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  • 29 Jun 2017 2:11 PM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    The nature writer Sigurd Olson seemed to have spent his time on earth gathering singular moments from the rush of time, crafting them in unforgettable words, so that we too can experience the healing wonders of nature.

    The first time he has heard the ‘singing wilderness,’ as he calls it, Olson was seven years old. He says: ‘It was near the tip of a bold peninsula that reached far out into Lake Michigan, and though I was only seven at the time and knew nothing of the need of solitude, or the hunger I have known since, the response was there.’  There, at the edge of a pier, at the end of deep woods he ‘entered a life of indescribable beauty and delight’.  Here are some passages, which speak far better than what I can offer in a description:

    A school of perch darted in and out of the rocks.  They were green and gold and black, and I was fascinated by their beauty. Seagulls wheeled and cried above me.  Waves crashed against the pier. I was alone in a wild and lovely place, part at last of the wind and the water, part of the dark forest through which I had come, and of all the wild sounds and colors and feelings of the place I had found. (p. 8)

    That first moment occurred at the age at seven.  Here we are later in life when the perception is keener, when the solitude is akin to memorized joy, when the observer has achieved poetic mastery, and when we can sense the love of nature in the depth of the images he writes:

    Gradually the streamers of rose and mauve in the east changed to gold, and then the sun burst over a spruce-etched hill.  At that moment the river was transformed into a brilliant crystalline boulevard stretching to infinity. The air was mountain air that morning, and my feet were winged.  I was in the forbidden land, land of the spirits, a place to approach with awe and perhaps with prayer. (p.14)

    And later still:

    The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores. A man is part of his canoe and therefore part of all it knows. (p.77)

    And farther North:

    Shafts of light shot up into the heavens above me and concentrated there in a final climactic effort in which the shifting colors seemed drained from the horizons to form one gigantic rosette of flame of yellow and greenish purple. Suddenly I grew conscious of the reflections from the ice itself and that I was skating through a sea of changing color caught between the streamers above and below. At that moment I was part of the aurora, part of its light and of the great curtain that trembled above me. (p.185)

    This book caught me by the heartstrings, and part of me wants to memorize every page of it. Whether it’s simply the nostalgia I feel for Lake Michigan, that one Black Sea that had sustained me through the first years of exile in the States, when I pined for the sound of the farm life in the mornings–the roosters calling across the village– or the coin of the moon that hung above the precipices of the Carpathian mountains of my childhood, I don’t know.  I don’t know if Olson speaks to me because I am increasingly anxious with every Ar Quality Index warning that I receive in my inbox during the summer season, or when I return from the beach saddened because it is often unfit for swimming, here where I live now. But these worries aside, I feel grateful to have this book, and to be able to return to Olson’s meaningful, beautiful words, where I could find solace even if I am struggling to breathe in the heart of the city. I am grateful that his work has been and will remain a catalyst for change, that it has raised awareness about the need to safeguard our magnificent national parks, where, as he says, we too can hear the singing wilderness and feel renewed.

  • 17 May 2017 3:28 PM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    Daniela I. Norris is Canadian-Israeli, a former diplomat turned political writer , inspirational author and speaker. Her stories, articles and essays have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, have appeared in six different anthologies and won numerous awards. She has also published a non-fiction book On Dragonfly Wings – a Skeptic's Journey to Mediumship and a novel Recognitions, the first volume in a planned trilogy. For more information about Daniela and her books, please visit her website. or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

    Daniela was a committee member with the GWG and co-organiser of the 2016 Conference. Although she has now moved to the UK, her heart is still very much with her fellow authors in Geneva.

    Where did your love of books/storytelling/writing come from?

    I always knew that one day I’ll become a writer, but I also knew that I needed to live, love and learn about life before I could write about it. My day-jobs included several student jobs: a year of waiting tables, two of translating movies for subtitles, one summer of riding across the country on a motorcycle for an advertising campaign, four years as a flight attendant for an airline while I completed my studies. This was followed by two years in the military and then seven years as a diplomat. About half way through all that I started writing and publishing - and a few years ago I dropped everything else and started writing full-time. So the love of reading and writing was always there, but I also needed to learn quite a lot of things along the way before I could write about them!

    What sort of writing do you do and why?

    While initially I considered myself a political writer, these days I write about more inspirational themes, namely the possibly pre-determined role some people have in our lives. I am fascinated with the topic, and over the last five years I’ve trained as a hypnotherapist and a past-life regression therapist – initially for the sake of curiosity, then research. As you can probably imagine, this gave me a lot of writing material!

    What’s the biggest misconception people have about your genre?

    There are many who don’t believe in the concept of past-lives, or who don’t consider themselves ‘spiritual’ or interested in inspirational stories. To these potential readers I can only say: that’s absolutely fine, you can enjoy these stories even if you don’t believe in any of it; it’s not about believing, it is about keeping an open mind.

