Looking forward to attending the literary festival Lire en Polynésie in Tahiti from June 5th to June 8th to talk about Moonlight in Odessa with writers and readers from all over the world. I feel very lucky that my first novel has resonated with so many readers and that I’ve been able to take part in so many conferences, festivals, and readings.
What a thrill to interview Chantal Panozzo! She’s not only a gifted author, she is an insightful blogger and one of the founders of the Zurich Writers Workshop. Chantal is also a generous networker who brings readers and writers together. The topic of her new collection of essays is one that many of us can relate to: moving to a foreign country and all the changes that it can entail, from building new careers and learning a language to accepting challenges and finding unexpected rewards. I can’t wait to read her book!
What took you to Zurich?
My husband had a work opportunity back in 2006, so we took it, not wanting to think “what if?” for the rest of our lives. We expected the assignment to last three years, but now we’ve been here almost eight. At first, as I discuss in my book, I was not only a foreigner to the Swiss, I was a foreigner to myself. Overnight I went from career woman to trailing spouse. Needless to say, I had an identity crisis. But as soon as I accepted that I would need to redefine myself, things improved. I got a job (surprisingly, as an English copywriter in a Swiss German advertising world—although the experience involved multilingual direct mail and meetings at strip clubs). Since my new job was not as creative as my American one had been, I began writing essays and taking writing courses, and in 2010 I stopped complaining about having no English-language writing support in Zurich and co-founded the Zurich Writers Workshop. Sometimes if you find something is missing, you have to create it yourself.
What keeps you there?
Great chocolate. Work-life balance that cannot be found in the States. Public transportation that works—I have not owned a car since I moved here eight years ago. And the great outdoors—I live in the center of town right across from a department store, but I can be running in the woods—or along a beautiful river—within five minutes.
Can you tell us about your memoir?
Life in Switzerland. The not-made-for-TV version.
Whatever one should know about Swiss life, I learned the hard way. So I try to make Swiss life a little easier (or at least a little funnier) in my essay collection titled Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known.
What should one know about Swiss life? Well, how about the fact that you can be hired in one language and fired in another? Or the realization that your Swiss neighbor is not coming over to chat—she is coming over to clean your gutter? Or the reality that cheese is a homeopathic treatment—for lactating boobs?
Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known is a collection of both published and new essays in which I discover that whatever I thought I knew about the land of a certain storybook mountain girl, I had a lot to learn about the real Switzerland, you know, the one on the world map.
What were some of the challenges and rewards of writing it?
This particular collection took seven (mostly wonderful) years to write. Some of the pieces in the book were published in magazines and newspapers over the last six years. I came to love the format of the personal essay and I’ve probably written close to 100 of them by now. The challenge was to put a group of essays together in a book that showed my character changing in the same way a character would in a traditional memoir. So I wrote a traditional memoir first. 392 pages. But then I put it aside in favor of this format. It just felt right to me. But it took a lot of revision, even of the existing published essays, some of which are barely recognizable based on their original version. The biggest reward was learning how to dig deeper emotionally while also giving the experiences I’ve had a universal message.
In addition to writing your book, you are a copywriter, freelance journalist, and maintain two blogs, Writer Abroad and One Big Yodel. You also founded the amazing Zurich Writers Workshop. Where do you find the time? Where do you find the inspiration?
Um, I’m insane? I don’t know. I have a two-year-old daughter too. But I think that when you love everything you do, you find the time to do it no matter how sleep deprived you are. I remember when my daughter was only three weeks old and I was asked to write a travel article on Zurich for an inflight magazine based in Asia. They were only giving me one week to do it. I looked in the mirror and saw the bags under my eyes and thought, how can I possibly take the assignment? But then I decided not to think that way. Instead I thought, how can I not take the assignment? Motherhood isn’t an excuse for me. I love what I do and I’m going to do it no matter what.
What books are on your nightstand?
Right now I’m reading Quiet by Susan Cain. I highly recommend it for all writers since most of us are introverts. All through my childhood, my teachers told my parents that I was too quiet, as if being quiet were a bad thing. But this book combines a lot of research and personal experiences to demonstrate that even in an extroverted world, introverts are very valuable to society and should be celebrated rather than expected to act like people they are not.
