Sunday, 28 August 2016

This week at Valley Press, #24: 'Back to work'

Dear readers,

I’m back. To quote the great Nigel Gerrans: ‘the summer is ended, and we are not saved’.

I’m writing to you a week earlier than planned, as last weekend I was literally stopped on the street by people ‘jonesin’ for a fix’ of literary news. ‘Where’s the newsletter gone?’, ‘when will it be back?’ they cried. I had no idea you were so keen on it!

I took the summer off as there weren’t any new books coming out (from VP, anyway), or events to attend – but that’s all about to change. There’ll be a new book from us every week in September; poetry collections for (literally) all ages, a ‘surprise anthology’ which only insiders currently know about, and possibly two 300+ page poetry epics, both from familiar faces.

And that will be the quiet month this autumn. October is expected to start with me and Mrs McGarry becoming parents for the first time – what a thought! – and to feature minimal Valley Press activity until the last few days, at which point I’ll spring back into action and give you a new book every week again, until the end of November.

(That list doesn’t currently include the much-anticipated ‘Yorkshire anthology’; editor Miles is currently wading through a sea of entries, thousands in fact, so I’ve relieved him – and myself – of any deadlines regarding that volume. It’ll turn up eventually though, and be fantastic.)

The first book due after my ‘paternity leave’, at the end of October, is Antony Dunn’s fourth collection, titled Take This One to Bed. I’m mentioning this now as there’s a chance for you to pre-order a very special, limited-edition hardback (with the fish design pictured above) – I’ll only print a hundred of those, so if you want one, move early! I’ll end this email with a wistful summery poem from that book to whet your appetite (which you might recognise from Faber's Jubilee Lines anthology). It’s a really special collection, and you'll be hearing a lot more about it in the near future.

I think that’s all you need to know for now; thanks for your support during the summer, and I look forward to telling you more about all the wonderful publications we’ve been putting together.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher


by Antony Dunn

York, 25 – 26 June 1991

These are the longest days. Exams are done
and we are indolent and steeped in sun
and somewhat drunk by dark, one couple gone
to fumble, inexpert, beyond the lawn
and the reach of the bonfire, when someone
cries ‘Midnight’. It’s the twenty-sixth of June.
I am sung to an end; I am begun.

Tifanny, Rachel, Joby, Simon,
Michael, Sally, Charlotte, John.

We lie back in the ordered grass as smoke
riddles the machinery of trees, tracks
east across the fields, and east. Someone cracks,
‘It might be ours to go and not come back,
drafted to Sarajevo or Iraq.’
We can’t make each other out. No one speaks
but someone pokes the fire and scatters sparks.

Adam, Isla, Sophie, Kinshuk,
Indraneil, Becky, Mark.

We have exhausted everything that burns
bright and quick and the fire has guttered down
to a smallness of embers before dawn.
A blackbird starts at a rumour of sun.
The day will come along the green dark lane
with processing cars to carry us on.
We will not be this way again.

Tifanny, Rachel, Joby, Simon,
Michael, Sally, Charlotte, John.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

How a Poem Changed my Life: the Beginnings of the Emma Press

I started the Emma Press when I was twenty-five. Up to that point, I had tried very hard to live sensibly, but then a quick succession of events jolted me into the realisation that playing it safe held its own risks, and perhaps I didn’t know as much about life as I had thought.

So I quit my job as an ebook production controller, resigned myself to living in Winnersh with my parents again, and decided to start from scratch. What did I love? I thought I might try to make a living from sewing or illustrating, and then I read a poem by an old school friend and was gripped by the desire to make other people read it too. This poem – 'Bonfire' by Rachel Piercey – resounded with me as I read it on either side of an impossible relationship, and I wanted to share it with other people who might be navigating similar emotional binds. Here are the opening lines:
I have felled
all the trees in my wood
to keep you going, […] 
Anyone can post a poem online, but whether anyone will read it is another matter. I decided that the best way to encourage people to read the poem was to create a little book on beautiful paper which could be thrust into people’s hands. A book that would be a pleasure to open and read. It turned out that I knew enough about book production to create a book (and an ebook), and so 'Bonfire' became the centrepiece of the first Emma Press pamphlet: The Flower and the Plough by Rachel Piercey.

The Flower and the Plough
Nearly four years on and twenty-seven books later, many things have changed. I live in Birmingham now, with my own office, and I’m never just working on one book at a time. Everything is larger-scale and longer-term, but I still have the same feeling about everything I publish. From individual poems in anthologies to the single-author pamphlets, I want to shout about them all from the rooftops, and share them with as many people as possible. I’ve gone from safe living to ludicrously unsafe living, trying to build a self-sustaining business on poetry, but I love what I do and I hope the books I publish bring a similar joy into readers’ lives.

