On April 1, 2004, I moved to Switzerland. An auspicious date for a life-changing move, I think you’ll agree. As a freelance writer/language teacher, I could work anywhere, but Herr Husband’s job was Zürich-based. So I packed up my paperbacks and quit my London life with more of a wave than a wrench.
One year later, I had assimilated pretty well. I could negotiate washing rotas in German, knew how to clean a caquelon and found some book-and-wine loving friends. When the supermarkets started selling Marmite, the Things-I-Miss list dwindled to almost nothing. Almost.
I missed other writers.
Zurich writing workshops
In London, I belonged to two writing groups where we would critique one another’s work, toast successes, cry on shoulders and share ideas about how to get better at putting words on a page. All that was still possible online, but I yearned for the company of real live fellow scribblers.
Then I heard about the Zürich Writers’ Workshop. Like a terrier down a rabbit-hole, I pounced. One glorious weekend in May, thirty of us gathered to listen, learn, write and improve our stories. Two tutors, Janet Skeslien Charles and Susan Jane Gilman, fired both fiction and non-fiction writers with enthusiasm.
I had found my tribe!
But the repeated complaint from participants? Not enough opportunities for Zürich writers to connect. The isolation of the expat is exacerbated when you spend most of your day inside your own head.
Several people mentioned the Geneva Writers’ Group, which has a full program of activities all year round. It was an inspiration. Why not follow the example of the indefatigable Susan Tiberghien, founder of GWG? If there weren’t enough opportunities in Zürich, we would make our own.
Meet Nuance Words!
Libby O’Loghlin and I, colleagues at Nuance Words, organised a series of workshops for writers on fiction, the future of publishing, non-fiction, a writers’ boot camp, an independent publishing event and a writers’ conference.
Authors, agents, entrepreneurs and attendees came from Britain, Germany, France, Austria and all over Switzerland.
Writing on a boat
From there, several writers’ critique groups developed, meeting regularly to share their work and receive feedback. Sarah Buchmann started the Writers on Board concept where once a month, a group of writers take the slow boat to Rapperswil, writing on the way there, chatting on the way back.
In addition, we set up the quarterly magazine The Woolf, where writers share information about local literary activities, interview cool people and keep up with changes in the wider book world.
We built a great relationship with The English Bookshop, running the "Bookclub at the Bookshop" events to discuss most thought-provoking, compelling, unputdownable titles on the shelves. And we often gather at Kaufleuten Kultur to hear authors such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Marisha Pessl and David Sedaris.
In fact, from complaining about too few opportunities, I have an embarrassment of riches. My biggest problem these days? Not enough time to write.