Padraig Rooney spent the best part of 40 years outside his native Ireland and lives in Switzerland. He has published three collections of poetry and won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Poetry Business Award, the Strokestown International Poetry Prize and the 2012 Listowel Poem Award. His work is anthologised in Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry (Viking), Haiku World and The Haiku Seasons (Kodansha), and his short stories appear in Best Irish Short Stories 2 & 3 (Paul Elek).

padraig rooney

Image courtesy: Padraig Rooney

I’ve read The Gilded Chalet was inspired by a visit to Basel’s Paper Mill and Literary Museum. How did the Earls of Ulster’s journey kick off the idea to explore the relationship between Switzerland and writers?

Clio, muse of history, presides over The Gilded Chalet. In March 2008 there were a number of commemorations in Switzerland and elsewhere, marking the passage of the Earls of Ulster from the Low Countries to Rome in March 1708. They passed through Basel and along the road to Liestal and most likely through the St. Alban Gate, nearby the present Basel Paper Museum. I’m a poet, and I like the way images cohere unexpectedly, bringing together disparate times and events. I’m also an Ulsterman and the sad romance of the end of the old Gaelic order is touching in its political and linguistic ramifications, which the passage of the Earls represents in Irish history. I was brought up a mile from the border during the Troubles, my father was an Irish speaker, and so there was a certain allegiance to a now rather old-fashioned Gaelicism.

You’ve a passion for writers and their locations in a wider sense. What’s at the heart of your interest? The influence of location on their work, their perceptions of the place or is it driven by your own exploratory nature?

I think because I’ve travelled quite a bit myself, I tend to assume place is central to the experience of exile. It may not be. Many of the writers in The Gilded Chalet were exiled in one way or another, and in search of a home. In Irish literature the fashionable term for exiled writers is the diaspora. For Russians at the beginning of the last century, it was the émigré life of Berlin and Paris. Switzerland still seems to me to be a very multicultural place, where people from all over the world congregate and communicate in several languages. It’s not just one homogenous culture, which island nations tend to veer towards.

I left Ireland after graduating in 1976 and haven’t much lived there since. I’ve always been attracted to travel, the details of place, to negotiating the world in several languages—second nature to me now. I do like a good, detailed, particularised setting in fiction, rendered in a painterly way. When there’s a description of a meal, as a reader I want to know what’s on the menu. I like the particulars.

You cover a huge time period in The Gilded Chalet and provide insights into the writers’ private lives as much as their writing. How far was your intention to add a human level to some of our literary icons?

Gossip is an underrated activity. The danger with this kind of book is to make it overly academic—there are enough of those—so some ‘human level’ as you put it, alleviates the tedium of academe. Maybe even a low human level. Byron with his boys and Rousseau with his kids farmed off to the workhouse, present interesting opportunities to showcase canonical writers, warts and all. Nabokov couldn’t have afforded to spend 16 years in the Montreux Palace Hotel without the cash from the sales of Lolita and from Kubrick’s movie adaptation. The fact that John le Carré was recruited as a spy in Switzerland and is the son of a con man, is no minor matter as regards the direction his fiction has taken him. There are certain dangers in keeping literature in the province of academia, with its critical-reverential approach.

Humour, too, tends to pull down icons: that is a good thing. I wish more people would use humour against the pervasive business culture, executive culture, celebrity culture of our time. These are our new vulgarians for Mammon.

gilded chalet, Padraig Rooney cover image

Cover: The Gilded Chalet Padraig Rooney

When we met in Geneva, I’d just had a lively debate on the subject of academia and the dangers of educators getting stuck in ‘transmit’ mode. Yet you, as a head of an English Department, seem to actively seek the experience of learning, be it travel or researching other authors’ work. Do you make a conscious effort to keep ‘curious’?

