Running from the 23rd May to 2nd June 2019, the picturesque market town Hay-On-Wye is hosting the Hay Festival for the 32rd time. This year notable appearances include Stephen Fry reading from his Mythos book; Maxine Peake reading The Mask of Anarchy; Lucy Worsley on her new book, Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow; and Ian McEwan considering his new novel, Machines Like Me. However, my visit entailed two unlikely events that centred on unusual subjects that enlightened me in ways unexpected.
The first event was from the man, the myth, the legend: Simon Schama. In a warm Ballie Gifford Stage, Schama looking into Rembrandt’s Eyes. He guided us through the 17th century Dutch painter’s landmark on art history in a lively and illuminating talk. Taking us through the peak and eventual trough of his life, we saw his generosity in art grow in the forms of a multitude of subjects: from his wife Saskia until her death, dissections and the nature of mortality, and the tortures of the female body.
However, one particularly captivating piece has stuck with me. The first work Schama introduced his talk with was Rembrandt’s Winter Landscape. Admist the heat of the tent, the audience was transported to a chilly Dutch farmyard blanketd in snow. Working from sketches inside his studio, the movements of ink and a stick presents Rembrandt aptly; his simplicity in places, in the face of unconvinced critics.
Whilst I went into the Ballie Gifford Stage largely ignorant of Rembrandt, I left informed, inspired and a little in awe of Schama.
The second event I attended was hosted by cartoonist Chris Riddell and former laureates Julia Donaldson (known for Zog and the Gruffalo), and the one and only Michael Rosen. Having taken a Children’s Literature module last semester and coming out all the wiser for it, I listened to their spell-binding approaches to engage young children to literature. Riddell drew highly entertaining picture to illustrate his talking, Donaldson and her husband drew the audience together with musical sign language and Rosen’s familar voice ensnared the room with his entertaining stories.
Whilst this event concerned children’s literature, naturally there were many issues raises for adult consideration: the political hold over education. All three enthused their frustration over sharing ideas with numerous Secretaries for Education, albeit it falling on deaf ears. They believe exam questions are set up wrongly, especially from SAT level. They ask why an author writes about their character in such a way, when at A level or degree level, the author is detached from the work and it is only the persona that must be considered. Riddell being a political cartoonist made light of this, and the other recent events of late…
In all, the Hay Festival once again succeeded in opening my mind to the importance of things I had been closed off to. I left the maze of tents and flags feeling inspired and invigorated by the voices of passionate people raising important points. I cannot recommend this literary festival enough: an unusual and eye-opening array of events. It has to date been attended by two American presidents over its three decades of running, it’s iconic white tents now host to over 250,000 visitors over its ten days.
With exams fast-approaching and revision slowly taking over my every hour, I have neglected this eclectic blog posting – Have no fear, I have many exciting posts planned post-exam!
However, on the topic of exam stress, I have found baking to be a useful therapy. It makes for a nice distraction to seven hour chunks of revision. Taking half an hour to whizz up some batter, fifty minutes revision, ten minutes to decant/ice and a tasty study snack as a reward. Granted, I have had to balance all this with early morning gym sessions and evening swims. But interpersing my revision with some carefree baking has been a godsend. So here is a quick and simple recipe I can wholeheartedly recommend should you too be revising, very busy or just want a carefree, enjoyable activity to offset your day!
A Good Ol’ Classic Victoria Sponge!
For this cake, I followed a simple Victoria sponge recipe. I jazzed things up by turning it into a marble cake. This is really simple: I separated the batter in half and added about a tablespoon of cocoa powder and a glob of golden syrup to one, and a dash of vanilla extract to the other. I spooned each mixture alternately into the two circular loose-bottomed (ay-ay) tins, and did a rough feathering.
200g caster sugar
200g butter (leave out for about ten minutes before measuring)
200g sifted self-raising flour
4 softly beaten eggs
1 TEAspoon of baking powder
2 TABLEspoons of milk
Optional: (for marble cake)
Drop of vanilla extract
Glob of golden syrup
Tablespoon of cocoa powder
140g sifted icing sugar
100g softened butter
Drop of vanilla extract
Some jam for the filling (or your preference – lemon curd works equally as well!)
Preheat oven to gas mark 5 or 170 Celsius. Butter two sandwich tins (I use 20cm loose-bottomed ones). Line with baking paper is desired but personally baking paper and I aren’t friends.
Using your largest bowl, whisk together the caster sugar and eggs. Then add the flour, baking powder, milk until you have a smooth batter. Be careful not too over-whisk, as the eggs will separate slightly.
