Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Au Revoir, Genève

The Schynige Platte: a nice spot
for some writing
For two and a half years, I have spent my days tidying stories in a turret. I have lived in a wood-panelled room – a land-locked ship’s cabin, I like to think – and I have watched the drifting of the clouds and the phases of the moon through the windows above my head. I have walked to a market each Sunday, or else taken a tiny orange train up a hillside to visit my cousin and his family. I have explored: cities, lakes, woods, summer mountains on foot, winter mountains on skis. I have become used to the unfamiliar, not just languages and cultures that aren’t my own, but the sound of church bells in the morning, the smell of cooking cheese or vin chaud in the street, the sight of little old men walking giant chess pieces around giant chessboards in the park… Reflecting on it all like this, I realise how wonderful and strange my time in Switzerland has been, almost like something from a story in itself. And now it is coming to an end - as all stories must.

I have always been driven by the desire to write – and the hope that writing could one day make up the bulk of my income. My Literary Consultant job here has been fantastic, but now I have the opportunity to put aside the editing and administration and concentrate on freelance ghostwriting and my own stories. And I know the place to do that is not in this charmed but expensive and faraway city, but in my beloved Edinburgh – my home, to which it is time to return.

View of Grand Rue, Geneva Old Town, the street on which I've lived and worked

Despite feeling fairly confident about this decision, it's breaking my heart a little, leaving Geneva while I'm having such a good time. I think perhaps it would help to dwell on the negative: the endless bureaucracy here, for example; the lack of sea; the customer service that borders on abuse. But I can’t. Switzerland, despite its reputation as a rather twee and snoozy little country, is an extraordinary place - not least for the fact its people once had the bright idea of dipping bread in booze and melted cheese. 

The mighty Matterhorn
It's also beautiful. I remember learning about  nature inspiring feelings of the sublime when studying Gothic literature at university, and I have felt that sensation again and again in Switzerland. When I hiked around the Schynige Platte above Interlaken last summer, or under the Matterhorn’s domineering shadow in early Autumn, the sights made my heart soar. I think I now understand why Julie Andrews went twirling off towards that mountainous horizon singing all sorts of silliness about musical hills – she just couldn’t keep it in. If you have never been to Switzerland, I urge you to visit at the first possible opportunity.

Of course, it’s people that really complete a place, and I have made some amazing friends out here. Geneva is a transient city, where most only stick around for a few years (or even months), so I’ve been very fortunate in this regard. Whether we’ve been indulging in thimble-sized glasses of wine in expensive bars, or slobbing out in front of TV shows in each other’s apartments; whether we’ve been lounging in the sunshine at the Perle du Lac park, or zooming down ski slopes in the biting cold - my friends and I have experienced this mad and magical place together. 

In many of these friends, and especially in my colleagues, I have also found kindred, creative spirits. We’ve swapped new story ideas, we’ve made colourful spreadsheets of competition deadlines together, we’ve read one another’s fiction – first drafts, fourth drafts, last drafts – and offered our comments. We’ve been there to share in each other’s successes – and commiserated in the face of a few, inevitable setbacks. We even made it official, forming The Pen Poppers writing group for regular practice, feedback and encouragement. As I have said before, writing is such a solitary occupation, I find it best to try and share as much of the process as possible. 

Skiing with my creative colleagues
(and two of my favourite Geneva people), Helen and Elodie

Which leads me onto my writing in Geneva. One of the reasons I want to pursue the next stage of my career in Edinburgh is that I have been a little starved of writing opportunities (as opposed to writing people) in Switzerland. But, in a way, being cut off from the UK literary scene has encouraged me to connect more in cyberspace. In the past few years, I have set up twitter and LinkedIn accounts, dedicated more time to Writer’s Block, completed Nanowrimo twice, joined two Reading Challenges, acquired Goodreads and Amazon author profiles. Now I think about it, I’m not sure I would have made my online presence quite so known, had I not felt far away.

I know I’ll return to Switzerland, both physically and in my writing (I’m already noticing a lot more mountain scenery popping up in my fiction), so I’m sure this is not the last time I’ll talk about my experiences here. But I wanted to get at least some of it down before I went, because I know it’ll seem different in a few weeks, and more different still a year or two down the line. So this is how it is right now, on the brink of leaving Geneva - and this is how I am: happy, grateful, inspired, better organised, more focused, more like a writer, even a little more worldly. And, conversely, because of all that, I'm also ready to go.

Jumping for joy at the top of Mont Salève

10 comments:

  1. Such lovely photos for a lovely post. It is sad your time in Geneva is drawing to an end, but a new chapter is ready and waiting for you!

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    1. Thanks lovely Joely - especially for your trusted editorial input. xx

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  2. Lovely blog post Amanda. Sounds like it's been an incredible time - looking forward to meeting you here for a writing chat soon though! x

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    1. Thanks Laura! Can't wait to be Edinburgh freelance buddies xx

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  3. An amazing record of the last two years, inspiring Amanda. I can't wait to see what the future brings you and all those who have shared these magical past two years with you. I love your closing comments, that because of, not despite of, all you've learnt and built yourself up to be here, you're ready to go. What a beautiful compliment and tribute to pay a place you have lived in. I wonder if your name will ever make it onto one of the author placards in the Old Town.. Rousseau needs replacing, he's getting crumbly.. ! Until then, Geneva will miss you xxx

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    1. Ha, poor Rousseau... Thanks for your kind words, H.Pops. I feel very lucky indeed to have gone through so much of this amazing Geneva experience with you. :) xx

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  4. Ah yes, when you're having a great time is always the best (and most heart-breaking!) moment to leave a place! What beautiful memories you'll be both taking with you and leaving behind with those who've shared some of your journey. I'll look forward to scanning for references to familiar mountain scenery in all your future fiction! Very best of luck, fun and adventure. x

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  5. Thanks, Michelle, you expat expert! And I'm glad to know this bittersweet feeling is normal(ish). Really looking forward to keeping in touch and reading more on your blog. xx

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  6. Really enjoyed reading about your time in Geneva Amanda. Have to say, I'm a little envious of you heading back to Edinburgh. I'm sure now you've had some time away, it'll be the perfect place for you to carry on with your writing. Good luck with everything. Hopefully see you soon! x

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    1. Thanks, Ally! I hope you're enjoying your own adventures in Canada! xx

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