In Conversation: Padraig Rooney

Padraig Rooney spent the best part of 40 years outside his native Ireland and lives in Switzerland. He has published three collections of poetry and won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Poetry Business Award, the Strokestown International Poetry Prize and the 2012 Listowel Poem Award. His work is anthologised in Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry (Viking), Haiku World and The Haiku Seasons (Kodansha), and his short stories appear in Best Irish Short Stories 2 & 3 (Paul Elek). 

padraig rooney

Image courtesy: Padraig Rooney

I’ve read The Gilded Chalet was inspired by a visit to Basel’s Paper Mill and Literary Museum. How did the Earls of Ulster’s journey kick off the idea to explore the relationship between Switzerland and writers?

Clio, muse of history, presides over The Gilded Chalet. In March 2008 there were a number of commemorations in Switzerland and elsewhere, marking the passage of the Earls of Ulster from the Low Countries to Rome in March 1708. They passed through Basel and along the road to Liestal and most likely through the St. Alban Gate, nearby the present Basel Paper Museum. I’m a poet, and I like the way images cohere unexpectedly, bringing together disparate times and events. I’m also an Ulsterman and the sad romance of the end of the old Gaelic order is touching in its political and linguistic ramifications, which the passage of the Earls represents in Irish history. I was brought up a mile from the border during the Troubles, my father was an Irish speaker, and so there was a certain allegiance to a now rather old-fashioned Gaelicism.

You’ve a passion for writers and their locations in a wider sense. What’s at the heart of your interest? The influence of location on their work, their perceptions of the place or is it driven by your own exploratory nature?

I think because I’ve travelled quite a bit myself, I tend to assume place is central to the experience of exile. It may not be. Many of the writers in The Gilded Chalet were exiled in one way or another, and in search of a home. In Irish literature the fashionable term for exiled writers is the diaspora. For Russians at the beginning of the last century, it was the émigré life of Berlin and Paris. Switzerland still seems to me to be a very multicultural place, where people from all over the world congregate and communicate in several languages. It’s not just one homogenous culture, which island nations tend to veer towards.

I left Ireland after graduating in 1976 and haven’t much lived there since. I’ve always been attracted to travel, the details of place, to negotiating the world in several languages—second nature to me now. I do like a good, detailed, particularised setting in fiction, rendered in a painterly way. When there’s a description of a meal, as a reader I want to know what’s on the menu. I like the particulars.

You cover a huge time period in The Gilded Chalet and provide insights into the writers’ private lives as much as their writing. How far was your intention to add a human level to some of our literary icons?

Gossip is an underrated activity. The danger with this kind of book is to make it overly academic—there are enough of those—so some ‘human level’ as you put it, alleviates the tedium of academe. Maybe even a low human level. Byron with his boys and Rousseau with his kids farmed off to the workhouse, present interesting opportunities to showcase canonical writers, warts and all. Nabokov couldn’t have afforded to spend 16 years in the Montreux Palace Hotel without the cash from the sales of Lolita and from Kubrick’s movie adaptation. The fact that John le Carré was recruited as a spy in Switzerland and is the son of a con man, is no minor matter as regards the direction his fiction has taken him. There are certain dangers in keeping literature in the province of academia, with its critical-reverential approach.

Humour, too, tends to pull down icons: that is a good thing. I wish more people would use humour against the pervasive business culture, executive culture, celebrity culture of our time. These are our new vulgarians for Mammon.

gilded chalet, Padraig Rooney cover image

Cover: The Gilded Chalet Padraig Rooney

When we met in Geneva, I’d just had a lively debate on the subject of academia and the dangers of educators getting stuck in ‘transmit’ mode. Yet you, as a head of an English Department, seem to actively seek the experience of learning, be it travel or researching other authors’ work. Do you make a conscious effort to keep ‘curious’?