If you are after a marble sponge, separate half of the batter into another bowl. In one, add the cocoa powder and golden syrup, and in the other add the vanilla extract. Spoon alternately into the sandwich tins. Pulling a skewer through a few times for a fathered look.
Otherwise, add the vanilla extract into the plain batter and spoon into the two sandwich tins. You’re looking for a more-or-less even top, so spoon down with a spatula or knife. Bang the tin into the kitchen surface a couple of times.
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. The sponge will spring back when pressed and an inserted skewer/fork should come out clean. Take out of the tins carefully and place on a cooling rack as soon as possible. Leave to cool through.
For the filling, whisk together the butter and sifted icing sugar. Add the vanilla extract. Spread your jam/alternative over the top of one sponge. Then spread the filling on top. Sandwich the two together and start to spread the icing on top of the other sponge: decorate as desired (I used walnutes going spare around the edges of mine!).
Very tasty classic that did not last two days in my house! I hope you enjoy too, and happy de-stressing!
Almost three years ago I made the switch. I cut out bacon, sausages, Sunday roasts. But it’s all been worth it. Before, I would go piscetarian over the lent period. It makes you think about your food differently, question what’s in it, where it came from, who might have handled it. I came to realise that generally, I did not consume an awful amount of meat anyway. But that didn’t stop the cravings for pork scratchings during the early stages!
It was a particularly inspiring philosophy lecture that prompted me to go veggie: on Peter Singer’s personhood. He carries the pioneering view that animals have personhood, even going as far to say that they have more personhood than newborn babies and people in comas. This goes against Aristotle, Plato and Descartes who deny that animals have spirits. He’s actually convinced Richard Dawkins too! As funny cat videos and animal rescue centres take social media by storm, I don’t think we have ever cared more about animals more.
More than protecting animals, we are being encouraged to cut down on meat in order to reduce carbon emissions: Whether that might mean only having meat dishes on weekends. You can cut down nearly a quarter of your carbon footprint by simply cutting down on red meats, such as beef and lamb. Being carbon conscious is increasingly trendy, with vegetarian menus cropping up (shout out to Wetherspoons who do a fantastic veggie breakfast!) and vegan cafés.
However this brings into question the farming industry. And a dilemma. Is it better to let these slaughterhous animals to die out so they no longer suffer but do not exist? It would affect biodiversity for one thing. We have breed cows so much that the Chillingham Wild Cattle in Northumberland are one of a few natural cattle left in the world. Check out Bong Joon-ho’s Okja on Netflix for a vivid dystopian view of meat farming.
Ultimately, I enjoy being veggie. It’s a challenge to minimise the suffering of animals I respect as possessing personhood; and it reduces my footprint. Although I am not entirely sure I could commit to being vegan (and I have full respect to anyone who does!), maybe one day I will take that extra step. For now though (without coming across as an angry radical vegetarian!), I would encourage anyone looking to contributing a small change for the wider good to look into flexitarianism!
Eleanor crouched in the library, hunched over. The gnawing ache of stooping above books all night caught up with her. Every muscle whined for a horizontal bed. She let out a long, strained sigh. As if breathing out all her deadline torments. She stretched away from her desk cubicle and rubbed her eyes. It was hours ago she had splashed off her light make up in the ladies’. Her phone screen lit up. Unknown caller. If you knew Eleanor, then you’d know that she never ever answered withheld caller IDs. Or oftentimes known callers. Who even spoke over the phone anymore nowadays; unless it was for work or sorting out forms? She hated it. There was just something about not being able to see the other person, having to listen in on their every word. Being so close to a stranger. She shuddered. It rang silently until the screen went dark and the caller was sent to voicemail.
Eleanor looked at her keys, longingly thinking of going home. She checked her watch. It was so late it was beyond early. Eleanor hit save on her laptop and scooped it into her bag; along with the smattering of pages her pen had scribbled illegible notes over. Stifling a yawn, Eleanor pulled her wool long-line coat on and shouldered her rucksack. Whilst heading down the stairs she negotiated the knotted earphones. Damn string theory. The screen lit up again. Under her breath, Eleanor swore with tired frustration.
All-nighters were becoming all too regular for Eleanor, deadlines fast approaching. So the dark walk back didn’t faze her anymore. The route home through the uniform streets was so imprinted on her mind, her feet did all the work now. Instead, she calmed her overworked mind with Florence and the Machine. A sorry compensation to its sleep-deprived abuse. Tonight, the streets were vaguely lit by the first thought of sun-rise. Looking up at the sky, smoky clouds were dusted faintly with a thin violet outline. Longingly, she thought of those missed evenings curled up on the sofa with Edwin watching some sitcom; sacrificed for these all-nighters. Eleanor was exhausted. She wondered whether to head for bed or the coffee maker when she got in. But her thoughts of a steaming hot cup and hitting back against clean white linen were intruded on.
