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.


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.

After The End

I was going to title this blog ‘When you finish your novel, what then?’ Not that I have any tips, but simply because I’m in this awkward no-man’s land of having finished one long work, and I haven’t quite started writing a new project. I don’t like this place at all. I then Googled (of course) ‘When you finish your novel, what then?’ and found (of course) a plethora of blogs on the subject, in fact one titled with this very question.  Holly Robinson writes:

Unfortunately, what follows isn’t always instant acceptance by an agent, an editor, or even your beta readers and friends. Usually what happens is the calm before the calm, a big yawning hole of deafening silence as you wait for somebody, anybody, even your mom, to please please please read the book and tell you what they think.

Meanwhile, you experience doom-and-gloom sentiments: “What good am I? I can’t even pick up the living room!” Maybe you think, “The novel is dead. Why do I bother? Nobody reads anymore.” Or, “I’m not earning money doing this. In fact, I’m costing myself money! I should quit before my family has to live out of the car!”

Most of all, you feel bereft, because the characters you’ve been living with for the past nine months or nine years have stopped living in your head. The voices are quiet. Gardening and housework can help ease the pain of saying goodbye to those people you came to know better than your own friends. So can reading — because it brings you back to that place where you can marvel at other people’s sentences instead of gnawing over your own…

I hear the “big yawning hole of deafening silence.” Not from my mother, God forbid. I have no plans on showing her the manuscript. It’s too violent. Besides which, she’s not doing so well and isn’t reading lately. And, it’s not that I’m wanting feedback, I’ve had plenty of feedback and a lot of support along the way from some very fine writers and teachers of writing. The silence is from agents. In November I submitted a query letter to a select handful of literary agents. I received one quick and outright no to the letter, one very appreciative no to the letter and first 40 pages, and one who started reading the manuscript, told a mutual friend she was enjoying it (at about 30 pages) and since then, I haven’t heard back. And the others, they haven’t replied to the query letter. It was an email, actually. Now I’m worrying I should have sent a letter by post.

What is the etiquette here? Can I, after 8 weeks, send a little note asking if they have actually received my email? I’m sure if I do another Google I’ll find out.

As for quitting before my family has to live out of the car, well, my little family almost lives out of a car already. I’m not too bothered not to be hanging out with my characters anymore. I’ve been with them for five years, through countless drafts. I’m fully aware that once an agent falls in love with the work (yes please), I’ll be asked to do more edits, and there will be more when it’s picked up by a publisher. I’m ready and waiting. It’s the waiting I don’t like.

I know most people say start something new, and I do have two projects planned. A short story and a longer work that will be closer to memoir than fiction, based on a series of crazy events that happened when I lived in Donegal, aged fourteen. I have thought about this work for years, and will title it either Seagull Pie or Anywhere But Here.  I’m attending Barbara Turner-Vesselago’s Freefall Writing retreat in Portugal at the Monte Rosa Retreat Centre in April (join me, I think there are still spaces!) and this is when I plan to dive in to this longer work. I hope it will simply write itself. If anything I have too much material to work with. I just have to get it all down (famous last words).

sputnik2[kosmonautik.de]The short story feels more difficult, an idea I have that will be set in the early years of the space race. I have a big book from the library filled with pictures: Spaceflight : the complete story from Sputnik to shuttle and beyond. It’s a bit weird, to be reading this book. It’s the kind of thing my brother would have devoured while I played with my Barbie dolls. Am I actually interested? All I can say for now is that I feel interesting with this tome in my hands, one that I can barely hold up. I’m taking notes. I am, I promise.

I have also applied to the Artists’ International Development Fund to do a Live Literature road-trip along the east coast of the USA with the fantastic Robin McLean later this year. So I’m not entirely hanging about doing nothing. The UK Arts Council grant writing process is at least a two week full time job, exhausting and challenging and just a little terrifying.

And, this morning, I started, once again, the “page-a-day” writing practise I once set for my Diving Deeper writers’ group. Some years ago doing this practise produced a number of pieces I was able to easily re-work into flash fiction – most of which are published. And, it always made me feel I had achieved something, even if I knew what I’d written would never be read by another person, ever.

I know it’s what I ‘should’ do. I keep starting, and then giving up. Let’s see how long I can keep it up this time.

