Book review – The Persephone Book of Short Stories, and some shuffling around

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Aug 2014 AVAAFirst things, first, I’m doing *beautifully* with my AV/AA challenge, with my last Persephone book picked off from my TBR and devoured gleefully. It’s been lovely wallowing in all of these very different books – I’m glad that I have had a real range to get my teeth into. After the review, look for some pics from my latest book shuffling exercise. I’d started this a while ago, and got about half way (i.e. there were piles of books all over the back coffee table), but earmarked some time yesterday, on Bank Holiday Monday, to finish the shuffling. I fear I may be giving a few of you other bibliophiles an Idea or two, though.

“The Persephone Book of Short Stories”

(14 March 2014 – from Verity)

This was part of a Not So Secret Santa parcel which delivered its goodies throughout the first part of the year as well as on Christmas Day – what a lovely treat! This is an excellent collection of short stories which was published to mark Persephone Book No. 10o – an excellent idea. I’m not the biggest fan of the short story, as regular readers of this blog will know (or will have guessed, given the dearth of such things in the reviews). However, I do like a good classic one (think Hardy …) and that’s what we have here, in the main, with Whipple and Wharton providing familiar enjoyment, and a new favourite found in Mollie Panter-Downes, who is the only author to appear in this volume twice (but we forgive her, and I will be adding her volumes of stories to my Persephone wishlist!).

The last story, by Georgina Hammick, is quite a graphic description of a visit to what we will euphemistically call a women’s hospital, and the procedures undergone therein, however, its portrayal of its subject-matter shows on the one hand how far we’ve come since the more (literally) buttoned-up days of the Edwardian story that starts the volume, in terms of the overt detail discussed, but also highlighting that almost a century on, the female experience is still found to be shocking, especially when the female in question is reclaiming her own experience.

So, an intelligent and deeply enjoyable collection with, of course, good biographical notes to accompany it (but no introduction, which is a shame). Highly recommended, even (especially?) if you don’t think you care for short stories. Oh, and it’s the final book (chronologically) in Reading a Century of Books, too!

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Books by the bathroom doorA while back, I admitted in a guest post I did for someone’s blog that I had a Pile of books on the landing. OK, the two short walls either side of the bathroom door are ideally placed and sized for my small bookcases which hold my “nice-looking books” on one side and (held) language, literature, books about reading and books about books on the other. You can’t see the other side in this “before” pic, but it was a bit piled up, too, and because our floorboards are quite … springy … there were occasions when the books on that side leapt down the stairs, while the pile shown here was always apt to catch the hoover as it was lifted from the cupboard on the right (don’t ask about the reason for the curtain – we had to hack that door down, honest: there was nothing else for it).

They've gone underA little while ago, while pondering the state of the downstairs shelves (hardbacks / non-fiction), I came to the conclusion that I had Too Many Encyclopedias. Yes, that is A Thing. I have some nice ones I’ve inherited, and I went through a phase a (good) few years ago of collecting nice-looking ones that were used to help display bookshelves in charity shops – Arthur Mee’s “Children’s Encyclopaedia” and the like. Now, encyclopaedias are lovely, but they are bulky. However, if I was to give them to a charity shop, I don’t know that anyone else would take them. So, I hit upon this plan – put them UNDER the bookcases. Can you see? Under! Stroke of genius.

No pile by the bathroomThey’re perfectly safe there, no damp or anything (I’ll move them when we mop the floor). You can still see them and get to them, but with those and some more over to the side, there is SO MUCH SPACE. Erm, there was so much space. The bathroom pile is gone. Don’t worry – “Howard’s End is on the Landing” is still on the landing, but this is now Language and Books About Reading. And no pile! The pile has been redistributed around the spaces downstairs (and on Biography and Memoir and Travel, not pictured, where some of them may still be horizontal in front of the other books). No books to catch the unwary hooverer. No books lost at the bottom of the pile. It’s amazing!

Books on BirminghamMost excitingly, where a row of uniform volumes once sat (top left in the picture of the three bookcases above), with various papers and things roosting on top of them, I now have space for a Birmingham bookshelf – these were previously languishing on a low shelf and double-stacked. There’s room for the ones our friend Bridget kindly passed to us, and there’s room for a few more, as indeed there’s bagginess in the whole set of three bookcases (although not on the top, as the cat does like to wander around up there, so they need to be reasonably firm.

