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On a cool morning in August 1988 Jonathan sprang past the cleaning lady on his way up the stairs. He had been to the market to buy a bag of bread rolls and a bunch of flowers. As he hurried up, taking the stairs three at a time, he ran the forefinger of his left hand along the water lily tiles in the stairwell, holding the flowers and the bag of rolls in his right. The flowers w ere for Ulla, who turned twenty-nine today. She’d put up with him, as she expressed it, for three years now, although he thought he was actually the one who had put up with a lot.

Ulla was still in bed. She knew it was already nearly ten, and she’d realized that Jonathan had gone out for the rolls. She was still in bed because today that was her prerogative. She was thinking about a doll’s house with a library and smoking room that she had seen in a shop on a nearby street: it could be destroyed at the touch of a button and was intended as a form of therapy through which children could channel their destructive urges. Ulla had always been interested in toys: figures with smoke cartridges at the back, wind-up animals that bared their teeth. People could buy little guillotines to celebrate the French Revolution. She could get hold of one and suggest it to the museum director as an exhibit.




Now Jonathan was banging about in the kitchen, and shortly afterwards he broke in on the muffled drowsiness of her doze, pulled aside the curtain with a clatter and sat down on the edge of her bed. Congratulations were in order. Jonathan got through the embarrassment of the little ceremony by uttering awkward clichés and stroking his girlfriend vaguely with his right hand, much as one might close the eyes of the dead, while simultaneously laying the breakfast table and setting out the boiled eggs with his left. He had to stand to light the candles and arrange the bunch of flowers, which brought the little ritual to an end.

He poured the coffee and shook the rolls out into the bread-basket. Then he extracted her birthday present from his wallet: a tiny Callot etching that depicted someone being sawn into pieces. He gave her the postage-stamp-sized etching and watched her closely to see what she would say about him giving her such a beautiful present. Bullseye! Ulla devoured the quartering with her eyes – ‘Sweet!’ – and leant it against the candlestick so she could look at it again and again. Then she drew her boyfriend down to her and gave him kisses like fiery little coins, holding his head in both hands as she did so.

When he was restored to freedom he took the post from his jacket pocket and sorted through it. Five letters were addressed to the birthday girl, two to him. She sat up, spread a roll with honey and read the letters, the contents of which were as you would expect.

Jonathan clumsily opened his two letters with his forefinger. One was from the Santubara car factory in Mutzbach – junk mail, presumably – the other from his Uncle Edwin in Bad Zwischenahn. It contained a cheque for more than two hundred marks and the suggestion that he do something sensible with it on this day.

‘Treat yourselves to something,’ his uncle wrote. ‘Enjoy the good things in life.’

Conflicting emotions prevented Jonathan from showing the cheque to his girlfriend, who was busy with her own letters. He left it in the envelope and quickly slipped it into his pocket.

Ulla was from an orderly family; she had money in the bank and gilt-framed ancestral portraits. Jonathan, however, was born on a covered cart in East Prussia in February 1945, in an icy wind and sharp, freezing rain on the trek away from the Eastern Front. His young mother had ‘breathed her last’, as Jonathan put it, in the process. ‘I never knew my parents,’ he would say, usually with indifference. ‘My father was killed on the Baltic coast, on the Vistula Spit, and my mother breathed her last after giving birth to me in East Prussia in 1945.’ As far as suffering was concerned, this guaranteed him an unparalleled advantage over his friends.

That cold February, when calamity struck, his uncle had been driving the cart with its makeshift carpet roof, the pregnant woman tossing about inside the straw. When she went into labour he knocked on farmhouse doors to no avail, and so she died.

Her corpse had been set down quickly and without ceremony in the vestibule of a village church, beside the hymn board with its wooden numbers, and then they had driven on. They had come across a sturdy peasant woman who had lost her child, and she had nursed Jonathan in its place in return for a seat in the cart. Jonathan pictured this as well: the heavy woman sitting in the cart, with himself at her large breast, and the picture more or less corresponded to the reality.

