New Hair Colour

February 20th, 2017

Peirene walks into the office and I barely recognise her. She has changed her hair colour to purple and green and is wearing a gothic inspired lacy black dress. Her nails and lips are painted a dark purple.8451909095_6854ee9945_z

‘Wow!’ I exclaim. ‘Where are you going after work?’

‘Nowhere.’ She turns on her computer. ‘But it’s important to keep up standards, even in the office.’ She opens our homepage. ‘And talking about which…I don’t like our website any longer. I hate the pink. It’s so dated. So early 21st century. Brrr,’ she shivers. ‘I simply can’t bear to look at it any longer.’ She closes the browser, then turns to me. ‘We need a new website.’

I shake my head. ‘And a new website costs a lot of money.’

‘A website is like a dress.’ The Nymph leans back in her chair and puts one leg over the other. ‘People judge us by it. ‘ She pretends to hold a cigarette between her index and middle finger. ‘We are trendy and edgy,’ She throws me a quick, sceptical glance, ‘well, at least I am. And so our website needs to reflect that. It has become far too convoluted, is not interactive enough. It feels like an old, heavy, pre-historic creature. An e-commerce dinosaur.’

A few days later, the subject comes up again. James takes me to one side: ‘I receive more and more complaints from readers who try to order our books via our website. Our shop page is just not user friendly enough. I worry that we are losing sales. You should look into getting a new website.’

If we are losing sales, we need to address the issue. And our website is now nearly nine year old. Maybe it’s time for an update, after all. So I pick up the phone and arrange to meet Tom, our webdesigner.

‘Do you want to come with me?’ I ask Peirene, expecting her to be thrilled that I have finally kicked into action. But the Nymph doesn’t appear very happy.

‘You listen to James. But not to me. I’m not sure I want to be involved now. My feelings…my feelings have been very hurt.’ She turns hers back on me.

‘James gave me a valid reason.  I wasn’t sure that just because you are now into black and dark purple we should spend all that money.‘

For a moment she continues looking away from me. Then I hear her sigh.

‘Oh well, I guess I have to come. I dare not imagine what you and Tom – two middle aged people – come up with if a trendy Greek Nymph doesn’t keep an eye on it.’

As she turns back to me I notice that today she is even wearing dark purple eyeshadow. Luckily I trust Tom to design us a website that will have a timeless quality rather than reflect the Nymph’s fashion interests of the moment.

Image by Wicker Paradise, creative commons.

Shock at the Front Door

February 12th, 2017

IMG_1299‘Why? Why? Why does nothing ever get done when I’m away!’

I drop my bags, tear off of my coat. I have just walked back into the house after five days away on a writer’s retreat. The transition from beautiful, creative serenity to mundane, day-to-day chaos is simply too much for me to take.

The kitchen looks a mess. The dishwasher has not been emptied out. Dirty dishes pile up in the sink, empty beer bottles litter the table, cigarette smell emanates from the bin and the glass of the gas stove has been smeared with something I cannot identify.

The office in the attic looks only slightly better. The bins haven’t been emptied out, the boxes have not been tidied away. And when I open my desktop, I immediately notice that the latest editorial video that Anthony Cartwright and I recorded a week ago has not yet been uploaded onto youtube.

Back downstairs I put on yellow rubber gloves and begin to tackle the kitchen in a mad fury. I wish I didn’t need to come back. I wish I could just stay forever in the little cottage I rent in Norfolk from time to time. Live all alone – just writing and going for runs and not talking to anyone. Then no one could mess up my kitchen, my office, my life.

‘Hehem,’ I hear the Nymph clearing her throat in the corner. ‘Hello. Nice to see you back.’

‘I don’t want to talk to you,’ I say between clenched teeth.

‘I didn’t leave this mess,’ she says. ‘That was your son. You’re always in a bad mood when you come back to the house.’

She’s right. I find change-overs difficult. But I don’t want to admit that just at this moment. So I continue with my list of irritations.

‘You didn’t tidy the office. And don’t tell me that was James, because James worked from home this last week.’ I stop scrubbing the stove door. ‘But he’s in the doghouse too, ‘ I continue. ‘He didn’t even manage to upload the video.’

‘He tried though,’ I hear Peirene say. ‘But somehow the password had changed, and he needs you to rectify it.’

