pretty broken but the boats are in order.

In a country like Belgium, in a city like Brussels,

It’s got busses & metro, trains and bicycle paths.

I’m getting inspired ― a certain lifestyle of balance,

I can get from here to there without much on the bank.

I’m young so I still got my mama to thank… tuthtuthmhmhmum nah I got nothing else.

I got off at Volontaires and walked a few steps, and there was Ben in front of me when I looked up! We were really happy to see each other. Ben hadn’t changed much; he’s still a student. He told me Ben stuff about what happened while I was gone and what things are likely to come once I leave again. 

_____

Stephan Theo is a young entrepreneur, artist and ecologist looking to contribute to a good cause that will change the world for the better. He has written for Library Journal and Brussels Express; was interviewed in Culturescope on his children’s book Tuck-a-tuck Dragon, translated into French and Greek; co-wrote, -directed and acted in a short film Ne Pas Gaspiller that was a Finalist in the United Nations Short Food Movie contest; and acted in the feature film, Dog. ‘Travel in Civility’ is dedicated to the ‘City of Stories’ writers festival.

On the Move: Poems and Songs of Migration

by Sarah Reader Harris

What’s the point of poetry?

When I used to go round the refugee centre inviting people to a poetry workshop, I would often meet with incomprehension: ‘But how will that help me get my papers?’ When people’s lives are in turmoil and they are desperately trying to navigate their way through the confusion of red tape and piece together some sort of future for themselves and their families, how can poetry possibly be relevant?

And yet I remember once going to a talk given by a woman who had been taken hostage and imprisoned and she told us what kept her going was poetry. Lines of poetry that she remembered and would repeat to herself through the endless hours of torture and deprivation. When everything else had been stripped away, she held on to these poems in her head as pearls of great price that nobody could take from her. They gave her comfort and solace and the courage to carry on.

Twelve years ago I started organising poetry workshops in Petit-Château, the biggest and oldest refugee centre in Belgium. We would start off with a poem, originally in Dari or Arabic or Tigrinya, and see if it said anything to us today. We discovered Rumi that way. And Nizar Qabbani and Reesom Haile. And many, many more. Poets are greatly respected in the Middle East and nearly every Palestinian would smile at the name of Mahmoud Darwish as if I had mentioned a friend. The poems brought us together. Sometimes we didn’t understand them. Sometimes they generated a discussion. Sometimes they touched our hearts and we recognised something of ourselves in them. Often it was just seeing the letters of our own language on a page that made us feel less alone.

Music is a universal language

But we were limited by the constraints of our many mother tongues and Google Translate couldn’t do justice to the intricacies and nuances of what we wanted to say. And that was when I had the good fortune to meet Marieke, a talented singer and songwriter, who came along one wintry afternoon in 2017 with her ukulele, and added a whole new dimension to the project. By then I had decided poetry needed to breathe and moved my workshop from the classroom to the open air.  Every Monday, rain or shine, I stuck a large piece of brown paper on the wall and invited passers-by to create a poem with me.

Marieke’s music lifted these words from the page and made them sing. She would bring along percussion instruments and encourage everyone to join in, so that even the most reticent could participate. Music is a universal language which brings people together and transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries. Marieke not only brought music with her but also a whole new method of songwriting called Story to Song. This is a collaborative process, where a person is invited to share a story from their life which is then guided into a song. You can read more about this and our project on her website Migration Songs – Marieke is Guiding Song.

Last year we were honoured to be chosen as one of five finalists for the 2021 Amateo Award for arts participation projects across Europe for which we produced this video: On the Move: Poems and Songs of Migration [Amateo Award 2021]. There is also a podcast made about our work which you can find here.

Out of this fruitful partnership our book was born – On the Move: Poems and Songs of Migration – highlighting 27 songs from 18 different countries with lyrics in 11 languages. It’s illustrated with photographs and available in black and white and colour from all Amazon marketplaces. A portion of the proceeds from every sale will be donated to an organization that works with refugees. We are now working on a project for children about creatures on the move so will keep you posted!

Missing the Exit

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The recently published book of poems, Missing the Exit, by Michael Adubato, a former Brussels resident who can still be found milling about Sablon on occasion, takes readers on a journey brought to life through literary form.

The majority of his poems focus on the theme of travel as they were written during Adubato’s numerous trips around Europe, where he has lived most of his life, while some are his reflections on the time spent back home in New Jersey, USA.  One particular poem was written in a Dunkin’ Donuts in the city of Newark, where his ancestors settled during the great American migration of the 19th century. 

With a passion to write, Adubato is at his best when he can hit the roads, the rails and the skies, and scratch his itch to write and travel.  In one of his poems he says that, “Home is nice, but you cannot really live and learn and discover in a familiar and confined space.”  Considering his extensive travels, this does seem to be so, for this Mons based poet. 