I was suckled by Mother Earth, he would reflect on occasion, and he would stretch, feeling new strength in his veins.

Today Uncle Edwin had sent two hundred marks – the new Avanti sofa bed had been a hit.

Treat yourselves to something? That should be possible. In the meantime Ulla had read her post: from her overbearing mother, her passive father, her psychologist brother in Berlin, and Evie, her goddaughter, whose birthday letter – ‘how are you, I am fine’ – was awkwardly written and decorated with ladybirds. She got out of bed and went over to the bookshelf, where the present she had given herself was standing: a 1950s Danish vase, which the two of them now admired. It was held up to the light, turned this way and that and praised as ‘frightful’. When they had finished with it they stood it on the window ledge alongside various other monstrosities, items that had once been dirt cheap but now had a certain value, or would have if left for a few more years.

Jonathan was embraced again, assured that his little Callot etching had been ‘just right’, and then dismissed. So he went back to his room, which he was happy to do, as the birthday girl was now making phone calls and he had no interest in one-sided conversations.

Jonathan sat down on his sofa. He blew some fluff from the table then stared off into the distance towards the bright window opposite and the portrait of the plump child on the grubby white wall.

He yawned, and his gaze drifted across the weird linoleum geography of his floor. He saw the Isthmus of Corinth, that hair-raising cleft in the rock; he saw a little ship, and steep rock walls to left and right. The water is flowing, he thought, and the ship glided down the canal as if caught in an undertow.

He snapped out of it and read the letter from the Santubara car manufacturer. As it turned out, it wasn’t junk mail but a serious job offer. A Herr Wendland from the factory’s press office wrote that they had been admirers of his discerning prose for quite a while now and were wondering whether Jonathan might fancy a trip to East Prussia; Masuria, to be precise, in present-day Poland. The Santubara Company wanted to set up a test-driving tour for motoring journalists to convince them of the outstanding quality of its latest eight-cylinder model. Any such tour would, of course, have to be carefully prepared in advance. Would Jonathan care to help with this? He could go along on the initial preparatory tour, check out the local culture, see whether there was anything worth visiting in the region – stately homes perhaps, or churches or castles the existence and histories of which might add something to the itinerary. Then he could write an insightful piece about the trip, say twelve pages of typescript

– ‘Masuria Today’ – which they could use to convince journalists that it might be interesting to look around that godforsaken region and take the opportunity of test-driving the new eight-cylinder car at the same time. He would have completely free rein, and they could offer him five thousand marks plus expenses. Travel and accommodation would, of course, be included, so that would be five thousand plus VAT. The precise sum was negotiable.

Masuria? Poland?

Jonathan’s first reaction was no! If it had been a trip through Spain or Sweden, then maybe. But Poland?


On the other hand, five thousand marks . . . And negotiable? Jonathan took down the 1961 edition of the Iro World Atlas

– which he still used simply because that was the one he had – and opened it at the map of ‘German Eastern Territories Under Foreign Administration’. Quite a sizeable chunk, East Prussia. How strange and unnatural the line was, drawn straight across it with a ruler. You saw that sort of thing on maps of colonial Africa or the Antarctic, but in the heart of Europe? It reminded Jonathan of dissection lines in pathology, scalpel incisions in a woman’s flawless white body.

Here was the Vistula Spit, where his father was killed, and the Curonian Spit. Pictures from old geography books came to mind: wandering dunes, elk, a fisherman sitting on his upturned boat mending a net, amber mining.

But the plague arrived by the light of the moon, Swam with the elk across the lagoon.

Jonathan looked for the village of Rosenau, tracing the road with his finger. Here: this was where it happened. This was where he had first seen the light of day, at the cost of his mother’s life. Here, in this village church, was where she had been set down. The young woman had been buried in the churchyard, by the wall perhaps, beneath a laburnum. There was a single photograph of her still in existence, one that had survived their flight. It had been taken at the 1936 Olympics: a young girl in the uniform of the League of German Girls, beret at a jaunty angle over one ear. Jonathan had stuck it to the wall with a drawing pin. The last picture of his father, a young Wehrmacht lieutenant in field uniform and service cap, lay in a folder alongside Jonathan’s birth certificate and bicycle insurance policy.

