Archive for 2010

Peirene’s Top of the Pops 2010

Monday, December 20th, 2010


Best Star Author: all Peirene’s authors are Star Authors, bien sur. But the prize this year has to go to Friedrich Christian Delius, author No 3,img_3158 for being stoic and resilient when visiting this island. Christian is an author who fills huge lecture halls  in Germany. Here he gave a star performance in a bookshop to an audience of seven. And for publicity reasons he revealed it all on twitter: The truth about Paul McCartney & Friedrich D. – based on a real story.


Best Newspaper Review: Nicholas Lezard’s Beside the Sea. The only newspaper critic who was brave enough to mentioned the Elephant in the Room. The Nymph was thrilled.


Best High-Heels: BBC journalist Rosie Goldsmith who hosted a wonderful evening with Blake Morrison and Friedrich Delius. However, the absolute star of the show was her gorgeous red High Heels.


Best One-Liner about Peirene: “Two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film.” The nymph will be forever grateful to Madeline Clements and the TLS.


Best Publisher’s Portrait: It has to be Richard Lea. He called me a D’Artagnan on the Guardian Book Blog!


Best Stunning Dress: Christina Mora’s, Maria Barbal’s agent, elegant little black number, which she wore for the Stone in a Landslide celebratory dinner in the summer. A great agent in a fab dress.


Best Blogger: Difficult. Difficult. We are in awe of the blogger scene. Some have already got special mention in our newsletter. But the overall prize will go to Kim Forrester who ventured out of cyberspace into physical reality and  hosted a brilliant Peirene author event with Friedrich Christian Delius.


Best Book Shop: Waterstone’s. Yep, sorry – I know this is not PC, but they embraced the Nymph whole-heartedly. And Peirene just loves to be displayed on Must Read tables and Best Buys Shelves.


Best Star Employee: Maddy Pickard, Peirene’s Marketing Director, who manages to sell Peirene books even on twitter –with a beautiful digital smile free of charge.


Best Literary Prize: Eight Cuts Gallery Prize – because they short-listed Peirene stating “however good the books, the Press itself matters.” Pure music to the ears of a nymph.


Best Celeb Party of the Year: Launch of Stone in a Landslide with actress Claire Skinner (“Outnumbered”) and two TV camera crews. Glamour Lit Bizz as you’ve never seen it before.


Best Salon: No 7 with Costa short-listed, TS Eliot nominated, Robin Robertson – because he was the only author who nearly brought me flowers.


Fröhliche Weihnachten und einen Guten Rutsch. See you all back here at the beginning of January.


Poetic Compliment

Monday, December 13th, 2010


Seven has always been a magical number. After all, God created the World in six days and rested on the Seventh, Snow White found herselfflowers

seven little dwarfs, Bluebeard’s castle sports seven locked doors.


We held our seventh Salon last Saturday.


Robin Robertson, the Scottish poet, was our guest. He is one of my favourite living poets. I initially approached him over a year ago to invite him for a reading. Robin’s answer was short – no. Earlier this year we met at the prize giving of the Best First Novel Award. We had a nice chat. I tried my luck again. This time he said yes.  


I asked him to read for about 40-45 minutes and then we’d open up the floor for questions from the audience. He said no. He wouldn’t want questions from the audience, it’d destroy the atmosphere of the reading. If someone wanted to talk to him, they could come up afterwards. I reluctantly agreed.


When he rang the bell and I opened the door for him, he stood there with a pot of flowers in his arms. I was immediately touched – flowers for the hostess?! No author had ever brought me flowers before. He said no, though with a smile, they are not for me, they are for his garden.


So by the time we were all seated in the upstairs room for the reading, I was nervous enough to stumble three times in an intro speech of ten sentences. Peirene was very unhappy with me and whispered into my ear, that indeed she might look for a new publisher if I continue behaving like that.


Then Robin began to read. At the start people shuffled to get comfortable on their plastic chairs borrowed from the primary school and I worried that this evening might constitute too much of a cultural challenge for some. Eventually, however, the shuffling stopped. You could have heard a needle drop, as the chilling and dark images of Strindberg’s ingenious world appeared before our eyes. The reading lasted an hour, it felt more like 15 minutes. The audience was thrilled and queued to talk to the poet afterwards.


When the party had dwindled down to 10 people at around midnight and the whisky was on the table, Peirene, a little tipsy, egged me on to ask Robin why he had turned us down when I asked him initially.