He writes about what he sees during his travels, his experiences while sitting in a café, a bookstore, walking among the ruins of an ancient Greek city, or while flying at 35,000 feet above Earth.  By exploring the spaces without, he is inspired to mine the places within his interiority.

His free verse style depicts slices of everyday, ordinary life, which as such does not elevate him to some esoteric plane of poetry, but instead keeps him earth-bound and close to his reading audience.  His kitchen is the setting for a couple of his poems where he is seen, rather read, roasting up a Thanksgiving turkey and on another occasion “making waffles with maple syrup”, where he lives life in all its glorious simplicity, rather than merely contemplating it.

He writes about drinking Romanian wine, the country of Afghanistan, where he spent a few weeks, the passing of another year, and about reading Charles Bukowski, one of his favorite diversions.  The simplicity of Adubato’s poems effectively transports the reader into the scene depicted, one of Adubato’s gifts. 

His poetry also gives us his insights into society with commentary on world affairs, such as the horrors of the Syrian war. Overall, Adubato is perceptive without being overly analytical. He acts as an observer whose task is to state facts without aestheticizing them for art’s sake.

Missing the Exit gives the readers a glimpse into the poet’s life, enticing them to journey back to his poetic world time and again.  Adubato shows that missing the exit brings us “to a new destination”, and can be a good thing.   

Why can’t I publish my book in my first language?

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The Trouble with Kindle’s Fine Print

By Layla Sabourian

Saying Goodbye to Madar, a children’s book about loss & grief, now available in 5 languages!

Picture this:

After weeks of scrolling through articles, putting your work up for workshop, and tediously editing, you’ve finally done it. You’ve labored and huffed and stared so long at that Word document that your eyes have threatened to fall out of your head. But here you are, scrolling through BWC as the author of a full manuscript. You’ve finally stopped typing. No more markups with a red pen—no more late nights spent yawning, thinking Just one more paragraph… 

No more! Finally, your book is finished. Hooray! 

…What now?  

If you’re me (and you have a budget), you create a team of editors prepared to send off submission queries to every publisher on Earth that’s accepting unsolicited manuscripts. We’ve been researching agents and editors like mad! Spreadsheet after spreadsheet, query letter after query letter—the publishing industry is not for the faint of heart. I’ve received more rejections than I can count. 

After writing two books—over 200,000 words of my life—I was exhausted. Nobody wanted to give me the green light; I felt like I was back in the venture capital industry, fighting tooth and nail for funding. Why didn’t anybody think my story was as special as I did? How much harder was I going to have to work to prove myself? What was I doing wrong? 

That’s when I hit Google and I learned the truth: 

The odds of getting published are simply not in your favor.  

If the numbers are right, and only 3 manuscripts in 10,000 get published, where does that leave us unagented authors? Do we not deserve to be seen and heard, too? 

As I’ve been searching for a home for my memoirs, I’ve also been writing and submitting a number of multilingual children’s books to agents and publishers. Maybe fiction would be a more fruitful route for my dreams of being a big-wig author? My dream was always to be traditionally published, and to become a bestseller with a passionate, like-minded audience around the world. 

Well, I was correct, in part. One of my stories, The Discovery of Magic was published through EdiLivre—but that yielded few sales, and they now own the English version of that story in its entirety. Finding high-quality publishers that not only accept unsolicited manuscript submissions, but adequately promote their works has proven to be quite a challenge for an unagented author of color writing nonfiction about her true life experiences as an Iranian orphan. 

The list of publishing gimmicks is endless (and growing). 

Even if you do manage to find the publisher of your dreams, pricey editing packages and long time frames from big names are dissuasive. In the modern era, lots of people are turning to self-publishing—namely through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing services. 

Uploading to KDP is nothing short of excruciating for a newbie, I won’t lie. The road to publication—an underwhelming and tedious three-stage process by comparison to the months of work you’ve poured into your submission packages—requires a number of particularly formatted files that KDP moderators run through the wringer. A number of employees manually review every submission, and they remove content that doesn’t meet their standards. 

Unfortunately, publishing frustrations don’t end there.

It can take up to 48 hours to learn that you’ve made an error along the way, even if it’s a miniscule fix like realigning the cover or dragging a text box inside a border. Regardless, you have to manually edit and reupload the entire document, which can be a bit of a time-suck. 

All things considered, you’ll still be published at the end of the day—or week, rather—if you decide to self-publish through Amazon. It’s free to upload, and you receive up to 70% of the royalties from all of your book sales, which is more than most publishers offer. 

The real trouble for me came in Language selection. 

