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…
So pleased that the paperback version of Les fiancées d’Odessa is out!
“Avec un talent de conteuse qui emporte le lecteur, elle signe un roman narquois sur l’économie des rapport humains, tout en laissant juste un peu de place à l’espoir.” -Le Monde
“Un premier roman très réussi qui va à rebours des clichés.” -Causette
Today, I am delighted to interview Carmen Bugan, the author of Burying the Typewriter, a memoir of growing up in Ceausescu’s Romania. I first heard about the book through Susan Tiberghien, the director of the Geneva Writers’ Conference, who raved about Carmen and her memoir. The book is available in English in both the U.S. and U.K., and the two covers, seen below, are striking. I’d love to know which you prefer!
You have lived in Romania, the U.S., the U.K. and now Switzerland. What took you to England? And later to Switzerland?
In 2000 I went to University of Oxford to do doctoral research in English literature. My monograph Seamus Heaney and East European Poetry in Translation: Poetics of Exile is published this January and is based on my DPhil. During my studies I met my husband, who was a fellow student in the same college as me. After I completed my studies I stayed on as a Creative Arts Fellow in Literature at the university. In 2009 my husband received a research position at CERN and so we moved to Geneva in 2009 with our first child. Our second child was born in Geneva.
For three decades, your father was under surveillance by the Securitate, the Romanian secret police. His file contained 18 volumes and nearly 1,500 pages. Can you talk about how you felt when you read it?
I am developing what I call ‘an archival identity’. Very recently we were also given access to my mother’s files, which contain also mine and my sister’s. I am reading strange things about myself – about what I ate in 1985, when I went to sleep in the 1986 in the evenings, I am re-reading the yearly letters my father and I exchanged while he was in prison, and I am reading the transcripts of interrogations suffered by both of my parents. It is shattering: the language of the oppressor, the intimidating person, and that of the oppressed, of the intimidated, as it is the language of those who spied and reported on us, as is the language used to detail all of our daily lives. The government has created identities for us and I am struggling to fight my way to clarity form all the surreal mess of these files.
Was it difficult to write about your family? Can you talk about the process of writing the book?
This was planned as a memoir from the beginning and I spent a considerable amount of time working out tone, voice, and the structure of the book. I received my father’s files after I wrote the book and those formed the appendix. But while some memories came as prose, many came as poems and I wrote a book of poems at the same time as I wrote the memoir. I wrote these books fairly quickly around 2005-2007 and then worked on them until the publication in 2012–so it was a truly very long process.
The buried typewriter is such a powerful image. Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer, or did the desire to write come later?
I still love typewriters and that typewriter did indeed stir the writer in me. But I also love the feel of pen and paper and much of my writing starts as journal work. I knew that I wanted to be a writer in the deepest sense of the word when my father was in prison and I was writing poems to the pictures of him hanging in the hallway and on the bookshelves. The poems had a healing effect on my mother and sister, and in particular the poem I wrote the day my parents had their trial for divorce–they were forced to divorce because of my father’s anticommunist activities. That poem is in my book Crossing the Carpathians and the story of that poem and its first draft (in Romanian) is in Burying the Typewriter.
What advice would you give to someone interested in writing memoir?
I think writing a memoir is a very personal journey and the decisions such as how to approach such personal material as the story of your life are also very personal. Some people choose to write in third person, for example, to distance themselves from the material, while some prefer to write in the first person because they feel very strongly about sharing themselves. But whatever decisions one needs to make, the important thing to keep in mind is that in the end this needs to be a book–a work of art, and that needs considerable working at it.
What books are on your nightstand?
The Music Room, by William Fiennes, a book of poems by Lucian Blaga.
A book about living on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Today, I am thrilled to interview Cara Black! The author of the Aimée Leduc mystery series, Cara is one of the kindest writers in the Parisian community. I will never forget her thoughtfulness when she spoke at a writing workshop full of unpublished writers. She was so warm and encouraging, her words gave us participants weeks of motivation and positive energy. Since then I have seen her speak at several venues, and each time, I learn something new about Paris. In fact, I subscribe to her newsletter because it is full of great information and gorgeous photos. If you love Paris, you should sign up, too.
I’m not the only Parisienne who thinks Cara is great! Last June, she was awarded Medaille de la Ville de Paris. In her books, she shares many different regions of Paris with readers, from the Marais to Chinatown, from Passy to the Bastille. Cara serves up a perfect slice of Parisian life in each book.
To celebrate the launch of Cara Black’s latest book, Murder Below Montparnasse, her publisher Soho Press is offering a “killer” trip to Paris. Do sign up for your chance to visit the City of Light with author Cara Black!
Cara, your first novel Murder in the Marais was published to great acclaim in 1998. Can you talk a little bit about how publishing has changed since then? How has your role as an author changed?
Yes, Janet publishing has changed a lot since Murder in the Marais my first novel was published. And it’s changing and evolving all the time. But to me, the author’s role, then as now, is to write the best book possible and the one she or he feels compelled to write. All the marketing and social media to spread the word has now been added onto that plate. Yet, from the beginning my husband who worked in bookstores and owned one, encouraged me to spread the word in the way he, a bookseller and his bookseller friends, like to hear about a new book. That’s always been a golden rule – engage with booksellers who can hand sell your book – and easy for me since I know a lot of them and like them. They’ve become friends. Now it’s still about that, sadly less so since we have fewer indie bookstores, but it’s also about making yourself available to readers and getting the word out through the internet (not every writer feels comfortable with that). People google everything and it’s almost imperative from one’s publisher’s stance that a writer needs to be visible in an internet universe. But given that, it’s still about writing the best book possible, do your best with the social media and let your enthusiasm show about your book, why you wrote it and how the story captured you so much you had to write it down.