Much of education these days is in ‘deliverology’ mode—to borrow a term recently used in the London Review of Books—a mode patented by Tony Blair. The ideology of business has in the past 40 years moved into areas traditionally regarded as hands-off—water, education, health, patenting seeds. The wonderful Noam Chomsky has been writing about this recently too with regard to the use of non-tenured faculty in American universities: the culture of temps. I give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s. Caesar is going to steal from you anyway, so you can short-change him now and again! I have to fight for my time and I’m curious by nature.

Much of The Gilded Chalet got written between six and eight in the morning, and then I went into homeroom. It used to be that academia or teaching were favourable occupations for writers but I think that’s no longer the case, and hasn’t been the case for several decades. There’s a lot of fluff talked about fostering creativity in schools. It’s the bottom line which increasingly rules; fluff comes cheap.

A poet, journalist, author and photographer have different constraints/freedoms. Can you hop easily between roles or are they strictly separate? Where do they blend?

The late writer W. G. Sebald pioneered a blend between those formerly distinct modes or genres, and good travel writing that partakes of journalism and a poetic sense. I find that I didn’t write much, if any, poetry while working on The Gilded Chalet. I just didn’t have enough energy. Poetry requires pressure from the poem—you can’t will it into being. Many bad poems come from merely being exercises of the intellect. Poetry is also about waiting, whereas prose can be got on with, a thousand words a day, until you have a draft. So, personally, I wasn’t able to hop easily between them.

padraig pic

You’re a border man. Growing up just on the border of Northern Ireland and now living in Basel, right on the hub of three countries, what effect does that have on a sense of identity?

The fashionable lit-crit jargon for that is liminality, but “a border man” sounds great to my ear. I love moving between the butter people and the olive people, from north to south, and back again. One of my uncles was a small-time smuggler across the Northern Ireland border, and my mother smuggled butter into the South all the time—it was considerably cheaper in the North, and she had five children. So the world of smuggling has a certain appeal in borderland, even in Switzerland.

The rich always sort things to their own advantage, that’s why they’re rich, and Switzerland is a good place for a poor little writer to observe that arrangement, that sleight of hand.

One of my favourite quotes is from Bob Dylan: “Steal a little and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king.” I’m writing this in the week the Panama Papers have revealed how the rich and famous smuggle, steal and launder. It’s an imaginative terrain—John le Carré wrote a novel called The Tailor of Panama and Graham Greene tackled Panama somewhat in Getting to Know the General. The rich always sort things to their own advantage, that’s why they’re rich, and Switzerland is a good place for a poor little writer to observe that arrangement, that sleight of hand.

I sometimes miss, too, the particular language of the border counties, the accent and diction of my parents, surrounded as I am by Anglo-Americanism or globlish. I miss the linguistic pattering of my childhood: bits of Ulster Scots, Gaelic inflections in the English, countrified pronunciation. I sometimes hear the clichés and ready-made phrases of mid-Atlantic English as a vulgar tide, swamping everything.

If you could bring back three characters from The Gilded Chalet for a round-the-table discussion with yourself, who would you choose?

 I’m not sure all three would work round the same table together, so perhaps individually. I’d like to have a coffee with Annemarie Schwarzenbach because I’m translating some of her journalism about 1937-8 New Deal America at the moment. She travelled to the American South at a time of labour unrest and segregation. We might talk about the death of the left, about the current state of American politics. I don’t think Vladimir Nabokov would be very chatty, with nothing off the cuff, but I’ve been a fan of his writing for a long time and would like to hear his rolling, preening accent in English. Finally, if I sat down with Anthony Burgess I could thank him for a kind review he gave of one of my short stories back in 1976. Late, but better late than never.

*

Edmund White described The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland as “a superbly amusing guide to all the writers who’ve been drawn to or emerged from Switzerland”.

Read more: www.padraigrooney.com/home_blog/

In Conversation: Daniel Pieracci

Daniel Pieracci is a freelance copywriter who is based in Zürich. JJ Marsh talks to him about writing and publishing his debut novel.

Daniel Pieracci

Image courtesy Daniel Pieracci

This issue of The Woolf takes the theme of Down the Rabbit Hole. When I read your book Take Your Shot, I thought of exactly that phrase. All seems calm and innocent on the surface. Then you gradually spin us into a vortex of small compromises, insignificant manipulations and minor deceptions until they stack up into one centrifugal force. Did you begin writing with the intention to take your reader on that journey?

