In Conversation: Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is an Australian journalist, television presenter, blogger and media consultant. She was the editor of Australian Cosmopolitan magazine until 2008, and the host of the first season of the cooking show, Master Chef Australia, in 2009. Sarah is the author of the Australian, US and UK best-sellers I Quit Sugar and I Quit Sugar for Life, and has authored the best-selling series of ebooks from Her 8-Week Program has seen more than 400,000 people quit sugar. She is a qualified health coach with New York’s Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

Libby O’Loghlin asks Sarah about her writing habits, her publishing experience, and how she measures success.

Sarah Wilson at work. Image courtesy Sarah Wilson.

Sarah Wilson at work. Image courtesy Sarah Wilson.

From the outside looking in, you tick a lot of ‘success’ boxes: New York Times bestseller, a gazillion followers on your various social media channels … you’ve interviewed the Dalai Lama, Australian Prime Ministers, Gwyneth Paltrow … How do you measure success in your life, and has it changed over the years?

I won’t pretend that some of those ​’highlights​’ have certainly instilled me with some incredible satisfaction and also confidence. However, some of the big bombastic milestones were achieved during a time in which I felt very much out of alignment and so I almost dismiss them. When I do something and I feel in alignment, then I feel I’ve succeeded. There’s an Ayurvedic word—dharma—which describes both what you do and also your destined contribution to life. When the Continue reading

In Conversation: Sandra Ondraschek-Norris

Sandra Ondraschek-Norris is a visual artist, originally from Ireland, who now lives in the greater Zürich area. She is known for her landscape paintings, at once both confining and infinite; a source of melancholy and possibility. Libby O’Loghlin asks her about success, and about working with a visual medium—outside the realm of words.

Portrait of Sandra Ondraschek-Norris

Image courtesy Sandra Ondraschek-Norris

Tell us a bit about how you found your way to the visual arts, having started your career working in psychology and counselling. 

I did want to study art but fear combined with lousy career guidance got in the way. I think the adults around me at that time had a very limited concept of what art was about or what kind of job it might lead to. There was a sort of unspoken ‘painters die poor and lonely in a cold attic studio’ vibe. I’m not sure that their image of psychologists was that much better but I suspect that scenario might at least have included a room with heating.

I realised that denying myself a creative life was bad for my health …

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Gallery: The Measure of Success

Sandra Ondraschek-Norris is a visual artist, originally from Ireland, who now lives in the greater Zürich area. She is known for her landscape paintings, at once both confining and infinite; a source of melancholy and possibility. She works with acrylic on canvas.

You can read the full interview with Sandra HERE


Notes from the Unexpected: Gitarren Total from the ground up

Text and images: DB Miller

Gitarren Total - Duncan James and Tyko Runesson BW

Down in the basement, where half a dozen guitars hang in the corner like spiders, Gitarren Total general manager Patrick Geser and I are talking metal—or, more precisely, nickel, chrome and whatever else was galvanized for weapons and parts in this very space. That was a long time ago, back when rock ‘n’ roll was new and few of the amplifiers now stacked against the cinderblock had reason to exist. The room is still equipped with Cold War-era dials and knobs and enough power, as Patrick puts it, “to blow up the Eiffel Tower,” but today it serves a different industry. Not that anyone around here would call it that.

“Certain sounds can’t replicate very easily,” Patrick continues, delving into a comparison of tube amps with the more modern transistor and digital models. After a cheerful tangent about the U.S. Army’s radio transceivers, he pauses, maybe aware of my struggle to keep up. “Every single thing you see here,” he finally says, “somebody really likes.”

Gitarren Total - Patrick Geser BWThis is both understatement and code. Only a steady surge of earnest, pre-Facebook likes could have taken a business that started off “repairing crap guitars” this far. It is also clear that somebody may very well include the people who work here, all serious guitar players involved in multiple bands. Patrick has cut back to two, what with his ten hand operations and re-prioritization around work and family, and they both are doing well. His punk band even opened for Dead Kennedys’ legendary frontman Jello Biafra a few weeks earlier, though this he only mentions when I comment on his shirt.

“It’s really terrible music,” he says, quick to keep my awe in check. “We only do two or three gigs a year because nobody wants to hear it. It’s not like one-two-three-four dugga dugga dugga dugga … But it’s a lot of fun to play.”

We wind past the bass nook and guitar-case cranny, which used to store the building’s coal until Patrick cleared it out. A few steps further, and we’re in the place where fantasies are fueled. Hundreds of guitars climb the walls and catch the light, each burning with promise. After another factual interlude about technology in the service of craftsmanship, Patrick informs me, with no less authority, that guitars get “mojo and soul” only after years of play. They can lose it, too.

Gitarren Total - Guitars ALT BW

“Some of my guitars I put away for two or three years… I can’t get a sound out of anymore. Even if I toured with one for a few years, if I take it out of the case today …” he pretends to gag, “I can’t play it.”

