So I landed a six-week Roman Society placement at the Corinium Museum. Three weeks in, and I have learnt an awful lot about the runnings of a small but successful museum, battling the modern day struggles ‘loss-making’ public buildings face. In my time so far, I have helped with Roman and prehistory workshops (from Roman board games and mosaic making, to stone age painting); handled collections data; made all important space in the resource centre; but perhaps most excitingly, made my own display.
The Corinium is currently undergoing massive HLF funded construction work for a new gallery: ‘Stone Age to Corinium’. In order to preset this, I created a preceding temporary display about the ‘Pre-Roman Corinium’. It was once thought that Cirencester existed before the Romans invaded Britain, but little did they know…
Bagendon is today a village 3 miles north of modern day Cirencester, however in the Late Iron Age it was an oppidum inhabited by a tribe called the Dobunni. Essentially, when the Romans settled at their Leaholme Fort set in new, straight roads (the basis of Cirencester), the Dobunni and the Romans hit it off. This was unusual, but there is no archaeological evidence of conflict. Therefore, the precise nature of their relationship is speculation: mainly around whether the tribe conducted trade with the Romans. Regardless, it is clear that Corinium was a via media between both the tribe’s and the Roman’s idea of a good town. Buildings such as houses, the amphitheatre, bathhouses and the Forum, arose around the Fort, so that when the Romans left, a town remained in its place.
After a good deal of research, I selected objects that reflected this story. I chose coin moulds that prove Bagendon was an administrative tribal capital. Gold, silver and bronze Dobunnic coins were found at the site, so I selected a silver coin with a three-tailed horse on one side, a symbol of Belgic tradition (following the Germanic invasion of Britain) . Additionally, pottery sherds were significant finds at both Bagendon and the Leaholme Fort. Samian ware was particularly interesting, as this is a distinctly Roman: The red, glazed decorative pieces would be used to show off at dinner parties. However, samian ware was also found at Bagendon; an insight into the kind of relationship the tribe and Romans shared. Moreover, small finds, such as nails, a tiny iron knife, and an intricate bronze pendant, physically show key objects the Dobunni would have handled day-to-day.
With a terrain map and a carefully selected text I put together, my display is now complete and (hopefully), being looked at by the public. The idea that my insight to the Pre-Roman Corinium is being taken in by interested people is highly exciting, and has reaffirmed why I chose to study history at university.
Today is the first day of my Summer. Ahead lies long stretch of four months until my final year at university – not at all daunting…! In lieu of a month of constant revision (and regaining mobility of my right arm from writing so much!), I would like to catch up on my somewhat neglected blog with a beautiful brownie recipe: an optimistic beginning to hopefully a good summer ahead. This a foolproof recipe that is guaranteed to yield amazing results!
275g caster sugar
185g unsalted butter
85g plain flour
3 large eggs
(and the exciting bit:)
185g good dark chocolate
50g white chocolate
50g milk chocolate
40g cocoa powder
Cut the butter into small cubes and break up the dark chocolate into small pieces. Tip both into a medium sized bowl. Fill a saucepan with water so it does not touch the bottom of the bowl when they are stack on top of each other. Heat the water on a low simmering heat. Stir the butter and chocolate occasionally as they melt into one another. Remove bowl from the pan and leave the mixture to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, prepare your owven by turning it to gas mark 4/180C/160C, and line a shallow 20cm tin with greaseproof paper (I used my round loose-bottomed cake tins but normal people who can take things out of tins competently probably use square tins!).
Next, sieve out the flour and cocoa powder together into a fresh bowl.
Then chop the white and milk chocolate into chunks – ready for a later stage.
With a third bowl, whisk the three eggs and caster sugar together with an electric mixer on the highest setting. Stop when they look like a thick, creamy milkshake. This will take no longer than 8 minutes but may be faster and took no more than 3 minutes depending how pwerful the whisk. The mixture will be double its original size, pale and creamy. Be careful not to overdo it as you will risk knocking the air out.