Much of education these days is in ‘deliverology’ mode—to borrow a term recently used in the London Review of Books—a mode patented by Tony Blair. The ideology of business has in the past 40 years moved into areas traditionally regarded as hands-off—water, education, health, patenting seeds. The wonderful Noam Chomsky has been writing about this recently too with regard to the use of non-tenured faculty in American universities: the culture of temps. I give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s. Caesar is going to steal from you anyway, so you can short-change him now and again! I have to fight for my time and I’m curious by nature.

Much of The Gilded Chalet got written between six and eight in the morning, and then I went into homeroom. It used to be that academia or teaching were favourable occupations for writers but I think that’s no longer the case, and hasn’t been the case for several decades. There’s a lot of fluff talked about fostering creativity in schools. It’s the bottom line which increasingly rules; fluff comes cheap.

A poet, journalist, author and photographer have different constraints/freedoms. Can you hop easily between roles or are they strictly separate? Where do they blend?

The late writer W. G. Sebald pioneered a blend between those formerly distinct modes or genres, and good travel writing that partakes of journalism and a poetic sense. I find that I didn’t write much, if any, poetry while working on The Gilded Chalet. I just didn’t have enough energy. Poetry requires pressure from the poem—you can’t will it into being. Many bad poems come from merely being exercises of the intellect. Poetry is also about waiting, whereas prose can be got on with, a thousand words a day, until you have a draft. So, personally, I wasn’t able to hop easily between them.

padraig pic

You’re a border man. Growing up just on the border of Northern Ireland and now living in Basel, right on the hub of three countries, what effect does that have on a sense of identity?

The fashionable lit-crit jargon for that is liminality, but “a border man” sounds great to my ear. I love moving between the butter people and the olive people, from north to south, and back again. One of my uncles was a small-time smuggler across the Northern Ireland border, and my mother smuggled butter into the South all the time—it was considerably cheaper in the North, and she had five children. So the world of smuggling has a certain appeal in borderland, even in Switzerland.

The rich always sort things to their own advantage, that’s why they’re rich, and Switzerland is a good place for a poor little writer to observe that arrangement, that sleight of hand.

One of my favourite quotes is from Bob Dylan: “Steal a little and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king.” I’m writing this in the week the Panama Papers have revealed how the rich and famous smuggle, steal and launder. It’s an imaginative terrain—John le Carré wrote a novel called The Tailor of Panama and Graham Greene tackled Panama somewhat in Getting to Know the General. The rich always sort things to their own advantage, that’s why they’re rich, and Switzerland is a good place for a poor little writer to observe that arrangement, that sleight of hand.

I sometimes miss, too, the particular language of the border counties, the accent and diction of my parents, surrounded as I am by Anglo-Americanism or globlish. I miss the linguistic pattering of my childhood: bits of Ulster Scots, Gaelic inflections in the English, countrified pronunciation. I sometimes hear the clichés and ready-made phrases of mid-Atlantic English as a vulgar tide, swamping everything.

If you could bring back three characters from The Gilded Chalet for a round-the-table discussion with yourself, who would you choose?

I’m not sure all three would work round the same table together, so perhaps individually. I’d like to have a coffee with Annemarie Schwarzenbach because I’m translating some of her journalism about 1937-8 New Deal America at the moment. She travelled to the American South at a time of labour unrest and segregation. We might talk about the death of the left, about the current state of American politics. I don’t think Vladimir Nabokov would be very chatty, with nothing off the cuff, but I’ve been a fan of his writing for a long time and would like to hear his rolling, preening accent in English. Finally, if I sat down with Anthony Burgess I could thank him for a kind review he gave of one of my short stories back in 1976. Late, but better late than never.


Edmund White described The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland as “a superbly amusing guide to all the writers who’ve been drawn to or emerged from Switzerland”.

Read more:


Three conversations, three writers.

One old friend, one new friend and one brand new acquaintance.

The question came up, as it does.

What are you writing?


Brand New Acquaintance sketched a nascent idea which had me bouncing in my seat. New Friend, best known for non-fiction, went into detail about his brilliant fiction premise. Old Friend, with every reason to keep her work under wraps, shared her plans and filled me with excitement.

