Imagine a place
filled with all your favourite things:
an abundance of new novels
littered around the office
the scent of freshly printed pages
fluttering through the air
the logo of my favourite books
hanging on the walls
the familiar shade of orange
accompanied by the penguin
that bird now resides
at the end of an email
it’s hanging round my neck
next my very own name
from being curled up in bed
with that penguin overhead
now I’m sat in the origin of
the books that send me to sleep
what a shift in perspective
what a magical experience
when the books next to my bed
mirror the books on my desk
it’s hard not to feel like I’m
Megan completed work experience in International Sales
One of the big pulls for me about working in publishing, especially a publishing house like Penguin Random House, was working with books. I love books. The smell, the feel, the words… I’m sure everyone who applies to work there loves books, too. So I’m here to tell you that the programme is a book-lovers’ dream.
I’ve decided to write some reviews of the books I was able to take home when working in the book-filled Pimlico offices. You can also catch them on my Instagram account, where I do this often (@have_you_read_this).
Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton
I had placed a book-buying ban on myself while I worked through my existing shelf, and so despite my love for Dolly Alderton and specifically her pop-culture podcast, The High Low, I hadn’t read her autobiography. When being orientated at Penguin, and shown where I could select books to take home, it was the first book I saw. Coincidence? Absolutely not. It was devoured in a couple of days and is as funny, charming and life-affirming as most things Dolly does. Published under Penguin Books, this award-winning book is a collection of love stories – not just romantic ones, but love stories of self, of friendship, of food and of life.
Never Greener – Ruth Jones
For some reason, I thought Ruth Jones’s new novel was autobiographical – probably because I got quite a few non-fiction books while on work experience. But to my surprise and subsequent delight, this Black Swan imprint publication is pure fiction and a great joy to read. Anyone who’s watched Gavin and Stacey knows of Ruth Jones’s skill for characterisation. Her characters are always so well-rooted in reality. It’s such a skill in fiction to write dislikable characters in a way that keeps the reader interested, and Ruth Jones has really crushed it. Quite frankly, I disliked mostly all of the characters and thought they were morally questionable (though perhaps that’s what makes them so real…) and yet despite disagreeing at large with their behaviour, I still wanted desperately to know what would happen to them. It’s a quick read, but not to the detriment of character development. Despite flying through Never Greener, I felt like I’d known these characters all their lives.
Naturally Tan – Tan France
Penguin’s imprint, Virgin Books, has published the memoir of Queer Eye’s Tan France. Tan’s had a pretty fast-paced, glamourous time since the first episode of Netflix’s Queer Eye in 2018 – but under the surface of his fame, wit, fashion-prowess and fortune is a pretty remarkable life filled with hardship and prejudice. Tan grew up in a South Asian community in South Yorkshire, where the colour of his skin dictated the treatment he received in school, in his hometown and in most social environments. You delve into his family life, where he was dealing with being gay within a largely intolerent community. But the book is filled with his life’s joys too, from meeting his husband, the love of his life, to building a hugely successful clothing brand. All interspersed with fab fashion tips! It’s so feisty and wholesome, you’ll find yourself telling people at every opportunity how they have to read it.
Selected Short Stories – Virginia Woolf
Amidst the sea of exciting new releases, I managed to get my hands on this Penguin Classics anthology of Virginia Woolf’s short stories. I haven’t read Woolf’s long fiction, but her short stories are enchanting. From external reading, as well as information from Sandra Kemp’s introduction, the general consensus seems to be that her short stories are far more experimental and boundary-pushing than her longer fiction. I felt lost in a whirlpool for most of the reading experience, but never at risk of drowning. Sort of similarly to Penguin’s work experience programme – it’s never so overwhelming that it’s unmanageable, but the fast-paced whirl of activity, energy and enthusiasm is dizzying, in the best possible way.
