Archive for the ‘Creative Thoughts’ Category

A Whole New Hole-Punch

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Asia Boros, creative commons.

Conquering Italy By Bike

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Peirene is a changed Nymph. She has turned into a fitness fanatic.5153334431_19e4bbb507_z

While only last month it was me who had to persuade her to come out for a run, this week she’s been to the gym for an hour each morning before work. More curiously, books about long distance cycling are piling high on her desk. And then yesterday a huge parcel arrived. Peirene has replaced her desk chair with a gym bike.

She has balanced her lap-top on the handle bar and she cycles while she types. I have to admit the noise of the turning wheels is starting to get on my nerves.

‘Aren’t you overdoing it, Peirene?’ I don’t want to discourage her because I know how much good physical exercise does me. It helps me to concentrate and my best ideas come to me on a run. But I’m not sure I can stand a gym bike in the office for much longer.

‘I need to get into shape. This summer I will cycle the length of Italy.’

That’s news to me. ‘Isn’t that a bit ambitious…’ I want to add ‘at your age,’ After all wasn’t she complaining about heart palpitation last week? But I keep quiet.

Peirene has suddenly slowed down, hanging exhausted over the handle bar, no longer typing.

‘I owe it to the Italians to pay them a visit.’ She’s gasping for air. ‘They adore me and it’s rude to ignore their admiration. By cycling the length of the country I give the entire nation a chance to meet me.’ I hand her the water bottle. She takes a sip. Then continues to explain: ‘Look at this week, for example: On Tuesday Chiara Macconi from the Italian publishing house Armando came to visit. They will set up a new series of international female novelist and want to find out more about our authors. And on Thursday we received an email from a university professor at Miami University in the US who has taught our books for years and is now in Rome researching Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman.’ Peirene slides off the bike and lies down on the floor.  ‘I need to take the rest of the day off.’


Good news: the Nymph and I have agreed to get rid of the gym bike. However, she still hasn’t given up on the Italy trip. She now believes that I should accompany her in case she needs a push up the Alps. Maybe if I offer her a pay-rise to buy a couple of new bikinis she might decide to come with me on a beach holiday.

Image by Seika.


Journey to the Underworld

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

There is a big hole in our back garden. The Nymph – in red wellies and a yellow safety helmet on her head – is standing at the edge. She’s directing the three men who have nearly disappeared inside the hole to dig deeper and deeper. I’m 3417148914_b5ca1a115a_zobserving the spectacle from the kitchen door.

‘I’m not paying for this.’ I point to where the men have now completely vanished. They are working fast.

‘No worries.’ Peirene waves at me smiling. ‘They are doing it for free.’

‘Building a tunnel to the Underworld?!’ I shake my head. I have never come across a builder who does anything for free. And especially not for such ludicrous project.

‘They understand it’s for a good cause.’ The Nymph turns her attention back to her workers. ‘Good job.’ Then she adds ‘Keep on going lads’ and, slightly self-consciously, she raises both of her thumbs towards them.

On Thursday evening at 11pm Peirene announced: ‘I might have to die.’ We were sitting in the train from Norwich back to London. I was dozing, content with the paper we had given at the University of East Anglia that afternoon on foreign literature and the symbolic meaning of plot.

‘Why?’ I didn’t open my eyes. Late at night the Nymph often has bizarre ideas.

‘To make a point that plot should never be taken at face value. Language is a system of symbols. And therefore anything created within language is always a symbol. It is never reality. I ‘m not sure the audience today got it. The Anglo-Saxons insist on taking plot literally. But I will show them. I will act it out. I will go down to the Underworld, stay there for a while, and then come back.’

‘So you’ll be dead. But not dead,’ I mumbled.

‘That’s right.’ The Nymph next to me was getting excited. ‘And this will prove my point that nothing in literature is what it appears to be. A death in a story is not about dying, but might be about rebirth.’

Peirene has now stepped back into the kitchen. ‘How have you persuaded the men to do this job for free?,’ I ask, while she is putting on the kettle and preparing three cups of tea. ‘I can’t believe they are doing it for the love of literature,’ I add.

‘Well… ’ Peirene is pouring the milk into the tea mugs avoiding my eyes. ‘I told them if they do a fine job out there, you will employ them to redecorate the entire house, inside and out.’ She waves with the spoon in her hand towards the ceiling. ‘This place desperately needs a new coat of paint, you have to admit. It’s been nearly ten years. It will soon be embarrassing to let the Salon guests come here. We have to uphold standards.’ The Nymph flashes me a broad smile. ‘For the sake of literature.’