My intention was to reflect life. On the surface, everything seems normal, but underneath it’s complex and messy. They are people who just happen to be gangsters and madmen.

Switzerland is a long way from LA and not just geographically. Tell us about how this book came into being while you’ve been living here.

I lived in America till I was 28, then I went to advertising school which took me to Europe and got my first job in Hamburg. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing—writing. It was copywriting for an ad agency, but it wasn’t writing for me. Then a friend told me about NaNoWriMo. I said, yes, I can do that! Take Your Shot is the result of a NaNoWriMo project. I wrote 50K words and then it went into a drawer.

Why?

Because I didn’t know what else to do. This was 2008 and self-publishing was already a thing, but not my thing. My girlfriend, now my wife, read it and said, “This is great. It needs work, but it feels like a real book!” But I got caught up with the day job which I wasn’t loving as much as I should and time went by until she said, “Go freelance and become a writer. You can, so go for it. So I did.” It took about a year to knock it into shape and build it to 75K. It worked.

http://www.amazon.com/Take-Your-Shot-Daniel-Pieracci-ebook/dp/B0182APH66I wrote it about LA, but I’ve never lived in LA or even liked it, but I felt it had to set there. It’s about a Mexican American family, and I’m not from that background. It’s about a guy in the FBI and I know nothing about the organisation.

In that case, I have to ask the obvious question—where did the idea come from?

The idea came from … [Daniel gives away the ending of the book].

You can’t say that! That’s a massive spoiler!

Oh, yeah.

How to say it? The evil mix of ambition and murder was the nugget of an idea which seemed interesting to me. Once I had that character, the story went from there. I always wanted there to be a contrast between the son and his father, free-flowing versus rigid.

Which is counterpointed by your gangster family.

Yes, because I wanted the bad guys to be good guys too. I had the beginning, the middle, and I knew how it had to end …

Hence the title.

Exactly. Then I incorporated things that were going on in my life which is where the juicing came in. I’m still juicing today. Then it was this slog to get to 50K words and I kept at least 40K in the final draft. I had a lot of help from a friend who became my editor. When I met her in advertising school, I thought when I write a book I want her to be my editor, so it felt like serendipity.

Your writing is certainly visual and lends itself to the screen. I compared it to movies and TV shows in my review. What influenced you to write a book instead of a movie script?

I would love to write a script and I will. I have so much respect for that skill. Having worked in advertising, writing scripts and knowing what it takes to make a movie, it just feels impossible. But when I learnt about self-publishing, I thought, “This is magical, I can do this! With help of course.” When I’ve gained more confidence I absolutely will write a script. One day.

Organised crime and the internal workings of the FBI were fascinating to learn about, not to mention the fashion and the fruit juice. Did you have a lot of fun doing the research?

With the FBI, it’s a mix of my experiences in big corporations and basic research and watching how the FBI are portrayed. Because it’s not a book about the FBI, I just had to make it look reasonable to the average reader. The idea of the FBI or CIA being run by a bunch of dimwits is funny to me. I didn’t have anyone to check that side of things but I did have a friend of mine check the Mexican-American detail. I only had to change one thing. Turns out you wouldn’t eat enchilladas for dinner, but more likely albondigas soup. Research is always difficult, as you don’t know how much to add.

It comes across well, interesting titbits but no huge info dumps.

Thank you. Writing about the FBI is like writing about people. On the surface, it looks pretty simple, but when you look inside …

Yes. There are certainly darker elements to the book, such as human trafficking, drugs and torture, which you manage to light in different hues according to the character’s voice. In fact, it’s blackly funny when the torturers just need to get it over with and go shopping. How do you keep authorial opinion from intruding?

The interesting part of a torture scene is not the blood and guts. I’m interested in the ideas and insights in the writing. The torture scene was to show that aspect of these people, that this is what they do. The eyeball thing occurred to me while I was vacuuming one day – is that a spoiler? As you said, the truth of that scene is not what happens but the impatience of the gangsters to get the info and go shop.

