October Newsletter: Never mind your situation – find a way to write

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Newsletters

No matter where you are or what your circumstances, you can find a way to write.

It can seem daunting at times, and that’s where we come in. We undertake always to be there to help in whatever way we can. Besides our free weekly advice (check out our Monday Motivations and Wednesday Writing Tips), we are currently running our flagship online Creative Writing Course. If in doubt, take the leap. You can start immediately, and learn all the skills you need to write a book, fiction or non-fiction.

Alternatively, our Screenwriting Crash Course, starting 1 November, will teach you the essential skills to write for film or television. Or start with the basics in Power of Writing, our introductory course in writing creatively.

Difficult circumstances are no obstacle

All About Writing was contacted early this year to help a group of inmates in Zonderwater Prison near Cullinan realise their writing dreams. Here’s what our associate Pierre Brouard has to say about the project:

The circle of orange jackets tells one story. The fact that everyone’s shoes are different tells another. Running a writing workshop inside a prison arouses many emotions and curiosities: the uniforms bring discipline, mark the prisoners as other, and reduce their individuality. The shoes have other stories attached to them: complexity, inequality and uniqueness are revealed by the array of sneakers, slippers and slips ons.

We, Helen Webster and Pierre Brouard, are running a series of writing workshops at Zonderwater Prison outside Cullinan. An organiser of the prison’s reading group, contacted All About Writing, asking if they could teach the group some writing skills to tell their stories. The prison authorities embraced the idea, agreed to it as a pilot project, and if it works it could be extended to other prisons.

We have a trainee social worker in the room with us. She is using this as an opportunity to write up what we are doing, and is also a bridge between us and the somewhat mysterious workings of prison life. The room we’re in is tiny and the plastic chairs are squashed in a vague semi-circle. The flip chart stand has been discarded because one leg won’t work and every now and then an inmate drops the file of notes we’ve given them because there are no tables.

We manage to block it all out: the clanging gates, the noisy corridors, and the rather bleak institutional walls and floors. We’ve run two sessions already, and the learning curve is steep, for them and for us! But everyone is keen, the four-hour sessions go in a blur, and  we are optimistic that something good is going to come from this.

All About Writing hopes to publish the stories the inmates will tell – yes these men have transgressed society’s norms, but many of their stories are universal: lost love, opportunities missed, mistakes made, dreams of something better. We’re both learning a great deal from this, about ourselves, about each other, and about how to work creatively in a complex context. We’ll keep you posted!

We’re desperate for contributions to help fund this project. We need donations for printing, dictionaries, stationery, and for Pierre and Helen’s transport to the prison. If anyone can help, no matter how small the amount we’d be very grateful.  Please check out the options in our shop and if none of them appeal to you please contact us to discuss.

And from the difficult to the sublime…

We’ve recently returned from taking a group of writers on our annual Venice Writing Retreat, where we worked in the frescoed halls of a palazzo, wrote well, ate well and shared time with each other.

Above are some pictures to make you jealous – and here’s the rest, on Facebook. Don’t feel too bad, though. You can always join us in September next year. Here are the some of the comments we received in its aftermath:

“I just want to thank you all for a really amazing week,” said Jane. “It seemed such an out of the way thing to be doing and I was so pleased I did it.

“I loved looking out of my little window over Venice, listening to the bells and just as you all said, getting ‘lost’ in the little streets… I loved the palazzo which I am sure is full of many stories of its own, the food was delicious and we were well looked after.”

Penny used the time to build a new story and found the group skill sessions and one-on-one brainstorming very useful to her project.

“I had misgivings that I am attempting a project above my skill level and both Richard and Jo-Anne were outstanding in giving me confidence and in helping with the details that have helped me set up the story in exactly the way I wanted.”

Eva found the experience very positive on a personal as well as from a travel perspective. “Please remember I’ve been having babies since my 20s and I haven’t really had the guts or the opportunity to travel alone since I left varsity. I love Venice so I was excited to go and I was excited to be with people who are keen to write.”

And finally, Yvette commented on the “very special venue – how often does one get to live in a real palazzo?  Time to write all day if one wished.  Good food, good wine and chats.”

She enjoyed the opportunity to write, brainstorm and interact with a mentor daily.

We played another away game in September in the historic village of Stow-on-the-Wold, in the UK. This, too, is now an annual workshop.

One participant found that, through information, discussion and the chance to write, “I developed my skills and knowledge and gained in confidence. The opportunity to work with other writers and hear their feedback was also invaluable.”

Another was so moved she could express herself only in verse. Here’s an extract:

But, as hours happened, faces familiarised,
Cake and coffee motivated,
Invisible links fabricated:
A passion for perfection,
A rapture in writing
A community in creating …

No longer awkward aspirants,
We were writers:
Feeding on feedback and facilitation
Stretching our skills
Giving birth to our work …

Read the full poem here.

Community News

Our former mentee, Vernon RL Head, has just launched A Tree for the Birds, the long-awaited follow-up to his international success, The Search for the Rarest Bird in the World. Click here to read chapter one.

The second in Jacqueline Falcomer’s Tuscany lovers trilogy, Love Me Not has been published in paperback and digital. Find it on Amazon, and read this extract.

Penny and Joshua Castle’s Cure: A Time Travel Adventure last week climbed to number 1 in their category on Amazon.

The book was conceived by Joshua Castle shortly before his death in January 2018.

Josh passed away without getting the chance to write his book so Penny set about writing it on his behalf. She indie-published Cure in August and the book was received positively.

As of last week, Joshua is officially a best-selling author!

“I know he would be as pleased as punch to see his book published and read by so many people,” said Penny.

Sue Lesser, who attended this year’s Stow workshop, has published a poetry collection and is donating all proceeds to the Alzheimer’s Society.

The book costs £7 and deals with issues such as loss, life, love, and low points. Please order via lessersu@gmail.com or through FaceBook.

If you’re in the UK, you can attend the book launch on 28 November at Molo Coffee Lounge, High Street, Southend-on-Sea. Signed copies will be available and the event will be followed by an open mic session.

We’re delighted to let you know about mentoring participant Vincent Pienaar’s launch of Too Many Tsunamis.  Join Vincent at the launch on 25 October at Il Giardino in Johannesburg.

Writing Challenges left, right, and center…

We’ve announced the winners of our August/September writing challenge, and also have a new challenge for October/November running. This one asks you to write about a familiar place – your own bedroom, and includes some writing advice on descriptive layering.

The prize is a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2750. We can’t wait to read all your entries!

Happy writing


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