In Conversation: Liam Klenk  

Tumbling into this world prematurely and in a girl’s body, Liam Klenk has travelled a long and tumultuous road to gender reassignment and a sense of identity. Susan Platt asks him about the process of penning his autobiography, the use of crowdfunding site Indiegogo, and a search for home.

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Image courtesy: Liam Klenk

Welcome, Liam. When I read your autobiography, Paralian, I couldn’t help noticing how many borders you crossed on your journey—both mental and physical. What do borders mean to you?

For me, borders have multiple meanings. Through being half Italian, a quarter German, a quarter French—and also because of my intensive years abroad—political and geographical borders ceased holding any meaning for me years ago. I don’t let them stop me. If I find employment across one of those fictional lines, I’ll go and seize the experience. I am a world citizen, not just a citizen of any one country.

Then there are the borders as in life challenges, limits, gender assignments, societal constructs, etc. They’re there to be overcome. So we can be our true selves.

I firmly believe in equality, freedom and the rights of the individual. I believe in not judging people and more than anything I believe in valuing people exactly as who they are. We erect too many walls and borders that don’t need to be there in the first place. Diversity, change and fluidity are a gift, a privilege, not a threat.

You were born in Germany and moved all over the globe during the last few years, in your search for identity. Recently you returned to live in Zürich for the time being. What is your connection to Switzerland and Zürich in particular?

In 1991, when I came here to study at the Hochschule für Gestaltung, I was a mess. I felt homeless, lonely, uprooted—it had nothing to do with my move to Zürich and all to do with my internal state. Getting away from my rather difficult family situation, making a positive new start (as positive as I could), leaving everything I knew and seeing the world around me with fresh eyes was like being born again.

The discussions at college, my artwork, friends who became a surrogate family—all of it helped me to find myself and overcome. Zürich was my first real home. It was here as well where I finally understood that I am transgender. When I left 10 years ago, Zürich stayed in my heart. So when we left Asia in 2014, it felt only natural for my wife and me to see Zürich as a potential destination where we could make a home. We went to Germany and then to Malta for a while, but all we endeavoured there failed. On the other hand, whatever we applied for in Zürich—job, apartment, my wife’s job—all worked out immediately. So here we are.

Did you have a special writing spot during the creation of Paralian? Are you a writer who needs a quiet spot or do you prefer a stimulating environment, such as a café?

I’m getting better at writing in noisy places like cafés as well but, at heart, I’m a writer who needs solitude and ideally nature all around me to be at peak performance. For the creation of Paralian I found the perfect spot. I quit my day job and dedicated an entire year to writing eight to ten hours, five days a week. My wife and I moved to Lamma Island, half an hour by ferry from Hong Kong Central. In the little village of Yung Shue Wan cars and motorbikes aren’t allowed. All you hear are crickets, millions of frogs, birds and quadrillions of greedy mosquitoes. We found an apartment at the edge of the jungle with a little pond in front of our door. I spent all day sitting at my laptop behind a large window, gazing out at myriad shades of green and bustling fauna. Unfortunately, sitting outside wasn’t an option since the flying vampires would’ve eaten me alive, but what I had was the next best thing. In my breaks I walked to the beach or into the forest, both only minutes away from our house. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect and inspiring.

When did you first get the idea to put your life’s story into a book? Do you remember the exact moment or was it an idea that slowly evolved over a certain amount of time? What was the catalyst that made you sit down and put pen to paper?

It was an idea that slowly evolved, but I do remember the exact moment when I vowed to make it happen one day: I was around 17, still living at home with my dad, utterly unhappy, yet holding on tenaciously. One evening I sat in my little room, listening to Peter Gabriel at full volume, and wrote a short 5-point bucket list. No. 1 was “be happy“ (doing the very best I can at all times). No. 2 was “live abroad” (done and far from finished). No. 3 was “learn to scuba dive” (done extensively). No. 4 was “write a book” (done and ready for more). No. 5 was “learn to fly a plane” (I seriously aim to get around to that rather sooner than later).

To sit down and actually begin writing my first book was an instantaneous decision. I’d been writing paragraphs in my head for many years but had never seemed to find the time to actually get started in all seriousness. Then I sat in the office on the 21st floor of a Hong Kong skyscraper, doing a job I hated and thought, “You don’t need to put yourself through this Liam. For once, don’t endure. You don’t need to prove anything. Just let it be and move on.” Right after that I thought, “Ha, this is it. It’s time to finally write my book!” I resigned the next day and began writing a week later.

The working title of the book was The Fortunate Nomad until it got its definite Paralian title. How did the change of title come about, and does it imply that your nomadic days are coming to an end?  

They’re definitely not coming to an end. We arrived one year ago and I can’t deny already thinking of faraway places and new adventures. Being a nomad is in my blood, and thankfully it seems it’s in my wife’s blood as well. Still, we’ll make a home here for quite a few years before moving on. You never know of course, but there’s no need to rush.