Notes to Self – Emilie Pine
In the canteen, there are shelves of books from Penguin’s monthly book club, which employees are encouraged to read and engage with. The picks for June were Sue Perkins’ East of Croydon and Emilie Pine’s Notes To Self. Naturally, I nabbed a copy of both, but I haven’t read East of Croydon yet. I can say with some confidence that Notes To Self is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s a collection of six personal essays, each describing formative parts of Emilie Pine’s life, from her time navigating the chaos of the Greek medical system and her years grappling with her fertility, to her parents’ divorce and years spent running herself into the ground. They’re raw, brave and honest. Each chapter made me laugh, weep, gasp and self-evaluate at least once. Despite being so deeply personal, she offers a mirror to the reader and invites reflection at every page-turn.
Getting an opportunity to work at Penguin Random House is one that everyone should definitely try their chances at. Whether you are interested in publishing or not, it is a good experience that opens your horizons to a new way of working, and it’s a different, fun industry to explore! I tried three times and was successful on the third…. the third time is the charm! I would encourage people to not give up when applying, as other people I met had also applied three/four times!
When I first arrived at 80 Strand, an induction presentation was first up. This was also where I was introduced to others who were doing work experience. I automatically felt less nervous as I knew I wasn’t alone. Throughout the two weeks, I also always had someone working alongside me, and it was nice to know there was always someone you could relate to or speak to…and go to lunch with! Our host immediately made us feel welcome and gave us a brief overview of the company and an introduction to the departments and offices, what they do and what they publish. She also settled our nerves and answered any questions we had.
Once this was done, the work began! Immediately, I was given several tasks, ranging from research tasks, using the media software, mailing out books and shadowing meetings. Throughout the placement, it was exciting seeing all the new books that were going to be published, even 10 months from now!! My reading list for the next year is now extremely long. The office is also full of different, exciting titles that help with inspiration and motivation while working.
Overall, if I was going to give any advice to someone about to start work experience, it would be to enjoy it and appreciate it while you’re there, and don’t be afraid to just email someone if you’re stuck or to ask questions about the publishing industry. Make the most of it!
If you are able to go, make damn sure you do.
Not many established companies in London would have such an inclusive work experience programme- a paid one at that. Offering opportunities from sitting in on a meeting discussing publicity campaigns for next year’s bestsellers, to assisting the brand manager of a top celebrity chef, it’s easily the best and most useful placement I have ever done.
My favourite part of the placement would have to be the environment. I was given my own desk, spacious and comfortable, with my own computer and login details in the Michael Joseph publicity and marketing department. I would undertake tasks for staff as and when they arose, as well as a small number of admin which need completion every day- these ones especially made me feel a true part of the team. But then again, I already felt a true part of the team due to the kind welcome I was given by my colleagues.
There are no office politics, no desktop wars that could alienate you from half the office depending on whose side you choose. Everyone is a team no matter what size the department is, which for a girl who has gone from an angry shop girl to an exhausted waitress is a huge breath of fresh air.
It truly is an excellent opportunity and a rare treat – one not to be missed.
It all started with a briefing at Penguin’s Strand office. After meeting (sitting awkwardly with) my work experience colleagues, we were taken up to a meeting room for some ice breaker exercises. We were split into two groups and told to create a short story that had to contain a fact about each of us. My fact was that I’m going to Tokyo next year. So, we ended up with a five-sentence opus that chronicled the story of a man who rudely shoves another man out of the way to get onto the tube. We learn the wronged man is on his way to conduct a job interview for a powerful position in Tokyo. When he gets to the interview, he finds that the candidate first on his list is the very man who shoved him out of the way on the tube. Life’s rich pageant.
After this, once all the admin was out of the way, it was finally time to make our way over to the Vauxhall Bridge Road office. I was taken to my desk and after phoning IT to get my login, I was up and away. Checking my email, I have various tasks to complete, so the first thing I did was to create a to-do list, in order of priority. If I had one piece of advice, it would be to do this. The list enabled me to keep on top of my tasks and divide my time between them to make the best use of it, there was a great sense of achievement to be had every time a task was ticked off.