“Write it! Write it NOW!”

I’ve interviewed a lot of people and usually avoid the obvious, unanswerable question. But I still wanted to ask all three…


Where do your ideas come from?


Looking through my recent reading, the stimulus for the story is sometimes clear.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, recently filmed as Carol, sprang from a personal experience. In her Afterword, Highsmith explains how she extended, extrapolated and invented an entire novel based on one moment in a department store.

A story rises from the springs of creation, from the pure will to be; it tells itself; it takes its own course, finds its own way, its own words; and the writer’s job is to be its medium. – Ursula Le Guin


Helen Fitzgerald’s Viral is based on a news story, an insight into the human impact of public shame. Her curiosity for the darker stories and impact on human interactions is the basis of much of her work.  I interviewed Helen, where she describes being allured to ‘a wonky mind’.

Ideas of every kind are constantly galloping toward us, constantly pass through us, constantly trying to get our attention. – Elizabeth Gilbert


Thematic links, such as musical moments in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, or suicide in Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down create meaning via the structure. Exploring a politicial issue creates furious not-quite-fiction such as John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener or so many works by Henning Mankell.

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if…? – Neil Gaiman

feb snow 3

Ideas can come from anywhere. Stephen King says he dreamed the basic plot for Misery. While I’ve often used an atmosphere of a dream, I’ve rarely managed to work Roquefort-for-supper surrealism into a plot. Apart from this peculiar short – not for the faint of heart. The Reservation

If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often. It’s a mysterious condition. It’s much like the life of a Catholic nun. You’re married to a mystery. – Leonard Cohen

Writerly friends answered the question with varying degrees of precision. I understand. An idea is just that. An idea. Not a story, not a novel, not a TV series. An idea is only the start. Example: in 2005, I had a brilliant idea for a kind of glove for picking up wombats but do you think I can get a patent?

Ideas are seeds, to be shaped, tended, nurtured and pruned. A good idea is a good start. But then the work begins. Because the world is full of shrivelled, undeveloped ideas such as The Wombat Glove.

Frances di Plino once asked me where my own ideas came from. For once, I was honest.

Dreams, Grazia magazine, intangible atmosphere, three blokes in a Bristol Post Office, deepest fears, London Review of Books, reflections in a puddle, Brecon High School’s library, overheard conversations, Aphex Twin, the personality of a city, Eddie Izzard, past conditionals, John Knapp Fisher, long journeys, and Celtic gravestones.- JJ Marsh

It’s a question writers get asked all the time and as many answers exist as there are stories. But of all I have read, this one may be my favourite.


I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Über Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock fixed. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people, and I get my ideas from them. – Dr Seuss

Update: David Lynch on ‘The Other Room’.

First post of the New Year is from Angela Weinberger, on why and how she chose to self-publish her non-fiction work “The Global Mobility Handbook”. Angela is a professional self-starter who takes risks and shares the lessons learned. I’m delighted she’s agreed to appear as a guest poster with words of wisdom on publishing.


Headshot Angela WeinbergerSelf-publishing sounds like the ideal solution to many dilemmas self-employed consultants, trainers and coaches. A publication gets your name out there, establishes you as an expert in your field and differentiates you from other players in the market. What a lot of us underestimate though is the challenge of working with clients while at the same time running a book project. With this post I would like to raise your awareness to five challenges I came across when I self-published books in the past.


Why I decided to self-publish:

For me the main reason to self-publish “The Global Mobility Workbook – A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing International Assignments“ was speed-to-market. Once I had drafted the book I wanted to use it in trainings and refer to it. I did not want to wait another year until the book was out there. I had only approached one publisher and their feedback indicated that the book was too academic for them and not sellable. In the year before I had experimented with publishing a novella and understood how Kindle Desktop Publishing (KDP) works to a large extent. I thought I should give it a go keeping in mind that it could always be re-published by an established publisher later.

What I underestimated were five challenges and I thought it might help you to read about these so you are better prepared than I was.


