Friday, 20 October 2017

This week at Valley Press, #77: 'Filey via New Zealand'

Dear readers,

A new poetry book has arrived at VP HQ, and though we've had dozens of similar arrivals over the years, the moment never loses its excitement. (When it does, it's probably time to pack all this in!) The new book is Gifts the Mole Gave Me by Wendy Pratt, who becomes one of our most local writers, based in our neighbouring coastal town of Filey.

It's worth saying though, despite us already knowing Wendy and her work, her collection rose to the top of our 600-ish 2016 submissions fair and square – there was no leaning on the scales of subs justice, this genuinely was one of the very best poetry books we were sent last year. The local connection just meant she could join me in the office for such important tasks as typesetting and cover design; it was a nice change to work 'up close and personal' with an author on those crucial parts of the process.

I won't share a poem just yet, as I've got a lot to tell you today, but Wendy has asked that I enclose a few blurb highlights: such as Carole Bromley saying: 'A sureness of touch, a startling image, and an ability to move the reader mark this Yorkshire poet as something very special indeed’, with Deborah Alma adding: 'These poems are the wonderful work of a poet in full control of her art and craft; they are beautiful, musical, understated and unexpected.' And of course, they're right.

We'll piece together a launch for Wendy before the end of the year, but in the meantime you can see her (and Oz Hardwick) at the legendary "Word Club", on Friday 27th from 7.30pm at The Chemic Tavern, Leeds; will be a great night out.

* * *

Speaking of great nights out, I need to flag up our next book today as well: and brace yourselves, it's a surprising addition to the catalogue. I Was Britpopped is the first and last word as far as that titular musical movement is concerned; it's an A-Z, a comprehensive guide to everyone and everything involved, with more than 500 entries covering everything from Albarn to Zeitgeist.

Originally self-published by the two authors, we took the rights early this year and have since given it a complete overhaul, with Jo Haywood doing approximately two million hours of work ensuring every word was perfect. It's got infographics too; I know how much you all love those. I'm looking forward to showing it off in the next couple of months.

This isn't quite the random deviation from our list that it seems; I'd already signed one book on music history by the time Britpopped came to my attention, and am working on more – music-related titles are set to be a significant part of Valley Press going forward. Someone had to go first!

The book's authors, Jenny and Tom, have graciously agreed to do a couple of events to launch the book; I say graciously because Tom lives in New Zealand (making him our most distant author), and is coming over especially for the launches. You can meet them at Waterstones Leeds on Thursday 2nd November, from 6.30pm, or in London the following day at Waterstones Camden (details here), which I'm told is pretty much the centre of the Britpop universe. Thanks to Waterstones too, for having us at short notice.

* * *
Having followed through on our promise a few weeks ago, I'm pleased to report a pilot episode of the Emma Press/Valley Press podcast is now available. The series will be titled 'The Friday Morning Meeting', named after the phone conversation that myself and Emma have been holding every Friday morning (when practical) for about four years now. You can listen here, if your ears aren't doing anything in particular for the next 24 minutes.

The calls are typically quite lively, as we discuss the ups and downs of the small press lifestyle with our characteristic frankness; however, this first one isn't quite so spicy, as we are finding our podcasting feet, figuring out the format and so on, but we have had some positive feedback so far. Do let us know what you think, and forward any questions you'd like answered in a future edition. (We're thinking new episodes will be coming fortnightly.)

* * *

Thanks to everyone who emailed me about the subs issue discussed in last week's newsletter; I will reply at some point (horribly behind with emails again!) I might even put together some anonymous highlights from the correspondence for a future newsletter, when a quiet week inevitably rolls around.

For the moment, you can stop worrying about the rights and wrongs of submissions procedures, as our subs are now closed for the rest of the year. Tess and two glamorous assistants will be combing through the 200 outstanding manuscripts tomorrow – assuming she's not too worn out, of course, from the swanky awards 'do' that four of the VP team are attending tonight. (The Yorkshire Coast Chamber of Commerce Awards, if you're wondering; we're up for 'Arts/Culture Business of 2017'.)

That's in a couple of hours' time, actually – Mrs McGarry is stood in the doorway tapping her watch, so I'd best go and get my tux on. Look out for the result next week!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Meet the Emma Press editors: Rachel Piercey

The Emma Press is introducing a new element to pamphlet submissions: authors get to choose the editor they would like to read their submission in the first round. This doesn't mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best.

We've put together profiles of all four Emma Press editors, to help you decide which editor might look most favourably on your manuscript. We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don't agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it's good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.