The phone, sitting in her inside pocket, tickled against her chest, pausing Florence. Crossly, she tore it out of her coat, jabbed at the green button and held out in front of her mouth.
“Hello?” Eleanor asked gruffly. Her earphones fed her the long silence. Any remnants of her patience snapped. “Hello?! Do you know what time it is?” No answer. She took a deep breath.
The feeling her tired anger ebbed away, an unnerving prickly sensation taking over instead. She didn’t say anything else, her tongue felt knotted in some way. Her steps slowed down. To her horror, she heard the noise on the phone. As she slowed down, she was falling out of rhythm. Out of rhythm with the identical sound on the phoneline. Footsteps. Brisk, consistent paces. Trouser material rubbing against itself. And hard soles against pavement. The distinctive click of the sole of suit shoes. A horrible wave of nausea swept over Eleanor. The prickly feeling crawled up her back. She felt her muscles tense up, rooting her to the ground. The phoneline continued to walk. This couldn’t be Edwin, he just didn’t do things like this; none of her friends would for that matter. They knew she was hard pressed with her thesis right now so wouldn’t find a prank like this amusing. And this couldn’t be a butt dial. Who walks around at this time? And in expensive suit shoes? A butt dial wouldn’t have a withheld caller ID.
Thoroughly confounded, Eleanor wanted to talk. If she could just get a response out of whoever this was. To hear their voice.
“Hello? Who is this? Where are you?” she asked, spinning around.
A clear sense of her own vulnerability dawned on her. Alone, on an empty street. The uniform houses all had their windows curtained. No one in sight. She wasn’t close to home, or near enough to turn back to the library. Fuck. All the while the footsteps marched on. Eleanor’s stomach clenched, the prickling sensation consuming her skin: down her legs, over her shoulders, across her arms.
Feeling watched, her primal instincts took a hold and she began running. Not caring that the phoneline picked up the sound of her flimsy mustard dolly shoes pounding pathetically against the street. Turning this way and that way along familiar streets leading her home: if she could just get there. All the while her earphones beat out the steady, unchanging footsteps.
Her thick coat became an iron sheet against the wind. The ache from hunching over all night bit into her shoulders. Her legs felt like they couldn’t move fast enough, like long wads of floppy jelly. As she turned a corner, her house came into view. The sight of the row of little redbrick terraces seemed to hug Eleanor. She panted harder, betraying her exhaustion to the unknown caller. But she couldn’t stop. Her muscles were alight, lungs stinging. As she came closer to the house, she saw a comforting amber light from the bathroom: a lighthouse calling out in a storm. Just like Edwin to be up this early, no doubt thinking about a fry up before the commute to work. That bubble of normality seemed strange to Eleanor, thrown into this sudden tangle of panic and confusion. If she could just get to the door. Away from whatever this phone call meant.
All the while, Eleanor hadn’t once dared to look behind her. She needed speed. She didn’t want to know anything but that she was almost home. The idea of being watched tingled hotly through her body. Her hands frantically fumbled in her pockets as she pounded the pavement, the sound of the stranger’s march still tattooing her eardrums. A jumble of fingers found the door key. She tore over the small garden gate and reached the front door, hitting the key in the lock. It wouldn’t go in. Shit. She pulled out another silver key and tried that one. Not now for God’s sake.
In some subconscious field, she saw a vague movement flickering under the streetlights at the corner of her eye. Her head turned. A figure. A black figure. Striding in time to the rhythm on the phone. Her stomach plummeted and the hand holding the keys froze over.
As if possessed, Eleanor slammed on the door with all the strength left in her shattered body.
“Ed! Open the door! Let me in! Let me in right now! Ed! EDWIN!” her voice screeched out, panic pulsating in her throat. The figure was getting closer. So close now that she could make out his clothes. He wore a smart black trench coat over a crisp white shirt. His legs were obscured by the front garden hedge she looked out over. Between the glare of the streetlights and the softening dark sky, she could make out the beady gleam of black sunglasses.
Fuck. What is this?
Eleanor rapped on the door again, whilst scrabbling to find a key she hadn’t tried yet. His footsteps hadn’t picked up pace, even though he was so near and undoubtedly saw Eleanor wrestling with the door. If he could see her behind the overgrown driveway and those sunglasses when it was this dark? As she held up her last key, Eleanor looked over her shoulder once more. She let out a shout. The man was right outside the house. He strode swiftly, turning into the front garden, the little gate screeching open. He was meters away, crunching across the drive towards her. Screaming, she stabbed the key into the door. It worked. He was an arm’s length away as she turned it, expecting at any second to feel his fingertips on her back.