There are writers who use their work as a platform for proselytising. I’m not that kind of writer.

As for keeping my opinion out, I don’t know if I did. There are writers who use their work as a platform for proselytising. I’m not that kind of writer. I’d love to see how my book would look with opinions in it. I try to approach things without judgement. The book is not here to convince people human trafficking is wrong. The characters have their own angle and their own trade-offs. I don’t do drugs, run guns or traffic humans but I understand the people who do are dealing with trade-offs.

On the topic of voice, the range of accents, verbal tics and individual speech markers made for a vibrant palette. With such a broad cast, what’s your technique for differentiating characters?

It comes back to life. Look at this restaurant. All these regular people having conversations, but underneath, they have a nervous tic, something they’re terrified of and that will manifest itself somehow. Some characters are there to move the story along, but if they’re central they have to have something interesting about them. Or be so bland, that’s the interesting thing about them. In all of them there’s something weird or funny. Then if I read back over and think a character is not fully fleshed out, I work on that. But everything is a construct. It’s hard to decide what’s realistic and what’s not.

Do you read your work aloud?

A bit but not enough. I started making the audio book as I’ve done voice over work in the past and realised I need to integrate that into my working process for the next book. Do you do it?

More so now. When I started recording the audiobook for my first one, I kept wanting to change things. Plus I found I’d written a whole lot of words I didn’t actually know how to pronounce.

Yes, exactly! Me too!

Will there be a sequel, or even better, a series?

When I wrote Take Your Shot, I thought of it as a single thing. It had closure and it was done, but a lot of people have said they want to read what happens next. The next book I’m writing is a different series; a crime novel taking place in Luzern with a female inspector. But I have come around to the idea that if people want a sequel to Take Your Shot, I’ll write it.

What compels you to write?

A whole bunch of little things including the following: it’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at. The only class I excelled at and the only one where the teacher handed back my essay and said you can do better. They all said that but he was the only one who was right. Now in my later part of life I feel like I’m crazy for not having done that from high school on.

Another thing is, when I read something, that one sentence that’s so fucking good, in my mind I’m high-fiving the author and he or she and I are sitting on a couch saying, “Oh wow that’s so great what you did there!”, “I know, I love it!”. It happens occasionally when I write something and I can just bask in it. I haven’t done many drugs in my life because that, right there, is the drug for me.

My wife did this incredibly generous thing for me in giving me the space to write so I have to follow through. I don’t need the affirmation, I have enough reasons to get out of bed in the morning. But when someone reads my work and likes it … it’s just not the same as when I make a good omelette.

*

Take Your Shot is available on Amazon and all good retailers.

danielpieracci.com

 

Explorations in a parallel cultural universe

by Chris Corbett

“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”
—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Berlin Wall by @libby_ol

I first went down the rabbit hole when I moved from America to Switzerland. I then descended further when my first novel was published in Germany before being published in English. I was inspired by one of my favorite crime writers Don Winslow (The Cartel) whose next book is appropriately enough called Germany and is coming out in the German language before it’s even been announced in English.

Following in this noble (if somewhat unorthodox) tradition and seeing how other writers like TC Boyle sell as many books in German as English, I went down this road. The competitive nature of mainstream publishing in the English language is very difficult. After meeting Winslow at a reading in Zürich, I thought living in a German language country might mean bigger opportunities.

Seeing that the second biggest media market outside of the English language world is Germany with its tens of millions of people, I engaged a translator who in turn introduced me to a publisher. He loved my story and soon offered me a contract. The champagne flowed and the celebration went on into the wee hours in the way Berliners celebrate these events—a table full of empty wine bottles by the end of the party. (Good thing the Berlin metro runs 24 hours.)

Metro Berlin

Grudgingly, I had to accept a German style cover over my preferred version, and the publisher also argued successfully to change the title. I gave in. This is Germany, so different rules apply and I’m now happy to say the title is growing on me.

