An insight into life in Switzerland from author and publisher Richard Harvell

In this episode, we welcome author and publisher Richard Harvell.

Richard was born in New Hampshire in the US and now lives in Basel here in Switzerland, where he is Head of USA Publishing at Helvetiq, and Publisher at Bergli Books. In addition to being a publisher, Richard is a best-selling author in his own right, with work translated into 15+ languages.

Show Notes

Transcript

Daniel  

Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of The Expert Guide to Your Life in Switzerland. This is a series of conversations in which we speak with experts about different aspects of life in Switzerland and share what we learn with you. This series is brought to you by Rigby. We are a staffing and IT-services company based in Zurich. If you or anyone you know of is looking for a new role in Switzerland, or if you're looking to hire, let us know - we'd be happy to help. The best way to do that is by sending an email to contact@rigby.ch.

Alright, in today's episode, we'll be speaking with Richard Harvell. Richard was born in New Hampshire in the US and now lives in Basel here in Switzerland, where he is Head of USA Publishing at Helvetiq, and Publisher at Bergli Books. In addition to being a publisher, Richard is a best-selling author in his own right, with work translated into 15+ languages. Richard, thank you for joining us.

Richard Harvell  

Thanks, Daniel. It's great to be here.

Daniel  

All right. So, could we begin by speaking a little bit about your background and what brought you to Switzerland?

Richard Harvell  

So actually, I came over for basketball, which a lot of people are surprised to hear that. When I was still studying in the US, I visited Switzerland really briefly and visited a school up in the mountains called the Ecole d'Humanité on Hasliberg, and I was just there for a few days and then I left and went back to the US. And then I got a call from the school director a few days later, saying that they were desperately searching for a basketball coach and he'd heard that I played basketball. And they were looking for some that come over for a year. They had a number of Chinese students who desperately wanted to play and so I came over to coach basketball and taught some US history. And my wife was, or my future wife was, was a teacher at the school. So, we went back to the US for a few years and then moved to Basel, where she's from, in 2003.

Daniel  

Yeah, that's quite a story. So you came over for basketball?

Richard Harvell  

Yes and actually I recently joined a, three or four years ago, I joined a basketball team here in Basel and played for one year till I dislocated my finger. And that's actually how I got to know my current boss, Hadi Barkat, who's the CEO of Helvetig. So, basketball basically has given me everything in life. Wife, job!

Daniel  

Wow, look at that. And what's the connection to Hadi?

Richard Harvell  

So Hadi who is the founder and CEO at Helvetiq. He used to live in Boston as well for a few years and was also a Boston Celtics fan. And at some point, we were both living in Basel and found that out, and he said, 'hey, we should play basketball'. We heard there's a team. And we went out and played together for a year until we both hurt ourselves and realised we're too old for basketball, so.

Daniel  

You know, that's funny. I've played football maybe once or twice a week since I was about 12 and I didn't find my wife or job through it.

Richard Harvell  

Well, maybe it's the wrong sport. Maybe it's only works with basketball.

Daniel  

But how did you go from teaching basketball to publishing?

Richard Harvell  

Yeah, so then I was working as a math teacher and as an English teacher in Basel. But I knew that I always wanted to be a writer. And so I've been working on a novel for, for a good decade, a novel about an opera singer in the 18th century. And they managed to sell it through a US agent to a US publisher. And then they, they, they sold it to lots of other foreign publishers to be translated into more than 15 languages. And then I got asked to visit a bookstore in Basel, which was the Bergli bookstore, run by Diane Dicks who also had a small publishing company. And she had me in to talk about my book, had a really nice event there. And then she told me she was retiring, she'd sold the publisher to a larger Swiss publisher. No basketball involved here. 

Daniel  

Yeah, I was about to ask!

Richard Harvell  

And she said, 'Do you want to take over?' and I said 'No way, definitely not. I want to be a writer, I don't want to be a publisher.' And she said 'Oh, come on in. Come have a talk with us. We'll have a meeting with the Schwabe Verlagsgruppe, they're the oldest publisher in the world. They have no idea what they want to do with this little English publisher. They'll give you complete freedom to do anything you want'. And I went in and that was basically all true. They're really nice, very generous. Had lots of experience in publishing but wanted to try something new. And I ran the company with them for six years, and then got to know Hadi through basketball. And Helvetiq really is a great fit for Bergli because Helvetiq has always been, has always thought multilingually. Helvetiq does books and games and in lots of different languages and it just seemed like a natural fit. And during the pandemic, we made plans for Helvetiq to buy Bergli from the Schwabe Verlagsgruppe. That was about a year ago,

Daniel  

Right, it was in 2021 that Bergli became part of Helvetiq?

Richard Harvell  

Exactly. 2021, so it's been about a year and a half now.

Daniel  

And has your role changed at all with that transition?