1) Professional look-and-feel of your end product

One of the reputations self-publishing has is that you find a lot of badly written and even less well-edited books out there in the sea of electronic publications. This might be true. You have to invest a lot of time and money to make your publication look as professional as if it had been published with a well-known publisher. It is important that the editing, typesetting, artwork and all graphs and images are well done. You have to work with professional typesetters, editors and graphic designers to get that professional look-and-feel.

2) Investments before you make your first Euro or Franc

My upfront investment was about 3’000 CHF (around 3’000 EUR). I only work with professionals I know well. If your editor lives in Switzerland their rates are higher than anywhere else in the world. I also paid for artwork, graphics, typesetting, converting files and ISBN numbers. For me the investment was worthwhile because I got a lot of consulting work due to the book. However, you first of all have to have this amount of cash in your company or pocket. In another project I ran out of money mid-project, had to start with a new editor and probably will spend around 5’000 CHF before the book is published. As a self-publisher you have a higher royalty than if you work with a traditional publisher but you need to consider the upfront investment.

3) US Tax issues limiting your access to global platforms

Assuming you will decide to publish an ebook through a platform such as Kindle Desktop Publishing you will need to fill a few forms to ensure you are not liable for US Tax. KDP has a great process but another platform made it so complicated that when I got a letter from the IRS in the US (sent by post to Switzerland) and they requested further information by post, I gave up the process.

4) Technical hiccups

During the process of publishing an ebook you might come across technical hiccups. A famous one is the linked table of content. You need to have a graphic designer with programming skills who can help you through such technical challenges even if you are technologically savvy. A good tip is to read books on ebook publishing before you start editing your manuscript as a lot of formatting is required for ebooks. My persistence on this matter worked well for a text-based novella but for my workbook we needed a lot of tables and graphics. I gave this task to a graphic designer. You might want to read the KDP style guide beforehand.

5)  Managing a wild bunch of involved artists

It can feel a bit like in a circus when you are managing a bunch of involved artists across the globe for your project. Especially challenging when not all of them speak English and when you don’t sit in the same room to discuss graphics or editing rules. You might also need to agree rules of the game before leaving the manuscript stage. I have a rather high standard of English but sometimes I apply rules from German grammar and I cannot get used to certain style elements in English because they are contrary to German style. I recommend you work with the same team for different projects as with every book the team gets more adjusted to the process and has a better alignment too.

I recommend you read books on how to self-publish, such as the “Triskele Trail”, a book on self-publishing from Triskele to everyone who considers self-publishing ebooks and books on demand.


Angela Weinberger is a Global Mobility Expert and an Intercultural Career Advisor. She worked in Human Resources and Global Mobility during her corporate career. She started out on her own with Global People Transitions in 2012.




ALLi Ambassador for SwitzerlandIf you’re an indie author who takes the role seriously, you probably already know about ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors).

I joined right at the start and am so relieved I did. ALLi is a non-profit organisation which offers a whole range of benefits. Advice, worldclass advisors, free online seminars, workshops, IndieRecon Conference & member Q&A Sessions,  free legal/contracts advice, help selling translation & TV & film rights, a searchable imagesAuthor Database, useful contacts in publishing, a Services Watchdog, a Publishing Services Directory, support for cooperative ventures, a global audience, free Self-Publishing Guides, quality Self-Publishing resources, Crowdfunding tips, campaigns on behalf of all indies, a commitment to quality standards, great discounts and opportunities to participate on larger platforms.

The Ethical Author campaign, of which I’m an enthusiastic supporter, encourages ALLi authors to behave with principles and decency at all times.

Three examples of how I’ve personally benefitted from my ALLi membership:

ALLi members at London Book Fair

ALLi members at London Book Fair

Answers. Anything you need to know will be answered in minutes on the ALLi Facebook page. As a global group from the mighty to the tiny, someone, somewhere will know how to help.

Exposure. Last year I got the chance to read from my work at the Audible/ALLi event at London Book Fair.

