Works in progress: The Guardians of the Tides by Patrick ten Brink

Patrick ten Brink EEBWhat are you currently working on and what inspired you to start writing it?

I am writing a fantasy trilogy, The Guardians of the Tides, that was inspired by two things: one “story night” my daughters gave me three ingredients – a beach, insects, children – and I had to thread a story around them. This became the seed for my story. The second inspiration: I came home one day proudly holding a book of non-fiction I’d just published, and my eldest daughter said, ‘Dad, only people in offices will read this. Can’t you write a book everyone will read, like Harry Potter?’ While I laughed at the wonderful ambitions that children have for their parents, it rekindled a dream I had in my early twenties and I started to develop the story from the earlier story night. Who was I to refuse my daughters?

So, what is the story about?
The Guardians of the Tides a tale of three siblings – Celeste (15), Newton (12) and Clementine (5) Willow – who move abroad to the coastal town of St Estelle after an accident back home makes them chose a new life in France. There they befriend Freya de L’Etoile and her brother, Georgiu de la Roche, a story-teller, who are secret guardians of St Estelle and Travellers of the Mists to the Borderlands. They begin to introduce the Willow children to the secrets of the Tides and Mists, that connects their world to the Land of the Black Sands, the Green Lands and the Land of the Silver Sands. Both Freya and Georgiu have lost loved ones to those lands and want to protect the children from its dangers, but need the Willow children’s help.

bugsIn Book 1: Accidental Creations, the Willows discover strange things swept in through The Tides –phytoluminescent squid, silver-beaked birds, and a fountain of blue letters. They also come across a strange woman in the mists who tries to tempt Celeste across to the Land of the Black Sands, and who sends a box full of black beetles formed out of twisted black words to contaminate St Estelle. Soon Accidental Creations stalk St Estelle – Shadow-people who suck out music through long thin trumpets, Spark-flies that leech colour, and a wooden Golem that saps ideas. Will Freya and Georgiu and the Willow children manage to defend St Estelle?

WP_20160720_005 2In Book 2: Temptations in the Land of the Black Sands – The Lady of the Black Sands, whose past is closely connected to Georgiu’s, gets her eye on the town’s prodigal son, Darius de Grey, a talented musician, who is infected by living tattoos from the Land of the Black Sands. Darius tries to get back a stolen voice of his ex-love Elodie in this desolate land, but is seduced its secrets – the vast granite cliffs are covered in crystals, each housing the last memory of a passing soul who unravelled in this land. Darius becomes addicted to the stories and music from The Wall of Words and wagers his soul. Freya and Georgiu engage the Willow children to help bring Darius back, but not all ends as it should.

In Book 3, Travellers through the Mists, Celeste gets abducted by the Lady of the Black Sands, who chooses her as her successor. Celeste escapes but is infected by black tattoos that creep up her feet and legs, whispering the longing of souls that have passed through the land. When she meets Freya’s grandson, Asgar, who got captured by the Land of the Black Sands, she must decide about the course of her destiny, which in turn, also affects the destiny of St Estelle. There’s a lot more in the books, so I hope you are not sated by the summaries above.

Where and when does the action take place?
It is a contemporary but also timeless novel taking place in St Estelle, a fictitious coastal town on vast tidal estuarine beaches in France. It also takes places in the borderlands, particularly in the Land of the Black Sands – the land through which souls pass and unravel, leaving their most precious memories or dreams as crystals on the granite cliffs. Their longings raid down as black sands, and the rest of their soul becomes threads of white letters that are abducted by the mists and taken to the Land of Silver Sands, where the souls reside. The Willows manage to get to the Green Lands, a world of unbridled nature, a source of new species reaching St Estelle via The Tides, that, together with the Mists, create a portal between the worlds.

How long have you been working on it?
Close to every day for six years for the trilogy. I sometimes slowed as I focused on other projects – poetry, short stories, and the BWC anthology -The Circle, but it never went far from my thoughts. I’ve a day job, so I write from 7:30 to 8:45 in the mornings before work, and when I’ve time on planes or trains or the sofa.

Did you writing change from book one to book three? How?
Immensely. I think the first draft of book 3 was better than the 11th draft of the first book! (Though I’m in the process of rectifying that).