If you want to try it, here’s the deal: One page. Just one page. Of writing. There are no other rules. You can handwrite or type. You can type the same word over and over until your page is done. You can double space or single space. You can use a huge font but that is cheating. You can write separate pieces, or connected ones. It doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s a good idea to write as badly as you can. Just do it.

And…if ‘I should do this’ is one of those awful cacophonies in your head that make you feel bad about yourself (it is in mine), read the ever inspiring Dani Shapiro’s blog, On Art and Life. As she says…

…it helps to remember that every single moment you wholeheartedly experience becomes part of your instrument, part of what you know.

Photo on 27-11-2014 at 15.56 #3

Introduction to Prose Fiction and Creative Writing

Unthank Logo V2Organised by the wonderful Unthank School, I am leading a ten week course in Brighton, two hours every Sunday afternoon, starting April 6th. The course is for those new to creative writing or who are looking for encouragement to continue.

The focus will be to stop thinking about writing and to actually write. Whether you want to write fiction, memoir or creative non-fiction, the course will support you to write through whatever fear and uncertainty you might have, without preconceived ideas about what or how you should write. Whether you write from personal life, intuition or imagination, you will be guided to step out of your own way and open up your ‘child eyes’ to whatever wants to be expressed on the page.

The weekly sessions will include practical exercises, readings and discussion. You will be gently encouraged to finish at least one complete piece by the end of the course.

***FAQs about the course on Unthank School blog.

Time: Sundays, starting April 6th, 2014, 2 – 5 p.m.
: Tree of Life Centre 143-145 Portland Road, Brighton & Hove, BN3 5QJ
Cost: £200 – pre-booking essential, group size is limited to 12
To register or ask any questions, please email registration@unthankschool.com or myself at sandra@sandrajensen.net

“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.”
~William Stafford



Want to Write? Need to Write? Here’s How…

zuidkustI have said before that if it were not for Barbara Turner-Vesselago’s Freefall Writing I would not be writing. I’d probably be wanting to write, hoping still, that one day, I’d get down to it, dabbling here and there but never really feeling connected to what writing meant for me, what I even wanted to write about, let alone how to do it in any sustained fashion.

Oostindische kers en dadelpalmFreefall is what changed things for me: literally, overnight. Yes I’ve struggled, I still struggle, with writing, but as I look back over the years and the stories I’ve written, the novel I’m working on, I know that I am on the right path, that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. And that this path has everything to do with the Freefall approach and Barbara’s sensitive, perceptive and supportive guidance.

One year I did two of her week-long workshops almost back to back, and wrote a short story every morning. Yes, these stories needed editing and more work before they were ready to be submitted for publication, but essentially I was able to let flow because of the extraordinary process of Barbara’s Freefall and the safe, encouraging and deeply creative environment that occurs in her workshops.

Whether you are a beginning writer looking for a way to start, or an experienced writer needing space and encouragement to create new work, I cannot recommend these retreats too highly.

Monte Rose_500x293There is a very exciting opportunity to experience Freefall this spring with Barbara in a very beautiful retreat centre in Barrao de Sao Joao on the Algarve in Portugal at the Monte Rosa Retreat Centre.

As it says in the schedule page of the Freefall website: “Here, in beautifully tended surroundings close to the sea, you will quickly experience the permanent shift in your relationship to writing that Freefall Workshops are known for.”

As far as I’m concerned, this is an opportunity not to be missed.

monte clerigo voor moorweb

The dates are April 7 – April 13, 2014, and the cost is  $1495 CDN. (€1032). This includes tuition, all meals, private accommodation and administration costs. In this particular Freefall retreat it’s possible to come early or stay late to explore the area, and also to bring a partner (€45 extra per night). Contact Vicki Pinkerton for details and to book a space (the groups are small so if you are interested, contact her very soon!), and if you’d like to know more about my own experience with Freefall, please let me know.

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Sirenland 2012.. and catching up

positano_church_wb-225x300At the end of March, I returned to Sirenland, the writers conference in Positano, Italy. Last year I titled my blog “Sirenland – a writers conference in heaven,” and my opinion has not changed, in fact it was an even richer experience this second time around, perhaps because I spent (a little) less time with my mouth agape at the beauty of the view from my window…. and more time soaking up inspiration and ideas and support from the group.