She punched open the door and slammed it shut. And pulled across the security chain for good measure. For a split second she heard the last gravelled steps but then radio silence. The small semi-circle of wavy glass on the top of the front door showed a shadowed head. Eleanor breathed heavily. They could have stood like that, separated by a door, for hours.
15:05: It is the first day back after the long Easter weekend. I feel glad to be here again, hopefully this week, with everyone returned from the Easter break, there will be loads to do.
Today, after finishing that first manuscript (by the skin of my teeth might I add!), I have reached just about halfway through the next manuscript on my desk. I will write another practice submission report after finishing it just to fill the time until more work comes my way. It is about British Intelligence dealing with terrorist attacks. Although eye-opening, I have not made my mind up about it yet. It features a strong female narrative, a bit of a female James Bond bad-ass. I am excited to see how the story pans out.
Being the beginning of a new week, some work experience people have sadly left, but new work experience people have begun. I sent out an email inviting them to have lunch with us. It is really interesting to hear what brought them to apply with the work experience. I find that I, as a second year undergrad student, am one of the ‘younger’ ones. Many have applied in their third year (mid-dissertation deadline season!) or have already graduated. Nevertheless, I am glad to experience this now: I am still in two minds over what to pursue after graduation.
For the rest of the day I am keeping an eye on my emails and finishing off this manuscript. I find that I can now read much faster whilst still taking in all the detail and nuances the author has woven in. Time well spent!
Pulp shelf books: ‘The Anniversary’ by Hilary Boyd and ‘The Smoke Thieves’ by Sally Green
Day Two: 24/04/2019
It is 15:48, and it has been a quiet day. I finished off the second manuscript and wrote a submission report on it. Although I found the graphic terrorism difficult to read at first, the espionage plot really pulled through. I think it would make a really exciting book, with potential to become a series. I have found that my speed reading has gotten much better. Reading in an office environment has made such a difference. Submission reports are fu to do. Reflecting on book in this new way has been a good insight to way publishers see manuscripts.
I spent lunch with the new work experience people. They seem to be settling in well. I simply cannot believe that I only have TWO more days after this. What is time? I will be sad to go. Work experience has been an informative and eye-opening opportunity to see how a top publishing house operates. I am definitely considering the internship. It would be a good chance to be more involved in long-term projects.
Pulp shelf books: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ by Val Emmich and ‘The Swimming Pool’ by Louise Candlish
Day Three: 25/04/2019
13:59. So far it’s been another quiet day. Again, keeping one eye on my inbox, I await a new task to sink my teeth into; contributing some small piece to the team busily preparing all sorts of exciting projects around. Whilst I’m waiting, I’m keeping myself occupied.
This morning, I typed up my notes from the two meeting last week. Going back over what the Production and Editorial teams do has been a reminder as to what everyone is working towards here. It’s exciting to think that all the small tasks I have been involved with do fit into the wider picture. I think that prefer the content of the editorial process. It’s creatively involved and engages most with the reasons why I decided to embark on an English (and History) degree. Still, to become an editor is a slower process, and I think after this experience that is something I might bear in mind.
I have also started to read another submission. This one engages more with my historical interests, the Early Modern period. Having only read the first forty pages it’s hard to be certain but I think it’s a good one. Maybe I will meander over to the coffee machine whilst I read on…
15:22: I have an update! I received an email asking if I could pick up a bound proof from the printers just down the Strand. A nice bit of a walk to break up the day! I am really getting into the manuscript. The author has combined history and fiction well, accurately exploring key historical figures. I am beginning to get glued, so I will keep you updated!
Pulp shelfbooks: ‘One Day in December’ by Josie Silver and ‘Seven Letters’ by Sinéad Moriarty
Day Four: 25/04/2019
It’s already 12:52 and I cannot quite believe it’s my last day. Granted, with the Easter holiday sandwiched between my two weeks of work experience here, it has been shorter than usual. But it does make me wonder how fast the days will tick by when I have graduated and am working ‘for real’.
So far I have checked the inventory, including the ever mounting piles of boxes. After having alphabetised the spreadsheet, it all felt satisfyingly organised. In between I have been continuing to read the manuscript. But I have just been emailed a task I can crack on with. Looks like aother busy day! Signing off for lunch!
15:33: Just finished researching an author’s attendance at festivals in order to find quotes from authors on their new book. I couldn’t find as many attendances as I would have liked, but hopefully it serves as some use. I have grabbed another hot chocolate and hope to squeeze another one in before 5:30. It was bittersweet saying goodbye for the final time to the work experience people. It’s been a reassurance/point of contact to talk with them all for an hour every day, hearing what all the other departments are getting up to.
