2010: President Bashar Al Assad succeeds his father as ruler. 2011: Peaceful protests and opposition groups are met with violent crackdowns by Syrian security forces. 2012: As the Syrian government commit war crimes, refugees overwhelm temporary camps at the Lebanon and Jordan border. 2013: Syrian refugees increase from 1 million to 2 million as President Assad is accused of chemical attacks.2014: A humanitarian crisis emerges as 3 million Syrian refugees seek sanctuary in neighbouring countries and 100,000 have reached Europe. 2015: Europe retracts from humanitarian duties as demand thickens, with Hungary closing its border and the World Food Programme cuts rations to refugees with a funding shortfall; one million refugees reach Greece.2016: Years of war takes its toll on Syria, the US and Russia negotiate a ceasefire to send aid to hard to reach populations; ten of thousands of refugees are trapped in a No Man’s Land as Jordan closes its border; civilians are caught in the crossfire as Syria retakes Aleppo from rebels.2017: Over 5 million have fled Syria and at the G20 conference a ceasefire for south-west Syria is brokered. 2018: Nevertheless, fighting continues and more than 2.9 million cannot regularly be sent aid due to their difficult position. 2019: Syrians undergo new hardships as a bad winter batters camps at Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey; and increased conflict in northwest Syria destroys healthcare facilities and displaces a further 100,000 people.
We’re all familiar with the story. But what we are most familiar with is the fear, the anger and the public stirrings of discontent. The word ‘migrant’ has been a powerful political spark in recent Populist movements. Therefore, Christy Lefteri’s 2019 ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ comes at a time when we should be reminded of the need for humanity; compassion.
Lefteri uses her experiences as a volunteer at a UNICEF-supported refugee camp at Athens to craft this heart-wrenching story of Nuri and Afra: a normal, easy-living couple who have their family torn apart. We see them battle to keep hope, and to love again as adversity is thrown at them from all angles. Nuri’s protagonist perspective celebrates all the reasons why we should care about Syrian refugees. It dispels all the negatives tossed at us over the past five years. This book strips back the headlines and shows everyone the truthful hardships migrants are almost silently battling against. We suffer with Nuri, and we are allowed to care about him.
I listened to this book on audible, taking in the beautiful voice of Art Malik, as I was sorting through and organising Roman animal bones. Looking back through time, it really reinforced how connected we once were to the East. And now how far away it is considered today.
So if you are looking to have a story stick with you, to learn some compassion, and to see the world through another lens: I’d advise you to pick up ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’.
You never realise what you have until it’s gone. The synthetic-blue pool reverberates around and around my head as I inhale the thick chlorinated air. It drugs my lungs and I feel drunk in a fairy-tale land. Everything is just out of reach. Chaos from the night before buzzes like a migraine; the world an impossible echo of something that used to be true. The tears I slept in are an iron mask stopping me screaming for help: Too late now.
Oblivious in the stands, my parents, grandparents, siblings all wave their flags and cheer ecstatically. Vaguely I wave back but it is like greeting the moon: they feel a million miles away. Just how much I need them in this moment hits me as I hear how hard they shout my name.
“Emi-ly! Emi-ly! Emi-ly!”
I swallow and concentrate on breathing. Inhaling for six counts, I move to the edge of the pool. I hold my breath for eight: The mass of clothed onlookers stare at my waxed body, squashed into the tightest suit. Him too. Exhaling for seven, I throw my towel onto the ground. An electric thrill of fear is conducted through my skin under the audience’s gaze. I have to repress my revulsion. I take a last swig from the water bottle and my insides are drowned with coldness. My shaky fingers snap the goggles over my plastic bald head. Clambering onto the starting block, my legs become numb jelly. A race like this would have empowered me before. But he’s broken that.