Fun, eh. Have you ever Gone Under with your shelving (as opposed to Gone Under, submerged in a wave of books?)

On getting slummocky

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Working desk

Slummocky is a great word, isn’t it. I (re?)discovered it when reading Stella Gibbons’ “Nightingale Wood”. To be slummocky is to behave in an indolent or careless way, and a slummock is a slovenly person.

Now, of course, I’m NOT slovenly or careless or indolent. But I tell you what I have been doing, and that’s letting the admin slide.

Not the invoices: no, of course not. I’m not actually stupid, and I would like my money to come in nice and regularly, thank you. And we all know that I run my accounts and do my tax return almost obscenely promptly every year.

But there are other things: deeper, darker, murkier things, which must be done when you’re running your own business. Things like Bank Reconciliations. And like all admin or indeed everyday things, they are far better done regularly, in small doses, rather than in one great slummocky lump when you have started to panic about the huge bulk of them waiting to engulf you …

Bank reconciliations

The basic principle of the bank reconciliation is that you go through your accounts and your bank statement, and make sure they match up. A bit like the old-fashioned practice of balancing your cheque book – and we all do it to some extent, I’m sure, popping in to check the bank account online and make sure there are no unusual or incorrect transactions.

My friend Aly Mead at Silicon Bullet has written a great article on this subject; it’s particularly good to read the article if you do your accounts in Sage or a system like that. I run my accounts via a spreadsheet (which I do keep scrupulously up to date) recording invoices raised and paid on one sheet and payments and charges on another.

Basically, I turn these two sheets into one long list of incomings and outgoings, listed by transaction date (i.e. the date the invoice was paid or payment made) (Spreadsheet A) and then I download a spreadsheet version of my bank statement (Spreadsheet B), and compare the two. I write the line number of the item on Spreadsheet A into a column on Spreadsheet B and vice versa, and then I rather satisfyingly colour them in green. In a basic version, the two look like this:

Bank reconciliation example

Even though the entries aren’t quite in the same order, I have matched them all up, and the running total is the same for both. I pop the accounts spreadsheet into the same order as the bank account spreadsheet at the end (I do this by sorting the spreadsheet by that column) and the two should match up.

Keeping up with the admin

If you do this every month, it’s simple. It’s like housework and ironing and all those other chores (actually, I never do ironing, but that’s probably for another time). I only have between 20 and about 35 transactions per month. Which is fine when it’s one or two months, not so great when it’s … erm … nine.

And there are always little tweaky issues. I have missed putting a couple of payments in the right place on my main in/out spreadsheet, and forgot to record the info about a mystery payment, all resolved with the client a couple of months ago. I’ve also forgotten to pay myself back for membership of a website that I paid for using my own credit card. There is probably only one little issue per month, but when there are a few months to go through …

The other thing I’ve been a bit lax about is moving payments from other places. I have a PayPal account and a few regulars and one-off clients pay me by PayPal. I used to withdraw each payment immediately to my bank account, so it created one line on my bank statement which matched at most one in and one out on my accounts spreadsheet. But I’ve let these build up before withdrawing, which means I’ve got one line on my bank statement which matches five or six sets of incomings and fees on my accounts spreadsheet.

That will be changing, too.

Reforming my ways

I wrote this article to remind myself how hideous it is doing your bank reconciliation if you leave it too long. It’s taken me a good few hours and given me a thumbing headache. Don’t be slummocky: little and often wins through!

Do share any tips you have for making yourself do this stuff, by the way!

Paper is sometimes best

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Sometimes paper is best!

I was looking at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders website and musing about how I almost never do work on paper manuscripts (once in well over 500 jobs), and then the doorbell rang and my new to do list stationery had arrived … so that’s one thing where I do stick with paper.

Well, one of two things.

With my to do lists, I have flirted with Google Calendar / Tasks and I do put meetings, events and appointments like Skype chats or phone calls in there. But all through my working life, I have had a paper to do list, and, you know what? That’s what I like to have. I had been using one of my few Libro notepads to keep it, but I’ve now bought a special book – appointments on the left hand page and Things To Do Today (why is that capitalised when the name of the book is all lower case, though?) on the right. With tick boxes and everything. There is also room for notes, which is handy for those phone calls.

