Geneva Writers’ Conference

Centers of Wisdom, by Olivia Wildenstein

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Conferences are hubs of knowledge and talent. They fuel the imagination and broaden social networks. They are important for every trade, but especially for writers, since writing is such a solitary job.

In Geneva, on the weekend of the 19th of March, a large group of authors and agents came together at Webster University to discuss writing and publishing. It was an exciting weekend, jam-packed with workshops and Q&As that shed light on how to transform your manuscript into a gripping masterpiece, and land that coveted publishing contract or self-publish it with success.

The first time I put a book out into the world, Ghostboy, Chameleon & the Duke of Graffiti, I did it without a master plan. I just wanted to publish my story, because I loved my characters and thought they deserved better than being locked up inside my computer, along with all the others I’d made up over the years. Also, I wanted to be able to say ‘yes’ when people asked if I’d published anything. I wanted to feel like a real author. Now, after the conference and the months of work I put into the launch of my second novel, The Masterpiecers, I realize that I should have had a master plan. Not because Ghostboy wasn’t received well—it was—but because it took me a year to slip it into the hands of more or less five hundred readers.


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At the conference, I gleaned new strategies from other self-published writers like Jill Marsh, who emphasized the importance of finding your tribe, because they are the people whose criticism will be the most constructive and whose encouragements will be the most sincere. Where do you find your tribe? In targeted Facebook groups, at conferences, in writing groups. In today’s ultra-connected world, the possibilities are endless. Even if you live in the most remote town in Switzerland, you can join websites dedicated to people who write in the same genre as you do.

Liz Jensen’s workshop was not to be missed. Her novel, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, is currently being turned into a film. She wasn’t exuberant in her way of ‘teaching’, and she didn’t throw around big smiles to charm us, but she explained the mechanics of storytelling in a way that made you want to pick up a pen and write the best book of your life. She used examples like Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Experiment, where children were all given a marshmallow and told that if they waited, they would get a second one. Some ate it, some waited. Forty years later, the people organizing the study looked up these children. The ones who’d waited had been more successful in life than the others. Jensen used the example to demonstrate that giving your character a desire, but not fulfilling it on page one, will create greater gratification for the reader at the end.

Then we played around with different plot techniques to raise the stakes in a story. Your character needs to get from point A to point B, but things keep happening that hinder his journey. Here’s the example Jensen used: you need to go to the hospital because your mother is ill. There’s a traffic jam. Then you find yourself involved in a car accident where you’ve hit a person. A mother and her child. The mother dies. When you search for papers to phone the baby’s next of kin, you realize she was an immigrant, and therefore carries no papers. There’s no one around. This will create a great dilemma for your character, and dilemma is essential to a terrific character arc. “Put your protagonist through hell,” advises Jensen.

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The other author whose workshop I attended was a prodigious show-woman and storyteller: Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle. Unlike Jensen, she used her workshop hour to explore a selection of short stories, such as Raymond Carver’s Popular Mechanics and Alice Walker’s The Flowers. Studying writing is essential to writing, which made the time well spent. We analyzed how writers can create tension and satisfaction using very few words. The other memorable moment of Hood’s workshop was when she shared with us something she’d heard from author Grace Paley: “No story is one story. There’s the one on the surface and the one bubbling beneath. And the climax is when they collide.”

So once you have that great story written down in a neatly edited pile of words, what do you do with it? Enter the agent. You hook one, they champion your work and sell it to a major publishing house, and then you’re gold. Although part of this is true, it’s a simplistic view of the publishing system. There is still a lot of work involved on the author’s part: social networking, building a mailing list, accumulating reviews and entering competitions. An agent will help with some of this, but they won’t do your job for you. And that mammoth publishing house won’t either. Very few books are even allotted a marketing budget. But you do have a team to assist you with cover design, manuscript edits and placing your book in brick-and-mortar shops and libraries. Those are not trivial parts of the publishing process, but in a way, for having done it twice now, they’re the easiest part.

Conferences will challenge you, unlock new prospects and instigate key relationships. But most importantly, they will make you a wiser writer, and wisdom is tantamount to success.

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Olivia Wildenstein lives with her husband and three children in Geneva, Switzerland, where she’s an active member of the writing community.



Making Tracks

Summer is a laid-back season for events and competitions in writing and the arts, but there are always a few tasty morsels out there in the wilds of Zürich and beyond … especially for those who like a writing retreat.

