Tapping into the world of Publishing

A few months ago I wrote this, a post about being an undergraduate and facing rejection from the world of work. I’m glad and proud to say that I’m no longer an undergraduate, but have now graduated in English and Spanish. But am I still being rejected from jobs? Yes and no.

Applying for jobs and being let down is something we all have to deal with. Apart from that one lucky buggar who struck gold with their first application. That wasn’t me. However, I have been extremely lucky with some of my contacts. One of them put me in touch with the Head of Content at their company, and now I’ve found myself in a freelance Online Content Writing role where I get to decide how much I’m paid. Not bad for my first job as a graduate. It seems to be going well, and fits in with my main worry of trying to get a job in the Publishing sector. After quite a few applications and rejections, I came across a traineeship that could be a great way for me to tap into the world of Publishing.

HarperCollins, one of the Big Five in the Publishing world, launched a BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) traineeship last year to much success. Schemes like this highlight the fact that the social and ethnic makeup of companies’ employees don’t reflect the diversity of London. HarperCollins are very much aware of this so this year, they’re running the scheme again. I stumbled across a tweet about it and decided to apply. Lucky for me, I got through the first round, and now the second.

The first was a video interview that wasn’t actually face-to-face, but rather me looking at the screen and waiting for a question to pop up. 30 seconds later and I had to conjure up a decent enough answer to put me through to the next round.

I’d almost forgotten about it all until I received an email from the HR intern inviting me to a half-day assessment at HarperCollins’ swanky new offices in London Bridge. So that’s where I went just a few days ago. With a talk from one of the directors, and one from a current trainee, us 40 applicants got a real feel of the culture of HarperCollins, the programme, and what was expected of us on the day, in between lots of mingling.

The interview itself was informal and short, and didn’t actually require any preparation at all. The first comment from one of the interviewers set the tone: “I wish we had longer than ten minutes because I wanna hear all about Mexico!” Another question which was actually really fun to think about was the dinner party scenario: if you could invite four people to your dinner party who would they be? F. Scott Fitzgerald because of Gatsby and all that, Emer O’Toole because she’s one of the best current feminist writers I’ve ever come across, Michael Eavis for making Glastonbury what it is today (and to also chuck in how I volunteer for Bhopal Medical Appeal while there), and Arundhati Roy because, honestly, I wanted to throw in a BAME writer.

Ten minutes and four questions later, I’d given my two interviewees an insight into me, my personality, my interests, and my character. I had actually enjoyed myself, smiled practically the whole way through, and spoke a whole lot about my love of different cultures.

So from 40 they had to cut us down to 15. We were to be informed a week later whether or not we’d be one of the final 15. But to our surprise, we all received emails the next day. At that moment I was working at The Queen’s Club stuffing envelopes (fun, right?) so it completely took me by surprise when I found out that I’d been invited to the next assessment day.

So on 11th September I’ll be returning to HarperCollins’ offices for a much longer interview, a presentation, and a group task. Seems pretty daunting as this is something I’ve never done before, so I’m undoubtedly nervous. However, I’ve got this far so at least I’ve got the potential. Whether or not I become one of two trainees for HarperCollins, I am sure that the whole experience will be a learning curve for me. I’ve enjoyed it so far, and I intend to make the most out of 11th September regardless of how it may or may not go.

All I can think right now: I’ve actually jumped over the first two hurdles of a rigorous selection process and haven’t fallen flat on my face.

Toledo: walls, synagogues and marzipan

Half an hour away from the hot and dry Spanish capital Madrid, lies Toledo, a city that fits elegantly within the tall, sepia-toned walls taking you back to medieval times of walled in castles and forts. The city, which is the capital of the autonomous region Castile-La Mancha has been declared a World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why. Its little winding streets – reminiscent of Mexico’s Guanajuato – let you walk up and down to the centre with views of the cathedral, and its monasteries are romantic and peaceful, It’s not only this beauty that makes Toledo a great city to visit; Toledo is also culturally, historically, and religiously rich with architecture and customs reflecting Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Toledo’s Jewish quarter is very popular with tourists. Santa María La Blanca is considered the oldest synagogue in Europe, and can be found there. Its white walls and golden decoration lend themselves to Moorish architecture, giving the synagogue characteristics of a mosque. It’s cool and peaceful inside, making it a great place to take a breather from the Spanish heat.