I curl the toes of my right foot tightly around the edge and crouch in the starting position, as if about to make a prayer. As if he hadn’t crushed all my faith in just a few minutes. Although I can’t see him, I sense his eyes prickling into my back. My icy insides boil over with hatred. I trusted him; my whole family did. He took us all in with his façade of giving a shit about me. My fingernails dig into my clenched fists. It all felt surreal, like some terrible story you would hear from someone else, anywhere away from your own routine regularity. And yet, here I am. I peer across the three lanes next to my own. The other girls shift on their starting blocks, smoothing down their bald heads and fixing fierce goggles over their eyes. We look like flies, so replaceable. Unable to take much else in, I gaze down at the gently rippling surface below. Neat square lines of the tiles wriggle about as if trying to escape their two-dimensional prison. I clamp my hands onto the edge. I can’t let him see his effect on me.
“I will not let him win,” I whisper.
The whistle splits my head like a bullet.
Instinct launches me into the air, stretching my body out into the optimum streamlined position, just as he ingrained into me. My hands pierce the water first, entering another world. Soaring through the water in a gentle upward gradient to the surface, my legs make frantic butterfly kicks. Tucked under my arrow-shaped arms, my head spins in this blue tinged refuge. I am poised in motion, veils of water resistance gliding across my smooth skin. But it’s tainted now. The back of my throat is on fire from vomiting last night up. If only I could expel everything he did from my body. Still I am under his control, doing just as he wills; a performing seal out on parade, jumping through his hoops for some sick amusement. I push forward into the rippling light above and leave the eerie shelter of the under-water. My hydrophobic cap snaps open the surface. Instantly, the hubbub of disembodied shouting and cheering clicks back into earshot.
The surface plunges at my ears as I pull myself along using alternate strokes. I drag my face through the water, no matter how much I need to breathe. My hands scoop through the pool with my fingers expertly slightly separated. I kick my legs as a hard as I can. But I did not kicked hard enough when it mattered. How do you fight off the man who taught you how to be strong? Desperate to breathe, I start to gulp water; head aching, muscles alight. My limbs cut silkily through the water. I think that was what provoked him. He insisted on lingering in my hotel room when they waxed me.
“Leave my star swimmer alone with you hairdresser airheads? Anything could happen!” he shouted in his poolside voice, probably an attempt at humour. Everyone in the room grimaced awkwardly. He embarrassed me. But I believed he genuinely cared. Until they had finished, packed away their things and clicked the door shut on just the two of us. Uncomfortably, I reflect, it was a game of power and control. Clearly, being applauded for training top tier swimmers does not make you a good person. Before yesterday, I thought that only villains did awful things. I would dream up far away criminals plotting malevolent schemes, but it transpires that it’s those closest you have to fear.
Three arm-strokes in, I can finally breathe. I turn my head slightly to the side. My mouth levels with the dip my speed makes against the waterline. I wrench at the air, gulping in as much as I can before submerging my face again. It reignites my lungs. Another three strokes and I turn my head the other way, then the other, and this way and that way and soon I am spinning in my own vortex. The nausea kicks in again. I taste the faintest hint of metallic saltiness trickling onto my tongue. I close my eyes. The taste triggers the memory of his assault on my mouth. I reopen them almost immediately, not affording the smallest mistake.
Aware of the bubble streams from the other competitors encroaching into my peripheral vision, I decide I must win this race. Every fibre of my being is a swimmer, my family pumping all their support into my career. My birthday presents were club memberships, new suits, fins to replace the ones my feet had out-grown. There was no joy on earth greater than the look of pride on my parents’ faces when I brought home more medals; my little sister pointing excitedly at how shiny they look aligned on the wall. But last night, I saw the truth behind the person who had spurred all this on. I can’t bear to imagine going home with a part of him tinting the people I love’s view of who I am: I don’t want a shiny wall flashing with his true colours. I will do anything to scratch off my coach’s glossy reputation, even if it means cutting short my own swimming career.
“I will let myself win,” I promise the water.
