Books without baby in Copenhagen (again!)

I’m in Copenhagen for the Book Fair (BogForum) and the related programme of networking events for translators hosted by the Danish Arts Foundation. This year I’m even chairing a meeting for Danish-English literary translators (as part of my PhD I’ve been helping establish a network for translators).

This trip seems very symbolic to me as a marker of how far I’ve come since enrolling on my PhD last September. Last November’s trip to Copenhagen was my first overnight stay (4 nights, in fact!) away from my first-born. She was still breastfeeding so every morning while I was away I expressed some milk (for my comfort). It felt like a curious thing to be doing, waking up early and performing something so intrinsic to being a mother yet so far from home. When I returned we carried on for a couple more months.

This year and last year I undertook the same seismic shift from all-day childcare duties to being alone in a familiar foreign city within a few hours. The time alone was exhilarating, I got so much done every day and revelled in having the freedom to do what I pleased. My first blog post was about that trip, the sense of joy is tangible.

Now my daughter has just turned 2, it feels very different on a personal level. The context has changed. In my everyday life it feels like I get a little more time to myself, and taking care of her feels much less all-consuming than a year ago. Of course it’s still exhausting at times, but my PhD research has crept into the gaps in my days and my mind more and more. I’ve had many more nights away from her, mostly on trips related to my research. This trip to Copenhagen I have the headspace to feel a bit more like my “normal” self: nervous of having to speak a foreign language I hardly get opportunity to speak any more, nervous of the various events ahead of me this week… it feels less like a holiday than last year.

I’m worried the toddler will be more acutely aware that I’m gone, but she doesn’t yet have a great grasp of time and place so I doubt it’ll concern her, she’ll just be curious. I told her I’m going on a plane. She thinks planes are very, very small (she has only seen them in the air, far away!). We’re very lucky to have her wonderful grandparents taking care of her for two days, and my equally wonderful partner/her dad for the following two days, so she’ll have a great time. I’d like him to experience one of my more mundane days while I’m away doing something atypical – a morning at playgroup, for instance!

Some student parent communities and resources

I had a good day today – even managed to get some work done during toddler’s naptime!

I wanted to write a short post about communities I’ve found useful as a ‘PhD parent’.

There’s a Facebook group PhD Mums, Moms and Dads – by the name you can guess it’s intended to be international, for any parents doing a PhD. So far it seems like a fairly active, supportive community! I’m not a member of many Facebook groups, but this one seems like a keeper.

The Australian blog/website Mums Who Study is excellent and I hope to contribute one day! So far particularly felt affinity with these posts: Seven Gifts of Guilt, Do you work?, and Why arguing with a two-year old is like writing an abstract (great title!).

I’m a big fan of Twitter – I really got into it during the night feeds period of new parenthood; it’s a constant stream of content! - relevant Tweeters include @PhDForum and @thesiswhisperer (one of which was where I first read about both the Facebook group and blog mentioned above) and hyperlocal Tweeters especially @tootingbaby (and the related website/Facebook group) who/which was a huge resource for me as a first-time parent in a brand new area. I’ll blog more about that another time, but I’d recommend Twitter to anyone looking to feel more a part of their local (physical, offline!) community.

Last academic year I attended one student parent/carer lunch meet up at my university (I took the baby along) and tried to keep in touch with the university union officer whose role it was to organise such things and push a few parent/carer issues to those on high, but it disintegrated pretty quickly. The meet up was only attended by three of us in any case, from the whole student body of 29,000. At the time it felt like positive things were happening, for instance the union interviewed some student parents on a voluntary basis to find out what extra support could be provided for them or how the uni could appeal to potential students with caring responsibilities. I’ll keep an ear out this year to see if anything has come of it (weary sigh).

If anyone reading knows other related procrastination resources then please let me know in the comments!

How do they do it?