I also have a copy of ‘Brain, Child’ magazine on my nightstand, which I love. Almost the entire magazine devotes itself to personal essays.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
We read an essay my freshman year of high school. Its theme was that it’s better to aim high and fail than to not aim high enough and succeed.
A year ago I set aside the first draft of a novel to focus on my book about Switzerland. So I plan to return to the novel once I catch my breath and see what state it is in now that I’ve had a decent break from it. But I know I also won’t stop writing personal essays. Eventually, if I move back to the States, I hope to write another book of essays as a companion to this book—American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, perhaps? Because if I ever find myself in the U.S. again, I’m sure to see my own country as I never have before. And it would be fun to explore that in writing.
I am thrilled to interview Lizzie Harwood today! We met over ten years ago in Paris at a course at the British Institute, where I immediately fell in love with her prose. As a writer, Lizzie has an amazing scope – screenplays, personal essays, short stories, memoir, and a novel coming soon. She is also an insightful editor who has started her own business, Editor Deluxe. Her keen eye and perceptive comments have helped many writers improve their manuscripts. I have many pages with Lizzie’s beautiful handwriting in the margins, encouraging me to go deeper with her thought-provoking questions and comments.
What brought you to France? What keeps you here?
I met my love at a dinner in Paris on the 21st of September 2001 and moved back here, after vowing never to live here again. (I’d spent a year and a half here in 1999 and only learned about five words of French!) After constantly moving all my life I found that I actually stayed put for longer than 3 years at a time once I came here. Not by design, must be something in the water.
You are an amazing writer and editor, and you have received great feedback from your clients. How did you decide to start your business, Editor Deluxe?
That’s a huge compliment, thank you, Janet! I love reading, and editing came out of that. I love writing my things too, of course, so I know how it feels to be on the other side – receiving sketchy feedback from reader services on our book babies can be soul-destroying. I wanted to be the kind of editor that writers can trust not to rip apart the guts of their work, yet help them move through the highs and lows of writing books to make them as awesome as they can be.
What have been the challenges and rewards?
Like anything it’s getting word out to those who understand that a quality editor can’t charge $5 per 3,000 words or we’d be on the streets. It literally takes 100s of hours to properly edit a book that the author intends to pitch to traditional publishing professionals or to self-publish. But then the rewards (for me) are in seeing authors launch their book armed with a well-written book, and even a beautiful interior layout that I can also do, plus loads of tips about book marketing and promotion that I’ve gleaned. Book publishing is so exciting today but authors need to spend a little on a quality editor and a beautiful book cover. And let go of the words to then focus on marketing in a way that won’t burn them out. Authors need their own cheerleading team. I’m so happy when I can help in this way.
You have an international clientele. Can you tell us a bit about some of the projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve been working on some fabulous books recently. Lots of Americans who live all over the world. I love how Americans have the confidence to take on self-publishing and it’s something that many of us of other nationalities (I’m a Kiwi/Canadian/Brit) can emulate.
Jennie Goutet just launched her memoir, A Lady in France, which I edited. It’s a heart-breaking and then warming story about grief, depression, loss, faith, with France as a sort of Gatsby’s green light beacon bringing her through to the life she has today.
Chantal Panozzo lives in Zurich and has a hilarious essay collection Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known coming out in May 2014, and her stories go beyond what it’s like to move to Switzerland to encompass what it’s like for any of us who have expatriated ourselves for love or career and find ourselves outside our home culture and yet never able to fit in completely to our adopted home.
And then author David Scott who moves between Singapore and Beijing has a wonderful spiritual novel coming out very soon also: The Longest Distance, part rollicking globe-trotting chase, part love story, it’s a meditation on philosophy’s masters, our inner voice, our questions about what we are on this Earth to do and what love truly is. It’s been an eye-opening honour to work on that novel. I call it Eat, Pray, Love with a guy!
What is the best advice you have ever received?