CC cover

Image courtesy Chris Corbett

The book launch was in a small club in a funky neighborhood of Berlin. At the same time I was reading to the twenty people in the theater area, another twenty were at the bar doing what Berlin people do on a Saturday night—drinking and being raucous. But that only added to the atmosphere and gave my book Nirvana Blues an authentic atmosphere. Afterwards, at the signing, I met the man who had been blurting out ‘Happy Christmas’ at random intervals all through my reading and he explained those were the only words he knew in English. I took it as a compliment.

CC stalker

Image courtesy Chris Corbett

Later, an ancient rock ‘n’ roller at the bar with greased back hair and leather jacket sent an emissary to have me come and talk to him. His hair was jet black and looked like he had dyed it in the kitchen sink with shoe polish. We talked about music because he had seen a guitar image on the book cover. He said he’d managed tours for people like Bob Dylan so I gave him my card and was surprised a couple of days later when he wrote me with some names of venues I could approach to do a book tour in.

One of the other people in the audience was a groupie from the ’60s. She told me about a friend of hers, a well-known blues musician who could be interesting to work with. I took her comment with a grain of salt and had another beer. And as the magic of wonderland expanded, a couple of weeks later the guitar player agreed to do a tour with me.

I was getting ever deeper into the world of German culture as my normal American sensibilities were left far behind, as well as my British roots of proper behavior and stuffy, formal conversations. I was enjoying the friendly directness and enthusiastic embrace not seen in my reserved Swiss colleagues who had become my standard of social demeanor.

I met the guitarist between Christmas and New Year and we bonded over dinner at a Greek restaurant next to his concert venue. My book, which is a Romeo and Juliet in ’70s California, has 64 different songs mentioned in it to provide a basis for our special tour. He told me about the tour he had done a couple of years earlier supporting the works of Charles Bukowski (best known for Barfly). The actors reading from Bukowski drank incredible amounts of alcohol to get into character and after the tour the guitarist was so shattered he gave up drinking, smoking, drugs and a lot of other things. Now as a sane citizen he will make a really solid touring partner when we hit the road in a month. Baltic Sea here we come!

Berlin Sunset

My German language skills are still very basic so I’m completely at the mercy of these helpers in this foreign environment where I find myself. It is not only interesting and exciting but also culturally enlightening. The book will come out in English in the springtime so I’m looking at climbing out of the rabbit hole to resume my normal life. But until then I’m living in this wonderland where colorful characters appear and funny adventures unfold. And while I’m wandering through the looking glass I’ll try and remember to not drink from the bottle that says ‘DRINK ME!’.

*

www.chriscorbett.com

Notes from the Unexpected: Piercing and tattoos à la Rue de Framboise

Images and text by D.B. Miller

Soft lighting, the strains of Celine Dion and a plush couch: all signs point to cake and coffee with a favorite aunt. But once the eyes adjust to the rings, skulls and list of body parts considered fair game, it starts to make sense. This is a full-service piercing and tattoo studio, and it unquestionably belongs to Beatrice.

brass door-knocker

She still remembers the moment, flicking through an edgy fashion magazine, when she saw body piercing, for real. The kind that caught her breath, touching something deep and ancient, and lifted her out of Thurgau, to the shores of Brighton and into the arms of the few who could pass down the craft—because that’s just how it works. After the hands-on English education, came the return home, piercing after piercing and, in 1997, the opening of the first Rue de Framboise.

If the name does not evoke pricks and pokes behind closed doors, that was the point. Beatrice says, “I just wanted it to sound more artistic, more feminine, more French, even if an English name would have been trendier, because we’re in Switzerland.” Yet for all of the soft touches, body piercing and tattooing were considered back-alley trades. Nearly two decades on, today’s studios are flanked by tapas bars and sneaker shops. 

NFTU Rue de Framboise - Beatrice 3 by DB Miller

“Many more places do this now,” she explains, “so it almost looks like mass production, but that’s a different mentality. Sometimes people come in and want what they want, right now, for cheap. We can’t work that way because we depend a lot on word of mouth. If we feel something isn’t a good idea, for whatever reason, we say so. The other thing is, we don’t really want our work to look mass produced. I mean, all this …”

With one sweep of her elaborately inked arm, Beatrice encompasses the lot of studs, spikes and barbells, the tattoo operations upstairs and the winged skeleton in the window.