I had to learn the tools of the craft the hard way in Book 1, PoV, narrative voice, narrative arcs, character arcs, dialogue and inner voice, “show don’t tell”, realistic 3-D characters, active verbs, oh, and the non-trivial issues of grammar and punctuation. When my daughter saw me reading a book on punctuation, she said to my wife that she thought I’d been abducted by aliens and replaced by a doppelganger.

The first two books were in omniscient third person. No matter how close I tried to get to the characters, I always felt a little too far away, so when I got to book three I adopted a new approach – I wrote the chapters led by Celeste, C-Sharp the magpie, and a new character, Amelia, in first person. I really enjoyed that.

What were some of the best and some of the most challenging parts so far?
The best bits came when the characters take over the story, and it writes itself. My crazy little magpie, C-Sharp, drove chunks of book 3 forward, as did Celeste who had to cope with being alone and lost in the Land of Black Sands, gradually discovering its true nature.

I also had so much fun in creating the world and populating it with odd creatures – Freya’s birds and snakes she makes out of letters, the Silver-beaked birds, the Kookaburra made out of chalk and words, and the insane five Sages that form out of seams of crystallised memories smashed together.

I enjoyed creating the contaminating black word beetles that infest everything they touch with longing and even more with the Shadow people that are like cloaked monks that suck music in through their long thin trumpets, leaving but silence.

And one scene that I really enjoyed writing was the one in the Cave of the Five Sages in Book 3. Celeste, Asgar, C-Sharp (the magpie), Kook (the kookaburra), and The Lady of the Black Sands had to solve the riddles of the cantankerous sages.

The challenging part?
I’ll answer in two halves – one half on the process and the other on the writers’ craft. On the process – the getting feedback is, when one can be dispassionately lucid, great. But one has to breathe in deeply and steel one’s nerves and resolve to address yet another writer’s tool discovered in the prose. This is particularly intense (but also rewarding): I sent off the manuscript for a professional manuscript assessment, attended online courses (inter alia, by the inimical Scott Bradfield), and asked for alpha and BETA readers. I got a range of wonderfully positive feedback, but at least an equal amount of critical feedback. It was probably in the ratio of 1 to 2. The positive 1/3 really helps address the 2/3.

So what kind of challenges are there? For me, the main ones are:

  • I’ve a lot of characters and with the three Willow children together had a multiple PoV; giving them all space to be themselves, while keeping the text clear and having the reader get attached to the characters has had me rereading and rewriting a lot.
  • I like the complex – too much. One sentence should do one thing and do it well. So, I read and reread to make whatever complexity I keep as clear as I can.
  • I adore the visual and can forget the emotions. So, I’m forever asking myself ‘how would they react?’ as I reread.
  • I’m motivated by curiosity rather than tension, yet accept that readers need tension in a book – they want to read a book and not look at a painting after all. So, I try to see where tension makes sense and try to communicate it to the readers. That said, part of me still believes that novels can be paintings. So, don’t expect a thriller, though I am discovering a darkness creeping into the story while editing.
  • I’ve tried to write a cross-over novel that threads in poetic, scientific, metaphysical, philosophical elements (basically anything that I feel exciting and relevant as the story develops), while at the same time keeping it an accessible adventure. The Willow Children in the Borderlands is like a slow-discovery Alice in Wonderland.

And where are you at now? What are your plans after you’re finished?
I’ve been really lucky to receive excellent comments from BETA readers – from big picture comments on character, story arcs, tension, to specific comments that highlight where things could be more powerful, clearer, where to speed up or slow down to emphasise key plot points.

I’ve an intense day job so it will take me at least to the end of 2018 to get the trilogy in a good draft state. In 2019, I’ll start seeing if I can tempt an agent.

So, I suspect it will take another two years before I can dream of it being on the shelves of Waterstones down the road. So be ready for 2020! And I’ve been doing some illustrations to go with the text, so maybe it will be 2021 for an illustrated edition.

As for wider plans, I’m working on a ghost story – The Adventures of Amelia Borgiotti (the short story: Amelia Borgiotti, which forms chapter 1, was published by Coffin Bell Journal this October) – and a collection of poetry: Urban Enigmas.

