About Sandra Jensen

I am a writer. I was born in South Africa and have British and Canadian citizenship. I have over 40 short story and flash fiction publications, including in: World Literature Today, The Irish Times, Descant, AGNI, The Fiddlehead and others. My work has received a number of awards including winning the 2012 bosque Fiction Competition and the 2011 J.G. Farrell award for best novel-in-progress. I have been awarded Professional Writer’s Grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Arts Council of Ireland and Arts Council England. The novel I have recently completed, Ten Virtuous Acts, is a literary adventure set in Sri Lanka during the civil war. I was a guest writer and panellist at the 12th and 13th International Conference on the Short Story (Little Rock, Arkansas and Austria); an invited participant at The Galle Literary Festival, Sri Lanka in 2011 and a six-time participant of the Sirenland Writer’s Conference in Positano, Italy. I attended The Banff Centre’s Wired Writing Studio in 2011/2012. I administer the In Memory of Vučko and AWABosnia websites, raising awareness and funds to stop animal suffering in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I live with my partner, David Crean and my foundling cat, Rónán.

15th International Conference on the Short Story in English

Thanks to a Canada Council for the Arts Grant I am a participant at the 15th International Conference on the Short Story in English, taking place from June 27-30, 2018 at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. The theme is: “Beyond History: The Radiance of the Short Story.

In an age when private lives appear to be ruled by the force of historical events, we are contradictorily challenged by creative achievements that, even if originating in History, develop a self-sustainable energy, a radiance, so to say, that supersedes material circumstances and/or envisages alternatives for them.

The 15th International Conference on the Short Story in English brings writers of many nationalities to Lisbon, a city where the cultures of the world meet and stories of history unravel around every corner. In this scenario, fiction writers in English, or authors who have been translated into English, together with scholars of the short story, will join in reading sessions, roundtable discussions and panels, as well as in the more traditional paper presentation sessions.

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Society for the Study of the Short Story, the Conference looks forward to the opportunity of highlighting the variety of ways in which the Short Story becomes a specific form, blurs the boundaries with other literary forms, goes beyond the written medium and borrows from other artistic processes/languages, shaping itself anew in an endless process. Indeed, proving to be an extremely resilient medium, the Short Story has been changing throughout the times and aesthetic tendencies, without losing the kernel that makes it a distinctive mode of the human expressive genius.

On Thursday, June 28th, I’ll be on a panel discussing Flash Fiction in Method and Meaning with Nuala O’Connor and Tracey Slaughter, and on Friday, June 29th I’m reading one of my short stories as well as participating in the round-table discussion on Politics and Short Fiction, with Garry Craig Powell, Rebekah Clarkson, David James, and Robin McLean:

An age-old question for many writers and artists has been to what extent should politics intrude on art: should we write above politics or face it head on? Can fiction affect or even transform the political climate? Should it even try? Then again, is it even possible to avoid a political stance of some kind?

You can download the program of events from the website – there are a number of exciting authors reading their work, and a packed program of panels. See you there!

Diving into Story

I’m offering an afternoon writing workshop on Sunday 3rd June 2-4:30pm in Hove at the Tree of Life Integrated Health Centre. (Note: these workshops are now held monthly. Please see the Workshops and Teaching page).

We all have a story to tell, and our stories matter. Stories give us the chance to be heard, stories help us find out who we really are; stories connect us to others and perhaps stories help the world become whole.

We don’t always consciously know what stories we have within us to write, and even if we do, we often avoid actually putting pen to paper. Sitting down to a blank page is a dive into the unknown, a dive that takes great courage. We seek safety by putting on our ‘editor’s cap’ too soon, or by waiting for inspiration before we start writing. If we focus on what our story is going to be about, whether the writing will be good enough, or whether anyone will want (or not want) to read it, we stymie the creative process.

This workshop will support you to discover the exhilaration and power of writing without preconceived ideas about what you should be writing or how you should be writing it, a thrilling and sometimes life-changing experience.

Your stories may be inspired from personal life, your intuition or your imagination, it does not matter: you will be encouraged to step out of your own way and open up your ‘child eyes’ to whatever wants to be expressed on the page. The focus of the workshop will be how to stop thinking about writing and to actually write.

By the end of the workshop, you will have begun at least one story, and you will leave knowing how to continue. No formal writing experience necessary.

For bookings and enquiries please sent me a message or make contact via the Centre on +44 (0) 1273 220159 / info@tolcentre.com.

Though none of us will live forever, our stories can. As long as one soul remains who can tell the story, the greater forces of love, mercy, generosity, and strength are continuously called into the world.“~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Writing on the Edge of the Sea

To live — Do you know what that means? To undo your belt and look for trouble….” the words of Zorba, of course.

I’m very excited to announce that Robin McLean and I are leading a writing workshop in Crete this October, the first in a series called ‘Writing on the Edge‘.

Writing on the Edge of the Sea‘ will be a generative and boundary-busting workshop limited to 10 participants, held in the truly gorgeous harbour town of Chania (which has two beaches, the Mediterranean still warm enough for swimming…).

Look for trouble. Come. Details on our website.