“Maybe you’ve changed,” I offer. “Or do you think the guitar has?”

He stops, quiet for the longest stretch since my arrival. “Well, yeah. Both. Absolutely.”


In the workshop one floor up, the Les Pauls give way to orthopedic shoes and fumes. Duncan James and Tyko Runesson are on duty today, tending to repairs in uncustomary silence. Duncan, who grew up fixing his guitar with fork and knife, first came to Gitarren Total with a broken neck – his guitar had been caught in the unforgiving doors of the Paris metro. That was fifteen years ago, and he joined the team not long after.

He is hunched over the task at hand, which involves an Allen wrench and a Rickenbacker pick-up. The job is one of the 1,500 the team handles every year, though a few are turned down at the door.

Gitarren Total - Workshop BW

“(It’s) when a customer asks for something that’s against our ethic,” Duncan explains, eying the shelf where the disabled guitars line up like patients. “He brings in a really nice old vintage piece and says, ‘I want this repainted …’” Duncan gives me a moment to grasp the severity of the offense. “But, no … You’re only borrowing that guitar while you’re here on Earth, and when you’re gone that guitar will go to somebody else. So, if you go and do that to it now, you’re destroying it.”

This comes across more as hard-earned wisdom than bluster. Like Patrick, Duncan and Tyko have been playing in bands and overlapping side projects for years. Duncan says, “Here, you have to.”

Tyko, who builds acoustic guitars and folk-dances on the side, agrees. “Then you know when it’s finished. Otherwise you have no real feel for it. By the book, it’s not enough.”

Gitarren Total - Duncan JamesDuncan adds, “You’re always holding some kind of Platonic ideal of what a particular model could and should sound like, and you’re comparing it to the one that you’ve got in your hand …” He points to the table. “I’ve got a pretty good idea of how that Rickenbacker should sound, and I won’t be guessing. Everybody here has amassed a huge library of sounds in their head.”

Tyko begins dismantling a sparkly turquoise number near the window, and Duncan walks over to take a look. Tyko gingerly probes the innards and points out the jack plugs, not unlike those used in old telephone switchboards.

Duncan goes back to the pick-up. Over the pulse of soldering, I ask him what a good day is.

“A good day is getting up in the morning and, while I’m eating my cornflakes, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve got to do that today,’ and I’ll immediately start thinking about it with a little part of my brain. And when I get here, I pick up the guitar and it’s just a complete, seamless kind of transition from coming to work and picking up the thing. You know exactly what you’ve got to do with it and you’ve actually planned the whole thing out. But I guess practically every day’s a good day.”

The soldering stops. Tyko lifts the jack plug to his face and squints. For a few seconds, the only movement comes from the swaying leaves outside the window. All these tools and scraps, all these machines and parts – but, sooner or later, it’s only about wood and wire and, in the right hands, the power of something much harder to name.
Aemtlerstrasse 15, 8003 Zürich

By D.B. Miller
Writer of short stories and essays, along with an occasional Tweet @DBMillerWriter

Writing (and Revising) Success

by Kristen Coros

 Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.
—Winston Churchill

Sandra Ondraschek-Norris partial image

What does success mean to a writer? Do any of us write—or pursue other creative endeavours—without some notion of our effort being recognized, rewarded, lauded? And what sort of outcomes ought we to lust after?

There is, of course, money. There is fame, recognition. There is succès d’estime, otherwise known as critical acclaim. There are contests, prizes, awards. There are lines of people in bookshops waiting to have copies consecrated by the kiss of a felt-tip pen.

There are the dreams. There is imagining the look and feel of your book in your hands, intellectual effort become form and heft. There are fantasy interviews. (“Oh, from a very young age I knew I was meant to write.”) There is the seductive idea of your voice being able to speak after you are gone.

But what are the odds? It has never been easy to ‘make it’ as an writer; current trends in publishing, as many have noted, have made it more possible than ever to become a published author … more difficult than ever to become a published author with ‘a following’.

The truth is that we might not succeed even though we work hard, though we have grit and all necessary ingredients. The annals of art are filled with terribly talented people whose work went unrecognized during their lifetimes. In the writerly sphere, we can reference Kafka, Zora Neale Hurston, and Stieg Larsson, among others.

Still, we can believe we will be the exception, reaching the money, the awards, the interviews, and the rest.

Then we can do a thought experiment: suppose we get there—achieve those dreamed-of things. What then?

Success generates noise. It causes phones to ring and email inboxes to swell to unmanageable proportions. Heads have been found to bloat unbecomingly. It gives rise to extensive air travel and public speaking and too many handshakes.

It can be a mental succubus, an enervating circumstance, bestowing greater pressure and expectation. With success, there is more opportunity to be praised, but equally more opportunity to be castigated, to be the subject of scathing reviews. (Pity the writer who causes Michiko Kakutani ennui.) With more scrutiny comes a greater fear of failure.