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work? What was the best feedback you got from the group?
Week in, week out, over two years, the BWC writers give me a good balance of encouragement and critical advice as I read much of book 1 and parts of the other two tomes. Perhaps the best advice:

  • The writing is like a De Chirico painting – a beautiful, well-crafted world, but we need more emotions to engage.
  • It is poetic, but it needs more tension. Everyone is too nice, and the conflict is with a faceless threat (initially). Make it darker (it is seeping in through the edits…)
  • You have stories within the story – this is a risk, make sure you structure the novel well so that the right stories come at the right moment.
  • Finally, get that book out there!

Where will it fit on a bookshelf?
In my dreams, it would fit next to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Ben Okri’s Starchild, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Mazuo Ishiguru’s The Buried Giant, C.S. Lewis’ Alice in Wonderland, as well as Studio Ghibli’s works by Miyazaki. I must admit that for a cross-over novel it could fit on different shelves. This is a book I’d have loved to have discovered as a 12 to 15-year old. It is also one I’d welcome reading as an adult who likes Ursula Le Guinn, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Stroud, Lemony Snicket and JK Rowling.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?
Those who want an action-packed thriller with one main protagonist and an easily recognisable villain and simple linear storyline. Anyone adverse to poetic, philosophical reflections, or a lace-work of parallel, then inter-twining plot lines may be on a new adventure.

We assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?
Assumptions are amazing things, but let’s run with it. Now, if dreams were to come true, I’d love the books to become not only a Tim Burton film but also a Studio Ghibli animation. At the moment the book is more Studio Ghibli, but a dose of Tim Burton’s magic would add the darker side that I’ve so far not managed to raise from the sea of words. I’d be very curious about such an adaptation. For Freya and Georgiu: I’d quite like Octavia Spencer (from The Help, The Shape of Water, Hidden Figures) and Robert Downey Jr. (Ironman, Sherlock Holmes) or perhaps even better Albert Dupontel (French film director and actor in the film Au Revoir La Haut) – all aged somewhat, of course.

Octavia Spencer would be a bit more mystical than the characters she plays, and Robert Downey Jr. transforms into a crazy artist. Albert Dupontel would be able to step right into the role with due ageing creams. For Celeste, Newton and Clementine, it gets more difficult. I could imagine an actress like Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter) for Celeste; Louis Hynes (Klaus Baudelaire in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) for Newton, and I had thought my daughter for Clementine, but this doesn’t work anymore as strange things happen – children grow up. Gina McKee (Mirror Mask, Notting Hill) or Charlotte Gainsbourg (Samba) could both make an intriguing The Lady of the Black Sands. And Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) could be the violinist Darius de Grey who sells his soul.

In Studio Ghibli the characters would be themselves – I’d be curious to see what they’d look like stepping onto the screen. If I’m allowed another dream to come true, I’d love the astonishing illustrator – Chris Riddell (author Ottolinda series, illustrator of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree) to graphite The Willows, Freya and Georgiu, and the other Guardians into life.

Do follow updates on my Art and Lit Facebook Page: @PatricktenBrinkArtandLiterature

The Circle: A Brussels Anthology – Launch at Waterstones

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

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

THECIRCLE Front10.18

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Colin Walsh: The Flare Carving Itself through the Dark
  • Jeanie Keogh: If at First You Don’t Succeed
  • Cynthia Huijgens: The Things We Do For Love
  • Klavs Skovsholm: Belle of the Ball
  • T.D. Arkenberg: Aftershock

And poetry by:

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

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

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

Finding discipline and inspiration among writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Meet the Circle: Jay Harold

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 growing alien life forms in a jar. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Jay Harold, brand new co-chair of our Tuesday meetings. He is a proud graduate of the University of Essex, where he earned his MA in Creative Writing in 2018. He also has a BS in Psychology and is currently working towards obtaining his MS.

When did you join the group?
18403721_294989217624826_8062105951356024910_nI joined the Circle in February 2016. I’ll never forget my first meeting. It was a Thursday night and very busy, and I didn’t have a pen on me. I must have turned red in the face when I asked to borrow one and the chair that night looked at me like: ‘Are you kidding me?’ Good times! I learned my lesson in the meantime.

