Indian Spring

Award-winning Indian author Ardashir Vakil is coming to Austria in May to host an exclusive networking/reading, following by a creative writing event. The title of the workshop: Writing for Life. A special offer price on the workshop ends on Friday.

As writers – especially in that first big work – we often choose to use our own life experiences and memories, drawing on deeply personal themes and details to enrich plot, create three-dimensional characters and build a body of material to work from. But how should we do this effectively, and make the most of those experiences to create really strong writing?

Now, in a creative writing weekend organised by writers’ group Write Now, the author Ardashir Vakil, who also lectures in creative writing in London, will be giving a free reading of a recent short story of his, following by a two-day workshop. Here’s what that weekend will look like…

On the evening of Friday 5 May, Vakil will read ‘Impromptu’, a piece he wrote in 2014 and which was published in the spring of that year in Raritan, a prestigious American literary journal. The piece has a very Viennese theme, and the reading will take place at the Arts Centre below the Cafe Korb in the Innenstadt, beginning at 9 p.m. The author will read for 35 minutes, after which participants will be invited to question Vakil, before enjoying a drink and networking event with the other writers, publishers, journalists and artists present. The reading and social opportunity will be free of charge.

Subsequently, on the mornings and early afternoons of Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 May, Vakil will host a workshop for twelve people, examining how to take one’s own life story, experience and memories, and work it into your writing to enrich plot and characters in novels and short stories. Vakil’s own best-selling novel, ‘Beach Boy’, is a coming-of-age story dealing with his own childhood in ‘60s and ‘70s Bombay, which won the Betty Trask Award.

The workshop will consist of writing exercises when all participants, including Vakil, will write for anything from 5 to 20 minutes. All participants will get a chance to read to the group and receive feedback from Vakil and their peers. Questions on issues such as plot, character, narrative technique and voice will be discussed throughout the workshop, and Vakil will make room to address any outstanding questions participants may wish to discuss during intervals in each session and lunch afterwards.

The workshop is being kept small, with twelve participants, to maximise direct interaction and close-in access to the host. Tickets for the workshop cost € 175 if booked by he end of this week, 31 March, and € 195 if booked after that date. The workshop will be held in the Arts Centre below the Cafe Korb, five minutes’ walk from Stephansdom.

If you think you might be interested in attending the workshop and networking event for free, or would like to book a place on the workshop, please contact Tim Martinz-Lywood by calling 0650 289 1150 or drop in at the Write Now website.

Write Now is a group dedicated to creating a platform for English-language writes in Vienna to network, exchange writing experiences and socialise with life minds. 

Writing from Life

Award winning novelist and creative writing lecturer at Goldsmiths, Ardu Vakil, based in Mumbai and London, is coming to do a workshop for us this May!

The workshop will be looking in particular at how to successfully draw from your personal life story and incorporate it into your writing. This may be in the form of memoir, using your life as inspiration, writing what you know, or simply boring details from life. 

As an introduction to Ardu Vakil and his thoughts on writing, here’s an interview I did with him over the phone earlier this week.

How old were you when you first started to write?

Twelve. In the school magazine. ‘One Night in the Life of Ardu Vakilovich’. I still have a copy somewhere.

Describe for us an early experience that taught you language had power.

My friend at school, Dilip used to ask me for help with writing love letters to a girl he had a crush on. It worked. She became his girlfriend on the strength of my flowery, purple prose.

When did you realise you could actually make a living as a writer?

In London, in 1994, after the publication of my first novel ‘Beach Boy’. It won a Betty Trask Award before it was even published. And I was contacted by the Wylie Agency to come and meet them with a view to representing me. The reality, of course, is that it is only a handful of published writers who can actually make a living solely from the income generated by sales of books.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Write as much as you can, be disciplined, force yourself to write sometimes even when you don’t want to, but don’t be judgemental and self-stricturing. Don’t keep worrying about whether something is brilliant or not.

How important is personal life experience for you? Is it the most potent tool aspiring writers have to work with?

Yes. In the beginning. You have to start, in my opinion, by making yourself and any of your experiences the stories you write. If you can’t bring your own stories alive, if you can’t make yourself an interesting character to readers, you are unlikely to be able to make up convincing, engaging situations and characters.

