Writing at your leisure

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As our tenth anniversary year draws to a close, we are feeling very grateful. We’d like to say a huge thank you to our supportive community. We would never have lasted ten years without you, but that’s the least of it. How lucky we are to get to work with people as warm, interesting, clever and creative as you.

What we – that is, Jo-Anne and Richard – have realised is that (not surprisingly) we learn quite as much from you about generating ideas, about writing with grace and clarity, about developing characters, as you do from us. It’s not surprising because, however lonely writing can be, its from interaction with others that inspiration comes.

Which is why a community of writers – such as we all are – has increasingly impressed itself on us as an indispensible condition for excellence.

We wish you happy holidays and a great start to what we hope will be a successful writing year for everyone.

A writers’ holiday

We at All About Writing will take a short break over the holiday season. We’ll be around for queries and chats – we’re always here for you if you need us – but we won’t be doing any teaching until 3 January.

We wish everything of the best to you and your family over this season. And our advice is: take a writerly view on the holidays, and use them creatively.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to repair to a room of one’s own and leave everyone else to deal with Aunt Agatha. But you know what they say to new mothers? When the baby sleeps, take the opportunity to rest. So, if everyone wanders off for a rest, slip off quietly by yourself.

If you don’t have a project you’re working on, or if it seems too onerous to tackle while the relatives are staying, just take notes.

Eavesdrop on Aunt Agatha bickering with Uncle Sydney. Write down what they say, exactly. Not only will it give you story ideas, but you’ll start to get a feel for the cadences of real speech.

If your family is anything like mine, you might be dreading the conflict which comes with family get-togethers. Don’t. View your family as characters; see their lives and interactions as fodder for stories, and suddenly you’ll see everything differently.

Conflict, of whatever kind, is essential for any story, so be grateful for it. Take one step back, emotionally, and view it all dispassionately, as a writer would considering her characters.


Well, it’s all grist for the mill, isn’t it? If you see life through a story-teller’s eyes, everything becomes a good story eventually. – Jo-Anne 

What if… you spend your time inventing stories?

So what I’d like to recommend to you this festive season is this: After you’ve observed your children squabbling over who gets to pull the last cracker; or Aunt Agatha making some acid comment to Uncle Sydney about the toughness of her niece’s turkey; or two teenagers discussing the latest political developments in a coffee shop, ask yourself a “what if” question.

What if domestic squabbles became the subject of new laws that obliged parents to avoid them, and in the case of their failure to do so, were subject to draconian punishments?

What if Aunt Agatha turned out to be an imposter with some malign agenda?

What if the children knowledgeably discussing the latest political moves of the ruling party were in fact the harbingers of an era of total politicisation of our lives, where everyone as soon as they learned to talk threw themselves into the ideological fray?

Ridiculous ideas, of course – but that’s what happens when you subject ordinary incidents to the “what if?” test. The strange thing is, of course, that the first ridiculous “what if” hypothesis leads to another… and another… and another, and before you know it, you find yourself sitting on a story that really feels as if it has real potential.

When I was a child travelling with my parents en route to the South Coast for our holidays, I’d play a game with my father that went like this. I’d say: “What would happen if you were driving too fast and you went over the edge of the cliff?” And he’d respond: “Well, one of two things could happen: either we’d crash into the ground far below and all die, or the car would somehow get lodged half way down against a tree growing out of the mountain.” And I would respond, ritualistically: “Well, what if the tree saved us?” And he’d say: “Well, one of two things could happen…”

And so it would go on. A series of “what if” questions that led invariably to a series of fantastical adventures that kept me enthralled for hours. – Richard

And the winners of the November/December writing challenge are…

We have invited the finalists onto the stage, we’ve examined them carefully as they paraded their virtues and their finery, and we have come to our decision. Yes, the winner and runners-up of our final writing challenge of the year have been selected. First past the post, remember, gets a free pass to our new, glittering Creative Writing Day-by-Day coaching programme, which kicks off on January 22.

The runners-up don’t go away empty handed. Each of them gets a R500 voucher which they can redeem when booking onto any one of our 2018 courses.

And the winner is…

(Drum roll. Trumpets sound.)

… For her sassy story (with lots of heart): Bonnie Espie. Well done, Bonnie. We’ll see you on the Day-by-Day next year!

And the runners up, in alphabetical order, for stories that contained neat twists, some elegant phrasing, and a lot of energy: Nina Gerber, Raj Isaac, Tayla Kaplan, Katoji Le Roux, Ingrid van den Berg and Chantel Venter.

Congratulations to all of you – and to all of the many others who took on the challenge. Writing, remember, is always its own reward.

Click here to read the winning entries.

Venice retreat bookings now open

All About Writing is looking forward to our fourth annual Venice writing retreat in September 2018. We invite anyone wishing for what one of our participants has called “a life-changing” experience” to book now.

What will the retreat give you? Well, perhaps it would be best to let some of our participants tell you what they got out of their week. Here’s a medley of their comments:

“The retreat was totally fabulous and it exceeded all my expectations,” said one. Another praised the “excellent creative sessions, feedback, encouragement, insight, caring…” The Palazzo Albrizzi experience, she added, was “simply astonishing. Magic is happening here.”

Well, we can’t help but agree with that. There is something about Venice, about the palazzo, and about the alchemy of a group of writers committed to their craft that turns these retreats into what yet another participant called “the experience of a lifetime.”

“What I liked the most was,” yet another participant has said, “to have a key to the Palazzo Albrizzi. I would glide past the tourists and stride towards that door as if I’ve lived in Venice since I was a little girl. Venice was a billion times better than anything I could have imagined.”

Click here for more information, or email us for the booking form. Places are limited. We’d love you to join us for a week of writing in Venice.

And for December/January, a writing challenge with an usual prize

Our challenge for December and January involves a monkey wrench, a fit of depression and a first edition of Bleak House. Combine all three as cunningly and naturally as possible in a story of 250 words long.

Paste your entry into the body of an email and send it to pam@allaboutwritingcourses.com before midnight on 31 January.

The winner will receive an All About Writing literary assessment of a piece of writing of up to 1500 words long.

Click here for a few essential writing tips.

Happy writing

Jo-Anne, Richard and Trish



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