    Who or what inspires you? 

    I love reading novels by Paulo Coelho, Elizabeth Gilbert and David Mitchell, among many other novelists. I also enjoy non-fiction: biographies, true inspirational stories and history.

    Tell us a little bit about your publishing journey.

    I started by self-publishing a collection of short stories in 2008; most of them have been previously published in magazines or newspapers by then. This was followed by Crossing Qalandiya - a political book co-authored with Palestinian writer Shireen Anabtawi and traditionally published in the UK by Reportage Press in 2010. After the sudden death of my twenty-year-old brother in mid-2010 my world-view, and writing, shifted from political to inspirational. I’ve since published 3 books with different imprints of John Hunt in the UK –

    On Dragonfly Wings a skeptic’s journey to mediumship / Axis Mundi 2014

    Collecting Feathers – tales from the Other Side / Soul Rocks 2014

    Recognitions – a novel / Roundfire Books 2016

     So I’ve tried a bit of everything: self-publishing, traditional publishing and hybrid-publishing. I enjoyed all these experiences, and am curious to discover what the future holds for the subsequent novels I am now working on!

    What do you enjoy most about writing?

    I enjoy the freedom it gives me to explore new ideas, meet new people (imaginary and real) and to a large extent be out of the rat race. I also love the actual writing process – of taking an idea from thought into written words and then seeing the actual printed book. I feel it is like a phase-transition, a de-sublimation, a deposition of an idea.

    What is your writing routine?

    The most difficult at this point in my life is carving out the time, with a young family – I have three lovely boys who have many demands on my time and attention. So, routine is a big word for my current writing process – I write wherever and whenever I can.  On the train, in the car while waiting for my kids to come out of school or other activities, in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, and of course – during the day when the boys are at school. There are days when I write for five hours, other days when I write only for five minutes. But I write every single day!

    How did you hear of GWG and in what ways has it been significant for your writerly career?


    I first came to the GWG in 2008, a year after I moved to the Geneva area. I’ve joined the steering committee shortly after and served on it for eight years – until I recently stepped down because I plan a lot of travel and moving around in the coming few years.


    Through the GWG I’ve made many friends and met many wonderful people – other writers, as well as publishers and agents. It is a fantastic support network for writers – beginners and multi-published alike.


    What advice would you give to new writers?


    The single advice I can give – and it is relevant to everything in life, not just to writing – is to never give up if the flame of writing burns within you. Don’t give up on your idea, don’t give up on finishing that story or that book, and don’t give up on getting it published. Seeing things through is often the biggest challenge of new writers, but if they do see a project through, then it is also their biggest triumph.

    Thank you, Daniela, for those lovely encouraging thoughts. If you are a published author and a member of GWG, we would love to feature you in this series, so please do not be shy about getting in touch. We intend to start a new series in the future with unpublished writers, provisionally entitled 'On the Brink of Discovery'.


  • 09 Apr 2017 10:41 AM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    Today we are talking to one of our members who has devoted her writing life to non-fiction. Lesley Lawson Botez says writing is her passion, psychology is her motivation. With professional qualifications and active in both communications and psychology/counselling, she enjoys exploring new topic and understanding underlying patterns. She is coordinating this year's Geneva Writers' Group Literary Prizes, after being a runner-up in non-fiction herself in 2014.

    Where did your love of books/storytelling/writing come from?

    I was very lucky to have had wonderful English teachers at each school I attended. Miss Williams and Mrs Tobias in boarding schools in Sussex, Peggy Sutcliffe, now Mrs Peggy Strong, at Brilliantmont in Lausanne. I am still in touch with Peggy Strong, now over 100 and living in Bex. She told me that she had never had a pupil like me, not before nor since. I was very proud and delighted to receive many prizes for English.

    What sort of writing do you do and why?

    I write non-fiction and have made my living as a commercial writer. I began as a copywriter at Saatchi then set up my own communications agency specialized in industrial communications. I love to know how things work, to research and glamourize them. I wrote some articles for the Financial Times and Newsweek and was the Romandie correspondent for Swiss News which allowed me to give a more factual base to my writing. I went on to become head of communications for a private banking group and later was a staff writer and in charge of field publications for the ICRC. 

    My book, Holding Out for a Hero, Five Steps to Marriage Over 40 is non-fiction and sprung from my PhD research and my own experience as a 40+ bride.

    Who or what inspires you to write?

    I have entered the Goodreads challenge for the third year running and am a member of Geneva’s beautiful Société de Lecture library which gives me access to many books I wouldn’t have chosen otherwise. Amongst those I’d mention Mohsin Hamid’s How to get filthy rich in rising Asia, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Teju Cole’s Every day is for the thief.  I enjoy Joyce Carol Oates for the depth and consistency of her work, Kate Atkinson for her sense of humour and Ian McEwan for his range of subjects. My favourite book in recent years is Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending and my all time favourite writer is Doris Lessing. Her work shaped the thinking of women of several generations, my own included.