The toddler had her first ‘full’ day at nursery on Friday. 9.30 til 5.30 – as long as most people’s work days! Usually we stick to occasional 3-5 hour bursts while I use the workspace. My partner was at work – I did nursery drop-off, he did pick-up (in rush hour, unlucky him!). I was a bit nervous for her spending all day away… I shouldn’t have been, of course: she ran off to play when I dropped her off and didn’t seem that fussed when her dad arrived to collect her. I went to uni to use the library and have a supervision meeting. It was great, like being a ‘real’ student again, (or at least how I rose-tint it perhaps) spending a good stretch of time surrounded by books in a quiet library and being able to focus on what was discussed in our meeting – though the gear-change from breakfast and commute with a toddler to high-falutin’ academic discussion is somewhat huge!

It got me thinking about what being a full-time PhD student entails and how others perceive it. I’m not convinced some people take the ‘student’ part of my life very seriously, especially as I often upload/share photos of the time I spend keeping the toddler entertained. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the urge to upload a photo of me reading, writing notes, writing abstracts, sitting in the library!

IMG_20140914_113321

I’m also unsure of whether I’m ‘doing it right’. Some days I spent little or no time on PhD work. Most of my hours are spent on childcare. We have a set number of hours per month of formal childcare, plus the help of friends and family where possible. Some days when I potentially have some time to myself (nap time/evenings) I just don’t have the energy to do very much.

But then I wonder how full-time PhD students who don’t have caring responsibilities or part-time work organise their time, and I don’t know if I’m really doing so much less. Maybe they have hobbies that occupy some of their time. Maybe they stay up all night and sleep until midday if they want. Maybe they treat it like a job and go to the library for eight hours a day, only to spend most of those on Facebook and fit in a two hour lunch break. Maybe they treat it like a job and go to the library for eight hours a day, and write 2,000 words a day! Maybe they get time for beneficial side projects which enrich their studying – translation, for example, which I would love to pick up again… in a few years. I genuinely don’t know, and there probably isn’t a ‘typical’ PhD student anyway. I’m just always thinking about whether I could be fitting more in, we only have one fairly contented toddler to keep an eye on, after all!

A break from routine, and creating a new one

Oh, to live in a commune. Or at least with more family close by. For just over two weeks in August the toddler and I upped sticks and went to stay with my parents (my partner/toddler’s daddy came for weekends while still working in London). The routine worked beautifully and I’ve been doing lots of writing and assembling of thoughts, much more than during a regular fortnight. I even managed to get to the gym practically every other day, and see friends!

The routine we quickly established: we had breakfast together then I holed up with my laptop in the office room for some reading/writing/editing while the toddler went for a walk through the park with my mum (mormor to the toddler), and did other bits and pieces like play in the garden and “help” with the shopping. After lunch, my mum and the toddler napped (mormor is recovering from an op, though to be frank I often need a nap after a morning with the toddler!) while I did some more work or went to the gym. Occasionally we shifted things round a bit, for example one day we went to the city farm which was lovely. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for their time, especially as I’m sure it meant my dad (who’s self-employed) got much less done than usual.

Now I’m thoroughly, desperately trying to learn from this routine and see if I can do it alone.

Firstly, the longer stretches of time-with-laptop worked well for my productivity. We have a flexible arrangement with a nursery/workhub where I’ve regularly been booking 3 hours (e.g. 9.30-12.30) every few days, but I think I need the period of time to be longer. Once I’ve folded the buggy, made a cuppa, faffed a bit on Facebook and Twitter, that’s already *coughs* half an hour(?!) wasted. Factor in a few more distractions, and allowing for thoughts to percolate and sentences to be rewritten and articles to be reread, then the longer, the better. My theory behind heading home in the middle of the day was that the toddler would then nap, giving me more time to work, but in reality I was using this time to eat lunch, and really it made my “work day” far too fragmented.