My time here has been a fantastic experience. Even through the lulls of work, I feel like I have really got a sense of not only the day-to-day running of an office, but what it means to work in a publishing house. Editorial staff work very hard, paying such close attention to detail in order to produce the best they can. I didn’t quite know what to expect when I first received my work experience confirmation email, but I have come out the other side all the better for it (and a little dazed at how the time has shot by!).
I think now I will keep another eye on my inbox (who knows, that health and safety email might pop up!) and read through that manuscript.
Over and out!
Pulp Shelf books: ‘The Break Line’ by James Brabazon and ‘The Safest Lies’ by Megan Miranda
So I am sitting here at 15:45 typing at my desk at Penguin Random House on work experience! I have (after a few calls to IT…) set up my login, printers, work experience file and email signature. The morning negotiating the trains and tubes seem like an age ago, in a very good way. Waiting in the Victoria Embankment gardens until 9:50 to enter 80 Strand and find the Penguin Reception couldn’t have been this morning. There I met the other work experience people nervously fidgeting couldn’t have been this morning. There I struck up a conversation with like-minded people: all typically English students (although usually with History, like myself, Creative Writing and even Publishing). After what seemed like an hour (got to love unnecessary nerves!) our mentor collected us and took us through to a meeting room. We had our anxieties calmed by a few slides and then commenced the, what I now appreciate as renowned, awkward short story task. We built a Christmassy story about an older brother called Chris, pranking his younger brother Noel with a snowball fight around the word ‘snow’.
After which, we were separated into those going off to Vauxhall Bridge and Ealing, and those of which were stationed here at the Strand. Those of us left were dropped off around the office. Here I was greeted by a fiction editorial assistant, who then showed to my desk. Later, my mentor took me on a tour around the office. It took me a while to set everything up after battling with a few computer issues (I have a tech curse!). I was somewhat twiddling my thumbs for something to do, mainly awaiting the health and safety assessment when I discovered two manuscripts on my desk. Expectantly keeping half an eye on my inbox, I started to read the first. I have no idea whether it has been approved, but after sceptically and critically reading the first forty pages, I’m in. As there seem to be little to do, I am tempted to read it all and write up a submission report for practice/in case it needs to be done.
At 13:00 all the Strand work experience people met at the elevators for lunch. It was really quite reassuring to catch up with the other newbies and hear from the second week guys. We trawled through the pulp shelf together, an exciting time for everyone.
Having reached 16:00 writing this diary entry, I still have no emails asking for tasks. I hear things are slow here at the moment and I am happy just settling in today to ease the nerves. Everyone seems lovely and focussed on getting their ‘to do’ lists conquered. I am hooked on this manuscript so I will definitely continue to avidly read through it. Signing out!
Pulp shelf books: ‘A Girl on the Cliff’ by Lucinda Riley and ‘Unexploded’ by Alison Macleod
Day Two: 16/04/2019
It is 13:59 and I have just come back from lunch with the other work experience people. It continues to be a reaffirming catch up to hear what’s going on in the other departments. It has been a slow day for everyone, perhaps partly due to it being Easter and several persons being away to look after children on their school holiday.
This morning I had a bit of a struggle to get in. There was a signalling issue for the trains between Slough and London Paddington, a connection I take after coming from Windsor and Eton Central, where I am currently staying. Fortunately I was early and could take a train that was not cancelled five minutes after the one I would have taken. It was extremely overcrowded. I was still half an hour early, however I believe all later trains were cancelled. From this, I am going to continue allowing extra time to commute into London. After all, the Victoria Embankment garden is a lovely place to sit and just breathe after the long trip.
I have been updating text on jacket copies with the Biblio 3 system. The Biblio 3 software is a combination of Penguin’s Biblio and Random House’s B3 after their merger. I updated the text on book covers into the system after they were circulated into the editorial, publicity and sales teams working from a spreadsheet. Now I can continue reading the manuscript. I have completed the practice submission report already. I was pleased to discover the book is being released in two days: Keep your eyes peeled for ‘The Evidence Against You’, it’s a real page turner!
Yesterday, I got home at 20:00. This was due to overcrowded trains I could not board, impacting my connections. Nevertheless, I have an 8 o’clock Bounce class this evening I am determined not to miss: Wish me luck!
UPDATE: I received an email! I was asked to extrapolate four/five pieces of advice from a very empowering self-help book very recently published that need to be promoted. After toning down the butterflies at my first task, I skim read the book and selected a few chunks of words that spoke to me. I ended up with way more than four/five tips. Narrowing them down was difficult, but I hope what I came up with helps.
