The Application Declutterer

February 7th, 2016

De-clutter your application process! How to choose from 1000s of applications the few that you should interview – within a couple of hours. Peirene can help. Call her – NOW. You will save money and time.1858876849_7c89a603cf_z

‘What’s that?’ I’m standing by the printer waiting for my document to come out. In the meantime I have picked up the printed sheet that was lying in the tray.

Peirene jumps up from her desk, dashes over and pulls the piece of paper out of my hands. ‘Don’t look. It’s not finished. I’m still experimenting.’ She returns to her seat, bends over the printed page and starts scribbling.

‘Please tell me,’ I beg. ‘I’m intrigued.’

She doesn’t stop writing but says: ‘On Saturday at the dinner party your friend Jack described his company’s recruiting process for summer interns. They use online maths tests, verbal reasoning tests and even a computer programme to analyse CVs. And still, the best candidates slip through their net. Well-‘ the Nymph takes a sharp intake of breath, ‘no one of course asked me. But I know the solution. All they need to do, is ask the candidates to send in a good old fashion application letter – either by post or email. Isn’t that how you and I can now tell within seconds whether to interview or not? We look at the first couple of lines of their covering letter. If the applicant manages to say something personal about our publishing house – something that shows that they’ve viewed our website, read a couple of our books, or attended one of our events, then they are moved to the next stage. It’s shocking how few applicants get that right. But when they do, it shows commitment, thoughtfulness and engagement. And we’ve never regretted hiring those kinds of people.’

‘I agree, Peirene.’ I shrug my shoulders. ‘But I’m not sure where you are heading with this.’

‘So I thought of a supplementary income stream for us. I will send flyers to all big companies in London offering my services as an application process declutterer.’

‘Good luck with that,’ I laugh. ‘ I suspect that many of these HR departments feel – like Jack’s company – that they have designed a state of the art process.’

The Nymph pulls a face. ‘I will never give up hope that the world will one day listen to an ancient Greek Nymph and be saved.’

Image by Pedro Ribeiro Simões, creative commons.


A New Chair

January 31st, 2016

‘Look I have a new chair. And it’s so wonderful at swiveling around. Wheeeeh,’. Peirene gives herself a big push and turns in

‘That’s my new chair,’ I shriek in horror, leap forward and stop the Nymph from turning. ‘Don’t do that. That’s how you damaged your old one.’ I tilt the chair forward so that Peirene is forced to get up and wheel it to my desk. ‘You can now have this one.’ I roll my old chair over to her.

‘I don’t want your hand-me-downs.’ Peirene pulls a face. ‘Your new one is much nicer. I’m sure it cost a fortune.’  She sits down on the floor cross-legged, rests her elbows on her thighs and her chin in her hands. ‘I’m officially on strike until I get a chair like yours,’ she announces.

I refrain from commenting. Her behaviour is utterly predictable. I was away last week on a writer’s retreat and now she is punishing me once again for leaving her alone. When will the Nymph finally grow up?! I sigh and sit down on my new chair. It was delivered while I was away. What a beauty! Soft and comfortable and yet it will prevent me from sloping forward, keeping my back straight and my shoulders back.

‘Anyway, it wasn’t me who broke the chair.’ Peirene says. I knew she wouldn’t keep quiet for long. She’s looking for trouble, I hear it in her voice. ’It was James.’ James is my new assistant.

‘James?’  I laugh out loud. ‘He doesn’t use chairs as a merry-go-round like you do.’

‘Oh yes he does. Last week while you were away that’s all he did.’

‘I don’t think so.’ I laugh again. ‘He was far too busy for that. He finished a long end-of project report for our EU funding from last year and he prepared our forthcoming half-term, half-price promotion.’

For a moment Peirene is quiet again. I can see her brooding over something else. But she’s now wasted enough of our time. I open my laptop, walk over, bend down and place it on the ground in front of her. ‘If you don’t go to the mountain, the mountain will come to you. We have a lot of work to do. Start by looking through the contracts for our 2017 books. They are now all ready to be signed.’ I’m about to turn away but then can’t help to add with a little mischievous smile: ‘And by the way, according to my yoga teacher, sitting on the floor is good for you. It opens your hips. Perhaps you don’t need a chair at all?’