I began by reading the first fifty pages of a manuscript, and writing a feedback report on what I liked, didn’t like, whether the plot worked and any other observations. I was then asked to read through a book of PG Wodehouse’s letters to find any references to sport, a task that took me until the end of the week. In between, I was able to scour the shelves for books and help to package up lots of boxes that were being shipped off. In amongst all this, I was asked to transcribe an interview with a footballer’s wife, a task that took me right through to the end of the week.
On Thursday, I became the hero of the hour when I was sent out and returned with a plethora of pickings from the biscuit aisle. It was during this session that I gleaned the most insight, as I sat back and listened to the more experienced editors discuss various authors and divulge some tales from their time in the industry.
I was privy to a pitch meeting, wherein everybody in the department is able to see which books are going to be published seven months hence. In this instance, I was delighted that the first novel to be discussed was The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray, A colleague in the team was totally enthused by both author and novel and speculates that it will be a huge debut next year. I was also asked to write a rejection letter, and the following day I had to package up and return an unsolicited manuscript with a different rejection letter.
Overall, it’s been amazing being able to be a part of such a huge operation, gleaning insights from listening to the conversations about sales, discussions about the intricacies of a particular page or line, and just soaking in the love of literature than emanates from everybody working here (and don’t forget to sift through the boxes of books while you’re here, making sure to ask they are available to take!)
This had been my fourth time applying for work experience here with Penguin Random House – the moral of the story is to be persistent – and so, when the offer for this position finally came through, I was ecstatic. I’d never done anything in marketing or publicity before, but it sounded really interesting and so was looking forward to getting started and getting a glimpse behind the scenes as to how books are promoted and marketed.
On the morning of the first day, I was feeling a bit nervous (alongside being very excited) but as soon as I got to Penguin Random House’s offices I felt much more relaxed; everyone was so friendly and welcoming. An induction was the first thing on the agenda, which gave us a brief overview of the company, an introduction to some of its imprints and departments, but best of all: I got to meet the others here on work experience placement. This also meant that I didn’t have to travel to the Pimlico office on my own – which was nice! Throughout the placement, it’s been fascinating to hear what the others have been doing in other departments and imprints. Plus, it gave me someone to go to lunch with!
Once I finally got to the Ebury office, the work began! I’ve been given a whole variety of different tasks to do which has been really interesting and given me a fascinating insight into how a marketing office runs. I’ve done everything from writing tweets, posting out promotional material or proofs, reading manuscripts and writing copy for blogs. I have even had a go at planning out a marketing campaign for an upcoming release, which was amazing and gave me a good insight into how everything fits together.
One of the best things about working here at Penguin Random House has been the atmosphere around the office. Everyone is really helpful and keen to help me learn and make the most of this experience. Plus, you’re surrounded by and working with amazing books all day long, so of course the work is enjoyable. Though, writing out a tonne of addresses for posting can get a bit monotonous, I will admit. It is still good to do though, as it gives us a realistic idea of what the job might be like, not just all the fun stuff.
Overall, if I was going to give any advice to someone about to start work experience it would be to just get stuck in as much as you can. Oh, and ask questions. You really do get out what you put in.
I suffer from an anxiety disorder, amongst a few other mental health problems. A lot of young people deal with mental health problems, and just because I have an anxiety disorder does not mean that I’m not ambitious, hardworking and wanting to make the most of my time on my Penguin Random House work experience placement. I’m certain a number of other applicants also feel this way!
When I’m in a new situation, such as a new office, no matter how organised I am, I can never be sure of how my anxiety is going to affect me.
Throughout my two week stint on the glorious Penguin Random House rollercoaster, on good days it barely affected me at all, and I was free to simply enjoy the ride. However, occasionally, anxiety almost got the better of me.
I know how stressful new situations can be for anxious beings like me, so here’s my list of “anxiety hacks” that helped me a lot during my placement. Even if you don’t struggle with mental health issues, everyone gets nervous, and I’m sure a number of these will be applicable to just about anyone that’s feeling a little bit stressed or worried!