    Tell us a little bit about your publishing journey.

    When my book was ready to be published, I approached agents that I had met through GWG. The first needed me to have 50,000 Facebook friends before she could present my relationship self help book to a publisher. Apparently it is a huge market but very oversubscribed. The second said this was not her market although she was faced with the decision of whether to marry at 40 herself. I then approached John Hunt Publishing through a Swanwick Writers School contact. They immediately responded that I, unlike some 90% of writers who sent them manuscripts, had been selected for further discussion. I was flattered and decided to accept their offer rather than risk refusal elsewhere. I think that John Hunt did an excellent job on the cover and the layout, a bad job on the editing and a disappointing job on promotion.

    What do you enjoy most about writing?

    I like to research and get the facts for a story and I like to see the product blossom under my pen. I have to have a deadline and be commissioned to write a piece. This spurs me on. I need to know that I will be read, I can’t just write for the sake of it.

    How did you hear of GWG and in what ways has it been significant for your writerly career?

    I knew of GWG from its very beginning. I joined the American Women’s Club Writing Group through fellow Swiss News journalist Sally Alderson, one of the original GWG members, in order to have my copywriting critiqued. When Susan Tiberghien set up GWG I didn’t join at first, as I was writing commercial non-fiction at the time.

    GWG has been an inspiration to me in getting my book out in the world.  The support of the group, the Forgers small critiquing group and of course Susan Tiberghien has been precious to me. This is why I wanted to become involved in the voluntary side of GWG. This year I am the coordinator of the GWG Literary Prize with its three categories – fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The deadline for submissions is 24 April so I expect to be very busy around that time. You can find more details about how to submit below.

    What advice would you give to new writers?

    Join GWG and a small critiquing group. Writing is a lonely activity and you need support around you. Enter competitions, such as the GWG Literary Prize, as they will give you the stimulus to write. In terms of a creative writing MFA, I am in two minds. I began mine at Kingston University London’s Low Residency. I enjoyed the low residency part but found the on-line courses frustrating. Nevertheless I did my best writing there and met many exciting writers.

    Geneva Literary Prizes 2017


    Judge for poetry

    Poet, songwriter, and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye has won many awards and fellowships including four Pushcart Prizes and the Paterson Poetry Prize. In 2009, she was named as one of's first peace heroes.

    Her first collection of poems, Different Ways to Pray, explored the theme of similarities and differences between cultures, one of her lifelong areas of focus. Other books include poetry collections 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me, Red Suitcase, Field Trip and Fuel; a collection of essays entitled Never in a Hurry; a young-adult novel called Habibi and a picture book, Lullaby Raft.


    Judge for non-fiction

    Nick Barlay's latest book, Scattered Ghosts, explored his Hungarian Jewish family history and was longlisted for the Wingate Prize. He has also written four highly acclaimed novels and was a Granta Best Young British Novelist nominee in 2003. His wide-ranging journalism has covered London, including a long-running series for The Times, as well as East European culture and politics. He regularly teaches fiction and non-fiction, including Guardian Masterclasses in family history.


    Judge for fiction

    Karen Sullivan, publisher at Orenda Books, was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. She moved to London from Canada where she worked for a small publishing house before leaving to forge a career as a health editor and writer. She wrote about raising children, emotional health, discipline, bullying and nutrition. She returned to publishing through a part-time job in a small independent, which soon became full-time. Realizing how much she missed ‘front-line’ publishing, she set up Orenda Books, specialized in 'beautiful, readable, unforgettable' commercial fiction 18 months ago. Orenda Books was shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Newcomer Award at the Independent Publishing Awards (twice).


    Guidelines for submitting to the GWG Literary Prize 2017

    Entries need to be submitted by 12 mid-night on 24 April, 2017.

    There’s no fee to enter the Literary Prize but you must be a fully paid GWG member. Make sure your membership is up-to-date. 

    Send your entry as an attachment to your email to with the subject line GWG Lit Prize: Poetry (or) GWG Lit Prize: Fiction (or) GWG Lit Prize: Non-fiction.

    Your entry should not appear in the body of your email.

    Give your name in your email as you’d like it to appear should your entry win, and add your contact details as listed in GWG membership records.

    Make sure your entry has a title which you will mention in the body of your email.

    Do not include your name in the attachment – only identify it by its title.  Obviously both titles must be the same.

    You may enter only one category.

    If you have won FIRST PLACE within the past three years, please do not enter that category again this year. However, you may enter a different category. 

    Only previously unpublished work may be submitted. 

    Your entry cannot be altered once it has been submitted.

    Winning entries will not be published by the GWG online or in print. Writers retain full rights to submit their works elsewhere.

    Each category has a first place, a second place, and a third place winner.

    For fiction or non-fiction, double-space your text and save as a Word document, 12-point type. Do not exceed 3,000 words.