Pour in the cooled chocolate and butter mixture and gently fold in with a figure-of-8 motion, taking great care not to knock air out. Make sure to reach the sides of the bowl. The resulting mixture will be a dappled brown colour. Do not rush this stage: be slow and gentle.
Resieve the cocoa and flour over this mixture so it covers the whole thing evenly. Do the same gentle folding as before, making sure to eradicate pockets of the dry ingredients. At first, the mixture will look disheartening and dusty (but you’re on the right track!). In the end, it will be fudgy mixture. Again, do not overdo this and stop before you think you should.
Gently stir in the white and milk chunks of chocolate.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, gently easing it into all areas of the tin and leveling it to a smooth level. Put into the oven for 25 minutes. At the end of this time, check the middle does not wobble. If so, bake anouther 5 minutes. There should be a parpery crust and the sides will have moved away from the tin’s edges.
Leave to cool and cut into squares, triangles or even dodecahedrons should you desire.
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.
Last Thursday, I went home for long weekend to break up the four days of no contact hours I have this semester. Much to my mortification when I unpacked, I realised I left my laptop charger at home. Anyone who knows me, knows how important my laptop is. I rarely go anywhere without it. And why wouldn’t you when it provides reading, writing, university work, access to any information readily available at the touch of a fingertip? So the prospect of four, suddenly very long days stretching ahead felt very daunting. Luckily I had prepared my work for the following week in advance, so the 80% battery ration was not overly critical. My weekend went very differently laptop-free.
Within an hour of being home, I started baking. I made a lemon and white chocolate Victoria sponge with scraped icing around the side. This was partially spurred on by the horrendous state of our uni kitchen (despite personally deep cleaning it two or so days before…). It felt liberating to be able to create something with a free range of preparation space.
Listening to the impact of another failed Brexit vote on Radio Four (yes I am an elderly woman), I modified this recipe. with fresh lemon juice and zest, a hint of white chocolate grated into the batter and icing, and replacing jam with lemon curd. It was really nice to surprise my parents with cake when they came home from their day!
This spurt of baking escalated. The good feeling from this initial cake lead to cheesecake and flapjacks (after watching the Stand Up 2 Cancer Bake Off):
The flapjacks were a little crumbly, and I would follow Paul Hollywood’s advice of adding more than 2-3 tablespoons of golden syrup to hold everything together and let the outside caramelise more. Again, I used the white chocolate and lemon flavours for my cheesecake. This was also a little crumbly, the biscuit base falling apart over time. Whilst not overloading the base with melted butter, next time I will be adding more than the recipe uses; but the main body is perfectly creamy! The firmer you would prefer the cheesecake, the longer you leave it in the fridge to set. Making these were a nostalgic and fun experience, much more engaging than filling time up on my laptop.
Over the weekend, I saw both my grandparents. These visits spurred on my final two cakes, coffee and a marble cake:
You really can’t see the full effect of the marble sponge here, but simply separating the batter into two and adding chocolate and vanilla respectively makes a massive visual difference. It was lovely to give my grandparents the cakes too. I realised that between uni and my grandmother’s walking holidays, I hadn’t seen her so far this year. It was really enriching for us to catch up: I got to see her new yellow/orange MINI and Maurice (whom you may recognise from my first post) and Mavis Davies.
In all, I can happy reflect that a laptop free weekend was a refreshing experience of getting out to see family more, and being able to share some baking with them. Not having the fall back of a laptop meant that I had to actively consider how best to fill my time in the down moments: actually reading that book I’ve been meaning to get through, being more present with my family, ploughing through my to-do list and feeling good about it. All in all, if you want to challenge yourself over lent, I can thoroughly recommend having a relaxed ban on technology for a few days (or at least assure you it’s not the end of the world if you leave your charger somewhere!). I wish you a happy week ahead as I tuck into the last slice of coffee cake!
(Of course, it’s all fun and games until realising I had left my straighteners at my parent’s. Looks like another week of sacrifice ahead!)