Since I began my new job at The Willoughby Book Club, a question I hear regularly is, "but what do you actually do?" The most common misconception is that I get to sit and read all day (I wish!). Another is that I must work from home. So I thought now might be an opportune moment for a quick peek at a day in my life...
My alarm goes off and I drag myself - reluctantly - from bed. I had a vague hope that leaving teaching might mean an end to the early starts, but my office is full of early birds and I liked the idea of finishing work at 3.30, so I've joined them.
Sitting at my desk with the first cuppa of the day. My first task at work is to catch up on any social media activity since yesterday afternoon: replying to messages, liking and commenting on new Instagram content and updating our Facebook page.
That task out of the way, I start selecting. Our office is lined with thousands of books, arranged according to genre (and age, in the children's section). Each of the Book Selection Managers have a list of customers assigned to us: mine's currently around 700-strong. Unlike most other subscription box services, ours is totally personalised, so my job is to decide which of the thousands of books we stock might best suit each of my subscribers, based on information given at the time of order. In any half hour, I'll therefore be picking up a huge variety of books: from YA to classic novels, from science fiction to the latest literary prizewinners.
Our aim is simple: to send customers a book they haven't read, but that they will enjoy and that will be to their tastes. Sometimes that's an easy task, but in other cases we need to delve a little deeper, using online reviews (Amazon and Goodreads are essential weapons in our arsenal) and browsing our stock to ensure we can find something suitable. So while I don't sit and read all day, I do look closely at our books, perhaps reading an opening chapter here, a blurb there, while I'm selecting.
I set aside time every morning for an online hunt for interesting book news and articles. Whether it's an article about diversity in YA from the Evening Standard, a fun Buzzfeed Books quiz, or a satirical piece on dystopian fiction in The Telegraph, as long as it's book-related I know our followers on social media will be interested. I spend time scheduling Tweets and Facebook posts to share what I find before turning my attention back to book selections.
Lunchtime, and because we're based on an industrial estate we all usually stay in the office during our break. I cannot tell you how good it feels to have a proper lunch break - one in which I sit on a sofa to eat my food and read a book in peace - after ten years of teaching lunch breaks which are more 'shove a sandwich in your gob while also marking books and supervising homework club."
Back to work. I often use this part of the day, when the light in our office is best, to take photographs for our Instagram feed. So out comes my box of tricks - from vintage book pages to lengths of fabric, to bookmarks - with which to accessorise my shots. I love this part of my role and have great fun getting creative (even if my colleagues must think it odd to see me perched on one leg, arched over a stack of books trying to get the perfect shot).
With the exception of Thursday and Friday - when I leave Willoughby at lunchtime and head off to my old school to run some Year 6 literacy intervention groups - I finish at 3.30pm. So, at 3 o'clock I do a final check of emails and social media notifications, then pile up the books I've selected ready for wrapping and packing, before heading home for a cup of tea, a sit down, and the blissful feeling of having no marking.
The other big question - along with, "What do you do?" - has been, "Are you enjoying it?" And ultimately, the answer is yes. It's an enormous change of pace for me: from the manic environment of a secondary school, and all the pressures teaching entails, to sitting in a peaceful office. As a result, I can find myself feeling... not bored, exactly, but under-stimulated compared to the crazy over-stimulation of teaching. But I relish this, and it seems to be just what I needed as the headaches, migraines and chronic jaw pain that have plagued me for the last two years have all but vanished. I also really enjoy the two afternoons I do spend at school, which have reminded me how much fun some bits of teaching can be. Who knows what the future may bring, but for now I feel pretty damn lucky to have had things work out so well.