Monday, 31 October 2011

An extra day of summer

Just as the rest of the country was adjusting to the first Monday out of British summertime, the lovely people at Hachette Towers were basking in the warm glow of what they're calling 'an extra day of summer.'  Thanks to Vicky Cowell (marketing whizz) and Leah Woodburn (editor extraordinaire) 250 Hungarian Ischler biscuits were baked over the weekend and laid out for the Hachette workforce as they arrived this morning - a piece of homebaking of industrial proportions.  Ischlers are no ordinary biscuit.  Made of two rounds of walnut shortbread, stuck fast with apricot jam and painted over with chocolate, they're a real Hungarian treat.  My mum makes them for us at Christmas, and whenever else we can persuade her to dust off her walnut grinder. In the loving hands of Headline, Ischlers were served accompanied with proof copies of my novel, and specially-created recipe cards.  All in all, it was a celebration of The Book of Summers, designed to whet the taste buds and the literary appetites of all throughout the Hachette building.  I'm told they ran out of proofs before the working day officially began... as for the Ischlers, I suspect they might have disappeared even more quickly.  

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The best goodbye

Parting is - thanks, Will - such sweet sorrow.  I always knew that my last day at work would be emotional.  I didn't expect those emotions to include amazement, astonishment and bewilderment.  And all before the clock struck nine o'clock in the morning.  Here's what happened...

It all began when husband Bobby said he'd walk me to work.  Out of the ordinary, but not suspicion-inducing.  We set off together, passing a Metro vendor en route.  Bobby reached out and took a copy, then handed it to me as we walked.  'You might want to see this,' he said.  I took it disinterestedly and glanced down, only to see my own, almost-as-large-as-life face staring back out of the newsprint.  At the base of the page ran an ad for The Book of Summers - Boxing Monthly apparently thinks I'm a real contender. The article was a piece about me leaving my role of Agency Champion (nifty moniker, non?) to begin a career as a writer.  And on the back page was a mock film poster for The Book of Summers The Movie, starring all my favourites... The Gosling, Audrey Tautou et al.  Whaaaaaat?  For one horrific moment I thought Bobby had bought a Bristol-wide run of Metro cover-wraps, making him one of those guys... you know, the kind that emblazon roadside posters with things like, 'Happy 50th Maureen, love Tony and the kids'... sweet, very sweet, but not quite cool.  My look was somewhere between gratitude and mortification.  What had he done? 

But, it turned out, he hadn't done anything at all (except a series of stealth hand gestures to warn the briefed-up Metro vendor that I was coming).  It was all the work of my friends at EMO, the marketing agency where I've worked on (mostly) and off (2010 - to write) for four years. One of the things they specialise in is community events and 'face to face consumer engagement' (true dat), so I suppose I should have guessed that me as Metro cover-girl was 1/1, and that yet more carefully planned antics would lie ahead.  That's right... my last ever walk to work turned out to be quite the magical mystery tour.
Paper in hand, we carried on walking.  College Green has been a tented Occupy village for days, and just as we were rounding the corner near the site four protestors jumped out with placards, chanting, 'Please don't go!' It was.... EMO again.  Specifically, Sarah, Annabel, Kristin, Ewan and a cardboard cut-out of the absent Kevin.  Mildly startled passers-by looked at us with interest and/ or reproof.  Bobby's shoulder came in handy as a place to hide my teary face.  I particularly liked the sign that said, 'Down With Bankers, Up With Mimi.'  Yeah!
Then someone suggested coffee.  We traipsed off up Park Street and ducked into the nearest café, to draw a little breath.  Moments later the barista turned to me and said, 'Enjoy your latte, Mimi.'  Okay yes, so... I'd never seen her before.  The cup she held out to me had my face beaming back on it, and carried a coffee-related quote from a short story competition I wrote eons ago.  Kind of bedazzling that anyone remembered I even wrote it, let alone could lay their hands on a copy of it still.  Two more work pals (Zoe, Andy) then jumped out from the corner of the coffee shop, to film the spectacle that was now a crying girl with her hands full of printed items mostly featuring her own face.  Whew.
Later, when I arrived at my desk, I saw a box of tissues awaiting me - with more moi branding and flowers from The Book of Summers cover art.  Were it not for my incessant booing I'd have have kept them intact.  
I later learnt that if it hadn't been for delayed trains, overly long coffee stops and pesky parking meters then I would also have been treated to a couple of busking boys (Gaz, Frank) on the steps of the office, singing Here Comes The Sun and strumming guitars.  You know, I'm sort of glad that didn't happen.  It might have sent me over the edge and into HR's office, demanding that they rip up my resignation letter.  Having the kind of workmates that get up early for you, skulk in shadows, tip off Metro workers, chant and protest, dig out your old words and brand mugs with them and learn one of your favourite songs, well... they don't come along too often.  Thank you, guys, so very much, for knocking my socks off in such inspired and lovely fashion.

The morning turned to day and day turned to night and night turned to Jägerbombs.  I said goodbye to my dear work friends down on the waterside, knowing that I'd been given a very special send-off. Knowing also, that if in the days to come loneliness creeps or block descends then all I need to do is pick up my very own copy of Metro and know that there are plenty of people cheering me on in this writing life. For all my reluctance to leave the place I've loved being a part of these last four years, I know that a brave new world awaits.  And I can't wait to join it. 

Monday, 10 October 2011

What poetry can do

The other week I heard Romola Garai talk about 'the music of poetry' as part of the Bristol Poetry Festival. Purists may argue that the author of a poem is the very best reader of it, but after an evening of hearing Romola read, I'm not so sure. She opened with  'How To Cut A Pomegranate' by Imtiaz Dharker, a poem I've always loved.  Or have I?  It made me think of that line in Crazy Heart when Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is talking about songs and says, that's the way it is with good ones, you're sure you've heard them before.  'How To Cut A Pomegranate' is a luminous piece of writing and the lines, 'Inside is a whole universe.  No common jewel can give you this,' seem to encapsulate the magic of poetry itself. From there the night unfolded with the likes of Seamus Heaney and Robert Frost, Derek Walcott and Fleur Adcock.  And, for me, some new treasures, in Julia Darling and Rosemary Tonks.  

That was a Monday night. I'd gone along on my own, and sat on a hard chair with a small glass of red wine for the best part of two hours. My wine ran out early on and I wished I'd chosen a larger glass, but I drank in the poetry instead. The simple act of being read to, as part of a crowd, was intoxicating. And as much as I was listening, I also found my mind pleasantly wandering.  Lost in the beauty of words - words crafted and shaped and caressed by people who really loved them and had made it their lives to do so - I thought about my own writing. Inspired, I made quiet but sturdy resolutions. Later that night I walked home, feeling the first dark shades of autumn. The streets of Clifton were wet and cold and quiet, but I was flushed with the heat of a new plan.  That was a Monday.  On the Friday I took a leap and resigned from my day job.  The writing life awaits me.  I will endeavour to fill it with poetry and perfectly cut pomegranates.