    For poetry, format as you wish. You may submit one or two poems, number of lines up to the poet. Do not exceed a total of 3,000 words for both. If you are submitting two poems, attach each as a separate file. Save as a Word document, 12-point type.

    Any questions? Feel free to email me, Lesley Lawson Botez at

  • 06 Mar 2017 11:48 AM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    If you've been a member of Geneva Writers' Group for more than a couple of months, you will no doubt have met Peter St John Dawes with his gentlemanly manners, witty poetry and his mischievous alter ego Jenno Bryce, who even has a blog of her own. Peter has published seven novels in the Gang series about children in the village of Widdlington during the Second World War, as well as two other full-length novels (all available on Amazon or via Silverwood Publishing). You can find Peter on his website, on Twitter and on Facebook. Thank you, Peter, for answering our questions about writing and publishing.

    Where did your love of books/storytelling/writing come from?

    I don’t really know where it comes from. I have no memory of learning to read; it is as though I always could. Somebody somewhere must have taught me, but for myself, it seems as though I was born with the knowledge. Even when I was very small, reading was one of my favourite occupations. I read anything and everything that I could get my hands on. I particularly enjoyed encyclopaedias or other illustrated non-fiction. I was less-interested in stories and storytelling, unless connected with life as I experienced it. As for writing, it seemed to me as a child, that this was for other people to do...

    What sort of writing do you do and why?

    My career as a chartered engineer, and later in the parliamentary area, required much writing of technical reports. However, after retirement I began to write stories about village gangs of children in the early years of the Second World War. My original intention was to write a series of short stories or vignettes, but when the first short story grew to novel length, I decided to continue to write novels.

    As to why I wrote them, I am not very sure. Perhaps I just wanted to capture the spirit of childhood in a setting very different from that of today. Perhaps I also wanted to say something positive about fundamental human values, in dangerous times.

    What’s the biggest misconception people have about your genre?

    To be honest, I don’t know with any certainty what my genre is. Because the setting of the “Gang” books is more than fifty years ago, they can be classified as “historical fiction”. Because I felt that my work could be enjoyed by all people from 9 to 99 years of age, the “Gang” books don’t fall neatly into a genre such as “Children” or “Young Adult”. Indeed, adults seem to enjoy my stuff as much as younger readers. Some adults have contacted me to say that they bought the first book because they thought it would be about adult gangsters, but discovered with pleasure that it was not about those kinds of gangs at all. It is the characters themselves, as well as the village settings in which their adventures take place, that give me the incentive to continue. With hindsight, I can see that there has been some influence from Richmal Crompton’s rampageous “William” series of stories, as well as from the delightful children’s books of Arthur Ransome. A further influence is perhaps Ronald Blythe’s absorbing study entitled “Akenfield – Portrait of an English Village”.

    Tell us a little bit about your publishing journey.

    My publishing journey has been a long, momentous adventure, which almost warrants a book to describe. A resumé of this experience would include my initial acceptance as a so-called “mainstream flagship” author with a publisher who subsequently went out of business. I was accordingly forced into becoming a do-it-yourself writer, publishing e-books on Amazon and Smashwords, as well as doing my own printing and binding. Finally I discovered the “empowered publishing” of SilverWood Books Ltd. This enabled me to again put my books out into the world in paperback format, starting with those that had gone out of print through the failure of my first publisher.

    What do you enjoy most about writing?

    I enjoy interacting with my characters and participating with them in telling their story, Making the illustrations is an enjoyable occupation too, even though they require a lot of time to prepare and add to the cost of the book. I also very much enjoy the camaraderie of fellow writers, and participating with them in workshops such as those run by the Geneva Writers’ Group, as well as the small group of writers that meets regularly at my house for critiquing sessions.

    What do you find most difficult about writing?

    It’s not the act of putting thoughts into words that is the most difficult, but rather the unavoidable task of bringing those thoughts and words to potential readers. A writer today, must be ready to become his or her own publicity agent, spending time and energy on advertising and marketing activities. There often seems little to show for much of this effort, which sometimes calls for quite considerable expense

    When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?


    The first thing I do, is to sit down comfortably with a long drink at my elbow, and go over the project in my mind. I then sleep on it for several nights. Finally, I sketch a plot outline rather like a film story board. It may even contain some drawings. The eventual writing may stray away from the plot outline, as the characters press to introduce their own ideas. Even so, the outline provides a frame of reference on which to hang the action and keep the characters more or less on the storyline.

    I nearly always have to hand a notebook in which I jot down stuff that could be useful. This is particularly handy for brief ideas that come in the night, or during a writing workshop. I’m sometimes astonished later, to see night jottings that I have no recollection of writing. Some of them are good and useful.

    What (if anything) has surprised you most since publishing your first book?