What were your first impressions of the group?
I immediately thought the Writers’ Circle was a fantastic group of people and felt right at home straight away. The prospect of an upcoming BWC meeting leaves me just as enthusiastic and excited today as it did back then.

What have you published so far?
My first real adventure with creative writing was during my year at the American University of Paris, where my writing professor encouraged me to submit a short story for publication in Paris/Atlantic, a student-run magazine. I was seventeen and very proud at the time. The story, ‘Scarred For Life’, was set in 2025 in an apocalyptic World-War-III Paris. It described the life of young American hippie with a dark past.

In the second semester, a piece of flash (non-)fiction of mine was published in a really cool ‘Zine’ called ‘The City Project’, which was founded by a girl who had taken the writing class with me.

I think my most productive time has to have been my year in Essex, though. I had several poems published in anthologies of the University of Essex Writing Society (a fantastic gang of merry misfits who were crucial to my creativity at the time). Speaking of anthologies, some of my poetry has been published in the BWC’s second anthology, ‘The Circle’ (now available on Amazon and at the Brussels Waterstones).

Finally, I post poetry, short stories and sometimes essays on my blog,

What are you currently working on?
I have been working on a novel called ‘Leaving Paradise’. It’s an expansion of my MA dissertation, which explored the relationship between the Beat Generation and the Punk movement. It features characters loosely based on Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Rimbaud, and my writing professor at AUP, all of whom have had a significant influence on me as a writer.

I am also in the research phase of a book on dyspraxia / developmental coordination disorder, which is an issue that I care deeply about. I want people to learn more about it and dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding the issue (I’ll give you one for free: it does not disappear with adulthood).

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?
Jays (1)I’ve already mentioned the influence that Kerouac and Ginsberg have had on me. Their close relationship to jazz captivates me. As a result, the exploration of the relationship between writing and music, in the broadest sense possible, is a key point in my work. Though I enjoyed ‘The Dharma Bums’ more, ‘On The Road’ is the novel that originally made me want to become a writer. Ginsberg’s poems ‘Howl’ and ‘America’ blew my mind and shifted my perspective on poetry. Some would say that my reverence for the Beats has taken on unhealthy proportions.

Joan Didion’s ‘Play It As It Lays’ fascinated me as well, because where the Beats’ sentences could go on for lines and lines and are more psychologically and emotionally driven, Didion has an incredible talent for brevity and objectivity. Didion and Kerouac, to me, are polar opposites in many ways, and I’m currently exploring how, if at all, their styles could possibly be integrated into one. I think I’m slowly starting to zero in on the answer. On a side note, if anyone is interested in Joan Didion’s beautiful and tragic story, I highly recommend watching ‘The Center Will Not Hold’ on Netflix.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?
I came to the launch of ‘Circle of Words’ – the first anthology – back in ’16 and remember seeing the whole group come together in a joint effort to promote the book and, even though I hadn’t contributed anything to the first anthology, I felt distinctly proud to be a member of the BWC. I’m even more proud to be the Tuesday co-chair now and look forward to working with Niamh, who will be the other co-chair.

What do you get out of the group?
Inspiration, feedback, validation, motivation – everything that should come along with a collective of writers, does in the case of the BWC. It’s also a great way to keep your ego in check, because there is lots of constructive criticism and we’re such an eclectic bunch that you get a whole range of opinions, approaches and talents.

So far, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of the Circle. More importantly, it’s been a learning experience on both an artistic and a personal level thanks to everyone who frequents the meetings. You get a little taste of everything at the BWC, including published and award-winning authors, and that’s what makes it so truly unique. What’s even more exciting is that we get new members all the time. If you’re not a member yet, please don’t hesitate to shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our mailing list.


Could you recount the Iliad in less than 50 words to save your life? After the microfiction workshop at this year’s retreat, many participants reported that they were indeed confident they could, should a Sphinx accost them on Rue de la Loi.

During the session we crafted tiny stories about big things and enjoyed building narrative arcs that could be read in one breath. Microfiction means stories finished within a few minutes. Rarely do writers get to feel that level of dopamine.