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Toledo is also hugely famous for their mazapán. Apparently this specifically Spanish type of marzipan – made of almonds, sugar, honey, and eggs – was invented by nuns at Convento de San Clemente to feed the undernourished people of the city suffering from famine. Toledo is also known to shape these little sweets into figures of animals. Head to the convent to try the original mazapán still made by the nuns, or to the shop Santo Tomé which has a wider variety of marzipan.

I just wish they were vegan.

Lucy Rose at Rio Cinema, London

Last year, English singer-songwriter Lucy Rose put her trust and faith in Latin American fans and accepted their invitations to play in their hometowns for free and stay with them. Some of her flights were paid for by fans that just could not last another minute without seeing Lucy Rose in the flesh.

Lucky for me, I was in Mexico at the time and travelled from my small flat in Colima to beautiful Puebla to stay with a friend and introduce her to one of my favourite artists. We were all blown away as we sat cross-legged on the courtyard floor staring up at Lucy Rose as she performed an intimate acoustic set for us.

Fast forward 12 months and Lucy Rose has released a documentary narrating her travels around countries including Chile, Argentina, and Mexico, and has been visiting independent cinemas around the country to screen her film as well as a play a little gig. I’d never been to a cinema gig before so this was a totally different experience for me.

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Beginning with her documentary, which was highly emotional, Lucy Rose took a little break before heading back on stage to play a set that encompassed all three of her records to date. Both the documentary and her performance were stunning. She is one of the most humble artists I’ve had the pleasure to listen to, and the privilege to meet. Hearing her wonderful anecdotes about fans that she stayed with, and seeing just how much the trip impacted her, brought me to tears. Before playing ‘I Can’t Change It All’ from the new record Something’s Changing, she explained that the song was actually written for a fan. She wanted to do something for him after realising, to her disappointment and shame, that there was very little she could do to improve his situation. So instead she wrote him a song, the album closer.

It becomes clear that Lucy Rose returned to music after going through some self-doubt and lack of confidence because of her fans and the way they have welcomed her with open arms, introducing them to their families, and the way they have experienced her music in such a personal way.

Her shows continue to reiterate the power and influence of music, and the reality that the industry doesn’t have to be completely commercial and consumerist, and can be for just the artist and their incredible fan base.

Watch the documentary below.

Thoughts on Glastonbury 2017

This year at Glastonbury was my third; my third time litter picking on the Pyramid Stage for Bhopal Medical Appeal, glimpsing the oddities that Glastonbury has to offer between watching talented artists perform, and sampling the festival’s vegan eateries. This year was a lot quieter on the music front compared to back in 2015 when I had a packed schedule and had to run from stage to stage to catch the likes of Rae Morris, FKA twigs, and Everything Everything. This year left me with some thoughts on the music scene and the chaotic festival itself. 

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Where’s the rain?

We’re not Brits if we don’t talk about the weather, right? The day we arrived, Wednesday, was an absolute scorcher and although the following five days weren’t as warm, the lack of rain made this year’s experience wholly different. Litter picking around the dusty tracks of Glastonbury as trucks drove past wasn’t pleasant, but at least we didn’t have to trudge through the mud for six hours. Instead, punters were in a much better mood this year dancing under the sun, sitting up on Stone Circle until the stars came out, and watching their favourite artists perform.

Corbynmania

Glastonbury was extremely political this year with more and more people heading to the Left Field to catch leftist artists and speakers make some noise for politics that actually make sense in today’s society. Beans on Toast, who played in a tiny tent at Common People back in May, attracted a huge crowd at Left Field as he sang about political puppets. The politics of Left Field moved to the Pyramid Stage on Saturday afternoon as Jeremy Corbyn spoke to thousands of Glastonbury punters. Chanting ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ to ‘Seven Nation Army’ at the Silent Disco was a surreal experience. Corbynmania took Glastonbury by storm.