“All this still needs to be a little Rock ‘n’ Roll, right?”

*

Niculin, one of the studio’s resident tattooists, has a bit of downtime before his next appointment. A fine arts graduate who long ago turned from oil paints to ink, he is working out the design for a new tattoo. 

Niculin sits at desk

“Tattooing has existed in every culture in the history of man,” he starts, eyes fixed on the fierce blueprint. “I think the role of tattooing in society today is the shaman. What did you need when you went to the shaman, priestess or guru? You went for healing, change, to express yourself or make something part of you that was missing.”

He pauses mid-stroke, lost in thought or distracted by the thrashing guitar one room over. Matt, another tattooist, has been cranking Earthless while hunched over a man’s nipple. The customer mustered up a pinched smile when Matt invited me in to say hello. 

Niculin goes back to his sketch. After a tangent involving Maori warriors and his library of cultural metaphors, he says, “Tattoos are more socially acceptable now, even fashionable. Still, it’s our duty to warn people that, yeah, people will formulate opinions about you based on your tattoos. Even five years ago, if someone wanted a finger tattoo, we’d call it a ‘job stopper.’”

He stops to study his own hands, a swirl of myths and legends. “People think they can walk into any studio and get the same thing, but that’s not the way tattooing works. There are apprenticeships that last two to five years, and you’re done when you’re good enough.”

NFTU Rue de Framboise - Window by DB Miller

Aware of the clock, he surges ahead. “Think of the Old Italian Masters. They had to make a hammer by smelting iron, banging two pieces of metal together until one gave, and then using the softer one—and human effort—to finish the hammer. People don’t know how to grind their own pigments anymore, solder their own needles or wrap their own coils. This idea of being able to make the tools to make the tools, of self-sacrifice and sheer human effort: that’s what makes a true master. The relationship between master and apprentice keeps the principles alive. It’s a trade, which is why we don’t look at ourselves as artists, just ‘tattooers’ …”

The doorbell rings, time’s up. I wind downstairs to the parlor and peek into the empty piercing room, which could be a doctor’s office but for the large framed photograph. It is hard to miss: a young girl, from somewhere far away, pierced, maybe just. There is no mustered smile for the camera, just the hard, quiet truth of ritual—and the labor behind it.

Three studios, a reputation to uphold and a brain logged with the tales of all those who have come to physically mark a passage, release, second chance or whim: it is no wonder Beatrice admits to feeling tired, at least until we step outside for a picture.

As she gamely poses, feet flat on the cobblestone, I ask what makes her most proud.

“My son,” she fires back, eyes alight, as if the only possible answer is the one that roots her to flesh.

*

www.ruedeframboise.ch Spitalgasse 6, 8001 Zürich

Also in Bülach and Wallisellen

Eulogy for Orell Füssli The Bookshop

by Susan Platt

My Dear Old Friend,

it was with great sadness that I recently learned about your fate—from Switzerland’s biggest tabloid, of all places. And although it does not come as a complete surprise to those who have been close to you in recent years—who saw the writing on the wall before and after changes in ownership and circumstances that made it increasingly difficult to thrive under the corporate thumb—the news that you are indeed being shut down this coming spring, while in still excellent health, made no sense, and still came as a shock.

OFTB Xmas

You and I, we go back some 23 years, my dear. While this may be but a trifle in your lifespan as a bookshop at house zur Werdmühle, since your inception by Kurt Stäheli & Co. in the early 1930s, it means you’ve been along for the ride for more than half of my life. And that, to me, is quite a feat.

I remember walking through your doors in 1992, with a rather long, Xeroxed (yes, Xeroxed) list of choices for required reading material, handed out by the University of Zürich, where I had just started to study English literature. Several sheets of paper listed essential and optional reading material, including the King James version of the Bible (yep), Beowulf (of course), and a myriad of choices of drama, poetry, prose and fiction spanning five centuries.