What I find so remarkable is that both times I’ve attended, the organisers and the three workshop leaders are completely ‘available’, even outside of workshop time and the other events. And because no one else is staying at the hotel, it feels very cosy but with this lovely glow, since the Le Sirenuse, where the event is held is one of the most beautiful ’boutique’ hotels in the world.

I was in Dani Shapiro’s group this year and last year. She writes both memoir and fiction. I recently finished her memoir, “Slow Motion” and couldn’t put it down. She is a remarkable teacher and group leader, able to ‘evoke’ a whole novel from just 25 pages of submitted work, supporting the writer to find out where the strengths and weaknesses might be, and what to do about them. The quality of feedback from the other participants was, again, excellent.


Kathleen Lawrence and Rebecca Stead, participants in Dani Shapiro’s group

The other two workshop leaders were the inimitable Jim Shepard, and Susan Orlean who took the non-fiction group. Jim once again brought his wife, the author Karen Shepard, and his two sons and daughter – all three talented writers. Dani’s son, Jake Maren again produced the highlight of our open mic night by writing and directing a play (Jake’s just turned 13). Hannah Tinti gave her exceptional talk on getting published and entertained us with her ukelele playing (and singing). Michael Maren, as always, made sure everyone and everything was alright, and made sure the event was captured on film (he took the photograph of me, below). All of the workshop leaders read from their work on other evenings, Jim Shepard choosing  to read a new work, a flash story that had me weeping.

Sandra_Sirenland_wb-300x215I highly recommend this conference. I came away feeling supported and encouraged. Friendships were cemented or begun: people with whom I will be able to exchange writing feedback. This alone is such a gift.  Both times I’ve left Sirenland feeling  part of a ‘family’, one that will be there for me and for my writing in years to come. And it’s not just a feeling: after last year’s conference I stayed in touch with several of the participants, and received very helpful feedback on work that I shared with them.

I do talk a little more about the general schedule of the conference my blog about it from last year, so if you want to know more have a read.

Applications are open for next year’s Sirenland on September 15th.

I returned home from Sirenland to find a letter from the Arts Council of Ireland informing that they had awarded me a literature bursary to help me complete my novel. Arts funding has of course been slashed in the past years, so I feel especially honoured and grateful. What a blessing, and great encouragement for the final leg of the work, which seems to get harder and harder the closer I am to finishing…especially as my mentorship with Marina Endicott from the Banff Centre’s Wired Writing Studio is now complete.

I have to say I’m not sure I could have managed the long grey winter without Marina’s excellent guidance and editing. My weekly ‘date’ was sometimes the only thing that kept me from giving up on my novel – and myself! I’d re-edit a chapter and send it along to her, and receive back in a few days her comments and line edit suggestions. I would go through these and then work on the next chapter and send it off, and so on. The work she did with me brought my novel much closer to final draft, and taught me a lot about the process of editing a longer work. I am still in touch with some of the other participants from Banff, and hope to meet up in Toronto in July.

I’m not yet at final draft, but close.

I will be a guest writer at the 12th International Conference on the Short Story in English, June 27 – 30, but more about that in my next post.

The Banff Centre’s Wired Writing Studio

I have been accepted for the Banff Centre’s Wired Writing Studio. This means two weeks at the Banff Centre in Alberta this October, and twenty weeks online mentorship. I’m very excited – I have been hoping for a mentor to help me finish my novel. The Banff Centre’s programs are competitive and highly regarded. I have also been awarded financial aid from the Centre, so all in all I’m very grateful. Now, to get the novel to 2nd draft so I can start the ‘real’ work on arrival in October!


© Copyright 2011 Roy Tennant, FreeLargePhotos.com.

From The Banff Centre’s website:

About the Wired Writing Studio

The Wired Writing Studio is a unique opportunity for poets and writers of fiction and other narrative prose to pursue their artistic visions and develop their voices through one-on-one editorial assistance from experienced writers/editors, as well as through involvement in a community of working writers, both on-site at The Banff Centre and online for five months following the residency.

Program Director: Fred Stenson
Barry Dempster – poetry, Stan Dragland – fiction and other narrative prose, Marina Endicott – fiction and other narrative prose, Sue Goyette – poetry, Alissa York – fiction and other narrative prose, Chris Fisher – technical advisor

Sirenland – a writers conference in heaven

LeSirenuse_bedroomview4-e1302797288971I have recently returned from Positano, Italy, where I was a lucky participant in the Sirenland Writers Conference. It was an extraordinary experience.

