A day at the shop

Caleigh Minshall

This is, admittedly, a very belated post, but I thought some of you might be interested in how I spent one of my first work days at the shop on January 5th.

The first thing I learned didn’t have much to do with book publishing (or at least, not directly). The first thing I learned was that, despite being a small shop where only three people regularly work, there is a constant hum — or what could alternatively be understood as ‘clanking’ — in the background from all the busy machines. It’s surprisingly soothing. And that wasn’t all the background noise, either. Erin is a small, community-minded town, and PQL gets a lot of visitors. Friends stopped by every hour or so to chat up Tim and Elke and ask questions about business. The shop bustled, and the porcupette hustled.

(It is also perhaps important that I clarify I mean this in the ‘‘to proceed or work rapidly or energetically’’ sense, not the ‘‘to earn one’s living by illicit or unethical means’’ sense. Har, har.)

I spent the majority of the day updating our website on The Hills of Headwaters. The Hills of Headwaters is devoted to attracting business and tourism to our region, which includes places like Orangeville, Erin, Caledon, Mono and Shelburne. There’s actually a huge artist community in this area and so the website is useful in collecting all of these local attractions in one place for people who are planning to visit.

Updating the website was fairly easy, if a little tedious. The Hills of Headwaters makes it easy for local groups to create and update their own content, and so although there was a lot of dated information to correct, the hard part was actually tracking down the current information rather than going through the process of uploading it. You’ll see now that there are some fantastic images of our current titles this season, and upcoming releases for the Spring. You can also find a list of awards and prizes our books won in 2009 (a fairly extensive list, if I may say so!).

This website is also important to attract visitors during the Hills of Headwaters’ Doors Open event, this year being held on July 10th. We invite everyone to join us in the shop and see how our traditional presses work from start to finish, and last year we even gave out free copies of our booklet, A Brief History of McMillan Mills.

You might also notice on the Hills of Headwaters website that one of the Frequently Asked Questions is concerned with interning at PQL — and that the answer is not very encouraging! The fact is that all of the obstacles to internship listed in that section are true, and I have the privilege of interning here in large part due to the lucky coincidence that my parents live in the area and I have access to their car. Since starting this blog, I’ve heard from a few people looking for employment or internships, and unfortunately for the most part it’s just not feasible. But don’t lose hope — check your phone book for small publishers in your area that might want some extra (generally unpaid) help, or consider working at an independent bookstore where you can also learn tons about books and sales. I’ve been in contact with Nancy Frater from Orangeville’s indie bookstore, BookLore, and she’s been such a blessing in terms of information and support. (It’s also a great store, with really great staff, if you’re in the area.)

After finishing up the Hills of Headwaters, I worked on a few other tasks, like updating this very website with information on our older titles. I may go into more detail on this job in a future blog post, because while it seems on the surface pretty simple, it just gets more and more complicated the more I try to explain it. I’ll just say here that although the actual process is mind-numbingly boring, it’s still fascinating to explore PQL’s older titles that may be overlooked in favour of the brand new ones. On another day I might let you in on some of the goodies I (re-)discovered during this process!

I’m back at school now and busy with all sorts of school-ish things, so my blogging for the next few weeks may be sporadic. Before I go, though, let me just post this poem by one of PQL’s past interns, Amanda Jernigan — it describes much more eloquently the PQL routine than I could ever hope to. It’s featured elsewhere on the site, but I thought it deserved extra spotlight. (As a note, Simba was Tim and Elke’s border collie.)


For Tim and Elke

‘The world of publishing,’ you told
me on my first day on the job, ‘is mad.
Well — what did you expect?
There is no money in it: what we’ve sold
this summer wouldn’t buy you lunch:
which is what editors are out to — in both senses.
Authors? Unavoidable expenses.
Printers? An eccentric bunch,
but mostly daft (myself excepted).
One more thing: the public doesn’t read.’

All this no doubt intended to dissuade.
Instead, intrigued (and obstinate) I stayed —
and saw, against the fickle post,
which might bring money or disaster,
there was coffee at exactly ten o’clock,
the local gossip at the dairy, toasted
sandwiches in paper bags, and last
year’s bulbs reliably emerging. And though
we were behind, the press would slow
unfailingly at four, for Simba’s walk.

You’ve been typecast (excuse the pun)
quixotically; on pressback, Zephyr
Antique laying waste forever
to shoddy bindings, box-stores, bills.
Yet I have seen this battle done
with neither swords nor slings — nor quills.

On Friday nights you swept the shopfloor clean.
Against the wrack of publishing, the sanity of routine.

Amanda Jernigan, 2005

Porcupette out.

Caleigh Minshall

About Caleigh

Intern at the Porcupine's Quill.
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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.