It’s not been said directly to me, but through the medium of articles and writers writing on writing… the clearest and most important advice I’ve gleaned is to keep failing, keep writing until what you are doing finally makes sense, clock up the 10,000 hours of writing you may need to do to become a genius at it, but also don’t be afraid to start showing your work. Get it out there in as many forms as you like. Be what you envision as a creative person by acting as if you are already the writer/illustrator/famous author. It’s all the negative self-talk that holds us back.
What books are on your nightstand?
Oh, I am a total nightmare about stacking up books: currently reading Alice Munro’s Dear Life, Morrissey’s Autobiography, A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven. Stacked up beside them is: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Watching the Door by Kevin Myers, Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All by Christina Thompson, The Whore of Babylon by Warren Roberts. And a load of ‘classics’/modern classics that I like to reread or finally read: Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy, The Stories of Raymond Carver, Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party and Other Stories, Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Plus A Long Walk Home, a memoir by Judith Tebbutt about surving Somali pirates for my local book club!
My novel. This year. That’s a promise. It’s done and I’m currently pitching it to traditional publishing professionals but if it’s not for them then I’m self-publishing.
And I’m putting up a series about crafting your story and outlining it before you start (or after you’ve banged out a first draft) on my website.
Plus offering a Writer’s Mentoring Package, which is like having a personal trainer for your body of writing. Low monthly cost for high-end results for muscular book projects!
And very importantly, connecting with fellow writers! My kids have been so little that I’ve had no time for writing workshops and getting out to book launches or reading events, so that’s due for a change now that the littlest one is turning three.
It is my great pleasure to interview Rebecca Brite, a colleague from the Ecole Polytechnique! She teaches a class on American cinema that I would love to take. After work, it was such a treat to talk to her that I am sad our school year is already over!
In addition to teaching, Rebecca leads a cinema discussion group, gives walking tours of Paris, writes, edits, and has created an app for anyone who loves Paris and history. I hope you will enjoy reading her answers and getting to know this amazing Parisienne.
You’ve been in Paris since 1980. What brought you to the City of Light?
Originally, it was one of those stops you had to make if you came to Europe. I didn’t have a particular interest in France or Paris. But a colleague at my newspaper in the US had headed up the automation project for the International Herald Tribune and recommended some people there for me to contact. I did, and thanks to that, I later went to work for the IHT.
What keeps you here?
Love of Paris, great health care – and the freedom to be an outsider. Here, I don’t need an excuse for not exactly fitting in.
How did you decide to begin the cinema discussion group?
The idea dated back to late 1984, when Milos Forman’s “Amadeus” came out here. I was amazed at how many of my friends thought it was a biopic, telling some kind of truth about Mozart and his life. It’s a great movie, based on a great play, but has little to do with historical reality. I thought then, people need something like a book group for movies, where they can get some background and engage in informed discussion. It took 10 years for the idea to bear fruit. The first meeting was in February 1995, the film (only one in those days) was Kenneth Branagh’s “Frankenstein” … and I was the only person who showed up.
But we now have a core group of around 10 people, some of whom have been coming for a very long time, dating nearly back to the second, more successful meeting. And we’ve never missed a month – we meet even in August and December, when much of France grinds to a halt. I’m proud of that, and delighted that so many people who have come to the meetings say how much they enjoyed seeing films they probably would not have gone to had it not been for the group. We now discuss 3 to 4 films a month.
Tell us about your American Revolution in Paris app.
Lire et Partir, the walking tour association I belong to, was approached by Blue Lion Guides, a Franco-Italian tourist app company, whose publisher, Antonio Ca’ Zorzi, had been looking for a tour on the Founding Fathers in Paris to turn into an app. Lire et Partir does literary walking tours, with readings from or about the people and places concerned – the Founding Fathers tour is a bit different from its usual offerings. Antonio liked it, so the three of us who had developed the tour wrote up our spiel, Antonio suggested some additions, and then he packaged it all with pictures and some background documents.
It’s available for iPhone and iPad and can be read or listened to – I recorded the text – either from an armchair at home or while walking to the sites on the itinerary in the 6th and 7th arrondissements of Paris.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to create an app?