There’s just always something to do. I know it sounds like a cliché but you can end up doing anything when you have a spare evening or weekend. I love living here and can’t see myself ever leaving. –Sarah, Publicity Assistant
There are amazing places to discover in London, such as John Sloane’s museum in Lincoln Fields (it’s free). Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields is like travelling back in time – highly recommended!… Time Out is great for finding things to do – a lot cheap if not free. Look out for special deals, and ask Londoners where they go to drink/eat/relax. – Sarah, Rights Manager
London is absolutely crammed with museums and galleries, many of which are completely free to visit. While you may already be aware of the big bastions residing in South Kensington (Science Museum, Natural History Museum, V&A etc.), there are places to cater to your most niche interests if you are prepared to venture off the beaten path.
Below are a few free options you may not have heard of – perfect for a day trip at the weekend.
Grant Museum of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy – a quieter option than South Kensington’s Natural History Museum, The Grant Museum is one of the oldest natural history collections in the UK, and is home to 68,000 zoological specimens.
Wellcome Collection – “The free destination for the incurably curious,” The Wellcome Collection is a museum exploring medical history and its role in society, with an enormous range of archives, manuscripts and artefacts.
William Morris Gallery – Based in Morris’s family home in north-east London, this collection of designs, textiles and artwork tells the story of Morris’s career – as a poet, designer, craftsman, retailer and social activist.
With the West End right on your doorstep, take advantage of the plays and musicals for a magical night out. Though tickets can be pricey, you can find discounts on sites like lastminute.com and cheaptheatretickets.com. Lots of shows such as Hamilton and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child run lotteries, where you can snag fantastic seats at super-low prices.
When summer hits, Londoners take to the parks. Places like Regent’s Park, Victoria Park, Greenwich and Crystal Palace offer oases of nature in the big city, with wild fields as well as manicured lawns and rose gardens to marvel at as you stroll. You’ll find sport and play areas, zoos and picnic areas – something for all the family.
Pubs and Nightlife
Stay out late at one of the many partying venues London has to offer. Check out Time Out’s list of the best nightclubs in London – with venues like The Pickle Factory and XOYO, you’ll be spoiled for choice wherever you are. London’s pubs are steeped in history – try out Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The Spaniards Inn or the Star Tavern, to walk in the footsteps of literary greats such as Dickens, Byron and Keats, along with less savoury figures like Dick Turpin, and the gang behind the Great Train Robbery.
Volunteering can often get overlooked when you’re settling in somewhere new, but it can take you a long way towards feeling like you belong in your new neighbourhood. You get the chance to meet new people, experience your community, and have the chance to make a valued difference.
The Team London website lets you search for volunteering opportunities according to your interests and location, making it easy to find ways to become an active citizen.
And of course – don’t miss out on the volunteering opportunities at Penguin Random House. Whether it’s fundraising for our partner charity, becoming a volunteer reader at a local primary school, or helping out at with events like JobHack or WriteNow – we have plenty of opportunities for you to help us achieve our 2025 goals in Reading, Inclusion, Community and Sustainability.
Moving to London is a big step. It can seem overwhelming trying to make new friends and settle in, and there’s so much to do and see in the city that it can be tricky to know where to start. Don’t hyperventilate just yet, however – we’re here to help with a guide to must-see sights, ideal places for meeting new people, and of course, the city’s best reading spots, to make your London experience as action-packed as you wish.
People to Meet
I came here without knowing anyone. I set myself a challenge to say ‘yes’ to any invite if there wasn’t a good reason to say ‘no.’ – Ryan, Business Partnership Manager
One of the hardest things about moving to a new place is losing your support network and having to plunge back into making new friends – a daunting prospect.
For as big and bustling as London may be, it has an incredible number of groups and communities for you to find your new gang.