What’s the most challenging part of the writing process for you?

Returning every day to the work, despite being beset by anxieties and uncertainties.

Does writing energise or exhaust you, and how has it changed you over the years?

When something I have written, after months of the hard work of searching, composing and editing is finished, I read over a decent paragraph and feel a sense of wonder. It’s certainly a rare feeling.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

My friends and sometimes members of my family have read over my work and made helpful suggestions. Working with Creative Writing students at Goldsmiths has also been instructive and inspiring for me as a writer. Watching the growth of other people’s work and seeing what dedication to determination can achieve. Those last two are probably the most crucial aspects of writing, though they don’t guarantee success, they guarantee that you will finish the work you started.

Do you want each of your books to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I’d like my stories and books to stand on their own. Each one is a separate entity. I do intend to write a sequel to Beach Boy, but in many ways, it will be a very different kind of book.

Who is your favourite author, and why?

I think Chekhov’s stories are always improvisatory, moving and alive.

I think all writers who have any ambition should read and reread ‘Anna Karenina’.

Recently, my favourite author has been Sadat Hasan Manto.

One of your most critically-acclaimed books has been Beach Boy, dealing with your youth in what was then Bombay. What did you edit out of this book?

A scene where I went for a swim in the sea outside my childhood home and I cried a lot; my salty tears mixing with the waves. It was untrue, lachrymose, and didn’t fit with the character in the book.

What has been the hardest scene you’ve ever had to write, and why so?

Writing is most hard when you feel you have to do it and you don’t want to. For example, I know what a train station in Bombay looks like, but to have to put it into words is a struggle. How to avoid clichés? What to leave in what to leave out? Who am I writing it for? Ultimately, I go back to the characters and the story. I’m not that interested in description for its own sake, a few lines maybe, if they are really beautiful.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

The most important thing money buys for a writer is time, apart from laptops!

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

I am the first and foremost reader of my work. I am an exacting reader. I don’t like being experimented on by the writer, especially if that writer is me! Much of what I have written has been pushed to one side; my own slush pile if you like. I want to be moved and I want the character and situation to be alive on the page. If that happens, I’m satisfied, if not I start anew.

 

How long on average does it take for you to write a book?

How long is a piece of string question?

‘Beach Boy’ took two years, start to finish, but it depends on what you mean by the ‘start’.

Faulkner wrote ‘As I Lay Dying’ in 8 weeks. Harper Lee’s second novel took 30 years, but not sure this kind of info is helpful to any writer. A writer acquaintance said to me, she always knows how many hours a novel is going to take her start to finish. That’s a little weird. She’s written three or four short novels. (100 pages each)

What’s more important for you: characters or plot?

Definitely characters. Plot is empty without character who the reader cares about.

Early bird registration for this workshop will open on Wednesday March 1, 2017. Early bird tickets for the two-day workshop, running Saturday May 6 and Sunday May 7, will be €175. Registration after April 1st will be €195. Workshop details will be posted on the site on March 1st. This workshop is limited to 12 participants and tickets are expected to sell out fast, so please contact us at office.writenow@gmail.com to reserve a seat, or check back next week for more info!

 

Never forget who you are – and never forget where you are

People from England, Hungary, India, Ireland, Jamaica, the Philippines, Nigeria and Scotland who ended up in Vienna talk about exactly what it’s like.

As part of this year’s Wir sind Wien festival, Write Now has organised eight readings by migrants to Vienna, describing their experiences and cultural journeys since arriving in the city. The readings will be held next Friday, June 10th at the Ankerbrotfabrik, Absberggasse 27, 1100 Wien.

How does it feel to migrate? How does it change your attitude to your new home, and the place you left? How do you retain an identity while becoming part of somewhere totally new? Do you need to, or should you just mix in? How do things like the job you do, the colour of your skin or your religion, get in the way?

Migration has changed hugely compared to movement from Africa, the Caribbean, the Subcontinent and Turkey into the big European economies in the 1950s and ‘60s. In many countries, such as the UK, two or three generations down the line, with people from all over the world having grown up in the same classrooms and workplaces, many of the questions have been answered, and the population at large feels that generally, the country is the stronger for having absorbed new people from around the world.

