I took a walk on the wild side of Geneva with American author Anne Korkeakivi, the third subject to feature in this swissinfo.ch series of English-language writers based in Switzerland. The author of two novels, Shining Sea and An Unexpected Guest (both published by Little Brown), Anne’s work has been described as “eloquent” and “captivating”.
The New Yorker had a successful career as a journalist before she decided to try out her fiction wings. She stopped producing nonfiction work, taking a job as an editor for a French publishing house, and gave herself twelve months to make a go of fiction. She sold her first story in the eleventh month.
That was the encouragement Anne needed to devote herself to fiction. I spent a morning with Anne, walking through the woods and backroads of Geneva. Having lived abroad for most of her adult life, she is content to live in such an international city. This global spirit is evident in the many different locations Anne features in her work – from Paris to the Philippines to the Hebrides.
Anne’s two novels are very different in scope and tone. The action in the first, An Unexpected Guest, takes place over one day in Paris, as a woman married to a diplomat realises what shaky foundations her well-ordered life is built upon. Shining Sea has a panoramic sweep, following the lives of the large Gannon family over several decades and continents. You’ll find more information about Anne and her work on her website.
Also featured in this series is Susan Jane Gilman, author of TheIce Cream Queen of Orchard Street and three nonfiction books, as well as Jason Donald, author of Dalila and Choke Chain. There is one more author to come next week to complete the talented quartet.
The dream gig continues … I’ve been meeting acclaimed English-language authors based in Switzerland for a series of interviews for my former employer, swissinfo.ch. The profile of Susan Jane Gilman, best-selling author of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street and three other books, was published this week.
Susan Jane is as entertaining in person as she is on the page. This photo was taken in Morges on Lake Geneva where we had to laugh (and buy ice cream) when the first thing we saw on the waterfront was an ice cream stand. It was just the sort of place the heroine in Susan Jane’s novel would have owned once upon a time in New York.
Morges is a lovely spot and location of the annual Le Livre sur les Quais literary festival which is held in September. I’ve heard the festival will feature Irish authors this year and can’t wait to find out who’s in the line-up. Susan Jane is also a fan of Irish literature, first inspired by her English teacher in high school, the legendary Frank Mc Court.
Susan Jane is teaching at the Zurich Writers Workshop (ZWW) next weekend (May 12-14) along with Jill Alexander Essbaum, author of Hausfrau, a book set in Switzerland which made a big impression on me. Two very high calibre writers. That event may well be booked out but, if you live within reach of Zurich, ZWW is worth following for its excellent instruction programme.
Here again, in case you missed it in the first paragraph, is the link to my interview with Susan Jane Gilman. And if you are catching up on this series, don’t forget Jason Donald, author of Dalila (2017) and Choke Chain (2009) who was the subject of the first swissinfo profile. The next interview will be published on Thursday May 11th. Watch this space!
I’ve just returned from an exhilarating weekend at the Geneva Writers Conference and I know I’ll be sifting through all those impressions and key pieces of information and advice for months to come. For now, I’d like to post this magpie-style round-up of some of the inspiring ideas and people from the workshops and panel discussions I attended.
The wonderful English novelist and short story writer Tessa Hadley gave a workshop on Beginnings. One of my favourite short story collections is Married Love by Hadley so I was particularly keen to hear her speak. I can only describe her teaching style as joyful. The students in her creative writing class at Bath Spa University College are very lucky.
On the subject of beginnings, Hadley said: “There’s probably no rule for beginning a book except one: it should begin with force.”
I was paying particularly close attention because I am currently working on the opening of my book about Switzerland. The challenge is to make the opening lines “intelligent, odd or interesting”, Hadley said, so that the reader will want to spend time with you and see how the puzzle unfolds.
With revising, Hadley said we have to be able to approach the text with fresh eyes, as if reading it for the first time. “One of the most important skills of being a writer is to learn to be your own reader.”
The non-fiction author Andrea Stuart made some observations that really struck a chord with me. She spoke about the sense of loss that comes with the end of a project when you realise it is not going to be the dream masterpiece that you imagined. This is what makes letting go difficult.
“We have to accept the limitations of what we can do gracefully,” she said. And learn from it, go on to do better.
“We all have passion and uncertainty we’re trying to work through, and we resent it but it is essential,” Stuart said.
The Barbadian-British writer described the confidence that she has drawn from her writing, which includes a biography of Josephine Bonaparte (The Rose of Martinique) and Showgirls, a collective biography of female performers throughout history to the present day. Her 2012 book Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire gave her a great sense of pride. “It bolstered me, made me feel I could intercede in debates about British life.”
Hearing directly from two inspirational writers in one weekend would have been amazing enough but there were many other excellent speakers. Publishing consultant Jane Friedman patiently and skilfully explained what authors need to know about their online presence. Her website provides a wealth of information on navigating the industry and making smart decisions in the digital age.
The final inspiring speaker I’d like to mention is JJ Marsh, a Zurich-based crime writer who co-founded a writers’ collective called Triskele Books. The five Triskele writers are based in three different countries but they pool their skills and energy to publish their books independently.
Among the challenges authors face, Marsh said, is the fact that writing is a solitary occupation. But there is great support to be found, even if you need to start a writers’ group yourself. Marsh mentioned various associations and groups and said it’s a question of figuring out where you belong. Her full talk on community, networking and resources, with lots of helpful links, is here.
There was an amazing friendly atmosphere at the conference, probably because everyone was so delighted to be let out to play at last. A big thank you to the organisers from the Geneva Writers’ Group whose hard work gave us all such a positive experience. Now for that forceful beginning …