Becoming a Londoner

When I first came to London, I knew nothing. I barely understood how to operate my Oyster card or get on a bus. Just like when I first started my job – I had no idea how to even turn on a Mac. How far I’ve come since then!

Proof that Emma can be crazy sometimes

Proof that I do sometimes do fun and crazy things

In January I made some resolutions to make the most of living in the capital, and do as many new and exciting things as possible. Start crossing activities off the bucket list, as it were. So, in the spirit of seizing the day, this week I’ve been to the theatre (I’m constantly saying that there are far too many shows and not enough time), won tickets to attend an art show, and finally been to Wimbledon, after saying for years that next year I’d definitely go. Well, guess what, after experiencing the massive queue, milling around the outside courts, getting sunburnt, and sitting on Court One for free, I’m definitely going to go again next year. This month I’m also going to my very first gig. Mumford & Sons no less. Cue great excitement. Remaining “bucket list” items include horseriding on the beach, climbing a mountain, and jumping out of a plane, amongst other crazy things…

So how is it going sans facebook? In some senses harder than I expected and in some senses easier. I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything of monumental importance yet. I was successfully invited to the pub and a spontaneous picnic lunch via other modes of communication. I enjoyed my night at the Noël Coward Theatre even without being able to “tag” my location online. Perhaps most interesting of all is that I’ve had several people expressing an interest in reducing their cyber footprints for a while. One friend in particular was disgusted at someone’s oversharing online intimate details of their wife’s waters breaking, while another was, like me, keen to find time to blog and write about the things they love, rather than spending hours crafting the perfect facebook status update.

I do, however, miss the sense of community. Is it nosy that I enjoy learning about what people are doing with their lives? Is it attention seeking that I want to share the fact that I nearly walked into John McEnroe at Wimbledon? Still searching for some compromise here. In the meantime I’m off to post a package to a friend in Vietnam and research skydiving opportunities. Carpe diem!


Facebook Fasting

Today I seemingly signed away all my hopes of a full and functioning social life. Don’t worry, facebook, as I told you when I clicked “deactivate my account”, it’s only a temporary measure.

I am taking a brief hiatus from the world of (some) social media, having been inspired to get back to basics. For a long time now, things have been missing from my life, things that used to be a huge part of who I was, and along the way have been waylaid and put aside in favour of other distractions. I have forgotten how to write for fun. How to snatch up a pen and a notebook and spend hours obsessing over a suitable line to rhyme with “the statue in Trafalgar Square” (in the spirit of honesty, a genuine recent attempt). How to curl up in a corner and get lost in a book for hours. How to really, really try to complete the Radio Times cryptic crossword.

Facebook has not been the only distraction, but it has been one of them. Perhaps as a symbol more than anything else I am temporarily giving it up in the hope that it will free me up for other, more creative, activities.

In the short time since clicking “yes I’m sure I want to deactivate”, I have already learnt things about myself. I have noticed how often my finger ticks towards the facebook app on my phone. I have noticed how many times of a morning I open a new tab in my browser and press “f”, waiting for facebook to automatically load up. I have noticed a distinct lack of “notifications” popping up in my inbox, but equally, I haven’t been devastated by their loss.

There is something at odds, or at the very least ironic, with my then choosing a public platform to announce this. But there is also something social about what I want to embark on as an alternative and I therefore need people to hold me accountable to it.

Me, writing, on the Eurostar on the way to Paris. Seven years ago.

Me, writing, on the Eurostar on the way to Paris. Seven years ago.

A while ago a good friend asked me what was inspiring me on a daily basis. At the time, my answer was a blank, bottomless pit of nothing. Well, I have boxes full of writing materials, cards, pens, paper. I want to be able to use them. I used to have overseas pen-pals. I want them again. I used to spend hours writing hideously emotional, self-involved poetry. (Perhaps the world could do without me taking that up again.) I want to rekindle old friendships, nurture the ones I have, and not feel like we’re competing to find our 401st “facebook friend”. I want to send greetings cards, handwritten letters, postcards. I want to pick up the phone and natter about nothing until the cows come home. Facebook is free, yes, and stamps and phone bills aren’t, but I think my life will be more enriched and real by taking the time to share things on a more personal basis. And I’ll try to use this blog to let you know how I get on.

 I am not making some sort of political anti-facebook statement or suggesting that we should all abandon our accounts forever. A more balanced person might be able to find time to juggle all of these things. However, I am engaging on this by way of an experiment. If you’d like to join in, maybe send me your address (privately!) and let’s spread some love the good old fashioned way…

Thanks to some very truthful friends and the blog for encouraging me to resurrect my creativity and get inspired again.