The first working title came to me one day and seemed the perfect fit: I am a nomad and I do feel quite fortunate despite or rather because of all the difficulties I have encountered and survived so far. However, writing draft after draft, I developed a concept of naming my chapters after the bodies of water that had been most important to me. My life follows a blue thread so to speak, water being an ever-present, powerful force.

The longer I thought about it, the more it occurred to me how most people (myself included) would associate ‘nomad’ with dry deserts. I needed something more fitting to the water theme that flowed through the pages of my story. My wife was the one who suggested ‘Paralian’ (from ancient Greek, meaning ‘one who lives by the sea’). I instantly loved the idea and the title was set.

All of the chapters in your book carry the name of a body of water in one form or another. Why does this element resonate so strongly with you?  

Let me quote a paragraph from my book:

I finally reached the shore, out of breath and delighted, longing for more and feeling intensely alive. I had glimpsed boundless strength and passion within myself. For just an instant out there, in the arms of the Atlantic Ocean, I had felt beautiful.

Water has always been a source of strength as well as a soothing presence. Whenever I felt truly lost, I instinctively went towards the waves, gently lapping, or wildly surging.

Especially gliding weightlessly underwater, I feel in tune with this blue symphony.

Clumsy on land, stumbling, unsure of myself, and perpetually awkward within my own body, I transform as soon as I am in the powerful arms of my blue home. Underwater I am graceful. I feel self-assured, handsome, completely at ease with the world and with my entire self. I’m at one with myself. And it’s the best ‘place’ to be.

As a first-time author you took some unusual measures and launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds and help cover costs for the launch of the book. The campaign raised a respectable USD 10,000. What do you think is the secret of that success?

Transparency, tenacity, reliability and honesty.

I must add that no strangers donated to my campaign. All-in-all about 100 people donated in exchange for a signed copy of my book once it was published. They were all friends, family, buddies, acquaintances and former work mates.

No matter what circumstances they knew me from, they knew I keep my promises. Being true to my word at all times is very important to me.

In my proposal on Indiegogo, I outlined clearly what I was going to write about and how I was planning to go about it. I added photographs and some video footage. Then I proceeded to inform people about the campaign every few weeks via all my social media pages. I was stunned how many people donated. Even work mates I had totally forgotten about. Everyone sent supportive messages. Some people even donated up to three times. I kept my promise a month ago and sent them their books. It felt fantastic and I am eternally grateful to them all! The collaborative nature of my book project has made it an odyssey unto itself. Utterly unforgettable. 

Following up on the Indiegogo campaign: On top of being a first-time writer and learning the ropes, how much extra work went into preparing and then tending to all the extras of that campaign? Would you consider another crowdfunding campaign for other projects, and what would you do differently?

Depending on how much people donated, I had promised homemade postcards, bookmarks and of course the signed book. My wife put a lot of work into creating those postcards and bookmarks, and finally my dad, my wife and I spent weeks organising to send those parcels to addresses all over the world. But you know what, in the greater scheme of things it wasn’t much work at all and it was a pleasure. I’d do another campaign any day. And I can’t think of anything different I’d do.

Paralian just celebrated its worldwide release on 28th May. What is next for the book? Will there be an audio version of your tale?

My PR manager and I have talked about a possible audio version. I must admit that I’d rather wait until, hopefully, the book has had enough success so I can have my pick of who will read it on the recording. One of my absolute favourites would be Stephen Fry!

One thing I am hoping for next is translation into other languages, foremost German. Since my publishing company doesn’t offer translation services I am thinking of finding someone brilliant who’ll translate the book for me. I could do it myself but I’d rather direct my creative energy into moving on. I am also dreaming about the book (or at least part of it) being made into a movie. No idea if that’ll ever happen, but I am surely going to stick my feelers out and pitch it to producers.

What’s next for you? Are you going to keep writing? 

I’ve got five concrete book ideas in my head at this very moment, and more ideas floating around that could lead to even more tales to be told. So yes, I will definitely keep writing. The challenge is to make and find time to do so.

Over time, there could be entirely different genres. At the moment I am mostly fascinated by human-interest stories. For example, many of the professional acrobats I’ve met over the years have inspired me with their passion and dedication. I’d love to write a book of short stories about their lives.

Another person I’d love to write about is my grandmother. She was born in 1909 and grew up labouring on her dad’s farm. She survived two world wars. Her first husband was run over by a train, leaving her to fend for herself with her little daughter. Later she found love again, had another child (my dad), but lost her daughter due to a medical error. Her difficulties in life didn’t end there … Still, Grandma was a fighter and she was always positive. Whenever she entered the room, the sun began blazing and people’s lives improved instantly.

