Imprint Comes of Age at the FCC
By Julia Besnard
On 9 March, our community came together to celebrate the launch of the 21st issue of Imprint, WiPS’ annual anthology. Held in the gorgeous Hughes Room of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, the evening was part of the Hong Kong Literary Festival. Picture this: a large group of women (and one man!) finally gathered in person after three years of virtual events to celebrate the written word, hear some inspiring read-alouds, enjoy a glass (or two), mingle, and even try their luck at a Lit Quiz. The room was full of energy, laughter, and uplifting camaraderie. Gillian Kew and Rinkoo Ramchandani were our hosts for the evening; they eventually did away with the microphones and opted for the natural energy of their voices to keep us on track with the entertainment of the night.
We were all enthralled by Sadie Kaye’s hilarious reading of “Bake Fail” (an account of her disastrous Covid attempts at baking with her children) and moved by Susan Lavender’s outstanding performance of her poem “Concrete Cloud”, depicting the solitude of modern urban life. We travelled to India and back as Ritu Hemnani read an excerpt from her energetic piece, “Rickshaw”. Deborah Mannas recited “Cry”, an emotional poem about the stoic strength of people with relatives battling mental health problems.
Lesley Hobbs and Andy Lowe made us laugh and think with their performance of a skit about the absurd contradictions of ChatGPT and what it means for contemporary literature.
We were captivated by “Positive!”, a piece by Connie Lee Hamelin about the complex logistical and administrative realities of a Covid-stricken family in Hong Kong, which was adapted as a short play in a dynamic duo with Susan Lavender. The challenging years of Covid restrictions that have only just been lifted have undoubtedly left a mark among us all. However, Shiksha Bansal’s reading of her piece, “The Spirit of Hong Kong”, was a poignant reminder of the unique beauty of the city we call home.
Jennifer Eagleton’s challenging literary quiz had us searching our minds for memories of the classics we once read. The three English teachers who teamed up and won the grand prize together – nothing less than a bottle of Peninsula Champagne! – showed us how literature and community are intricately connected.
None of this would have been possible without the tremendous work of Carol Dyer, the editor of Imprint, who supported all the contributors throughout the year leading to the publication of the book.
WiPS Members Socialise in Style
After many long months of Zoom meetings and solitary evenings, WiPS was finally able to offer our members a chance to gather, in person, for a casual evening of drinks and snacks at the Dada Lounge in Tsim Sha Tsui. Although we were a small group, Dada did not disappoint! Their extended happy hour meant that we all enjoyed two-for-one drinks until 9pm, along with lively, interesting conversation, anecdotes, and laughter. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the Dada deep fat fryer was out of commission, so food choices were limited. But we thoroughly enjoyed their excellent pizza and prawn and feta crispy treats!
As the evening wore on, our wide ranging discussions included books (of course), the British Royal Family, Art courses, and ideas for future WiPS events. Our upcoming Imprint launch created quite a buzz! It was a lovely evening of new and renewed friendships, and everyone agreed that we should do it again!
The Transformative Power of Fiction
By Andy Lowe
Fiction can be a powerful healer, and on 22 November 2022 twenty members and friends of WiPS joined an interview with our international guest, bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud who co-authored The Novel Cure, and moderator, Bhakti Mathur, to learn what bibliotherapy is and how fiction can help us cure life’s ailments.
Neuroscientists suggest that reading for six minutes a day is as beneficial as one hour of meditation. During reading our heart rate stills and our brain waves change and, in short, we de-stress. By implication then, bibliotherapy can play an important role in mental health. We heard fascinating examples of this, such as the WW2 doctors who recommended Jane Austin to soldiers suffering from shellshock. Since good, well-written, fiction can be immersive it offers its reader an opportunity for catharsis, reflection, perspective-taking, or escape – all of which can be healing.
