We’re very excited about our collaboration with The Reader Berlin on their 2017 Berlin Writing Prize. Not only will the winner get a one-month residency at The Circus, they will also be published in the wonderful SAND Journal, a Berlin-based English-language literary magazine. We met up with one of the competition’s judges, Florian Duijsens, the fiction editor of SAND, to find out more.

Florian, wonderful to meet you! Of course SAND Journal can be found at the Circus library, but for all the Circus guests who are not in Berlin yet, what can you tell them about SAND?


Well, SAND was founded back in 2009, which makes it one of the longer-standing English-language publications in this city, running fiction and poetry alongside great art and non-fiction. Originally publishing mostly local expat writers (and translations of German writers), the magazine quickly expanded its reach, and by the time I joined the team as fiction editor in early 2012, we were publishing work from the US, the UK, and all over Europe. By now, we’re astonished to have published work from five continents, though we still pride ourselves on publishing some of the best writing produced right here in Berlin as well.


When I read through SAND’s online submissions, I hope to be transported, if not to an entirely different time and place, then certainly to an unfamiliar (or perhaps painfully familiar) perspective on this time and place. To choose our fiction, we get to read almost 500 stories every six months, out of which we can only choose, edit, and publish ten or so per issue. Although we never decide on a theme beforehand, our editors (and our designer) work together very closely to make sure readers who go through the issue from cover to cover are rewarded with all kinds of echoes and juxtapositions – though of course it’s just as surprising to dip into different pieces randomly. I hope our dedication to elegant design and eagle-eyed editing makes reading SAND a transporting experience somehow, giving you a taste of lives lived differently.


This is the second time SAND has been involved with The Reader Berlin’s annual writing prize, how did you develop your work together?


The English-language literary scene in Berlin is as welcoming as it is tightly knit, and Victoria is a key figure in this community, organizing events, retreats, and classes, and generally being a great supporter of writers throughout the city – she’s also a wonderful writer herself! Her dedication to the craft of writing is impressive, and just like us at SAND she’s a true believer in the craft of editing, the way the stellar writing in a strong submission can be made to shine even brighter through patient and precise editing. She’s assembled a marvelous troupe of judges this time around, and I’m very honored to be included.


This year’s theme is “Home is elsewhere”, what sort of responses are you looking forward to?


As a journal based in Berlin, we often receive thinly veiled memoirs of people’s visits to our fine city. And while it’s great to relive the thrill (and inevitable subsequent sense of deception) of discovering a new place, these accounts often treat this new city’s counterpart, “home”, as a stable concept, while to most of us it is anything but.


There are many writers who have addressed this question – I’m thinking of Joan Didion, W.G. Sebald, or Valeria Luiselli, but also former SAND-contributor and former Berliner Brittani Sonnenberg – and I am very excited to read work that similarly goes beyond mere travel reportage, stories or essays that tackle just what it is that we’re looking for each time we pack our bags.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers, especially those attempting to develop their work overseas?


As someone who has set up shop outside of my native country, not to mention my native language, I have benefited immensely from informal literary networks, whether in the form of writers’ groups to share and develop each other’s work or simply as groups of friends who lend each other books and attend readings together.


My advice then would be to seek out literary events in your city of choice, and, if you can, dedicate a few hours each week to volunteering for local volunteer organizations like SAND. Short affordable courses like the ones regularly organized by The Reader Berlin or literary open mics (shoutout to the Fiction Canteen!) are also great ways to get connected to other writers, translators, and editors – in my mind, the most helpful tool to any writer (aside from tons of time) is a sharp and generous reader, so make sure you find some wherever you roam!


In terms of the prize, a month-long residency here at The Circus Hotel, what will the value be in having one month to write in Berlin?


Every writer could use a dedicated writing space that’s uncorrupted by the distractions of family or dishes, a desk without piles of bank statements or stray pieces of Lego, so the room alone is an almost invaluable prize – add to that the immense luxury of breakfast, and it’s enough to turn anybody into a productive morning person.


What’s more, Berlin in winter forms a kind of cocoon, most everybody camping out at home, away from the dark and cold. With the city’s famous distractions of summer – its parks, canals, open-air clubs – off the table, the winter writers of Berlin are free to be as productive as they can! Having said that, despite the stark January streets, Berlin still has plenty of bookstores, cinemas, museums, concert halls, and clubs to refresh or reboot your mind while you’re here, so you shouldn’t be afraid of getting too snowed in mentally – embrace Brrrlin!


We are really looking forward to the contest and hosting the winner among us for 4 weeks. Thank you Florian for taking the time to speak to us. And if you feel inspired, pick up your pen and start writing. You have until July 31st to submit your entry. We are looking forward to reading them. For more details check out: http://thereaderberlin.com/the-2017-berlin-writing-prize/


© all SAND images courtesy of Anjula Schaub