Pulp shelf books: ‘One Thousand Stars and You’ by Isabelle Broom and ‘Us Against You’ by Fredrik Backman
Day Three: 17/04/2019
10:08: In spite of the trains, I came in a little early this morning. The announcer at Slough station warned of underground services being disrupted; everyone on the platform groaned. Fortunately, at least for me, this applied to the Circle and partially the District lines. The Bakerloo was less crowded today so I could take the first one that came. I arrived forty five minutes early. Once again, I took advantage of the Victoria Embankment Gardens to take some time to myself before the day. I am a little tired after the Bounce class yesterday, mostly due to rushing for the earliest trains I could catch. Otherwise, the class was such fun and a great way to loosen the body when you are sat at a desk all day.
I am thoroughly enjoying the environment here at Penguin. Even if its quiet at the moment, I feel like each day I am achieving something: even if its working out the Biblio 3 system and updating cover jackets, reading unreleased manuscripts, or discovering the fabulous hot chocolate! Everything is for an exciting end and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the day brings!
15:29: This morning I adjusted the pieces of set advice from the book I started yesterday. I made the tips more subject specific. I have been absorbed in continuing to read the manuscript that was left on my desk. As its being released tomorrow, I am determined to finish it by today. It’s really poignant and I am so glad it was approved to be published. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…
Pulp shelf books: ‘My Sister Milly’ by Gemma Dowler and ‘Two Can Keep a Secret’ by Karen M. McMagnus
Day Four: 18/04/2019
16:49: Today has been busy. I am sure it has been a walk in a park compared to everyone else I am sitting next to, but I have been non-stop. It started with emailing my host asked to have the Michael Joseph shelves pointed out to me. As it transpired, the shelves are crammed full with boxes, so I had considerably more to inventory than anticipated. After what could well have been over an hour, had counted all the books up and started to organise them alphabetically by the author’s surname: very satisfying once it was all finished.
As the office will be closed for the Easter long weekend, it is the second week work experience people’s last day. We spent the second half of the lunch hour outside in the Victoria Embankment gardens opposite the building. Unfortunately the building is all wrapped up in scaffolding so we couldn’t see how beautiful it is. The first week has gone so fast and I can’t quite believe we will be helping new work experience people next week!
In the afternoon we, all the work experience, were scheduled two meetings. The first detailed the function of the production team, the second outlined the editorial process. It was really informing and I made lots of notes. By the end of the meetings I could appreciate what goes into the end product of a book: from the technical tweaks of the colour of images, jacket design and cover materials, to the sculpting of the novel concept, plot and the technicality of individual sentences. I feel more informed in what publishing involves, and in particular the steady process of rising from editorial assistant, editor assistant to editor. I have a lot to mull over. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity talk about these roles with the very people themselves.
I am aiming to FINALLY finish off this manuscript. I am very near the end and will be thoroughly disappointed if I don’t know how it ends until Tuesday!
Pulp shelf books: ‘The Evidence Against You’ by Gillian McAllister and ‘East of Croydon’ by Sue Perkins
So, for the past two weeks I have unbelievably been working at Penguin in the Michael Joseph editorial department. I cannot believe my fortnight there is over already and I still have to pinch myself that it happened. It was such an enriching and fulfilling opportunity and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who might be considering a career in publishing. I plan to post my work experience diary on here at some point, but this is how my first day went…
6am. My phone blasted out the Today Programme and I sat bolt upright in bed. Today is the day. Feeling the twinge of butterflies in my stomach, I pulled on the clothes I laid out the night before, brushed my teeth, slapped on some make-up, and headed out the door. The journey in was remarkably smooth: Windsor and Eton Central to Slough, Slough to London Paddington, the Bakerloo line to Charing Cross: Charing Cross to 80 Strand. Well, after an excited half an hour in Victoria Embankment Gardens, having arrived far too early. As I nervously sat on a park bench watching commuters rush by, chewing on a cereal bar, reality set in. Ahead of me lay two glorious weeks of working at Penguin right in the heart of London.
At 9:40 I walked in to 80 Strand offices to the Penguin reception desk, still ten minutes early. After barely getting my name out, I was printed off a pass and joined the group of apprehensive looking people. There was an awkward silence, something I am very bad at sitting through. My heart in my mouth, I asked the girl sitting next to me whether she was here for work experience too. A conversation escalated from there, other people around us joining in. Feeling a little more confident, someone came down to collect us. It was finally happening!