White white white

Over the last few months I’ve become more aware that the music scene – or at least the music I tend to listen to and enjoy – is saturated by a white population, mainly men or those fitting the criteria of heteronormativity. This year at Glastonbury I found that our little group made of up of friends made on previous years volunteering and family was mainly non-white, leading me to observe that we were one of very few Asian groups amongst the hordes at Glastonbury. Why is it that Glastonbury remains so white even with a fairly diverse line-up bringing different genres, identities and cultures together?

Vegan heaven

Festival food is great with its diversity in cultures and tastes, and I knew that as a vegan I’d be okay with the variety of options. If ever in doubt at Glastonbury head to the Green Fields area and the Greenpeace Café for a small but tasty selection of vegetarian and vegan food. Somewhere between there and the Healing Field I grabbed a soya Chai and a hearty falafel pitta, sat cross-legged on rugs and taking a breather from the rush of Glastonbury. A stall I was keen on heading to before even stepping on Worthy Farm was Club Mexicana, which opens its stalls in various markets around London. Tofish tacos and BBQ jackfruit burritos were the highlight of my Glastonbury foodie experience. Even my omnivore brother was impressed. 

It was great to be at Glastonbury again this year especially having missed it last year due to being on my Year Abroad, and a pleasure to work alongside BMA volunteers clearing up the Pyramid Stage. Love The Farm, Leave No Trace.

 

Not quite hitting the mark: a common theme in the story of an undergraduate

Undergraduate life can be pretty tough on the soul. From getting A*s in 3000-word English essays that you spent all of Year 13 on, to learning to deal with bashing out an essay in a week and only getting an average 2:1, our work just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Over my four years of studying I’ve said on multiple occasions: “as long as it’s above 40%, that’s fine”. Never in my life have I set myself up to just about scrape a pass for assignments than at university.

However, it’s not just that we’re not as bright as we thought we were when we aced our GCSES with A*s and As or got A*AB at A-Level, it’s everything that comes with being a finalist: ruthlessly filtering through graduate schemes, internships, and part-time jobs, to end up flat on our faces with a chapter in our lives entitled “Rejections 1-242098”.

As my fourth year as an English and Spanish undergraduate began, people didn’t hold back to continue asking the same old question: have you decided what you’re doing yet? And with this question comes the inevitable sheer panic as we compete with our peers for a graduate scheme that we’re not even sure we want. The pressure to have nabbed a grad scheme by the end of the year was overwhelming and exhausting. It didn’t even matter that you didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life; apply for a grad scheme anyway. Luckily, I came to my senses and spent my time reminiscing about sunny days in Mexico as a tanned Year Abroader.

A few months later and the worry set in again. My friends and peers were suddenly getting their shit together and figuring out their lives while that future chapter of my life sat on the backburner with barely any structure let alone an opening line.

Opportunities started coming my way, and I went in search for them resulting in applying for a social impact programme based in India and organised by the uni. My wanderlust was becoming uncontrollable and I wanted to cure just a tiny bit of it but heading back to where my roots lie. Of course the programme sounded extremely engaging and challenging, and with most costs paid for, I’d be a fool to not apply. But inevitably, I didn’t quite hit the mark.

We have received an unusually high number of applications and the selection process has been very competitive this year.  After reviewing your submitted application, we have decided that we will not shortlist you this time. Due to the large number of applications, we are not able to provide individual feedback on your application.

Okay, that’s fair enough. But, really? Not even a few lines to say what was missing from my application, what made me not quite hit the mark?

Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and I get another rejection email, this time for an internship at Penguin Random House. At least this time I received some feedback, even if it was a bit halfhearted. I actually answered questions pretty decently on the online application, and I scored above average for a number of things they were looking for like passion, persuasiveness and communication. Yet, I still didn’t quite hit the mark.