Find a publisher! We didn’t really have to do anything except write and record the text. Antonio took care of the rest, including finding photos and getting rights for them, where needed. We’d never have known how to do it on our own. We even received a small advance, and will eventually get some royalties, we hope. Too many app publishers expect you to give them your material for free, “for the exposure.”
What is the best advice you have ever received?
I left university twice, not really sure what I wanted to do. After the second time I dropped out, I was working the night shift in a carpet factory, babysitting a giant machine and rapidly getting very bored. An acquaintance – I no longer remember who, alas – said something like, “You know, you should try journalism. A lot of mavericks end up there.” Enrollment at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was about to close; I signed up for its highly respected journalism school and never looked back.
What books are on your nightstand?
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine from May 1999, Jean Giono’s Prélude de Pan, a 1928 Cosmopolitan magazine collection of stories by people like Ring Lardner and Fannie Hurst (handed down from my mom, who was born in 1928 and died last May), the 2012 Bloom Where You’re Planted guide from the American Church in Paris (I’ve been asked to update the tourism section), The Wallet of Kai-Lung by Ernest Bramah, and – oh, my plan de Paris. I wondered where that had got to.
Many ideas in the hopper for tourism and teaching, such as a tour of movie locations in Montmartre (my neighborhood) and a class on gender and development. But I’m a terrible procrastinator (see above: 10 years from idea for movie group to first meeting; also this questionnaire, which you sent me 2 months ago), so it’s anyone’s guess when I’ll get around to them. I hope that two of my usual annual editing gigs, for the Louis Vuitton City Guides and the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report, will be starting soon. As a free-lancer, though, I can’t count on anything, even jobs like these that I’ve done for 10 years or more. Fortunately I seem to thrive on what the French call précarité.
Today I am thrilled to interview two of the organizers of the Geneva Writers’ Conference, authors Daniela Norris and Katie Hayoz, and to present a behind-the-scenes look at the work and rewards of organizing a successful conference.
Daniela is a former diplomat, turned writer. She’s been involved with the Geneva Writers’ Group since 2007 first as a member, later as a steering-committee member and now as Assistant Director for the Geneva Writers’ Conference. Her stories, articles and essays have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, and her first collection of short stories, ‘The Year Spring Turned into Winter’ was out in 2008. Crossing Qalandiya – Exchanges Across the Israeli Palestinian Divide, co-authored with Shireen Anabtawi, was published in the UK in 2010, and her upcoming book On Dragonfly Wings: a skeptic’s journey to mediumship, will be out from Axis Mundi in May 2014. I first heard about Daniela’s book at Shakespeare & Company, where the events organizer raved about it.
Katie has been active on either the steering committee or the conference committee of the Geneva Writers’ Group, where she has helped to organize panels, workshops and readings. She also directs the biennial Meet the Agents event, is assistant director of the Geneva Writers’ Conference and was part of the editorial committee for Offshoots 12. Her young adult novel, Untethered, took second place in the Mslexia children’s novel competition, and she is currently finishing another novel as well as working on other writing projects. I still remember Katie’s fabulous reading, so witty and clever, from the 2006 conference, and it remains one of my best memories of all the readings and events I’ve been to.
I am a big fan of the Geneva Writers’ Conference because I drafted the first lines of my novel in the train while traveling to Geneva in 2006, met and pitched it to my agent there in 2008, and read from Moonlight in Odessa, the published work, at the 2010 conference. The atmosphere is warm and supportive, and I made great friends and contacts, learned a lot from the instructors, and the inspiration I took home from the weekend lasted months. I highly recommend to writers of all levels!
What are some of the challenges of organizing a writing conference?
Daniela: This is the first time I am an assistant director at a writing conference, so it is a learning curve for me – one that I am enjoying very much. Our objective is to accommodate all the GWG members who’d like to attend, while bringing in other writers from other places, too. The international ambiance is very important to us, as it reflects the spirit of the Geneva Writers’ Group – writers from all over the globe meeting in this multicultural, fascinating city.