The tour would start in Danzig, said the letter from the Santubara Company. He would fly from Hamburg to Danzig, where the tour car would be waiting. He could then make notes at his leisure.

Danzig? thought Jonathan. He could use Danzig for his essay on Brick Gothic: ‘The Giants of the North’. The Marienkirche was one of the northern giants still missing from his collection. Lübeck, Wismar, Stralsund: he had seen these cities with their medieval colossi, and that was all well and good, but he had no first-hand sensory impression of Danzig, and it would be difficult for him to describe it in an essay.

If he accepted the commission he could kill two birds with one stone. As well as earning some money he would be acquiring knowledge at the same time, which, in turn, could later be converted into more money.

Jonathan washed his hands as meticulously as a surgeon, looking out of the window all the while. A class of school-children was swarming on the other side of the Isebek canal, a teacher anxiously herding them together – ‘Don’t fall in!’ – while up in the sky a huge aeroplane was coming in to land at Fühlsbüttel.

I’m here in Hamburg, and I’m making a living, thought Jonathan. What’s East Prussia to me? And a single great image arose in his mind’s eye, of Uncle Edwin entering the church with the dead woman in his arms – where to put her? – and setting her down on the steps. The folds of her white dress stained with blood.



The above is an excerpt from Walter Kempowski’s Homeland, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins, and available now from Granta Books.

The post Homeland appeared first on Granta Magazine.

Podcasting for Writers: How to Grow Your Freelance Biz By Starting a Podcast

Much like blogs, podcasts started out more or less with a large group of hobbyists who wanted to talk about their interests. Eventually, also like blogging, podcasting took on a life of its own and established itself as a viable new medium.

These days, the podcasting landscape is robust and interesting for millions of listeners, including writers. You may already have a few favorite writing podcasts, and if so, you understand the appeal of this typically casual, conversational format. 

Podcasts aren’t just great for your listening pleasure, though — they could make a valuable addition to your own marketing efforts. Just think: many podcast audiences are already full of your ideal clients and customers. 

As a writer, you can use podcasts as a new avenue to reach your best markets in ways that raise your profile and build rapport…and that’s good for business!

If you’ve ever thought about starting your own podcast but you weren’t sure if it was the right move or how you’d pull it off, this post is for you. I’ll show you how to use your own podcast as a marketing tool, go over a few strategies and approaches, and show you how to make podcasts work for you whether you write for others or for yourself. 

How to know if podcasting is right for you

I hang out with a lot of marketers, and as much as I love them, I’ve learned to be careful with them because they really dig hype. Many would tell you that if you’re any kind of service provider or a creative professional (*ahem* writers and authors), you must have a podcast. 

I don’t completely agree, but I do think there are a lot of us in this writerly world who could benefit from doing a podcast. 

Podcasting might be right for you if: 

  • Learning a new technology is relatively easy for you (meaning, it won’t take you four months just to figure out how to do basic audio editing)
  • You aren’t a perfectionist and you’re ok with the less formal feel of a podcast
  • You’re clear on your intended outcomes for the podcast
  • You have some time to devote to publishing regularly, whether that’s twice a week or twice a month
  • You know the audience you want to reach, whether it’s the type of niche client you serve or the best readers of your books

As a busy writer, I’m careful before committing to anything that takes up a chunk of time and mental energy. After thinking about podcasting for several years, I finally felt like the time was right to launch one earlier this year. 

Because I had a stable client load, I felt freer to do things with my own name attached (after spending nearly a decade mostly ghostwriting). I also decided to use a format that would be easy and efficient to produce, which meant my show wouldn’t take up too much time to plan and record. 