Those are only two out of a series of rejections I’ve received, and I know that as a whole, us nearly-graduates have been subject to thousands of disheartening emails showing us, once again, how we’re not quite hitting the mark.

But I can’t leave without saying, like good ol’ Ross Geller does: ‘you’re gonna go on like a thousand interviews before you get a job’. So don’t lose hope.

Back to therapy

Before heading off to Mexico for my year abroad I was in a particularly bad place, something that I’m still coming to terms with now. The stress and anxiety of even imagining myself living in another country was throwing me off completely; I was working myself up, lashing out at those I love, and dwelling on the negatives. In the past month or so I’ve noticed myself inching closer and closer to this bad place.

It’s always been difficult for me to talk about my feelings to people face-to-face; I feel my eyes welling up, my face reddening, and my heart sinking seeing those I love upset when I try to voice how I’m feeling. (Probably one of the reasons I find it far easier to write a blog post than to call up my parents.) So a few weeks ago I built up the courage and booked myself an appointment with my GP to talk about my options, then went to Enabling Services which was so dishearteningly disappointing. Speaking with my GP was much more helpful and easier, and maybe this was because she, a middle-aged Asian woman, made the correct judgement about our shared culture: there is still a much larger, more prominent stigma in Asian communities about ‘hidden’ illnesses, manifesting the idea that if you can’t physically see or touch the problem then it just doesn’t exist.

Skip forwards a couple of weeks to today and I’m back to therapy. This was a decision I made with my practitioner over the phone, after coming to the conclusion that the one-to-one CBT I had right before my flight to Mexico proved beneficial. It was evident from the call that the NHS are facing huge problems, which has obviously been going on for a while now, but it had never fully occurred to me until my practitioner said I’d have to wait eight weeks for one-to-one CBT. Two whole months! That just did not seem to be an option for me. So instead I’ve opted for CBT workshops that are interactive group sessions – but not group therapy, I should add – held at the church centre just walking distance from my house and campus.

So far we’ve looked at different ways to address those bad habits we all may take to lighten the load, and let us forget about our worries like resorting to alcohol or smoking, binge eating, and withdrawing from social activities completely. Over the remaining seven sessions we’ll be talking about controlling temper, how to address lack of motivation, amongst other topics. I’m feeling pretty positive about the treatment, and I would encourage people to definitely give CBT a go if you haven’t done so already. Although I haven’t had any experience of medication, I would rather steer away from it if I can and focus on my wellbeing in a more natural way. But, it’s always good to keep your options open.

A minority on the outskirts

As an ethnic minority I’ve always found it intriguing to have a little glance around me at concerts to see where I stand within the crowd. With my choice of music including that of indie/rock – a genre traditionally saturated by white men – I always find myself as even more of a minority as I’m both Asian and female.

I’ve been attending concerts for years with my gig-going history including the likes of Biffy Clyro, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Arctic Monkeys, and Glass Animals. Every time I go I find myself even more aware of the lack of diversity within the crowd, and more conscious that myself and the people I’m with (usually my aunt and/or my brother) are one of extremely few non-whites.

A couple of days ago I was with my brother, uncle and his mate (also Indian) seeing Bloc Party at The Roundhouse, which is one of my favourite venues in London. I found myself on the outskirts of the main centre of the audience, fully conscious of the fact that I was surrounded by predominantly white men. Any women I saw (also white) seemed to be attached to their significant other. This doesn’t tend to make me hugely uncomfortable, but recently it has made me question why there is still such a lack of culturally diverse people attending live concerts.

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On a slightly lighter, less political note, I also found myself as a minority with regards to my knowledge of Bloc Party’s discography, only familiar with the band’s latest album, HYMNS. Hard-core fans of theirs who stuck by them since day one are not keen on this record at all. It presents a shift in the band’s sound that some people are not willing to accept. I’m all for a band adapting their sound, whether it be to suit the current times or whether it be a natural step in a group’s progression and evolution. (Other examples include Arctic Monkeys with AM, Two Door Cinema Club with Gameshow, and Kings of Leon with WALLS.)