For those who were emotionally blocked because their 400-pager was taking forever to finish, microfiction propelled their confidence to literary canon levels, or so the story went…

Here are a few of our microstories.

kid: “Is he still breathing?”
parent: “Mhm.”
kid: “I’m bored.”
parent: “Don’t say that – he might hear you!”
kid: “I AM BORED!”
grandparent: “Me too.”
by Mimi Kunz

I needed out. An eternity in this church was not my chosen afterlife. A young artist saw me floating above the altar, bade me close. I am in him now, outside the church, seeing the pine trees, painting the pine trees, seeing the men in white coats. Together forever, in a sanatorium. Damned. by Patrick ten Brink

He was everything she ever dreamed of; charming, funny and intelligent. What she didn’t know was that his admirable knife skills didn’t come from cutting turkeys. by Karmen Špiljak

David Graham, the first President of Earth did not hesitate to give the order to annihilate the demons’ spaceship, in full knowledge that he would also be killing the king and queen of demons, his C.S. Begu

It’s no surprise that Twitter is THE place for microfiction. There are lists and many microfiction accounts in different genres to follow, like Ciprian’s Truly Tiny Tales .

Works-in-progress: Just the three of us by Martin R. Jones

21E5ly9S+cL._UX250_What are you currently working on and what inspired you to start writing it?

I have just finished a novel set in Malta in 1930. I wrote a novel a couple of years ago set in Borneo in the 1920s but I couldn’t really get it to work. I realized the problem was that I was, in fact, writing two different books, one about a man coming to terms with his wife’s death and a straightforward adventure story. There was too much of a mismatch. I already had the idea for a story set in Malta in the interwar years.

Most British people have a cosy idea of the relationship between the two counties based on the legends of the Second World War and the presence of red telephone boxes in the streets of Valletta. The reality was that in the interwar years many Maltese regarded Britain as an occupying power. At the same time Mussolini’s Italy had plans to expand into the Mediterranean, so I had the kernel of a story for an espionage thriller. I decided to split up the Borneo novel and cannibalized the first part for the Malta book. Hopefully, it works. This does mean I have the second half of an adventure novel set in Borneo so if anyone out there has the first half of a similar book I’m up for a bit of collaboration!

Where and when does the action take place?

Just the three of us starts in England in 1930. I have always been fascinated with the interwar years. It was a time of huge social and technological change where it was possible to fly the Atlantic while at the same time much of the world was little changed since feudal times. It was also a period of clashing ideologies and huge political upheaval. Plus, the clothes were cool.

The main protagonist decides to start a new life in Malta following his wife’s death, hoping to find some peace. Fat chance. He becomes embroiled in a plot to assassinate the Maltese prime Minister and de-stabilize British rule. The usual concomitant mayhem ensues, but it all ends happily. Sort of.

How long have you been working on it?

I already had part of the book when I began so I had a head start but it took me about 18 months to pull everything together.

What were some of the best and some of the most challenging parts so far?

Most of the pieces I have written up to now have been historical thrillers. I wanted to make this a love story as well, which is beyond my comfort zone. I emerged from the process with a new respect for the writers of romance fiction. Boy, getting this stuff down without descending to hackneyed drivel is HARD.

And where are you at now?

An agent asked for a full, liked it but thought it would be hard to market as a thriller, given that it didn’t quite fit into what was expected of the genre. So I’ve given it a new title (from An unofficial spy) and will rebrand it as a historical romance thriller. I’ll need to rejig a couple of chapters and write another and then, hopefully, ready to go again.

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work? What was the best feedback you got from the group?

The previous longer pieces of work I have presented at the BWC were, although I had an overall vision, done chapter by chapter. This time I had a reasonably complete draft to begin with. The problem with this approach is that you can’t always see the trees for the wood. Seeing it through other people’s eyes makes clearer what needs pruning, what needs uprooting and where new seeds could be planted.

Without the insights of the people at the BWC that would have been a much harder, and less successful task. Everyone is supportive, but more importantly, honest. It’s not always easy being told the chapter you’ve laboured over for weeks is not up to standard but this is the sort of thing you need to hear if you’re serious about producing your best work. You need to take any criticism in the spirit it is meant. And of course, if you come up with something that’s not total gibberish it’s nice to hear that from someone else, it gives you the motivation to keep on.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?

Well, it isn’t exactly A brief history of time, but apart from that….

We assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?

The world I have tried to create is not a glamorous one, so not really ‘A’ lister material. So sorry, Johnny Depp, don’t bother to apply. Matthew Macfadyen would be perfect for Jack Gibson, as would Toby Jones for Woodland. Minnie Driver would make a good Flavia. She has such a mobile face. And Cillian Murphy for Smith.

International writing competitions 2018 – part 2

If you have been sharpening your pencils and hitting that keyboard with fresh stories, then you’ll want to take a look at our selection of short stories and competition for the second half of 2018. Do check individual website for details. We will be updating this page.

Best of luck!

1/2 K Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 500 words
Entry fee: $20
Prize: 1st $1000
Deadline: August 15, 2018
Publication: Indiana Review

The End Of Our World short story contest
Theme: Destruction of environment (based on facts)
Word limit: 1,500 – 5,000 words
Entry fee: $25 per submission ($15 NCWN members)
Prize: 1st $1000, 2nd $300, 3rd $100
Deadline: August 31, 2018
Publication: Magazine

Manchester Fiction Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 2,500 words
Entry fee: £17.50
Prize: 1st prize £10,000
Deadline: September 14, 2018

Writers of the Future Contest
Theme: Sci-fi, fantasy, dark fantasy
Word limit: 17,000 words
Entry fee: n/a
Prize: 1st $1,500, 2nd $750, 3rd $500
Deadline: September 30, 2018

All-story short fiction competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 5,000 words
Entry fee: U$30
Prize: 1st U$1,000, 2nd 500, 3rd $250
Deadline: October 1, 2018
Publication: Break Water Publication

Bath Flash Fiction Award
Theme: Open
Word limit: 300 words
Entry fee: £7.5 for one entry, £12 for two and £18 for three entries
Prize: 1st prize £1,000, 2nd prize £300, 3rd prize £100.
Deadline: October 14, 2018
Publication: Anthology

Troubadour International Poetry Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: poems must be max 45 lines long
Entry fee: £6/€7/$7.50 for 1st poem (£4/€5/$5 for subsequent entries)
Prize: 1st prize £2,000, 2nd prize £1,000, 3rd prize a week long creative course.
Deadline: October 22, 2018

Fish Short Story Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 5,000 words
Entry fee: €20, (€10 subsequent entries)
Prize: 1st €5000 & 5 days short story workshop, 2nd €300 & a week at Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat, 3rd €300, honourable mentions €200.
Deadline: November 30, 2018
Publication: Fish Anthology

Aeon Award
Theme: fantasy, science fiction, horror or anything in-between or unclassifiable
Word limit: Max. 10,000 words
Entry fee: €8.5
Prize: 1st €1000, 2nd €200, 3rd €100
Deadline: November 30, 2018
Publication: Albedo One

Ink Tears Short Story Competition
Theme: Open
Word limit: 1,000 – 3,500 words
Entry fee: £7.50
Prize: 1st £1000, 2nd £100
Deadline: November 30, 2018
Publication: InkTears Readership

Peter Porter Poetry Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: poems must be max 75 lines long
Entry fee: U$15 for subscribers/students, $25 for non-subscribers
Prize: 1st U$5,000, 2nd AU$2,000, thee other shortlisted $500
Deadline: December 3, 2018
Publication: InkTears Readership

The Breakwater Fiction Contest
Theme: Open
Word limit: 1,000 – 5,000 words
Entry fee: U$10
Prize: 1st U$1,000
Deadline: December 15, 2018
Publication: Break Water Publication

Magic Oxygen Literary Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: 4,000 words for short stories and up to 50 lines for poems
Entry fee: £5
Prize: 1st prize £1,000, 2nd prize £300, 3rd prize £100
Deadline: December 31, 2018
Publication: Anthology

The Moth Poetry Prize
Theme: Open
Word limit: n/a
Entry fee: €12 per poem
Prize: 1st prize €10,000, 3 x €1,000
Deadline: December 31, 2018

Meet the Circle: Océan Smets

foto africa girafaThe 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 butterflies. Well, maybe not that last bit. This week we will hear from Océan Smets, a poet turned science fiction writer with a special interest in language and human psychology.