‘Oh, don’t always defend everyone.’ I have now turned to scrubbing the dirty pots where the dried residue of food has been stuck for days.

For a while Peirene is silent. Then she says: ‘Well, you might not be pleased to see me. But I’m pleased to see you. It’d be a pity if you were just living on your own and writing from dawn to dusk. We’re such a good team running this publishing house. I couldn’t do it without you.’

It takes a moment for the Nymph’s words to sink in, but then I take off my rubber gloves, turn to her and give her big hug. ‘I’m actually pleased to see you too. I like doing both, publishing and writing. But transitions are always painful for me.’

Peirene, who sometimes understand me better than I understand myself, just says ‘I know’.

A Cuppa To Calm The Nerves

February 5th, 2017

‘I don’t believe he’s done this. It was all going so well… and then this.’ I hyperventilate, drop the page I was just reading and jump up.14117815200_cd63075cfc_z

‘What? Who?’ Startled, the Nymph lifts her head.

I gesture that I wish to be left alone. I’m too agitated to speak at the moment. I head into the kitchen and return with a camomile tea.

‘Have you finished reading through it?’ I point with a despairing glance to the most recent manuscript of The Cut that Anthony sent us this morning.

‘Yes. And … Wow! Wow! Wow!’ Peirene’s face breaks into an expression of utter bliss. ‘Isn’t he just wonderful!’

‘Wonderful?’ I exclaim impatiently. ‘Surely you can’t mean the draft that  has just arrived!’

Peirene doesn’t seem to have heard me. Her eyes shine brightly. ‘What progress from the last version. The two main characters, Cairo and Grace are now interacting, being drawn towards each other, driving the plot forward. Anthony has got under their skins. We are on the homestretch with The Cut. Little can go wrong now.  In the next version the narrative wheels are going to click into gear, I can feel it.’

The Nymph and I clearly have read different manuscripts.

‘Have you got to the scene where Grace suddenly leans across the table and kisses Cairo on the head?,’ I enquire. ‘No preparation. Just out of the blue. I’m sorry it simply doesn’t work.’

Before I can continue Peirene interrupts me: ‘And have you read to the end of that page?’

I shake my head. ‘No need.’

She holds the page in front of my face and points to the bottom of it. There Anthony has typed in capital letters THIS SCENE DOESN’T YET WORK. NEEDS MORE DEVELOPMENT.

‘You see. He knows his craft.’ She turns on her heals and walks out of the room. I sink into my chair with a sigh of relief. Peirene is right, Anthony is a good writer and I should stop worrying. The Cut will be another inspiring Peirene Now! book and our readers won’t be disappointed.

Peirene walks back into the office with my training shoes under her arm. ‘Why don’t you go for a run? I think a break will do you good,’ she says in a soft, motherly tone. ‘And don’t worry about Anthony and me, we can have the editorial meeting without you.’ I now notice that she has put on lipstick and her most sparkly earrings.

‘I better stay,’ I smile. ‘If only to make sure that your attention remains on the manuscript.’

Image by Jan-Willem Reusink, creative commons.

Pin Up Girl

January 30th, 2017

Peirene puts on her dark shades and retrieves a big sunhat from underneath her desk.10023979124_b5fc2c316a_z

‘Where are you’re going?’ The rain is pelting down on the sky-lights of our new office, so I’m curious to know what the Nymph is up to.

‘Nowhere special.’ She pulls the hat over the left side of her face and heads towards the door. ‘Just to the loo,’ she then adds and disappears. A few minutes later she’s back. Still in shades and hat. Although I notice that now the sunhat covers the right side of her face.

‘This is very peculiar behaviour,’ I can’t help commenting.

‘I’m trying my best,’ the Nymph mumbles in reply.

‘What? To pretend that it is sunny outside?’

‘No.’ Peirene rolls her eyes .‘I’m trying to pretend that that poster,’ she points with her head to the wall just outside our office, ‘isn’t hanging there. And since I can’t avert my eyes, I have to shade them from its sight as much as possible.’

I’m shocked. That poster is of me! It’s a stunning 1m x 2.20m banner that hung from the ceiling in the entrance hall of the literary festival in Bangladesh in 2015 announcing my appearance on stage. Afterwards the organisers gave me the banner as a souvenir. And ever since then I have been dying to hang it up somewhere. I might never be such a celebrated star ever again. And so, I might as well be proud of that moment. And now with the new office I finally have found the perfect wall for it.