The other thing I keep on paper is my customer records. Not entirely: I keep a note of people’s pricing and other terms on their contact details in my gmail account. As I do work for people, I either create an invoice for that piece of work, including details of the time spent or word count, depending on how I invoice them, or add the project to their current monthly invoice But I have an A4 spiral bound book with a section for each major client and one for one-off/student clients.  This is where I note down the date, time, word count and charge for each job I do.

I like writing. I like pen and paper. I like using fountain pens with different colour inks. I might do all my editing, proofreading, writing and transcription on the computer, and I might have an online book review blog; I might even have a Kindle … but when it comes down to it, I read real books too (mostly, actually), write my book reviews in a nice notebook first, and keep paper records and to do lists.

You don’t have to do what is most up to date and modern. Everything doesn’t have to be In The Cloud. Do what you feel comfortable with!

A typical day for Libro

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See, I do relax. Here’s me at Easter, hanging out with a friend!

It’s great working for myself full time, but sometimes I am reminded that not everyone realises that, just because I might mention I’m working at, say 6am, and again at 10pm, that doesn’t mean I’m working as such for the whole day. If I was, that would be a bit worrying, of course. Anyway, I thought I’d note down a “typical” day in my life now (and contrast it with one from my former office-part-time/libro-part-time life, too). Note that these are example days, but they are common ones.

A typical day now

6.00 – 8.00 Get up. Check email and work for about 90 minutes.

8.00 – 9.00 Breakfast with M. Shower.

9.00 – 9.30 Check and answer emails, check Facebook and Twitter. Publish a blog post.

9.30 – 11.00 Work of various sorts – projects large or small

11.00 – 11.30 Cuppa and a drink of squash. Emails and admin

11.30 – 12.30 More billable hours

12.30 – 14.30 An hour at the gym, lunch and shower

14.30 – 16.00 Work.

16.00 – 16.30 A soft drink, a cuppa (a bun?) and some emailing.

16.30 –  18.00 Work.

18.00 – 19.00 Either work or walk down to meet M on his way home from work

19.00 – 20.00 House admin and dinner.

20.00 – 21.00 Maybe an hour of work if I’m busy or have tight deadlines. Otherwise, TV etc.

21.00 – 22.00 TV or reading.

22.00 – 22.30 Check email, last minute bits and bobs, check personal email

22.30 – 23.00 Get ready for bed, a bit of reading.

23.00 Bedtime.

So that gives me between 7 and 9 billable working hours – usually more like 7, which is what people do in an office, of course, just not so spread out through the day.

And in a week of days like this I will get out to the cafe to meet friends at least once, pop into town or meet a friend for dinner, and have some time writing up blog posts etc.

A typical day in 2011

On a day when I worked in the office and at home, my day would look like this:

5.45 – 6.00 Get up, check Libro email, maybe do some Libro work

6.00 – 7.00 Breakfast, shower, get ready for work.

7.00 – 7.30 Travel into work.

7.30 – 13.00 Working at the Library.

13.00 – 13.30 Lunch. Check Blackberry and reply to Libro emails / make calls.

13.30 – 15.45 Working at the Library.

15.45 – 16.30 Travelling home.

16.30 – 19.30 Cup of tea then working till M gets home and beyond. He makes my dinner.

19.30 – 20.00 Hasty dinner.

20.00 – 22.30 Working on Libro projects.

22.30 – 23.00 Getting ready for bed.

23.00 Bedtime.

That was 4 then 3 days a week through the whole of 2011 pretty well. Phew! I would have a day like the above one 1 or 2 weekdays a week and work solidly at the weekends. Not so much gym, certainly not any cafe with friends, not so many blog posts, not so much reading!

Writing this post, and the reason for writing it, has got me musing about “presenteeism” and the way it creeps into self-employment. Here’s my article on that topic on the Libro blog.

On Bank Holidays

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When you work in an office, Bank Holidays (or public holidays, or whatever you call them in your country) are really important. There’s lots of discussion about what you might do on the Bank Holiday, and what you did, afterwards. Lots of chat about “don’t forget not to come in on Monday”. People who have odd working schedules get upset or pleased about how Bank Holidays are treated in their pay and holiday schedules (if you don’t usually work on a Monday, do you still get an extra holiday, etc., etc.)

