Archive for 2017

Staff Gossip

Monday, March 27th, 2017

‘Pss, Meike,’ Peirene pulls me into a corner of the office. ‘I need to talk to you, urgently!’ she whispers. ‘Meet me in the loo in five minutes.’ She’s about to head back to her desk. Instinctively, I catch her by the sleeve.8301373473_000f2d3a89_z

‘What’s the matter,’ I ask in a normal tone.

The Nymph’s eyes widen in horror. ‘Lower your voice, please,’ she hisses, throwing an alarming glance over her shoulder towards James and our intern Julia. ‘I don’t want them to know.’ She pauses: ‘I really need to talk to you. It’s concerning the reputation of our company.’ Lines furrow her forehead.

Five minutes later we meet in the bathroom. Peirene’s behaviour in the office was most peculiar indeed. And so I, too, am now slightly concerned.

‘Have you observed James and Julia lately? Are you aware what they are up to behind your back?’ The Nymph is breathless. ‘You know, this desk arrangement in our new office doesn’t work at all. You are sitting with your back towards your assistant and the intern. They could do anything and you wouldn’t notice. In fact: You are not noticing. You are totally oblivious to what is going on in our office.’ Peirene is speaking so fast, I have problems following her.

‘Peirene, what’s the problem?’

She blurts out: ‘They are on their phones ALL THE TIME! For the last two weeks at least. They are not working. They are busy chatting to their friends. ALL DAY!’

The Nymph is now so agitated that she has flushed red.

‘But they are meant to be on their phones,’ I say while I wet a flannel and pass it to her. ‘Here, cool your face.’ Then I explain the phone calls: ‘James and Julia are working their way through all the Waterstones in the country, talking to the booksellers on the shopfloor. To see who has heard about us and whether they would like taster reading copies of our books. They had some wonderful response. Some booksellers are so excited to hear about us, especially in the smaller towns.’

The Nymph’s face has disappeared behind the flannel. I wonder if she is keeping it there for longer than necessary because she’s embarrassed having made such a fuss for nothing.

I’m wrong. When she pulls the clothes away, her eyes gleam with a self-righteous sparkle.

‘I’m pleased to hear that. Although, it doesn’t change the fact that while they are on the phone ALL DAY, I have to do everything else. ALL DAY.

The penny drops. I now understand what’s concerning the Nymph.

‘So, you are overworked?’ I ask. She nods. ‘Fair enough,’ I reply. ‘How about if I ask James to cut the calls short today and help you with other stuff in the office?’

‘Thank you,’ the Nymph sighs and the lines have finally disappeared from her forehead.

Image by Richard, creative commons.

Man Awareness Day

Monday, March 20th, 2017

The walls along the hallway up to the Peirene office are plastered with handwritten posters.16425639595_fc27633128_z

‘Men are beautiful.’

‘Men are smart and intelligent.’

‘Men constitute half of the human race. Treat them with respect.’

‘Men aren’t workhorses.’

‘Men have rights.’

‘Men need weekends.’

In between the posters, photos of men of all colour, ages and shapes have been hung. And when I enter the office, Peirene greets me wearing a big ginger bread heart around her neck: ‘I love men.’

I ignore her. I’ve been working ten days without a break – editing The Cut, attending the London Bookfair, and updating the accounts – and I have another busy week ahead. I don’t fancy wasting my time with some Nymph’s gimmick. I turn on my computer and settle down to work.

‘It’s Man Awareness Day in this office today,’ I hear Peirene eventually say.

‘I noticed,’ I reply dryly.

‘Don’t you want to know why?’ she enquires after another pause.

I shrug my shoulders without lifting my eyes off the screen. ‘Go on then.’ I know that she will tell my anyway.

‘It’s for your benefit,’ she announces.  ‘Your treatment of men have lately been alarming. I worry that human rights organisations might soon be knocking on our door.’

I turn to her in amazement. I’m not aware that I have mistreated anyone.

‘I don’t want to list all your misdemeanours. It is enough to draw your attention to the two most recent. First you compel Anthony to write The Cut in record time – showing absolutely no mercy – he probably hasn’t slept for the last two weeks. And then on Saturday morning you woke up your husband at 8am and made him compile the royalty statements for the next 36 hours. The poor, poor man!’

