This is a first for our interview series which features our published members; this time we have 4 of our members who were a part of a 6-women team that wrote this wonderful middle-grade, non-fiction book for children to learn more about 50 Amazing Swiss Women.
In Part 1 of this two-part interview, we will be speaking to 3 of the authors of this exciting collection of biographies. Part 2 will feature the illustrator who brought colour to the stories of these previously little-known women.
So please put your hands together to welcome Katie Hayoz (KH), Anita Lehmann (AL) and Laurie Theurer (LT). Let's hear from them about this delicious new project.
Tell us about this new book.
KH, AL, LT: 50 Amazing Swiss Women: True Stories You Should Know About brings together one-page biographies of a diverse and exciting group of 50 Swiss women from the past and present. Each biography is accompanied by a unique illustration by Swiss illustrator, Mireille Lachausse. The release date coincides with the 50th anniversary of women getting the right to vote in Switzerland on the federal level. It will be released in ENGLISH, FRENCH, and GERMAN.
What inspired you when working on this project?
KH: The women I was writing about! I’ll be honest, I was worried writing biographies would be boring. But it was the complete opposite! These women were so inspiring that the more I delved into my research and/or interviews, the more passionate I became about the project. Meeting and/or reading about these women, made me so proud to be a part of this book, proud to be a Swiss woman. We were five writers – Laurie Theurer, Katie Hayoz, Anita Lehmann, Alnaaze Nathoo, Barbara Nigg – and one illustrator, Mireille Lachausse. We all worked on this project because we believe women’s voices and stories need to be heard and that they are worth hearing. We are Swiss-born, Swiss-based, or Swiss by “adoption.” So we know that “Swiss” does not mean one particular thing. Switzerland and Swiss women are quite diverse, and we hope to show that in the book.
AL: I couldn’t believe that I had grown up in a country full of the most incredible women, but had never heard of them! As a child I had very few female role models, and would have loved reading about all these amazing Swiss women. So I felt incredibly privileged and excited to be able to do my bit to set the record straight for the next generation. It was a wonderful experience.
LT: Quite honestly, the biggest inspiration for me while writing this book was the women with whom I was writing it! When I asked them to join me on this adventure, each and every one of them were so incredibly excited about the concept of this book. I think the longest any of them needed to make their decision whether to get involved was about two hours! During the three short, rather exhausting, months we took to research, write, critique, and edit this book, I expected their excitement to wane…but it only increased. They took what was a good idea for a book and turned it into something magical with their dedication and enthusiasm.
Tell us about the creative process for this book.
KH: As we were FIVE authors and one illustrator, we had to figure out ways to work as a team. While we all did our own research and interviews, we shared feedback and ideas, as well as critiques and edits. We wrote this book together, in three months, with 99% of our communication happening over Zoom and WhatsApp. And we didn’t all know each other at the start.
The biggest difficulty we had was making sure our stories truly did these amazing women justice. We took reams of research and interviews and had to distill them down to a one-page biography that was easily readable by kids. Hard to do when most of these ladies really deserve hundreds of pages.
AL: The exciting part of a non-fiction project, to me, is to find ‘the’ story in a jumble of facts, dates and bits of information. As with any good story, you need an interesting character, a beginning, a middle, an end, and a clear focus around which to write your piece – this is especially hard to do for amazing women who have done so many different cool things, like say, Ella Maillart, Sophie Täuber-Arp or Germaine de Staël.
LT: I whole-heartedly agree with the above and could not have said it better! I would like to add, though, that the creative process is not limited to the authors and illustrators. There’s so much going on behind the scenes that contributes to the entire creative process. In addition to the five authors and one illustrator, we had multiple translators, fact checkers. Editors, designers, typesetters, graphic designers, and magicians. In total, we had a team of more than twenty women (and one man) that took our text and artwork and turned it into a gorgeous work of art.
Did you encounter anything unexpected while working on this project?
KH: Yes! I always thought I was a fiction-only kind of writer. But I discovered that I not only enjoyed writing these biographies, but that non-fiction for kids is something I’d love to do more of.
AL: Yes! I discovered that all of a sudden, I felt very proud to be a Swiss woman!
LT: Absolutely! As with most writers, I’d become accustomed to working on my own pieces and providing input and critiques for others. Suddenly, I was writing one book with four other women, all with vastly different writing experience and styles, with several of them total strangers to each other at the start. We needed to find a similar style and voice across all chapters, and somehow manage to accomplish that virtually…all within three months. During the process, I was very surprised to find how much I enjoyed leading – and being a part of – this team of talented authors.
Now for something completely different! Train journey around the world or Boat cruise around the world? Why?
KH: Well, I don’t see any cruises in my future with COVID still wreaking havoc, but, of the two, I would have to say cruise. I get motion sick and at least on a boat there are things to do to take my mind off of the swaying! In a train it’s just the window since I can’t read or write or play cards on the journey without feeling nauseous. I am more of an armchair traveler, actually.
AL: Oh...that’s difficult. In ordinary times, I would definitely say cruise, because I love the idea of being all alone in the middle of the ocean...But not right now! Since we’re in lockdown here in England (and already isolated from the rest of the world) , I long to catch a train to a busy place full of (healthy) people somewhere – Paris, Naples, Budapest, Bologna, Vladivostok...
LT: Good question! Actually, I’ve done both…ok, not around the world, but over great distances. Of the two, I think I’d rather take the train journey, though. I find landscapes more fascinating than seascapes and love the possibility of hopping off the train to go explore a place when it beckons me. Plus, I absolutely love writing on train journeys. Trains are one of my most productive writing places!
Thank you, ladies, for such an eye-opening interview. It is so inspiring to hear how you were able to work so well together, despite pandemic restrictions, and put a spotlight on women who have been neglected by history. We wish you all the best with the launch of this superb book and we can not wait to hear from the illustrator's point of view in Part 2 of this two-part interview.
Bio - Katie Hayoz
Katie Hayoz has lived in Geneva since 1997 where she has been involved with the Swiss writing community for nearly twenty years. Her work has placed in international contests, including the Mslexia International Children’s Novel Competition and the Europe/British Isles Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Undiscovered Voices Competition. She’s published picture books and novels and has written video scripts for the international market. Her essays, short stories, and poems have appeared in magazines, anthologies, and online.
Bio - Anita Lehmann
Anita grew up in Bern but now lives in Cambridge, UK. She most enjoys writing short fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children with an adult microfiction collection The Princess and the Prick out with Harper Collins in 2020. Her most recent picture book Slobber Slobber Kiss Kiss was shortlisted for the German Jugendliteraturpreis 2020. 2021 will see the publication of three distinctly Swiss titles: 50 Amazing Swiss Women (Bergli), The Geneva Chronicles (Bergli), and a Swiss-themed bedtime picture book with Helvetiq.
Bio - Laurie Theurer
Laurie Theurer has lived near Zurich since 1997 and has been writing for children and adults since 2012. Her stories draw on her childhood in southern California, two years in Peace Corps Thailand where she taught secondary school English, and the past 20+ years living in in a small Swiss village. Her debut non-fiction book, Swisstory: The Untold, Bloody, and Absolutely True History of Switzerland, (Bergli Books, 2019) was awarded the 2020 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. Her flash fiction, short stories, essays, and poetry have been published in literary magazines, in anthologies, and online.
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