Choosing your audience: The most important step 

When you’re considering a podcast idea, there are two potential audiences you can reach: the audience of people who do what you do, and the audience of your potential clients or customers. There may be some overlap, but generally these will be two distinct groups of people. 

I’d advise you to choose one of these groups for your show, because it’s a lot easier to create content for one specific audience than it is to try to balance two different ones. You can always make a second podcast if you love the medium. 

As a freelance writer, the main benefit to choosing your ideal clients as an audience is that you’ll be creating content that will benefit them, while also setting yourself up as the go-to expert. If your niche is email marketing for small businesses, your podcast could cover all kinds of email marketing topics that these small business owners need to know. 

What you’re doing is educating your prospective clients on the importance of the service you provide. When they’re ready to move forward with email marketing, you will most likely be the first provider they contact.

As an author or creative writer, think about what your readers might enjoy hearing from you. It could be book reviews or interesting interviews with other authors in your genre. You could also use the podcast as a place to discuss your thoughts on your genre, or to share poems and shorter pieces you love but haven’t published elsewhere.

Another fun idea might be to do your podcast in “seasons” with each season documenting the process of planning, drafting, editing, and even launching your next piece. Think about what your readers might enjoy most. When they find your show, they’ll become more attached to you, more aware of your work, and more likely to buy when you have a new publication.

How to structure your show

Generally speaking, your podcasts will be one of two formats: you, talking into the mic and sharing your content; or you interviewing someone else. Some shows will be mostly one format with an occasional episode done the other way. 

Your “talking head” podcasts can be scripted or unscripted, and I’ve heard great podcasts in both styles. I typically prefer this type of podcast myself, because there tends to be one key message or point and the quality is consistent. 

For my own podcast, I script some episodes, but I’ve found that I prefer just to work up a few talking points for each episode. This is easier and more efficient, because I don’t have to take the time to draft all the copy and I’m able to “go off script” when I think of new points to make as I’m recording. Another benefit to going unscripted is that it takes a lot less time to edit; I don’t correct myself when I’m speaking off the cuff, but when I’m reading there are lots of flubs and re-starts to edit out. 

If you decide to go for it, expect to make some adjustments along the way. It’s ok to change directions! This is your show, and it makes sense to do what works best for you, even if it takes you a few episodes to work out the kinks.

Why this format works for lead generation: I chose to target up-and-coming writers as my audience, knowing that having a podcast would also raise my profile and lend credibility to my pitches conversations with prospects. My podcast is very young and it launched with almost no fanfare, but it’s already helped me land some high-end client work. 

While they aren’t my personal preference, interview shows can be really powerful as a marketing tool if you’re strategic in how you set the show up. One way to do this is to interview colleagues and (possibly) past clients and/or editors about topics related to the work you do.

For example, ghostwriter Derek Lewis is a ghostwriter specializing in business books. On his podcast, he interviews “authors, business leaders, and publishing industry experts about what it takes to successfully write, publish, and market a business book.” Many of the people he interviews are past clients, and there’s a clear tie-in between the interviews and the service Lewis offers. 

Why this format works for lead generation: Anyone who’s interested in writing or leveraging a business book could benefit from this podcast, including Lewis’s ideal clients… who then hire Lewis to write their books. He’s clearly the expert, and his client interviews serve as powerful social proof. 

Not ready for your podcast yet, but curious?

If you want to see how much a great podcast could do for your writing but you aren’t ready to commit to your own show yet, start pitching to appear on other podcasts. You’ll still get a feel for how podcasting works and start benefiting from the ongoing content marketing and SEO juice baked into podcasting. 

Look for shows that are geared toward your ideal client and pitch to appear on them. (I often see calls in various Facebook groups for new podcast guests, and that’s an easy way to land spots.) In other words, don’t look just for writing shows; look for the kinds of shows your clients would listen to, and then try to get on those shows. 

For example, if you want to write for real estate agents, look for podcasts that talk about marketing and lead gen for realtors, and then pitch yourself as a guest to discuss content marketing and how it brings in buyer and listing leads. 