Katie: Like any event, the biggest challenges arise out of things you can’t control – weather and instructor flights, unexpected emergencies and accidents, undelivered books or supplies, etc. A challenge specific to the Geneva Writers’ Conference is trying to please absolutely everyone. I’ve worked on several conferences with Susan Tiberghien, and Susan makes a Herculean effort to offer the best experience to each and every participant – from placing people in certain groups for optimal networking to personally responding to their needs. The atmosphere at the GWC is warm, supportive and encouraging, and we strive to keep it that way.
What are the rewards?
Daniela: Writing is a lonely occupation so it is always a pleasure to meet more like-minded people who are interested in reading, in writing and in anything book-related. While as organizers we might not have much free time to attend courses, we do get to meet many interesting participants and tutors and make friendships and contacts that will hopefully last a long time and help us to develop as people, and as writers.
Katie: To be completely honest, I volunteer to organize because I love the warm fuzzies I get during and after the conference. Yes, it’s a large amount of work beforehand. And no, organizers don’t always get to participate fully in the classes themselves. But it’s amazing to see 200 other people enjoying themselves, developing their craft and meeting other writers all because of something you helped to put into place!
Why should writers attend a writing conference?
Daniela: It is a wonderful opportunity to meet other writers (and of course, also agents and publishers) and to hone your craft. Like any other craft, writing improves with practice and I do not believe that writing talent is something one is necessarily born with. It can certainly be developed, and attending conferences also gives us as writers a more realistic view as to what to expect when trying to get our writing out there into the wide world.
Katie: I would add that there is such a sense of community among writers when they get together, it confirms for us that what we are doing is worthwhile and we are supported. Plus, it helps to hear others’ experiences – not just the big, splashy success stories we read about in the news.
Tell us about the first conference you attended?
Daniela: My first writing conference was Swanwick Writers Summer School in Derbyshire, in summer 2007. I met many wonderful people who’ve turned out to be good friends, and learned so much about writing, about editing and about publishing. No two writing conferences are the same so make sure you know where you’re going and what you want to achieve during a conference – is it learning to improve your writing? Is it developing a new skill or a new kind of writing genre? Is it networking? You can do all of these things and more, but it is important to prioritize.
Katie: I don’t specifically remember my first writing conference – when I was at university I worked in both the health office and the writing center and attended conference after conference with my jobs. But what I can tell you is that a good conference will do two things: 1. Make you sad it’s over, but… 2. Make you excited to go home and write! A writing conference should remind you why you love to write and get you to fall in love with it all over again.
What were your goals in attending?
Daniela: I wanted to learn more about the publishing process, as I had a couple of short stories published in non-paying publications but I wanted to become more professional about writing and to learn more about where and how to send my work out. Dozens of short stories and two books later, I can certainly trace the roots of these published pieces to that first conference I attended and to the confidence I gained there about sending my work out.
Katie: My goals would have been less about publishing and more about meeting other writers. Actually, the very first Geneva Writers’ Conference I attended was in 2004. There, three other women and I got to talking and ended up forming a small critiquing group. Though the membership has changed somewhat, that critiquing group still exists today! It has without a doubt been vital to the growth of my craft. And it started with a writing conference.
Tell us about the upcoming conference.
Daniela: The Geneva Writers’ Conference brings together over 200 writers from Switzerland,France, and the rest of Europe. We even had some people coming from theUS – and one wonderful writer made her way all the way fromIran! We hope to see her again this year.
There will be workshops about writing fiction and non-fiction, young adult and essays, poetry, panels about publishing and about social media, and much more. Meeting interesting people and networking is as important as attending classes, and there will be plenty of that, too. We hope to see you there!
Katie: We have a stellar staff of sixteen writers, instructors, editors and agents coming this year!There are four two-hour workshop sessions over the weekend, with Q & A periods in between. We also have moments for participants to network with each other and staff over cocktails and snacks, as well as two nights of readings. Plus, any participant or staff member can sell their books in the bookstore as long as they sign up ahead of time. It’s a conference for writers by writers to celebrate writing and all that goes with it.
There are two great conferences coming up in 2014, and today I’m thrilled to interview one of the organizers of Writing 4 Young People. In the weeks to come, I’ll also talk to the Geneva Writers’ Conference organizers about their upcoming event.
