The beginnings of a literary adventure!

Or, why and how I decided to change my whole life at age 24.

Review: Bridget Jones’s Diary

Noon. London. My flat. Ugh. The Last thing on earth I feel physically, emotionally or mentally equipped to do is drive to Una and Geoffrey Alconbury’s New Year’s Day Turkey Curry Buffet in Grafton Underwood.”

As my Twitter profile (@lauracholawka) will tell you, I have recently begun to think of myself as a kind of cross between Thursday Next (see my review of The Eyre Affair if you’re not familiar with this particular literary heroine) and Bridget Jones. Thursday has echoes of some of the personality traits I’m quite proud of, and a similarity with her is perhaps a little more wishful thinking than anything else, but I think we’re all allowed a smidgen of self delusion now and again. My similarities to Bridget however, are painfully obvious. She’s single, she lives in London, she works in publishing (OK, I’m still working on that one!) and she makes her way through a succession of personal and professional crises with food, wine, friends and a huge stack of books. Self help books in her case, which aren’t my particular choice of escape route from reality, but I still find myself occasionally wondering if I will die alone and be found three weeks later half eaten by alsatians. I hope not.

In actual fact, I would be very surprised if most women couldn’t find something in common with Bridget, and therein lies her appeal. The book reads like the neurotic ramblings of your best friend. It’s funny and comforting and it gives all single girls hope, or at least a sense of solidarity. Helen Fielding has created a modern classic, and my copy has undergone more re-readings than I could possibly count. The writing is witty and insightful, and can make you laugh out loud. To me, a book that can elicit such a response is getting things right. I have read many books that are amusing, but it takes a special writer to have you laughing so much you end up looking like an Alice Cooper tribute act. If you are a woman, read this book. If you are a man, read it as well, you might develop a little more sympathy for us.

As a final note, if you want a 30 something male view of life and relationships, give High Fidelity by Nick Hornby a try.  It doesn’t quite sneak into my top 5 (if you read it, you’ll see what I did there!) but it’s a great book.

“It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting ‘Cathy’ and banging your head against a tree.”

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DO judge a book by its cover…you may be pleasantly surprised!

After a fabulous week interning at Hot Key Books (@HotKeyBooks)- who incidentally publish some amazing titles that I am now the proud owner of- I put together a post for their company blog. Have a gander!

Hot Key Books Blog

LauraLaura (@lauracholawka) is a Philosophy and Theology graduate who originally trained as an Early Years Professional. She has recently made the move to London from Manchester to pursue a career in publishing. She also writes a blog about her adventures in publishing and reading, which you can check out by clicking here.

A little background first, if I may.

I’m Laura, I’m 24 (and as such a little older than your average intern, I fear) and as a result of a whirlwind series of circumstances that make my life sound more like a romantic comedy than I’m entirely happy with, I decided to haul myself half way across the country to begin a new career.

I used to work with children, mostly the under-two’s, which was fantastic, albeit a bit sticky. I’m a self-confessed book nerd, and various other types of nerd as well, and publishing has…

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Just a quick note, and a promise that the rest of the reviews for my top 5 are on the way!

I’ve been kept very busy by a few developments that I have to keep under my hat just for now, but I will be sharing any news as soon as I can! Everything is full steam ahead at the moment, and with only a few weeks to go until the BIG MOVE I am starting to feel the need to make lists. Lists are serious business…

Watch this space!

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Every little helps!

A quick update on how my career plans are going: I have been offered a work experience placement with a publisher catering for ages 9-19 based in north London. Some lovely friends of mine have offered me a place to stay while I am there, and I’ll be using that week to find myself somewhere to live. All very exciting!

I am really looking forward to my placement and hope that I can use it as an opportunity to show just how much I can bring to a job in publishing. I have four more weeks left in my current job and am working as much overtime as I can in order to save up the pennies I need to enable me to live whilst undertaking an unpaid placement. It is quite a short placement, but I intend to make the most of every minute there. The kinds of books they publish are right within my own personal areas of interest; I hope to work in children’s/YA fiction, and through research have already found several of their titles that I would have picked up regardless of my ambitions to work for a company such as this.

I am so incredibly busy at the moment, there is a huge amount to organise and the date for the Big Move seems to be speeding towards me at an alarming rate! I’m hugely excited and am keeping my fingers crossed that this will be the start of my (hugely successful-obviously) new life. Even if I have to live off Super Noodles until I secure that all important first paid publishing job-it’ll be like uni all over again! Except without the glorious lack of any real responsibility….

