Archive for the ‘Life Philosophy’ Category

On Summer Blog Break

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

I am taking a summer blog break and will be back here 2nd week of September 2012. Peirene, however, will stay busy. You can  talk to us on twitter @PeirenePress and follow us on facebook. Our August newsletter will go out beginning of August and Peirene No 9, Sea of Ink by Swiss Richard Weihe, will be send to our subscribers 1st week of August. Have a lovely, sunny summer.

(Illustration by Giulia Morselli for Peirene.)


Latin Lovers

Monday, July 9th, 2012

A lot what I learned at school I have forgotten. Except Latin. In fact one of the most important things I studied at school was Latin. I did LatinPysche and Amor by Antonio Canova. Image by  LdDH Abitur – German A level equivalent. Thanks to Latin I understood the German grammar. Thanks to Latin I understood language per se. I even like to claim that it was thanks to Latin that I learned how to think logically – or at least, it helped to structure my ideas.

Then I left school and for years I felt misunderstood. Whenever I mentioned the many hours I spent in the company of Latin I at most earned a sad smile. No one was impressed. Until five years ago. My daughter entered year 7 and started Latin. The first parents evening with her teacher felt like a home coming. After two decades walking through a desert, I had finally again met someone who was as passionate about that subject as I.

My daughter has just done AS level Latin and will do A level Latin next year. My son went into year 7 last September. At the last parents evening his Latin teacher told me, the boy possesses an aptitude for the ancient language and seems to enjoy it. It was a very happy day for me. Both my children on Latin track. My parental duty done. Not much can go wrong now. I might as well retire from my motherly post. Well, almost.

Only a few days ago, however, did I fully understand what lies at the root of my instinctive passion for Latin. At the prize giving evening of my children’s school, the comedian Natalie Haynes was invited as guest speaker. She published a book, ‘The Ancient Guide to Modern Life’ and her speech was in defense of studying Classics. She made one simple point: Studying Classics means you revel in learning for learning’s sake.

I suddenly realized that is exactly the reason why I advocate Latin. You can live in this world quite happily without knowing a single word of that language. But if you want to understand where our words come from, our thinking, our Western literature, then Latin matters.

“Pity you only studied Latin.” Peirene is looking over my shoulder. “A huge chunk of learning has passed you by.”

“Well, lucky that I have an ancient Greek Nymph on hand. I am sure you will show me the way to enlightenment.”

Image by LdDH.

The Killing Meets Peirene

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

I will always remember Friday, the 20th of January 2012. That evening I went to the local DVD shop and took out The Killing, episode 1-4.Scandi Jumper. Image by  Crafty Fox

The Killing isn’t my first box set experience. I tried my luck with Mad Men – but after a few episodes, I got bored. Only the dresses impressed me. Then I discovered The Wire. Far more intriguing. I enjoyed each episode, without sensing a desperate urge to watch the next one. Weeks often passed before I sat down to savour the follow up.

Not so with The Killing. My husband and I watched episode 1-4 on that Friday. On Monday I ordered the complete Series One on amazon. I held out till last Friday. After episode 7, at around 11pm, my husband went to bed.  I slipped under the covers at 3am. Saturday evening we went out with friends. I hardly drank any wine because I had unfinished business to attend to. When we arrived home at midnight, my husband went upstairs to read his book, I turned on the DVD in the sitting room. At 4.30am I finally managed to tear myself away from the screen. Today I spent most of the time telling myself that I will not – under any circumstances – watch another episode until next Friday. I even hid the box set behind the books on the top shelf.

“Look at you. You are a sad addict.” Peirene stood in the door as I climbed down from the ladder which I especially fetched to reach the top shelf. I started. I didn’t hear her come.

“No, I am not. I’ve got the situation perfectly under control.” I folded the ladder.

“Oh really?! That’s not what it looks like to me.” Replied Peirene in a cocky voice, hands on both hips.

“I am just tidying the DVDs away, otherwise the place looks a mess.” I tried not to sound too defensive. “And anyway, you should watch The Killing too. It’s just like our books.”