Océan is a published author of poems, flash fiction and nonfiction. He’s the winner of 2015 Spanish 1st International poetry competition Writing Verses, the 2014 winner of  the First Literary Contest of Short Tales for Train Travelers by Thalys Kemkem, Argentina.

When did you join the group?
In February 2014, when I moved to Brussels. I read an invitation to join the Brussels Writers Circle in an English Magazine for expats. I directly emailed to enroll. Destiny?

What were your first impressions of the group?
What first struck me was the variety of styles among us, together with the ability to fold into other writers’ thoughts and be their editors. Our group , from all over the world, has been constantly renewing with pens. It’s so enriching!

What have you published so far?
Articles (non fiction), poems and short stories. I can’t stop writing “magic realism”. I am sort of hooked. Yet I would like to jump from there into something more consistent, diametrically opposite.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my second social sci-fi novel. I dream it. I can see its inhabitants in my nocturnal visions. I really can feel the touch of my characters at night. They are my imaginary friends. So I am never alone.

My Post (1)Who are your biggest literary influences?
Bashö’s haiku, Paul Éluard, Isabel Allende, impacting films like Clockwork Orange, and especially all the gender literature from my studies.

How have they influenced you?
My writing has been influenced by all these factors, so we can say I am a cross between a human and a beast. Well, rather a magical mutant.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?
Yes. The day Antoinette gave me the title for my novel in three seconds.
“What is your novel about?”
“A little wheel inserted in your body that sends you love and you have orgasms”.
“It’s Wheelgasm!”

So easy!

What do you get out of the group?
I mainly get a shower both of reality and humbleness whenever I read for it. As a writer, I tend to live in my magical world. English isn’t my mother language so I really need editors. Reading for the group also makes me write more. There is always somebody who likes my stories so I am also encouraged. I can see my lines published in an anthology. This gives my life meaning.

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: Colin Walsh

Colin Walsh photoThe 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 other writerly nuggets.

This week we will hear from Colin Walsh. Colin is from Galway, Ireland, and writes fiction.

When did you join the group?
It was February or March 2017. I’d started writing short stories in 2016. Completing a story is a bit like screaming off a mountain and hoping for some echo that’ll prove you’ve climbed the mountain in the first place. Readers can offer a chink of light and fresh air on whatever it is you’ve been working on in the dark, and that does help you stay vaguely sane. I was having one of those ‘I AM ONLY WRITING INTO THE GAPING VOID’ moments when it’s hard to stay motivated. So I googled ‘writing group in Brussels’ and found the Brussels Writers Circle. I emailed the BWC asking if I could come along to a meeting, and that was that.

What were your first impressions of the group?
That it was totally nuts. Not in the sense of everyone being mad – you only discover that after a couple of meetings – but more in the sense of how wildly eclectic the mix of writers and readers was. It was great. People who were interested in very different things, literature-wise, approaching the world from different angles and backgrounds, all gathering around a large table over a few drinks and giving their time and energy to other people’s work.

Also, the basic kindness and openness of people to the work of anyone who reads – kindness that isn’t hollow back-slapping, openness that is genuine. The BWC is a place for constructive, helpful criticism and real encouragement. That made a very positive impression on me.

What have you published so far?
Last year I won the RTE Frances MacManus Short Story Award, and I was a prizewinner in the Bridport Short Story Prize, got shortlisted for the Bath Short Story Award and the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, and I won a prize at a cool literary festival back in Ireland a few months ago. All those stories ended up being published in anthologies or online in newspapers. I have another story being published later this year, which I’m very excited about.

When you list all those things out like that, it sounds like a big run of successes, but that’s a total misrepresentation of the reality. The fact is that every single one of those published stories, including those which won prizes, had all been rejected by (at least) one publication/competition before finding a home. There’s never any guarantee as to whether or not what you’re doing is ‘good’ in any objective sense. I find that pretty tough, to be honest.

Ultimately, your own quality compass (which shifts over time) is the only metric against which you should judge yourself, but that’s advice which I consistently fail to follow, haha. It does take a while to get used to just how subjective the whole submissions process actually is, and to not allow it destroy your self-confidence.