 

What Has Been Given To You To Say?

As some of you know I was lucky enough to teach three creative workshops for the Fairway Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka in January, as well as a workshop for the British Council in Colombo.

One of the workshops, ‘How To Face The Blank Page’,  was part of the Festival’s outreach North-South programme, hosting students from 8 different national university English Language departments. About 45 students participated. Given the island’s only too-recent civil war, it was inspiring to be working with a classroom of students from different ethnicities of the country. They did indeed face the blank page and some wrote powerful pieces about the war and its aftermath, and they also wrote about the tsunami which took the lives of 35,000 Sri Lankans in 2004.

The two other workshops for the Festival were on Flash Fiction and ‘Diving into Story’, for younger people. For the British Council, my workshop was also on Flash Fiction and was also for younger people. Originally the numbers for this workshop were limited to 20, but at the last minute the number of participants bloomed to 65 when a teacher from one of the schools found out about the workshop and asked if her whole class could join. I have not taught those numbers before, so was a little anxious but the children were not only amazing, so was their writing, as you’ll read below. I took heart in our future, to know there were so many young people with a deeply adult understanding of themselves and the world we live in.

One of the prompts I gave for a short piece was called “Your Gift.”

I asked participants to put aside for a moment any fear of pride, lack of confidence or disbelief in themselves and to imagine the planet is in dire danger (not hard to imagine). I told them the gods had given them two gifts, the first being great skill in expressing themselves, the second something important to be said. I asked them to sit silently for a moment and then to write down the answer the question, ”What has been given to you to say?”

The answers were deeply moving. I read many of these out to the participants and in one case they all stood up and applauded. I read them out myself not just because the children were shy, but to encourage them to hear the beauty and strength of their words. Sometimes it’s easier to hear that in another person’s voice.

I have been collecting some of the pieces, and wanted to share them here:

Look around you. Look at everything and everyone around you. Who are they? What do they mean to you? If you left now and never saw them again, how would it affect you? Would you feel guilty for doing something, or for not doing something? Would you feel guilty for saying something, or for not saying something? If so, then do it. If so, then tell them.

~ Nora Deemer, age 14, Elizabeth Moir School

***

I Live in my mind a brave fearless charming and charismatic young girl with power to change the world. I Live in my life a snivelling scared stupid bitch without even the power to speak up for herself . I Die in my mind noble and valiant thousands of others weeping for me. I Die in my life wishing the girl I fantasised was actually me.

~ Rusandi Rosini Ranasinghe, age 14, Visakha Vidyalaya

***

When someone tells you that they want to make a change in the world, don’t let your narrow mind tell you that it’s not possible. Think about it, in the big picture, it may seem like all the issues in the world have already been addressed and solved, but break the picture to look at the gaps, the missed brushstrokes and the half shaded colours, has every single issue in the world reached a solution?

Ranuli Palipane, age 17, Musaeus College

***

Polluting is something we as humans do and it’s harming our planet. What should we do? We all should be recycling, it’s a good habit and it will save our world and animals. We should also teach our kids, if we have any, to up-cycle. Did you know that every one minute a garbage truck full of plastic is dumped in our ocean? It has to be stopped. Plastic survives for a long time. Did you know that 25 years ago a cargo ship carried 50 containers over the pacific ocean and one of the containers full of toy rubber ducks fell into the water? Still today 200 of those ducks are floating around in our big blue sea.

~ Neve Grace Coleman, age 9, homeschooled

***

And, there’s this one which made me smile: In response to the prompt: “The worst teacher you’ve ever had” (hopefully I won’t be on that list!):

For a challenging subject, he was the last teacher we wanted. We actually needed someone to show us how to strategically find x and solve y, not one who failed while trying to disprove age old theorems and claimed to have seen ghosts in the school hallways in broad daylight and tried to pull off a Matilda to move a marker with his mind. clearly, he was deprived of attention as a child, at least that’s what we thought.

~ Ranuli Palipane, age 17, Musaeus College

***


Note: if you attended one of the workshops and would like to send me some pieces you wrote there for publication on my blog, do let me know! You can email them via the Contact form.

Links:

British Council in Colombo
British Council Literature website in the UK
British Council Literature on Twitter

The Galle Literary Festival on Facebook
The Galle Literary Festival on Twitter

Flash fiction workshop at the British Council, Colombo

I’ll be teaching a workshop on flash fiction for teens at the British Council in Colombo at the end of this month, following the Galle Literary Festival
Flash (also known as micro fiction, postcard fiction, short stories, sudden fiction, and prose poems) is the art of brevity take to an extreme, where not only every word counts but every comma and every line break: a complete story under 1000 words and preferably less.

This workshop will inspire participants to write at least 2 flash stories to submit to numerous publications and contests that are looking for flash fiction.

Date:   Monday 29 January 2018
TIme:  03.00 p.m. – 05.00 p.m. (followed by refreshments)
Venue: British Council library Colombo 03

For more information and to register go here – hope to see you!

The British Council has been in Sri Lanka since 1949, offering a wide range of services and activities across the island.  For more information visit the British Council’s Sri Lankan website, and the British Council Literature website – they are involved in some extraordinary projects across the world.