Richard Harvell  

Yeah, definitely. Absolutely. In a good way, I'd say. Bergli has has benefited by having access to all of the people who make Helvetiq such a great company. The sales team, the graphic designers, interns who do lots of social-media work. We're really, Bergli is part of a larger team, which means that I have more time to take on some some other tasks. And that has been from the beginning. Hadi knew that he really wanted to make Helvetiq a global publisher. And, in order to do that, we had to, we knew that we had to have an English imprint to publish books, not only Swiss books that we translate in English, but we had to do it right. We had to have a warehouse in the US, we had to make books for the American market. We had to sell them to English speakers, directly, we had we had to compete on an equal footing with English and UK publishers. So, that's what we've done. We've spent the last year making plans to open a US imprint. And we published our first book last month.

Daniel  

Right. And something that's interesting about Helvetiq is that it's one of the only, if not the only, trilingual commercial publisher in the world, with the three languages being French, German, and English. Are there any advantages to publishing in English in particular, that you've found?

Richard Harvell  

Yeah, exactly. So I think that, we're looking for any other trilingual commercial publishers. We haven't found way. If anyone, if any of you are listening out there right now and you know of a trilingual commercial publisher, we'd love to know about that. We know there's lots of publishers that publish books in multiple languages. You know, they they're maybe an academic publisher, and they they do lots of different translations, or the first publisher, and they publish their book in 10 languages. But what Helvetiq does, it really, we choose projects that we really believe in and we think about them from the very beginning, how are we going to do this in French, how are we going to do this in German, how are we going do this in English, all at the same time? So we really can plan that. It's a real advantage to think about that from the beginning. And then the advantage of having a book in English is that not only do you reach the largest book market in the world, which is English speakers, but also, you can then, those books can then be attractive to other publishers, whether they're Polish publishers, or Chinese publishers, or Portuguese publishers, who then read our English versions and decide how we want to publish that in their language, which is what happened to my own novel. That is, I had an American publisher but then they manage the time 15 publishers around the world who wanted to translate it.

Daniel  

And Helvetiq accepts direct submissions through its website, which I think is interesting. Are there any particular types of book proposals that you're looking for, that you hope to see?

Richard Harvell  

Yeah, so exactly. We are, we're a very hands on publisher. A lot of publishers expect an agent to be between the author and the publisher. You can really just email us an idea. And we'll take every idea seriously. Sometimes it takes us a while to get back to you. Sometimes we get back to you very quickly and tell you that 'no, it's not a great fit for us'. But we really do we really do consider everything. We publish mainly what we publish, first of all, only nonfiction. So fiction, whether it's a novel or short stories, is not something we do. We sometimes publish children's fiction, which are real, especially if they're very traditional legends. We just published a book of, a graphic novel about Basel with four legends in it. So, we do a little bit of fiction that way, but generally, our books are all nonfiction books.

They're in the they're either anything from cookbooks to hiking guides. The beer hiking series is the best selling series of ours, which is basically as simple as it sounds. It's hikes to breweries, great microbreweries, all around the world. We have just published wine hiking in Switzerland. But we also do a lot of children's nonfiction. So some really beautiful nature guides. W're publishing a really fun book next year called the 'Astonishing Extinct Professions'. And this is a history of the professionals that don't exist anymore. Anything from powder monkey to ice cutter to milkman to video store rental clerk to gladiator. So, getting back to this. So first of all, if you're wanting to submit something to us, it needs to fit into one of these categories, which if you look at our website, you can see exactly what what kind of things those are.

But then also, we're looking for somebody that just that stands out. We really need to fall in love with a book if we're going to if we're going to publish it, so it has to stand out. Either it has to be a theme that's done completely differently. You know, like our Arborama is just is a tree guide book, but it's just so beautiful. And it's about exploring trees around. So it really got our attention. Or it has to be something like astonishing professions, that we just no one has ever done before. It's just such a crazy and weird book. It got us really excited. And Beer Hiking was the same. We just, they're both really, there's beer guides, and there's a million hiking guides, but no one has ever published a beer hiking guide. And of course, that was something that we thought, this is something we can excite readers about so, and so we sort of have to do it. So that's what we're looking for. Yeah, we're looking for things that will catch our attention will catch readers' attention, bookstores' attention. We love the relationships we have with bookstores, so we really, we try to find something that excites them as well. And I'll just add that I think we're often looking for the person that we who pitches the book to us,. We're looking for someone who's who's open, who's open to the process, you know open to thinking about their projects in different ways. And one who brings talents, who brings expertise to a project, who understands that being an author is not just about writing, it's also about marketing. It's about working together. Working on a team, definitely. So, we look for that and in our in our submissions as well.

Daniel  

And when you're not publishing books, I believe you're keen on two things which we are spoilt for choice for here in Switzerland. So that's hiking which you mentioned and skiing. Is that only be hiking Richard or any kind of hiking?

Richard Harvell  

Actually the truth is I rarely go to these beer hikes. They're not not so much my thing, just because I like to hike somewhere where there's, where no one's around.

Daniel  

Right. 