The conference is held at Le Sirenuse, surely one of the world’s most beautiful hotels. I had a room overlooking the bay and my view was simply breathtaking. Although it’s such a luxurious hotel, I felt completely at home, everyone who worked there took care of me as if I was their closest family. The hotel is family run concern, owned by the Sersales, a house turned into a hotel, lovingly taken care of and every room individual, gorgeous artwork on the walls, a fantastic spa,  swimming pool.

Sirenland is held at Le Sirenuse because the manager, Antonio Sersale, loves literature, and he is the official host. But essentially the event is organised by Hannah Tinti (author of The Good Thief and the editor of One Story magazine) Dani Shapiro (author and professor of creative writing) and Dani’s husband, Michael Maren (journalist and screenwriter).

There were 30 writers (participants) and many had brought family or friends. The thirty writers were divided into mixed-genre groups of three, each under the tutelage of either Dani Shapiro, Jim Shepard or Hannah Tinti (normally this would have been Peter Cameron, but he was unable to attend this year).

Sandra-Pete-300x198Every morning  two of us were ‘workshopped’. We had submitted 25 pages for this purpose, a few weeks prior to the event.  The afternoons were free. The quality of the teaching was exceptional – I had Dani Shapiro who is quite wonderful, both as a person and as a teacher.  I was impressed how she was able not only to give each of us specific help on what we had submitted, but – in the case of those who submitted portions of longer pieces  – she was also able to consider the whole story. To my mind, essentially everyone came away with a way to radically increase the potential of their work – whether novel, short story or memoir.  We also had a half hour one on one with Dani which was very helpful. The standard of feedback by the other participants was extremely high.

Each day there were different early evening events, readings of work by the teachers and the Sirenland Fellow, who this year was Karen Thompson Walker (who has just sold her first novel The Age of Miracles to Random House), a talk on publishing, on the writing life and so on. We had an informal talk with Jim Shepard, for example. Jim is the reason I sought out Sirenland, I am a huge fan of his writing. Although initially I was disappointed not to be in his group, it seemed to me that Dani was the perfect choice for me and what I’m writing at the moment. And Jim is very approachable, so I had some time to chat with him outside of the workshop mornings. He is a delightful man: funny, wise, irreverent, gives the best hugs. He came with his family, including his wife, the writer Karen Shepard, and each of them added something special to the week. Andrew Sean Greer gave a reading from his novel in progress, (I’ve just finished his wonderful A Story of A Marriage).

Some evenings there were ’sponsored’ cocktail events, and gourmet dinners, others we had free to eat in the village. In the afternoons Judy Becker gave yoga sessions.  I only did one of these on the last day, but regretted not doing more as it was such a lovely, meditative experience. A good contrast to the active socializing the rest of the time.

readingjupitersmoons_mod1-239x300My favourite evening we were all invited to dinner at Antonio and Carla Sersale’s home, and that’s where we had ‘open mic’ night… everyone had 2 minutes (if they wanted) to read something.  I was going to read a recent story, but when I timed out 2 minutes it just didn’t have enough punch for a short read,  I ended up reading a memoir piece about my first colonic which seemed to stay in people’s minds afterwards (perhaps not in a good way…). Jim’s kids gave readings.. his son, Emmett read a story of his (very impressive writing) soon be published in Subtropics; and we had a performance of a hilarious skit on Justin Bieber written (and performed) by Jake, Dani Shapiro’s son.

I met some wonderful people, many who I will stay in touch with, particularly to share work. And all the teachers and those involved in the publishing industry made themselves very available for ongoing connection and support.

I cannot recommend this conference highly enough. Although I am not an experienced conference participant, I suspect Sirenland is quite unique in that it is kept small and focussed: you truly feel you are part of a family, a family that will not abandon you when you leave. In some ways it was similar to my recent experience of being a participant at the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka, a combination of luxury and literature that I could very easily get accustomed to.

Events in Sri Lanka 2011

I’m a participant in the Galle Literary Festival, January 26th – 30th. My workshop on how to get published in literary journals is on Friday 28th, 2:30 – 4:30. This workshop is sold out, but if you are attending the festival please do look out for me, I’ll be happy to connect.

I’ll be in Colombo after that and will be giving a talk on February 2nd:Aspiring writers: Do you dream of being published? This talk is hosted by the British Council.