Lastly, we saw a real change in her sleep – we’d had a nightmare few weeks of hours at bedtime with her screaming and “negotiating” with us until she finally conked out exhausted at 9pm. Of course by then I/my partner were equally exhausted and stressed and thoroughly unable to salvage the evening for any studying. While staying with my parents, the toddler’s daytime nap was much earlier in the afternoon and the bedtime routine was less dragged out (quick bath, books put away after reading, pyjamas on, into bed and no talking/negotiating!).

We’ve been back a few days and so far, so good.

A plan in words – utilise nap time!

Unlike in Denmark, where at least one of my professional contacts has been on holiday since the third week of June until 1st August (I believe this is fairly typical!), this summer has become a busy time for me in relation to my PhD work. I’ve been forced out of my “reading and flailing” phase and into a more focused “aaargh I have to actually form this into a coherent jumble” phase. I have started planning for the Upgrade Portfolio which effectively means creating and assembling lots of written work (including a sample chapter, chapter abstracts, annotated bibliography), knowing what my chapter headings actually are, and writing a plan of action.

Today I have worked in the following places:

  • at the workhub while the toddler was in the nursery downstairs;
  • while I was eating lunch at home while the toddler was napping (she gets a tasty lunch at nursery *shakes fist in jealousy*);
  • and while sitting outside the toddler’s door (at her insistence!) as she fell asleep this evening.

Now, at 21 months old, she almost always has a 1.5 to 2 hour nap in the afternoon after lunch. After a long time of there being no routine to be certain of, I feel confident that if I plan for it I can use this time every day to do something productive. At the moment I use nap time to recharge my batteries, but I figure people working a “regular 9-to-5″ don’t get that chance, so maybe I should change my mentality. I was inspired by a US-based translator I spoke to recently via video call who knew that her toddler (a year older than mine) always napped around 1pm so she fitted in some work in that time. It dawned on me that the net trickle effect of even just one more hour’s work a day could be very useful for my productivity! So here I am putting it in words, I’m going to utilise nap time!

EDIT (5 days on): Well, this has been unsuccessful so far. Two nap times this week coincided with travelling to/from visiting friends who are on maternity leave. Another nap time she refused to sleep, and consequently didn’t nap all day (this has happened a few times before, she is very sleep-resistant!). That was particularly frustrating as I had in mind a couple of things to do that day. It’s very hard looking after a toddler, she needs constant entertainment and supervision when awake, I think some childless people wonder why I can’t just whip the laptop out and work while she’s playing nicely in the corner. Sigh.

Bookfairs and me

Since starting my studies last Autumn, I’ve attended three national book fairs: the BogForum in Copenhagen (November 2013), the London Book Fair (April 2014), and the BookExpo America (BEA) in New York (May 2014), and another book event called Crimefest in Bristol (May 2014). I spent the briefest amount of time at the BEA in New York, as it wasn’t officially open on the day I visited (but I attended a couple of seminars), so my impressions from this are limited. But here are some glib observations based on my experiences!

Size:

Naturally the Javits conference centre in New York for the BEA is huge. But that’s to be expected. When I visited the London Book Fair I was surprised by how big and empty it all felt, there were people milling about but it didn’t feel packed, but maybe that’s down to the size of the venue. I was most surprised by how large and busy the BogForum was – especially the amount of media attention it gets (on the morning television news, for example) and the huge number of stands and events, mostly focused around Danish authors and literature, not books in translation. Half-jokingly, one might think how can a country as small as Denmark have so many books?! It really brought home to me what a bookish nation Denmark is, despite regular paperback bestsellers costing the equivalent of around £20, it is a country of devoted readers.