Opportunities. I published Cold Pressed directly onto Nook, at the suggestion of well-informed ALLi members. The result? Picked as Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller in their first ever Indie Picks.

Best of all, I’ve made a brilliant range of contacts and friends through meeting at ALLi events, not to mention discovering some wonderful writers and books.

This is why I happily embraced the offer to become the ALLi Ambassador for Switzerland. Not just because I always fancied being some kind of ambassador for Switzerland, but because I can honestly vouch for the advantages of membership.

If you’re in Swiss-based, come and find out more about the benefits. There are two events lined up for the first quarter of this year:

writers brunchWriters’ Brunch: At the Restaurant im Viadukt in Zürich on Sunday, 25th January for some warming writerly conversation and all the latest on books, publishing, workshops and storytelling. 10am-midday. FREE!

The Woolf’s Spring workshop on 21st and 22nd March. The theme is Pathways for Writers. Details to follow, but mark your diaries—we have an amazing line-up of guest speakers! Keep an eye out on the facebook page or the Nuance Words website. The focus will be on routes to publication, making a living as a writer, support in Switzerland and beyond, plus advice on resources, service providers, markets for your work and finding your niche.

If you’re not in Switzerland, you can find an ALLi ambassador near you.

How much to become a member of ALLi? $99/£75/€89/CHF100 per year.

Find out which membership is right for you HERE and come join the tribe!

Swiss flagsBy JJ Marsh

As Swiss ALLi rep, I’ve had a lot of enquiries about the ISBN – International Standard Book Number.  Here are some answers.

This is the information I shared at TIPE (The Independent Publishing Event), January 2013 in Zürich.

An ISBN identifies your book, like a fingerprint. If you’re based in Switzerland, you need to apply for Swiss ISBNs. Those with an address in the UK, US, Australia, etc, can apply via those countries. In Britain, you have to buy a batch of 10. The US, Australia and Switzerland allow you to buy individual ISBNs but do remember that you will need a different number for each format, paperback, Kindle ebook, Smashwords ebook. Also a single ISBN costs 115CHF, whereas 10 cost 300CHF.

Swiss site (German/French): SBVV

UK site:

US site:

Australian site:

If you come from somewhere other than the above, find your home site here:

Since TIPE, more questions have arisen on the subject …

Do I need an ISBN?

No, not necessarily. Amazon offers a free ASIN (an Amazon identifier), which identifies Amazon as the publisher. Smashwords and Lulu likewise. You receive all your royalties, naturally, but will be ‘published’ by those organisations.

How do I apply for a Swiss ISBN?

The Swiss ISBN site. Available in French and German. Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday mornings. Beatrice Hédiger, who runs the office, located in Zürich, also speaks English.

I have an ISBN. How can I get my book into Swiss stores?

Sarina Dupont, of Orell Füssli’s English Bookshop: “Previously we took some copies on consignment for three months. After that we checked how the sales went and if we could keep the title for longer. This procedure proved to be time-consuming due to correspondence, paperwork, billing etc. for every individual title. There were more requests than we could handle, so we decided to take no more books on consignment at this moment. It’s a pity, but we have to give priority to daily business.

If the book is in stock with one of the main distribution centres of your country (for example OLF or Schweizer Buchzentrum in Switzerland), it’s easier for a bookshop to order 1-2 copies to give it a try.”

So how do I make my book available via OLF?

Spokesman for OLF: “If your titles are listed with one of the three big UK or US wholesalers (Ingrams, Baker&Taylor, Gardners) any bookshop in Switzerland can order your books.”  For listing in these companies’ catalogues, you need an ISBN (see below).

If I only have an ASIN, can I get listed in the Nielsen catalogue?

Spokesperson for Nielsen Bookdata UK: “For Nielsen, an Amazon identifier is not sufficient. In fact, most international bookdata handlers require an official ISBN.”

And finally, does the ISBN have a future?

The Economist says it’s questionable, Laura Dawson (Bowker) says yes.

If there are ISBN questions I’ve not answered, please let me know.