Thursday, May 15, 2014

How SCBWI Germany & Austria members created the one and only legend of the Chiemsee Mermaid

all pictures taken by Kim Enderle

Once upon a time, a little mermaid lived all alone in the depths of the Chiemsee, a lake in Southern Germany. One day, she decided to swim to the surface and find herself some friends. What better place to start than the convent on the small island in the middle of the lake? Surely the nuns wouldn’t turn away one lonely little mermaid.
She wasn’t yet aware that the nuns were once evil mermaids, cursed by a witch to be human and powerless. And the little mermaid was just who they needed to break the spell so they could return to their demonic ways… *see below

Are you hooked? Did this beginning tempt you to read on? Did it grab you by the throat?

At last weekend's SCBWI writing retreat with the motto “Grab Your Reader By The Throat And Don’t Let Go”, we learned beginnings are the most vital and delicate part to any narration. They must entice the reader to delve further and seduce him or her to spend more time with the rest of the story. A good beginning is a piece of art in itself, a fact only emphasized by this first ever writing retreat of SCBWI Germany + Austria. As beginnings go, this first in a hopefully frequent string of writing retreats was a doozy. In every possible way.

Author, Editor, Golden Egg Academy co-founder, Beverley Birch

Leading us in our endeavor of perfecting our writing was Beverley Birch, editor and author of novels like the award-winning Rift, picture books, biographies, and retellings of classic works, amongst others. She has years of experience from the writer’s, editor’s and publisher’s perspectives, and has no qualms about sharing it. She answered every question we threw at her, mixing in fun and sometimes mind-boggling anecdotes, real life examples and personal advice. Coupled with exercises and approaches of how to structure, analyze and edit our story beginnings, the workshop became a transformative experience for all participants. At the end of the weekend, every single one of us left more motivated and inspired than when we arrived, with fixed ideas on how to improve our story telling.


The location of the workshop only added to this effect. What writer wouldn’t be inspired on an island in a Bavarian lake, with the Alps towering in the distance, and surrounded by the serenity of a convent? Yes, a convent. With nuns. In habits. On golf carts. And names like “Sister Scholastica” (I swear I’m not making this up).

Incidentally, the location and a shared bottle of wine were also the instigators of our Saturday night bedtime story about the little mermaid and the demonic mermaid nuns. Because what does a group of slightly buzzed storytellers, high on their shared experiences and camaraderie, do at night? They tell stories, round-robin style, thus creating the one-and-only (known) fairytale surrounding Lake Chiemsee. The Brothers Grimm would have been impressed.

Hard at work

But the highlight of the workshop was definitely Saturday afternoon. First we held a group critique of the beginnings of our works-in-progress, which prompted lively discussions, helpful suggestions and relief-inducing encouragement. The spontaneous creativity and inspiration during this feedback session was off the charts, leaving us exhausted but newly exhilarated about our writing. A sentiment only strengthened by part two of the afternoon: our one-on-one critiques with Beverley.

One-on-One in the welcomed sun

This was probably the part of the workshop each of us was most nervous about. Having a successful author and editor reading and critiquing your material is an amazing opportunity for receiving honest feedback, but what if that honesty includes telling you, the author, that you had better take up train-spotting because you’ll never be successful as a writer? Added to that, few of us felt like we'd sent Beverly our best efforts, no matter how well the group had reacted to them. We writers, like so many other artists, are our own worst critics.

We needn't have worried. Beverley is a classy London Lady, who found the redeemable aspects in our material and made us feel like it - and we as writers - have heaps of potential. Her suggestions for improvement subsequently only motivated us to dig deeper. Every one of us came out of these sessions feeling relieved, hopeful about our potential, and - once again - inspired.

The relaxed organizers

Inspiration and motivation were definitely the underlying theme of the weekend, and how could it not be under such circumstances? Thank you, Patti and SCBWI for organizing this amazing event. Thank you, Beverley, for heaping your wisdom upon us and being kind about our literary babies. Thank you, sisters of the Benedictine convent, for allowing us into your hallowed halls.  We weren't quite as loud as the wedding party next door, but our discussions did get rather lively. Sorry if we distracted your meditation guests. Please let us return next year. 

Lunch break with a view

So, readers -- do yourselves a favor and make a mental note to keep an eye out for the next SCBWI writing retreat. You won't want to miss it.

In fact, you’ll have to come if you want to hear the full version of the Chiemsee legend of the demonic mermaid nuns (which also includes a Swedish diver, shark men as well as mermans, water turning into wine, treasure, and a virgin pregnancy. Yes, like The Princess Bride it has it all, except maybe for the sword fights. But seriously, who needs those when you’ve got demonic mermaid nuns?). We plan to uphold the one and only Chiemsee myth at every retreat, until it becomes so well known as to make it into the hearts and souls of every member. In which case, this first retreat will have been a successful beginning indeed.
See you next year!

* Pure fiction, by the way. The nuns were nothing but wonderful, helpful and showed no signs of having fins whatsoever.


  1. Ah, I so wish I could have been there...BUT, there is always next year. Prost!

  2. I know, I wish I could've gone too! But I'm so glad it happened and you all found such great benefit there. Cheers to Beverley for her time and input!

  3. Pia, this is so cool. I'd go just to meet Sister Scholastica, for starters! Great article!

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