People with character traits like compassion, kindness, integrity, honesty, courage, grit, loyalty and open-mindedness are my heroes and idols. They are the ones I want to tell the world about in some form or another.

And finally, The Woolf special question: what is one of your favourite works of fiction, and why?

That’s a difficult one to answer. I am an avid reader and, on average, devour one to two books per week, ever since I learned to read. One of my all-time favourites is The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny. I love the eloquent, compassionate style of the author. The life story of 19th-century explorer John Franklin is a stunning ode to individuality and personal strength.

A recent favourite of mine is The Humans by Matt Haig. I laughed and cried my way all the way through (in the process, freaking out people on my morning commute). It truly is a novel with an enormous heart and is the tale of an alien impostor who thinks humans are repulsive. But to follow his orders and gather intelligence about a human breakthrough in science, he needs to go undercover in the most literal sense of the word: inhabit a human body and get close to the people around him. Quite involuntarily at first, then with ever-increasing openness, he learns to love the ambivalent, loveable creatures we are. It’s a heartbreaking book about what it means to be human. I felt lost when I finished it, longing for more.


‘Paralian’ is Liam Klenk’s autobiography



In Conversation: Andrew Crofts

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than ​80 books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers. He has also guided a number of international clients successfully through the minefield of independent publishing. Last year he published his own memoir “Confessions of a Ghostwriter” and this year sees the publication of “Chances” an erotic love story which he ghosted for an anonymous Swiss lady.

Andrew Crofts, image Toby Phillips

Andrew Crofts, image Toby Phillips

When did you first realise you could make your living as an author without your name being a feature on the front cover of the book?

About thirty years ago I was interviewing a business guru for The Director magazine and at the end of the interview he told me he had been commissioned to write a series of business books but didn’t have the time. He wanted to do them for marketing reasons and so suggested that I write them with material that he would give me. He would then get the glory and I would get the money. I was insulted for about ten seconds and then realised this was a brilliant way to gather information quickly, directly from source, and not to have to worry about where the publishing deal was going to be coming from.

Caroline Sanderson (Bookseller Magazine) once wrote about “the Crofts factor”, an​d ​indeed there’s a string of glowing quotes about your work on your website—from all manner of readers, scholars, journalists, reviewers …  If ghostwriting isn’t a silent game, do you then become a collaborator? And what’s the difference?

I could easily be called a collaborator, but “ghostwriter” is a better label I think, both more descriptive and more interesting-sounding. If I advertised myself as a “collaborator for hire” I might be mistaken for some sort of political weasel. 

In your book, Ghostwriting, you devote not a small part of it to the client/writer relationship. Have there been times over the years when you wished you’d read your own book before embarking on a project?

No. Out of a hundred or more relationships only one or two have gone wrong, which I think it a pretty good percentage. I think the percentages of failed marriages would be a great deal higher.

Is there ever a sense that you’re living vicariously? The reality of the writing life is, after all, a lot of sitting behind a keyboard …

Absolutely I am living vicariously, but I get the best of both worlds. I am able to dip into other people’s lives, spending time in places I wouldn’t otherwise get to, all the way from palaces and private islands to brothels and shanty towns, and then escape back to the safety and security of my office at home – retreating inside my own head for weeks on end, like most writers.

You reportedly once said, “I have a horrible feeling that if I’d got the call from Germany in the 1930s I would have hopped on that plane like a Mitford.” Where do you draw the line when it comes to accepting or rejecting a potential project?

There are only two criteria. 1. Is this person interesting enough for me to want to spend several months inside their head? 2. Can the project be made to pay enough for me to live during those months?

I firmly believe that everyone should have the right to tell their story, and to get help doing so if they need it, just like they can get professional legal representation if they are accused of a crime.

Once a book is written people can then praise or criticize it, buy it or boycott it. If we refuse to listen to those we disapprove of how can we ever hope to understand them? If we could understand more about what makes some people into monsters we might be better equipped to deal with them.

Do you think a good writer can cut a good story from any material?

Almost, but it won’t necessarily make a whole book. It might make a newspaper article, a short story, a documentary or drama. Only certain stories lend themselves to the traditional book form.

When you started your writing career, independent publishing would have largely been called ‘vanity’ publishing. What has your relationship with independent publishing been like over the years?

I have always thought that it was a wonderful thing for people to be able to write books, even if they can’t persuade traditional publishers to back them and even if they need the help of a ghost. The only thing that was wrong with ‘vanity’ publishers was that they raised people’s expectations by promising that the books would get into the shops and become best sellers. This was ‘misselling’.

People are much more clued up and realistic these days. If someone wants to write their life story just for their friends, family and descendants I think they should be encouraged to do so, but they must understand that it will cost them money, just like having a portrait painted. Writing a book is fun to do but it is no more or less likely to make the author money than a lottery ticket.

