Protecting stillness

Protecting stillness

Just before my train pulls into London Bridge, I get a glimpse of Tower Bridge. It is perfectly framed between a grey and orange office block and some red brick flats, a fleeting image, and utterly beautiful. The kind of thing you see on those Instagram accounts with the Valencia filter captioned ‘Fall in London’; and I only I saw it for the first time recently, on my way into the office, where I spent the whole journey looking out of the window like an eager child, drinking in every detail.

There was something about the stillness of that moment that struck me, something I had missed every other time I had taken this journey - an estimated 485 times since starting my first publishing job. Tower Bridge had always been there; my train, though the timing varied, had always passed through this particular stretch of track. The only difference was me. My post-lockdown self is still wowed by the novelty of train journeys and appreciated the beauty of this for the first time, because I was able to be still. Not firing off emails, not reading a submission, not on the phone or crouching under the armpit of a stranger. Stillness.

That moment stuck with me because, for some inexplicable reason something clunked into place in my brain as Tower Bridge slid out of view, and I was able to find the solution to a particularly difficult roadblock I’d hit at work. A pitch letter that just wasn’t working for me, suddenly did, and when I got into the office I rewrote it, submitted and sold the book a few days later.

Book fairs have been synonymous with exhaustion and the frantic sense of packing months of work into one week, but they don’t have to remain so. When we do go back in person, hopefully even at London Book Fair in April, I will be taking steps to protect my peace

As we head into Frankfurt week, usually one of the most hectic in the publishing calendar, I think of ways to preserve that stillness - and by extension, my mental health. Learning a lesson from last year, as an agency, we have only been taking Frankfurt meetings via Zoom on two days of the week throughout the month. This means seeing co-agents, scouts and publishers on the same days and crucially, no Zoom fatigue. It also means that for the first time in October, I am not having to cram everything into the little time that I have before, between and after meetings and all the aspects of my working life have space to do their respective jobs. The version of me which is chirpy, upbeat and ready to sell rights has three working days to recuperate and I think she’s doing better because of it. The version of myself that loves admin, keeps colour coded spreadsheets, and does a little shoulder shimmy after sending back notes on a contract is able to have the space to do what she does best, keep the list functioning and the money flowing as it should. The version of me that loves reading, and feels energised after talking an author through what to put in their proposal or smoothing out an especially difficult plot point has the time to do this too and the version of me that I keep back for myself, my daughter, my partner and my friends is a little less exhausted than usual so has more time for brunches, making pancakes or watching "Hey Duggee" and horror films (don’t tell them that though).

Though the hybrid method of Zoom meetings spread across the month will inevitably disappear when we return to in-person book fairs, I will look for ways to maintain this sense of calm. Book fairs have been synonymous with exhaustion and the frantic sense of packing months of work into one week, but they don’t have to remain so. When we do go back in person, hopefully even at London Book Fair in April, I will be taking steps to protect my peace. Putting a real lunch break in my diary and making sure I *actually* leave the Rights Centre for some fresh air at least once a day. Making time to visit the publisher stalls and see whether it is PRH or Hachette with the most tiers (which is possibly my favourite thing about book fairs).

This month, I have been reflecting a lot on the kind of agent I want to be, the list I want to build and the legacy I want to leave behind. I get to work solely with authors I choose to work with, whose work I believe in wholeheartedly. I have lovely, compassionate, and understanding colleagues and a boss who despite her immeasurable level of success offers to make everyone tea and has time for my questions or moments of self-doubt. I recognise the immense privilege in all these things, but above all I realise that for the first time in my career I have the chance to do things in the way that gets me to be my best self and I want to enjoy every moment of it.

This feels like a bold statement but quite simply: I no longer want to give so much of myself to the job that I forget to live, or chase after those moments in life that I forget how to find joy in even the most mundane aspects of work. I want to have balance. After years of working myself to point of complete burnout, followed then by months of feeling like my personal life was careening into my work life, I am finding the balance. I am finding moments of stillness in my day which allow me to keep moving at the pace I enjoy, without burning out.

This is the lesson I learned from lockdown. That it is okay, and even good to be still, and that those moments of stillness can reap dividends. Admittedly, I wrote this on the next train journey, so missed the chance to see the moment that sparked the inspiration for the piece; but I will look next time, and so should you, if you ever find yourself on the Southeastern service to London Bridge.

Silé Edwards is an agent at Mushens Entertainment, and a winner of the 2021 LBF Trailblazer Awards. You can find her on Twitter at @sileloquies.