* * *
This article was originally commissioned for ARTEMISpoetry Issue 16, May 2016.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'The footprints I left'

Dear readers,

It's been an exhausting and emotional week here in Britain, and indeed here at Valley Press. So here's a big long blast of good news –

As mentioned last week, we headed to the House of Lords on Wednesday for a celebration of poetry from 'non-resident Diaspora South-Asian writers', as they were described by organisers Word Masala. I treated the dignitaries to two poems from Saleem Peeradina's Final Cut, and received for my efforts a small trophy from Baroness Prashar and Lord Parekh (I guess this is the kind of company I'm keeping now?)

Here are a couple of pictures taken by Laura; with Lord Parekh on the left, Word Masala editor Yogesh Patel in the middle, and yours truly on the right. (You can also just make out a picture of Saleem, who was there in spirit.)

So that was all very exciting. We were also thrilled this week to hear Di Slaney's Reward for Winter had been Highly Commended in this year's Forward Prizes – her poem 'Doubtful Words' will appear in the Forward Book of Poetry 2017 – and to read a glowing review for The Finest Years and Me from the Churchill Centre's journal (they know their stuff). I'm declaring £3 off both those books this week with the code GOODNEWS.

And it continues: Valley Press is at the Ledbury Poetry Festival this Saturday, with a veritable bonanza of talent on stage. I'll be talking about the realities of modern poetry publishing at 12.15pm, in the 'Panelled Room' in 'The Master’s House' (all sounds very grand). I'll then be introducing John Wedgwood Clarke at 1.20, and we'll be followed by Di Slaney at 3.40 and James Nash at 4.30, all in the same venue, and all completely free to attend! It's a must if you're anywhere near Herefordshire next weekend.

And there's more. There's a new Rosa-produced VP book out in early July, which she'd like to introduce you to. This was actually a submission for autumn 2016, but Rosa (and the readers) loved it so much, I was persuaded to add it to the end of our already-bulging spring schedule. Over to her:

"In a week of drama and (in Liverpool, at least) appropriately apocalyptic weather, I'm thrilled to introduce an antidote – a beautiful debut collection from a poet that I'm certain has an incredibly bright future ahead of her. All the Footprints I Left Were Red is Rowena Knight's astonishing and assured take on coming of age in a world that can be at once alienating and joyful, harsh and beautiful. She tackles vast themes – as varied as violence, migration, food, and love – in compact poems filled to the brim with vivid imagery. Distinctly feminist in stance, and with the outsider perspective that moving from New Zealand to England at thirteen has afforded her, this debut is sharp, lyrical, and a true breath of fresh air. A book for anyone who has ever felt out of place, wondered why it is that women so often write poems about being in the bath, or grew up believing the Goblin King was real!"

You must check out that cover at the very least (as used in the header for this post), and look out for a preview poem on the site soon – it's exemplary stuff.

If you're wondering why you're hearing about Rowena's book so early, the answer is the one slight bit of sad news today; this is the last of my 'weekly update' emails until September. Valley Press is something of a seasonal business, with the book releases and events mostly happening February-June, September-November – in the other months, like the next two, I get my head down and concentrate on production, admin and submissions. (I also spend some time on the beach; there's a reason I live by the sea!)

I might sneak out one more book during those months: I'm working on a huge Collected Poems project, and if that makes it to print before September I'll do a special bulletin. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful summer, that the sun shines, and that you remember where to go should you be stuck for reading material...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 19 June 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'What I'm looking for'

Dear readers,

I've spent this weekend at Wentworth Castle (pictured above), near Barnsley – which is actually a stately home, built by someone who wanted a castle but had to make do with a big house ... then named it 'castle' anyway. I think that's a good attitude to have.

I was there talking to authors, giving them the chance to ask any questions they had about publishing, and promoting our current search for 2017 publications. The first question at these events is usually 'What are you looking for?' – so I thought I'd answer that in this week's newsletter, in case anyone else was wondering.

When I first look at a submission, I ask myself 'could I ever imagine this becoming a Valley Press book?' Exactly what constitutes a VP book is hard to define, but I will now try: they tend to be a bit quirky, often on the fringes of their genre (except the poetry, which is itself a fringe!) They are never deliberately useful (like a handbook on gardening would be), and they are never purely of topical interest, because I want to be selling these books forever. They are also never hateful, or cynical – and they are written with great care for language.