Partial image, courtesy Paul Neale

Partial image courtesy: Paul Neale

Kaufleuten has a selection of cultural events and readings planned for the coming months, including an evening with Donna Leon on 13 June

Openair Literatur Festival Zürich, 11-17 July: Readings and other lively lit events, mostly in German but also with David Mitchell and Nell Zink

Geneva Writers’ Group, 11 June: End-of-year panel discussion in Geneva on “What’s New in Publishing and Marketing”

Webinar, 9 June: The Germany/Austria chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), with literary agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, on “Creating Memorable Middle Grade Characters”

Writing, music and yoga retreat, 19-26 June: Writing in a wellness context, with Deborah Moffitt, in the Italian part of Switzerland.

Paris Writers’ Workshop, 26 June – 1 July: this year with workshops for novels, short stories and novellas, poetry and creative non fiction, as well as expert panels, author readings and social events.

Writing retreat, 29 August to 4 September: gain writing confidence in a French Château, with teacher Clay Tennis.

Paris Writers’ Retreat, 5-9 September:

Video interview series: As part of the Zürich-meets-London festival, art and performance collective Neue Dringlichkeit and ImpactHUB Zürich are releasing weekly video instalments of interviews with Zürich creators and entrepreneurs around entrepreneurial futurism, including the future of work and the creative economy. Watch this space:

Making Tracks

Goings on this Spring in the city of Zürich and beyond.

'Chicken' by Craig Kirkwood, partial shot

‘Chicken’, partial image courtesy Craig Kirkwood

WriteCon16: 21 May, Kulturhaus Helferei

This year’s WriteCon is all about Making It Happen. Hands-on and practical. Whichever event you choose, you’ll walk away with concrete, tailored advice.

BOOK online here.


Saturday 21 – a choice of two workshops

Workshop 1: How to Publish a Book, with Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell

Jessica is editor of the Vine Leaves Journal, an author of both novels and non-fiction, plus a writing coach and cover designer.

Her workshop, suitable for writers of fiction/non-fiction, is filled with useful advice and highly productive, with exercises and activities to put theory into practice.

By the end of Saturday, you will have all the information you need to perfect and publish your book. This session will cover:

  • Editing & Polishing Your Work to Publication Standard Part 1 (Content)
  • Editing & Polishing Your Work to Publication Standard Part 2 (Style)
  • Preparing Your Manuscript for Publication (Copy)
  • Making Your Book (Formatting Your Manuscript)
  • Cover Design Considerations
  • Retailers & Distributors
  • Q&A

BOOK Jessica’s workshop online HERE

Workshop 2: How to Market a Book, with Helen Lewis


Helen Lewis

Helen Lewis, Director of boutique publicity agency Literally PR and Co-Founder of The Author School has a wealth of expertise when it comes to promotion.

Helen’s session is comprehensive and realistic, involving participants in creating their own PR stories, advance information sheets and finding what works for you. By the end of this workshop, you’ll take away concrete ideas and immediately applicable techniques to help you find your readers. This session will cover:

  • Publicity Masterclass #1 (What you need)
  • Publicity Masterclass #2 (What you can do)
  •  How to write your own Advance Information Sheet
  • What makes your author story and/or your book appealing to the press?
  • Building your author platform (offline)
  • Social media health-check
  • Q&A

BOOK Helen’s workshop online HERE


Around the region …

Geneva Writers’ Conference

The 10th Geneva Writers’ ConferenceMarch 18-20, will welcome over two hundred writers from around the world to a weekend of workshops, panels, readings and networking, led by well-known authors, agents, editors, and publishers, to be held at Webster University, Bellevue, Switzerland. The instructors—Carmen Bugan, Tessa Hadley, Ann Hood, Liz Jensen, Shaun McCarthy, Frederick Reiken, Andrea Stuart, Susan Tiberghien, Wallis Wilde Menozzi—are all widely published writers and experienced teachers, committed to sharing their knowledge and perspectives on writing as both an art and a profession.  The conference is organised by the Geneva Writers’ Group. For more information visit or register at

French Writers’ Retreat

One of the most elusive things for writers can be finding the time and space to write. L’Atelier Writers Retreat and Workshop seeks to provide a balance of solitary space for writing, engaging seminars on craft, critique sessions with peers and instructors, and invigorating social connection. The workshop is intentionally kept small welcoming 15 writers each year. The next retreat will be held June 5-10, 2016 in Villeferry, France. (Check-out is the morning of Saturday, June 11th.)