“I am a cultured Nymph. I don’t waste my time watching mass market TV dramas. I hope you manage to turn up at work tomorrow, considering your lack of sleep over the weekend.” She was about to turn away.

“Wait.” I held her back. “Give me a chance to explain: Each episode of The Killing is the perfect length, a self contained little film. As a whole the series is a beautifully curated showcase of murder stories, held together by a common theme, the killing of Nanna Birk Larsen.  Just like our series. Each book an individual short lit gem, that gains momentum by belonging to a curated series. Peirene and The Killing are both the ultimate forms of cultural expression for our day and age.”

The Nymph didn’t reply. She merely raised a disbelieving eyebrow and walked off.

Three hours ago I head noise from the sitting room. I stuck my head around the corner. The Nymph! Watching The Killing. “I just want to see if you are right.” She said with a guilty smile.

I might join her later on. Just for one tiny episode.

Image by Crafty Fox.

The Pitfalls of Tantrums

Monday, November 21st, 2011

When babies cry they have a fair chance of receiving attention. However, toddlers, inTantrum. Image by  demandaj a fit of temper, get a telling off rather than sympathy. And when adults throw tantrums, we have a problem. To avoid this problem we have developed the art of communication. In the 21st century this art form is made terribly easy by plenty of gadgets. We should all be experts.

Earlier this week I received an email, which is familiar in tone to other, similar mails. Here is an extract:

“I have been reading your newsletter every month. In return, I think it would be only courteous if you could read the manuscript I sent six months ago.”

I am baffled -  not by the request but by the tone – a tone which implies an obligation on the part of the receiver.

If email hadn’t been an option, would a letter or a telephone conversation have been conducted in a similar demanding manner?

I don’t force anyone to receive the Peirene newsletter. If someone doesn’t want the information any longer then they can “unsubscribe.” Furthermore, if someone has a favour to ask, perhaps they would be better advised to write me a nice note.

I, too,  have many desires. And I need others to help me fulfill them. I want authors to agree that I can publish their works, I want journalists to write about the Nymph, I want bookshops to sell my titles. I want I want I want. And each day I write many emails to people I know and I don’t know soliciting help.  Sometimes they reply and sometimes they don’t. That’s the name of the game. You have to role the dice many times. Without hope and without despair. But I have one firm rule: be polite. Perhaps I am old fashioned. But I believe compliments, thank yous and pleases get me further than bitterness. After all, no one owes Peirene a living, the world existed before us and will exist after we’ve gone.

“May I kindly correct you, please” says Peirene in her sweetest voice.

“You may, since you asked so nicely.” I smile at her

“After we’ve gone the world might continue to exist. But it won’t ever be the same again.”

The Nymph has got a point. We all leave an impression. And it might as well be a positive one.

Image by demandaj.

The Murky Waters of Human Irrationality

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Humans are irrational. Most of what we do follows – at best – our own internal logic.geography-fieldwork-photos-159 And to make matters worse, we lack self-awareness. We can see irrationality in others but never in our selves. I don’t think I am saying anything new. However, only since I set up Peirene, have I become aware of the rampant irrationality in others. (Of course I’m still blind to my own).

Let me give you two examples. In the first instance irrationality lead to the happiness of everyone involved. The second story is an impressive example of how we boycott ourselves with irrational fears and destroy a win-win situation.

Example 1: A few weeks ago I sent out emails to friends and relatives inviting them to buy Peirene’s new 2012 subscription. Some did, others didn’t like the idea at all. And one dear friend even took the pain to explain that she definitely won’t be signing up because she didn’t want to read any depressing European books. Then, at the beginning of last week, I sent out Peirene’s November newsletter. Once again I promoted the Peirene 2012 subscription. My dear friend was one of the first to sign up. When I saw her for dinner a couple of days later, she congratulated me. “A gift subscription,” she exclaimed. “What a brilliant way of buying books. I will definitely spread the word and my mother and sister will receive a subscription for Christmas.”

Example 2: A couple of months ago, a big London theatre decided to stage one of the Peirene books as a play. Huge excitement at Peirene HQ. A producer was in place, a leading actress too. We only needed the go ahead from the author to allow the actress to shorten the text down to a play of one hour length. She even offered to fly to the Continent to discuss the cuts with the author. The author refused all co-operation. Pleading and persuasion didn’t work. Therefore – sadly – the play cannot be staged.

Peirene was beside herself and threatened to call up the author to air her fury. I managed to grab the receiver out of her hand just in time.

“Leave it. We’ve tried everything we could. We have to stay professional after all.”

“This makes no sense. Doesn’t the author want to become known in this country? Other authors would pay for an opportunity such as this.”

The Nymph paced up and down the office. When after a while she calmed down, she approached me and whispered into my ear:” I shouldn’t really say this and that’s why I am only whispering it… I am wondering if some authors worry too much about controlling their intellectual property. Perhaps they have never heard about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It was staged in London a few years after its first publication. The author was in the audience. No one asked permission. But the play became popular and that’s why Mary Shelley became famous.”

I don’t find it easy to pilot a business through the reefs of human irrationality. But I’m lucky. I have an ancient Greek Nymph on board who loves the waters and whispers wise words.

Heavenly Family Parties

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011


I am the daughter-in-law from heaven, only matched by my sister-in-law who is also a daughter-in-law from heaven. My mother-in-lawCherub. Image by  chicks57 should consider herself one lucky woman.

We have spent the last four consecutive weekends with our husbands’ family. Generally in a good humour. My mother-in-law has two sons: my husband and his brother. At the beginning of this month,  the other side of the family – complete with their three children –  came over from Australia. This was considered a perfect opportunity to organise three huge parties. One for the relatives from my husband’s father side (40 people), one for my mother-in-law’s closest friends (70 people) and one for my husband’s mother’s side (50 people). We were expected to turn up to all of them. In addition, mother-in-law, brother-in-law plus family and my husband, children and I spent a week in a rented cottage on a Scottish island.

We are still alive. No blood spilled. Indeed overall we had rather a nice time. The weather on Islay was bliss, we swam in the sea and went for long walks and indulged in Whisky tastings. At the family parties we talked to people we hadn’t seen for a year, were introduced to new babies and played games involving three generations.

But I have to admit by last Saturday I had enough. “Your mother really didn’t think that through,” I told my husband as we were heading to the final family party of the summer. “You have never spent such a long time with my parents, have you?” and  got in such a strop that I made him park the car while I calmed down in a café. When we eventually arrived at the party and people praised the ham I had cooked the previous evening – the stress evaporated. After all I hardly ever receive such wonderful cooking compliments from my children.

Peirene, too, has decided she likes family parties. Initially she wasn’t sure at all. “Extended families make me feel claustrophobic,“ she moaned. Then she realized that my mother-in-law is spreading the Peirene word. Her eldest sister who lives in America has read the books and orders them regularly to give to friends. The brother-in-law is taking Tomorrow Pamplona and Maybe This Time to Australia and a number of elderly ladies and gentlemen from Berkshire and Hampshire have now ventured into reading foreign lit.

So, I guess my sister-in-law and I aren’t the only ones who have a place in heaven. My mother-in-law deserves a seat there too. However, no more family parties – at least this year.

Image by chicks57.

A Pea under the Mattress

Sunday, February 20th, 2011


Us poor women are yet again making headlines. We are rarely sighted in the big wide public world. Only 12.5% of blue chip board posts arepea held by women. And on the book market it ain’t looking any better: male writers and reviewers still dominate.  


Apparently – according to some research –  lack of ambition and self-confidence is holding women back. Frankly, I don’t buy it. Women are just as ambitious as men and a healthy portion of self-doubt is no bad thing and leads to self-improvement.


 In the last three months Peirene employed her first intern. One day a week Will helped Maddy and I with the marketing. Thanks to him we now have a Novella web-page and are running the “Two-Hour Book”  Facebook page. When Will applied, he was “trying to get into publishing, especially the editorial side of it.” I liked his CV and said I can offer him work experience on the marketing side. He took the opportunity.  


A couple of weeks ago, just as Will’s time ran out, I was approached by a young, well-qualified, woman. Again, she wanted editorial, I offered marketing. I explained that this is the most challenging part of publishing nowadays and an insight into that area will help her with any number of different career tracks. She turned the offer down.


Fair enough, one could of course argue that this young woman knows what she wants and has decided to go for it. Or has she? Has she taken responsibility for her ambition? I’d say, if she really wants to be in at the changing world of publishing, she’d better know the business insight out – and that includes gaining experience in areas she finds more difficult.


One more example: When I published Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi a year ago, it was predominantly reviewed by men. Since I believe that this book needs to be discussed by women, I approached female reviewers directly. To no avail.  Over the last few days I followed discussions on Facebook about why men dominate our book review pages. To my surprise a number of female reviewers stressed that they only review books they like. Why? How do you know if you like a book when you haven’t even read it? And if you read it, you might as well review it. And why should only praise help enhance the name and status of the reviewer? A well written controversial article might shine an even brighter light on the reviewer than a regurgitated eulogy.


Us women are ambitious all right. Ça n’est pas le problème. Le problème c’est our self-image. We like to be little Princesses who only say nice things and everybody loves us and we  like to lie comfortably and hate feeling the pea under the mattress.

The Glory of a Football in the Kitchen

Sunday, January 30th, 2011


Give me half a chance and I moan about my life. It’s a precarious juggling act of kids and household and marriage and work and jogging andfootball hair and my desire to watch the Wire. And oh my God I can’t do it, it’s just too much, my life –oh my life – where is it going.


I’ve been moaning like this for 16 years – ever since I became a mother. It’s time to change.


My life consists of a number of little worlds – the kids world, the work world, the me world, the hubby world. I feel in control of my life if everything and everyone stays in their place and I pay each a flying visit one after the other.


Sadly that rarely happens. The worlds collide. And each time, I fear the universe might disappear into a black hole.  This week the Kids Planet has collided with Planet Work. My eleven-year-old son has been off school with a tummy bug and a migraine. Three days of him lying in his bedroom above my office, interrupting my work flow every half an hour or so with various needs. On Friday afternoon I finally abandoned my computer and we sat on the sofa together and watched his favourite film “Goal.” And surprise, surprise, afterwards he felt much better and fit enough to kick the ball around in the back garden.


I went back upstairs. For a while everything was fine, until I heard a big splintering noise from the kitchen. For a second my fingers froze on the keyboard. Then I continued typing.


“Mum!” the son shouted from the kitchen. “Something broke.”

“Well, have you cleared it up?!” I replied while continuing to type.


Eventually he shuffled into my office.

“I’m sorry.” He said.

“What broke?”

“The ball flew through the open door and onto the table. Your china bowl broke.”

He waited for a moment.

“Aren’t you angry?”

“No, just take more care next time,” I said without lifting my eyes from the screen.

He left the room for a second, came back and put his arms around my shoulders.

“I like your new style.”


I like my new style too. I’ve decided to let the planets spin in whatever way they choose. They do that anyway. And no black hole has yet opened up. In fact rather the opposite.  Each time there is a collision, new opportunities arise from the debris. And so thanks to the flying football in the kitchen, I now have an excuse to buy a new, nicer bowl. If I find the time to go shopping.

Death of a Bookshop

Monday, January 17th, 2011


I came to London when I was 19. I got a job in a shoe shop. Each time a customer asked for a specific shoe we were taught to bring out of thenail stockroom not only the shoe requested, but two other options. I hated working in the shoe shop and of course didn’t realize that I had been taught a lesson for life.


A few days before Christmas I walked into four bookshops. I was looking for Little Birds by Anais Nin and Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson. Hardly obscure titles. None of them had either. Indeed none of them had any books by either writer. Fair enough, I thought, it’s just before Christmas and perhaps Nin and Dickinson had sold out. I could have forgiven all four shops for not stocking those writers. But what I did not forgive them was the service – or rather lack of service they offered.


None of the booksellers suggested a similar choice of topic or writer. They simply said “sorry don’t have it” and turned away. So I walked out, went home and ordered on amazon. Their loss, my gain, as I saved a few quit. But I really would have liked to spend my money in a bookshop. And if anyone would have bothered to talk to me they definitely could have persuaded me to buy other books.


A couple of days ago, Peirene and I stood in front of the dark, empty shop that used to be our local bookshop in Crouch End, Prospero’s Books. It closed it’s shutters for ever on the 31. December.


The rumours of the closure had been there for over a year. So no surprise really. And truth to tell it wasn’t a great bookshop. The staff  unenthusiastic, the window display dire, their selection unimaginative. However, as I now stared into the barren shop I couldn’t help feel a pang in the heart.


 “Dead as a door nail,” Peirene observed matter of fact. Then she sighed.


“It didn’t have to end that way.”

“No, it really didn’t have to.”

“They brought it onto themselves.”

“Yes, they have. So sad.”

“If only they had listened to us and put our books next to the till and hand-sold them, they’d be laughing by now.”

“They’d be laughing by now. You are so right.”

“But they just didn’t want to listen.”

“No they just didn’t want to listen.”

“They really should have worked in a shoe shop first before trying their hands at bookselling.”

“Yes, they really should have. But the young people nowadays just don’t listen anymore.”

“No, they really don’t.”


Peirene and I both sighed, picked up our shopping bags and went our way.

Thrill to be Back

Sunday, September 5th, 2010


Our family holiday was a disaster – at least in terms of harmonious togetherness. And this was no fault of our teenage dsc08014daughter.


Yes, we did go to the Himalayas after all. Not to Ladakh as planned mind. Following the flash floods in the North of India, we rebooked to the Spiti Valley – a destination in the Southern Himalayas right on the border with Tibet.


We decided to take this ad hoc trip in the spirit of adventure. At first that attitude served us well. We flew to Delhi to connect to Manali. Only the plane to Manali never took off. So we journeyed by car and what was supposed to have taken an hour took two days. Moods were good. We slept in an amazing – albeit run down – Raj palace from the 16th century – and found the best Indian road side caf at the foot of the Himalayas. It featured toothless waiters and heaps of flies stuck to the windows but the most delicious curry in the world. My husband is now planning to celebrate his 50th there – no kidding. All welcome.


In order to get from Manali to Spiti you have to drive over a 4900m high pass. It was there that my head went into a spasm. I ended up on a drip and eventually had to be driven back the way I came. Husband and children went on the eight day trek under blue sky and up to 5000m. In the meantime I loitered in a Monsoon battered, foggy town, drowning in self-pity. I eventually got my act together, organized another (low altitude) hike for myself and off I went with a guide, a cook and a horseman for three days into wet Himalayan jungle. A tiny compensation for the Spiti Valley. I also missed my family.


By the end of this little private walk-about, though, I was fully acclimatized. Only, the holidays were over. In the plane I admired my daughter’s stunning photos of THEIR trek, biting my tongue and trying not to point out that I didn’t have such a nice time.


Back in London, Peirene’s latest earth shattering moment, the publication of No 3, had taken place. The book received some lovely reviews. Upon my return, I proudly sent them around. A radio producer emailed me. “Would have loved to do something about the book but off on a three months assignment to Asia in a couple of days.” The word Asia was my cue. I poured forth my love for trekking in that part of the world. We had a delightful exchange. It was only when he asked for a review copy of “Portrait of the Mother” and added “I see what I can go” that I realized that even problematic  holidays can be useful after the event. After all without my adventures at high altitude my nymph would be lacking an opportunity for another review.


I have however learnt one lesson – next trekking hols I will set off a week before my family, book myself into a nice hotel somewhere at about 3500m and acclimatize in comfort. Truth to tell, I’m quite keen on the idea.


I haven’t mentioned this little extension to my husband yet. I’ll give him a break for the moment. But I am sure it’ll be just fine.