So not only was I a minority fan on the outskirts of the venue singing along to the likes of ‘Different Drugs’ and ‘Only He Can Heal Me’ while “true” fans bitched about Bloc Party’s new musical direction, but I was also one of very few women, and one of very few non-whites.

I’ll just add that lead singer, Kele Okereke, was born to Nigerian parents and does not fit heteronormative ideals. The band also has a female drummer.

Málaga: meeting the family, walkways and country houses

Málaga was a pretty important little trip for me. Seeing where my boyfriend had spent his childhood and meeting his family and friends was an absolute delight despite my initial nerves and anxieties about something I’ve never really had the chance to do: be introduced to the most important people in a partner’s life.

Álora is his hometown, which was at first described to me as kinda naff. This it definitely is not. (Fran, wait until you wander the lovely streets of Norbury…) Its beautiful little white houses that sit on the hills of the town are shaded by some of the rocky mountains of Málaga lending picturesque views to any visitor. Walk up the hilly roads to the castle for views of the town and its lush green landscapes.

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Between delicious home-cooked meals with his mum and gran, and drinks with his friends, we wandered the lovely town and made it to El Caminito del Rey, a walkway between the reservoirs of El Chorro. Before it was reopened in 2015 after extensive restoration, it was named “the world’s most dangerous walkway”. Pop a helmet on and stick to the new path and you’ll be fine, and maybe don’t look down when crossing over the bridge…

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Our penultimate night in Málaga was spent in the family’s country house, around a 10-minute drive from the centre of Álora. Surrounded by green fields, with its own outdoor pool, an orchard boasting avocados, lemons and orange, and sitting under a blanket of the brightest and largest stars I’ve ever seen in my life, this place was a lovely little retreat for the two of us. It would’ve been far more idyllic and peaceful if it weren’t for a disgusting cold I’d been blessed with at such an inappropriate time.

The final couple of days in Málaga were spent walking around the centre and up to the castle, Gibralfaro, to gaze down on the bullring, the sea stretching out into the distance, and the city’s beautiful cathedral to the right. Walking by the Alcazaba, which sits in the same area as the castle, took me back to the days in Granada when I fell in love with the Moorish architecture that is so characteristic of Andalucía.

With Fran’s roots back in Málaga, I now have another reason to keep revisiting the sunny south of Spain.

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Lessons learnt: meeting the family and friends isn’t as scary as it may seem, the Andalusian accent is so much harder to understand than the Mexican, Málaga isn’t just a boozy British lads holiday.

Portugal: reunited over liqueur, cameras, and sight-seeing

After two months of not having seen each other, my boyfriend and I were reunited once again, this time in Lisbon, Portugal, after flight delays which were even more frustrating due to the nature of our holiday being a reunion. (Okay, maybe two months isn’t that long, but long distance relationships, let alone relationships, are tricky enough for me as it is.)

Our first two nights were spent up on the hillier side of Lisbon in a lovely little AirBnB just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of the winding streets, the wide plazas and atmospheric bars tucked away on cobbled paths.

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Food and drink are always a great way into the soul of a new destination, and with my extremely limited knowledge of the Portuguese world (apart from the fact that pastéis de nata are fucking delicious), having local input was greatly appreciated. Due to Fran’s career he knows a few guys in Portugal which led to our second night – my favourite – full of Portuguese liqueur and traditional music.

One of Fran’s workmates introduced us to a tiny bar which sold ginjinha only. It’s made of ginja berries (sour cherries) and is usually drunk as a shot. We opted for the chocolate shot glasses which made for a nice pre-dinner dessert. From there we walked to the starting place for nights out. On one of the main roads lies a fairly large plaza with a kiosk to one side of it. This place, with just one guy in it, strictly serves no beer but instead offers a number of Portuguese liqueurs including amarguinha made from almonds.