In many countries, though, it’s far less simple. As people continue to set out across the Mediterranean, how do those already in Europe and its new arrivals need to adapt to one another’s needs avoid to losing an entire generation of people to radicalism at both extremes?

As the literary partner of the Wir sind Wien event in the city’s 10th District, Favoriten, Write Now has brought together a group of eight ordinary people, from a range of different jobs and origins, to talk about their experiences of starting life elsewhere in the world and eventually landing up in Vienna, and where they really view as home.

The writers are a great mix: they started out in England, Hungary, India, Ireland, Jamaica, the Philippines, Nigeria and Scotland. They will read their respective pieces to the crowd at Magda’s Kantine, a café at the Ankerbrotfabrik arts centre site; there will be no stage, and the atmosphere will be informal; people will read their work, then open things up to the audience for questions. The readings will happen in two groups of four people, one at 4.00 pm and one at 6.30 pm. Other events (music, an artists’ initiative, etc.) will be held in the course of the afternoon.

The talks will also be backdropped by an exhibition of art by a Syrian refugee who contacted Write Now with his paintings. Highly professional, hauntingly memorable stuff. The talks will be humorous and insightful, there’s a performance by the superar orchestra, art happenings on the site and more – so come along on 10 June for a great afternoon!

 

Songwriting Workshop

na2008024_Renee Benson_Head ShotsInterview with Renee ‘Raie’ Benson

“Thank you Renee, for teaching me how to turn my broken heart into a song.” 

Ghislaine, Visual Artist, commenting on Introduction to Songwriting, January 2015

On 23 and 24 January 2016, New York soul singer (and much else besides) Renee ‘Raie’ Benson will be hosting a Write Now workshop, Beyond the Basics of Songwriting. The workshop will build on Introduction to Songwriting, which she ran in January 2015. This workshop will look more closely at the technical and emotional aspects of songwriting, focusing on the art of arranging music, using and understanding chord progressions, and developing strong musical intent.

Tim Martinz-Lywood spoke to Renee about what writers can learn from the process of writing a song, what she does in her spare time to help her musical creativity, and what advice she would give a young singer starting out on her career…

Hi Renee, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us! What have you been up to in the past year since Introduction to Songwriting?

It’s been quite a year, Tim! Since the last workshop with Write Now, I’ve performed in New Orleans (always a dream of mine), taught in the NorthWest Territories of Canada (teaching songwriting and singing with First Nations youth), flown an eight-seater passenger plane, taught and led an arts programme for young women in the South Bronx of NY, started writing my first solo album, and worked as the Musical Director for Caravan Stage Theater Co (in New York). I’ve also just finished a Gospel tour throughout Austria. So a busy year, all told.

How did you meet the musicians you’re working with currently?

The members of No Home for Johnny came together through horn player Julian Prueschl. He had an idea for a project combining jazz and hip hop with a singer who could sing intricate jazz lines and rap (and most importantly write her own music).

The group’s killer rhythm section, Raphael Prueschl and Michael Prozwanik, was Julian’s first choice (and not just because he grew up with Raphael!) The group was originally the brainchild of Julian and Vincent Pongracz, but Peter Rom of Jazzwerkstatt joined us after Vincent left. Peter brought sounds and melodies to our music we’d never even dreamt of.

Meaghan and I, of Cheating on New York, met here in Vienna, although we are both New Yorkers. We instantly found each other’s wild and quirky energies charming, and have worked together ever since.

Where can people see you performing in Vienna in the near future?

Well, my time here is coming to an end, as I will soon be off to work on my youth programmes in North America. But for Nina Simone fans, I am doing a tribute at the Albertina Passage in Vienna, at 10.00 pm on 21 January.

What do you like to do outside of music that contributes to your musicality?

Nothing. Music is everywhere in life. Every moment contributes to my music. I am a writer. Even flying a plane has its own melody.

What are some typical mistakes people make when trying to write a song, do you think?