    I am surprised by the fact, that I have published 16 titles since my first novel, “Siberian Summer”, in 2007. However only nine of these books are novels, the others being booklets mainly in electronic format. Several other titles exist in draft, but may never be published.


    What advice would you give to new writers?

    Don’t, unless you intend to do it for the fun and the adventure, and are ready to accept the inevitable disappointments with good humour.

    We always love hearing from our members. If you are a published author and would like to be featured in our series, please get in touch via email or in the comments below. 

  • 23 Feb 2017 10:21 AM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    Guest post from former GWG member, instructor and great friend Carmen Bugan, now living in the US. For a beautiful review of her latest collection of poetry, see here. You can buy her book here. Meanwhile, just sit back and enjoy this brief meditation on the redeeming power of language in literature.

    I have said elsewhere that today's English language suffers, and I keep returning to that thought because the evidence is everywhere.  Our language suffers from materialism, texting-talk, marketing-speak, slogans, an obsession with celebrity, a fear of 'the other'.  You could say it reflects our character which craves a fast answer for every want and constantly searches for the easiest way out, a quick scheme to get rich and a magical recipe to eternal youth.  I wonder how much this contributed to the recent election, and more-over, to keeping in the White House a man who makes life-changing political pronouncements via Twitter. We are all better than that and deserve more than being tossed from one quick promise to another. We are capable of self-reflection.  Signs of this abound in the endless stream of protests on the streets where you could feel America is more alive than ever before.

    The English language itself has resources that could help us heal.  One of these is stability of meaning expressed in fiercely beautiful words.  I am returning to classics and here I want to quote an excerpt from Jack London's The Call of the Wild, which I know will mean different things to different people:

    'There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise.  And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing to quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time.  He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew and that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in  movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.'

    Metaphorical as it is, literary language constitutes a major resource.  The protests on the streets of this country, the loud town-halls that are becoming a force of nature, might be touching the nerve of life as ordinary people are feeling ‘war-mad on a stricken field and refusing to quarter.’  Maybe the spirit of America is Buck, ‘leading the pack’, ‘sounding the deeps of his nature’ harking back to freedom.  Or maybe readers will find the resilient spirit of this country in other books, in other stories, in other metaphors, in other words equally filled with ‘the tidal wave of being’.  In the current political situation, which is chaotic and mad, there are books which we can open and could open us and perhaps, for the moment, they could be our first aid by keeping us steady.


  • 22 Feb 2017 9:50 AM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    This past weekend the Geneva Writers Group hosting the by-now-traditional Meet the Agent and Publisher event on a sun-filled Webster University campus.

    Agents Joelle Delbourgo and Eric Ruben from the US, agent Jo Unwin from the UK and publisher Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books all joined us for two days, giving both general advice and answering questions about getting published, as well as more personal feedback for a lucky few who had requested one-to-one feedback on previously submitted material.

    We worked our guests really hard, but we didn't spare the blushes of our members either, as one of the highlights of the weekend was the 'Saved by the Bell' session of reading anonymous first pages, with our guests ringing the bell at what point they would stop reading if this had been a genuine submission. Harsh but incredibly educational. We all learnt so much more from this practical exercise than from listening to any number of well-known precepts: 'Don't over-use adjectives... hook your reader in... start the story in the right place.' If you want to read more about this gruelling process from someone who too part in it, turn to Nancy Freund's blog post, while Marina Sofia talks about lessons learnt.

    Another participant, Jo Christiane Ledakis, has sent us this feedback from the event.

    Thank you to GWG, Susan Tiberghien, and the Steering Committee, for a magnificent “Meet the Agents” event.

    And very special appreciation to Sanda Ionescu for the dedication, efficiency and enthusiasm in organizing a meeting that brought together four highly successful and experienced exponents of the professions dear and vital to every writer’s heart: two literary agents from the US and a literary agent and a publisher from the UK. They each evoked their fascinating trajectories and fields of interest, offered precious information and advice, and answered multiple questions posed by an eager throng of writers, including an intimate inquiry about each panelist’s “holy grail”, with unparalleled patience, candour and generosity.

    The judging of the anonymous first pages was a thrilling and rewarding—even if occasionally slightly painful—exercise, with ripples of breathless attention and frantic note-taking here and there barely giving a clue as to who among the stone-faced assembled was the author of the item under the scalpel. Reassuringly, the four bells of judgement did not routinely converge at the same cut-off point but often tolled at different times, reflecting welcome divergences of taste, openness and expectation.

    We are now armed with advice on the many elements required for success: professional query, distinctive voice, writing-about-what-you-know, passion, clarity of purpose and positioning; irresistible pitch, hook, cliffhanger, strap line, nugget for the short attention span; action moments and endings; platform and audience; research to zoom in on the right agency/publisher-fit; and, crucially also, the importance of networking and using the social media.

    For those lucky enough to have had a 20 minute one-on-one interview, the advice could be personalized and more specifically tailored to the work submitted. 