Step By Little Step

January 24th, 2016

I’m on the stairs heading down from Peirene HQ to the kitchen. I’m precisely half way. I’ve counted the steps. Sixteen in total. I’ve done eight.14331687384_b0ea843c47_z

Peirene skips past me. At the bottom of the stairs she suddenly stops and turns around, looking at me in surprise as if she hadn’t noticed me standing there before.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m trying to get down the stairs,’ I mutter through clenched teeth, holding on to the banister firmly with both hands while I carefully lift my left leg in order to bring it down onto the next step. The pain is excruciating.

For a moment the Nymph appears to be rooted to the spot. ‘Oh my God, you  have forgotten how to take stairs.’ She brings both hands in shock up to her mouth.  ‘It’s the onset of early Alzheimers.’ She has turned totally white in the face. ‘I knew it. You’ve been forgetting so many names recently.’ She sits down on the last stair and leans her head against the wall. She closes her eyes. ‘Breathe, Peirene, breathe,’ I hear her say to herself in a soothing voice. ‘You have to help Meike. You’re a team, no one needs to notice yet.’

In the meantime I’ve managed to get both feet onto the next step. I, too, breathe in deeply. Out of relief. As long as I don’t move my legs, I feel no pain.

‘I’m perfectly OK,’ I mumble, mentally preparing myself to take the next step. My legs are like lead. I haven’t had such muscle pain for years.

Suddenly I hear the Nymph break out in laughter. ‘Don’t tell me – it’s the effect of your new Gym routine.’ She’s now clutching her sides. ‘Didn’t’ I advise you not to do it. Why change if something is going well. But you insisted. Your old regime was no longer effective you said. You had done it for five years without ever changing a single exercise, you argued. You had become complacent, you explained.’

I’m onto the next step. Six left to go. ‘Peirene, you are not helping.’ I throw the Nymph an irritated glance. ‘It’s good to keep on setting yourself new challenges. In all areas – intellectually and physically,’ I add defensively, although right this very moment, I wonder about the truth of my own words. It feels as if I will never live pain-free again. Ever. For the rest of my life.

Peirene stands up, wiping away the laughing-tears from her cheeks. ‘I’ll go ahead into the kitchen and make the tea. Don’t be too long. I wouldn’t want to serve you cold tea.’ She blows me a kiss and disappears around the corner. I concentrate on the next step. Only five to go now.

Image by Richard Leeming, creative commons.

Staying Flexible

January 18th, 2016

‘I’m not going!’ the Nymph announces from her desk. It’s quarter to six, Thursday evening. We’ve just started to pack up for the day. We’ve been at work since 7.30am with only half an hour for lunch. I’m looking forward to the gym. And Peirene7994290933_5bf4de87a8_z wants to indulge in a long bath, with her new scented candles and a facemask recommended by her beautician.

‘Where are you not going?’ I ask slightly confused.

‘Look at the email that has just dropped into our inbox.’ Peirene points at her screen.

Oh Meike, I hope it’s not too late and you are still coming tonight,’ the email begins. It’s from a reading group in Kingston. The other end of London. Back in October they invited Peirene and me to join them for tonight. Since I didn’t hear again from them, nor did I have their address, I emailed them in the morning, wandering if I was still needed. I didn’t receive a reply so Peirene and I made other plans.

‘I think we should go,’ I sigh. ‘If we leave soon, we can still make it in time.’

‘No!’ Peirene shakes her head. ‘That’s just not a way to treat an Ancient Greek Nymph. I’m now otherwise engaged.’ Peirene is about to walk out of the office.

I grab her by the sleeve. ‘We made this commitment. And it’s just part of our job to go and talk about the books. Anyway, I know you. Once you are there you always enjoy it.’ I let go of her sleeve, adding with a stern voice: ‘We’ll met in the car in half an hour.’

The Nymph eventually arrives at the car ten minutes late and decides to sit in the back listening to her music. As I park, I turn around, pull the headphones down from her ears and tell her that perhaps it’s better if she waits here. But she ignores me, opens the door and is already ringing the bell before I have caught up.

