Sunday, 25 September 2016

This week at Valley Press: A very special edition

Dear readers,

In a change from your scheduled newsletter...

This morning we welcomed George McGarry into the world – that's him in the middle there! Mother and baby are doing absolutely fine (and daddy); George is being so well-behaved, we're going to make the most of that while it lasts...

Hopefully Jamie will make it back to the laptop next Sunday to tell you about that extra-long book he mentioned last week (it's already printed, thank goodness!) In the meantime, thanks for all your support – we'll see you soon.

All best,
Jamie & Laura

Sunday, 18 September 2016

This week at Valley Press, #27: 'Surprise!'

Dear readers,

Yesterday was Poetry Book Fair day, the single most important date on the British poetic calendar as far as I'm concerned. For the first time in five years I didn't attend, in case a full-term Mrs McGarry should need swift transport to the hospital (she didn't!) – but VP was ably represented by the always dynamic and charming Rosa Campbell, pictured here behind the stall with our best pal Emma from The Emma Press:

Huge thanks to Rosa for stepping in, and doing (reports suggest) a marvellous job. Thanks to the organisers too, Chrissy and Joey; they do extraordinary work putting it all together, I can't imagine the effort that must be involved in wrangling that many poetry publishers. We're an eccentric lot!

Last week, I promised that anyone who attended the Fair would receive a 'significant Valley Press surprise' – were you intrigued? Lurking in the 'goody bags' given to visitors on their arrival was a brand new anthology, VP50, which included fifty classic Valley Press poems; one for each poetry book we've published so far. You may have actually chosen these, if you replied to my request back in May for your VP favourites. They include all of our 'greatest hits' (like James Nash's first sonnet), and some 'deep cuts', like Kate Fox's poem honouring Billy Bragg's beard, from her Glastonbury project.

In total, we gave away five hundred copies of this anthology – our biggest publicity stunt ever. This means that five hundred people could have sat on their trains/buses home on Saturday night, learning (maybe for the first time) about all the wonderful poets and poetry we've published over the last eight years. I am bursting with pride!

The anthology is now available to buy; though after our generosity yesterday, it seems a little steep to charge you the full £10.99 RRP (even though it is an extremely classy, shiny production – that's the front cover in this week's header image). Please accept 50% off VP50 all this week, by adding the code FIFT at checkout. More information and buying links for the book can be found here.

I'd like to end with a plug for our autumn tour – I know, another surprise! – in which Valley Press poets are headed to the Swindon (Sept 29th), Manchester (October 11th) and Sheffield (October 17th) literature festivals. Click the city names for more information and links to book tickets. We'd love to have your support, and of course it's a chance to grab those all-important submissions forms!

I'll give those gigs another mention in the coming weeks; got to make sure the venues are packed to the rafters (then they might have us back). For now, enjoy your anthology if you were lucky enough to get one, and I'll be back next week with another new book, this one including no less than 380 pages of high quality poetry...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 11 September 2016

This week at Valley Press, #26: 'Lucky Dip'

Dear readers,

A confession: I've known the author of our next publication since before Valley Press was even a twinkle in my eye. Catharine Boddy has been writing and reading poetry in the Scarborough area for decades, as well as teaching full-time; so it's perhaps no surprise that last week, when I told a local resident I was publishing her first book, they reacted with astonishment: 'you mean she doesn't already have one?!' So it's long overdue. Probably my fault!

The book is titled Lucky Dip, and it's our first collection of poetry aimed at children. Primary school children, to be specific, and I've had a lot of help on this one from Mrs McGarry as to what they might conceivably enjoy reading (and even what font to use – she's finally turned into a publisher!)