‘You are just jealous,’ I shrug my shoulders as if her comment didn’t affect me and turn back to the computer.

‘Me and jealous,’ she sighs. ‘You misjudge me. Did I tear your poster down? Rip it up? Burn it to ashes? No! Instead I accept things as they are’ She shuts her lips, breathes deeply and returns to her desk.

After a while I ask: ‘So you think that having the poster there right next to our office door is a bit embarrassing?’ I have to admit this had crossed my mind. Peirene nods her head.

The next morning I have decided to take the poster down. In its place I hang a poster of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation.

I feel Peirene’s hand resting with approval on my shoulder. ‘I like the  Archangel Gabriel hovering by our door. Perhaps he is waiting to come in and read the first book in our 2017 “East and West” series?’

With the help of an ancient Greek nymph and now an archangel too, we should have an excellent year.

Image by isterik 32, creative commons.

The Activist

January 23rd, 2017

‘You know, I have become an activist Nymph.’ Peirene is standing on a ladder putting books back into their shelves after they’ve been redecorated. It is not a job she enjoys.31653672943_9f795a8d7d_z-2

‘I know you are,’ I hand her another pile while I keep my ears pricked to hear the door bell. I’m waiting for the phone technician. Our landline has not been working properly for the last three weeks. This is the first appointment they could give me.

‘For example, I do a lot for women,’ Peirene continues. ‘Over half of our authors are women.’

I don’t react. My thoughts are elsewhere. It’s embarrassing – and bad for business – if a company’s phone line is down for such a long time.

‘And let me tell you another thing: I’m also doing a lot for our community. I support Counterpoints Arts.’ She draws a deep breath. ‘So, I’m defying Trump & Brexit and xenophobic right-wing politics with my actions. Right or wrong?’

‘Right,’ I nod vaguely. I’m unsure why she feels that she has to tell me all these things. I know them anyway.

‘So aren’t you feeling guilty-?’ Her voice has suddenly turned accusing.

I look up at her, standing there on the ladder like a Nymph of The Mighty Judgement.

‘-for us not having joined the women’s march today.’

The coin drops. She clearly feels unhappy that we decided not joining the march taking place right this moment in central London.

‘Peirene, neither you nor I should feel guilty. If we could have gone, we would have.’ I hand her another pile of books.

‘You could have!’ She folds her arms in front of her chest, refusing to take the books from me. ‘All you are doing is waiting for a phone person to turn up. What a weak excuse.’

I struggle for a response. Then find one. ‘As you have just pointed out, there are all sorts of different forms of activism. Marching in protest is one. Mine is to get our phone line back up and running so that readers who want to buy our books over the phone, can do so. And that surely will help to spread international understanding.’

For a moment the Nymph remains with her arms crossed. But I know that she knows I’ve scored but she doesn’t like to admit it straight away.

‘And what if the phone technician doesn’t turn up?’

In that moment the bell rings. I flash her a smile of relief and zip down the stairs to open the door. I’ve not stayed at home without reason. Soon the phone will be working – and the world will be, ever so slightly, a better place.

Image by Tom Hilton, creative commons.


A Missing Nymph

January 16th, 2017

‘Have you heard from Peirene?’ I turn to James. He shakes his head.SpiralStairs,ArielRiosBldg

It’s nearly noon on the first day in our new office. Our first proper office. We no longer occupy my front room. No! That’s history. Instead we have converted our loft with desks for myself and James and an intern. We have practical wall mounted shelves for our files, and proper storage space for all our book boxes. And best of all: the printer and franking machine no longer live on the floor.

I thought the Nymph would be up here long before us. Before Christmas she had been so excited, she almost didn’t want to take the break. She continued stroking the freshly painted walls, opened and closed our new drawers and franked a few empty envelopes just because it felt so good standing in front of the machine rather than kneeling on the floor in between boxes. Eventually I had to drag her by the hand out of the door. Her last words to me before we parted for the holidays were: ‘I can’t wait to be back at work in January.’

So, what has happened to my Nymph?