You see this type of radically diverging reception at the BWC too; a single text will provoke a huge variety of opinions/tastes around the table. Sometimes I’m bewildered by what other people like/dislike or fixate upon, and I’m sure they are equally nonplussed by what I blather about whenever I give feedback. It sounds harsh, but I really feel like anyone can write something that will be universally rejected, but no one can write something that’ll be universally approved. Like, Hilary Mantel and Flannery O’Connor and William Shakespeare could all read at the BWC and no doubt there would be people who would wrinkle their noses and have reservations about the writing of these giants.

So yeah – in terms of publication, rejection, etc., I suppose the fingers pointing at the moon are not the moon.

What are you currently working on?
A novel. I have a pretty tight deadline on me now, so I’m focusing on that entirely these days – no short stories. It’s a very different experience to working on short stories, but I’m enjoying it. Hopefully I haven’t just jinxed myself by saying that. I have to submit a draft by the end of the summer. Nicely primed for a total meltdown by mid-July, I reckon. I’ll be running naked through the streets screaming ‘show don’t tell.’ In Brussels, I don’t think people would even notice.

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?
My PostI think different writers and books have all had very different influences, at different times and in different ways. I remember Zadie Smith said something about how reading is not a passive form of entertainment like watching TV. She said it’s much more like sitting at a piano with sheet music written by a composer, a composer who is usually light years from you, musically; sometimes you can sit at that piano and you’re able to access all the magic that the composer has put there for you, but the onus is on you. The pleasure is richer the more you lean into it. Sometimes, I find myself years away from being up to the task of honouring what a writer has actually done. Other times, a novel or short story hits me at just the right time, and has a huge ripple effect on both my writing and my reading.

All of which is a very long way of saying that I don’t think I have any specific writers in mind that I’d single out as clear ‘influences.’ I’m neither coherent nor consistent enough as a reader to say that.

But I can name a couple of books that I think have been important for my writing over the last two years:

Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. This is really the book that made me decide – okay, this is what I want to do. I mean, sweet Jesus, that novel. What he’s doing with voice, language, pace, drama, rhythm, time. Unbelievable. The sheer nerve and courage it would take to even attempt writing such a book. I read it over Christmas 2015. At the time I was buried deep in the pyramid scheme of academic philosophy. I hadn’t read a work of fiction in years. Literally, years. All I was reading was philosophy, theory, history.

Then I read A Brief History and remember being just totally overwhelmed with the depth and breadth of what James was weaving. The throb of life in the prose. It really made me reassess what the hell I was doing with my life. A total Eureka experience. A couple of months later, I left academia for good. I started my first short story on the same day. Best decision I ever made.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. This novel represents a sort of Platonic ideal for me in terms of the balance between literary prose and the popcorn-munching thrills. Fantastic writing and a totally compulsive story, both powering each other. One of the most purely pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had in the past couple of years – the closest to the pure joy I had when reading as a child.

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye and it absolutely wrecked me. Reading it was like swallowing a grenade and feeling it gradually explode inside you. But in a glorious way, you know? She’s doing so many things simultaneously, and she is doing all of them at the highest possible level, in prose that really doesn’t call attention to itself as it quietly sets about rearranging your guts. I was totally shook for a few days after I finished. Standing with a wobbly lip in the middle of the street, that type of scenario. Absolutely devastating, in the best way. Exhilarating.

Other writers: Anne Enright for her psychological acuity and the type of sentences that slice your eyelids off; George Saunders and Donal Ryan for their sheer heart without mawkishness; Kevin Barry and Lucia Berlin for their swagger and mastery of the short story; Angela Carter, Mike McCormack, Elizabeth Bishop, Danielle McLaughlin, William Blake, Ezra Pound, Doireann ní Ghríofa, Ginsberg, Heaney, Hughes, the essays of Zadie Smith… blah blah blah…

What do you get out of the group?
An education! I’ve learned so much attending the group – both on the page and in terms of how people approach what’s on the page. Like, you might have someone reading from a genre-mash-up novel they’re working on, and they’ll be receiving considered and in-depth feedback from an experimental poet, a memoirist, a songwriter, a YA author, a playwright, etc. All of these different lenses through which work can be approached, critiqued and enriched.

The sheer generosity of what people are doing at the BWC every Tuesday and Thursday is really incredible. You learn a lot from that alone. People can be so good.