Books and Crowds at Salon du Livre Geneva

The 30th Salon du Livre in Geneva took place from the 27th of April to the 1st of May. Although one of the biggest Swiss press groups Ringier and the Swiss broadcasting corporation have pulled out of the Salon du Livre in Geneva this year, claiming that it’s too expensive to rent a stand and that the impact upon audience or reader figures is negligible, roughly 100 000 visitors beg to disagree with that.

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The Salon has lost the ‘international’ in its title, but still brings a fair number of authors from all around the world. This year the country focus was Tunisia, but there were plenty of other non-Swiss, non-French language events. For instance, there was a special Paulo Coelho exhibition and talk given by the famously reclusive Brazilian author. There is an African ‘salon’ and an Arabic ‘pavilion’, a large English language bookseller, plus all sorts of cultural associations within Switzerland (Armenian, Serb, Spanish, Chinese) – and of course the Geneva Writers’ Group was there too, for all those reading and writing in English.

It is not a trade fair, but much more a ‘get to love books’ event, targeted at families and schools and the general reading public.

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I didn’t see as many big names this year (or at least not ones I was interested in), but I did get to hear the wonderfully articulate and enthusiastic Dany Laferrière, first black author in the French Academy. He also signed a book for me (and drew a flower, bless him!)

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There were a number of famous BD illustrators present, including a special exhibition dedicated to the Swiss claim to fame: the unruly teenager Titeuf.

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It was not all about books. There were a lot of musical and comedy events, particularly in the Le Cercle tented area, which had the atmosphere of a jazz club. Well, a well-lit, immaculate jazz club of the Swiss persuasion…

A polar bear bemoaning global warming.
A polar bear bemoaning global warming.

The emphasis is most firmly on interactivity. The Factory this year was designed like a house, with each room in a different colour and theme, where you could share your selfies, your worst nightmare, your superpower, your great secret etc.

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Of course, there were plenty of places to eat and rest, and the beloved Swiss cow had to be present somewhere as well.

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I didn’t manage to attend any conferences in full, but I did catch the odd 5 minutes here and there. And I got a hug from Alain Mabanckou, who was looking very dapper in a bright blue suit and a hat.

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There were fewer craft sections than last year, but there were some beautiful decorations and art objects everywhere. How could I resist these Niki de Saint Phalle women dancers?

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In my next post I’ll also tell you about how I fell in love with the art and rare books stand next to ours…

Literary Festival on Lake Geneva

Le Livre sur les quais is a relatively unknown literary festival taking place on the banks of Lake Geneva, in the small Swiss town of Morges (near Lausanne). It started in 2010 with just 180 mainly Swiss local writers (a friend of mine who lives in Morges referred to that first year somewhat unkindly as ‘all cook books, tourist guides and crafts manuals’). However, in its 5th year, it has expanded to 362 authors, including many international authors (particularly English-speaking, to satisfy the large expat community in the area). Each year there is an honorary president –  a well-known French-speaking author (last year it was Tatiana de Rosnay, this year it was Daniel Pennac – and a different geographical region is invited to be the ‘guest of honour’. In 2011 it was Quebec, Belgian Walloon region in 2012, last year it was Rhone-Alpes and this year it was Tessin – the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

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This is a book festival for both fiction and non-fiction fans, for all genres, for all ages, and for quite a few languages. There is a huge book tent on the lakeside, where you can buy your books (at exorbitant Swiss ‘exchange rates, where 15 euros becomes 31.50 francs) and get them signed by the authors when they are not at a conference. There are said conferences, either individual or panel discussions, workshops, films, wine and food tasting, art exhibitions, concerts and, above all, the boat trips with readings. What better way to spend a sunny September weekend than cruising on Lake Geneva listening to Daniel Pennac read from his many novels, Luc Ferry ponder philosophical and ethical issues and Philipp Meyer debating the New Great American Novel with Donald Ray Pollock? Oh, and did I say that all of the events (except for the cruises) are free and that most of them don’t even require pre-registration?

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morges.ch

Swiss and French-speaking authors are of course predominant, but there were many authors that were interesting to me as an English speaker. These authors would have been mobbed at a literary festival in the UK – Nathan Filer, Naomi Wood, Louise Doughty, Douglas Kennedy, Andy McNab, Val McDermid, Jo Baker, Caroline Lawrence and Peter Robinson – but here they were mostly subjected to relentless button-holing by us expats, who kept telling them how much we’d enjoyed their books.

It is also a great opportunity to become acquainted with the up-and-coming authors, or those writing in other languages who have not been translated yet into English. This was a common complaint: many authors told me they had been translated into German, Italian, Swedish, Turkish, Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian etc. etc., but not into English. This made me wonder just how ‘big’ or ‘wealthy’ the publishing business is in those small countries and languages, that they can ‘afford’ to translate so much. And not just from well-known American or English authors.

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lacote.ch

While French readers were queuing for autographs in front of Katherine Pancol,  an author who writes what I would describe ‘soap opera with designer gear’ (I could not finish her book), I got to meet and have proper conversations with far more quirky and interesting authors whose books I bought (as I mentioned yesterday) or Pedro Lenz, who writes in Swiss German dialect, and Matthias Zschokke, born and raised in Switzerland but now living in Berlin, or the very candid and delightful debut novelist Lottie Moggach, whose book on online identity sounds both chilling and fascinating. (And yes, she was asked about the benefits but also the disadvantages of having a famous writer as a mother.)

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Beautiful weather (to make up for the miserable summer we’ve been having in this area) and good coffee and cakes contributed to this perfect day, as well as bumping into many friends and fellow writers from the Geneva Writers Group. In fact, many of them were running their own workshops on characterization, life writing, translations. I think it’s a given that I’ll be attending next year too!

Finally, here are a few choice quotes from the sessions I attended:

I don’t think you make a conscious choice of writing a ‘classic’ or writing a book that sells. Those authors who have written classics were not aware that they were writing classics at the time. After all, if you only sell five copies, no matter how good your book is, does it have a chance to become a classic? (Louise Doughty)

It was torture writing my book, but nice to have it written. (Nathan Filer)

I stuck to a proportion of about 90% fact and 10% fiction in my depiction of Hemingway’s life and loves, and I was afraid I would be scourged by Hemingway experts, but in the end if you are writing fiction, you need to give yourself the licence to get away from the facts. (Naomi Wood)

I don’t find it easy to write, nor do I feel a compulsion to write every day, so for a long time I thought that meant that I wasn’t a real writer. (Lottie Moggach)

I originally wrote this book in English and contacted a publisher in the US. They were initially very enthusiastic, until they discovered my age. All of my previous novels counted for nothing. They all want young and healthy writers, who can reliably produce a book a year for a long stint. (Mary Anna Barbey)

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24heures.ch