In May 2011, I was invited to teach at the Zurich Writers Workshop. The city has a vibrant writing community and it was a pleasure to connect with other writers. The organizers, three fabulous writers, did an amazing job and I loved every moment of the weekend. Everything was perfect - months of thought and hard work went into the preparation. Today, Jill Prewett, who I met at that workshop, will discuss what it takes to put on a first-rate conference.
Writing under the pen-name JJ Marsh, Jill Prewett is an author, journalist and language consultant. She has published four books, including Zürich-based crime novel Behind Closed Doors.
Based in Switzerland, Jill is European correspondent for Words with JAM magazine, forms part of Nuance Words, co-curates Swiss literary hub The Woolf and pens a regular column for The Displaced Nation.
Jill, what are some of the challenges of organizing a writing conference?
It’s a huge amount of work to organise venue, tutors, advertising, finances, sign-ups and participant guidance. It takes months of hard graft. As Nuance Words, we try to organise one major event a year, alongside several smaller scale activities. The key thing I’ve learned? Absolute clarity regarding expectations. Spell it out. What the attendees will get, what the tutors should deliver, what we want in the sandwiches … even more important in a multi-cultural city like Zurich. Also crucial is balancing the costs versus expenses, because we’re a non-profit organisation. It’s a lot of fun, but incredibly draining. After the last writers’ conference, I crawled into bed and stayed there for 18 hours.
What are the rewards?
Writers meeting writers. Many, but not all, of our regular participants are expats. The experience of relocation can be lonely, and an antisocial pursuit such as writing makes that worse. A whole weekend spent learning, talking, sharing and listening to writers is full of treasures: heads nodding when a tutor explains POV, exchanges of email addresses and promises of coffee, eyes-lighting-up at finding a fellow fantasy writer, two crime writers’ glee at meeting an undertaker, and endless scribbled notes to keep the imagination fed for months. I’ve gained so much in terms of knowledge and even more in terms of friendship.
Why should writers attend a writing conference?
This is what happened to me. Apart from the above, top-quality tuition will stay with you for years. I’ve been to countless events and taken useful ideas from every single one. You need to leave your ego at the door and savour all the criticism. Professional critiques of your work are gold dust. And as well as learning from the tutor, relish the comments of your peers. Those knives whittling your work are not wielded by butchers, but by master carvers. Listen, shut your mouth, and learn.
Tell us about the first conference you attended?
May 2011, the Zürich Writers Workshop, where I was lucky enough to have Janet Skeslien Charles as my tutor! No sycophancy intended, but you pushed me to work harder and convinced me I had the mettle to be a decent writer. My very first blogpost was an excitable rave about the things I’d learned. It was also where I met my current critique groups, found a pool of amazing writers and friends, and discovered the dangers of bolting a vegetarian curry.
What were your goals in attending?
I wanted, and still want, to be a better writer. I got invaluable help to take me several steps further and a host of unexpected benefits: intelligent people, breathtaking writing, unusual angles, a sense of craft and a desire to learn much more. But that curry never featured in my goals, I can tell you.
Tell us about your upcoming conference.
Writing 4 Young People (Saturday January 25, Zürich) is a full-day event looking at trends, parameters, possibilities and routes to readers for anyone who writes for young people. Whether you create children’s colouring books, or pitch your novel at Young Adults with attitude, this is for you. We’ve bagged agent Julia Churchill & editor Sara O’Connor to deliver an intensive workshop on character, storyworld, transmedia, synopses, tone and gatekeepers.
Julia’s article on why agents love writers is here: “Shhhhh … I’ve got a secret”. I’m ridiculously excited about this event and it’s not even my genre.
Check out Jill’s Beatrice Stubbs Series: Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material and Tread Softly, plus controversial short-story collection Appearances Greeting a Point of View. The next book in the series, Cold Pressed, is out early 2014.
This is an interview that I’ve wanted to do for a long time! Lindsey Tramuta is a writer, journalist, and photographer who has lived in Paris for seven years. I love her blog because of her beautiful photography, great interviews with Parisians, and her interesting finds. The book Les Parisiens by Kanako, a young Japanese illustrator is just one example:
Lindsey, what brought you to Paris? What keeps you here?