Meeting those standards only gets you through the first stage, however. A greatly-reduced pile of envelopes is then taken to a group of volunteer readers, and together we ask of each proposal: 'would I buy this if I picked it up in a bookshop?' If the general consensus is yes, I ask the author for a full manuscript – so far I've only seen 15 pages of each book – and then things get really difficult as I must choose a final selection, usually six from twelve, to take forward to publication.

So here's a question for you: would you want to know what stage your submission got to? Would you be upset to know it was ruled out straight away (which usually just means it doesn't match my personal taste), or would you be more upset to hear a room of strangers didn't like it? And if you were one of the finalists, is that the most frustrating scenario – to know you would have been published, if the company was slightly bigger?

Something to ponder, there!

This week, me and Laura ('Mrs McGarry and I', for grammar purists) are going to the House of Lords. After publishing our very first Indian poet, we are receiving an award for supporting writing from the 'South-Asian Diaspora' (a term I've only just learnt), and launching the book in question, which is all rather exciting. Emma is getting an award too, and some company called Faber and Faber (no, me neither).

It's the night before the UK's big referendum on the European Union, so look out for us appearing as 'talking heads' on the news channels, as journalists mistake us for people of power... (it might happen). A full report on that next week; have a good one!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 12 June 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'Final Cut'

Dear readers,

What fruit is that in the header image? I've heard lemons, kumquat, even lychee – in any case, the significance is that it's from the cover of Final Cut, a new Valley Press collection published this week.

Saleem Peeradina is the first Valley Press author to not be resident in the UK, and the first Indian-born writer published by ourselves too. It's great to break those two boundaries, at once: VP suddenly feels a much bigger operation, and I'm looking forward to the challenge of managing distribution to the US and India. Here's another question for you: how many rupees does a poetry collection go for, nowadays?

Unusually for us, Saleem is a poet with a long and significant career already behind him: in 1972 he was editor of Contemporary Indian Poetry in English, still used in universities today; he has published four previous collections, one with Oxford University Press (when they were a force in British poetry); his memoir The Ocean in My Yard was published by Penguin in 2005, and he's currently 'Emeritus Professor of English' at a university in Michigan.

That doesn't get anyone a free ride though: his poetry still had to pass through my 'submissions panel', and if I remember correctly they unanimously loved it. You can read the opening poem on our website here, a wildly imaginative piece called 'The Lesson' – I was sold on that alone, but I'll include another of the bird-related poems at the end of this email so you can get a further taste.

As I mentioned last week, birds are a key subject in Final Cut (making it an ideal present for viewers of BBC's Springwatch, which my wife, mother and cat are all glued to at the moment.) The others are fruit, the human body, and more unexpectedly, inanimate objects – there are monologues from a stapler, a shaving brush, a grater and more. Oh, and I nearly forgot another record set by this book: it's the biggest we've ever published, measuring 9 inches tall by 6 wide, to try and contain the longer lines. So there's another challenge: finding suitable jiffy bags in which to pack it...

I think I've done justice to our newest book now, so I'll close this week's email, first by wishing the Queen and Prince Phillip happy birthday (they are 90 and 95 respectively – my mother insisted this deserved a nod, especially as me and HRH are old pals), and by telling you about a new offer I want to try. It's nothing revolutionary, it's a bundle: any five Valley Press books for £35, with free postage, a real bargain if there are five you've always fancied getting (or if you have a lot of birthdays coming up).

This will be available indefinitely: so if interested, send £35 to via PayPal with a list of titles, or post a cheque (and list) to our usual address: Valley Press, Woodend, The Crescent, Scarborough, YO11 2PW. See you next week!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

A Rumor of Birds

by Saleem Peeradina

In my sleep, birds stream silently overhead – flocks of them –
wave after wave of a high altitude river unbound
by banks, wings riding the wind, navigating by stars in the pitch
black of night, or the water’s magnetic glaze.
Sometimes, they storm above my roof in a cloudburst
of feathers, squawks, and screams.

One watching through a telescope will see them
scatter like flakes of pepper against lunar light;
but mostly, these night-travelers will pass invisibly, afloat
on a murmur. Before daybreak, they sift down
to settle in the trees or fields to awaken us with their
morning songs. After dusk, they flutter up again to migrate south.