Some of the poems are funny, like this one titled 'A little problem' (with accompanying note saying it is 'a poem to read to parents at the check-in desk'):

Mum, I’ve something to tell you
as we stand here in this queue.
I should have said this yesterday,
I’m not sure what to do.
I was looking at my passport,
I thought I’d have a laugh,
but it wasn’t very funny
when I dropped it in the bath!
I put it in the microwave
to try to dry it out
before I put it in my case –
Mum, promise you won’t shout.
I really meant to pick it up
but you know I got up late
then forgot to pack my iPad;
I was really in a state.
So I thought I ought to mention it,
I thought you ought to know,
without my passport
I don’t think we can go…
today… anyway…

Others are more thoughtful, even sad, like this one titled 'Puzzled':

Our jigsaw is incomplete.
We’ve lost a piece and
it will never be the same again.
It was whole.
We fitted together well.
Together we were strong.
But now my mum and I
must fit together as best we can
around the gap,
although there will always be
a piece missing.

... and both types of poem are mixed up together, hence the book's title. If you've got a young person in your life, Lucky Dip would be a great purchase, particularly priced at just £4.99. (It's illustrated too, by the great John Taylor, who also did the energetic cover drawing seen at the top of this week's post.)

At the other end of the poetry age spectrum, I see last week's book has found its audience:

(Picture from York Press.) Andy will be signing Poems for Pensioners in York Waterstones on Saturday 22nd October, so note that date in your diary if you'd like a scribbled-in copy – you can also hear him on the radio here if you'd like some back-story and a small chuckle (3 hours 15 mins into the programme).

Next Saturday is the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair in London, 10-4.30 in Conway Hall. Valley Press has attended this marvellous event religiously for the past five years, and 2016 will be no different – except you'll see Rosa behind the stall rather than me, as with baby McGarry due within weeks, I felt I should avoid any long-distance trips! Please do say 'hello' to Rosa if you're there, and perhaps even pick up a book?

Also: all attendees of the Fair should expect a significant Valley Press surprise – that's right, you heard it here first! What could it be? Read next week's post to find out...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 4 September 2016

This week at Valley Press, #25: 'No wonder!'

Dear readers,

Our first new publication of the autumn is due this week: Poems for Pensioners by Andy Seed. Cover star Bert, above, is clearly keen to get his hands on a copy, and he's far from the only one!

It would be fair to say this is not one of the most brooding, contemplative, cutting-edge poetry titles we've ever brought you – but it may be the funniest, and occasionally, the most sweetly nostalgic. Below is a short poem titled 'Always Read the Label'. This one is something of a litmus test; if you laugh at this, Poems for Pensioners is probably up your street...

No wonder
you’re still
on the
toilet, Dilys;
the pills
that were blue?
You were
supposed to
take two
every twenty-four hours,
not twenty-four
every two.

Despite (or possibly because of) this toilet humour, Andy Seed is an award-winning author, most recently claiming the 2015 Blue Peter Book Award for the charmingly-titled Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff, published by Bloomsbury and illustrated by Scott Garrett, who also lends his artistic skills to Poems for Pensioners. You might say we've 'reunited the award-winning team' ... gosh, it's fun to use the phrase 'award-winning'!

I've got high hopes for this book, and I think you'll be hearing a lot more about it in the run-up to Christmas. In the meantime, you can read a longer 'pensioner poem' on the website here, and I'll end with a series of verses that come under the title 'Epitaphs':

Here is Tim,
Who went
To the gym;
Alas, discovered
It didn’t
Suit him.

Here lies Iris,
Former nurse;
Along the M6
She reversed.

Rest in peace
‘Windy’ Ron
(It’s much more peaceful
Now you’re gone).

Here lies the body
Of Mary Dinnings,
Who spent all of
Her bingo winnings
On Pink Champagne,
Carefully picked;
It came in the bucket
Which Mary kicked.

In memory
Of Eric, engineer;
Souped up
His stairlift;
Oh dear.

Here is buried
Godfrey Hunt –
Put his teeth in
Back to front.

Here lies
Henrietta Speke;
Didn’t feed
Her cats
One week.

Sacred to the memory
Of whatsis name.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

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