Do you have any particular daily writing habits you could tell us about, or strategies for maintaining the writing (working at a computer) life?

Treat it like any other craft which you want to make a living from. Put in eight or more hours a day, just as you would if you were a carpenter or a florist or an illustrator or a window cleaner. Find out what people want to read/buy and then give it to them. Once you are earning a living you can then indulge in writing what you want in the hope that someone will eventually like it enough to buy it.

What are some interesting aspects of your current projects?

Last summer I brought out a memoir of my own, Confessions of a Ghostwriter, which was published by The Friday Project, a HarperCollins imprint. The writing of the book and the resulting interviews have led me to think quite deeply about all the changes that have taken place in publishing since I arrived in London in 1970 as a starry-eyed seventeen year-old.

This spring saw the publication of an erotic memoir which I ghosted for a Swiss lady who goes by the name of Penny. The book is called Chances and because Penny has to be anonymous I have been doing most of the talking about it to the media, which is unusual for a ghosted project.

Chances is the true story of the most erotic of love affairs. It started with teenage love at first sight for Penny and James and was shattered a few years later by the realities of adult life and family expectations. Like Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers were forced apart by circumstances and they were sucked into unhappy marriages. Unlike Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, however, they were to be given a second chance, eighteen years after their first meeting, when their marriages collapsed and they found each other again.

Since coming back together they have discovered the most profound secrets of happiness, exploring their sexuality and venturing into areas of experimentation that many imagine but few get to taste for themselves.

The book asks, what if your first love was your soulmate and perfect sexual partner but you made the mistake of letting them go? What if you were reunited with that first love and were then able to fulfil every romantic and erotic dream you had ever had?

And, finally, The Woolf special question: What’s one of your favourite works of fiction, and why?

I think Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham would be right up there. It is the ultimate coming of age story and sums up, I think, how many young people feel when they yearn to lead glamorous, creative lives and find themselves being dragged into ‘normality’, all their illusions about life and love being gradually eroded by reality. I completely identified with it as a young man and it re-enforced my own determination not to allow myself to be knocked off my chosen course.

Creativity in Tandem: The Husband and Wife Team

Lambert Nagle is the pen name of co-authors Alison Ripley Cubitt and Sean Cubitt. They write thrillers set in sunny climes. Sean’s day job is Professor of Film and Television, Goldsmiths, University of London. He has been published by leading academic publishers. Alison worked in TV and film production for companies including the BBC and Walt Disney, but her passion has always been for writing. She is an author, screenwriter and novelist. Serial expats, Lambert Nagle have lived in Malaysia, Canada, NZ, Australia and are now based in leafy Hampshire.

Here, they tell us a bit about their experiences working as a writing team.


Alex Garland, writing in The Observer, remarked that he had, at last, found his true creative home as a film-maker. Novel writing was lonely, he said, even though The Beach became the must-read book for every gap-year traveller on their way to Asia. The fame that went with writing a best-selling novel became too much and Garland retreated to the anonymous, but more collaborative world of writing screenplays.


Fractured: Revolution Earth Book 1

While he was learning his craft, Garland had to relinquish any notion of authorship. In order to make our creative collaboration work, as co-writers of genre fiction, we too have had to give up the desire for single authorship. It did come up in an early discussion, when we realised that trying to write literary fiction as co-authors was never going to work. Advice on a draft of Revolution Earth from an Australian agent was to forgo the literary fiction end of the thriller genre, and aim for something more commercial.

One of the bonuses of a creative collaboration is that there are none of the feelings of solitude and isolation that Alex Garland experienced. There is someone there to share the joys and frustrations of a writing life.

… co-writing means talking through every aspect, from the plot and characters to the world of the story and the themes we want to bring to life.

If sitting and putting words one after another requires concentration, co-writing means talking through every aspect, from the plot and characters to the world of the story and the themes we want to bring to life. We have to build a coherent voice, so the reader isn’t jolted between two styles. We have to agree that different characters experience a place – Antarctica or an oil refinery – in their own particular ways. This discipline is matched by the pleasure of making all these decisions explicit.

People who have worked with the Coen Brothers (and there is a long history of filmic brothers going all the way back to the Lumieres) love hearing them thinking aloud in a way no solo director would. That’s the joy of collaboration with us too. Though obviously we aren’t brothers, we are inspired by other writing partnerships such as crime-writing duo Nicci French.

We often do our best thinking away from the writing desk.

Both of us enjoy walking, and whether it is in the bridleways of Hampshire or the back alleys of Rome, we are always making notes, sharing ideas, and developing new events, dialogue or story arcs.

Critiquing each other is integral to the collaboration. It isn’t a matter of having a thick skin, but of recognising that sharing the load means sacrificing your ego to the goal of making the best book we can, and getting the job completed. There’s little space for writers’ block when you work as a team.


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.