Crowd:

The London Book Fair is primarily only for trade visitors, i.e. people who work in the publishing industry. In places it felt a bit surly and stand-offish to people like me just wandering around browsing; industry professionals arrange times to meet at each publisher’s stand and shake hands wearing suits. There were seminars, for instance I attended one on ‘Beyond Nordic Noir’ hosted by Nordic literary institutes hoping to widen interest in genres other than crime fiction from Scandinavia. But a cursory glance round the room revealed they were talking to themselves – a room of translators and people I recognised from other Nordic events, very little “outreach” to publishers or agents looking for something new! Denmark’s Bogforum is a huge national event, open to the public, and I saw many children and interactive activities for all ages and interests. The BEA falls somewhere in the middle – many of the exhibitors are there to talk business, but there were still book signings and book giveaways for the keen readers who attended. Crimefest was a lovely smaller event for real aficionados. I got the impression many delegates knew each other either from the social events surrounding the conference, or even from previous or similar get-togethers. There was perhaps a disproportionately higher number of older/middle-aged women than in other crowds, but I was surprised to see some younger delegates (in their twenties) too.

Position of translated literature:

London Book Fair‘s Literary Translation Centre was well-attended and got a fair bit of social media buzz, there are some good write-ups and videos around online of the seminars and discussions that took place there. For BEA, 2014 was the first year it had a section of the event called the Translation Market, devoted to books in translation, which is telling. I attended some seminars as part of the Global Market Forum ‘Books in Translation’ series, and – despite some excellent panellists – they felt a bit slapdash, rushed and marginalised, to be frank! Both BEA and the London Book Fair had stands for publishers from different countries (including Nordlit, see an earlier blog post of mine). Curiously I can’t remember the BogForum having the same, though it did have some publishers of translated literature, especially of non-fiction where related products could be marketed e.g. celebrity chefs. Crimefest had a remarkably well-attended and well-produced panel called Euro Noir, where translation was mentioned a number of times explicitly (including one translator being part of the panel!) and there were a lot of insightful and informed questions from the delegates. I also saw Swedish panellists Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for a husband-wife duo) interviewed in another panel on the same day, and the programme featured other Nordic Noir panels across the whole event.

Best coffee:

Back onto an inconsequential topic, Crimefest was near Park Street in Bristol which has a branch of Boston Tea Party, a lovely south west chain of coffee shops. At BEA I paid something silly like $8.00 for a regular Starbucks coffee, such is the mark-up at a conference centre! It was surprisingly hard to find coffee at London Book Fair, I arrived craving caffeine and wishing I’d taken advantage of the coffee cart outside on the way from the station. Bogforum had the best coffee – a few little espresso coffee carts dotted around with quick service at great value, a pleasant surprise.

Things to do instead of actually writing

Y’know, there’s always something else to do…

  • Lift heavy things at the gym
  • Meet another student to chat about Bourdieu
  • Go to playgroup, sing about bananas
  • Attend a literary discussion event at Free Word Centre
  • Send email to a translator who’d been left off the original mailing list about the translators’ network
  • Arrange meeting with supervisor to discuss case study
  • Arrange childcare for meeting with supervisor, including phone call to nursery to ask about afternoon pick up
  • Spontaneously go to IKEA and finally get the last bits of furniture for the living room
  • Send email to potential US coordinator of the translators’ network
  • Have lunch
  • Place online grocery order (prompted by lacklustre lunch)
  • Work out how many hours teaching/marking I did this year and whether I’ve been paid
  • Speculate on the best childcare option and commute for next year’s teaching
  • Go to the city farm with toddler and her mormor (my mum)
  • Meet a friend with WordPress expertise for lunch on the other side of London to discuss building the translators’ network website
  • Collect a bargain buggy from a local mum (found via Facebook selling website)
  • Meet a (pregnant) friend for dinner in Soho and talk childbirth and parental leave (among other things)
  • Have a picnic on the common with the toddler
  • Phone and then email the publisher’s marketing department of the novel I’m starting a case study about
  • Meet a North London friend and her toddler in the middle at Coram’s Fields
  • Research a close family member’s recently diagnosed illness and compartmentalise until later
  • Read three journal articles by a prominent literary theorist
  • Write a blog post (arf!)