Your goal is to speak authoritatively about the benefits and value of the service you provide, while making it known that this is something that can be outsourced to someone like you. You’ll be set up as an expert and then you’ve had a chance to get in front of that audience and effectively sell your services without ever saying “Hey, come hire me!” 

Another example: If you want to sell more books, look for podcasts related to the things your ideal readers would seek out. This might mean you’re looking for shows that do author interviews, shows that support people in your niche, or even shows for writers in your specific genre.

The goal for you might be to share what makes your work unique and attractive, build your email list, or even do straight promotion of your latest piece. People who enjoy reading your genre will be able to discover you and then become new readers of yours. 

Should you podcast?

Podcasting may be the “it thing” right now, but it’s also been around as long as — if not longer than — blogs, which suggests to me that it’s not going anywhere. As a good marketer, you’d do well for yourself to tap into this highly engaged source of leads, however it fits into your business! 

Photo via antoniodiaz / Shutterstock 

The post Podcasting for Writers: How to Grow Your Freelance Biz By Starting a Podcast appeared first on The Write Life.

The Best Nineteenth-Century Poems Everyone Should Read

In Britain, nineteenth-century poetry began with Romanticism and ended in Decadence, with the high Victorian poetry of Tennyson, Browning, and Christina Rossetti coming in the middle. In the United States, meanwhile, Longfellow, Whitman, and Emily Dickinson helped to shape the course of nineteenth-century American poetry. Below, we introduce ten of […]

The post The Best Nineteenth-Century Poems Everyone Should Read appeared first on Interesting Literature.

Considering a Writing Retreat? Watch Out for These 6 Red Flags

Winter always sends me looking frantically for the next opportunity to run away and write, preferably in a steamy locale.

My first-ever writing retreat included five hot hours on a highway, a tiny dorm room, a stolen laptop and 10 fantastic women. Though I’d never written anything but journal entries, I burned up the page that week and kicked off a 20-year (and counting) career with the written word.

But how do you know if a retreat is going to inspire your muse, or silence her?

When a writing retreat is too good to be true

All writing retreats are not created equal.

The magic ones are mind-blowing, shape-shifting, knock-your-socks-off fantastic. Others are less enjoyable and wind up deflating your creative urges.

How do you know which is which?

As someone who both goes on retreats and hosts them for other writers, I’ve spent 15 years interviewing retreat runners and attendees. Here’s what I’ve learned to watch out for when investigating a potential writing retreat.

1. Impossible promises

Four days to a bestseller! Write the next 50 Shades of Grey or Harry Potter!

There’s something so shiny and appealing about these claims, and it’s easy to get excited and carried away.

However, you want to see retreat materials temper their exuberance. Your retreat leader should be ready to provide the wisdom and skills to write your best possible book, but also to explain the challenges of publishing and marketing a book. You want a visionary, rather than fool’s gold.

2. An untrained or barely published retreat leader

Put up a shingle, find a house, gather a bunch of writers and…have no idea what you are doing.

Retreat copy on a website page can look fabulous, but the reality doesn’t always live up to the hype. Great retreat leaders have dedicated themselves the craft of leading retreats. They have a well-defined methodology, can shift people beyond their self-imposed creative limits and can pass along tried and true craft tools.

It’s OK to ask questions if a website doesn’t include a clear bio for the retreat leader. Here are a few I like to consider:

  • What has she published? If you want to write a thriller, you may not find as much success at a retreat led by a poet or romance author.
  • Has he focused on self-publishing, traditional publishing or a combination of the two? If you’re keen on a particular path, choose a leader who can share her experience and expertise.
  • Has she run more than one writing retreat, or collaborated with other leaders on previous events? If this is his first independent retreat, has he helped or apprenticed with more experienced retreat leaders to build experience?
  • What is her style of teaching? What kinds of teaching methods will she use?
  • What other skills does he bring to the table as your mentor? Offering additional support such as advice on developing a series or how to find an editor may be helpful.