School brought me initially but love has kept me here. Not very original a story, is it?
Lost in Cheeseland is such a great blog! Maybe you felt lost when you began it, but now you have hit your stride as a writer. How has your website and your writing evolved over the last four years?
The blog really began as a way to vent frustrations and make observations about the French. I shared personal anecdotes for some time before I started added restaurant reviews to the mix, followed by news and other happenings around town. Once I found my voice, I wanted the site to become something more – a window to my writing, to be sure, but also a resource for locals and travelers. I went from very basic snippets (and I’d even say quite unpolished) to focusing more on storytelling to truly offer the reader a glimpse into expat life, from both a culinary and cultural prism. Beginning in January 2012, I started writing for international publications – France Magazine, NYT T Magazine, SmartPlanet (CBS), NYT Travel, Conde Nast Traveller among others. I do believe my blog gave me the courage to aim higher.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in writing articles?
This is advice I’ve heeded from other authors – write write write! Whether you begin by writing in a journal or immediately on a blog, keep writing. And when you’re not writing, read. Read everything, even material that doesn’t directly relate to the topics you typically write about. It’s astounding how many creative ideas and techniques for writing you can glean from The Economist or hard news publications. And the best advice I think I ever read is to allow yourself time to be bored. It’s in those idle moments that your mind has a chance to wander and latch onto story ideas that may not have crystallized had you not given yourself that chance to recharge. This is a tremendous challenge in today’s digital world where a mere 5 minutes in line to pay for groceries leaves us tapping our feet and playing on our mobile devices, but it’s crucial. I haven’t mastered it yet (will I ever?) but I understand the importance of mental down time.
In addition to writing and photography, you run a business. Can you tell us about some of the challenges and rewards of Lola’s Cookies?
Lola’s Cookies was a project I launched with an American friend and fellow expat – we bonded over our shared love for American cookies and bemoaned their absence in Paris. French interpretations of cookies weren’t great and we wanted to do something about that. What we learned is that launching a business while having other jobs and financial responsibilities is far more difficult than we imagined, in part because of the onerous fees involved in starting a legitimate business in France (beyond the Auto Entrepreneur status). The greatest reward of all was exposing French people to our treats and seeing the reactions on their faces – instantaneous joy as though they didn’t think something so simple could be packed with such flavor. That reaction was worth all the stress, late nights and extra pounds.
What books are on your nightstand?
After going through a phrase of reading many Paris-inspired stories, I’ve been on a memoir kick. “A Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion was my earlier summer read (not exactly a frothy beach story) and I’m currently reading “Wave: a Memoir of Life After the Tsunami” by Sonali Deraniyagala, a heart-wrenching account of the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka which took the lives of her parents, husband and two young children. Crestfallen from grief and loss, she tries to piece back together a life all the while reliving the indelible horrors of the tragedy in extraordinary detail. I greatly admire the author’s fortitude and immediately took to her voice.
The ultimate question! Nothing is certain but I’ll definitely keep writing. Some of my work will be published in various publications this fall and then the trick is to keep it going. Either way, the ride has been amazing.
I am thrilled to interview Alannah Moore, who designed my website and has just published a book called Create Your Own Website Using WordPress in a Weekend. Originally from London, Alannah has lived in Paris since 1995 and designing websites since 2001. Alannah was a joy to work with and I love how she used the cover of my novel, in particular the architecture of Odessa, as her inspiration for the design of my site. I am so pleased that she has a new book out as well as two more on the way and that she is now giving workshops in London and Paris to help people create their own sites. If you look at her gallery, you’ll see how each site she develops is completely unique. Her clients range from museums to fashion designers to hoteliers, and Alannah helps each find the perfect images, fonts, and designs to bring their work to life online.
What brought you to Paris?
I came to Paris eighteen years ago, not imagining for one moment that I’d still be here so many years later. I thought I’d like to be an insider in Paris, even if for a short time – I had an idea that every civilised person should have a knowledge of Paris. Then, of course, I put down roots, and found it had become my normal life.