    Our question in a nutshell: how can we make sure that the fantastic first sentence into which we distilled our all will hit the mark?

    We were handed the answer: make the hairs at the back of the neck of your agent prickle, give your publisher goose bumps. 

    Clearly, several among us have mastered this art: their first page silenced the bells and triggered a round of applause. Reason for cheer for all of us and a clear sign of the success of the 2017 GWG Meet the Agents event. With it, one more dream of the founder, Susan Tiberghien, who brought over and adapted the event from the US, became reality.

  • 19 Dec 2016 10:15 PM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    A guest post from Carmen Bugan, who has been a member and instructor with the Geneva Writers' Group, and who returned to the US almost exactly a year ago today.

    The upcoming inauguration of the next president of the Unites States fills many people with anxiety, but it horrifies me.  I am an immigrant and I feel that my values are directly under attack.

    I come from a family of political dissidents.  My father spent twelve years in Romania’s worst prisons because he fought for the truth, human rights and freedom of speech.  He bought a typewriter illegally; ordinary people were not permitted to own them, both typewriter and owner had to be fingerprinted and surveilled by police.  Dad buried the typewriter in the backyard every time he and my mother were finished with typing stacks of anti-communist manifestoes.  We immigrated to the United States at the end of 1989 as political refugees, just when the Berlin Wall was brought down and the Romanian Revolution littered the streets of Bucharest with dead people who hoped for freedom. 

    My first poems were written to a photograph of my father which we kept in our beloved house, where we had been subjected to years of secret police surveillance while he served in prison.  It took me time to understand myself as a freed person, to translate my poetry into English, and then write directly in English, which has become my adoptive, comforting language.  I left my native language because it felt corrupt by the informers who destroyed my childhood, by the surveillance which has turned my family and me into fearful and suspicious people, by the slogans thrown at us by a dictator who saw himself as the father of all people and tortured anyone who criticized him.  The English language was a rebirth: of speech after long silence, of dreams after despair, of hope and gratitude that my father’s fight for freedom was welcomed and respected by Americans who gave us a home among them.  My writing took roots in this beautiful new language and I could finally articulate my story and dream my place among my fellow Americans: I had become a naturalized citizen and also a linguistic citizen.  I wonder what would have happened to me and my family had we been subjected to Trump’s proposed vetting of immigrants.

    Out of gratitude for this country, immigrants may not say much to criticize it, but we are very sensitive to demagoguery and any gestures that threaten freedom of expression. We know all about grand, empty promises, policing the speech, the way a slogan can enter the heart of a family that struggles to pay bills.  We know how people can fall into the trap of words.  We know when the rhetoric is directed against us.  But those of us who are writers are aware of the price paid in our own families for the freedom to shout out ‘This is wrong!’ and be heard.  We are now in the age of a president-elect who is trafficking into horrible side stories about immigrants, who wants to deport hard-working families, who is beginning to make rules about the ways in which people protest against injustice in this country, who disrespects and lashes at anyone who speaks against him, who deals solely in lies, all the while promising the American people that he will make this country great again. This is a police state in the making and the worst part of it is that people are already afraid to stop it.  I watch the major TV news channels in horror: why are they making headlines out of Trump’s tweets when Trump bypasses them? 

    One of Trump’s top advisers said the job of his administration is to implement the vision of Trump.  Why should his opportunistic, dehumanizing vision determine how I am going to raise my own children?  Why should I go to sleep at night worrying whether the President of the United States will destroy health care, education, make enemies all over the planet, and shut all Americans inside a big fat wall?  Why should I worry that he fills his cabinet posts with billionaires who made a fortune exploiting poorer nations?

    This is an open letter to the immigrant writers of the United States of America.  Let us get to our notebooks and write the compassionate, amazing stories of immigrants who have made this country the reason the world still wants to flock here.  Let us write shimmering, nuanced, beautiful words, poems and stories full of love, let us show the Americans who welcomed us here the generosity of their hearts.  Let us help those who cannot yet see the dangerous path America is taking, step away from it.  Let the great American writers who have enjoyed working and growing in one of the most beautiful languages on earth, a language of song and poetry, let them join us with their stories of how we became their friends and learned from them.

    I believe that the English language is hurting: it suffers from materialism, from empty slogans, and it has been reduced to buzzwords. We need to open our hearts to this language and in turn the language will give us the resources to resist lies. The immigrant writers bring to the English language the wonder of looking at it afresh, and with gratitude.  This is the wonder that most natives lose soon after that magic period in childhood when they begin to read and write, to unlock the power of words and the thrill that the language has opened to them the right of ways.  This language needs words from other countries, rhythms from other parts of the world, tears and laughter from the huts and homes of people in faraway places; it must taste their fragrant foods and it must nurture their hopes. 

