Many Balls in the Air: Introductory Workshop at the Seagull School of Publishing

Having been part of several introductory sessions for courses, I felt I knew what to expect when we began our ‘Getting to know each other’ workshop with Sumit Roy. I expected the tedious routine of standing up and reciting one’s name, place of origin, and profession; trying to pay attention to every other person’s introduction as they blended together, while simultaneously coming up with a witty remark, a pithy sentence that would encapsulate my personality, an attempt to make my identifying characteristic memorable. I also expected there to be some games that would force even the most sedentary (read: me) into physical activity. Since we had been given the assignment the day before, I also anticipated that some part of the morning was going to be devoted to the reading out of our ‘anonymous’ autobiography blurbs.

My expectations soon proved to be completely false, as Sumit took our understanding of the expression ‘many balls in the air’ to a new level. In preliminary games that required extensive hand–eye coordination to protect Seagull’s many works of art from destruction, but above all, the ability to listen and retain, we slowly began to learn more about each other. In the space of a few minutes I learnt that in my new band of friends I had a fellow traveller, an adventurous experimenter, a needlework enthusiast and a chocolate lover!

Our knowledge about each other was put to the test as we each went on a mission to find the author of a particular autobiography. After a period of investigation, and trial and error, we each took on both the role of author and that of publisher in our respective pairings. The enactment of fifteen book launches that followed held a dual purpose. We learnt about the relationship between publisher and author, the relevance of marketing and public relations, and most significantly the importance of announcing the title of the book at its launch! We simultaneously gained extra nuggets of information about our fellow students and their life stories so far. This expanded knowledge was put to the test with a repeat performance of the morning’s ball game. It was apparent that within an hour, we had all assimilated a substantial amount, and that the prolonged silences that occurred while we stared at someone and tried to remember something about them, was a thing of the past!

In the last part of the workshop we were split into three teams to play a very unusual game of Scrabble, which introduced not only the spirit of teamwork but also a dose of healthy competition (though when it comes to Scrabble I probably have more than my fair share!). The final lesson of the day was to have faith in what we had and not be overly concerned with the ‘outside market’, or in this case the extra Scrabble tiles, as that would probably not be beneficial in the long run, as our team proved by getting the lowest score in spite of ‘conquering the market’.

Thus the three hours that we spent on the workshop focused on the immediate objective of getting familiar with each other and comfortable with working together, trying to go beyond superficial knowledge in laying a foundation for the three months ahead of us. However, each activity had a dual role or an extra lesson, always keeping in mind the ultimate goal of making a publisher out of each of us.

Taarini Mookherjee

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