‘What an interesting reading group. What a wonderful evening.’ The Nymph’s cheeks are glowing in the dark on the passenger seat as we are heading back home. ‘And they wanted to know about ‘breach’ and editing and publishing and translating. And everything.’ She hasn’t stopped talking since we left. ‘We should do this more often.’ She lowers the window, hangs her head out and shouts into the starry night: ‘Hello, London reading groups, can you invite us, please.’ Finally she calms down.

‘You are really something,’ I say, tired but also pleased that the evening went so well. ‘If people only knew what fuss you made beforehand.’

Peirene looks a bit sheepish. ‘Well, I’m an ancient Greek Nymph and inflexibility comes with age. But luckily I have you,’ she squeezes my left cheek, ‘someone who keeps me agile and young.’

Image by Larry Lamsa, creative commons.

Fighting Spirit

January 11th, 2016

‘Oh, I’m fed up!’ the Nymph lifts the piece of paper she is holding in her hands up to the level of her face and then tears it demonstratively apart right through the middle.20700379740_392b48e826_z

‘Peirene!’ I exclaim. ‘This is not the way to start the New Year.’ It’s our first day back in the office and we are sorting the post. ‘What did you just rip up?’

‘The rejection from the Arts Council of our funding application for helping to market our 2016 Fairy Tale series,’ she replies with defiance. ‘They deserve some rough treatment.’ She’s about to rip the halves into quarters.

But I’m quicker and pull the paper out of her hands. ‘Don’t! We need to file them.’

‘File this letter?!’ Peirene shrieks indignantly. ‘Did you read it?’ I nod. ‘Well, I guess then you know that their rejection doesn’t make sense. They say that they do not wish to fund marketing. And then in the next sentence they write that a more innovative approach to audience-building would have strengthened our application.’ Peirene jumps up from the chair, rolling her eyes. ‘Duh! Audience-building is marketing.’ She gasps for air. ‘And if there is one thing we are damn good at is building an audience with our salons and newspaper distribution and roaming store and …’

I interrupt her. ‘Have you finished? You don’t have to tell me. I know.’

‘…. and last year they rejected our application to take the roaming store across England’ She swallows the wrong way and starts to cough.

I tap her on the back. ‘Peirene, Peirene. Don’t get so agitated. They are simply perhaps not that keen on how we do things. But we know it works. And that’s what counts. ’ I pause. Then I add: ‘And we shouldn’t be unfair to the Arts Council. They’ve given us a lot of help over the years. Perhaps we are now grown up enough to go our own way.’

Peirene has stopped coughing. For a moment she is deep in thought. ‘You’re right.’ She straightens up.  She is now looking straight ahead with a fiery glow in her eyes.  ‘The year ahead will be tough. It will be a struggle. There will be tears. But we will get through it. And we will be the stronger for it at the other end.’

‘That’s the fighting spirit, my Nymph,’ I say and give her a kiss on the cheek.

Image by Eden Janine and Jim, creative commons.

Reading Time

December 23rd, 2015

Peirene and I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a peaceful festive season and einen guten Rutsch into 2016. May you  receive and give to others lots of exciting new books.  Thank you for your company this year. We will be back here second week in January.

Winter Chair copy

Pink Champagne

December 22nd, 2015

‘I might just get a bit tipsy tonight.’ Peirene is standing in front of the fridge eying up the four bottles of pink Champagne I bought a couple of days ago.15963423579_3cf0c61453_z

‘These bottles aren’t all for you,’ I inform her. We are going to be nine people for our office Christmas party tonight: Sacha, Clara, Jen, Gianna, James, Eoin, Clare, Peirene and I. ‘And you can’t have a headache tomorrow, ‘ I throw the Nymph a worrying glance. Peirene and alcohol – even a single glass -  is like a game of Russian roulette. Sometimes she’s fine.  And sometimes not – struck down with a migraine for three days afterwards. ‘We still have a lot do before leaving the office for the Christmas break on Wednesday.’

‘I know. ’ She closes the fridge door and shuffles over to the kitchen table. ‘But admit it: you must have also wondered if there is actually any point in continuing at all after tonight. Haven’t you? Life will never be the same again.’ She sits down and buries her face in her hands.

