Thursday, 24 September 2015

Snapshots from... Lausanne.

By JJ Marsh

In our regular series, international writers share some snapshots from their part of the world. This issue, Nancy Freund shares her views on Lausanne in Switzerland and its cousin, Geneva.

What’s so great about Lausanne? 

Just an hour’s drive from Geneva, at the northern tip of Lake Geneva’s croissant-shaped apex, Lausanne attracts expats from all over the world, some short-termers intent on retaining their national identities at all costs and long-termers who hold numerous countries’ passports, speak many languages, and blend easily into the diverse cultural landscape. The writing from this region reflects this diversity in style, structure, and content.  The political neutrality of this country is reflected in the writing and culture as well. There is a lot of room for a creative person to manoeuvre and find readers who truly appreciate innovative works. Lausanne and Geneva have distinct cultural personalities – they’re like the cousins who always migrate to one another at family events. They’re not the same, but they really enjoy each other’s company. 

Tell us a bit about the cultural life of the place.

The Geneva Writers Group is a lifeline for hundreds of English-speaking writers in the French-speaking region of Switzerland and further afield. In fact, its biannual conference draws 250 writers and instructors from more than 50 countries, and it always offers a surprising range of workshops panels, and opportunities to meet like-minded writers. The Geneva Writers Group has grown from strength to strength over the course of 23 years. Every month about 70 writers participate in master classes and related events at the Geneva Press Club, and GWG membership has opened pathways to publication for many members. It’s a wonderful, vibrant group – and extremely diverse.

More recently this area saw the 2004 opening of the Jan Michalski Foundation and Library supporting multicultural and bilingual literature and offering a stunning, light-filled space for literary events, writers’ residencies, and a very generous literary prize that has been a wonderful honour for both Jan Michalski’s legacy and the writers who’ve received it. This weekend Julian Barnes will be speaking there.

This area also celebrates the annual Morges Literary Festival known as Le Livre Sur Les Quais, which attracts 40,000 book-loving visitors and 300 writers to the beautiful lakeside venues in Morges’ old town. The place can probably be seen from space, with all the literary electricity buzzing that weekend in early September. Tessa Hadley was a favourite speaker on this year’s roster, and she will return to Geneva for the GWG conference in March.

What’s hot? What are people reading?

One book I have to mention is the recent Pulitzer Prize winning novel All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, who was a fiction instructor for the Geneva Writers Group a number of years ago. A beautiful book! Another fiction instructor we had a few years ago is Bret Lott, whose novel Jewel is exactly that. The locals regularly like to read each others’ works, spanning a great range of genres, fiction and non-fiction, both published and to-be-published. I’ve got three books lined up right now – Olivia Wildenstein’s Ghostboy, Chameleon and the Duke of Graffiti, Katie Hayoz’s Chicago steampunk novel, Immersed, and Amanda Hunt Callendrier’s El Camino. It’s a real privilege to beta-read great fiction.

Can you recommend any books set in Geneva, or Switzerland?

Not everyone knows that Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist lives with his artist wife in Geneva and regularly writes about the area. His new novel Adultery is evidently set here. I confess I haven’t read it, although I have read his novel Eleven Minutes, also based on sexual misconduct in the Geneva area. A bit of a departure from his metaphysical Alchemist. In the Diamones trilogy, Massimo Marino writes Geneva-based dystopian sci-fi drawing on his experience as a CERN physicist.

Who are the best known local writers?

Founder of GWG Susan Tiberghien with Daniela Norris
If you look at the membership of the Geneva Writers Group, you’ll see many important local writers, many of whom have won prizes in the US, UK, and Europe. Michelle Bailat-Jones, winner of the Christopher Doheney Prize for Japan-based Fog Island Mountains is top of my list of favorites. Susan Tiberghien, now in her 80s, founded the Geneva Writers Group more than 20 years ago and has just released two charming memoirs about expat life, marriage, and writing. Daniela Norris writes wonderful new age inspiration and fiction, with a new novel coming any day now, titled Recognitions. I also highly recommend Susan Jane Gilman’s novel The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street for its broad-ranging (yet quite specific) review of the last century of American history, a strong (yet damaged and damaging) female protagonist, and a fantastic fly-on-the-wall revelation of business building. I loved that one. Susan splits her time between New York and Geneva.

Is the location an inspiration or distraction for you?

Inspiration, 100%. I write in English, and I love the freedom to write in a minority language, in the style I choose, without concern about audience. Those concerns can come in later, when the work is all stirred and simmering. There’s wonderful freedom as a writer here.

What are you writing?

My third novel Effort of Will features a Montana cowboy whose investment banker wife moves the family to Switzerland for an expat assignment. It’s taking me eons to write it because I keep inventing new plot twists as I go. I enjoy these characters so much, I don’t want to see this novel untwist itself and end. Soon, though!

Sum up life in Lausanne in three words.

Neutral. Organized. Fulfilling.

And because I’m not actually Swiss, I’m going to break the rules and throw in a fourth –


Nancy Freund is a writer, editor, prior English teacher, and mentor. Born in New York, raised in Kansas City, and educated in Los Angeles, she was married in England, and today lives in French-speaking Switzerland. She is the author of Foreword Reviews finalist for Book of the Year in General Fiction and Category Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Prize 'Rapeseed,' (Gobreau Press, 2013) 'Global Home Cooking: International Families' Favorite Recipes' which earned the Eric Hoffer Prize Honorable Mention (2014), and 'Mailbox: A Scattershot Novel of Racing, Dares and Danger, Occasional Nakedness, and Faith' (2015). Her novel 'Effort of Will' is forthcoming in 2016. Her writing has appeared in The Istanbul Review, BloodLotus Journal, Offshoots, The Daily Mail, Female First, and The Sirenuse Journal. Her radio interviews have aired on BBC London, World Radio Switzerland, and Talk Radio Europe. She is active in Community Literacy projects for teens and adults, and she holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing and an M.Ed. from UCLA.

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