From the Press Office to Paradise: An Introduction to Alice

‘Excuse the unprofessional language but omggggg!!!!!!!!!!’ was how I responded to the email offering me the job to become one of Ultimate Library’s Barefoot Booksellers in the Maldives this year.


It had seemed so unlikely that I would get the job, there were nearly 600 applicants and I was struggling with COVID when I did the second interview over zoom. Even now, as I write this from my room on a sun soaked, far flung Maldivian island, it doesn’t quite feel real!


The last few weeks have been a little chaotic to say the least. The time pressure was on to handover at work, say goodbye to friends and move out of my house in London, all in the midst of various lockdown rules. I successfully wrapped up my life up in time and packed it in to suitcase ready to fly to the golden sands and luscious seas of Soneva Jani.


Brimming with excitement and apprehension having just turned my life upside down, I was on the train to London en route to Heathrow when I got a call from the clinic who had done the pre-flight COVID-19 test (a requirement before travelling to the Maldives.) The result was positive meaning that I wouldn’t be allowed on the plane.


It felt like the rug had been snatched from under my feet and it took me a while to pick myself off the hard-theoretical floor. I had known that this could be a possibility but the reality was horribly unwelcome.


When I contracted COVID in October, I had been incredibly lucky to not suffer terribly with it but it was far from pleasant. It was the most bizarre illness I’ve ever had in that the symptoms changed every day; fever, fatigue, nose tingling, aching bones, confusing brain fog and eventually loss of taste and smell. When one symptom subsided, another took its place but thankfully I recovered after around 10 days.


It transpires that even though you’re no longer contagious, the virus can show up on tests up to six weeks after contracting it, my flight had been 4 weeks from becoming ill. (The NHS counts a second positive result within six weeks of having the first one doesn’t count as a new case and you don’t need to isolate again.) Following the mad rush of the last month, frustratingly my job was now to just wait.


It was difficult to know how long to wait but I took a punt a week later and after using copious amounts of mouthwash which apparently kills the virus, I took another test. I’ve learned recently that time moves at the speed of Northern Rail in the snow when you’re waiting on something that will decide whether you can fly around the world to start a life as a bookseller on a desert island. But the waiting paid off and the result was negative!


Two days later, I was sitting in departures at Heathrow absolutely ecstatic that my delay had only been a small bump in the road and itching to dive in to my new life.

A Bit About Me

I’m Alice, and I grew up in Bradford (accent included), studied journalism at Northumbria University and now live in London where I work as a publicist for Penguin Random House. In amongst all that I have worked a list of jobs which would make a CV as long as your arm, including retail, hospitality, night life, call centre work and healthcare, until I landed in publishing. I’ve been at the press office for Penguin Random House for the past four and half years and will be returning there once this incredible adventure is over.


In my spare time I run slowly, swim badly and practice my childhood hobby of gymnastics in a very mediocre fashion. Like every man and his dog, I took up baking over lockdown and rather predictably, read every book I could get my hands on.


Books are a huge and integral part of my life. I work with them every day, I read them for joy, adventure, education and also turn to them for solace. I’ve never yet had the chance to be a bookseller, to share words reader to reader, so becoming the Barefoot Bookseller on Soneva Jani is something that I’m hugely passionate about. (I’ll not lie, it does help that it’s also on a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean).


And so, although I’m now in a weeks’ quarantine before I’m let loose on the island, I’m counting down the final few days of waiting before I can dig my toes into the sand, cut the ribbon at the opening of our brand new bookshop and wax lyrical about some wonderful books to all that will listen on this idyllic island.