Ex-journalist Serena Kobler on ‘Dark Dark Blue’

by Michelle Widmer

You work as a journalist yourself. Now with some distance: As the protagonist, how did you experience interviewing journalists?
Very professional. Everyone did a great job. I noticed that everyone approached my book conscientiously. Someone even read the book four times. That surprised me.

To what do you attribute the great media interest in you and the novel?
It’s hard for me to judge. My first book was published by Chest of Drawers. The change to Diogenes certainly played a role. In addition, the book made it to the bestseller list in its first week and is still around. This gives it a certain importance. In general, it seems to me that the book simply captured the zeitgeist.

As a former journalist, you are well connected to the industry. Did that help you?
It doesn’t hurt to be in good contact. This is especially important for women. As a freelancer, I have often been very lonely in my work. That’s why I held regular “editorial meetings” with my colleagues, where we talked about our projects. There were women journalists, but also women from the world of literature. As a young woman with children, this was very important to me. But to get back to your question: I’ve never contacted editors directly. All media communications were very professional via Diogenes.

Five years have passed since the 40-year-old writer lived with her blended family and four children at the foot of Zurichberg, Job terminated at NZZ she has. I worked there for three and a half years as a local editor. Prior to that, she had written for Tages-Anzeiger and SonntagsZeitung for over four years. She worked as a freelance radio presenter for the Stadtfilter radio station and as a freelance journalist for Landbote. Kobler studied in Winterthur at the Institute for Applied Media Studies and at the University of Konstanz.

In 2017 came the step of self-employment. She founded her company Federa, gave lectures at various educational institutions, and edited and wrote columns, reports and articles as a freelance journalist. She worked during the day to earn money and wrote her first book, Rain Shadow, in the evenings and on the weekends, she said.

For a long time, your work as a journalist and writer went hand in hand. Today focus completely on your books. Do you see yourself – to name our series title – an “industry change agent” at all?
One thing is clear: I want to make books. My sensational novel has been published, I have been given many readings and I am now writing my next book. So it’s been a matter of time too in the past few months. I didn’t have time for both. But journalism is not dead for me, for example, I write a column in the language ElleXX Women’s Financial Broker I imagine writing reports or newspaper articles for the media in the future. These genres are not far from the literature. However, it is important for me not to confuse the two tasks. Both roles wear different hats.

As a writer you can flirt with fiction, as a journalist you have to stick to the truth. Do you mean that?
What is forbidden in journalism is permitted in literature. As a former member of the Press Council, I take this split very seriously. So I limit my journalistic work to the stage between books. I no longer do both things at the same time.

How do you write your books?
I have an intuitive approach to literature. I collect scraps of the world over a long period of time. I get a lot of ideas on the go – for example in Badi Mythenquai in Zurich when the naval police are passing by. Then the fantasy begins. What can happen now I see the mood or nature. Then it comes to work. First, I write in short, then I build it into classes. I write and see where you go. Suddenly, thoughts and numbers come together. You live a bit with history in the back of your mind. When writing, a lot changes again. The doors open, and the others that have worked well in my head close. Compared to journalistic writing, everything is much slower. As a journalist, you write a script and then receive relatively quick feedback from editors or readers.

Are you missing that little bonus, regular feedback on your work?
No, but what I sometimes miss is the update when I type. I remember well my time in the local editorial office of the Sunday newspaper. That was when the Fukushima disaster occurred in March 2011, followed a few months later by Breivik’s assassination after which many children died in a bus accident in Valais. During this time, I’ve been asking myself a lot: How do you act as a journalist when yourself is affected by a disaster? When the coronavirus lockdown was announced two years ago, that sentiment resurfaced. I watched every Federal Council press conference and went back to the press situation. Then I worked for the online Basel broker Bajour for a short time.

What are the advantages of working as a writer?
It is a huge privilege for me to be able to work the way I do now. I can organize my time myself. And everything I do I do with passion. At the same time, this freedom is also the biggest challenge, because I have to give myself the structures. I have to plan my writing time firmly. I actually like to write at night when there are no emails and the world is asleep. But that cannot be reconciled with my family. But I now have three weeks to write the new book.

Are you staying here in Zurich or are you leaving?
I decide it flexibly. Sometimes it’s good to be here in Zurich. For example, if you need a book from the central library. At some point I feel like I need to get out. Then I’ll do.

In addition to many positive media reports about Serena Kobler and her book NZZ on Sunday in early July critical tone. In addition to Kobler, the article, “Literary Accounts” also deals with authors Kristen Brand and Claudia Schumacher – all with their bestseller books and all former journalists. The three put a lot of knowledge from their time in journalism into their books. Self-marketing in social media is also highlighted.

The author of the text asks the question: “Can one plan for literary success?” I am happy to pass this question on to you.
No, you can’t. You will need a staff for this. Books go their own way.

You can see photos from your bestseller list or from your readings on Facebook or Instagram. What role does this self-marketing play in selling the book?
You have to ask my publisher, who is responsible for the marketing. I see these channels as an opportunity to give feedback and share it with my readers. As a mother of four, I don’t have the same opportunities to go out to events. I often sit here in our family settlement and thus have the opportunity to participate.

What feedback are you getting? Share an example?
A reader wrote to me that he didn’t have long to read. And he can break this with my book. This news made me especially happy.

As a journalist you had a steady income. How is the day
So don’t write books for money. With my first book “Regen Schatten”, I earned a total of about 1,300 francs from sales. I once received 8000 francs from an institution. Otherwise the money comes from the readings or from my work as a lecturer. My budget is a mixed bag. There are better and risky months. The Corona crisis really shocked me. I fell through the cracks and did not receive any financial support.

Under what circumstances can you imagine returning to journalism full time?
I can’t imagine that at the moment. Like I said, I want to write books. But I don’t rule it out in the future. Journalism has a dynamic that I really like.

In the “Branchenwechsel” series, persoenlich.com introduces people who worked in journalism or advertising and have now left their original profession. Already posted:

Corden Janet: From CEO of an advertising agency to a cheese shop.

Mark Krebs: From cultural journalist to budding entrepreneur.

Melchior the brothers: From TeleZüri and SRF to kindergarten teachers.

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