Richard Harvell  

I love.. Really, if I could choose a place to spend the rest of my life it would be it would be Graubunden. I just love this remote parts of Switzerland. But I love ski touring. So, the remote parts of Graubunden in the winter is about my my favourite Swiss situation. 

Daniel  

Yep. I worked in Graubunden them once for a while, at the Lyceum Alpinum in Zuoz. It's beautiful, isn't it?

Richard Harvell  

Yeah, we just got a chance to spend a week in the Swiss National Park. And it's just so beautiful out there. Really had a great time.

Daniel  

It is definitely, there are so many nice places to visit. So there's Zuoz, Samedan, Poschiavo, Pontresina. They're all well worth a visit for sure. So Richard, are there any other tips that you would share with people who might be interested in hiking and skiing and things like that here in Switzerland?

Richard Harvell  

Ah, yeah. So, well I think about six or seven years ago, we set the goal to go to five new places in Switzerland every year. And I think.. And it's not that easy, because you often want to go back to the places you love. And you've been to before, but deciding to shoot for five new places a year has really, actually hasn't been that hard. But but it's been sort of nice to say, if you do that, after 10 years, you'll have seen 50 new places in Switzerland. 

Daniel  

Yes.

Richard Harvell  

And there are so many.. I haven't found a part of the country that I don't like. So I think it's always fun to just to find new places. I love looking at maps and realising 'this is a valley that I've never been to before'.

Daniel  

Sure

Richard Harvell  

And I love going to the SAC huts when they're closed. And there's just, they often have these winter rooms open, or places for you to cook yourself. I think that's a really special, special part of the SAC huts that even, even when it's not high season, they still they still have a certain openness to people staying in them. 

They do. And you mentioned going where there aren't other people around. Is it right that you were once on a retreat where you didn't speak for two weeks?

So, I'm also a very avid meditator. I'm quite a hyperactive person and I always like to keep busy. And I think that's not always best for my mental health. And so, I started meditating a few years ago, at first because I was having trouble sleeping. Like a lot of people, I was waking up at four o'clock in the morning, starting to think about all the things that have to do the next day. And if you google 'how to sleep better', one of the first things that comes up is start meditating. So, I started meditating, and it got really much better. And then if you google 'how to meditate better', it also always very quickly says 'go on a meditation retreat'. And there's one, there's several wonderful centres in Switzerland, but there's one Vipassana Centre on Mont-Soleil, in the Swiss Jura that offers these 10-day meditation retreats. That was really, I've now done five of them, the 10-day silent retreats for beginners, but now that I've done five, done the same retreat five times, I feel like a beginner just about every time. It's really the hardest thing I've ever done but also really a very valuable experience.

Daniel  

Right. It makes me think of the Tibet Institut in RIkon just outside of Winterthur. Have you ever been there?

Richard Harvell  

I haven't actually but but I've heard about it. I've heard that also they've Winterthur is a strong centre of, there's a lot of meditators there. I don't know why that is, but..

Daniel  

Yes, I think that's true. And Rikon is quite an interesting place. I think in the early 1960s, Switzerland was the first European country to take in asylum seekers from Tibet. And some of these people settled in Rikon in particular, because the Kuhn family who owned a factory there offered work to a group of them. And then I think to make them feel more at home, they later on built a monastery for these workers, which is today the Tibet Institut Rikon. And I think they do have regular events there, which are open to the public. And it's really a special place and worth a visit if you're interested in Buddhism and/or meditation. 

Richard Harvell  

Interesting.

Daniel  

Okay, so can we finish by saying, are there any tips that you would share with someone who's new to Switzerland, to help them to settle in and have a good time here?

Richard Harvell  

Yeah, I think the advice is always, it's all about, it's all about finding friends and in Switzerland, finding friends the easiest way to find friends are activities. It's less of a, less of a culture where you just stumble out and meet people. But Swiss are such an active people and it's such an active, whether it's hiking, or skiing or climbing or card playing..

Daniel  

Or basketball!

Richard Harvell  

Or basketball, it's, that's the way you get to know people here. So finding networks and communities of people and then it's amazing how generous and welcoming the Swiss can be, and also all foreigners. I still call myself a foreigner but I've been here for 20 years. I still think people, people are very welcoming once you start doing something with them. 

Daniel  

Once you've established that connection. I would second that. Alright, that'll do it. Thank you, Richard, for joining us.

Richard Harvell  

Great. Yeah. Okay. Thanks a lot. Great being here.

Daniel  

And thanks to you listeners as well for joining us, you can get in touch with Richard either through Bergli Books at bergli.ch books@bankrate.ch or through Helvetiq at  helvetiq.com. But we'll include links to both of those in the show notes. This series is brought to you by Rigby. We're starting and IT-services company based in Zurich. If you or anyone you know is looking for a new role in Switzerland, or if you're looking to hire, let us know.  We'd be happy to help. The best way to do that is by sending an email to contact@rigby.ch. Alright, thanks and until the next time.