Archive for 2012

A Final 2012 Nymph Word

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

The Nymph has requested to take over the last blog of this year. Not without a smidgen of anxiety, I will let her take control of the key-board.facbk_wall_xmas

‘Three years ago I arrived on this rainy island, a lonely ancient Greek Nymph washed ashore. The Gods begged me not to give my lovely name to a publishing house bound to fail in this cold, ruthless climate. I defied them. I was young. Nevertheless, I had my doubts. But this year the doubts have evaporated into thin air. I now know: the British reader loves me. This miracle wouldn’t have been possible without an impressive team behind me. I like to thank them today:

Sacha Davison Lunt, my designer: I can’t even imagine how I would get out of bed in the morning, if Sacha weren’t there to help me get dressed. People love and adore me because of my good looks. But I have to admit, without Sacha I’d be nothing but black words on a page.

Maddy Pickard, marketing director: the woman who ensures that I have the audience I deserve. Maddy attracts the best wine sponsors for our events, she sets up Supper Clubs and evenings with music and drama for our subscribers. And takes our sparkling show to bookshops, cafes and gift shops. Thanks to her I can take my place in London literary society.

Jennifer Cairns, Roaming Store manager: outright hero. Whatever the weather she stands outside selling books with a smile. She spends most of her time talking to punters who have never heard of an ancient Greek Nymph before. A couple of weeks later they have read the books and subscribe for years to come. In short it’s partly because of Jennifer that I have such a devoted fan-club.’

The Nymph pauses. I look at her and wait, expecting more to follow but she seems to have finished her speech.

‘Haven’t you forgotten someone?’ I eventually ask.

She looks at me in surprise: ‘No.’

‘What about me?’ Admittedly I feel  hurt by the omission.

The Nymph laughs in slight embarrassment: ‘Ah, yes.’

Then she regains her cheeky composure: ’Fair enough.’ She thinks for a moment. ‘You are the best slave driver. Even the ancient Greek world didn’t produce a better one.’ She grins at me. I lean forward and take her face between my hands and plant a kiss on her forehead. ‘Thank you, my lovely Nymph. And you are the most difficult yet rewarding non-slave I have ever worked with.’

Ladies and Gentlemen, Peirene and I bow to you. We thank you for your custom and interest and enthusiasm. Without you, our books and our show would be futile. We wish you a very Happy Christmas and einen Guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr. See you all back here in 2013.


Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

If money could buy time and headspace, I’d happily spend my last penny.Peaceful Beach. Image by  visitingeu

Well, I have just figured out how to buy headspace. And it ain’t that expensive.

I have discovered a food delivery company that chooses the meals, delivers all the ingredients and includes beautiful step-by-step photocards of how to cook. The only thing you need in the house: olive oil and salt & pepper.

I don’t need to think what to cook. I don’t need to think what to shop. I am a changed woman. My head feels light and easy.

And best of all: my children now love my food and our son has started cooking. Last Thursday he served us Chicken Fajitas with homemade guacamole. It was divine.

By the way: The company does not know me (except as a customer). Moreover, I am risking my relationship with Peirene by writing this blog. She is in a huff, convinced she is no longer the centre of my universe.

She is wrong there. This food delivery company is her soul mate. They do for food what we do for literature – deliver a service with the aim to make subscribers’ lives happier. The Nymph could even learn from them.

Last week I found in my grocery box an envelope with three gift vouchers to give to friends for Christmas. £25 off their first order. They clearly have understood that happy subscribers can quickly turn into enthusiastic advocates.

So here goes: I will give away my three £25 Hello Fresh vouchers to the first three people who comment on this blog or send me an email. I’m serious. And by the way their portions are generous. A “meal for two” feeds two children, a Nymph and one mother.

Image by visitingeu.

A Happy Nymph

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Andrew Motion was the star of the 16th Peirene Salon.  It was one of our best.Happy Orange. Image by fENZOMANI

53 guests listened to an exclusive taster of his forthcoming Selective Poems.  You could have heard a needle drop on the carpet. But the evening got even better with the Q&A. Andrew was asked how he judged his 40-year long poetic career. He replied that he was embarrassed about how little he had achieved. The audience was flabbergasted. ‘You’ve produced such wonderful poetry,’ one guest objected. ‘The finished poem is never what I imagined in my head,’ he answered.  ‘So are you ever happy with your work?’ someone else wondered.  He smiled. ‘Sometimes for 4 or 5 seconds straight after finishing a poem. But the feeling never lasts.’ An amazed silence followed. Eventually Andrew alluded to Beckett’s famous quote, Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again.Fail better. ‘And that is what keeps me going,’ he added.