Writers on Board (Zürich)

Once more, you can see the seasons pass by on the shallow hills outside, while you put inspiration to paper (or machine memory) and talk about the writing life.

This year’s sessions are: Sundays 20th March, 17th April, 22nd May, 19th June, 17th July, 21st August, 25th September, 23rd October, 20th November, and 18th December.

Writers on Board meet at 13:15 at Bürkliplatz next to the departure screen. We take the big round trip departing 13:30 to Rapperswil and will be back in Zürich by 17:25. We write individually on the way up and talk (in English) on the way back. For convenience we treat ourselves to first class. The most economic ticket is the ZVV 9 Uhr pass. Apart from pen and paper or notebook, please bring a little money to buy your own beverages.     —Sarah Buchmann

Authors in Town! (Zürich)

All kinds of interesting people popping up at Kaufleuten, including Pussy Riot founder member Nadja Tolokonnikowa, Yann Martel, Garth Risk Hallberg, William Boyd and Viv Albertine.

Check out the Literaturhaus programme for more interesting authors and literary events.

Calling Poets

Are any Woolf readers writers of poetry? And possibly interested in publishing an anthology? If so, contact Jill via the Editorial page.

Character Agency (SCBWI Switzerland Webinar)

What is agency and why does your character need it?

Merriam-Webster says agency is the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.

What can you do to ensure you are writing characters with agency, and what if you’ve finished a project and think your character needs to demonstrate more agency in your story?

Join SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) on 22 March, 2016 for a webinar with Bridget Smith, Literary Agent with Dunham Literary, Inc. to answer these questions and more.

In addition to the webinar, a limited number of critique opportunities will be offered. Bridget will look at 5 pages from your manuscript, as well as a 1-2 page synopsis, and give you feedback on your character’s agency in the story.

Sign up HERE.

Making Tracks

Goings-on in the city of Zürich and beyond … A selection of literary and cultural events around the city this winter.

If you’d like to see your event listed, please contact us via our editorial page.

Kaye Llewelyn detail

Image detail, courtesy of Kaye Llewelyn

Books … and authors

Kaufleuten has an interesting array of guests coming up, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., John Lanchester and Ahmad Mansour.

A full and lively programme of poetry, readings and discussion is available at Literaturhaus Zürich.

“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow …” Kulturmama is holding another Storytime in the Gemeindebibliothek in Thalwil: Monday, 14 December.  Storytime is a free, monthly story corner geared towards the pre-school set (ages 3-5, siblings welcome!). Get in contact with Marisa here.

At The Bookshop

Diccon Bewes will be signing Around Switzerland in 80 Maps on Sunday, 12 December, 15:00-17:00.

First Saturday of the month—Story Hour. Drop off your darlings and browse with a 10% discount.

Save the date …

Geneva Writers’ Conference is 18-20 March.

The Woolf Quarterly will be holding its annual Spring workshop in May 2016. Details to be announced in February’s issue.

Friday, 11 December, 10:45-11:45 a story-telling event at Children First non-profit association (Freiestrasse 175, 8032 Zürich). Three seasonal stories in English, French and German will be read by experienced native-speaking teachers. CHF 10 for first child, CHF 5 for subsequent kids, and for each attendee, a book will be donated to Room to Read charity. More information here.

10, 12, 13 December: Tanzhaus Zürich. ‘XXY’ is a solo dance performance investigating gender roles and identity through the synthesis of physical theatre and kabuki.

16 January 2016: New Generation’s annual Self-Publishing Summit, London. Discussion around the independent publishing industry, including pitching opportunities, Q&A with successful authors, discussion around future trends and marketing, as well as opportunities to network.

Making Tracks

Goings-on in the city of Zürich and beyond … Literary and cultural events around the city this autumn are abundant, so stock up and prepare for the winter by feeding your imagination.

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Martin Amis, Karl Ove Knausgar, Gary Shteyngart, Franz Hohler, Miranda July, Eleanor Catton amongst others are all coming to Kaufleuten. Book your tickets here:

On September 6, you can meet Literaturhaus Writer in Residence, Xiaolu Guo.

Our annual feast of all things wordy, ZuriLiest, is taking place from 22-25 October. Watch out for the full programme in early September.


Take a guided tour of the Swiss National Museum on September 1st and discover some the the treasures within. It’s free and it’s in English.

Long Night of the Museums – One ticket gets you into most of Zurich’s museums for one evening, many of which stay open until 2am. September 5, from 7pm.