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Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

“My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don’t mean that he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who had a power to reduce time to an ultra-slow trickle.”

In The Eyre Affair we join literary detective Thursday Next as she tries to solve the mystery of Jane Eyre’s kid-napping. There may be some of that sentence you would like explaining. I’m not sure whether I should oblige, or just abandon you to the fun of finding out for yourself. I have recommended Jasper Fforde’s writing to a number of people since discovering it myself, and each time with the caveat ‘I have no idea whether you’ll like it.’ That being said, I will continue to recommend it all the same. Such is my love for the completely loopy world I find myself thrown into each time I pick up a Fforde novel.

The Eyre Affair is the first in the Thursday Next series of books, and is so far still the one I have enjoyed the most. The main character is my favourite kind of heroine: quick to unleash a wide range of ass-kickery when the situation calls for it, but still slightly pre-occupied with getting her ex to love her again. When reading this book I was reminded of an episode of the Dylan Moran/Bill Bailey sitcom Black Books where bookshop proprietor Bernard Black is convincing his customers that his new best seller (Tempocalypse), which follows the story of a 30 something struggling to find a boyfriend whilst simultaneously attempting to prevent a nuclear war, is a book with something for everyone. If anyone could have written Tempocalypse it is Jasper Fforde.

One of my favourite things about the book is the way in which is unashamedly embraces it’s own weirdness. The reader is thrust into a world where the Crimean War still rages on, it is possible to stop time, people have the ability to saunter into their favourite novel, and our protagonist has an endearingly dim pet dodo named Pickwick. The story is inventive and funny and incredibly engaging, although at times requiring you to ‘go with the flow’ until the later narrative answers your inevitable questions about the workings of Thursday’s world. This series is a collection of books for book people. The numerous literary references and uses of punctuation as a plot device are a delight for those who love to explore the way that words can work. I defy you to read The Eyre Affair and then resist the rest of the series.

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,

o’er a plan to venge myself upon that cursed Thursday Next-

This Eyre affair, so surprising, gives my soul such loath despising,

Here I plot my temper rising, rising from my jail of text.

‘Get me out!’ I said, advising, ‘Pluck me from this jail of text-or I swear I’ll ring your neck!’ ” 

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Review: Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

“Sam Vimes sighed when he heard the scream, but he finished shaving before he did anything about it.”

 I am a self-confessed Discworld fangirl, and I go back and forth over which Discworld novel is my favourite. There are probably a few different titles I could have put in this coveted spot, but for the sake of diversity, I shall use Night Watch as a placeholder for the entire series.

Night Watch, published in 1992, is the 29th Discworld novel, and the 6th in the city watch story arc. The novel follows protagonist Sir Samuel Vimes, commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, as a magical catastrophe hurls him backwards through time into the murky waters of his own past. Vimes must oversee the induction of his young self into the world of urban policing, whilst attempting to stay one step ahead of a dangerous criminal that was also caught up in the temporal anomaly. If this wasn’t enough, Ankh-Morpork is in the midst of an increasingly violent revolution. Can Vimes hold it together long enough to ensure that he has a future to return to? Will the murderous Carcer gain the upper hand? And will Vimes ever get his hard boiled egg?

“But the helmet had gold decoration, and the bespoke armorers had made a new gleaming breastplate with useless gold ornamentation on it. Sam Vimes felt like a class traitor every time he wore it. He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armor. It was gilt by association.”

The reason I would tend to lean towards Night Watch as my favourite of the Discworld novels is the moving and insightful humanity of the story. It’s all too easy to relate to the loss, confusion and at times sheer exhaustion of the protagonist as he clings desperately onto the hope that he will see his pregnant wife again. Despite this increasing desperation, Vimes is determined to do the job before he goes home. This is very much a character driven story, and you fight with Vimes and his ungainly gang of watchmen every step of the way.

The story is delivered with Pratchett’s usual brand of unending wit and sparkling wordplay, and has made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. Whilst I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to just about anyone, it is not perhaps the best entry point into Discworld. If you want to begin the city watch story from the beginning, start with the similarly hilarious Guards!Guards!, or, to begin at the very beginning, go with The Colour of Magic and follow the development of this magical universe through a wide variety of story arcs including witches, wizards and DEATH himself.

As a final note, I have to say that although I adore the convenience of my e-reader, Pratchett’s works are best experienced in print, as his inclusion of footnotes in the text do not lend themselves to current e-book format. I live in hope that developments in digital publishing will soon provide me with an enhanced e-book that will mean I can read footnotes to my heart’s content without any break in immersion caused by having to follow a separate link to them.