    We must not be afraid to look into the eyes of danger: let the writers be like surgeons who have enough emotional distance that they can perform that operation which removes the tumor.  There are many people who are discontent in this country: enough that they have turned to Trump.  The writers must serve these people with good words that will bring peace and understanding.  There is no love but in the word of it.


    Note about the author:

    Carmen Bugan has a doctorate in English Literature from Balliol College, Oxford University, UK.  She is the author of the critical study Seamus Heaney and East European Poetry in Translation: Poetics of Exile (MHRA, 2014), Crossing the Carpathians (Oxford Poets/Carcanet, 2004), Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police (Picador, 2012), The House of Straw (Shearsman, 2014), and Releasing the Porcelain Birds: Poems after Surveillance (Shearsman, 2016). A short interview with her about her latest poetry collection appears on the BBC World News here:

  • 23 Nov 2016 2:11 PM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    As soon as I heard that the GWG was thinking of inviting Laura Kasischke to Geneva to be a guest instructor for poetry, I knew I had to make every effort to be there. So I came all the way from the UK to see and hear her (and I was not the only one).

    Of course, Laura herself came all the way from snowy Michigan, battling jetlag and not quite getting to see anything of the city, just to share with us her love of poetry, inspire and motivate us to keep on writing and improving.

    The weekend started with a Friday evening of poetry readings and signing with Laura and Wallis Wilde Menozzi in the magnificent surroundings of Payot Rive, with their knowledgeable and supportive staff. The two poets both write prose as well, but when they were asked which of the two they would choose, if someone were to tell them that for the rest of their lives they could only do one or the other, they both replied: 'Poetry.' After all, you don't choose to write poetry, it chooses you!

    On Saturday 18th we discussed imagery in poetry, based on Pierre Reverdy's statement that the image is born from a juxtaposition of two more or less distant realities. The greater the distance, the more interesting the image gets - as long as we don't lose the truth of it! Laura encouraged us to put unlikely things together and, if it doesn't immediately work out, to allow things to mate and gestate in a drawer.

    Another timely reminder as I go through bouts of ranting and confessional poetry was that you cannot 'express yourself' in poetry. Rather, it's about a journey of self-discovery, working things out during the course of a poem, allowing it to surprise you (and the reader). I loved Laura's insistence on concrete, sensory details rather than abstract concepts and nouns. Quoting from Borges, she told us: 'Every detail is an omen and a cause' and that we may well find out that we describe things in different ways at different points in our life, as our irrational, subconscious works its magic on the world around us. Laura proved to be a great believer in the craft of prose and the inspiration of poetry. Although you do have to edit your poems, she warned us that 'I know I'm done with a poem when I pull out the thesaurus and start looking too hard for a different word.'

    The masterclass on Sunday was intense and exhilarating. When else do you get a chance to discuss poems all day with a group of 13 like-minded people? You learn so much not just from having your own poems dissected and edited (and, occasionally, partly admired), but also from other poets' images and from their attempts to convey certain thoughts or sensations. Laura proved to be the ideal workshop facilitator, always encouraging, warm and positive.

    I left the Genevois weekend feeling nourished, nurtured, reinvigorated, full of renewed passion for words and poetry, bursting to the seams with ideas and the courage to try them out.

    This is what keeps so many of us coming back to the events organised by the Geneva Writers' Group, even though we have moved away from the area. There is a magic in such a diverse group of people, with perhaps only one thing in common: an all-consuming passion for the written and spoken word.

  • 20 Jul 2016 5:55 PM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    Alice Baudat was born in Chicago but now lives in Switzerland with her family and a few furry four-pawed friends. She has published two books set in a small town in the mountains (which reminded me a little of Joanne Harris' Chocolat)  and is well-known within the GWG community for her delightful, humorous drawings. You can find Alice online at her website and, as you might be able to tell from her answers below, she has a dry sense of humour, as well as being rather modest about her work.

    Where did your love of books/storytelling/writing come from?

    My fourth grade teacher told the class to write a book. This was the only English lesson I got right! George and the Mushroom Men was the title of my first book (I married George).

    What sort of writing do you do and why?

    Fiction because it sparkles.

    Who or what inspires you?

    Inspiration comes in a flash, anywhere-anytime. I have many favorite authors.

    Tell us a little bit about your publishing journey.

    A long road never finished but then worth the painful and rewarding journey of a real book.

    What do you enjoy most about writing?

    Sitting in my corner-and pulling the strings of my make believe world. Fictional life is a puppet show.

    What do you find most difficult about writing?

    Getting it right-making the words feel good-and then deciding to stop and go ahead.

    What is your writing routine?

    Afternoon, my dog in her basket and a cup of tea for revival.

    How did you hear of GWG and how has it helped your writing?

    From a friend of a friend-everyone who writes needs to know another writer. 

    What (if anything) has surprised you most since publishing your first book?

    The plain fact that this hunk of paper is REAL. And a dream has become reality and there are more dreams to come.

    What advice would you give to new writers?