Seeing the Nymph so upset, my heart warms towards her. I pull my chair close to hers and put my arm around her shoulders. For a while we both hang our heads.

Tonight we are going to say good-by to Clara and Jen.

Clara has worked for Peirene for two and a half years. She’s turned the Peirene annual newspaper from a catalogue into an exciting literary magazine, has increased our ebook sales by 500%, and has revamped our subscriber database so that we now know our readers individual literary needs.

Jen has worked for Peirene for three and half years. She has made the Roaming Store into what it is today – the perfect pop-up bookstore: knowledgeable, friendly, efficient. She trained 15 booksellers and ran over 300 stalls.  She has also set up the PeireneBookClub, turning it into one of the most stimulating reading groups in town.

‘It’s the end of an era,’ Peirene sniffles, and a tear runs down her cheek. I, too, feel a frog in my throat. Then suddenly I have an idea. ‘You and I we deserve an early glass of Champagne.’ I fill two glasses. We drink it in solemn silence. Peirene tops us up.

And soon the bubbles show their desired affect. A sparkle appears in the Nymph’s eye.

‘There is, however, one way I can imagine that life without Clara and Jen could become tolerable again: if we make it our custom to drink a glass of pink champagne in the late afternoon in their honour every day from now on.’

Image by Shari’s Berries, creative commons.

Baltic Treat

December 13th, 2015

‘I’ve worked out our diet plan for the next days,’ Peirene announces. We are sitting in a café in the old town of Riga. In a couple of hours we are flying back to London. ‘Soup without bread for lunch and a plain salad in the evening. That should 14317348286_289d6515bb_zget us back in a shape in time for Christmas.’ She lifts her jumper briefly. ‘Look, I can’t even close my jeans any longer.’

The waitress arrives with the coffee and the cakes, a hot chocolate flan with vanilla ice cream for Peirene and a delicious smelling marzipan cake for me.

‘Can we postpone this conversation until tomorrow,’ I suggest while I bite into the marzipan. I close my eyes to enjoy the moment.

‘How much has your waistline expanded in the last days?,’ I hear the Nymph ask.

I open my eyes in irritation. ‘Peirene, if you’re out to spoil our last hour here, then I can catch up with you at the airport.’ I pull her chocolate flan towards me. ‘This looks very tasty too.’ Peirene leans forward, holding onto the plate. ‘I couldn’t possible let you eat both.’ She sighs. ‘I will have to sacrifice my figure for your health.’

Truth to tell, my waistband too has tightened over the last days. Peirene and I were part of a group of seven UK publishers who were invited by Literature Across Frontiers, the Lithuanian Culture Institute and the Latvian Literature Centre to meet Baltic publishers and authors, first in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and then in the Latvian capital of Riga.

And what a tour it was. Three course lunches and dinners in beautiful restaurants every day. But not only the food was great.

These countries were under Soviet rule until 1990. The creative psyche therefore often still struggles with the freedoms only gained a generation ago. In literature we find abstract monologues loaded with symbolism – a response to a period when only the self could be trusted. Everyone else, even family members and friends, could be informers. Given this challenge, the creation of believable relationships between characters – one of the motors of plot – is frequently neglected. But the writers who solve these problems, provide unique glimpses into the workings of the human mind and are producing exciting literature.

Peirene and I have finished our coffee and cakes. We are leaning back in our seats, legs stretched out underneath the table.

‘I’m not keen on lettuce for an entire week, ‘ I muse. ‘How about going for a few more runs instead. That’s a much healthier way of losing a couple of pounds.’

‘You do that,’ Peirenes nods lethargically at me. ‘I’ve decided that I have now  reached an age where a few pounds more don’t matter. Ancient Greek Nymphs shouldn’t look lean and haggard.’

I don’t think there is much of a risk for that at the moment. But I decide not to speak my thoughts out loud.

Image by Ivana Sokolovic, creative commons.

Ruby Red Nails

December 7th, 2015

‘Ooh, we really are leading exciting lives.’ Peirene is clearly thrilled as the taxi is driving us to Liverpool Station to catch the Stansted Express. We have been invited by Literature Across Frontiers on a publisher’s tour of the Baltic States.