If you’re a freelancer or run your own business, especially if you work from home, alone, let me tell you that Bank Holidays disappear into the ether. They do not matter. They might as well not exist, except that a) there might be extra people around the house, startling you with their presence occasionally, and b) people might expect you to be free to do stuff.

I’m not sure if this is limited to people who, like me, have a lot of international clients whose public holidays are at different times to ours. But I bet anyone with a big project to complete doesn’t stop just because it’s Bank Holiday Monday. I’ve coped OK with this double one for the Jubilee, but the  early May one was a different story. Up the stairs I popped at 6 am, as usual. “See you at 8 for breakfast,” I cheerily called to M, as usual. “Eh? What?” I’d completely missed the memo that there was a Bank Holiday. Oh, because there are no memos when you work alone …

By the way, I have been known to check what day it is, or whether it’s morning or afternoon, when entering the gym, for example. I know which column I’m in on my Gantt chart, and I’m never startled by my deadlines, but I do hope that other home / lone workers are the same and I’m not starting to go a bit odd …

Good Things About Working From Home in the Summer

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This is not my garden

I was slightly bemoaning the fact that when it was cold and rainy the other week, I didn’t have much work on, whereas now, when the weather is glorious, I am busy, busy, busy, slaving away at 8 -10 hour days up in my study … but actually, compared to people working in offices, with other people, or both, I’m pretty lucky.

- It doesn’t matter what I wear (within reason – I do have windows in my office) and I can change part way through the day if I want to

- No window / fan / blinds wars – it’s just me and the cat, and the cat doesn’t really have a say in which windows are open. Every office has window open/closed, fan on/off and curtains or blinds open/closed wars and it’s liberating to be able to do whatever I choose

- If I really want to, I can start at 5 am and have a siesta after lunch

- I can have lunch in the garden. I perched on the garden bench today, Denis Healey autobiography in hand, washing ready to peg on the line, just for 15 or so minutes, but it was lovely

So I might be busy, but I’m lucky to be busy … and I’m lucky to be able to keep comfortable in the heat and to be able to do what I need to do in order to keep comfortable. No more bemoaning for me!

State of the TBR – May 2012

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State of the TBR shelves 1 May

Inspired by my friend Ali’s book blog, where she has a regular post talking about what’s coming up in her reading for the next month, I’ve decided to post a State of the TBR post every month. So: here’s a photo of my TBR (To Be Read) shelf as of today. One shelf full at the back, half a shelf at the front, and a Pile (the pile is made up of books in series where I haven’t got there in the series yet, comforting pony books, and books in French I claim I’m going to read one day). The ideal shelf is just one shelf full and a Pile, so not doing too well so far.

Current reads (Kindle not pictured)

Here’s what I’m reading at the moment:

  • Denis Healey – “The Time of my Life” – excellent autobiography, but it’s my Downstairs Book (large tomes I can’t carry around in my handbag or comfortably read in bed) so by its very nature is being read quite slowly. I like to have a big book on the go, and the next one will be the fat collection of diary entries to the left of my TBR shelf.
  • Sinclair McKay – “The Secret Life of Bletchley Park” – a BookCrossing book passed to me by Ali. Really interesting so far, and a lively, well-researched read; I’m getting through this quite quickly.
  • Thomas Hardy – “The Hand of Ethelberta” (not pictured: on Kindle) – this is (was) the March-April read for the All The Novels of Hardy readalong I’m taking part in (that’s Ali again). I didn’t get round to starting it until yesterday and there are some annoying locals at the start, but it’s getting good now.

Coming up ...

And finally, a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to make the books look like they’re in a pile … this is the beginning of my TBR and I’m hoping to get through some of them this month. The bottom one is the big book of diary entries that will replace Mr Healey when he’s done. Then we have a Georgette Heyer, a Tove Jansson that’s been raved about on the LibraryThing Virago group, some Zora Neale Hurston and lots of Persephones – “To Bed With Grand Music”, “Making Conversation”, “It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty” (I’ve read some of these poems already), “Hostages to Fortune” and “The Children Who Lived in a Barn”. So it should be a grey May in a GOOD way!

With my newly added Home Worker’s Resolution to read more, hopefully you will see a number of these reviewed by the end of the month …

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