The Zurich Film Festival is spread over 11 days and packed with excellent movies from all over the world and an increasing number of red carpet stars. September 24 to October 4.

From 14 Aug – 1 Nov, Kunsthaus Zürich pays tribute to legendary film-maker John Waters, showcasing his fine art, including storyboards and 3D work.

For Writers

Zürich Writers Workshop: From 23-25 October, grab your chance to learn from two exceptional word-wizards. Writing Fiction: Emylia Hall, author of The Book of Summers and Miniature Memoir: Chantal Panozzo, author of Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known

There will be a Fiction Masterclass in Pully, near Lausanne, October 10-11, with Chief Editor of Fish Publishing in Ireland, and then one-on-one consultations with her on October 18. Download the Fiction Festival Flier, or contact Joy Manné: joymanne [at] joymanne [dot] org

The OtherWorlds Writing Group is seeking new members. A group of novel writers critique and give feedback on each other’s work on a monthly basis and welcome writers of all genres. For more information, look at

The next Writers’ Brunch, our occasional Sunday gathering for coffee and chats about words, is happening on Sunday 4 October, 10.00-12.00 at the Restaurant Viadukt Markthalle. Come say hello.

Writers on Board meets monthly at 13:15 at Bürkliplatz next to the yellow mailbox. We take the big round trip to Rapperswil departing 13:30 which arrives back in Zurich 17:15. We write individually on the way up and talk (in English) on the way back. For convenience we treat ourselves to first class. The most economical ticket is the ZVV 9 o’clock pass. Apart from pen and paper or notebook, bring a little money to buy your own beverages. Upcoming dates are Sundays, 20th September, 18th October, 15th November, and 13th December 2015.

Geneva Writers Group Workshop: Short Stories and Flash Fiction—Pacing and Paradox. October 17. More information about this and other GWG workshops on their homepage.

SCBWI Workshop: Enter the Antagonist. No-Scratch That. Enter the Antagonists, Plural. Presented by Sandra Nickel. 14.00-16.00, Solothurn. September 12. (This is a SCBWI event, details on the SCBWI website.)

Making Tracks: Summer 2015

Goings-on in the city of Zürich and beyond.

Image courtesy: Polder film, Kamm[m]acher/400asa

Polder film stills montage courtesy: Dschoint Venture/Niama Film/Kamm(m)acher

Summer in Zürich is all about outdoors. The lake is warming up and so is the culture scene. A wealth of entertainments await. Glorious locations, exciting visitors and homegrown talent—it’s all right here, on our doorstep. Throw off your thermals and dive in.

Books and authors

Highlights of the Literaturhaus Programme include Siri Hustvedt on 10 June and Laurie Penny on 17 June. Browse the events here.

All kinds of exciting outdoor events are happening during Zürich’s Open Air Literatur Festival.

Don’t forget, from 10am on the first Saturday of every month it is Story Hour at The English Bookshop on Bahnhofstrasse. Keep the kids entertained while you browse and get 10% off!


Our next Writers’ Brunch takes place on Sunday June 28 at the Restaurant Viadukt from 10am – 12pm. Come along to chat, meet writers, learn about upcoming events and drink coffee.

Keep an eye on Zürich Writers Workshop for the announcement of the next weekend workshop date this autumn.

Writing at the Castle. A few places are still available for a writing retreat at a château in south west France 1-7 July. More info here.


From 12 June to 12 July, Zurich’s Festspiele fills the city with an annual celebration of classical music, art, theatre, opera, and dance, presenting local and international artists of world renown.

Every summer (6-23 August), over 20 theatre groups stage performances around the city, including open-air productions next to the lake, for the Theaterspektakel!


Swiss Press Photo Exhibition – runs until 5 July at the Landesmuseum

Watching movies by the lake is a fabulous way to spend a summer’s evening. The OpenAir Cinema runs from 16 July to 16 August, at Zürichhorn.


Catch singer songwriter Suzanne Vega on 5 July at Bogen. She has a wonderful way with words.


Writers and Artists (UK) have a new competition: Killer Fiction Crime and Thriller competition, closes Friday 31st July

Making Tracks: Spring 2015

Goings-on this Spring in the city of Zürich and beyond

Partial image courtesy Martina Bisaz

Partial image courtesy Martina Bisaz

Roadmaps for Writers: 21-22 March


WriteCon is back! With a choice of two Saturday workshops:

1. Nail Your Novel, with Roz Morris; or

2. Routes to Publication, with JJ Marsh (ALLi Ambassador to Switzerland), Sophie Schmidt (epubli Berlin), Andrew Rushton (Nord Süd Verlag – children’s publishers) and Richard Harvell (Bergli Books).