Can you tell us a few of your favorite Parisian places where you have done your research?
There’s so many! Some highlights: visiting the reservoirs at Passy and seeing where the French Gestapo interrogated suspects, touring the ghost stations of the Metro with Julian the RATP expert who knows everything you ever want or wanted to know about the Metro, climbing on the rooftop of 36 quai des Orfèvres – the Police Prefecture – with a homicide detective from Brigade Criminelle – beyond cool – long mornings in the archives in the Marais. I met a ninety-year old woman who grew up on the Canal Saint Martin and lives in the building she was born in. I spent one afternoon with her listening to her stories about a past Paris: when horses pulled the barges up the Canal and she saw their steamy breath in the winter, how she smelled the leather factory next door when she walked to school. Wonderful stories of everyday life in a life spanning two World Wars up to the modern day and what she makes of the Internet. I’ve gotten to know a man who lives in the Marais and was a young Résistant, 14 years old at the time of Libération and seen an Occupied then Liberated Paris through his eyes. It’s the people who share their stories, their life that I’m privileged to meet that makes my research so much better.
I loved the story you told chez Karen Fawcett about long-distance research, when you and she corresponded while you were writing your first books. Can you talk about some of the connections and friendships that have been created thanks to your work as a novelist?
Oh yes, it’s evolving continually. Friends introduce me to friends who introduce me to their friends whose uncle’s dentist lives in a specific quartier that I’m researching etc. You know that’s how it is in Paris, Janet. I just met a female detective this trip who shared about her investigations when we met for coffee in Place St Georges – it was very cool and so was she, but she wouldn’t let me take her picture. But I find police, cafe owners, the folks in the Mairie, etc. will talk if you take them for a drink, lunch. They welcome a chance to help ‘you’ to get it right. Everyone likes to talk about their work, so it’s tapping into what they value or how they make a living and here’s their chance for someone to get it correct not like the movies or the télé they always say. There’s also a pride Parisians exhibit about their City that’s wonderful and even a kiosk vendor can talk your ear off about the way the street used to be and the history if you show enough interest. I belong to the Historic Society of the 10eme arrondissement. Have become good friends over the years with one of the members and his family, his son stayed with us during the summer. He brought a bit of Paris with him. Even the Brigade Criminelle detective came for dinner chez nous when he was in San Francisco it was so fun and I got to ‘show’ him off to my French neighbors!
You are an amazing public speaker, and I especially enjoyed hearing about the genesis of Murder at the Lanterne Rouge. Were you always a strong speaker, or was it a skill you had to cultivate?
You’re too kind. Speaking to strangers I think for anyone is tough and it certainly was for me at the beginning and even now. Still feel a touch of nerves. But I’ve got two things going for me: this chance to share what I’ve discovered about Paris and my experiences writing about Paris which is real and what a lot of people want to hear about. I’m no Paris expert but I’m curious, want to learn and like to explore which hopefully armchair readers can do in my books. My mother always told me ‘be yourself’ and Oscar Wilde added a caveat to that great saying ‘…because everyone else is taken’. It’s great to have a chance to share my research exploits the good, the bad, the funny and the ugly. Which often end up in my stories. Talking about finding a window to describe this part of Paris, this time and the issues facing Paris and French society are concrete in my writing process. Every book has been a journey through a part of Paris for me – what I learned and how all this affects my characters is harder to explain but that’s when I turn to the audience and say time for Q+A
When people think about the Parisian literary scene, many people think of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, yet there is a thriving community of writers today. You are a big part of the literary scene here, can you describe a writer’s world in Paris today?
Thanks for saying that, Janet, I think you’re more plugged into the literary scene than I am. Sadly we’ve lost Odile’s bookstore and Penelope’s Red Wheelbarrow in the Marais but yes, the community is vibrant from what I experience especially through the American Library events, Shakespeare & Co, the efforts of Laurel Zuckerman and WICE. In a way, it’s feeling more salon-oriented these days or maybe it’s always been. Karen’s dinners and writing workshops attest to that. The Irish Cultural Center hosts events, too. I went to a Yeats poetry reading there that was wonderful. I think people are hungry for books, the written word (in any format), to hear how writers write and will support whatever venue whether it’s book groups, talks at alumni associations, or via Expat forums.
What are a few of your favorite haunts here?
Place des Vosges, the Palais Royal, Batignolles and the street market on rue de Lévis, any weekend brocante and vide grenier, a no-name wine bar in Popincourt, le Baron Rouge for oysters near Marché d’Aligre, the villas (small cobbled alleys near Parc Montsouris in the 14eme) like Villa Seurat where Henry Miller and Anais Nin lived. Those are the tip of the iceberg but I love the weekends of ‘open studios’ in the different quartiers when you can visit and meet artists in their ateliers! Especially in the 14eme which I learned had whole streets built with ateliers for artists.
What books are on your nightstand?
The Occupation by Ian Ousby. It’s often overlooked but I’m re-reading it and find it even more fascinating the second time.
Cop to Killer – a riveting police procedural set in Bath, England by my friend Peter Lovesey. No one gets the atmosphere and quiet wit of the English quite like Peter – highly recommended.
A series I picked up (wonderful informative series of historic booklets) Un Nouveau Regard sur le Patrimoine Parisien (all free from the Mairie in the 9eme and there’s more than 30 of these with maps, a walking route, Velib’ stations, explanations etc – amazing info and GRATIS from the City of Paris publications) I’m reading the one right now ‘Le Paris de Fréderéric Chopin’ The Mairie was so generous I took the whole set (almost 2 kilos) and sent them home.
Murder Below Montparnasse which comes out March 5, 2013.