We all have stories about Brussels. Even if you just moved here last month, I’m sure you’ve got a tale to tell about the city. However, not all of us know how to capture these on paper, myself included. But thankfully some can, such as a group of young writers who have come together to tell their stories in a new book called The Meantime. This is a collection of short stories set in Brussels about nine young characters – some expats, some locals – walking the streets of the European capital.
I had a chance to speak with the editors (Edina, Nick and Monica) who shared with me the idea behind the book. “We realised that what makes Brussels unique is how hard it is to define the city, and to define yourself within it. Even after years here, Brussels can remain an enigma. People’s experience of it is so diverse that it’s like they’re talking about a whole set of different cities. We wanted to tell all of these stories, because it’s a city whose story can only be told through multiple voices.”
The nine authors, who come from Belgium, the UK, Finland, Hungary, Spain, Italy, Rwanda and the Central African Republic, met through a writing group and decided to dedicate a session to writing about Brussels. What emerged from initial pieces on the topic was a feeling that everyone experienced the city in very different ways, but that there was a sort of unity in this difference. All of the stories focus on young characters in Brussels who are confronted by some kind of crisis or a difficult choice.
To give you a little flavor of the book, I asked the editors to select some of their favorite quotes from the collection:
“The streets here are like nowhere else: almost all of them have two names. You can be in one place and say that you are in another, and still be telling the truth. That is one of the many intrigues of bilingualism: ubiquity. The city itself has two names. Or is it three now?” – The Lovely Streets, by Olivier Gbezera
“The streets are empty on Sunday mornings. And there I am, walking home, alone. Around me, old maisons de maître, colourful bars, grey offices. I can smell the dark roasted malt beers, the yellow French fries, the sweetness of hot chocolate.” – Colours of Brussels, by Ylenia Maitino
“It’s dark outside, and if I didn’t know any better I’d think it was early in the morning. But here in Brussels, I’d be foolish to guess the time by the colour of the sky.” – Eight Days, by Dany G.Zuwen
The authors of The Meantime include Edina Dóci, Olivier Gbezera, Nick Jacobs, Ylenia Maitino, Enrique Medarde, Sybille Regout, Monica Westerén, Alfredo Zucchi and Dany G. Zuwen, who count several published works and a Brussels theatre production among their credits. All nine have spent most or all of the last five years in Brussels (some longer), and work in or around the European institutions or different environments such as universities and the military. It’s this diversity of nationalities and experiences which allows them to show Brussels from so many different angles.
The group plans to continue with its writing sessions and other special projects. For example, last year they organised a one-day creative writing workshop for the general public in Brussels, which they hope to repeat in the future. And for a chance to meet the authors in person, come out to the book’s launch event, involving a slam competition about Brussels, at Passa Porta on Saturday 29 September at 7:30pm.
The Meantime is available in paperback and for Kindle on Amazon (see the book’s website for links), and can be found at Brussels bookshops including Waterstones, Sterling Books, and Passa Porta.