Sunday Panel Discussion Roadmaps for Writers – includes all the above plus Hadi Barkat (CEO of Helvetiq). Meet experts in the fields of fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, games and the cultural landscape.

Ask questions and make the most of individual advisory slots (sign up on the day).

For more detail and booking info:

Who’s Coming To Town?

 Highlights at Kaufleuten Kultur this quarter:

  • AL Kennedy – 9 March
  • Hanif Kureshi – 17 March
  • Doris Knecht – 15 April

And many more … browse the site.

Also, Literaturhaus plays host to Lydia Davis – 7 May

Literary festival in Solothurn

Solothurn Literaturtage takes place from 15-17 May. Events, talks and oodles of books! This site is available in English and the full programme is published four weeks before the event.

SCBWI Zürich Meetup

The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has their Zürich members’ meet-up on 29th March. Upstairs at the Starbucks opposite the Hauptbahnhof. 14.00-15.00. Discussion topic will be Tips & Tricks for Revising.

For Geneva writers

21 March: Writing Folktales. Geneva Writers’ Group. More info here:

22  March: Creative Writing Workshop for Teens (ages 12-17).Geneva Writers’ Group Workshop, held at Dynamic Learning, Avenue Adrien-Jeandin 29, 1226 Thônex. 35 CHF. Instructor: Katie Hayoz. Learn about the basic rules of writing fiction and then decide which ones were made to be broken. To register send an email to the Geneva Writers’ Group (email details here: with Teen Workshop in the subject line.

Writers on Board

Join a group of writers on the slow boat to Rapperswil, writing on the way there, discussing the work on the way back.

“We meet on Sunday at 13:15 at Bürkliplatz next to the yellow mailbox and take the big round trip to Rapperswil departing 13:30, which will be back in Zurich at 17:15. We write individually on the way up and talk (in English) on the way back. For convenience we treat ourselves to first class. The most economic ticket is the ZVV 9 o’clock pass. Apart from pen and paper or notebook, bring a little money to buy your own beverages.”

Upcoming dates are Sundays, and 15th March, 19th April, 17th May, 21st June, 19th July, 16th August, 20th September, 18th October, 15th November, and 13th December 2015.

Any questions, contact: buchsara [at]

Success Stories

Congratulations to Paul Knott, fellow Zürich-based writer, on the publication of his book, The Accidental Diplomat!

cover 216pp_Walk on Water cover 216ppPart political intrigue, part amusing travelogue, The Accidental Diplomat is a memoir that bridges the chasm between John Le Carré and Johnny English.
Paul Knott is an ordinary Northern lad who began his working life in a hut on Hull’s King George Dock, before making an improbable career change to join Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service.
Closely involved in significant world events, his globetrotting story offers an illuminating insight into the most discreet of the UK’s great offices of state, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It blends the political and personal to paint a vivid picture of the exciting and often absurd life of a Crown emissary.
Knott’s first posting to Romania after Ceauşescu is a punishment for insubordination, after which his inspiring and uproarious journey sees him abducted at gunpoint by hospitality terrorists in Dubai, endure James Bond moments in the police-state of Uzbekistan, and visit Ukraine, Belgium and finally Russia – a land of contradictions that proves both appealing and appalling, not least when a former spy is murdered in London.

For Swiss-based readers, the book can be bought directly from Paul: via or e-mail for the discounted and postage free price of CHF18.00.

It is also available online from the UK publisher The Scratching Shed, from Hessle Bookshop or  Politicos and of course, from Amazon.

Paul Knott Small PicturePaul Knott began his working life in a hut on Hull’s King George Dock. He made an improbable career switch to Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service and spent twenty years globetrotting as a British diplomat.

After two decades of excitement, Paul currently lives quietly on a Swiss hillside with the Kenyan wife he met in Uzbekistan and their kids. He is still wondering how he got there.

Snapshot of a writing life: Tao Lin

Chris Corbett reports on Tao Lin’s recent reading at Kaufleuten

Critics have a love-hate relationship with Tao Lin—some compare him to authors like Hemingway because of his sparse style—while in the same sentence admitting they find something lacking in his work.


tao lin

Image courtesy: Tao Lin

The protagonist, a young Continue reading