Needless to say, I felt a slight pang of overwhelm knowing full well that my picks would have a great impact on my further academic path. But how was I supposed to know which books to choose, when I hadn’t read them yet?

Conundrum alert!

Enter your booksellers: the beating heart and breathing soul that is at the very core of you, many of whom had been with you for decades and some of whom I have had the privilege to get to know over the years.

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Ah, yes, your booksellers. A passionate lot, each and every one of them. A special breed now as they were then, taking pride in guiding those who have entered their domain, glowing with a smug joy at a satisfied customer leaving the store with a copy of their favourite book or a book by a beloved author when they made a successful recommendation. It is they who made you what you are today, my dear bookshop, because—let’s face it—your new parents, the Orell Füssli AG, never really knew what to make of you over the last dozen years or so since they acquired you in 1998.

You were their red-headed stepchild, in their eyes merely the English branch of a German bookstore chain, sticking out like a sore thumb with your talent of catering both to the English expat community in the greater Zürich area as well as the Swiss readership with your cunning mix of extraordinary in-house events providing local as well as renowned international authors and small businesses with a platform to promote their work, your knack for knowing how to truly make your customers happy by including English comfort food section (Marmite! Vegemite! Cheerios!), and bringing the joy of reading to people of all ages and walks of life.

But you do not merely sell books.

IMG_2120

You are a nexus of human connection. And a home away from home for so many. A place to meet, to sit and to chat on your red leather sofas.

You celebrate the English language, its multi-coloured culture and basically life in general.

Every. Single. Day.

And it works.

In an increasingly dire economic climate, in times where online giants were starting to take over the bulk of the book sales and the naysayers predicted the imminent end of the book as nigh, you managed to consistently make a healthy profit over the last ten years*.

Mindbogglingly, at a location on Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich—one of the world’s most expensive shopping miles.

And, even more surprisingly, you managed to pull this all off without the support of a proper web- or social media presence.

Because, sadly, the fact that you always have been—and always will be—neither a department, nor a branch of a chain, but your own persona (or brand if you will) with your own loyal (!) tribe, went largely ignored by your parent company who repeatedly smothered any advances by your management to bring you into the 21st century with a decent online presence.

Yes, you are unique. One of a kind. And successful. So much so, that other bookshops such as German KulturKaufhaus Dussman came to visit you for inspiration of their new books section of their store in Berlin.

But none of this seems to matter to the new powers-that-be since the latest merger with Thalia a little over two years ago.

While your old adoptive parents may have never fully understood you, they at least allowed you to continue based on the fact that you were somehow, miraculously, thriving.

But your new guardians, the Orell Füssli Thalia AG, have decided that neither your successful past nor present mean anything and—without even as much as conferring with the people who have effectively guided you for more than a decade—determined you had no future, and sold your rent contract at a bargain price for the sake of a quick buck.

So it goes.

I accept that the dice have been cast and your fate has been sealed.

However, I take comfort from the fact that I understand that you will not go gentle into that good night.

Knowing you and your quirky bookseller bunch, the next Halloween, the inherent All Hallows Read, the twinkly Xmas lights and Santa’s visit to the children on the monthly Saturday morning story hour and all of your other spunky shindigs before you will have to close your doors in the spring of 2016, will be extra special.

Santa OFTB

Santa reads to the children

I look back fondly and in deep gratitude to all the joy that you have brought into my life, moments of laughter and great pleasure at your happenings that will be forever etched into my memory:

Riding high with David Sedaris on Panta Rhei on the lake of Zürich, journeying along with Michael Cunningham at Sternwarte Zürich, mesmerized by Nicolas Sparks in the Puppentheater Stadelhofen, fascinated by our very own Alain de Botton at the Bookshop and many more … but, to me, most memorably, the epic two-hour roller-coaster ride with Tad Williams in your basement in 2011.

OFTB Tad Williams 2013

Tad Williams, 2011

Oh, how I will miss you and your shenanigans.