You do get approached by some weird, quite mad people, he explained. And it was only when he had met me in person that he felt happy to oblige.


After everyone had left, Peirene and I argued about who deserved the compliment – me for my personal persuasion skills or her for the nymph’s growing reputation. Eventually we maturely agreed to differ. But we both decided that Robin was one of the finest poets in the land. We would be delighted if he came again and we hope that the flowers look good in his garden.


(photo by canonsnapper from flickr)


Monday, December 6th, 2010


Last Friday I got up at 4.15am to wrap Peirene gift packages. By 6am I was done. I piled them into the shopping trolley and ventured into thegeography-fieldwork-photos-076 snowy icy morning, pulling the trolley up the hill to my son’s school.


It was the annual Christmas Fair and I had rented a stall. My first ever stall rental. I unpacked. At 7.30 the fair opened to the public. I stood between a lady selling cards and wrapping paper and another one selling tree decoration and little fairies in water bubbles. Crowds immediately gathered around the fairies in the water bubbles. Every now and again the Peirene books got a glance and a couple of people stopped for a second but then decided to go on. No one bought a book.


Admittedly at this point my mind was moving to other things. At 7.45am I had received a phone call. My husband. He was supposed to come back from a business trip to America that morning well in time to take our 11-eleven year old to his grade 4 piano exam. When my husband called me, he was still on the plane: “Meike,” he whispered into the phone, “I’m not suppose to speak. We’ve landed but we’re being held on the runway at Heathrow.”


Fortunately, I had anticipated such a turn of events. I had left money on the kitchen table and had told our son the previous evening that he might have to take a taxi if Dad’s plane were delayed. So I booked a cab and rang my son. He was incredible mature and cool about it. However, this didn’t prevent me from feeling like the worst mum on earth.


What exactly was I doing at this fair where clearly no one was interested in buying my books? And why was I allowing my darling boy to journey through the streets of cold London all by himself. I felt like crying. Instead, I decided to pack up.


“Have we sold any books yet?”

Peirene suddenly stood beside me, well rested and all rosy cheeks. I lifted my head. She handed me a hot cappuccino.

“Now, there is a surprise,” I couldn’t hide the sarcasm in my voice. “You were suppose to be here at 7.30.”

She mumbled an apology.

“Anyway, “ I continued. “ You’ve just arrived in time. We’re packing up. This has all been a huge mistake.”

For a moment Peirene looked as if she wanted to reply. Then she turned to the woman who had stopped in front of our stall, briefly glanced at Portrait of the Mother  and was about to turn away again.

“This is a 117-page long single sentence,” Peirene smiled at her, “which reads like a page turner. Nick Lezard in the Guardian said this story has one of the most moving endings he has ever read.” The woman looked at the book again, while Peirene chattered away. Eventually she bought not only Portrait but also Beside the Sea and a gift pack.


During the next hour and a half Peirene and I sold 11 gift packs and a number of individual books. My husband made it in time to pick up our son from the piano exam. And the piano exam went well. I am pleased I stayed at the bookfair if only to prove what I suspected anyway. Peirene’s books sell by word of mouth. People love the idea of two-hour books, they love the idea of translated fiction, they love the idea of strong voices and unconventional stories but they have to be pointed in the right direction. It’s called hand-selling – but you need a nymph to do it well.

The Myth of the Big Fat Baddy

Monday, November 29th, 2010


Books consists of words. And words are symbols. And symbols, put in a narrative order, make myth. So no wonder then that the book world isgeography-fieldwork-photos-075 infested by myth. And one of the them asserts that Waterstone’s is a big fat baddy.


Last week I met two lovely French ladies. Hélène Fiamma and Josephine Seblon. They are the new crew in charge of literature at the Insitut Français. They arrived in this country a couple of months ago and realized that they need to understand the British book market before they can promote the cause of French Literature. So they are interviewing UK publishers.


Last week came Peirene’s turn. Soon the conversation turned to the difficulties of selling foreign fiction. I told them about my two discoveries of this year, one disillusioning, the other a wonderful surprise. The disillusion first: Independent bookshops. When I started with Peirene I assumed that the Indys would be our backbone, they would love the Nymph and sell her books. Some do – and indeed do it fantastically – but with a lot of shops we struggle. They don’t stock us, and if they stock us, they don’t reorder. They think we’re too risky. They prefer the safe bets, such as the Booker Shortlist. Moreover, most Indys nowadays order from the wholesaler, to whom I have to sell the books at a large discount.


