Sunday, 28 February 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'Jolly, early, messy'

Dear readers,

Last week I introduced you to our second February book, Michael Stewart's short story collection Mr Jolly. This week it arrived – punctual as the 606 bus – and is pictured above on my windowsill. You can get a paperback copy here, and it's also available now for your Kindle ... much as we all frown at the antics of Amazon, at £3.99, that is a veryefficient and affordable way to read some quality fiction.

If you like reading (and I assume you do!) we're also currently looking for some 'early readers' – people to read forthcoming books that are more-or-less finished, and let us know if there are any final tweaks we should make (or typos that have slipped through the net.) Currently we're looking for readers of poetry books; so if you'd like to help out, please write to Rosa on and let her know.

I'd also like to remind all the writers out there that this week is your last chance to enter the 'Remember Oluwale' Writing Prize. All details are here; there's £100 up for grabs, and the chance to appear in one of our books (what a treat!) The deadline is March 6th, so by the time I write the next newsletter, it'll be too late.

A few people have been writing to ask when our general submissions process will re-open: quite soon, is the answer. Definitely during March. We just want to make sure everyone who sent in their work last time has been replied to; hopefully that makes sense. You'll hear about it here first, so watch this space!

This week's half-price paperback is Winston & Me by Mark Woodburn, our classic 2012 novel detailing the adventures of Winston Churchill and a fictional orderly during World War One. One of our more popular (and least intimidating) books, it currently has a whopping 18 five-star reviews on Amazon (them again!), and of course now has a sequel, which I'll put on offer later in the year so canny buyers can collect the 'full set' without emptying their wallet. Just enter the code WINSTON50 at checkout to get Winston & Me at half price.

Finally for today: long-time readers of this newsletter will be familiar with The Emma Press, and Emma herself (surely one of the most exciting publishers ever to walk the earth) – she's just posted a fantastic blog post, a full-power blast of honesty and insight, titled 'On publishing, feminism, mixed ethnicity and being a hot mess'. Read that, then read everything else I've told you to read!

Next week: a new pamphlet, straight from the wilds of Scandinavia...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Saturday, 27 February 2016

On publishing, feminism, mixed ethnicity and being a hot mess

I was a mess yesterday. I was meant to be going to an indie publishers’ event in Nottingham that started at 7.30pm, but I decided to get an off-peak train to save £6 and so I arrived in Nottingham at 4.30pm with three hours to kill and the beginnings of a suspicion that three hours of my time was probably worth more than £6.

So I wandered aimlessly around the shops for a couple of hours, had a sandwich on some repurposed crates in Rough Trade, had a meeting with an Arts Council guy about my next big idea, and finally got to the event at 7.40pm. Whereupon I discovered, in this order, that a) the event had started bang on time and the panel discussion was well underway, b) I was meant to be on the panel, and c) while the panel discussion started at 7.30pm, the event had actually started at 4.30pm.

Self-portrait as a mess, from Campaign in Poetry
I found out the last bit just as I left, half an hour before the end of the event so I could catch the last train back to Birmingham (which meant I spent a total of one hour and twenty minutes at the event). During my two-and-a-half hour journey back, I took a good hard look at myself and what I had become, or – I concluded – what I have always been: I’m a mess.

I felt bad about missing the chance to spend more time with my fellow publishers in the earlier part of the day, stupid for not realising I was on the panel, sorry for turning up late to the panel, pleased that (once I’d slithered into my seat on the panel) I’d spoken about the Emma Press for a reasonable length of time instead of wrapping it up as quickly as possible, and touched that several of the other publishers said nice things about me and spoke to me afterwards. But eventually, through this familiar mix of pleasure and shame, I felt strangely – selfishly – elated.

I try to be a good feminist. I believe that feminism continues to be necessary and that people should be allowed to define their own feminism. The Emma Press was founded on feminist principles and I want it to be successful so that there’s another woman at the head of a major-league publisher. On a personal level, I want to be successful so that I can be a role model, and not just for other women.