I imagine my applause, picture a smooth ascent out of the water and tossing my towel hard at my coach as I walk past him. His mouth hanging open in surprise, hand outreached as if to touch me: to shake mine, to clap me on the back, to hug me? Nausea courses through me at the thought. The strings of his control over my every breath, his eyes scouring my form for any minute slip up, scrutinising my very being. I decide it is over. The assumption that he would ever assume his skin could touch mine again repulses me.
Pushing, kicking, fighting with every atom of my being, my mash of fingers slam against the edge of the pool, my head crashing after them. Touch down. It all goes black for a moment. My life as a swimmer melts away; schedules, diets, restrictions dissipate. I am reborn.
If you have been affected by any of these issues, please contact SupportLine.This story is based on fiction and only intends to raise awareness in a sensitive way.
Whilst I am approaching my final year of my degree, the sudden reality that all too soon I will be working in a ‘real’ job contributing to a ‘real’ career is striking me. Therefore, I organised a few days experience at a school in order to grapple with what it would mean to be teacher. I observed a variety of ages and abilities facing internal end of year exams and looking towards the next new year of school. It was a fantastic experience and gave me hope that this might be the route for me. However, it stirred something in me. Something underlying in the teaching profession that never seems to be fully acknowledged: strap your seat belts in, I feel a rant brewing…
“Don’t go into teaching for the money”. “Think of the holidays”. “It’s the only route for humanity degrees”. These are all preconceptions that have been blasted at me everytime I mention going into teaching. So when I found myself in an English staffroom listening to a lunchtime discussion on how it would take 15 years to save up for a house deposit on teachers wages, the reality of this beautiful, nurturing and under-appreciated profession hit me. ‘Skilled’ jobs are defined as paying over £30,000 per annum. The starting salary of a teacher is £23,000: which would only just cover the cost of the tuition fees and maintenance loan required for a degree over a year. Teachers (on the traditional PGCE route) spend a minimum of four years at university. And for what? An ‘unskilled’ job?
With the recent revelation that headteachers have to reduce the number of teachers in a school to breaking point in order to pay for basic equipment, such as tables and chairs, it is evident that schools are in a crisis. This comes after schools have been flogged off to businesses and other companies to become academies. Giving hope for improvement and survival of OFSTED inspections. This may seem a dramatic view; an exaggerated reality, however I, myself, saw the reality of this firsthand as a student. My secondary school was a failing institution placed in special measures for a number of years, spot inspections happening every few months. But nothing ever changed. Even with a proactive new headteacher who pushed the school to the national list of top ten most improved schools, the school remained in special measures. Only when it was converted to an academy that any real change happened. Through a series of harsh but necessary changes to secure a sustainable future for the school, it made a ‘good’ OFSTED rating.
So what does this say about the state of state schools? Is it condemned by its limited financial resources, like the NHS? Maybe. Undeniably, schools reaching out to former pupils with lists of what donations of well over £1,000 could buy for the school, such as interactive whiteboards and library computers, sounds too much like charity fundraising for crisises in other countries. But the issue is very much present in our local communities.
So where does this place teaching? From what I learnt at my invaluable few days placed in the heart of a growing academy trust that aims to expand into a cluster of local schools over the area, teaching is a necessary and potent career that will enrich your life by inspiring others. The teachers I had growing up caught my respect because of how hard they worked to make a difference to our lives. The tireless nights, the lesson plans, the unseen ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that goes into each lesson; the years of study prior to even setting foot into the classroom. It all contributes towards something significant and under-appreciated in not only pay but the overall system of things.
Perhaps it is true that teaching is more than a pay check, but why should the two be so dramatically separated? Certainly, impacting on young people’s lives in a classroom every day beats sitting at a desk in an office; so why can’t that be celebrated in the way it should be? It would change the negative perception that for humanity students particula rly, teaching is an inevitability. Something drastically needs to change for schools. As a prospective teacher facing a world where academies are breaking finanical constraints, I want to ride the wave to creating something better.
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.
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
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?