Before and After

This week at work we were jokingly discussing what we’d do for a living if we couldn’t do our current jobs (i.e. publishing). I would definitely open a craft shop. Of course, you need a lot of handy revenue to buy a shop, and I lack fundamental accountancy skills to manage such a venture, so it would probably fold within a week… Added to that, I’m probably not as good at crafting as I like to think. Every project I embark on takes twice as long (at least) as I think it will, as I get distracted and lose dedication and will-power to continue.

These last few months I definitely bit off more than I could chew with a reupholstery project. I bought a very manky looking, but structurally sound, dressing-table stool from a charity shop (see below) and proceeded to strip off the old fabric. In fact, reupholstering was the easy part. Sanding the legs down in order to paint in a french-chic ivory without possessing an electric sander was hard work. Certainly good for the old arm muscles though… In the end I became impatient and in my eagerness to paint broke out with a paintbrush. The end result is satisfactory though. The joke in our house is that I’m buying things for my “bottom drawer” for when I move out. This won’t fit in any drawer I own, but I can envision it in my own place, along with the antique chair from Lewes.

“One Man in his Time Plays Many Parts…”

I bring you a brief pictorial clue (like in University Challenge) as to what I’ve been getting up to recently (and the reasons for why I’ve been so absent from this blog), although I hasten to add that I am certainly not this sort of girl…

… and certainly not working in that sort of publishing.

This (sadly out of print) book has been causing something of a furore recently (perhaps only in the publishing world) so if you happen to have a copy do please let me know!

Indeed, Dorling Kindersley have recently taken me on as a temporary Editorial Assistant so I am currently swamped in pages to proofread, climbing a steep, mountainous, learning curve, but revelling in every second of it.

There certainly is more to a book than its cover (said tongue-in-cheek and trying to avoid innuendo)…

“If You Shall Chance, Camillo, to Visit Bohemia…”

“… you shall see… great difference betwixt our Bohemia and your Sicilia.”

“Publicity? Oh.”
This probably wasn’t the response that the nice HR people were expecting when they rang to tell me about the placement they were offering me at Random House. Neither was it the response I intended to give, it was just that I’d never really considered that area of publishing before. But the next minute I was jumping at the opportunity, and I’m so glad that I did!

Many people think that publicity is super glamorous: hanging out with authors all day long, organising signings and tours and attending awards ceremonies. And of course, that is part of it, but what lies behind the glam, back in the office, is a lot of hard work, organising, correspondence, research, filing… No day has been the same these last three weeks. I’ve often begun my mornings by searching through all the various newspapers, hunting for reviews of books published by our various imprints (and becoming very well versed on current affairs at the same time). Then I might send uncorrected proof copies, or the finished article, in mailings to reviewers (trying to read the books as I go!), forward fan mail and general post to the relevant authors, or even design flyers for bookshop events. I was privileged enough to sit in on a marketing meeting and I haven’t looked at books in shops the same since I walked out the room. Discussions centred around books being published next year, the best marketing strategies, predicted sales, the best jacket design/ blurb terminology, and I now judge books by their covers more critically than I ever did before. I even catch myself watching people in bookshops: wondering what they’re picking up and why.

I haven’t met anyone famous (although I was, on separate occasions, rewarded by the site of Jonathan Powell and Sam Willetts across the office – check out their work if you’re unfamiliar), but I have read a fantastic novel that’s not due out until February next year. Beyond saying Half of the Human Race is brilliant I can say no more, but expect to have me bombarding everyone I know with recommendations for it come 2011. Neither have I been to any award ceremonies (although the Galaxy Book Awards were held last week, and Random House did very well – prizes for Terry Pratchett, Martin Amis, Edmund de Waal amongst others), but I have learnt heaps, had my knowledge of the whole publishing process widened, conquered my feeling of being like a country mouse in the big town, AND been surrounded by mountains of books all day long. It’s been something of a three-week dream for me. And I’m sure that if asked again then my answer would be, “Publicity? Yes please!

“Who’s there?”

So begins the greatest play every written (Shakespeare’s Hamlet). And here begins my humble blog. Welcome to Emma’s Emporium! I’ve been challenged and inspired recently to start blogging, so watch this space for craft attempts, random literary quotes, thoughts, general ramblings and who knows what else… For now, here’s a photo I took of one of my favourite places in all the world: a tumbling down, second-hand bookshop in Laugharne, Pembrokeshire (in the village that inspired Dylan Thomas‘ play Under Milk Wood).