Image by Joshua Ganderson, creative commons.


The Application Declutterer

Sunday, 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.


Late Night Dating

Sunday, 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.

The Return

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

‘Hi,’ I say cheerfully, putting down my bags. I have just come back from my writer’s retreat last week.5773394922_a2d9deb440_z

‘Hi,’ Peirene replies without looking up from her work.

‘I’m back,’ I say. I would love to have a catch-up chat.

‘I can see that,’ she mumbles, still not turning her head.

‘Are you angry?’ She usually punishes me with a bad mood if I have been out of the office for too long.

She shakes her head.

‘Good,’ I reply. ‘I had a productive week. But quite austere,’ I add. My retreats consist of renting a lonely cottage in Norfolk where I don’t see or speak to anyone, so hearing my own voice again is delight, and I continue: ‘Let me tell you my daily routine: I start work at 8 on the dot, write the first 1000 words by 11, then stop for a late breakfast. Then write the next 1000 words by 2, then have lunch, a bit of a rest, go for a run or walk, have a shower. By 6 I’m back writing the final 1000 words of the day. Eat something, read for an hour. Lights out. I hit my target of 15000 words,’ I finish proudly.

No responds or acknowledgement from the Nymph. I pull a face, sit down and start going through the pile of post that has accumulated. For a while the only sounds in the office are the tearing open of envelopes and the Nymph’s tapping on the keyboard. Suddenly I hear her whisper:

‘I’m pretending you haven’t come back yet.’

‘Why?’ I ask in a normal voice.

‘Ps, speak quietly,’ she reprimands me in a hushed voice.

‘Ok, why,’ I, too, whisper.

‘Because good things tend to happen when you are away.’

‘Such as?’ I’m all ears.

‘Well, this time we learned that BBC Radio 3 is going to do a programme with Hanne Ørstavik, Radio 4 ‘s A Good Read will feature The Dead Lake and Born Films have told us that their English screen adaption of Jan van Mersbergen’s Tomorrow Pamplona is progressing beautifully.’

‘Wow!’ I shout, jumping up and rushing over to Peirene to give her hug.

‘Oh, now you’ve broken the spell with your racket.’ She pretends to be upset but I can see that she is thrilled to be the bearer of good tidings.

We have a coffee. It’s nice to be back in Peirene’s company. She’s matured a lot over the last year and increasingly is able to run large parts of the publishing house herself. Nevertheless she loves to ensure that I don’t become underemployed. She points to a big box in the corner. ‘This has also arrived – the books for the Arts Foundation Award.’ I’m a judge on their 2016 Literary Translation prize. ‘That’ll keep you busy reading for a while,’ she adds with a little wicked smile.

Image by Graeme Law, creative commons.

All That Jazz

Monday, October 12th, 2015

Six months ago I started playing the saxophone. I used to play the piano. But it bothered me that I couldn’t hug the piano. And the sound comes from the finger-tips not from human breath. I tried singing for a couple of months. But I lacked any kind3412321187_41025668ec_m of talent. So a wind instrument was the next best option. I love Jazz and have always dreamed about joining a Jazz band.

‘You still have a long way to go,’ the Nymph comments as I return to my desk after what felt to me was rather quite a good practice session.

‘You ought to encourage me,’ I reply in a hurt tone. ‘Learning a new instrument will help me choose better books.’

Peirene raises an eyebrow. ‘That sounds pretty far fetched to me.’

‘It’s not.’ I’m aware of my defensive tone. After all, I do feel guilty taking time away from my work in order to practice for my weekly lesson. And admittedly I have already thought long and hard of how to justify my new passion to Peirene. I breathe deeply in and out and continue more calmly: ‘As we both know, good writing has a lot to do with rhythm. The more rhythm I have in my blood, the quicker I recognize good texts and the better I become in editing the translations, too.’

‘Interesting theory.’ Peirene turns her attention away from me and begins to type on her computer. Then she stops.

‘I think you took up the saxophone because you wanted to. And for no other reason. You don’t need to sneak back into the office after each practice turning the air heavy with your guilty conscience.’

I look at the Nymph in surprise. She’s got a point. ‘So you’re not angry with me for having decided to learn the Saxophone? Or worry that our programme for 2017 hasn’t yet fallen into place?’

She shakes her head. ‘It will fall into place, it always has.’ Then she pauses. ‘And, truth to tell, I rather like Ella Fitzgerald. She’s just the kind of woman we Ancient Greeks admired: soulful, strong, poetic.’ She pauses again. ‘So if you need a singer for your band…’ Her voice trails away. She has a far-away look in her eyes and I know that she’s already imagining herself on stage in a glittering dress, crooning to an enraptured crowd.

Image by chico 945, creative commons.

Writer’s Needs

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

I’m in Scotland for a week – to write and walk and stock up on whiskey for the next salons. I will be back with new Peirene dramas at the beginning of June.Chair Lamp copy

Lifting Weights

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

‘You are not putting in enough effort’ Peirene is standing in front of me, hands in her hips.1004465285_994154d698_z

We are in the dressing room of the gym. I’m sitting on the bench with tears in my eyes. I had only completed a couple of exercises when I suddenly felt I could not go on. ‘I have to stop,’ I told Peirene. ‘You can finish your round.’ But she followed me into the dressing room.

I now bend forward, closing my eyes. ‘I feel sick.’

At first Peirene shows no sympathy. The ancient Greeks valued the beautiful body and she is not sure that 21st Century Britain has really kept up.

For a moment there is a silence. Then she sits down next to me and puts her arm around me. ‘So, what’s the problem?’

‘I have to read through the whole manuscript again,’ I say.

The nymph rolls her eyes. ‘So you’re not even thinking about the leg-curls or the upper arm-thrusts’. Then she refocuses. ‘You’ve been through the manuscript endless times. It’s now been edited, proofread. Your publisher is very happy with it.’

My third novel Kauthar is ready to go to the printers. The book will be published in August.

‘It’s full of mistakes which we haven’t spotted. I know it. I feel it in my blood.’ A tear drops onto my trainer.

‘You have to let go.’ Peirene strokes my back. ‘Your job is done.’

A sob escapes my throat. The nymph practices a bicep flex.

I lift my head and look at her indignantly. ‘Peirene! You’re not even listening.’

Peirene sighs and says: ‘Only two days ago you told the audience at Daunt’s Bookshop that creativity is a collaborative process and that one needs to let go in order to make space for others to do their job.’

‘That was two days ago.’

Peirene ignores my last comment. She stands up and pulls me with her by the arm. ‘Let’s finish our round.’

The weights on the machines feel heavier than ever before. I huff and puff and turn red, while the Nymph next to me looks elegant and controlled.

‘Do you still want to read one more time through your novel,’ Peirene asks as we are getting dressed.

I shake my head too exhausted to even speak. Peirene is already putting on her make up while I’m still battling with my socks, when it suddenly dawns on me:

‘You lowered your weights today, didn’t you?’

She throws me a mischievous glance. ‘Well, only a bit. I felt you needed a proper work-out whereas I was in great shape – mentally and physically.’

Image by John Haslan.

A Future with Heinz

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

I recently had a brilliant idea. Or so I thought.8009660283_b46ec51fee_z

At the London Book Fair I met the editor from the Feminist Press in New York. She is interested in some of our books. She also showed me their catalogue.

Back in the 1970s The Feminist Press established their name with publishing reprints of 1940s and 50’s women’s pulp fiction – the Femmes Fatales series. Many of these stories had been turned into black & white cinema hits with famous film divas such as Bette Davis and Gene Tierney. The books still sell today.

My eyes lit up. What if I were to publish this series as Peirene Retro here in the UK?! This might be our chance to get books into supermarkets and airport bookshops! Because, let’s face it: we will never be able to sell our highbrow, foreign literature in Tesco or WHSmith. But stories about women battling for their identity in classic 20th century patriarchal set- ups? This is what the mass market loves to read.

I suddenly got very excited about the Femmes Fatales series: Here was Peirene’s chance for nation-wide domination.

I knew it would be tough to convince the Nymph of this new business strategy. And sure enough, after I finished explaining she looked at me with raised eyebrows.

‘May I remind you, ‘ she then said calmly, ‘that you and I publish literature – art – and not pulp fiction.’

‘I know, ‘ I said, slightly impatiently. I had expected such a reaction from her. ‘But wouldn’t it be great if your name were known to a wider audience.’

‘I think we have quite an impressive number of readers as it is,’ she replied. ‘And the figure grows continuously. Your idea suggests that we might be desperate. And I don’t believe we are,’ Peirene added cool-headed.

For a moment I paused. It hadn’t crossed my mind that my expansion plan might look desperate from the outside. And then I pictured a future in the supermarkets: Did I really want to see the beautiful name of my ancient Greek Nymph next to a shelf of baked beans?

I’m lucky to have Peirene. She certainly keeps my standards high.

Image by Boston Public Library.