‘But he wanted to help me,’ I defend myself.  ‘We do the royalty statements together each year.’

‘Does he have a choice? Would you be happy if he’d say no?’

I shake my head.

‘There you go!’ The Nymph clearly feels she has landed a knock-out punch.

‘So, what do you suggest I should do from now on?’

‘Be nicer to men.’

‘So are you going to do the royalty statements with me next time?’ I smile, intrigued to hear Peirene’s reply.

‘Me?’ She suddenly turns pale, hesitates for a moment. ‘Well… I’m not sure I’m as good with spreadsheets as your husband… so maybe … he should carry on.’ Then she rallies ‘But that makes Man Awareness Day even more important. If we want them to help us we need to make them feel special.’

I can see this point. She carries on.

‘And today our favourite men will receive a ginger-bread heart as a reward. But perhaps we could start by tasting them ourselves.’ She breaks one in half . ‘I baked them myself. They’re delicious.’

Image by Nico Kaiser, creative commons.

The Belly Dancer

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

‘Where is James?’21812390163_8f01f3ac17_z

I have just walked back into the office after my first Arabic lesson with Suhir. I’m on cloud nine. Suhir will help me to brush up my language skills in preparation to teach the creative writing workshop in the Shatila refugee camp this summer. My Arabic is rusty  – after all I haven’t spoken it for a few years  – but even after today’s session I can feel it’s all still there and has started to resurface.

Peirene is sitting at her desk. ‘I think he’s downstairs in the kitchen. Working from there.’

‘Why?’ I’m surprised.

The Nymph shrugs her shoulders. ‘He said I’m disturbing his concentration.’

I reply to a few urgent emails, before I pick up the thread of our conversation. ‘What did you do to James?’

‘I didn’t do anything. He’s a joy killer,’ Peirene says decisively. Then she rises from her chair, dropping the cardigan she is wearing from her shoulders. Underneath it she reveals a sequined belly dance bra top, tassel skirt and in her belly button sparkles a big fake blue stone. She glitters so much that for a moment I have to avert my eyes. Arabic music begins to blast in high volume from her laptop and she starts to move through the room thrusting forward first her right hip, then her left hip.

‘I thought that I too should prepare for our workshop in the summer,’ she gasps, struggling to draw enough breath in between her wild dancing movements. ‘And while you do the serious bit – the teaching – I decided that my role will be to entertain the workshop participants in the evening.’ She’s now bending her upper body forward and backwards, shaking it wildly. I’m not sure what to say. ‘Look I’m getting better.’ She beams across her face while sweat is streaming down her forehead. And suddenly I worry that she might have a heart attack. I walk over to her laptop and turn off the music.

‘Why did you do that for?’ She bends forward, then collapses onto the floor. ‘You’re behaving just like James.’ She says between gasps for air.

‘We love you, Peirene.’ I hand her a glass of water. ‘And I guess, both James and I feel that belly dancing might not be the best thing to do for an Ancient Greek Nymph. You are not fit enough.’

She gulps down the water. ‘Ok. Here is a deal: I promise I will go the gym regularly to get fit and you in the meantime set me up with some proper belly dance classes. And then come July, you and I will deliver a workshop that truly enhances both the mind and the body.’

I agree. Fortunately it’s a long time till July. Between then and now, I’m hoping that Peirene’s enthusiasm for belly dance might diminish. Perhaps even be forgotten.

Image  by SupportPDX, creative commons.

Syncopated Rhythms

Monday, March 6th, 2017

‘Wow, it’s usually me that looks the part. But you have upped your game, Meike.’ The Nymph is impressed. And rightly so. I’m proud of my look for this evening: Red fingernails, back combed hair, glitter earrings, sparkly top, wide legged velvet 8728839245_530336d781_ztrousers and high-heel silver sandals.

‘I know it’s none of my business, ‘ Peirene clears her throat. ‘And I don’t need to know who you are going with… I won’t tell anyone.. but just wondering nonetheless, where are you going?’

‘To the world premier of the M&M London Jazz duo,’ I reply, grabbing my saxophone case. ‘And by the way, my husband will be in the audience.’ I smile. Each time I make an effort with my wardrobe the Nymph likes to insinuate that I might be up to no good.