We were briefed about the company, the various departments and roles we had signed up for. Then came the obligatory awkward ice breakers. From a single word, we were to come up with a short story using details about ourselves. Our group devised a story about two brothers in Australia waking to snow on Christmas day, the older one pranking the younger, but feeling bad so he gave him one of his own presents. Clearly a literary masterpiece! Soon we were dropped off at our various areas. I was shown to the editorial desks at Michael Joseph. From here, my mentor gave me a tour around the building, introduced me to a few people and then showed me my desk. Sitting down at it, my starter to-do list in hand, I had to pinch myself. I was really here, in Penguin, at a desk! My two weeks really had begun.
For the most part of the morning I was calling IT (I think they probably know me on a first name basis!). As computers seem to be my archenemy, I was a little nervous to be left alone with one. Nevertheless, I set everything up and felt of a whizz. I had a username, an email, an email signature, the printers all connected up: you name it.
At lunch, all the first and second week work experience people met to eat together. Everyone got to share what’s going on in their various departments, their experiences. I could gather what marketing and publicity, design and editorial teams in other departments were like. Every department at Penguin very much has its own style. But even sitting having lunch with like-minded people in the same position was an opportunity in itself and a lovely part to the day. After lunch, we headed to the pulp shelf. Here, all the unneeded or unloved books are placed to pursue and take home. A definite hotspot to visit!
Then my first proper job: A submission report for the manuscript sitting on my desk. All four-hundred-and-twenty-one pages of it. Honestly, I am not the fastest reader. Every night that J K Rowling dropped a Harry Potter book, my sister would stay up until the morning to read it. I, on the other hand, take days to read a book. I like to savour words, reread sentences after finishing a page, going back over sentences in the light of other ones later on. So being at a desk surrounded by busily working people, I was determined to try this speed reading lark. Between various tasks (inventory, emails, extracting information from books, and trying the top notch hot chocolate), I read the book in three working days. The next manuscript I would read took me one.
From Day One, working in an office, at Penguin, has taught me so many things. Organisational skills, time management, speed reading, encountering new software (Biblio 3): Even experiencing the London commute. Moreover, to grab opportunities that come my way no matter how nervous about them I feel. I have had an optimum insight to a career I am interested in at a leading publishing house. Two weeks go by all too quickly, but spending it at Penguin work experience has been very fulfilling and something I could not recommend enough.
Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust. –The Duchess of Malfi
Love, politics, truth and lies: E.C. Fremantle’s newly released book ‘The Poison Bed’ is ravelled around the secretive nature of the 1615 Jacobean court. Frances, from the old and prestigious Howard family, has been raised to survive the politics of power. Robert, her husband, has the influence and trust of the king. So as the story unfurls the backlash of stepping too close the flame of King James, the stakes of the couple’s lives get higher. They are accused of murder and someone will pay the price.
At first sceptical of a fictional historical book, my doubts were soon ridiculed as Fremantle takes you by the hand and introduces you through life under James I and VI like you have never seen it before. Following the recent troupe of opening the female narrative of Early Modern history, Fremantle gives us the spectacular character of Frances. She is strong, the victim of her great-uncle’s survival training. Echoing Philippa Gregory’s eye-opening ‘The White Queen’ series, it is refreshing to see women’s history reaching the fiction shelves. Moreover, Robert’s homosexual character and lucrative relationship with James reaffirms LGBTQ+ history. Fremantle delicately hits a lot of literary considerations, without disrupting the carefully laid out historical aspect of her book.
As an English and History BA student, this is something I can really sink my teeth into. With each page I turned, I found myself become more and more glued, the stakes getting higher, and the extent of the threat Frances and Robert are under becoming more increased. It was pleasing that Fremantle nurtures historically accurate, or at least plausible, narrative and provides a satisfying scope of aristocratic life in 1615: unlike the modern twists that somewhat tainted Reign.
With desire, fear, and threat running throughout the increasing tense plot, I feel that we have a lot to learn from this book, Brexit considered. How close dare you stand to flame of power without getting burned?
Izzy English, a restaurant owner, is thirty-six and lives on the Isle of Wight with her husband Nick, a police analyst. Her mother died seventeen years ago and her father, Gabriel, just got released from prison on parole after being convicted for her murder. Gabe immediately finds Izzy at the restaurant, Alexandra’s, which her mother used to run. She has made no attempt to hide, having repressed the murder on Hallowe’en 1999 that changed everything: getting into ballet school, her relationship, her home. She makes little attempt to resist her father getting into contact, and eventually calls and even meets up with him. He has changed almost beyond recognition.