She rummages in her handbag, pulling out her sunglasses.3796378598_4ee4a7b12b_z

‘Why are you putting on your shades?,’ I enquire. Outside it’s grey and stormy.

‘In films, high-flying business people always wear sunglasses, ‘ the Nymph informs me, while she takes out her little mirror and reapplies her lipstick.

We arrive at the airport with time to spare. Peirene grabs her handbag and tells me with a vague wave of her hand that she has ‘things to do’.  I don’t follow her because I, too, have ‘things to do.’ I decided earlier on that I needed to pamper myself. A manicure would be perfect. I head to the nail bar at the main terminal. I rarely treat myself to a manicure, feeling guilty about wasted time. But since I didn’t have much of a break from work this weekend, I feel happy to indulge.

I know I want red nails but as I sit in front of the beautician, for a long time I can’t make up my mind what shade. The dark one or rather the brighter, more classic red? Eventually I come to a conclusion. I choose the ruby red. Soon, my nails look beautiful. I give the beautician a big tip.

I turn around, ready to walk away. And guess who I suddenly spot sitting on the other side of the nail bar? Peirene!

I tap her on the shoulder. ‘So that’s where you rushed off to.’

She looks over her shoulder with a start. Then she smiles at me with slight embarressment.

‘Show me your nails,’ I say.

She lifts them up.

‘Is that the colour high-flying business women wear in films?’ I ask.

She nods. I wave my hands at her: ‘That’s makes two of us.’

The Nymph compares my hands with hers. She purrs happily: ‘With nails like these we will surely clinch an amazing Baltic book deal.’

Image by Håkan Dahlström, creative commons.

Late Night Dating

November 29th, 2015

I wake with a start. It’s pitch dark. I hear noises. My alarm clock shows 2am. I close my eyes again. Only to open them the next moment.  Someone is moving around the house. Now they are in the office. My heart begins to race. Eventually I 6809609546_b05f13431e_zpluck up courage and get out of bed.

I pass by the storage room and pick up a broom. With this weapon in my hand I approach the closed office door. Dim light is seeping through the gap at the bottom. Very quietly I push the handle down, holding my breath.

Peirene! She is sitting at my desk, with her back towards me, staring at the computer screen. She is so engrossed, she doesn’t hear anything. I sneak up behind her. Images of a man flicker across the screen.

I’m shocked. ‘What are doing?,’ I exclaim.

The Nymph jumps and closes the window immediately. ‘You frightened me!’ She turns, flashing her eyelashes at me innocently.

‘Who was that?’ I point to the now blank screen.

Peirene shrugs her shoulders. ‘What do you mean? … Nothing. I’m just doing some research.’

‘At 2 o’clock in the morning?’

She nods. ‘I couldn’t sleep… because… because.’ She suddenly clicks the internet window open again. She clearly can no longer wait to show me. ‘Look, isn’t he handsome,’ she coos.

I glance over her shoulder. ‘Roberto Calasso, the Italian publisher,’ I notice in surprise.

Peirene nods dreamily. ‘I’ve just finished reading his new book The Art of the Publisher. He and I are soul mates.’ She sighs. ‘He knows my heart.’ She picks up the book. ‘Listen to this: “All books published by a certain publisher… are fragments in a single work.” The art of publishing is “the capacity to give form to a plurality of publications as though they were the chapters making up one book.”’ Peirene strokes the man’s cheek on her screen. ‘Isn’t that precisely what we are doing? But neither you nor I were ever able to express it so succinctly.’

‘It’s a rare little book, ‘ I agree. ‘It made me feel proud and dignified of our profession like nothing else I’ve ever read. But…’I pause, wondering for a second how to persuade Peirene to get some sleep. ‘I’m sure Calasso wouldn’t approve of wasting one’s valuable sleep time in front of the internet.’

The Nymph shakes her head. ‘He and I are in communion tonight. I feel it. I will stay up a little bit longer.’

I decide to let her be and scurry back to my bed. At least one of us needs to be well-rested.

Image by Zabara Alexander, creative commons.