Livewriting Adventures in Ghent

Last Thursday I rolled out of bed unusually early and narrowly avoided missing the floor.

Much to my chagrin, gravity kicked in. I lay on the floor beside my bed, groaning. It was 7am. Through the open sliver of my curtain I could see that the sky was barely pinked with light. Why was I awake?

Ah, yes. I had to catch a train. The Eurostar, to be precise.

I stood, snapped off my alarm, shoved my arms into my snuggie (yes, uncool, I know, but so very comfy) and trundled off to the bathroom to glare blearily at my reflection. My face was pale, the cheekbones in sharp relief; I looked like one of my zombies.

One shower, clothes change, and layer of make up later, I was ready to go. I grabbed my duffel bag and tickets and coat, ran back for my passport, panicked about being late, and strode purposefully to the tube. By now it was 7:45 and the city traffic was begining to kick in.

I made it to King’s Cross in record time (15 minutes!) and legged it to the Eurostar. By 8:16 I was in my seat. By 8:26 — stomach growling furiously — my adventure to Ghent had begun.

The next few hours passed in a pleasurable blur of reading and writing, and before I knew it, we were pulling into Brussels, 11:33 local time. A quick platform change and I was on a train to Ghent. In half an hour I would meet Jan Oda. Over a year of online friendship and we’d finally meet in person. Thinking about it too much felt weird.

Jan was waiting for me on the platform. I already knew what she looked like from her copious videos, but the first thing that struck me was she wasn’t as tall as I’d imagined. That, and — as we hugged — the thought: this is so normal it’s strange.

We swung by her house, dropped off my stuff, and headed straight to the Vooruit. On the far side of the café/bar was a long desk on a red carpet, two large screens hanging overhead. On the desk was a row of computers. Behind one of those computers was a man wearing a familiar hat and pair of sunglasses, hunched over a tiny laptop in a position that was bound to give him early arthritis.

He looked up. “Your hair is cool.” No hello, how are you. He went right back to his computer, typing away furiously, livewriting chapter 5 of The Archivists. He held up one hand as he said, “Let me finish this chapter.”

That was my introduction to MCM. Jan wandered off for a smoke as I sat down and pulled out my laptop (several sizes larger than MCM’s, if you wanted to know).

Eventually MCM looked up, stretching his over-abused spine. “Hi!”

“Hi.”

“You’re here!”

“I’m here.” I smirked, then, treating MCM to my Snark Level 2 look – quirk of the lips, slight narrowing of the eyes, left eyebrow briefly raised.

Jan returned before I could terrify him further. She sat down between us. We all looked at each other. Together at last. When we began talking, it was as if we’d known each other forever.

The next few days of livewriting passed in a blur of computer screens, headaches, insomnia, cherry beer, webcam cameos and silly computer hijacking whenever MCM wandered away from his laptop. The schedule was insane: MCM wrote from 8am to 2am on Thursday and Friday, and from 8am to 10pm on Saturday, with short breaks for lunch and dinner. I don’t know how he does it; by Saturday morning I felt nauseous, sleep-deprived and mildly insane.

Thankfully everyone in the Vooruit was helpful, friendly and fluent in English. We couldn’t have had a better venue for MCM’s first on-site livewriting, and this all would have been impossible if not for Jan. She was unstoppable, chatting with journalists, radio presenters, acting as our liaison, explaining webfiction and livewriting to any who wandered by. Special shout outs to those who followed along loyally online, including Cathi and Greg.

And me? I tasked myself with annoying MCM, using his face as target practice, complaining about the lack of kissing in the story, complaining about the kissing when it finally happened, mocking him for being entirely off schedule, criticising his taste in beer. Now that I know how many thousands of viewers were following the story, I feel a little embarrassed by my antics. Oops?

Saturday was the last day of the festival. MCM finished writing at 9:50pm and within minutes our desk had been cleared away to be replaced by black poseur tables and champagne — the fastest book launch party in the history of the universe! We briefly looked at the stats: MCM had written 52,000 words in 44 hours. I topped up his champagne glass and marvelled that he was still standing.

After a few drinks and a brief pit stop at Jan’s, we headed over to the VIP end-of-festival afterparty, where I proceeded to teach MCM how to finger-dance, as well as drink him under the table. There were pole dancers, cocktails, thumping music, and more cool people that I could shake my imaginary stick at. It was awesome.

Sunday morning, feeling ill, we all met and headed to a restaurant which features in The Archivists. I think we terrified the waitress with our very unusual order: sausages (for MCM), spaghetti Bolognese (for me) and apple pie & ice-cream (for Jan), and enough cans of ice tea to drown an aquatic plant.

We basked in the sunshine, our conversation meandering down little-used paths, so similar to the random google chats we have that it was comforting in its familiarity. By the time I was back on the Eurostar that evening, it all felt like a strange, wonderful dream.

I realised it hadn’t been a dream when my hangover kicked in somewhere between Paris and London.

I’m still recovering from the ordeal.

London 2012, anyone?

If you weren’t able to check it out last weekend, be sure to head on over to MCM’s 3D1D livewriting website, where you can access the full text of The Archivists for free.

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3 thoughts on “Livewriting Adventures in Ghent

  1. It wasn’t “your hair is cool”, it was “you’re late, you fool.”

    But yes, it was quite the fantastic three days. The writing part was easy, even. The hard part was you criticizing the kissing scenes all the time. Sheesh!

    Also, my laptop is plenty big. It’s not the size of the screen that counts, it’s how you use it.

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