Izzy is stuck in a kind of limbo between the life she had and the life she has settled into. Her husband, Nick, discourages the bond she has formed with her father. Part of her is disbelieving of Gabe, whereas a strong sense of her memories of him gravitate Izzy towards hearing his story. With her indecision, the reader is stretched between the two opposing sides themselves: reminiscent of even Romeo and Juilet.
McAllister forms dynamic and wholly captivating characters who you cannot help but question: means, motives, capability. Without spoiling the ending too much, McAllister’s book is unlike any murder mystery I have read before: you simply cannot guess how the story will end. I found my expectations usually raised by this crime genre to be thoroughly challenged and it really has changed my view of murder mysteries. I was kept on my feet throughout. With no formal detective, Izzy being both a victim and bystander of the tragedy, when the next piece of evidence will come to light is unpredictable. It is a totally refreshing mystery. McAllister masterfully keeps the reader both in the dark and invites them on a thoroughly personal and thought-provoking tour of the effects of tragedy. Death frequently capturing the audience’s imagination, I think McAllister successfully challenges this femme fatale ideal in a vibrant and exciting way.
In all, it is refreshing to read a strong and unashamedly female narrative that is challenging, tragic but completely fun all at once. The novel entices the reader in with beautifully formed characters and threatens everything with a subtle tension urging you to turn page after page. In all, I cannot recommend this book enough to you, I was simply glued from page one.
It has been 10 days since my last post. A longer period than I would usually go without posting another eclectic blog instalment. These past few days have made me pause, and think about what I take for granted. As you might guess, this post may a little more personal than usual (whatever usual may be). But I think a transparent blog should not only celebrate the good, but the bad and the downright ugly in equal measure.
This will not be a rant reeling off complaints about how terrible my first world white girl problems are (which all have happy endings *spoilers*). Instead, this is more a contemplation of three specific areas of my life that I have changed perspective on and how you, as a reader, might consider them too.
Love thy neighbour, but lock your backdoor
My student house was broken into and technically robbed.*
*If robbery counts as all the items being found by police on the drive with the net gain of a bicycle.
Not a tragedy at all, and incomparable to proper burglar victims. I had only been in the house during the day and had driven home by evening. My housemates were understandably spooked and confounded by the series of events (if you have any ideas please air them to me!! Creative writing inspo?). But it made me reconsider my entire presence around the area that day. Had they been watching? Where had they been looking out from? Would things have been different if I had changed my plans? Of course, this is self-centred. Student houses are easier targets for theft. It is harder to keep a track of people coming and going. To anyone in this position, click here for a nifty list of simple tips to avoid anything happening to you.
Take advantage of good health
This bullet point is at most risk of sound patronising to those who actually suffer from something serious. To those people, I can only take my hat off to you. I had less than two weeks of essentially (wo)man flu: dry eye syndrome playing up, jaw ache, headaches, nausea and a cold. Absolutely nothing consequential in the grand scheme of things. Nothing chronic (except perhaps the dry eyes!). But I crumbled.
As soon as I get over this silly blip of wellness, I am going to take full advantage of sunlight, breathing and exceeding the radius of 10 metres from a tissue. My eyes have been opened as to how lucky I am not to have any serious health struggles right now. That could all change in a heartbeat so why waste good health? Make yourself stronger to be your best self to cope when things do go pear shaped. Take that hike you’ve been meaning to go on, try a new sport, break the cycle of not doing that morning gym session you promised yourself the night before. Exercising will give you that release of endorphines. It may not change your life, but big things start with small changes, right?
Make that call
I won’t go into details on this one. A few days ago I almost lost someone very important. I was so sure April would hold a funeral no one was really ready for. Seeing how quickly things can change reiterates my second point: make the most of the good times because they will sweeten the bad. Call that friend you haven’t heard from for a while, visit your family, check in on your closest. Carpe diem and all the fridge magnet philosophy.
However with that in mind, learn to except the bad. When I first heard the news, I bitterly tried to hold it all in until I was alone. Fortunately, I failed miserably and had the best moral support through it all. Talking therapy has always worked for me. Letting out my fears extinguishes them to an extent. Hearing someone else’s experiences with a similar situation can invaluable and reassuring. Even so, I did take some time to be alone for a little while. Of course, how a person takes bad news is highly individualistic and only they know how to handle it best. My only suggestion would be to not be afraid to reach out. I did, and it helped enormously. Accepting the bad news and letting myself be sad made me much stronger. Incredibly fortunately, the critical situation became uncritical, and I now have the opportunity to do all the things I regretted not doing.
In conclusion, be secure, carpe diem, you don’t have be perfect 100% of the time. I won’t waffle on at risk of sounding too sickening. But essentially, here is my #nomakeup blog. I do hope you didn’t cringe too much.