But I also know I’m not a good feminist. I feel like I’m constantly shuttling between bits of advice I’ve internalised about how to succeed, and I have a hunch that most of these nuggets are sexist. Be the most professional, the most polished, the most "presentable" (pace Private Eye), because you’re battling against millennia of bad PR against women. Don’t self-deprecate, because people might believe you. Don’t use filler words or apologise too much. Be more like a man: ask for a pay-rise and don’t worry about talking for too long in a meeting. Be your own true womanly self, whatever that means.

Emma Wright (photo © Tony Grant)
I also try to be a good representative of a mixed-ethnicity person, but I know I’m failing at that too because so far I’ve not mentioned or talked about it publicly at all. My ethnicity is such that I don’t know what to call myself (White-Asian? British-Chinese? English-Vietnamese? British-Chinese/Vietnamese?), which makes me wonder about the concept of ethnicity, which in turn makes me very uneasy about discussing it in case I say something wrong. But I know from personal experience that role models from different backgrounds make a difference, so I’ve tried to start stepping up, not just by publishing an anthology of poems about home and belonging but also by placing myself at the front of the Emma Press even though I don’t like people looking at me and even as I have another hunch about the advice I’ve internalised on this front – be visible, be successful, be inspirational. Why?

With all these allegiances – which I freely admit I have taken upon myself and so far no-one has tried to shame me about – I feel like I am always on my best behaviour in public, presenting my best self in the hopes of being a credit to whomsoever needs me as an ally. I try to be good because I want to be good, but yesterday, when I was a mess in Nottingham, I felt a sense of relief. I didn’t feel like anyone would want to claim me for their cause, me tumbling through the day in two statement necklaces and a bodycon dress stretched over a thermal vest, armed with diminishing levels of sobriety and escalating levels of weird social energy. I was a credit to no-one and I was letting no-one down except myself, and that felt good. I’m going to think a bit more about that.

* * *

Further reading:
* Poem in which my better self is an eternal debutante, by Rachel Piercey
* Homesickness and Exile: Poems about Longing and Belonging (Emma Press, 2014).

Sunday, 21 February 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'You are going back'

Dear readers,

This coming Thursday sees the release of Mr Jolly, the first collection of short stories by Michael Stewart. He's authored hit novels and a slim volume of poetry in the past – all brilliant, of course – but I think short fiction is his real speciality. You may disagree ... but at least now, with the book very nearly out in the world, we can have an informed discussion on the subject.

A keen observer and chronicler of human behaviour, Michael also likes to make things a little bit weird, building most of the stories around a 'mind-bendingly original concept' (to quote my blurb), populating them with some painfully relatable characters, then throwing in the blackest of black comedy to seal the deal. Several years ago, the novelist David Peace described Michael as a 'unique, yet authentic northern voice', and he completely hit the nail on the head – unique, but completely authentic; that's all you need to know.

'Mr Jolly' refers to a particular character in the book, but could apply to most of them, so long as you use the right ironic tone. The handsome chap in this week's header image, for example, epitomises the kind of jolliness found within. He 'pops up' in one of my favourite stories from the book, 'You Are Going Back', which I've put online here to be read in its entirety.

If you've got your diary in hand, and fancy a trip to West Yorkshire, Mr Jolly is being launched at the Huddersfield Literature Festival on the 9th March; details here (Facebook event here). I'll be there with my stall, and the usual great discounts!

Talking of discounts: I owe you one, don't I. This week's half-price paperback is Sue Wilsea's Staying Afloat – our last single-author short story collection, from way back in 2012 (we must try and do more!) To borrow a tiresome Amazon-esque phrase, if you like Mr Jolly you're almost guaranteed to like Staying Afloat, so they'd make a good joint purchase. You can treat yourself to the older book at half-price by entering the code 50FLOAT at the checkout.

This week's newsletter has been a bit sales-heavy, hasn't it – sorry about that! I'm going to run out of news and new books at some point, so if there are any subjects you'd like me to discuss here in future (or any questions you want to ask?) please do drop me a line and let me know.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 14 February 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'History' in the making

Dear readers,

This week we brought a new book into the world, our first since November. History is the debut collection by Northumberland-​based poet David O'Hanlon; the first product of our two submissions periods last year. The volunteers were all over this one on the July 'reading day'; words like wow and fantastic adorned the envelope by 5pm, and it was unanimously agreed to be a 'must' for the 2016 list.