Take one of the little roads going up from the kiosk and you’ll find yourself amongst a number of little restaurants and bars. The great thing about this place is that when you’re too hammered to figure out where you are, just keep walking downhill and you’ll get to the main road, from there it should be a piece of cake. In theory.

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From Portugal’s capital we took a three-hour train ride up north to Porto. Quickly dropping out stuff off at our second AirBnB, we headed into the centre to meet some other guys from work for lunch. All over Porto you’ll find signs for little restaurants serving francesinhas. They’re laden with meat and cheese so definitely neither vegetarian nor vegan friendly. However, we were introduced to one restaurant which was absolutely heaving at 2PM where I could try a veggie francesinha made with tofu and vegetarian sausages to substitute the meat, layered with bread and drenched in a mild cheese and veg gravy. Add some chips and you’ve got yourself your whole day’s worth of calories. Well, that’s what it felt like I’d eaten anyway. Walking around Porto to catch the sunset over the bridge and stopping off at Livraria Lello (Harry Potter fans should recognise this), burnt off some calories, I hope.

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During the four days in Portugal I felt like a bit of a camera wanker. My Canon DSLR, Polaroid Cube (a present from my brother) and my new baby the Polaroid Snap Instant Digital (a present from Fran) were always at hand. I could’ve made it even worse by throwing my phone into the mix… But with the great zoom and quality of my Canon, the lovely wide angle on the Cube and the novelty of the Polaroid, I think I had a good mix of photographic products to capture some of the beauty of Lisbon and Porto.

Lessons learnt: travelling with a partner is a definite must, I will always appreciate a local’s knowledge, cameras are great.

Back to reality

It has now been over a month since being back at university. Still, to this day, I’m going through a whole heap of mixed emotions. Initially, I was faced with reverse culture shock, a concept thrown at us by our tutors but one I disregarded. I can assure you that it is definitely a valid, but hugely unappreciated notion.

I’m back in a society completely different to that of Mexico and Guatemala, one in which I slotted right back into as though I had never left, but one that I no longer feel 100% comfortable in. I went back to my old casual part-time job that brought on a horrible bout of back problems – something I’ve suffered with for quite a few years now – and with it a feeling of exhaustion and lowness.

Heading back to university was an exciting moment for me, one that I’d been looking forward to as it’d allow me to be back with friends and back in a bubble I’d settled well into in second year. But this bubble is exactly that. It seems so distant from what we all experienced on our Year Abroad. With essay deadlines, exams, and even just being back to lectures and seminars, I feel like I’ve gone a step back. From living, working and being immersed in the Spanish language, I’ve now gone back to academia which seems like I’m no longer moving forward with my desire of travelling and learning about new cultures. This is something I just have to get through because ultimately my degree will enrich my knowledge and allow me to progress in life in the way I want it to. Once I figure out exactly what that means for me.

I recently had a strange “episode” the other night which is affecting me and in no way helping my mental health. Headaches, lack of concentration and lethargy. Horribly bad timing, with an essay due next Monday and work seeming to pile up uncontrollably.

But even with all of this going on I’m grateful for the positive parts of my life.

A couple of weeks ago I embarked on one of the strangest but loveliest life moments. A long distance relationship. Relationships are not exactly my forte, as some of you know, but this is one part of my life that I’m not freaking out about, that I’m not worrying about nor am I strategically hurtling through. A cute weekend spent in Southampton and Winchester with someone I feel wholly connected to is exactly what I’ve wanted for a while now, something I’ve only just come to realise.

Being back with friends and family has also been wonderful. Our little house of three is great. I loved seeing my old schoolmate settling in in Bournemouth and having a little boogie at her housewarming party. Finally going to a gig and seeing one of my favourite bands slay The Roundhouse reminded me of how much I love live music; it completely takes me away. Seeing my brother settle in to his new flat and love his career makes me proud and also inspires me. These are just a few of the things that I’m hugely grateful for.

Although returning to reality has had a few downs, it’s certainly brought some ups with it. That’s what I need to focus on, along with getting back on track health wise, and staying mindful.