“But here’s some advice, boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions.”

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My top 5…

As part of a recent application process, I was asked to list my top 5 favourite books. It wasn’t easy to narrow down to 5 in all honesty, and my criteria for selecting each of the five that ended up on the list varied from book to book. Here’s what I ended up with:

  • Night Watch-Terry Pratchett
  • The Eyre Affair-Jasper Fforde
  • Northern Lights-Philip Pullman
  • Sophie’s World-Jostein Gaarder
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary-Helen Fielding

I have decided to start keeping a closer eye on up and coming new books, giving more attention to the kinds of works I wouldn’t normally pick up off the shelf, and thought I might try my hand at writing some reviews. So, before I move onto new books, I wanted to start by writing a little about each of my top 5. I’m hoping to post them fairly soon, as these are all books that have undergone numerous re-readings and as such as are warm and cosy and familiar, like my favourite (and consequently now quite disgusting) university hoody.

So watch this space!

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The Story So Far…

My name is Laura, I’m 24, and as of the 30th May 2013 I have elected to give up my job in childcare, move halfway across the country and begin a new career in publishing.

So, that sounds simple enough, right?

The tagline for this blog promises to tell you two things: how I plan to do this, and why I have decided to do this. The ‘how’ is obviously a work in progress, so I’ll return to that in a little while. Let’s start with the ‘why’.

I have worked in childcare on and off since the age of 19. Growing up my mum was a childminder, and I assume that’s where my affinity for young children comes from. After I completed my degree in Philosophy and Comparative Religion ( and that’s a story I’ll save for another day), I qualified as an EYP and began working for a fantastic childcare provider, caring for the under-twos.  By my last day, I’ll have been working there for just short of two years. Although there have been ups and downs, I have largely loved my role there, and have worked with an amazing team. So, why the change?

One of the first pieces of advice you are likely to come across if you choose to look for a job in the publishing industry is ‘Don’t say you want the job because you love books!’ Of course, this requires a qualifier; ‘Don’t say you want the job JUST because you love books.’ My passion for a wide range of literary media, be it novels, short stories, graphic novels or any number of the emerging forms of digital storytelling, is absolutely what inspired me to look into publishing as a career, and once I began to look, I found a world I am now so determined to be a part of. I carefully considered my aptitudes, and my interests, and found that they nestled perfectly into the life of a publisher, specifically, an editor, although I don’t wish to narrow my focus too soon-you never know exactly what will fit you best until you try things!

The next question that might spring to your mind is why I wanted to leave the industry I was already on my way to a successful career in, especially as, by my own admission, I have a job I very much enjoy. Simply put, I am an ambitious person. I know that I’m capable of a great deal and I work extremely hard to get where I want to be. Therein lies the problem in an industry where moving up almost invariably means moving away from the children, and it is the children who make my job so enjoyable. So, my choices were to stay at the level I am currently working at, or find myself a new career involving my other great passion: books.

Once I had done my research and made certain that I had found the career for me, I began to look into what options were available so that I could make myself employable in a completely new sector. As I saw it, there were two main bases I needed to cover. Firstly, the commercial side of the industry; publishing is a business, and it is important not to romanticise about being surrounded by fabulous manuscripts everyday-or being ‘paid to read’- and forget that publishers, whilst maintaining a real passion for their products, exist to turn a profit. Secondly, I was going to need some practical experience. I have many transferable skills from my academic and professional career, but there is little substitute for being able to say to a prospective employer, ‘I have worked in a publishing house and here is what I can now bring to your company.’ So, to cover base number one, I enrolled myself on a distance learning course which is teaching me all about the structure, processes and commercial aims of publishers, encompassing trade, educational and STM. To cover base number two, I began to look into work experience. There are very few publishers based in the north and so I was so pleased that my request for a short placement was granted by a small publisher specialising in short stories. I spent a week with them, learned a great deal, and further confirmed to myself that publishing was what I wanted to do.

Fast forward to April, and I am spending the majority of this week being over-awed and childishly excited by the goings-on at the London Book Fair. Now is a time of huge development and opportunity for the industry and I can’t wait to be a part of it. Moving down to London when I don’t (yet-I’ll keep you posted!) have a job in place might seem like an insane risk, and I certainly would recommend caution to anyone in a similar situation, but I am lucky that I have the means to support myself for a while and throw myself wholeheartedly into the search for my ‘foot-in-the-door’. London is the place to be to do that, so London is where I shall go! Wish me luck!

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