So what's it about, and why all the fuss? Half the book is actually a re-telling of ancient myths (including my favourite, 'Danaus', which you can read here.) What David has done with these familiar stories is astonishing – he's pulled out the crucial elements from each, found a completely original way of reading them, and delivered this to us in poetry that is perfectly constructed, down to each individual comma. I don't say this lightly, but in my view, that part of the book is an achievement to rival Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife.

The other poems are mostly studies of personal history, including an epic 'bildungsroman' describing a twelve-year struggle to paint an authentic picture of the sky – that's where the concept for the cover came from (it's pictured above, if you haven't seen it). These poems have plenty of their own myths, too; it all ties together beautifully. Suffice to say, I really think this book is worth reading; you can find it on our website here.

In other news, if you want your Valentine's fix, you could do a lot worse than read this wonderful article about modern love poetry by The Telegraph, featuring such charming folk as The Emma Press, Andrew McMillan and Warsan Shire. Better still, there's a new love poem by Richard O'Brien on the Emma/Valley blog, here – it's fantastic.

Richard's new poem (particularly the last line) reminded me of this classic by Matthew Hedley Stoppard; so I've decided to make Matthew's collection A Family Behind Glass our half-priced paperback of the week. You can find the book here; just enter the code FAMILY50 at the checkout to get the discount.

This is the fourth newsletter since I went weekly – hope you're all enjoying them so far! See you next week for more (and maybe a submissions update?)

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Lemman, a love poem by Richard O'Brien

Happy Valentine's Day! We recently reprinted The Emmores, Richard O'Brien's pamphlet of love poems from 2013. The new edition (available exclusively on the Emma Press website) includes a new poem at the end, written a couple of years after the other poems in the book. We don't want the people who bought the first edition to miss out, so here it is:


Lover, slumberjack, roll over in
your clown pyjamas, wonder if
it’s really all from here true comfort comes – 
from ticket stubs and hotel breakfast deals,
and cooking meals together. Chop for you,
and save what’s left the way you ask me to, 
and stock the fridge for you with juice, lemon
parfait, two kinds of cheese with unfamiliar names,
salmon for bagels. Share a single plate. 
The little rituals I assimilate,
like washing rice, wearing more red
and sleeping on just one side of the bed 
(though sometimes, your first night away,
on yours.) So find me in the kitchen
where I’ll kiss your neck and whisper 
in your ear how I like the way you
dislike things more than I like
the way most people like the things they like, 
and feel like this could be the future,
leaning lightly on your shoulder, cracking jokes
about your thermal-stockinged legs. 
I can’t believe the way you poach those eggs.

The Emmores, by Richard O'Brien
* * *
The Emmores, by Richard O'Brien
Illustrated by Emma Wright
ISBN 978 0 9574596 4 9
£5, available to buy from the Emma Press website

Sunday, 7 February 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'a new website is born'

Dear readers,

This week we've been finishing and launching our new website, which went live sometime early this morning – you can see it now, in all its cutting-edge glory, right here.

So far only a small handful of people have witnessed and used the new site, so I'd very much welcome any feedback, particularly if you run into errors. We'll be tweaking and fine-tuning it as we go along ... probably forever, in fact, as nothing stays still for long in the world of the internet. But it's here, at last, and I'm very excited indeed (though I appreciate it may not be quite as thrilling for you!)

To celebrate the launch, I'd like to jump straight on the Valentine's bandwagon and offer two of our love-related titles at half price: Sarah Holt's post-modern take on romantic fiction Love and Eskimo Snow, and Michael Stewart's fantastic high-concept poetry collection Couples. Click the links to find out more about each book.

You can get either, or both, of those in paperback at a massive 50% discount by entering this code when you reach the checkout: LOVEVP. This is the very first time we've done one of these codes, so it may not work flawlessly – but if you run into any problems, drop me a return email and I'll sort it.

I must take a moment to thank our web design agency, Askew Brook, who've given the 'new website' project an enormous amount of time, energy and passion over the last few months. They're actually based in Woodend, like ourselves and many other great businesses, so its great to be able to support that little ecosystem. Oh, and of course, big thanks to Arts Council England for funding the whole project.

Next week we'll be getting back to the serious business of publishing, with our first new publication of 2016; so there's something to look forward to!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher