It’s not hard to imagine how Mary Shelley conceived the idea for Frankenstein at Lord Byron’s villa in Cologny during the summer of 1816. This beautifully situated house tucked into a slope above Lac Leman would inspire many an artistic soul. It has been said that incessant stormy weather, along with discussions among Byron and his guests about science and Darwin (and even a little bit of friendly competition) during that summer also provided fuel for the concoction of this gruesome character.
Today, Geneva has not lost its muse-like status and the English-writing community “is (very much) alive!” There may no longer be a “Byron” limping down hallways looking for a good ghost story, but there are several excellent venues and opportunities for writers to to learn, brush up on or dust off those science-fiction, fiction or non-fiction skills – whether at the beginning of the writing journey or already penning tomorrow’s classic.
The American International Women’s Club (AIWC) has a writing workshop that has been in existence since the late 70s. Started by a dedicated group of writing women, today allAIWC members who want to share their writing in a supportive and relaxed environment are welcome. The group meets once a month and topics are provided to act as springboards into the imagination, but participants can choose to write on any topic of interest to them. The pieces are read aloud and then gently critiqued by other members of the group. Once a year (or sometimes every other year) this group comes out with an anthology –Voices – consisting of their best works from that year. Membership to the AIWC is mandatory, so naturally, this group is for women (and members) only.
Another vibrant organization is the GWG (Geneva Writers Group) which uses a facility near the Intercontinental Hotel. Open to writers (men and women) of all levels, lectures are given once a month on Saturday mornings followed by optional reading/critiquing periods during the afternoons. Guest speakers, conferences and summer retreats are often organized and calls for submissions and information about many other writing courses, workshops and readings are also shared. There is a fee for each lecture attended in addition to a yearly membership fee and one can join at any time. The GWG also publishes a collection of writing from its members. Offshoots comes out every other year. Definitely a place to network and be inspired.
The Library in English, on rue Monthoux (annexed on to the Emmanuel Church across the street from the Kempinski Hotel) also has a writers’ workshop connected to it. Membership to the library is mandatory (but if you’re a writer this can only be a good thing). It follows a similar structure to the AIWC group and is open to men and women.
Coming up on October 11, at the AIWC (starting at 18:00), Romanian poet/author Carmen Bugan will read from her latest book, Burying the Typewriter, a childhood memoir about life in Romania under the Ceausescu regime. It has received rave reviews from the Guardian, the Literary Times, the Sunday Times and the Boston Globe, and was read as “book of the week” on BBC Radio 4 in July 2012.
Seats are still available for this reading and books are on sale at both the AIWC and at Payot (Chantepoulet). Open to all, this is an opportunity to hear a story about a brave family who struggled, risked (and lost) their freedom to stand up for the rights of ordinary Romanian citizens and to talk with the author about this experience. Contact the AIWC for more information or to reserve. There is a CHF 15 entrance fee for the reading (which includes wine and hors d’oeuvres).
I may not have it in me to write the next “great______novel”, but my enthusiasm for writing has grown tremendously since arriving here 11 years ago. I’ve participated in these groups and have learned from all of them. I’ve seen many go on to publish and/or launch interesting projects through their writings while living in Geneva. For Byron, Shelley and many others – myself included, there must be something about spending time near the shores of Lake Geneva that brings the “inner writer” (no matter how dormant) to life.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/.