UK novelist inspired by Lausanne memories

Caroline Bishop
Caroline Bishop - [email protected] • 24 Jan, 2014 Updated Fri 24 Jan 2014 11:00 CEST
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Following on the success of her debut novel, The Book of Summers, British author Emylia Hall has looked to Switzerland for inspiration for her latest work. A Heart Bent Out of Shape is set in Lausanne, drawing on time Hall spent there as a 19-year-old student. The Local talks to her to find out more.

The novel is about an English girl, Hadley, who spends a year studying in Lausanne and suffers a terrible tragedy while there. Why did you set it in Lausanne?

I just had such an incredible time when I lived there. I felt like I wanted to do something with those memories – I wanted to capture that feeling of being young and living abroad for the first time and that sense of freedom.

At the same time I was conscious that it had to be a story that was compelling rather than a travelogue or an account of my lovely year where everything went swimmingly. One of the things I'm interested in is how we behave when we go abroad, as expats or holidaymakers. It's possible to interpret the place on your own terms in a way that you just can't when it's your own culture and country.

You can waft around in your dream world, romanticizing everything. I know that I'm like that when I travel. I liked the idea of Hadley going there, being swept away by the city, and then coming to realise that it's a place like any other, that bad things can happen in beautiful places just as much as anywhere else.

I thought that was an interesting conflict to explore. So it's almost a love letter to the city, but investigating a darker story within that.

When you lived in Lausanne did you find it easy to integrate?

I stayed in a student residence which was populated with international students. It was quite hard initially to break away from those social groups. I really wanted to improve my French and I wanted to make Swiss friends, but it was hard.

I remember a friend of mine saying you might find Swiss people quite reserved initially but once you break through that initial barrier then they are every bit as involving as any friend you could wish for, and that was absolutely true. So it was harder, you had to make a conscious effort, but I still have some really good friends there.

Did you feel welcomed?

Yes I did. I loved the little things about Swiss society that felt so civilised.

Like going into a shop and the fact they always greet you, they always say goodbye or bonne journée at the end, in stark contrast to England where it's a rarity to be greeted in a shop.

Did you find anything difficult?

Leaving! I can honestly say that year was truly wonderful and there wasn't a day that went by when I didn't really appreciate being there. I love that French phrase Il faut profiter, that sense of really making the most of being somewhere and luxuriating in the moment.

I felt so at home and I loved it so much, but there was this date stamped when I had to leave by. Instead of just depressing me, it was a motivation to make the absolute most of my time there.

You learnt to snowboard while living here. Was the outdoor lifestyle part of the attraction?

Definitely. I hadn't ever stepped foot on skis or a snowboard before coming to Switzerland but it was one of the things I wanted to do when I was out there. It made me feel like I belonged in the city, doing something that felt like a very Swiss thing to do at the weekend.

Have you been back since?

I've been back quite a few times and I loved introducing my husband to Lausanne. When I was first writing the novel I went for a long weekend.

I remember toying with the idea of coming back and living for a couple of months while I wrote the book. But I decided that was an indulgence that I probably couldn't afford. It is an expensive city and that does dint your experience a bit.

If you are on a Swiss salary it's fine, but when you're not, you keep doing the conversion in your head.

What's next for you? 

I've got a baby on the way, due in March, and the manuscript of my third novel is due with my publisher then as well, so the race is really on – it really makes the deadline feel real!

A Heart Bent Out of Shape is out now, available in some bookshops in Switzerland including Payot. The US/Canada edition, entitled The Swiss Affair, is published on January 28th.



Caroline Bishop 2014/01/24 11:00

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