August Newsletter: Words on water or immortal prose?

 In All About Writing, Newsletters

Trish and I have just spent six weeks slowly working our way down the Thames River in our narrowboat Patience. We’re on the Grand Union Canal now, moored up in Paddington Basin in the heart of London – but it’s the river that captured our imaginations.

Rivers are powerful metaphors for writers. They form critical boundaries, for one thing. Think of the Styx, over which souls must pass on their way to Hades. They can symbolize freedom – as the Mississippi does in Huckleberry Finn. For Ratty, in Wind in the Willows, the river is “… brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other.” For Joseph Conrad, the river provided a route to the heart of darkness. The poet Alice Oswald returns to rivers again and again. To her they seem to be both ever-changing, and changeless.

In short, rivers can serve all sorts of ends.

Including serving as the inspiration for this month’s writing challenge…

But first, the winner of July’s writing challenge…

July Writing Challenge winner and runners-up

Our winner is Colleen Saunders for her light-hearted and rather cheeky take on the clash between adults and children.  Revo Ti Llor gets a very honorable mention for his quite moving scene set on the slopes of Kilimanjaro.  He’s also the author of a much more cynical take on loyalty and compromise which we liked: the punch comes in the last line. Janet Lopes gets an approving nod for her story of a life-long relationship, while Pamela Williams’s idealism is to commended in her story set in a warzone.

Congrats to all of you. Colleen, you get a book voucher from an independent bookstore of your choice to the value of R300. The rest of you will have to make do with a hearty cheer. And all of you who didn’t make a mention this month, know that with perseverance your time will come.

To read the winning entries, click here.

August Writing Challenge

 “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Your challenge for August is to write a scene set on or around water. That might be a river, the sea, a pond or a swimming pool. It might be a romantic moment; or a moment of deviltry – but whatever it is, the water plays a role as context, as texture and perhaps even as the final resting place of one of your characters.

No more than 250 words. Have fun.

The deadline is midnight on 31 August. Paste your entry into the body of an email and send to

For a set of tips to help you on your way, click here.

Learn to write a screenplay

Film producers seldom read scripts in their endless hunt for original and compelling material. They read the outline: the excitingly presented synopsis of the story that introduces the characters and traces the spine of the drama.

Creating an outline is a challenging and technical process. And it’s what All About Writing’s How to Write a Screenplay teaches. This involves creating striking characters, and developing and structuring a stirring and memorable story.

Our next online course kicks off in just a little over three weeks time. Led by Michele Rowe and me, it guides participants through the process of producing a solid outline with credible characters and a workable structure. This will be the fourth time we’ve run it. Responses have been extremely positive. Sheona says, “Michéle and Richard’s feedback was invaluable and I am so grateful to have had their guidance throughout the process.” Nadine adds, that the course “gave me a completely new perspective on writing” for film.

Oh, and talking about water…

Last Chance for Venice

On Wednesday, September 6, a trickle of writers will make their way into the Campo Albrizzi in San Polo, Venice. They’ll have come by plane, or train, and then vaporetto or water taxi. Some’ll probably be a little tired after a long journey from the southern hemisphere. Some will have come from the UK, others will have been touring northern Italy.

Those who’ve been before will enter the cavernous ground floor of the palazzo and seek out the features they remember: the cracked marble paving, the giant lamp shedding a little light in the gloom. Those who’ve not been before will enter these precincts in awe. From the outside, the Palazzo Albrizi is imposing in that very particular Venetian way, having shed with indifference much of its plaster coating, and looming over the tiny sunlit square before it with a kind of indulgence.

We’ll be there for All About Writing’s third Venetian Writing Retreat, of course – seven nights and six days of focused thinking and writing and drinking Campari spritzes.

We have just one room left. Why not indulge yourself in the most resplendent city on earth, with the most congenial company available, doing the thing that gives you more pleasure than, well, almost anything else?

Last chance for Stow-on-the-Wold

There’s just one place available, as well, to anyone who wants to taste the more modest delights of Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds a little later in September. It’s conflict all the way at this weekend workshop, designed especially for Stow – conflict of a very literary kind. In this, our introductory Stow-on-the-Wold Writing Weekend, we’ll be exploring literary conflict, how to identify it, and how to exploit it in the stories we devise. Conflict doesn’t only help shape the story – it also helps identify the heart of your key characters.

Community news

If you’ve subscribed to any of our courses, either online or face-to-face, you qualify to join our Alumni Group. It’s vibrant and we’ve heard a great many good things about it. (Jo-Anne and I are banished from it, quite deliberately: we want to avoid inducing any self-consciousness by hovering over you.) Here’s the link.

Then, congratulations to Adele Thomas, one of our mentees, who is about to publish her first crime novel, Copycat. (She’s working on her second with us.)  Adele is a professor at the University of Johannesburg where she teaches and researches the subjects of ethics and governance, with a particular focus on ethics in academia. Copycat is being launched at Love Books in Johannesburg on October 12.

Janita Lawrence’s online bookstore Pulp Books is holding a stock clearance sale. Check it out, there are some gems available.

Melody Emmett holds her workshop on character development using the enneagram on September 2 in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.

Flow like a river

Read a thousand books and your words will flow like a river. Lisa See

Happy writing


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