Overwriting! So many songs have too many words, too many images and too many metaphors in them. There is no space for the listener to breathe, capture the moment, pack their bags and take a trip with you. I think many songwriters want their audience to understand their music, and strange as it may sound, this is not necessary. Interpretation is important. Your listener will always apply the music to their life in the way they need. It is vital for a writer to understand when their music is for the people, because at that moment it no longer belongs to you.

How does writing a song differ from writing a short story, or a poem?

It doesn’t. I write short stories and poems all the time. In fact, I am thinking of publishing my own poetry book in 2017 since I have so much material. All the rules apply. That’s why some short stories sound great with a soundtrack in the background.

What might a budding writer of other styles take from your creative process to make their own stories more readable?

Trust. I never appreciated how lucky I have been as an artist to be raised by a community that always allowed me to be myself. My mother never punished me for my grades, but would ask what I needed to do better with my studies. My dance teacher never told me to lose weight, so I happily twirled through numerous dance competitions through my youth winning awards with thick thighs and a big smile. Because I never had to conform, I never did. Working with me means I’m working with you. My style is mindful and always based on what my student needs and who they are. I mean, it’s their life, right? Why would I ask them to write MY story?

You’re sitting in a bar alone after a gig. A young woman sits down next to you, orders a drink and tells you she’s about to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. What should she do – and what should she be sure not to do?

I would laugh and say, “Do it! The world needs music! They need love and most importantly, the world needs you. Oh, and I’m teaching a workshop with Write Now you need to attend.”

On the second point: I never tell people not to do anything. Our journeys are important to travel alone. I provide resources, not advice. In fact, I tell people to trust their bad decisions because you can write about those as well.

What should people expect to take away with them from Beyond the Basics of Songwriting?

I want my writers to leave after two days feeling like they have begun a song they have been trying to write all of their lives. This time, they will think about what the band plays, where they want the song to be heard (venue, radio, recording), and whether they want to perform it themselves or have another singer do so. Most importantly, I want my writers to let their music live on its own (without judgements or emotional ties).

Inspiration should be the big take away. The inspiration to do what you have to to have your music heard or just complete the song (because we all have different goals and intentions when we write).


Renee Benson, aka Raie, is a singer, songwriter, emcee, writer, educator and arts education advocate.  Her voice has taken her to Eurovision, PopFest, FM4 and to headline at events throughout Europe. She is the lead singer of No Home for Johnny, an experimental jazz and hip hop collective and a member of Freudian cabaret duo Cheating on New York.  She has taught for GirlsRock, What’sYourStory, InMyWords and of course Write Now, and run workshops for a wide range of universities, charities and other organisations. 

https://www.facebook.com/reneebensonmusic/?ref=hl

To find out more about joining Renee’s workshop, Beyond the Basics of Songwriting, just go to www.writenow.at now!

 

Interview with Abigail Rasminsky

2012-03-08 14.19.16On 22 November, Abigail Rasminsky will be hosting a Write Now workshop, “Getting Started: How to Begin a Writing Project.” Tim Martinz-Lywood talked to Abby about writing in the online age, writing in New York vs. writing in Vienna, and how to get writing at all…

  1. Abby, much of the work you’ve published since arriving in Vienna has consisted of essays on issues that interest you. Has the new bottom-up, ‘rolling news’ culture of publishing that has developed through social media over the past decade enriched writing, or impoverished it?

Well, it has certainly created more forums for being published. You don’t even need an editor anymore! Get a blog (or a Facebook or Twitter account) and you can write whatever you want and publish it by simply clicking “Send.” In some ways this new culture of publishing—in which there are umpteen places to send your work—is wonderful. If you get rejected by one online magazine, for example, you can just send it to someone else, and usually you hear back quite quickly. Gone are the days of sending anything out by mail and waiting months for a reply. All of this is great. More people are being published, which means there are more voices out in the world. That said, something is lost when editors (and writers) aren’t paid to do their work. There’s a reason editors are employed (and writers, too!)—they are, for the most part, really, really good at what they do! They make your essay or story or novel better. So while I’d say that social media has certainly opened up many more channels for publication, the quality is not necessarily better.

