Muse meets Nymph

Badaude's Peirene Salon Poster

I feel the title would naturally run: ‘Muse meets Nymph: All Hell Breaks Loose’.

However, happily it is ‘Friendship Struck,’ or at least, to begin, ‘freelance assistantship’ on my part. On Saturday, I meet Meike, who runs Peirene Press. Her name is pronounced ‘Mike-uh’, or Mica (like the crystal – you know, mica and quartz,) and Peirene is pronounced ‘Pie-ree-knee’.

There is a great video about how to pronounce Peirene. In fact, there are a load of fascinating short films to do with Peirene here, my favourite thus far being The Book Barge!

My friend, talented illustrator Joanna Walsh, aka Badaude, told me about Peirene Press a few months ago when she designed a poster for one of their literary salons. I’d signed up to the mailing list but hadn’t had time to get to any of their events, nor, for shame, to read any of their books.

Just as I thought all my plans for the summer were collapsing, I noticed a mention on Peirene’s latest newsletter that Meike was looking for a few people to help sell Peirene books at their Roaming Bookstore (more on which anon).

I emailed Meike explaining my interest, and after the busy London Book Fair calmed down, she asked me to phone her. I expressed my interest and enthusiasm not only for small presses in general (I told her about my excellent experience with Flambard,) but also for what I see as a very female-driven press: Peirene is a Greek water nymph, and Meike has developed a ‘voice’ for Peirene which plays a wonderful role in her blog, ‘Things Syntactical’.

Meike invited me to meet her and see what the Roaming Store was all about on Saturday.

So, this Saturday, despite rain and various closed travel routes, I fought my way up to the Broadway at Crouch End (about as far into North London as I live in South London) and met Meike and the Peirene Bookstall. Some things I admire about the Peirene approach is an out-of-the-box way of reaching new readers; creative ways of stimulating their audience, and sometimes unconventional ways of selling their books, such as the Bookstall: it is unconventional in that it is at a ‘regular’ market, not a literary fair or even particularly craft-orientated market.

Peirene books are beautiful novellas translated from award-winning European fiction. They are all under 200 pages long, meant to be ‘consumed in the length of time it would take to watch a film’. Not only are the books themselves beautifully designed and published slices of literature, the whole concept behind them is appealing and unique.

Typical London umbrella; typical London weather.

Meike herself stands at the bookstall on freezing, wet days, to chat with people about the Press. For the three hours I was with her, she sold a handful of books, and also got a new subscriber – low-to-medium in terms of how busy they can be, according to her, however, it presented a good opportunity for me to listen to how Meike talks about the books.

Peirene publishes three books per year in a carefully curated, themed series. I love how Meike finds relationships among novels whose authors speak different languages and are from different countries. One huge boon to selling for Peirene is of course getting a copy of all of their books, because I must be familiar with them and be able to speak about them. I read the first book on Sunday, ‘Beside the Sea,’ which was just put on as a one-woman show at the SouthBank Centre. It took me a few pages to get into the modern, distinctly ‘uneducated/troubled’ voice of the narrator (my head has too exclusively been in 18th and 19th-century literature and poetry,) but once I did, the story pulled me along in its riptide. I’m bringing the next two Peirene books with me to Vienna.

Right now, Meike and I are sorting out some dates for me to sell books for Peirene. She liked my suggestion of selling them at Greenwich Market, so I’m looking into which days of the week would be best for that possibility. I also realised that I wouldn’t have contacted Meike if I had not thought that my modelling month in Bruges was cancelled. When I thought it was cancelled, I began to set up plans with Peirene. Then I heard from the Atelier and learned Bruges was confirmed. I explained it all to Meike and she was very kind and flexible about my needing to be away for all of June. ‘Peirene’s reputation is important,’ she said, ‘I’d rather have the right people to represent the press, and work out dates.’ A woman after my own heart!

I’m already thrilled to be getting to know Peirene Press. Stay tuned…

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