A retreat leader is a generous, skilled visionary who is able to help you develop your writing career and provide you with resources to move your writing in the direction of your dreams.

3. A traditional workshop method

Traditional workshop methods involve sitting around a table as a group, critiquing one writer’s work at a time. The whole group is free to throw out comments, and without a skilled facilitator, this feedback can easily veer from constructive to critical.

While this prospect is intimidating, it can also be detrimental to your creativity. If you’re feeling anxious or stressed about the feedback you’ll receive, you won’t be able to do your best work. Conversely, feeling happy “enhances mental abilities such as ‘creative thinking, cognitive flexibility, and the processing of information,’” according to psychologist Daniel Goleman.

Look for workshop methods that focus on positive and constructive feedback, and an experienced retreat leader who knows how to help you develop your work without facing too much criticism. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if the critique or workshop process isn’t clear from the retreat website.

4. A leader on a pedestal

Discovering while on retreat that your leader holds herself apart or works less closely with certain participants is a drag. You want to know how much contact you’ll have with your retreat leader and how approachable she’ll be.

Find out beforehand whether you will be eating with the retreat leader and whether you’ll share leisure time or only structured teaching time with her. Also investigate whether there is a hierarchy in terms of published and unpublished writers — will certain participants receive more attention or coaching than others?

Bowing down to a proverbial podium can harm your creativity as well as your overall retreat experience. Ideally, your teacher will be readily available at meals and will participate openly in sharing activities. Make sure you know what you want, and that your retreat will deliver.

5. Work duties

I know it’s very un-Zen monastery of me, but it’s difficult to “retreat” from real life when you are washing dishes and sweeping the dining hall. When I go on a retreat, all I want to work on is my writing.

In my opinion, writers on retreat should be spoiled: a stocked fridge, a fantastic massage, time to write and read aloud and be supported in your craft. You want to be pampered and to nourish yourself in your dream of being a successful writer. Everything about the retreat, from the bed to the food to the bodywork (hopefully there’s bodywork!), should feel good.

6. A retreat that doesn’t fit your needs

This one is hard, but it will make the biggest difference: you need to know yourself before you sign up for a retreat.

Do you crave a mentor to help you hit your goals and support you through the writing process? If you work best with a one-on-one dynamic, find a retreat with a great teacher who only accepts a small group of participants and focuses on individual feedback.

Are you happiest having new friends to walk with on the beach, talk about books and explore craft? Go for a retreat that focuses on the group setting. If you get stuck, you can catch some crazy creative energy from the person sitting across from you.

Are you an introvert? Do you get your best work done alone? You might want to try creating your own writing retreat. It’s also a cost-effective way to test out a writing retreat — though you may find you miss the feedback and guidance of a mentor or group to share your work.

Pick a writing retreat that works for you

Your writing time is precious. So is your money, and retreats are often pricey.

Give yourself a true gift by watching out for these potential pitfalls, and then prepare for your writing retreat to make the most of it. Enjoy!

Have you ever fallen for one of these pitfalls when considering a writing retreat? What else should writers watch out for?

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via  Patiwat Sariya / Shutterstock 

The post Considering a Writing Retreat? Watch Out for These 6 Red Flags appeared first on The Write Life.

The 5 Best Neil Gaiman Stories On Film | Writer’s Relief

Submit To Our Watersedge Poetry Chapbook Contest
$500 Cash Prize + Publication!

DEADLINE: Friday, December 13th, 2019

On November 10, prolific fantasy author Neil Gaiman turns fifty-nine! To celebrate, Writers Relief created a list of his five best works that have been made into movies—with a special bonus production!

Good Omens: 2019 miniseries

Mirrormask: 2005 fantasy movie

Stardust: 2007 Hugo Award-winning movie

Beowulf: 2007 movie based on Gaiman’s screenplay

Coraline: 2009 animated movie

BONUS! Snow, Glass, Apples: 1999 audio play originally from Sci-Fi Network’s Seeing Eye Theatre.