Waterstone’s on the other hand, has emerged as a glorious surprise. Flagship shops stock, reorder and put us on display tables. And we heard recently that  a couple of them might sell the first three Peirene books together as a special Christmas gift bundle -  for the adventurous reader short of time. What’s more we don’t pay a penny for these promotions.  


My visitors expressed amazement. You are the first publisher to say this, they replied. All others point to Waterstone’s as the big baddy. I shrugged my shoulders: I know. But I really can’t agree.


So, who is deluded – me or the rest of the publishing world? Well – I can’t speak for the others – but let me be clear, it’s not me. I am relating facts.


I even got so enthusiastic about Waterstone’s that I invited their MD to the next Peirene Salon on the 11th of December. He can’t make it but I did receive a prompt, nice reply.

Speech Day

Monday, November 15th, 2010

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a speech about Peirene. I was delighted. Why wouldn’t I be! The Nymph is my favourite topic. In addition itimg_30781 was the Authors’ Club, where I am a committee member, who asked me, so I would give the speech in front of a mainly familiar audience. Easy, I thought, this talk doesn’t even need preparation.

Speech day was last Friday. On the Monday before, as I was thinking about the week ahead, it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve never given a speech about Peirene before. Yes, I introduced Salons and book launches but I never stood in front of an audience and talked for 20 minutes without interruption. Of course I know that a speech, like a book, needs focus and a narrative otherwise the listener becomes bored.  And I didn’t want my Nymph to leave such an impression behind.

But still I was under the illusion I could knock off the preparation of this speech in an hour. I put it on my to-do-list for Wednesday among getting No 4 off to the setter and proofreader, revising the edits of No 5 and reading a Hungarian novel, which could fit the bill for 2012.

It didn’t take me an hour. It took me a full four hours to write and structure and then another one  to choose extracts to read from the books. That done I realized, however, that this wasn’t the end. For a speech to have full impact it ought to be spoken not read from a piece of paper. So I memorized it on Thursday and performed it in front of my husband late Thursday evening three times and twice Friday morning before breakfast and then stood in front of the mirror and entertained myself with a few more rehearsals. By 10am I was fully prepared. I took a shower, blow dried my hair, put on a nice frock and lipstick and earrings. Peirene and I should have left the house at leisure and well in time to arrive at the Authors’ Club for the 13.00  lunch followed by the speech.

“Meike, it’s 12.15, we need to go.” Peirene was standing in front of me in coat and a little matching hat and a shopping trolley in hand. She had been busy all morning wrapping our subscription gift parcels which we had started to sell on the website . We had decided to take some with us in the hope of selling them after the speech.

“I don’t want to go.” I said and knew full well that my stage fright made me sound like a stubborn toddler rather than a grown up woman. For a moment Peirene was puzzled. Then she said:

“Don’t make a fuss. You’ve prepared a beautiful speech about me. You need to deliver it now.”

She took my hand and put me into my coat and pulled me out of the door and dragged me along the road and into the underground. We didn’t speak a word to each other, but we arrived just on time.

Of course, as soon as we got there both of us were all smiles. While I delivered my speech Peirene threw me supportive glances and afterwards she sold more of our gift wrapped parcels then we had ever sold before.

Now the nymph is dead keen to repeat this little show. She thinks my speech did her justice. She’d be happy to take bookings. And I’d be delighted to oblige. Because truth to tell, I rather enjoy giving speeches. It’s just the stage fright before I could do without.

A Nymph’s Beetroot Idea

Monday, November 8th, 2010


The nymph never ceases to surprise me. geography-fieldwork-photos


“I have a brilliant idea for a new campaign.” She was in a frenetic mood. “We should hand out free organic beetroot to a million people.“

I looked up from my desk in astonishment. ”Why?”

“Because in that way we can persuade people to like beetroot. And from then on they will buy it every Saturday from their local organic farmer and live healthily ever after.”

“Peirene, are you feeling ok? We sell books not food.”


The nymph settled at her desk and took out from her handbag a copy of a recent Bookseller magazine.

“I am perfectly fine” she had opened The Bookseller  magazine and pushed it in my direction. “I am sure you’ve read this idea that 25 publishers will give away one million books on World Book Night?”

Of course I had heard about it. As usual Peirene was a bit behind with her Bookseller read. I nodded.

“And do you think it is a good idea?” she asked.