‘Are you coming?’ I ask over my shoulder, already nearly out of the office door.

‘Me? No why? I’ve never heard of this M&M London Jazz duo. And frankly I’m not a fan of modern music with its tricky beats. I prefer books.’

I stop in my stride. ‘But Peirene!’ I exclaim. ‘I’m one part of the jazz duo. My friend Madi plays the piano and I play the sax.’ I’m perplexed that this has escaped the Nymph’s attention. Especially since I’ve been practising in preparation for this gig morning, noon and night during the last couple of weeks. ‘I’d love you come,’ I add.

Peirene sighs as she lifts herself from her chair. ‘Ok. I’ll come because it’s you. I hope the Jazz venue’s near by.’

I point to the floor below our office. ‘The show takes place in our front room. I’ve invited some friends to be our audience.’

Peirene breaks out into laughter. ‘And you call that a world premier?’

‘One has to start somewhere,’ I say with a touch of hurt in my voice.

After the gig, Peirene  takes me to one side. ‘I’m impressed with the M & M London Jazz duo. What a sleek performance. However, I’m a bit worried. Won’t music distract your attention from the publishing house?’

I shake my head. ‘Don’t you worry. Playing music helps me to advance in my job. Editing is all about feeling the rhythm of a text. And playing the sax obviously improves my sensitivity to a beat.’

The Nymph raises an eyebrow, not totally convinced with my argument. Still, she’s willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. ‘Well, I can’t wait to read our next book. I hope we can find a translator who can write in syncopated rhythms.’

Image by Floris Oosterveld, creative commons.

The Sun Hat

Monday, February 27th, 2017

‘How you’re going to pull this one off then, Peirene?’10169902455_b7e950022d_z

I’m not sure I like Peirene’s latest plan. In fact I didn’t realise that it had already become a confirmed project. In my head I was still assuming we were brainstorming possibilities.

‘It’s one thing sending writers to Calais,’ I continue. ‘It’s something totally different visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. You can’t just walk in like a tourist. It could be dangerous. One of the camp factions may take against Ancient Greek nymphs.’

‘I’ve already arranged it.’ She beams with satisfaction. ‘We are going to collaborate with an NGO, Basmeh & Zeitooneh which operates from the Shatila camp in south Beirut. We are going to hold two 3-day creative writing workshops in Arabic and select the writers from the participants. They will write the book in Arabic, we will then translate it and edit it in English. Et voila, we will have an amazing collection of original stories – Peirene Now No3! – to be published in Summer 2018.‘

I suddenly relax as I realise that Peirene can’t be serious. Workshops in mid-summer in the Middle East? Book manuscripts in Arabic? The Nymph doesn’t speak a single word of Arabic. She obviously hasn’t thought this through. No need for me to stress. It’s an interesting idea but impossible to implement.

‘And by the way,’ Peirene now says with an even bigger smile. ‘It’s not me who will travel to Lebanon and give the workshops and deal with the writers and manuscripts. You will do that. I’ve already given them your name. I, on other the hand, will be our project co-ordinator based in Peirene Headquarters.’

‘You are joking, aren’t you?’ My mouth has turned dry. I studied Arabic nearly 30 years ago. It’s now quite rusty.

‘Don’t you worry,’ Peirene replies with a wave of her hand. ‘I’ve sorted that too. I’ve found an Arabic tutor for you for two hours a week and you will draw up a creative writing workshop together. You have plenty of time. Your first trip isn’t until July.’

I get up and walk out of the room. The Nymph is taking liberties with my time, my plans, my future. How does she dare? I make myself a cup of tea – and feel my mood change. What an exciting opportunity. I’d be foolish to let this challenge pass me by.

I walk back into the office. ‘OK, I’ll do it,’ I announce. ‘But you are coming with me.’ It’s now the Nymph who turns to look shocked. ‘But I don’t know what to wear. And July will be very hot.’

‘You’ve sorted everything for me,’ I humor her. ‘Now let me help you. I think I will start by finding you a stunning sun-hat.’

Image by Jean L., creative commons.

New Hair Colour

Monday, 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

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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

Monday, 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

Monday, 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.