So today was the first day. I have never worked in a publishing house before and I have never been that far up the Strand before. So, as I woke this morning, still pushing the remnants of yesterday’s hangover from my eyes, I thought it best to Google the route and see where I was going.
80 The Strand. Just the address gave me a shiver. It’s printed inside so many famous books. I don’t think I can even begin to start picking out a few examples, after all, who hasn’t heard of Penguin Publishing?
We all recognise the sweet little penguin that adorns the spines of some of our best-loved books. Penguin Classics, those beautifully formed little gems of literature, enjoy the company of Viking, Hamish Hamilton and Michael Joseph books in my bookshelf, all part of the Penguin family. Mini notebooks, different colours according to genre, jostle about in my handbag, Virginia Woolf cosying up to Jack Kerouac, just waiting for me to write pithy observations about the world around me in their promisingly empty pages. Jane Austen Penguin posters brighten up my bedroom and my tea is supped from an orange Jane Eyre mug.
80 The Strand is very grand and houses a few large companies, the Virgin Active window being the first of which I spotted. There’s a lot of glass; people always like glass because it looks terribly expensive. I liked it because I could see the little Penguin etched into the door - I could see myself reflected in it. It looked right.
Cold, sleeted on and wearing a red bobble hat, I knew I was making a brilliant first impression. The nice lady behind the desk wore black nail varnish and a snazzy skull necklace with a flatcap that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Blossom (90s TV REFERENCE ALERT). She made a quick phone call after I had asked to see Natalie, who was meeting me in reception, and was told to take a seat. I parked myself in a lurid orange chair and began to defrost. It was only after I had been sitting in that lovely spacious reception for a few moments that I realised I was next to a table. Not just any table. The table top was glass (more glass) and under the glass was a collection of incredibly old, well-thumbed looking Penguin books. I leaned back in my chair and noticed, to the right of me, a huge table, taller than I am when standing. So at least five foot two. The legs of the table were thick and made of glass (again. It was like an apartment from We in there. OBSCURE RUSSIAN LITERATURE REFERENCE ALERT) and were made up of piles and piles of black Penguin books. Books were in alcoves in the wall, there were books on displays on tables, books were in glass cabinets on the walls; there were books everywhere. I began to feel comforted; it seemed I had found the right building.
Just when I was getting the feeling back in my toes Natalie came down and asked for me. I wasn’t the only one there waiting to be collected so I had the uncanny feeling of being called for at the doctor’s surgery but Natalie was lovely and she was a writer herself. We went on a little tour round the building, which had become some kind of metropolis in the time I had been sitting in the reception. The glass was replaced by silver and marble and many people wandered around with strident purpose. I bumped into everything and everyone and nearly broke the machine that tops up the coffee buying card. But after Natalie had steadied herself with a triple espresso she managed to get me up to the Penguin floor with only a few minor injuries. She beeped us into the office (there’s a lot of touch/beep things that kept me greatly amused) and showed me where I was to sit. Well, I thought, my own desk! And with such a great view of the tea and coffee room! She even showed me where the loos were. Natalie explained that she spent her first week there travelling up and down all the floors in order to use the only toilet she knew existed. It’s ok if you find the loos on the first day or so but, as she pointed out, when you get to day five and finally ask to use the toilet you just look….ill.
So, I sat down on my swirly chair and looked at my new colleagues; Sarah gave me a smile and Tom gave me a firm handshake. I then swirled in my chair and noticed I was surrounded by posters. Toby’s Room, Noam Chomsky, Will Self, Jo Jo Moyes, different literary festivals, obscure authors I hadn’t heard of, Zadie Smith smiling shyly; the posters were absolutely everywhere. And the books! There were shelves and shelves; I had shelves behind me, next to me, over in the corner, lining the walkway to the tea room, desks around me held works of fiction, dictionaries, bibles, short story collections – I was in book heaven! It was like working in a Waterstones but quiet and without the general public ruining everything. There were beautiful wooden Penguin posters with names like Clive Bell on them; there was a wall full - FULL - of the black classics Penguin produce. They were all labelled like library books and strictly for reference only. Printers in this office, although useful, were overshadowed by books. The air smelled of dry paper and glue. I felt like Mark in Peep Show when he cuddled his fresh, printer-warm work to his face. I was in a papery nirvana.
The task of the day was to read a collection of short stories. Now, you’ll have to forgive me my reticence here. I don’t want to give things away I’m not supposed to talk about. But the short stories were just wonderful and I felt utterly privileged to be reading another writer’s work, and such good work too. It was about 300 pages long so took me most of the day. What generally happens then is a report is written on it and sent to the other workers for them to see if it’s worth publishing. Again, I shan’t give too much away but this was an outstanding collection so I’m crossing my fingers. Who knows, my positive words on the work might send some writer karma back my way! (You’ll know if it gets published because I will go on and on and on and on about it until Page Plucker reviews it.)