Jays, thrushes, blackbirds, finches, wrens, larks, swallows, tanagers,
warblers, orioles – you live, love, breed, and die at full tilt
claiming only a bit of earth and infinite sky.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'I offer this material'

Dear readers,
This week I've been really busy – I know I always say that, but with events on in three cities, and me manning the book stall at most, I've hardly had a minute to myself! See below for a taste of the festivities: first, Ian Duhig and SJ Bradley announcing the winners at the Remembering Oluwale launch; then, a fully-clothed Kelley Swain reading from The Naked Muse at an event celebrating that book.

After Kelley's launch, I found myself re-reading her first Valley Press book Opera di Cera – a dark, gothic verse drama about wax modellers in the 18th-century – and realising how much that book also has to say about modelling for art, through the character of Teresa. She observes, whilst posing for a class:

They do not feel the sweat in the crook of my underarm.
They do not hear the purr in my belly as lunchtime nears, and passes.

And later:

Nude, not bare. Each sense is quickened, cloaked in stimuli: warm sunlight in afternoon, pungent linseed fumes, the whisper of a rinsed brush, the kiss of bristles to canvas, the mingling of oils upon wooden palettes.
When one paints my arm, birthmark, a breast, I know. I feel the weight of his mind on it. I offer this material, feel their eyes on my figure, stand in for saint or goddess.

Readers of The Naked Muse will recognise those situations continuing into the 21st century. If you enjoyed Kelley's latest book, and fancy a trip to the murky world of Renaissance Florence (and you love intense, intricately written verse dramas – who doesn't?) then give Opera di Cera a try; have £3 off this week with the discount code OPDI. It's a lovely item, as you can see below:

I don't have any other news for you, except to say I've appreciated your replies to my call for your favourite Valley Press poems of all time (for a possible anthology). If you'd like to mention a poem that particularly jumped out for you, please do let me know. So far, title poems and collection-opening poems are doing well; but I think we can go deeper!

See you next week, when I hope to introduce another new book – one with an abiding interest in birds, fruits, and everyday objects.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 29 May 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'Flight of the muse'

Dear readers,

This week has been all about The Naked Muse, which was released on Thursday, and made it to bookshop shelves across the country – including the one pictured above (by Kelley Swain herself) in the biography section of Blackwell's in Oxford.

The book got some serious exposure this week, the kind money can't buy. Readers of the i newspaper (the cheap, classy one) might have spotted this double-page spread, containing the first chapter, with illustrations:

This feature was also trailed on the front cover – the front cover! I never thought we'd make it to the front page of a national newspaper. What will I aim for now? The front page of two national newspapers, I suppose. Perhaps soon, everything we do in this tiny room in Scarborough will be of immense national interest...?

Kelley also spoke about the book on no less than eight radio stations during the week – don't worry, I'm not expecting you to listen to all those interviews (though I notice Ireland's Today FM has a cheery website, could be worth a try!) If you have any spare time, you should take a look at this long, in-depth feature by Teddy Jamieson (of The Herald in Scotland); that's really the last word on Kelley's modelling experience, brilliant journalism.

I must thank Ana McLaughlin of Sarah Harrison PR, who has been working for us this year (but will soon be going on maternity leave); she's responsible for all of the above. Ana is one of those people who is a true pleasure to work with, but is also so talented and effective that you'd still hire them if they were the most unpleasant person ever to walk the Earth. (I struggle with big compliments – that was meant to be one!) Big thanks Ana, anyway; we really appreciate all you've done.

This Wednesday sees the long-awaited launch event for The Naked Muse, which will also feature a reading from Malene Engelund and 'rising star' David Nash. It's happening at the Peckham Pelican (in London, see map here), from 7pm on the 1st June. You are promised pizza, and some very special guests from the art world.

Also launched this week is our anthology inspired by David Oluwale, which is for sale now, first copies dispatched on Friday. There is an event, in Leeds on the evening of Friday 3rd, but it's not one I'm heavily promoting as we're expecting to fill the venue just with the organisers, contributors, and guests of both. I can probably sneak you in though – drop me a return email and I'll pull the necessary strings!

While we're in Leeds (which we seem to be regularly!), Saturday 4th June sees the first 'Northern Short Story Festival', which looks like a brilliant day – check out the programme here if you're interested. Of course, I'm involved (I get everywhere), and our own Michael Stewart will also be giving a reading.

I think that's it for this week – except to say, you now have only two days to submit to our Yorkshire anthology, and also to give 'a big shout-out' to my mother, an avid reader of this newsletter, who turned 60 on Thursday. I think you'll agree she's very lucky – not many mothers can claim their son writes to them every week!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher