Archive for the ‘Life Philosophy’ Category

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.

The Call of the Walking Boot

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

 

My favourite restaurant used to be the Café Daquise in South Kensington. No longer. It evaporated into thin air. Whoof. Bang. Gone. And no oneboots-0051 – absolutely no one bothered to ask me or considered my feelings before they took it away.

 

A family run eatery, that’s what it used to be since 1947. It had wax table clothes, home made Polish food reminiscent of my East Prussian grandmother’s cooking and twelve different Vodkas on the menu. The restaurant has now changed hands and been turned into a sleek chain-owned chicymicky place. Still Polish, mind. But more a la Jamie and Gordon than my grandmother.

 

I nevertheless gave it a try the other day. It was a complete disaster. In order to vent my disappointment that the restaurant has changed beyond recognition,  I insisted on swopping the table three times – the first was too drafty, the second too hot, the third too noisy. Then the waiter brought the wrong water – yes, indeed, the WRONG water – and thirdly – and that was the worst – there were only three different vodkas on the menu. I nearly had a heart attack. Luckily by the time the food came I had tried all three vodkas and didn’t care about the food any longer. Otherwise, I guess, I would have found fault with that too and then sent it straight back to the kitchen.

 

Sense of humour failure. Totally and utterly. Like a bitter, tied lipped, twisted old woman, that’s how I behaved. And, don’t be fooled,  I thoroughly enjoyed myself. After all, once I had started throwing fits, I didn’t need to think of alternative ways of behaving.

 

It was then that I realized that I could actually do with a holiday. So far I have not yet lost my cool with Peirene – but as you know, the nymph is absolutely capable of testing my patience.

 

And I long to exchange my beloved high heels for a couple of weeks in walking boots.

 

For the upcoming family holiday, we’ve planned to go trekking again in the Himalayas. Yes, I suffered from altitude sickness last time. But it was only above 4900 m and trekking in this austere terrain is just such incredible way of clearing the mind. You have no choice but to live in the moment. I loved it. So did my husband. Our ten-year old is excited too. After all he still adores his Mum and Dad. Our fifteen year old darling daughter, however,  had to be coaxed into it with some bribery. She thinks, as parents go, we are pretty uncool.

 

Anyway, she might be in luck after all. The news from Ladakh at the moment, following the recent flash floods, is quite sad and bad. So perhaps we will have to change plan. Scotland might be calling instead.

 

I’m not sure that the Highlands feature in my daughter’s top five coolest places either. But at least she will have mobile connection and can chat to her friends. As for me, the prospect of sleeping on a bed in a warm cottage rather than a tent in freezing temperatures, has a certain appeal.

 

In any case, I will see you back here – in high heels – in the beginning of September.

Summer Affair

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

 

Confessionistas – women writers who bare it all. Their aim: to describe the complex life of modern women. At least according to an article in thepicture-002 Observer this Sunday. So, my immediate thought upon reading the piece was, should I bare ALL or at least MORE in this blog? For the sake of my nymph’s books of course.

 

Where to start? I could confess to a recent gruesome divorce or a summer affair or change in sexual orientation. All this would surely reveal the true nature of the complex life of the modern woman that I am. And in addition would undoubtedly increase the readership of this blog and thus hopefully would lead to more sales of the books.

 

And now would be the perfect time to do it. If I find myself regretting the excess honesty I can just take the blog entry down from the website with no harm done as I am 100% sure that no one will even know about it, because ….

 

 Everyone is on holiday.

 

It started on Wednesday, when I received a couple of replies to emails I had sent the previous week – “sorry for the late reply, I am in the South of France and with limited internet access.” By Thursday I got an increasing numbers of automated out-of office/on holiday replies and by Friday afternoon I suddenly realized that I am the only one left in the whole wide world who is still sending out emails and attempting to get things done.

 

And now we are at the heart of my problem. I don’t have time nor energy to take on those escapades that apparently distinguish modern, sophisticated women.  It may be dull – it’s certainly unglamorous – but I’m just too busy. And that worries me. Perhaps I ought to at least go for the gruesome divorce. I can then confess to it publicly and be a modern woman. In the meantime, I advise anyone who reads this blog entry to spread the word, so even the people on holiday will click on this site as not to miss out when all is revealed.

Botox Thoughts

Friday, June 18th, 2010

 

I am a woman of a certain age, I might as well admit it. I have now reached the moment where I could consider Botox with a clear conscience.no-2-launch-033 Each time I look at a picture of myself I am surprised I am no longer 20. ( I am sure anybody over 40 understands what I am talking about, anybody under 40 doesn’t –yet! – have a clue.)

 

Luckily I have Peirene who keeps me young at heart.  Moreover, she compels me to keep in synch with the modern world. So, thanks to my nymph I write my little weekly blog, I am on facebook and I twitter – an achievement  since these delights weren’t programmed into the DNA of my generation.

 

Initially it felt like a duty – an obligation I had to do for the sake of the books. But now I am just so grateful that these social media forms exist. Thanks to them I have discovered the lit blogger scene. Even a year ago, I didn’t know these impressively ferocious readers existed. They’ve given Beside the Sea and Stone in a Landslide some stunning reviews.

 

But that’s not all. Because of their comments I am also learning to understand why foreign fiction has such a difficult time here in the UK. People are concerned that the author’s intention and voice has been lost in translation, that the publisher and translator might have taken liberties with the text. Valuable concerns indeed. I am just pleased that Peirene has embarked on a journey to dispel them.

 

And since we’re talking about journeys I should announce that my nymph has been backpacking in foreign places. Let me explain. A few days ago, I was asked by the London correspondent of the German newsmagazine focus, Imke Henkel, which nationalities visit my website. I shrugged. Never thought about it, as I assumed UK only. For the first time I checked the stats in my control panel. And what a surprise – most visitors come from the US, followed closely by the UK. And then – in third place – Russia! I’m intrigued. So please if you are a visitor from Russia and you’re interested in Contemporary European literature in English translation then drop me an email.

 

If however you are interested in selling me beauty aids or anti-aging pills ( I am not joking, I had a substantial increase in emails offers recently) then please wait for a few years. I want to retain the illusion of looking as beautiful as Peirene.