    Just sit down and write-keep note of your inspirations-and don't feel that you have no talent because everyone that works with words does it in their own way not like the writer next-door. And don't give up. 

  • 05 Jul 2016 5:23 PM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

    Anne Korkeakivi is an American writer, who has worked for many years as a journalist, but chose to focus on fiction after coming to France. Her first novel, An Unexpected Guest, was published by Little, Brown & Co. in 2012 and garnered comparisons to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Her second novel, Shining Sea, will come out also from Little, Brown on the 9th of August this year.

    Anne is currently based in Geneva with her family. She is not a GWG member but does occasionally attend our conferences and other events. You can find her online at her website, on Facebook, on Twitter and Instagram.

    Where did your love of books/storytelling/writing come from?

    I’ve always been a bookworm and a storyteller. When I was a little girl, four or five years old, all long braids and freckles, I’d lie in bed at night and tell myself continuing stories, each night a new episode. It came naturally. Happily for me, my parents were readers; their bookshelves were a treasure trove, heavy with work by the likes of Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf.

    What sort of writing do you do and why?

    I write literary fiction. For many years I worked as a journalist, and I also still occasionally write essays and articles. Literary fiction and journalistic nonfiction are my favorite things to read as well--although I enjoy and read other genres too--which may not be unrelated.

    Who or what inspires you? 

    One interesting truth of writing is both love and anger, and both beauty and horror can provide inspiration. History, news, nature, human beings – there’s inspiration everywhere.

    Tell us a little bit about your publishing journey.

    While I’ve always written fiction in spare hours and I earned an MA in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, for many years I made my living with nonfiction, contributing to different publications in the US and UK: the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times, etc. I occasionally wrote book reviews but mostly I wrote about the other arts, travel, or culture.

    At some point after I’d become a mother and moved to France for my husband’s work, time and geographical constraints told me I had to make a choice between these two poles—fiction and nonfiction. I decided to gamble. I took a freelance editing job with a publisher in Paris and gave myself one year without working as a journalist to teach myself to write effective fiction. In the eleventh month, I received my first acceptance of a short story for publication.

    I continued writing short stories until I felt ready to start on a novel. I worked hard, completed a solid draft, and found a wonderful agent in NY to represent it. 

    What do you enjoy most about writing?

    If you mean what part of the process: when I’m deep inside a story, when the story has become its own world, and I’m reaching into it, discovering.

    What do you find most difficult about writing?

    I suppose when I’m not deep within a story. Being between stories leaves me dangling.

    What is your writing routine?

    Writing is my profession, so my writing routine is similar to other 9-5 work routines, except that my office is in my home, I’m alone, and the hours are longer. I get to my desk by 9 am at the latest and stay there as long as I can uninterrupted. I don’t usually break for lunch but, because I’m a mom and because I work at home, my days can also involve, for example, helping my kids with whatever is going on in their lives or talking with a plumber. I typically save the actual writing of fiction for days when I expect to have a longer period of uninterrupted time. On other days, I might edit already written work, do research, work on nonfiction, social media or emails. A couple of times a week, I’ll take an hour out for a run, an excellent way to clear my head.

    When I have a book (or article/short story) coming up for publication, my hours really go haywire, however, because my agent and publisher are based in the US, six hours behind us here in Geneva. I can be back at my desk responding to email requests, for example, well after midnight. It’s completely worth it, though. I’m not complaining!

    How did you hear of GWG and how has it helped your writing (if it has)?

    When I learned I was moving to Geneva, a friend of mine in Paris, who had attended a GWG conference, told me about Susan Tiberghien, Susan is a really cool lady, my friend told me. That’s an understatement. I’m not a member of the GWG, but I have attended a couple of the conferences now myself. They were super. I like to think of myself as an enthusiastic, if off-stage, GWG advocate. No matter where you are as a writer, from just starting out to making your living from it, the encouragement and shared knowledge of a supportive community is invaluable.

    What (if anything) has surprised you most since publishing your first book?

    The practical process of publishing a novel was a non-stop learning experience for me; the period from manuscript submission to appearing on the shelves of bookstores is more labyrinthine and requires more continued participation from the author than I had understood. It has given me even more respect for publishing houses. I feel honored to be a part of what they do, as an author.

    Some of the nicest surprises post-publication have been the people who went out of their way to champion An Unexpected Guest. Getting the word out on a novel takes the support of others, and the individuals who showed up for readings and bought books, posted on social media, proposed my work to their book group, blogged about it, wrote nice reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, gave copies for Christmas presents, etcetera, were my heroes. It wasn’t always the people I would have expected either. So, while there have been some deep disappointments, there have also been the loveliest of surprises. I send huge thanks in advance to anyone who does the same for Shining Sea now!

    What advice would you give to new writers?

    Try reading like a writer, and work very hard. When you think you’re done, take a moment to celebrate--and then ask yourself whether you may well have only just started. But don’t give up!

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