It’s a hot summer morning in Nicosia and I am heading to the Commonwealth Writers Workshop where I will revisit my good old friends, the nuts and bolts of the short story: plot, character, point of view, style, voice. At the same time, I contemplate the alchemical transmutation—a writer’s intrinsic instinct to tell stories—transforming into craft. I am thinking of that amorphous, jumbled-up thing, turning into a masterfully designed architectural structure: the short story. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, the workshop’s facilitator, knows how to tell a story properly .
I am heading to the writers’ workshop to be amongst my kind. And by ‘my kind’ I mean these odd creatures called writers. These creatures gifted with words, persistence, a keen eye for detail. We strive to construct realities as sharp as a razorblade. Sometimes we fail. Some other times we succeed. But that’s who we are. And that’s what we do. We write.
We write in spite of all the odds: the interruptions, the distractions, the demands of everyday life. And yes. This workshop offers three precious days of writing, revising, discussing the short story—that condensed literary text which, within its confined space on the page, can be limitless. Pulsating with haunting characters, extraordinary situations, and layers and layers of meaning at its core, it explodes into a small universe.
We meet in a city of grandiose medieval tales and folklore legends passed from one generation to the next. We meet in Nicosia—a city encircled by sturdy Venetian walls. Nicosia. A city broken in half. The divide gashing across her. Right there—right on the wound—in the heart of the medieval town, nestles the workshop venue, The Centre for Visual Arts and Research (CVAR).
I find myself amongst writers who are eager to learn, to explore their imaginations and delve into the art of storytelling under the guidance of Jennifer. The group of writers couldn’t have been more diverse. Cypriot, from both sides of the divide, British, African, American, Asian, Russian. Jennifer urges us on. She highlights the value of our identities; she talks about honesty and bravery in writing. Our voices, our narratives, begin to seep through visible and invisible barriers.
We tour CVAR’s museum. Our guide being the woman whose inspiration and tireless efforts have made this centre possible: Rita Severis. An art critic, an art collector, an eloquent storyteller. Each participant draws inspiration from the exhibition. This place is a funnel; pulling you back in time; it swirls you around. It resonates with the echoes of the island’s long, troubled history, its old traumas, its open wounds; its wealth of multicultural heritage. The exhibits spur imaginary worlds, filled with sentiment, rhythm, and vibrant colours.
During these three days, we plunge into our fictional universe, into the deepest depths of our imagination; searching, striving to communicate, to express. We strive to speak to the reader through the smells and the tastes; and the bittersweet emotions that this has inflicted upon us. It can’t be done any other way. And our words, in the end, form stories interpreting the world around us—the insanity of our contemporary societies. We write with the zeal of someone who’s hoping to find the answers to the enigmas of the cosmos, wading through mud.
The workshop culminates with performances of the work produced during the three days. The poets of the spoken word, in the parallel session led by Mr Gee, join us. Under the direction of Janet Steel, all performers experience the satisfaction and the uplift an artist has when she has managed to finish a work of art and share it with the world.
Simply put, all of us participating in the workshop, during these three days, tell stories. That’s what we are good at. Or at least that’s what we struggle to be good at. Remember that we are wading through mud. I see it in everybody’s faces during the performances. I hear it in their voices; it lurks in the tales and poems we have created.
For those of us trying to juggle the demands of ‘real life’ and writing, workshops are essential. They provide space, time, guidance, and empowerment. They are safe houses where fellow writers are ready to read and critique the earliest, tentative drafts of a text determined to become literature.
In the end, the stories written by the talented writers at the workshop, become part of a web connecting us with the world. They break barriers. They are infused into the psyches of readers outside geographic, linguistic and other boundaries. Omnipotent, they merge into the network of global narratives, speaking, sharing, becoming a universal language.
 Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s short story ‘Let’s Tell This Story Properly’ won the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Erato Ioannou studied English Literature at the University of Cyprus and has an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington. She is the associate editor of In Focus literary journal. Her writing has been published in anthologies and journals in Cyprus, Greece, Romania, and the UK and she is the author of Cats Have it All, a collection of short stories. Most recently, her work has been featured in the anthology So Many Islands. Erato’s novel Muerta, after numerous drafts, is finally complete.