Challenges and opportunities, grist to to a writer’s mill

 In News, Newsletters

Current and forthcoming courses and retreats

Our Creative Writing Online Course kicked off on Tuesday – but it’s by no means too late to sign up for a rollicking ride through the hills and dales of practical writing skills. This is what one participant wrote about her experience: It went “way beyond any expectations I had before the course began. It involved more than just writing skills, it encompassed a whole new way of looking at life…  I shall never ever regret having done this course.” Interested? You have just a few days before we shut the door. Email us to join now.

Our next rollercoaster 30-Day Writing Workout embarks on August 1. If you haven’t experienced the exhilaration of thirty days of tips, advice, insight, exercises and (more or less) instant feedback, then August’s the time to do so.

We still have two rooms available – one a twin, one a double – for writers on our Venice Writing Retreat that runs from 6 to 13 September in the fabled city in a sixteenth century palazzo that will take your breath way – and give wings to your imagination. For a full week, fueled by daily discussions of compositional conundrums, you can work on your own writing in the most inspiring environment. Email us to book your place.

And finally, we’re taking bookings now for a writing workshop in Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds, United Kingdom – for the weekend of the 22 to 24 September. We’ll dig deep into the nature of literary conflict, with a series of always provocative and sometimes challenging exercises.

May Competition Winners

A clutch of four of our own alumni’s books, recently published, is the prize for this month’s writing challenge. The books are Ekow Duker’s  The God who Made Mistakes; Christa Kuljian’s Darwin’s Hunch ; Gail Gilbride’s Under the African Sun; and our anthology The Eleventh Month, consisting of stories written during an All About Writing weekend in McGregor.

The challenge, remember was to write a scene about getting lost, either literally or metaphorically. The entries were astonishingly varied, and the quality of the writing as good as any crop we’ve harvested.

The winner is Robyn Porteous for her disturbing, even dark, little tale of the loss of a child – and, we can only believe, the death of a marriage. Runners-up include Penny Castle for her tale of a relationship saved by a Romany Cream; Pamela Williams for her poignant, even whimsical  story of a man with dementia, lost and then found; Shirlane Douglas contributes a worrying story of a diver surfacing to discover his buddies have, apparently, abandoned him; Pam Newham  tells a tale of a different kind of abandonment, with a lovely late Shyamalanian reveal; Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen has written a laugh-out loud story of the epic voyage of a lost sock; and Celia Fleming’s story deals with the final stage of grief.

Do yourself a favour and read all of these – they are all, in their very different ways, fabulous takes on the theme.

June’s Writing Challenge

You’ve got to the end of a journey – literal or metaphorical – and what you discover there is very different from what you anticipated. Write a scene of no more than 250 words telling us of your surprise/disappointment/exultation. Paste it into the body of an email and send it to us by midnight on 30 June.

The winner can expect our usual modest reward: a R250 voucher to the independent bookstore of their choice.

Writing tip:  Showing emotion in your character

Your character’s feeling, let’s say, extremely nervous as she approaches the board outside the examinations hall to check her results. So in describing her state of mind, do you say: A nervous Vanessa approached the board, desperate to find out how she’d done?

Well, no. What you try to do is show her state of mind. But that’s easier said than done.

What many of us are tempted to do in showing emotion, is to use the physical symptoms of emotions: the rapid heartbeat, the clammy skin, the shaking hands…

The trouble with these sorts of details is that they’ve been overused, and so have become clichés.

So how do you show emotions?

The first and most important tactic at your command is to slow things down. You do this by describing the details of her approach to the board, both concerning her thoughts, and her actions.

So she might think about the last disastrous exam she wrote, just after she broke up with Trevor. She hopes it’s not going to be a repeat of that. She remembers her father’s reaction to that news, and can’t bear the thought of a repeat of that.

Then she sees, gathered at the board, a group of students. One of them, an old academic rival of hers, is whooping her delight. Oh God, that probably means that she’s outperformed her…

She slows. Her rival runs past her, tells her she got a first, asks what she got. She says she hasn’t looked yet, prays that her rival didn’t check her marks, or if she did, won’t blurt them out…

By the time you manoeuvre your character to the board to start checking through the names, your reader will know that she’s nervous – and you won’t have mentioned her heartbeat, or the trickle of sweat between her shoulder blades, and, most important, you won’t have named her emotion, you’ll have shown it to us in action and in thought (which is, after all, invisible action.)

Twenty writing tips

And if you’re looking for more essential tips about writing, why not explore Jo-Anne’s series we’ve called “Twenty essential aspects of writing”.

Community News

Lacy Muircastle aka Tracy Fox has written, and now published, her cheeky romantic romp, Second Time Around​ that takes her hero and heroine (not to mention her seriously evil antagonist) in and out of the virtual world of Second Life.

​Congratulations, Tracy!

Alumni Group

We’ve long advocated the idea of writers supporting and encouraging each other. To this end, one of our students and our new Social Media Manager, Aimee-Claire, has created a private Facebook group for current participants and graduates/past participants of any All About Writing course or retreat.

We hope that with this group, you’ll build a healthy community of writers, and get to know each other better. Use it to share writing successes, discuss nuances of a writers life, or ask for advice. Let us know if you’d like to join.

Writing in interesting places

You can write at your desk overlooking the front garden – or you can haul your laptop to the foothills of the Himalayas and write a chapter of your novel there. Alan Paton wrote the opening chapters of Cry the Beloved Country in Trondheim, Norway looking out over the frozen fjord. I wrote episodes of Isibaya on the deck of our narrowboat, Patience, on a little backwater of the River Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire… So our challenge to you is to take pictures of yourself writing in, let’s say, unusual or exotic or surprising locations and to send these to us to include on our #WriteEverywhere social media series.

Congratulations to Christa Kuljian for making it through from longlist to shortlist of the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award. Holding thumbs, Christa. (Her book is one of four heading for our May writing challenge winner.)

Gail Gilbride is her American publisher Cactus Rain’s current top-selling author. Congrats, Gail. (And hers is also part of the prize-package.)

Jo-Anne Richards has been invited to give a talk at UCT’s Winter School (storms permitting, of course). Here are links to her talk and the full Winter School schedule.

Writers’ block

I took forever to start writing this newsletter. Must have been suffering from a little writers’ block. Should have waited to enroll on MYeBook’s “Breaking-through-the-block-workshop- for-writers” being held on July 1 in Johannesburg.

MYeBook is the brainchild of Dave Henderson. It’s an initiative that aims to help authors publish their work online.

Getting help getting published

Writers bemoan the difficulty of getting published. Paradoxically, however, there’s never been more help available to get you published (see above), either online or in the real world. It’s worth reminding writers that for three years Jacana has been offering publishing and print services to aspirant authors. It’s called Staging Post and Jacana says of it that “Authors can make use of our skills and resources to edit, typeset and design their book and thereafter to convert it to the various electronic platforms and print.”

To make things even more interesting, Staging Post has offered anyone who’s done a writing course through All About Writing a 15% discount.

Word after word

“You have a story in there. . . or a character, a place, a poem, a moment in time. When you find it, you will write it. Word after word after word after word.”

― Patricia MacLachlan

Happy publishing


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  • gail gilbride

    Thanks for another exciting post, Richard. Your writing always leaves me feeling inspired 🙂

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