Weekly Wipe reviews The Bridge (a few months old but still amusing)

“Thing is, it’s not a nice foreign land like in a holiday programme. It’s really cold and there’s all murders, and you can tell from looking at it that there’s hardly any colours allowed over there… everything’s grey and murky and muted and sort of ominous. It’s probably less depressing being murdered in Scandinavia than anywhere else on earth because even as you were dying you’d think, ‘oh well, at least it’ll be warm in heaven, and they’ll let me wear red trousers if I want’.

(from BBC 2 – Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe)

To brand or be branded? Some insights into Brand Denmark

Can a nation ‘brand’ itself? The imagery and stereotypes we, as Brits, think of when we talk about Scandinavia or, more specifically, Denmark have been built up over a long, slow stretch of time, interspersed with bursts of activity – for instance, the recent success of Danish TV programmes on BBC4 in the last few years.

I’ve enjoyed learning about the theory of Place Branding. Since coining the term nation brand and the Nation Brands Index, Simon Anholt (Places – Identity, Image and Reputation, 2010) has conceded that ‘competitive identity’ is probably a better term for the metaphor. In any case, unlike branding in a typical corporate marketing communications context, you cannot ‘do branding’ of a nation or change its perception via a snappy marketing campaign, a nation’s brand is earned rather than constructed (according to Anholt).

The Danish pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010 is an interesting case study of Denmark’s self-branding when attempting to project and protect its image abroad. The Welfairytales theme of the Expo pavilion used two Danish icons: bicycles and the Little Mermaid statue (which was relocated from Copenhagen to China for the occasion). Ren & Gyimóthy (in their article Transforming and contesting nation branding strategies: Denmark at the Expo 2010, 2013) have written about some of the minor cultural misunderstandings which resulted. The pavilion’s imagery and activities may have been an exercise in ‘auto-communication’, Danes communicating the brand values they would like to project about themselves and not adequately allowing for cultural misinterpretations – for instance this is one of the phrases by everyday Danes used to decorate the pavilion:

‘Denmark is a little country where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while your child sleeps in the baby carriage outside the café’

Ren & Gyimóthy astutely remark (p27): “This well-known Danish idea of safety reflected in letting your child sleeping outside in public space is perhaps not easily grasped by middle-class people from a country with massive urban air pollution and a hot and humid climate”!

Last week I attended a fascinating meeting with the Danish cultural attaché in the USA who gave me some further insight into Brand Denmark. Denmark does not have a cultural institute as such (nothing comparable with Germany’s Goethe Institut, for instance), but the cultural attaché at the Consulate General in New York still advises on 125 cultural project per month! They have had a radical rethink in the last ten to fifteen years. Following the Danish Wave events in 1999 – a two-month cultural festival initiated by the Consulate and Embassy, where Danish authors and artists were brought over to the US with negligible impact – they have become reactive, taking their lead from looking at an artist’s reception in Denmark and their focus on new and modern brand values, rather than the traditional ‘old’ icons (Hans Christian Andersen!). The Consulate General of Denmark in the USA now ensures all cultural events they support fit within four core brand values:

art – sustainability – children’s culture – film

An initiative by Scandinavian arts councils has been established to promote Nordic literature abroad as one brand. The ‘Nordlit’ collaboration presented a unified Nordic presence at the London Book Fair and Book Expo America – rather than each nation having its own stand, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and even smaller related countries e.g. Faroe Islands) shared a single stand. As wee and similar nations, they believe it’s beneficial to merge so they can cross-promote, utilising to their advantage the (probably correct!) presumption that many English-speaking readers and publishers cannot readily distinguish between the Nordic countries anyway, so why not cross-promote authors from the same region (“you liked this author, you might also like this author from more-or-less nearby”).

I look forward to investigating further how Brand Denmark is being created nationally and internationally by Danish cultural bodies, and how much impact this has had on the everyday British public’s perception of Denmark and Danishness. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts, dear reader!