As the head of a multiracial-multilingual household, it was important to me that children be able to see themselves reflected in the stories they read, and I made it a priority to make my work as accessible as possible. My stories have been translated into English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Farsi, and even Chinese and Slovak! 

But as I tried to self-publish Saying Goodbye to Madar, a story that features my eldest daughter learning of the death of her great-grandmother, I was humbled to find that Amazon doesn’t allow self-publications in Farsi. That story has strong cultural themes, and it was important to me that I be able to release that book in Persian as well as English—my late grandmother deserved to be able to understand a story written for her, I figured. As I struggled to understand why I couldn’t publish in my first language, I could only imagine Madar staring down at my work with strained eyes, appreciating the illustrations and nothing more. 

I tried publishing the Farsi version of Saying Goodbye to Madar as an Arabic book, hoping the KDP moderators might be able to overlook the differences, but they have hawk eyes. Then I tried to publish another of my stories in Chinese after I’d been fortunate enough to locate a team member that could provide a translation for us. Again, to my surprise, we couldn’t publish My Recipe for Good Mental Health in Chinese. There was no option for Mandarin—only Japanese—so I tried again. The mods weren’t having it, which begs the question: 

Why does Amazon—the world’s largest book retailer—

insist on censoring certain languages?

From what I’ve read, because Amazon is an American company first, the corporation is heavily influenced by American foreign policy. A number of Persians have been crying out for justice—Afghans, Iranians, and Iraqis alike. Over 100 million people on the planet speak Farsi, but Amazon remains silent. 

Some speculate that Amazon is fearful that the books they distribute will wind up in Iran, where book bans are frequent and guidelines for forbidden materials change. Given the United States’ tumultuous relations with Iran, it’s understood that Jeff Bezos doesn’t want to ‘stir the pot’ and create any friction with Iran or with China, who’s also struggling with rigid censorship policies. 

So what does that mean for me and my team of editors?

If I decide to self-publish my memoirs on Amazon, I won’t be able to upload the story of my life in my native language. Part of my audience will always be excluded, through no fault of their own, as I was through most of my life as an Iranian orphan in the midst of a religious war. In the face of my mission to create educational, inclusive spaces for adults and children alike, there are few things more heartbreaking than that. 

My team and I have started creating bilingual editions of books as a means of ‘skirting around’ Amazon’s linguistic restrictions, and I’m proud to report that Saying Goodbye to Madar is now available in Bilingual English-Farsi on Amazon. We’ve yet to find a way to publish My Recipe for Good Mental Health in Chinese, however.

If anybody in the BWC has had trouble publishing in their language of choice, I’d love to hear about your experience. Have you found a viable workaround my team and I haven’t come up with yet? What are your thoughts?

BWC’s Jeanie Keogh publishes short story collection Press 9 for Pig Latin

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Photo Credit: Eduardo Sanchez, Unsplash

It all started with a writers group. This one. An ever-changing group of different folks, a motley of cultures, diverse genres, and writing projects at different stages of development. The feedback was always valuable — thank you — whether they were of utter disinterest or impassioned, inspired and lengthy critiques. They kept me busy for weeks (and even months) afterward. From rough first draft to polished, published book of short stories, the BWC played an instrumental part in shaping the work. Each of the 10 stories that made it into the collection passed through at least one BWC feedback session. You showed up, read the words, and it meant the world.

Press 9 for Pig Latin began as a small print run of 100 books in September 2019 intended for distribution amongst close personal contacts and writing friends, a sort of informal advanced reader copy for my intimate literary circle (you know who you are). Then there was lockdown, a lull in creative work due to the birth of my daughter, and other paid professional writing projects that naturally took precedence. Since the travel restrictions, I decided it should become available as an ebook.

While I much prefer putting a physical, signed book in the hands of the people who want to buy it, I do put as much love and care into writing heartfelt dedications in cyberspace to those of you who buy a digital copy so feel free to reach out. For those who want a hard copy, there are some still available at Waterstones bookstore downtown. The ebook is widely available everywhere online (Barnes and Noble, Chapters-Indigo, Amazon, and FNAC. Here’s a teaser from the story ‘Somewhere Over Greenland‘. Thanks for reading.

You put the completed pregnancy test in a silk-lined bag with a note on it for the baby-to-be. On one side of the paper, you write “Hello.” On the other, you write “Goodbye.”

The silk-lined bag goes into a drawer.

Other things you’ve put in silk-lined bags include sprigs of lavender, special gemstones and charms, an engagement ring from a love gone south. Those were keepsakes. You’re not sure what this is. Some kind of wish, maybe even a prayer.

You pull the silk-lined bag out every day and look at the two parallel lines. One plus one. A very different thing, this math involving human life.

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.