Sleep is usually what keeps me going. But in the last couple of weeks I have often woken at 3 or 4 am with a racing heart, worrying about Peirene.

Since the summer we have increased our Roaming Stall presence. Initially the decision proved to be a wise one: in September we made a profit, in October we broke even. November was a disaster. We had a single good sales day. Of course, November is a difficult retail month even at the best of times. The pre-Christmas lull and storms and gales keep punters away. However, I persuaded myself that we should raise awareness of our books in readiness for the Christmas rush. And, sure enough, Jennifer chatted with many interested people and distributed stacks of Peirene flyers. But few people bought and I have started to doubt my decision.

Last night, after the salon, I slept like a baby. When I woke at 9am, I wondered why my anxiety hadn’t disturbed me. Then I remembered Andrew quoting Beckett. Fail better. Perhaps we just haven’t yet found the ideal location for our Roaming Store? And anyway, I should only judge the success of our strategy by the end of December.

Peirene, too, had a glow about her this morning.

‘Andrew said I am doing a heroic job with the sort of books I publish.’ She told me. A happy Nymph tidies up quicker than an unhappy one. We returned the house to order in just three hours. Well done us. In fact the whole Salon was not so much an example of “failing better” but a rare case of an outright triumph.

Image by fENZOMANI.

Turkish Delight

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Last week the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the British Council invited seven British publishers to the book fair in Istanbul.Turkish Delight. Image by  The Pink Princess

I asked Peirene to accompany me. But I didn’t reckon with her ancient Greek prejudice. ‘The Turks are a wicked nation. They invade everyone and want to rule the world.’ I suggested that it’d be good for her to come, if only to realize that most modern Turks are probably peace-loving. She shrugged her shoulders: ‘If you insist. But I am sure we won’t find any Turkish literature worthy of me.’

The first day she continued to moan. I started regretting bringing her. We had to sit through a number of official speeches. She rolled her eyes. ‘This is a waste of my time,’ she whispered loudly into my ear. ‘I could have stayed at my desk and been far more productive.’ I told her to be quiet otherwise I really would put her on the next plane back to London.

In the evening we went to dinner with agents and publishers from Istanbul. The next morning our tailored programme kicked off – brunch with eight Turkish authors, followed by meetings with agents, and culminating in a classy dinner on the banks of the Bosphorus. We ended the evening at a party in the Bohemian district of Istanbul, where Peirene chatted with an author. He told her about the rich traditions of poetry and folk song in the Turkish culture. ‘And this is why” he continued, ’we may do better with novellas than long novels.’

By the time we arrived back at the hotel, Peirene’s mood had changed. ‘What a great insight into the Turkish publishing world.’ She sparkled with enthusiasm. ‘I am sure we will be able to find some truly exciting books.’

‘So, it took one good-looking author to change your mind about an entire nation?!’ I couldn’t help teasing her.

She tried to frown but smiled instead. ‘He knew what he was talking about.’

To cut a long story short: The Nymph and I are now convinced that we will discover true Turkish lit gems – perhaps not full-length novels  but something shorter, something closer to poetry, with different voices and unique narratives that might offer new ways of understanding our human condition.

‘I think we Greeks have much in common with the Turks,’ Peirene asserted as we arrived back at Heathrow. ‘Perhaps we can find a Turkish writer for our 2014 list”. Perhaps we can.

Image by The Pink Princess.


Friday, November 16th, 2012

I am at the Istanbul bookfair this week and will return with a new episode of  ’The Pain & Passion of a Small Publisher’ on 25th of November.

(Illustration by Giulia Morselli for Peirene.)


How to Push a Button

Monday, November 12th, 2012

We have a new gadget. A portable card payment machine.Cash Register. Image by  SuperTechnoGirl

Over the last few months I’ve started to receive an increasing number of calls from people who would like to buy our books from us directly but prefer to pay by card over the phone. In addition, sales at our Roaming Store would probably increase if we could accept card payments.