You’ll find thousands of groups on Meetup.com hosting free or cheap activities, ranging from craft circles, family play dates, hiking or walking groups and, of course, book clubs and writing workshops. Sign up to the Society of Young Publishers to attend panels and classes while meeting other like-minded people in publishing. There’s also the BAME in Publishing and Pride in Publishing groups that run loads of great events, and Penguin Random House’s own BAME network, Colour[Full]. Libraries throughout London run regular classes and one-off workshops – an ideal venue for meeting people while improving your skillset.
If you’re hoping for exercise buddies, groups like Project Awesome run wacky fitness events in different locations throughout the city, which are great for a mood boost in your morning. The Terrible Football group runs footie sessions for all ages and abilities, in parks throughout London. You just need to take a chance, and step outside your comfort zone, to find the whirlwind of social opportunities that await you in this city.
The prospect of travelling on the London Underground might seem off-putting for Londoner newbies but the truth is, with a bit of planning, travelling in London can be much more straightforward (and, dare we say, enjoyable?) than you might expect.
And, so you can learn from our mistakes and naivety, here are seven tips on getting around the city:
This is your little blue ticket to travelling by bus, tube AND boat.
You can always tap your contactless debit card or use Apple pay (or buy one of those pink paper tickets that are so easy to lose), but my recommendation is to get an Oyster card from TFL as it’ll keep track of discounts you might accrue from multiple journeys and you can put your travel card on it – saving you a bit of cash in the long run. You can also register your Oyster card in case you lose it.
Like most things, you can reduce your travel hassle with a little planning. My favourite app to use is Citymapper, which can help you plan the fastest routes via a variety of travel means wherever you are in the city.
Tube stations are, thankfully, equipped with Wifi, so you can check the app if delays mean you need to re-plan your journey on the fly. Citymapper also lets you save your favourite locations, shows you what route to take if you only want to travel by bus or tube (or which routes avoid the rain!) and which exit and tube carriage to head for to make your journey as swift as possible. For those medieval knights among us, it even shows you how long it would take to get there by Catapult (as demonstrated by London Mayor Sadiq Khan).
Accessible transport – travelling by public transport can be more of a struggle for those with long or short term conditions. TFL can provide you with a badge and card to help you let other travellers know that you need a seat. They also have helpful information on their website on accessible travel routes, travel mentors and door-to-door options.
There are some things an app can’t teach you. For example, what times to commute to avoid turning into a sardine with half a dozen elbows in your face. Just know that you’ll be able to pick these up as you go and soon you’ll instinctively know which Way Out sign to follow when there are two unhelpfully pointing in opposite directions.
One thing to keep an eye on is what the terminating station of the tube is and where it’s going through. We’ve all accidentally hoped on the wrong arm of the Northern line (the semicolon of the Underground) or aimed to go to Ealing Broadway and ended up in West Ruislip.
Not many of us are born with a Hobbit-like nostalgia for tunnels. For those who might feel a little anxious about travelling via Tube, TFL have this handy guide showing you routes to avoid areas with large stretches underground.
The Tube map is a very poor representation of what’s happening above ground and it’s always worth checking whether it would be faster to walk.
There are some glorious sights if you choose to stroll or cycle rather than squeeze onto public transport. The walk between our Strand and Pimlico offices takes you along the river and past Tate Britain, Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
Picking up a bike at one of the many docking stations can be a fun and comfortable way to get around or zoom through London’s many parks. And for £90 for yearly access to them (just 25p per day), it’s a bit of a bargain.
There are a few unwritten rules about the Tube, which you might not get to grips with until you’re there, like:
If you come to work at Penguin Random House, there might be some ways we can help make your journeys a bit smoother. (Other than finding you find the perfect Tube read or audiobook for your travels).
Through our flexible benefits you can hire a bike through the Cycle to Work scheme or get personal travel insurance if you’re travelling further afield. You can also get a season ticket loan to help you save money. We also have a flexible working offer that might be helpful if there are certain hours that you work best at, are easier to travel during or if you have caring responsibilities.
We also host an annual charity walk through 7 miles of London – it’s a great way to see more of the city and find new pubs to have a tipple in.
If you have any other tips – tweet us at @PRHCareersUK and we’ll share your know-how.