Bibliotherapists work to understand their client’s reading preferences and life circumstances then write “prescriptions” recommending three of four specific books for them to read. Prescriptions are dependent on the unique needs, tastes and preferred choices of each client, and writing them is an evolving, artful and intuitive process. Having said that, three common ailments that Ella encounters and her related recommended reads are: Motherhood (becoming a mother for the first time): The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt; Retirement: The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul; and Bereavement: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
Ella finished her talk by offering recommendations on how to increase reading, which included listening to audio books (while multi-tasking); creating a “reading nook”; reading aloud with someone you live with (i.e. adult to adult); creating a reading-aloud reading group; and joining a book club. Although bibliotherapy sessions are typically one-on-one, Ella advised that group sessions are also gaining in popularity in social services settings.
Creative Writing Masterclasses II
Using Story Structure for Stronger Novels
By Lesley Hobbs
I am at first-draft stage of my debut novel and have recently been feeling dissatisfied as to the course of my protagonist’s journey. I have lost the proverbial plot so to speak! I was therefore hoping that Sherryl Clark’s two-hour Masterclass on “Using story structure for stronger novels” would get my thinking and writing back on track. I wasn’t disappointed.
Sherryl’s key message was that a story is about movement. The writer’s job is to get from point A to point B (through all the various highs, lows, pitfalls, fortune reversals of the protagonist(s) etc.) whilst keeping the reader interested/engaged/committed/hooked whatever the outcome/ending. Her point was that without structure, the writer could be left with a lot of words which don’t have flow or direction, i.e. the story may end up/become either rambling or episodic.
Sherryl provided us with a very comprehensive set of slides in which she referenced and highlighted some well-known story structure models including the “Hero’s Journey” and variations on “The Three-Act Structure”. She suggested that we have on hand a copy of the structure diagram which we felt worked best for us. She also listed the textbooks on structure which she used in her classes and/or for her own writing. In addition to reading books on structure, she recommended that we watch films and analyse them.
The main thing she advised us do though was get back to writing the words on the page. As someone who is still at first-draft stage, I appreciated her point that if we felt structure was holding us back then we should save it for our second draft, and just make sure the key points of structure are in the final version!
Creative Writing Masterclasses I
Portraying the DNA of Fictional People
By Irenee Chan
Sherryl Clark’s Masterclass on Creating Deeper Characters was incredibly detailed and insightful. I had been struggling with character development in my stories and when I found out about this class, I was eager to sign up to learn more on how to create memorable and in-depth characters. I had done character interviews before, but I learned so much more from Sherryl’s guidance and explanation through each question and aspect of a character interview, and why we would want to dig into those areas in a character’s past. Understanding the “why” really helped me to see the importance and value of doing the exercise.
Creating a timeline for a character was something new to me and I had never done it previously, but I can see how this would be helpful for fleshing out a character from beginning to end to recognize how an event in the past might affect current behaviour and personality. The Free Writing activity she suggested was also a great strategy to help us get started in character building and allow the creative juices to start flowing without worrying about editing.
Although a lot of the content related to adult novel writing, Sherryl also provided ways to adapt and apply the process and skills for short stories and children’s books during the Q&A session. I thoroughly enjoyed the session and learned so much that I am excited to start writing again! I look forward to attending the next masterclass.
By Rinkoo Ramchandani
Six months on, and the writing workshop regulars are bonding over laughter as the group forms its own dynamic personality, marked by comfort and camaraderie.
We have updated the rules to expand the word limit to 2,000 but to restrict re-writes to two rounds. The diversity of the prose submissions we’ve seen speaks to the exceptional talent of the participating WiPS members.
Two of our regulars are working on novels, painstakingly submitting a chapter each month, leaving the rest of us in suspended anticipation as we wait to find out what has now happened. Other members are wistfully looking back on memorable experiences through the form of personal essays, while the rest entertain with short stories ranging from spooky to satirical. But the fun doesn’t stop there – this past week we even made up our own drinking game called “Andy, you’re on mute” with self-explanatory rules.
In between sessions, we stay connected through a WhatsApp group about upcoming deadlines and the occasional sassy meme nudging everyone to get back to their writing.