The machine arrived a couple of weeks ago. Jennifer, our Roaming Store lady, and I were very excited. After all, we felt like proper booksellers now. And I proudly decided that whenever the machine isn’t out with Jennifer at the store, it should live by my side on the desk. If the phone rings I would be ready to take the order and receive the payment.

Only, the phone didn’t ring. For two weeks it remained totally silent. Then last Wednesday a customer called. She wanted to buy books and pay by card. I tried to wake up the payment machine, but couldn’t remember exactly how. It was too long since I had read the manual.  Eventually I remembered the blue button. The screen remained blank. I pressed the button again, long and hard. I apologized to my customer for the waiting, then I laughed nervously and finally I had to admit defeat. When I put down the phone, the Nymph looked at me disapprovingly: ‘Well, you definitely blew that sale.’

I rang up the service line for the machine and complained bitterly. ‘Have you pressed the blue button?’ ‘Yes I have, I have also read the manual’ I replied defensively. ‘Try again, just press it briefly.’ The machine switched itself on. I had pressed it for over a minute before.

Peirene simply shook her head. ‘I think it’s your age.’

‘You can’t talk,’ I retaliated. ‘You are ancient Greek.’

However, Jennifer clearly didn’t have that issue. She’s been accepting card payments at the stall without any hiccups. On the other hand, I know I can do it. It took me nearly three months to get used to the SatNav. Now I can’t live without it any longer.

And, by the way, I didn’t lose the sale. The customer was kind enough to purchase the books through our website online.

Image by SuperTechnoGirl.


Sunday, November 4th, 2012

This blog is dedicated to an unassuming front room in the hills of North London. It is situated on the first floor of a terraced house build ca 1880.Birds Nest 2. Image by  BioDivLibrary I don’t know much about its previous life. But over the last 15 years the room has done a remarkable job.

This front room used to be our kitchen. For years we cooked and ate in there. I also gave birth to our son in this room. Eventually we turned the kitchen into a library, with big bookshelves all around. Peirene took her first breath here too. Since then the Nymph and I meet in this room every day. And every four months the office is cleared in preparation for the Peirene Salon to make way for authors and guests.

But this is not the end of the story. The front room has now become a proper company HQ, with three company executives – director, marketing director, store manager -  plus one intern sharing the space. Moreover, the room and I have visions for the future. Two painter friends, Whitney McVeigh and Sarah Pickstone, deal with ‘writing’ in their work. Whitney uses ink and print, Sarah references women writers in her paintings. I like to hang a work by each above the wall where the authors sit during the Salon.

There is only one small issue with the room. My husband still thinks it is his study too and claims territorial rights over bookshelves. Every now and again, behind my back, he reorganizes them to make space for his new books. He thinks I won’t notice. But I do. Furthermore he also has designs on the mantle-piece. Today a photograph of his father appeared there in an over-heavy frame. I have shown commendable patience with his little game so far. Long may this continue – my patience, not his game. That said I recognize that rooms, initiatives and lives are usually best shared.

It is also true that some spaces are haunted by ghosts, others possess energies. I don’t know if I believe such tales or not. But I certainly know that without my front room Peirene and I would be out on street.

Image by BioDivLibrary.

Mad Women

Monday, October 29th, 2012

A few months ago I vowed I would never succumb to an all night binge session again. Back then, it was an easy decision. I had just gorged onArtemisia Gentileschi. Image by  FLORENCEandTUSCANYtoursthe box set of The Killing in two, all-night glorious DVD sittings.

Last night temptation was put into my path again: Homeland – Series One. I started the innocent evening wanting simply to watch the first couple of episodes. 12 episodes later I crawled into bed at 5.30am.

As I looked into the mirror this morning, I regretted my folly hugely. I need my beauty sleep and no make-up can hide the deprivation. What makes it worse, I’d be happy to put up with dark shadows under my eyes if I could, at least claim that I had used the time expanding my horizons and was up all night reading, let’s say, the Bible in Ancient Greek.

I’ve had a few hours of soul searching. Why do these box sets put my normal decision-making out of operation? The stories are thrilling, the plotting intriguing. And both series centre on strong female characters who share common features: intelligence, obsession and drive.  Like many women, I can identify with that.