Creative Writing at the Galle Literary Festival, 2018


I’m delighted to share that I have once again been invited to teach creative writing workshops at the Fairway Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka in January (24th-28th), including a workshop for teenagers and another for the North-South Programme.

This year speakers at the Festival include Amit Chaudhuri, Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke, Kimaya de Silva, Pankaj Mishra, Maylis de Kerangal, Louis de Bernières, Richard Flanagan, Ashok Ferrey, Alexander McCall Smith, and Dame Maggie Smith. My author page on the Festival website is here.

I will also be teaching a writing workshop at the British Council in Colombo on the 29th of January.

Come and join me!

The Festival on Facebook
The Festival on Twitter

A new career in Greek Reality TV?

In my last blog, A Cretan Story, I mentioned the Greek TV show “Pame Paketo” (Πάμε Πακέτο), who I’d contacted as they help connect one with ‘lost’ people from the past. I’d emailed them in early September about wanting to find Manolis Anitsakis or someone in his family. Manolis was the man who took care of me and my brother while my mother was in hospital after the car accident, the man who’d found us an apartment to live in, the man who’d bought me a puppy and a hedgehog and who fed me kadaifi and baklava in his family’s café. Within a few days Annita, one of the Pame Paketo team, replied to me via Facebook and said they would like to do a story, which meant they found someone. I did not know who. Over the next days I chatted at length to Annita. She wanted to know everything I remembered, asked me if I’d be willing to go to Athens in a couple of weeks to record the show. The thought overwhelmed me, as this would be just a few days before my planned-for trip to Chania. David was away, I couldn’t find a cat sitter, my health was particularly low. And a reality TV show? It just didn’t seem the kind of experience I was destined for. But I said yes, of course, thinking what HAD I got myself into.

Well, this for starters…


My hotel was by the sea, with a spa and a pool and a great breakfast buffet. I slept and swam and let the sauna get me into some kind of presentable shape for filming the following evening.

At the Pame Paketo studios, my first hours were spent sequestered away in a small room with my translator George Fassoulakis. The other ‘story’ on the show was being filmed. I wasn’t to leave the room, as whoever they’d found was also in the building, and we were not to cross paths until the show.  I was brought a substantial salad and coffee and endless sweet cakes. George and I chatted. I learned he spoke 5 languages and translated for the UN in Brussels. At some point I was ushered into hair and make up looking like one person, and then ushered back to the small room looking like another. Finally we were ‘on’…

Everything is in Greek (other than when I speak) but if you listen closely you can hear George doing simultaneous translation – I now have a profound appreciation of this skill.

As is revealed to me on the show, Manolis died from cancer in the 70’s, only ten years after my father died (more about this here). Manolis did not marry, but he had two sisters, who’d also died. But the sisters each had one child, Stella and Mihalis. This is surprise ‘meet’ on the show, Manolis’ niece and nephew. In the “Paketo” (packet – the enormous white box) that Stella opens is the obituary of my father written by Manolis, and a gift I’d chosen for Manolis or whoever Pame Paketo would find: a pair of silver cufflinks my mother made some years ago. Neither Stella nor Mihalis knew who they would meet, only that it was someone asking about their uncle Manolis.

As they read the obituary, they began to remember. Stella remembered a dinner with my parents; she remembered that Manolis was distressed he had to leave Chania for a few days, and so she took his place at my mother’s bedside in the hospital. I did not get to meet Manolis, but to meet Stella and Mihalis, who’d been there then, who were a part of my ‘lost’ history – well, it felt like a another strand woven in the net beneath me that has been forming ever since my visits to Chania, a net that will catch me if I ever fell. I have realised that most of my life I have been floating in space without a way to get back to the mother-ship, without anything to catch me if I fell to earth, but now there is a way back  –  tentative and delicate, but definitely there.

And then it was a wrap and everyone was pressed into the night. Stella and Mihalis and I promised to meet again in Chania, which did, a week later.

Manolis Anitsakis

The show had a section of me being shown photographs of Manolis that I’d never seen, it was very moving for me.

Manolis Anitsakis (the woman second from left was Manolis’s first cousin, Marika Vlassopoulou, who was a writer and general director of broadcasting)

I was flown back home the next day, but not before I managed to have lunch with my ex step-aunt for the first time in over forty years, and then coffee with my ex step-father, also for the first time in over forty years. He came to Athens airport to meet me, and we sat perched on uncomfortable chairs, while around us travellers dragged their hand luggage to departure gates or stared glassy-eyed at flight information displays. My step-father and I caught up as best we could given the circumstances. I almost missed my flight.

The whole experience felt like I’d slipped briefly into another dimension, one which still exists out there,  just waiting for me to return. And I can feel those strands, connecting me to the mother-ship. Thank you Pame Paketo for your part in this.

I’m still looking for three of the people who were in the car accident: an American couple, and a Greek man, whose first name I believe was Costas. I’d also like to meet Mihalis, who played with my brother. A son of a fisherman. Mihalis was about eighteen then (1968/9), so in his mid sixties now. Perhaps another show…