I descend the three flights of stairs. Peirene is not in the front room. I try to call her. No reply. Something is not right. Eventually I find her in the kitchen sitting on a chair as pale as a ghost. In her coat and hat and with her handbag on her knees.

‘I was in the office at 7pm.’ Her voice is shaking. ‘I then came down here to make myself a coffee. I went back up again, only to realise that I had forgotten the milk. So I went down again and up again. Then I had to go the loo, so down again, and up again. Then the postman rang. So down and … well I got half way. And then, I had heart palpitations. An Ancient Greek Nymph is not meant to climb three flights of stairs.’ She pulls a piece of paper out of her bag. ‘My resignation letter.’

I’m so shocked that for a moment I don’t know what to say.

‘You made that decision to move the office into the loft without thinking about my age,’ she sniffs. ‘Ancient Greek Nymphs just don’t seem to be your priority any longer.’

‘Oh, Peirene, that’s not true.’ But I do feel for her. I, too, have noticed how my heart races by the time I reach our new office. I’m sure, though, we will get used to it. And anyway it will keep us both fit.

‘What can I do to make you feel better?’ I pull a chair up and put my arm around the Nymph.

She lifts her head. ‘Well… there is something that would make me stay. A kettle, a tray of mugs and a tin of biscuits to be kept in the office. And perhaps we could make James responsible for opening the front door for deliveries.’

(Image: Spiral stairs, Arial Rios Building, creative commons 2.0)

Christmas Break

December 16th, 2016

The Nymph & Co are off on their Christmas break. Thank you for following our adventure in 2016. Have a wonderful Christmas and einen Guten Rutsch into 2017. We will be back here second week in January.



Nymph Award

December 12th, 2016

‘Meike, we need to have a word.’ The Nymph closes the office door behind her and invites me with a stern nod of her head to sit down on the sofa. She settles down opposite me in the chair. From her voice I can tell that this is going to be 16022-illustration-of-champagne-glasses-pva serious conversation.

She clears her throat. ‘Why wasn’t I nominated for a Best of 2016?’

For a split second I’m confused, while she continues:

‘James got a prize. Anthony got a prize. Even Baby Tamu,’ she rolls her eyes in utter disbelief, ‘received a prize. The only one who was left standing in a corner empty-handedly was me.’

The coin has dropped. She’s talking about our own Best of 2016 Awards. I laugh. ‘Peirene, there is really no need to be envious. These awards aren’t to be taken seriously. They are just a way for me to highlight our achievements of this past year.’

But Peirene is not in a jokey mood. ‘This can’t just be shrugged off. Awards are awards. Last year I received the ‘Best Nymph’ award. That was the least I expected this year too.’

‘Last year I struggled to fill the ten nominations,’ I admit. ‘This year we had so much more to celebrate: breach and The Cut, our first Booker nomination, the kickstarter campaign, the EU Open letter and our work with Counterpoints Arts. All new things. All so exciting. We’ve expanded our work considerably in 2016.’

Peirene leans back, folding her arms and crossing her legs. The tip of her right foot is kicking the air as she is obviously trying to reflect on what I just said.

‘I’m still not happy,’ she doesn’t lift her gaze. ‘Of course you are right to celebrate our new achievements. They show our commitment that good literature should engage with society. Still, you can’t just ignore my tender, artistic soul that yearns for public acknowledgement too.’

In the silence that ensues I become aware of my emerging guilt feelings. When I drew up the nomination list, I noticed the absence of Peirene. Suddenly I have an idea. I lean over to her and whisper:

‘How about this: Our office Christmas party is coming up on Wednesday. I will get pink Champagne and draw up a little speech in honour of your artistic soul and its inspirational powers. But you are not allowed to breathe a word to the Peirene team. Deal?’

Peirene’s face brightens like the rising sun. ‘Deal! And what a brilliant excuse to go to the hairdresser and maybe even buy a dress worthy of the occasion.’

Hoover Threapy

December 4th, 2016

‘I think you might soon be out of a job,’ I hear the Nymph say. She is standing in the door, both hands in hips, watching me hoover the living room after last nights Salon. I’m working very slowly. My bones are aching, my head is aching. I’m 2816922905_724435aa1a_ztired.

‘Why?’ I brush away the sweat from my forehead, turn off the hoover and sink exhausted into the sofa. I love hosting my salons but they take a lot of effort to prepare and clear up.