But Sarah Lund and Carrie Mathison share another personality trait which makes them different from me. They are both psychologically unstable. I like to claim I’m sane.

However, I then wondered: What if neither Sarah Lund nor Carrie Mathison actually have any psychological issues? They both operate in very female ways and use their intelligence differently from their male colleagues.  Our perception of how things ought to be done and what constitutes success is still very much influenced by our patriarchal structures. Moreover, popular art reflects our social values.  So those two characters had to be scripted has unhinged. But are they?  Madness is often in the eyes of the beholder.

Peirene smiles at me graciously. ‘You managed to give your box set addiction a nice intellectual spin, but how do you explain staying up till dawn?’ I agree, that was a temporary moment of madness – but one that I didn’t repeat last night. Like the sensible publisher that I am – I went to bed at 10pm.

Image by FLORENCEandTUSCANYtours.

A Father’s Joy

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

We have send Peirene’s first ever newspaper to the printers. It is the most exciting thing that has happened in the Peirene world in recentProud Father. Image by  paws22weeks.After I had given the green light to send the files to the printers, I couldn’t do any more work. I jumped up from my chair and went for a run.

This is not my baby. All glory goes to Peirene’s designer Sacha Davison-Lunt. She conceived the idea and made it happen. She spent the sleepless nights and countless hours thinking,  tweeking and twisting it until the newspaper looked as it should. I simply nodded and provided the items of content she requested. Peirene’s newspaper is a design masterpiece. The best-looking newspaper you will ever hold in your hands.

I am like a man, whose wife has just given birth. During labour I patted her hand, encouraging her to hang in there. Now I am the proud father eager to present the baby to my friends and relations.

There have been a couple of other occasions this year where I felt the same. When I watched Lisa Dwan perform Beside the Sea at the South Bank Centre in March, I was overcome by a beautiful sensation of pride. Lisa received the inspiration for the play from a Peirene text. But what was happening up on stage, had grown far beyond The Nymph and me. And then a couple of weeks ago, Peirene was awarded for the second year running a major Arts Council Grant. Maddy Pickard, Peirene’s marketing director, worked out our marketing strategy for 2013, set new targets and wrote the application. She even dreamt about it, she told me. I simply checked the figures.

I am into fathering children now. I don’t mind giving birth myself. But you can only do it a few times. I’ve now discovered the excitement when others give birth.  I also enjoy the pleasure of praising mothers and showing off their babies to an admiring world.

Image by paws22.

Royal Encounter

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

I met a prince. A real prince. Prince Albert II of Monaco. At the Science Museum last Friday. We watched a movie and sipped Champagne.  ItCrowns. Image by Double--M was an unforgettable afternoon.

The Swiss Cultural Counsellor invited me to join her for the awards gala of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and La Praerie. These prizes are awarded annually to people who have contributed to the protection of our natural environment. David Attenborough received the Award for Preservation of Biodiversity this year.

I was nervous before going. My knowledge about the fragility of our planet comes from newspapers. I worried that I’d be out of my depth, surrounded by experts in the field.

The ceremony lasted three hours, including a film. I learnt a lot.  Moreover, ten speeches were given, which in turn gave me the chance to study how to deliver a speech well. The best speeches no doubt are well prepared but delivered without notes, looking the audience straight in the eye. They are short, with one passionate message. David Attenborough delivered such a speech.

Truth to tell, the Prince and I didn’t actually talk. But we came close. Very close indeed. At the drinks reception I stood back to back to him. For at least 15 minutes.

‘Oh, why didn’t you turn around and talk to him?’ Peirene was unhappy with my performance.

‘I was too embarrassed and wouldn’t have known what to say.’ I said. Then I added defensively:’ You know, princes are humans just like the rest of us. Nothing special about them.’

‘Still, for once you would have impressed me.’

I can see the Nymph’s point. In fact on my way home, I suddenly thought: Why didn’t I turn around? I could have simply complimented him on the success of the evening and his Foundation. Everyone loves a compliment. And even if the Prince and my conversation hadn’t gone much further, at least I would have had a story to tell. And, when will I meet my next prince? Currently I’m going at one every four and a half decades. The Nymph – and I –  may have to wait a little before the next opportunity.

Image by Double–M.