And what of privacy? This is an issue with which writers (owing, perhaps, to the introverted character that suits the work) have famously battled. Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger retreated from the public after their smash successes, producing little afterward. Others—Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Pynchon among them—have strenuously deflected intrusions. Short story master Julio Cortázar told the Paris Review not long before his death,

Listen, I’ll say something I shouldn’t say because no one will believe it, but success isn’t a pleasure for me. I’m glad to be able to live from what I write, so I put up with the popular and critical side of success. But I was happier as a man when I was unknown. Much happier.

In his own audience with the Paris Review, William Faulkner spoke dismissively of success as something “good [writers] don’t have time to bother with”. (He also called it “like a woman,” but that’s a discussion for another time.) While it may strike us as harsh if we’ve been using success as a motivational tool, the idea is also somewhat freeing. Simply not bother with it! That sounds good, actually: thanks, Mr. F!

The writers who seem best able to weather success—to remain healthy and productive in spite of it—are those able to turn their backs to the maelstrom of noise and pressure it generates. Those who can, in spite of it, go back to doing what they did before: entering a room alone, sitting down at a desk, and putting words to paper. In order for a writer, no matter how accomplished, to continue to be a writer, this must occur for hours on end, and without immediate reward.

But if we’re not dreaming of wealth and fame, won’t we need some other kind of sustenance—another source of fuel?

Tread Softly, partial image by Sandra Ondraschek-NorrisWell-established in the literature of social psychology is the idea that so-called intrinsic motivation—that which stems from inherent interest in or enjoyment of a task—is more valuable at fostering skill development than that which flows from extrinsic, or external, factors, like money and praise. Another finding is that the application of extrinsic rewards can, in some cases, reduce intrinsic motivation and desire to perform an activity. In other words, wanting to get paid or famous is not as powerful as wanting to do something for its own sake, and receiving external payoffs might mess with our mojo.

One way this is achieved is through an interest in mastery which, broadly defined, is a goal orientation in which an individual is interested not as much in performance measures (which are usually external), but in those relating to learning and improvement: to getting better. Commitment to this can sustain us through the externally-measured failures all writers must endure, like rejection by agents or literary magazines.

For a more concrete look at mastery, we can refer to an interview in which Ira Glass, host of the radio program This American Life, discusses the yardsticks creative people use to evaluate progress. A main reason we’re drawn to a creative endeavour in the first place, Glass claims, is because we have good taste in that area. Said taste allows us, when we begin creating ourselves, to recognize that our work doesn’t measure up to the standard of that which we have admired and been inspired by. For a number of years, we have good taste and our work fails to measure up to it. This painful state of affairs, Glass says, is the reason so many people quit early on. But, if we’re able to persist, to produce a volume of work that we know is subpar, eventually we’ll be rewarded by the sight of the gap between our work and our ambitions closing.

This can be intoxicating. You pen a scene with five characters in dialogue, when previously you never had more than two in a room together, much less conversing. You finish a work of a new length or in a new genre. You finally pull off something that evokes emotion while skirting the quicksand of mawkishness.

This, too, is success. Perhaps the most important kind.

When we start to think about personal mastery as success, certain crusty old aphorisms begin to sound true. Maybe it is the journey, not the destination. Maybe, though we’d love for our writing to pay, the work is the reward. Maybe intense love of an art form is fulfillment enough to keep us creating, to make money and acclaim feel incidental.

As Dani Shapiro noted in her memoir, Still Writing:

It is in the thousands of days of trying, failing, sitting, thinking, resisting, dreaming, raveling, unraveling that we are at our most engaged, alert, and alive … The rewards cannot be measured. Not now. But whatever happens, any writer will tell you: This is the best part.

So let me offer you this journey, and these rewards along the way. There is what Stephen King termed, “that buzz of happiness, that sense of having found the right words and put them in a line.” There is writing something you didn’t think you would be able to write. There is the thrill in toiling on something: sweating and self-flagellating until, in a blaze of inner triumph, you’re able to proclaim “The End.”


Kristen Coros lives in Zürich. She is a lover of words, a writer of fiction, and an Associate Editor at Vine Leaves Literary Journal.

Images courtesy Sandra Ondraschek-Norris: ‘Winter Wonderland’ (partial); ‘Tread Softly’ (partial). View full images in our Gallery.

15 Years of The English Bookshop

This October, The English Bookshop on Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse celebrates its fifteenth birthday.

Jill talked to manager Sabine Haarmann and Nick Schorp about the history of this Zürich institution, how it has weathered the storms of publishing, and what’s on the horizon.

The English Bookshop by @libby_ol

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7 Tips for Starting a Critique Group

by Kelly Jarosz, co-founder of the Zurich Writers Workshop

Empty chairs by @libby_ol

A writing critique group meets once or twice monthly to share information, encourage each other and provide feedback on works in progress. If you’re interested in connecting with other writers but can’t find a group that works for you, consider starting your own. The idea may seem daunting, but the tips below will help you get started and avoid the pitfalls that lead some groups to self-destruct. Continue reading