‘Your work ethic isn’t good enough. You just want to drink your tea and stare into the void.’

‘You are right! I could do with a cup of tea,’ I sigh and hope Peirene will take the hint.

She doesn’t move. Instead she rolls her eyes. ‘You see. That’s what just what I mean. All you have to do is tidy the house a bit, and what happens? You collapse! That attitude would not have got you from Sudan to the UK.’

I suddenly see what’s on her mind. Yesterday’s Salon was all about ‘breach’, our first Peirene Now! commission. The stars of the night were the authors, Olu and Annie, who were joined by Mohamed, a young Sudanese man who they met in the Calais refugee camp last autumn when they did the research for the book. Shortly afterwards, Mohamed made it to England and is now legally working and studying here.

I asked him: ‘How long were you in Calais?’ ‘Only one month,’ he replied. ‘I kept on trying to get on a truck every single night. That was the only thing on my mind. I just didn’t give up. Others gave up after three or maybe four times. I didn’t. And then I was lucky. I managed to hide in a truck full of tyres where no scanner or police dog could find me.’

‘Take Mohamed as an example.’ The Nymph walks now over to the hoover. ‘He will be a successful man what ever he does. Because he has focus, determination and knows that he has to create his own luck. You should be worried, I might give your job to him. Then things would get done.’ She pushes the hoover in my direction.

For a moment I want to protest. But she’s got a point. I’ve recently moaned a lot, about too much admin, about having to sort out issues that didn’t go right straight away and about why it’s always me who has to pick up the pieces. In fact I have spent a fair amount of energy feeling sorry for myself. And truth to tell that’s what actually exhausted me. Time to change.

I lift myself up from the sofa and turn on the hoover.

Image by Connie, creative commons.

A Whole New Hole-Punch

November 27th, 2016

‘Gooooood Morning!’ I’ve barely opened the door when Peirene’s joyous voice greets me, followed by a shower of confetti that she is throwing at me from behind the door.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘What’s the honour?’ I laugh. Then I stop in my stride. The office floor is covered in confetti. Mountains of it. Red and blue and yellow and silver and gold and pink.

‘Nothing special.’ Peirene throws more confetti over me. ‘I just got carried away. Couldn’t stop making it all night long.’

‘Making it!?’ I start coughing as some has got into my mouth. I lift my arms to protect my face. ‘Stop it, please,’ I beg her.

The paper shower ceases and Peirene stands in front of me, holding out a hole-punch. ‘The best thing that has happened to me in such a long time.’

I’m slightly bewildered, to say the least. ‘Don’t tell me you sat here all night and punched holes in paper?’

She nods enthusiastically, then sits down on the floor again, piling up a few loose magazine pages and punches holes into them with a face as if she’s performing a stunning party trick. ‘Look, what it can do. It punches perfect holes into all the pages, even when we have ten lying on top of each other.’

Suddenly she calms down and looks at me sternly. ‘You know, I think you could be sued for years of unreasonable behaviour towards your staff.’

I’m speechless. I’m not aware that I’ve committed a crime.

But the Nymph continues. ‘For ages everyone in this office had to put up with your old hole-punch that you inherited from your father because he didn’t want it 30 years ago. That monstrosity was such nuisance. Everyone hated it. At the end it could only make one hole at a time, in a single sheet of paper. And that often didn’t come out properly. But it never crossed your mind to get a new one and make our lives easy.’ She sighs. ‘Luckily we have James. A man of action. He decided to sort the situation out once and for all and bought a new hole-punch from his own money and gave it to me as a gift.’ She hands me the hole-punch. ‘Try it. It’s amazing. You won’t ever look back.’

Slightly reluctantly I do her the favour. After all, a hole-punch is a hole-punch, surely. But! Wow! What a feeling. Two perfect holes appear without any effort. I didn’t even need to push down hard. I try the same trick with a few pieces of paper lying on top of each other. Again, perfect. I repeat it a few more times. What fun!

‘It’s my turn again!’ Peirene grabs the hole-punch from me.

‘Ok, how about we take it in turns. You do ten holes, then I do ten,’ I propose, feeling slightly silly. But it’s so exhilarating to own a hole-punch that actually works.

Image by Asia Boros, creative commons.