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The Circle, by Brussels expats

THECIRCLE Front10.19

The editor of the new anthology by members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle talks about community, pride and providing an outlet to new writers

Are you the type who would sell your brother out to space aliens? Set out to complete someone else’s bucket list? Deal in priceless stolen goods? Then you’ll find comrades in The Circle, a new anthology of short stories.

Though you’ll find your comrades there in any case: All the stories and poetry that appear in The Circle were written by Brussels expats. Now in bookstores, it is being launched next week at a reading at Waterstones.

The title is a clever reference to Brussels Writers’ Circle (BWC), a community group made up of expats who write in English. It’s the group’s second anthology; the first, A Circle of Words, was published in 2016. Both are published by Harvard Square Editions, based in Hollywood.

“It’s a collection of short stories and poetry by people who at some moment have made Brussels their home. That’s the unifying element,” says Patrick ten Brink, who edited the book. “The second unifying element is that they all link to the Brussels Writers Circle.”

groupSome members of BWC are published authors or journalists, while other are simply enthusiasts, putting pen to paper (so to speak) for their own enjoyment. All of them had the chance to publish in the anthology, which includes 55 pieces by 34 authors.

New voices in fiction

The group is publishing anthologies to find an audience for the works, many of which aren’t published elsewhere. Though they might eventually be; some of the works are first chapters of novels yet to be completed.

“We have a range of writers, some of whom are quite experienced, who have published, who have won some prizes,” says ten Brink. “But others are very much new enthusiasts. So what we thought we’d do is have something to show to the world, to allow new voices to get a little bit of exposure.”

Andreas

BWC counts about 350 members, and 10 or so usually show up to one of the two weekly meetings. Two or three authors read their work and get direct feedback from the rest – about plot, voice, tension, character development, story arcs and structure – all aspects of the writer’s craft.The anthologies, explains ten Brink (pictured below), “give a sense of completion to the process. We all talk about each other’s work, and then once in a while we get an email saying, ‘I’ve got this published here and published there’, and we thought it would be nice to have something in which we can all collectively be proud.”

He thinks The Circle can also inspire other writers in Brussels to join the group. “Because they can see that the work is actually leading to something.”

Patrick Ten BrinkPatrick

The numerous works are eclectic in both style and content. Some have been published elsewhere, such as Colin Walsh’s beautifully written “The Flare Carves Itself Through the Dark”, winner of Ireland’s Francis MacManus Annual Short Story Competition.

Other standouts in the anthology are Aisling Henrard’s “Lining Their Pockets”, in which an average evening in a new housing development turns into a celestial cock-up, and Martin Jones’ “Shimmer”, which brings the secrets hiding in the wooded outskirts of Moscow startlingly to life.

Many of the authors, however, do not have English as a first language, making the trip to getting published in the anthology a bit more rocky. “The ambition, of course, was to be as inclusive as we could, but we didn’t want to end up with a lack of quality,” explains ten Brink. “So we created guidelines; everyone who submitted a piece for the anthology had to fulfil certain criteria.”

Mauricio-2 That included reading at one of the BWC meetings and taking the comments on board. Then three members of the group read through the submissions and gave another round of comments. Two rounds of edits followed that.

That means a lot more effort than a normal collection of short stories would require, but that’s the point of the BWC after all – to make the writing better. “Some people wrote brilliantly straight off and only had to be tweaked,” says ten Brink, “while with others we had quite a few back-and-forth sessions. So the process was meant to get people included.” In the end, only a few people who submitted stories didn’t make the anthology.

‘Positive and necessary’

While some of the works in The Circle are based on reality – ten Brink’s own intriguing story, “The Half-Apple”, is about a recurring sight on a Brussels pavement down the street from where he used to live – just one is purely non-fiction. And while caving isn’t something I ever thought I’d be interested in, I have to admit that Nicholas Parrott’s description of the cave systems snaking through the Pyrenees had me pretty riveted.

Joost Hiltermann’s “Kawa’s Calvary”, meanwhile, is a riveting account of one Kurdish rebel fighter’s experiences in Northern Iraq. A programme director at the International Crisis Group, Hiltermann is working on fictionalised accounts of witness testimonies to reach a broader audience. Because, he says in his anthology bio, “if we are to be an international community, tragedy must be shared”.

Like most of the book’s contributors, neither Hiltermann nor ten Brink are authors for a living. ten Brink – born in Germany, but raised mostly in Australia and Japan – is the policy director at the European Environmental Bureau. Writing is a hobby, and BWC is, he says, his way of contributing to the local community.

“I think in these times, a group of people getting together across cultures and across languages to actually write in English, with a common purpose, is something that is empowering and positive and necessary,” he says.

When asked why someone might choose this anthology out of a rack of others if they are, say, at the airport and about to board a plane, his response is again compelling. “If you’re getting on the plane from Brussels, and you’re flying away to somewhere else, then you are very similar to many of the authors who have written pieces here. It’s a sense of the community of the international world that has made Brussels their home.”

Authors of The Circle will read from their work at 19.00 on 22 November at Waterstones, Boulevard Adolphe Max 71, Brussels
 
Written by Lisa Bradshaw, Via The Bulletin

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