Case in point: The Night Circus, the book club meetings, the women’s night, the roaring twenties, the James Bond night, the Harry Potter midnight openings, or the Long Night of the Books … among many, many more.

OFTB 20ies

Roaring Twenties

As both the local media and our city’s culture department barely acknowledged the fact that you will be gone soon, shrugging their indifferent shoulders at the most recent loss of a colourful dot that will turn Bahnhofstrasse into a another grey blur of global brand monotony, I trust that my—and hopefully other people’s—expression of appreciation will help preserve your memory.

‘Tis but a tiny blog note, considering the opposition silence, but it is enough to keep the general show of disinterest from being unanimous.

Qui tacet, consentit.

I hope others will join me by wishing you and yours a safe journey to the next chapters in your lives. #GoodbyeOFTB

Good night, and good luck.

Susan

Susan Platt is a professional spunk, reluctant blogger and occasional hashtag abuser @swissbizchick.

Photos courtesy OFTB Facebook page.

*citing Orell Füssli The Bookshop’s Managing Director Sabine Haarmann

OFTB Night Circus 2011

Night Circus 2011

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. http://www.literaturhaus.ch/

All kinds of exciting outdoor events are happening during Zürich’s Open Air Literatur Festival. http://www.literaturopenair.ch/

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!

Writers

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. http://www.zurichwritersworkshop.com/

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. http://writingatthecastle.tumblr.com/homepage

Culture

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. www.zuercher-festspiele.ch

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!

Images

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. www.orangecinema.ch

Sounds

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

Competitions

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

https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/competitions

Between the Acts: Emily Bilman

Three poems by Emily Bilman

 

feeling corny by @libby_ol

 

The Corn-Cradle

Steered by the swallows, we
plant our tents on the land,
the cradle of corn, olive, sage,
fig and barley. In the wild thorn and
thistle fields, I tend the goats, as they bolt
against the shrubs, ejecting stones
as they slip downhill, an indigo cloak
screening my skin from the arid swirling dust.
Along sombre shades of path,
darkness slowly descends upon
the sand-fields. A yellow-eyed leopard
stalks the night, abruptly leaping
into the artery of its nuptial prey.
The star-designed sky-roof shields me.

 

A River of Light

De Jonge’s Archeology of Personhood, 3

A luminescent glass-cathedral,
Bright fuchsia, bright blue, bright purple,
Bright aquamarine where choir-voices
Celebrate a stained glass polyphony,
The river’s primeval song, when
All was peace and light and beauty,
When the sun’s colours begot Time,
When the first life was born with the warmth
Of primal movement, when the primal
Geometry of the first ochre curve and
The parallel elongation of the first form,
Bore the warm breasts of our brown world.

 

S P A C E

Piles and piles
of tablets and pills veined
like tawny open fox-
gloves in a stub field –
stacks of paper-clips
and staples like barley-
sheaths smoothing, stirring,
waking the wind – pencils
and pens, perennial like the velvet-
stalked immortelles – a mound
of cardigans, shirts, sweaters,
scarves, dresses, trousers
shedding their colours
like pomegranates broken
on the maquis in the late fall
as I, scrupulously sort
them out, recycle them
as I, vertiginously, circum-
scribe them all into
gray debris bags
like the yellow and crimson-
streaked kestrel, string
by lithe string, meticulously,
spear-gutting the morning song-
thrush, claw-clutched, death-
stiffened on my garden-grass.

 

*

Emily Bilman is London’s Poetry Society Stanza representative and hosts poetry meetings in her home in Geneva.  After having earned her PhD from East Anglia University, UK, La rivière de soi, was published by Slatkine, Geneva. Other poems are published in The London Magazine, Hunger Mountain, Offshoots VII & XII, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg Review, Iodine Poetry Journal, The San Diego Annual 2014 in America and The Inspired Heart Vols. I 2 & 3, and Ygdrasil in Canada. Two academic books, The Psychodynamics of Poetry and Modern Ekphrasis, were published in 2010 and 2013. A Woman By A Well was published in 2014 by Melinda Cochrane International, Québec.