What keeps you here?
The same mystique as brought me here. It tickles me to be an insider in Paris; the place that people come to and marvel at, is my life’s regular backdrop. I love that. And of course, my son is at school here. Not that it’s easy here – work, of course, is the great problem for those of us who haven’t been through the French education system, and while I work for myself which to a large extent eliminates that problem, the burden of admin and taxes nearly finish me off each year. But, I’m not going anywhere.
What is your background? How did you start creating blogs and websites?
I don’t have a technical background at all. I studied literature, and have done a range of different jobs ranging from working in a press agency in the Far East, to teaching English in Turkey, to running my own business selling modern furniture, which I used to drive from France to galleries in the UK myself in a transit van. So I was anything but a geek, until I stumbled upon the world of websites. This occurred around the time of the millennium when I became fascinated by the internet and decided to learn all about it. It wasn’t long before I started designing websites, an occupation which suited me very well as I so much prefer working independently to being employed by a company. I didn’t imagine I would spend the next decade, and more, doing it, and move into writing books about it.
Part of the appeal is that I meet a huge variety of different people through my work, most of them small-scale entrepreneurs or interesting creative individuals, and my aim is to demystify the task of creating a website, which can often seem intimidating at the outset. (This is one of the reasons I like WordPress. It enables people to take charge of their website themselves without the need for any special technical knowledge.)
What is the best advice in your book for someone looking to create a website or blog?
My best bits of advice are these. Don’t try and do everything for free. Buying a premium template, for example, if you’re using WordPress, will make your website look so much slicker than using a free one, with a one-off cost that’s little more than a meal out in a restaurant. Along the same lines, do buy your own domain name, even if you’re writing a blog on a hosted service such as WordPress or Typepad, rather than launching a proper business site. For a mere $10 a year, it makes the world of difference in terms of looking professional.
Another piece of advice that could save you loads of time and elbow-grease is to have the needs of your website very clearly in mind right from the outset. Don’t choose a template simply because you think it looks beautiful and then try to make it work to suit your needs. Far better to choose something that fits your purpose right out of the box; there are designs and layouts created especially for pretty much any kind of website you could dream up.
Make sure you use an email address protector to safeguard your email address from spammers – and do make sure you show your real email address on the site rather than just relying on a form – people do like to see how they can contact you. Finally, do use an email address you check regularly when you register your domain, and note the date your domain expires in your diary, or set a reminder. So many people accidentally let their domains expire and cause themselves a panic that could easily be avoided.
What are some of your favorite spots in Paris?
I live in the 5th, near the Seine, and I love it. It’s so exciting, still, to step out of my building and find Paris in full swing all around me. One of the most picturesque spots in the area is a little triangular “place” with blue flowering jacaranda trees at the junction of Rue de la Bûcherie and Rue du Haut Pavé. There’s another really picturesque place at the top of Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève with a cluster of little restaurants and bars, near Saint Etienne du Mont – the old medieval church now completely dwarfed by the vast Pantheon sitting right next to it. The steps of this church appeared in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris and I could hardly keep quiet in the cinema with excitement to see so many spots I knew well – even the local laundrette – in the film. Over the river there’s another medieval church I like, Saint Gervais et Saint Protais, with Gothic buttresses on the back, and a completely incongruous Baroque façade stuck on the front, and a wonderful sloping cobbled street behind it. I like the papeteries and Japanese shops in Rue du Pont-Louis-Philippe, I love the Japanese district around Rue Sainte Anne near Opéra, and I’m also very fond of Place Contrescarpe and the Rue Mouffetard market; my son went to the “halte-garderie” up there, and I’ll always remember with nostalgia our picnic lunches every day nearby.
What books are on your nightstand?
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, NW by Zadie Smith, The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple.
I’ve actually just finished a second book, The Creative Person’s Website Builder, which will be out later this year, and I’m in the middle of writing a third, which will be about selling online… My website business is growing, and I’m personally now concentrating on running workshops that show people how to set up their website using WordPress over the course of a day. I’m doing this in London as well as in Paris now, as friends and contacts expressed an interest and it’s kind of grown…