  1. Do blogging and essay-writing help develop the writing craft in other forms, such as fiction or journalism?

Writing helps writing—in other words, the more you write, the better you get at it, no matter the form or venue. The major thing blogging can do is to get you to write regularly—and perhaps it can help you collect a few loyal readers along the way. Because there aren’t any rules to blogging (a blog entry can be mostly photos or links from around the internet), it isn’t always going to do a whole lot to improve your craft, but if the blog entries are little essays—then of course they can help! Anytime you have to think narratively, create a coherent arc, build tension, etc., you’re working your craft, and that can always translate into journalism or fiction.

  1. Much of your work has also focused on being forced to give up dancing professionally at 28, due to injury. How has writing about the experience of a life-changing health issue changed that experience, do you think?

When I was first injured—I herniated two discs in my lower back and had to quit my career as a professional modern dancer—writing was the only thing that provided any solace. I spent most of my days at home, lying on ice or in the bathtub (and ingesting way too many pain relievers), and writing was the only thing that helped me make sense of this scary, destabilizing experience. As the years went on and I started to write about the experience more seriously, I was able to turn something devastating and personal into something that was connected to a larger narrative of pain, illness and loss—I wasn’t the only one who’d been through a life-changing physical change! I wasn’t the only one who had dreams for her life and career and body that fell apart! This is the incredible thing about literature—our own experiences are both our own and part of an enormous web of stories that can tell us something new and enlightening about what it means to be here, trying to make sense of our lives.

  1. What have been your impressions of the Viennese writing scene since moving here from North America? Has the internet dumbed down the major cultural distinctions?

Sadly, these days, my writing scene is almost all online. I communicate with other writers and readers through Twitter and Facebook and over e-mail. I choose what I read based on what my friends and fellow writers back in New York are touting, and I celebrate their books online. Since coming to Vienna, I’ve mostly been steeped in new motherhood, so my intellectual and artistic lives haven’t taken root in cafés, readings or conferences (yet!), but online during the short moments when my daughter is at school or asleep. I am, I must admit, very grateful for the internet for this very reason. I can be 3,000 miles away from New York, but still feel like I have a sense of what’s going on. And perhaps when my baby is a little older, I’ll spend more time drinking coffee and writing in old Viennese cafés like the greats once did.

That said, I’ve found that I have SO MUCH TO WRITE ABOUT simply by living here—the gorgeous city, the experience of being an expat, the difficulty of learning a language and adapting to a foreign culture. And I’ve met a lot of writers whose work is very different from my own, which didn’t happen as much back home. I have a good friend here who’s a science writer, and another who’s working on a dissertation about the novella, so in some ways, being in a new circle of writers has expanded my view of what good and interesting writing can be.

  1. How will your workshop “Getting Started: How to Begin a Writing Project” help participants do just that? How did you come up with the theme for the workshop, and how it has worked elsewhere?

I think of getting started in two ways: first there’s the actual act of getting started—sitting down, putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and producing something, no matter how bad. Many people get stuck before they even start because what they hear in their minds (characters talking, plot brewing) is so much better than what actually ends up on the page. Welcome to every writer’s life! If we can just get going—generate material, no matter how sloppy or outlandish—we will have something to work with. So we’ll do a bunch of generating exercises to get some of those ideas out of our heads and onto the page.

The other aspect of getting started is the question of how books actually begin, so to that end, we will look at stellar opening lines from literature. How do the greats do it? Why do we all know “Call me Ishmael”? How can an opening line hook us in and keep us reading? What can an opening line tell us about what’s to come?

People are mostly very happy to just sit down and generate, so the workshop is always a lot of fun. It’s the editing process that’s a whole other story…

Abigail Rasminsky has written for The New York Times; O: The Oprah Magazine; Brain, Child Magazine; The Morning News; Medium; The Forward; The Toast; and Dance Magazine, among other publications. She is a graduate of Columbia’s MFA Writing Program, where she taught creative writing to undergraduates. More at abigailrasminsky.com.

To find out more about joining Abby’s November workshop, Getting Started: How to Begin a Writing Project, just click here and scroll down.