“I have very mixed feelings. Firstly it will only include mainstream books, secondly, it can only include big publishers because no one else can afford to print 40 000 free copies…”

Peirene interrupted me “And thirdly it won’t really encourage people to read who don’t already have the habit. And fourthly, and worst of all, it will perpetuate this modern notion that books – or lets say cultural products – should be available for free.” She jumped up from her chair. “And as you and I know, to produce a good text costs money. Writer, original publisher, translator, editor, copy-editor, proofreader, type-setter, another proofreader, cover-designer, printer, paper producer, all of these people need payment, the publisher has somehow to earn that money, but if no one wants to pay for a book …!”

She took a deep breather. “Culture is essential to human survival – it’s food for our imagination, our brain. And like food, we should pay for it.”


The nymph left the room in agitation. I heard her put on the kettle in the kitchen and I followed her.

“The problem with books in this country,” she continued, as soon as she realized I stood in the doorway, “is not that people don’t read. Everyone in the tube seems to be reading. No, the problem is that they are all reading the same crappy books. The market is not diversified enough. And a give away campaign like World Book Night is not going to help.”

Tears rolled down her cheek.

“Peirene, what’s the matter? It’s not this campaign alone, is it? There must be something else.”

She sniffed. “I am so worried you will send me back to ancient Greece because a nymph like me can’t survive in the modern culture-for-nothing climate.”

 I put my arm consolingly around her shoulders. “I won’t send you back. We will make it work somehow. I am sure there are readers out there who understand you have to pay for good books.”

I stroked her head, poured her a cup of coffee and sent her back to her desk.


I am still smiling about her organic beetroot idea, mind. Even there she went for quality. If food were to be given away en masse, it would surely be wine gums or sugary sweets – mass produced food with plenty of chemicals – not life enhancing nourishment. For that there is always a price.

Halloween Greetings from Peirene

Monday, November 1st, 2010


Writers wrestle with writer’s block, publishers succumb to publisher’s block. At least I do. I want to publish books but I can’t. I read novella aftergeography-fieldwork-photos-072 novella – German, French, Hungarian, Finnish, Polish, Italian – but I don’t like them. Or if I like them I won’t be able to sell them.


The only good news: I’ve got a scapegoat for my suffering. I blame Stieg Larsson.


Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is cooked with the most common ingredients – a modern maiden-in-distress (young, androgenous, computer geek, self-harming but not totally self-destructive), a knight who aims for her pants (excuse my crudeness) under the guise of trying to save her and a couple of psychopaths who indulge in gruesome murders. And, yes, one or two innocent victims. Idea-free escapism. This Trilogy offers nothing in terms of intellectual provocation and might as well have been written by Dan Brown. I guess we need the comfort of the familiar as we delve into suspense and gore.  


I haven’t read the books myself. But I watched  No 1 on DVD. I also have my 15-year-old daughter’s judgement– “It was cool. I read it in a week”. Of course, the fact that the Trilogy has sold millions in the English speaking world, does not help me deliver compliments. I am outright jealous.  I would love my nymph’s texts to scale similar sales heights.


So, as I am at the moment searching the European lit scene for the 2012 titles I try to keep in mind what readers would like.


And I have indeed found a book that seems to fit the bill beautifully, nail-biting suspense and hair raising gore. Except – it isn’t cosy and definitely not mindless. Take only its French title – Pharricide (first published in 1998). The word does not exist, it’s an amalgam of phare (lighthouse) and parricide(killer of parents). The story: a psychopath who lives in a lighthouse and can’t help but kill a few people and eventually himself. It’s Hanibal Lecter – from Hanibal Lecter’s point of view. If the novella is taken at face value, it is- admittedly – a very disturbing, gruesome read. Beside the Sea, in comparison, appears like a holiday postcard. However, if Pharricideis read on a symbolic level (and as such it should be – hence the title)  it’s an incredible piece of literature, showing us the workings of a psychopath’s mind and forcing us to ponder the importance of sound social structures. Not surprisingly, the book was awarded the Prix Charles Brisset by the association of French Psychiatrists.


I won’t publish it. It won’t sell in this country. If it had just been a little less clever, less literary, I might have found a competitor to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As it is I must keep on searching and resign myself that the next Peirene books may not sell in the millions – but they will be excellent for all that.


Peirene’s Troubles with her Men

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Last week Maddy took Peirene by the hand and introduced her to the coffee shops of London. In each one they handed over our beautifulCafe. Image by  nyoin poster, presented our books and pitched reading as an integral part of European café–culture. The nymph reveled in the attention.

That was the beginning of the week. It went downhill for Peirene from there on.

The texts for 2011 needed a last push from me. And they got it. But it came at a cost. Peirene had no one to entertain her once Maddy had to attend to her other part-time job.

The nymph was soon bored out of her mind and wanted to catch my attention. So she tried to cause some havoc.

“No one will want to read these books,” she stated looking over my shoulder. “You’ve really made a mistake with those. English readers want characters they can identify with.”

I tried to shut my ears.

“Just look at your 2011 heroes. The first one a chauvinist. The second a man with a huge anger management problem  and as for number three, those guys in the short stories make Beckett’s Krapp appear like a social butterfly.”

She lowered her voice and whispered into my ear: “Come on, we want to sell books, why don’t you add in a few recognizable middle-class characters: a psychiatrist, a detective chief inspector, a news-paper reporter, an eloquent mother. No one would notice. And then we might boost our revenue.”

That was finally it. “Peirene, if you have nothing sensible to say, then be quiet.”

“I am just telling you which books sell and which don’t.”

“Ok!” she had my full attention now. “Let’s consider Phillip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theatre, Hemmingway’s classic The Sun also Rises and any Kafka – take your pick – are those books nonsense or good, readable, saleable literature?”

Peirene was impressed

I continued “Because the 2011 titles are each reminiscent of those great works.”

I had won my argument. Peirene left me alone for the rest of the week. In fact, she continued where Maddy had left off and visited a list of cafes from Kilburn to Barnes. She left quite an impression with all six books. So what can I say? She’s still my top nymph.

Image by nyoin.

A Cunning Plan

Sunday, October 17th, 2010


On Friday Peirene didn’t turn up for work. She rang me instead: “I want to go back to Greece. No one loves me here,” she sobbed into thewebite-home-150 receiver.

 “That’s not true,” I contradicted her coolly. I know the nymph has the tendency to see things in black and white.

 “Critics adore you, book bloggers love you.”

“Yes, them! But they don’t sell my books, do they?! I am talking about booksellers. They don’t like me.”

“Yes, they do.”

“No, they don’t.”

“Peirene please!”


Of course I know what the nymph was referring to. Her tender Greek soul has indeed been upset recently by a couple of bookshops. Independent bookshops at that – the ones she was sure to win over with a smile. It all started in the summer when we walked into a shop which had been enthusiastically and successfully selling No 1, Beside the Sea. Now the book was nowhere to be seen. Neither was No 2. No 3 wasn’t out yet. When I enquired why they weren’t stocking the books any longer, the answer was that initial demand had ceased. “But how is there suppose to be on-going demand if the books disappear from the shelves?” I asked. I received a shrug as an answer. Since then we had two further encounters like that.


The nymph was outraged: “I thought independent bookshops are run by book lovers who want to offer their customers something different. But look, all they have next to their till, is the usual suspects: Stieg Larsson, Hilary Mantel and the Booker Short-List. Just like any big chain.”


I tried to calm her:”With some Indies, that’s right. But there are others, who even hand-sell our books and  now stock all three.”

“Oh but not enough. How am I suppose to pay my bills!”

 “Since when are you paying the bills, young lady? That’s, after all, my problem.”I was loosing my patience. “Get out of bed right now. I want to see you at work in half an hour.”

I put down the phone. At that moment I wouldn’t have minded if the nymph had left this island for good.


Our books do disappear quickly from the shelves. That’s true. But other books do too. That’s just part of the game. Peirene was aware of that challenge from the beginning. But she had clearly hoped against all odds that her books would be treated differently. While she cried into her pillow, Maddy and I, however, came up with a cunning plan. This week we will send out to 200 bookshops a stunning Peirene poster with all three 2010 titles. A poster, by the way, that has received the stamp of approval from my teenage daughter: “Looks like an art poster!” If a 15-year old is impressed, so surely will be bookshops up and down the country. And customers won’t be able to resist such beautiful books for Christmas presents.


“And what if your plan doesn’t work?” Peirene did eventually turn up for work on Friday, but in a bad temper. “Well, there is always another option.” I couldn’t help a little wicked smile as I prepared to turn the tables on the moody nymph. “Then we dress you up as a Christmas fairy and send you down the chimney of each and every bookshop who hasn’t put up our poster and you put them into their windows yourself!” For the rest of the day Peirene was very quiet and helped put the posters in envelopes, sealing them with a kiss for good luck.