Chronicles of a writer abroad


Some thoughts on writing workshops

Our awesome Craft of Fiction group at the Paris Writers Workshop (Photo via CoreyMP)

I don’t often post about writing-related things in this space, mostly because I’m aware that my readers are, for the most part, not writers. But when a new friend that I met at the Paris Writers Workshop offered me a chance to spout my opinions about workshops on her blog, which is dedicated to writing, I jumped at it. If you happen to be interested in the topic, head on over to my post on Corey’s blog. And if you are a writer, you might want to stay tuned to the site — it’s full of interesting and thought-provoking content.



A mountain retreat

At times, it’s easy for Stelian and I to get caught up in everyday life in Zürich, and forget that we’re living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. But recently we took a few days out to remind ourselves of just that. We traveled to Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland, using this as our base for the two-night stay. During the day we hiked, and we were rewarded with jaw-dropping mountain views, fields full of alpine flowers, and a chance to make friends with the bovine (and ovine!) animals of the region. Not to mention the great food and impeccably clean washrooms. I’m pretty sure Switzerland has officially spoiled our true enjoyment of any country that will come after it. Here are some pictures from our getaway…hope you enjoy them!

A valley crowned by mountains and dotted with cows

Some of whom were interested in watching us pass by…

And of course Stelian discovered that they like to be petted.

They also pose pretty strikingly at times. Exhibit A…

And Exhibit B

Here, Stelian pets the black sheep of Switzerland, to whom we can sometimes relate…

There were white ones too, of course…this was a lively, attention-seeking bunch.

Moving on to pure mountain porn…

We just hang around all the time, looking like this. No big deal.

On the last day we were hiking a trail along the North Face of the Eiger, and I was wearing my North Face windbreaker. There was a lot of cold wind, which the jacket was protecting me from. In that moment it was all making sense.


A week in Paris

So, I didn’t fall in love with Paris at first sight. Nor did I realize we were meant for each other the second time I went. On my third visit, I still failed to swoon, but I did begin to better understand and appreciate the city’s diversity. I realized that while I don’t so much enjoy being a tourist in Paris (given my aversion to crowds and lines), it could be nice to live in a city where work-eat-sleep routines are punctuated by feasts for the eyes, ears and taste buds. For me, Paris’ charm lies in the man who stands up from his seat to preach salvation through Jesus the moment the metro doors have snapped shut; in the saxophone music issuing from another car as I exit the train; in the sense that dessert is sometimes obligatory; and in art that is unexpected and whimsical.

For my week’s stay, I rented a small (small enough that there was considerable toe-stubbing) apartment in the 15th arrondissement. From there, my commuting options to the American University of Paris, where the workshop was held, were either a 40-minute walk which took me right past the Eiffel tower, or a 10-minute metro ride. I did a mixture of walking and metro-ing during the week, and while the former was lovely, it was being sardined with office workers in a stinky, humid metro car that made me think, “Look at me! Comme une vraie Parisienne!”

The Eiffel Tower pops up unexpectedly

The workshop itself was great. Our instructor for the morning master class was, in addition to being an accomplished writer, also a very gifted teacher. He arranged our five days of class around five core themes: Structure and plot; consciousness and thought; dialogue; description; and narrative. Each of the twelve participants had submitted a manuscript in advance, and certain of them were chosen to be discussed each day to tie in with the given theme. I have left other workshops feeling deflated, but I came away from this one full of ideas about how to revise my piece, and excited to try out some newly learned techniques.

A week was also long enough for friendships to form among the participants. By midweek the excellent Café Constant, near the AUP and quite affordable at midday, had been deemed “our place” for lunch; in the evening we ate crepes — both sweet and savoury, the latter being a revelation to me — discussed books and writing, and walked around the city. Here are some of us at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, a place I had long dreamed of visiting but hadn’t made it to on previous visits to Paris:

Since the workshop finished on Friday but the apartment rental lasted through Sunday, Stelian came to stay the weekend. Together we spent some time poking around the Marais district and the Porte de Vanves flea market. We considered buying a lamp made to look like a robot before we learned its shockingly high price, and we went to the combined museums of Magic and Automation, where I had the dubious honour of being the only non-child selected by the magician to take part in a trick during the “spectacular,” or magic show.

At the Porte de Vanves flea market

All in all, I had a great week away, and I will continue to savour my third taste of Paris, that bustling, glittering, maddeningly unpredictable city. As always, though, I breathed a sigh of relief upon coming back to Zürich, where things are wonderfully clean and quiet, and where I revel in simple pleasures like running through the city’s forests and drinking my beloved pasture milch.