* * *

Hello, I’m... Rachel Piercey.

Mandatory editor selfie
in front of bookcase
Here's a bit about what I’m hoping to find: Samuel Johnson said the aim of writing was to enable readers ‘better to enjoy life, or better to endure it’. I’m hoping to find poems and pamphlets which manage both, which navigate between consolation and transcendence. I’m also keen to find poems which pay close attention to their network of sounds. I’d love to discover some new writing for children, too – something well-crafted, engaging and empowering.

Three of my favourite books are... God Loves You by Kathryn Maris, Public Dream by Frances Leviston and High Windows by Philip Larkin.

I wish I’d published... White Hills by Chloe Stopa-Hunt. I love these mythic, mysterious, profound poems. Stopa-Hunt’s voice is contemporary, direct and urgent whilst drawing on archaic language and sentence structure. It’s a mesmerising combination, and gives White Hills a timeless quality.

I wish I’d written... Falling Awake by Alice Oswald. I am currently musing on how to write about nature myself. The poems are almost painfully emotive, without being sentimental, or using nature as a translucent metaphor to talk about human experience. Oswald has found the language to make nature fully present.

I’ve got a soft spot for... poems about joy. And half-rhyme.

I’m less keen on... poems that set up and explore a conceit but don’t take it any further.

Recently I edited... a whole range of wonderful pamphlets! Rakhshan Rizwan’s vivid, impassioned debut Paisley; Julia Bird’s warm and filmic semi-biographical, semi-autobiographical Now You Can Look; and Simon Turner’s dashing arrangement of experimental riffs, Birmingham Jazz Incarnation. I like a collection to have fire in its belly, whatever the source of that flame.

My advice to anyone thinking of submitting is... to think carefully about ordering your selection. Look at it as a journey – what experience do you want the reader to have? And on the practical side, don’t underestimate the power of a clean and readable presentation!

* * *

This round of pamphlet submissions ends on 10th December 2017. See the Emma Press website for guidelines.

Meet the Emma Press editors: Emma Wright

The Emma Press is introducing a new element to pamphlet submissions: authors get to choose the editor they would like to read their submission in the first round. This doesn't mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best.

We've put together profiles of all four Emma Press editors, to help you decide which editor might look most favourably on your manuscript. We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don't agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it's good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.

* * *

Hello, I’m... Emma Wright.

Mandatory editor selfie
in front of bookcase
I'm hoping to find... deft, crisp writing that charms and delights. Prose and poems where I lose all sense of time while I’m reading them and then feel like I’m floating when I’ve read the final line. I’ll be focusing on the prose pamphlets, and I hope to find some cracking short stories, essays, novellas, and who knows what else. I'll also be looking out for poetry that is wild, angry and full of colours and rich imagery.

Three of my favourite books are... I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Stranded at the Drive-In by Garry Mullholland and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

I wish I'd published... The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits.

I wish I'd written... All but a Few by Joan Aiken.

I've got a soft spot for... dabs of humour in most kinds of writing. Writing that screams ‘THIS IS SERIOUS TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT AND SAD’ the whole way through makes me want to blow raspberries.

I'm a stickler for... prose that scans well. I want my authors to be in command of the rhythms of their sentences, using the beats and stresses to communicate with the reader just as much as the choices of words.

Recently I edited... Leanne Radojkovich’s cool, twisty fairytales in First fox, Jan Carson’s warm, lightly surreal Postcard Stories, and Daina Tabūna’s alarmingly honest coming-of-age stories in The Secret Box (translated by Jayde Will).

My advice to anyone thinking of submitting is... Think about what your pamphlet will bring to the readers’ lives. Sometimes writers are advised to write for themselves and no one else, but when you’re at the stage of sending out a manuscript it’s probably helpful to put yourself in the editor’s shoes and think about what will make them decide to devote months towards bringing your manuscript into print. At the Emma Press, it’s most likely to be because the editor believes your book will bring comfort and/or joy to the reader. Also, if you're nervous about submitting, go for it! Other people have books – why shouldn't you?

* * *

This round of pamphlet submissions ends on 10th December 2017. See the Emma Press website for guidelines.

Meet the Emma Press editors: Yen-Yen Lu

The Emma Press is introducing a new element to pamphlet submissions: authors get to choose the editor they would like to read their submission in the first round. This doesn't mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best.

We've put together profiles of all four Emma Press editors, to help you decide which editor might look most favourably on your manuscript. We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don't agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it's good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.

* * *

Hello, I'm... Yen-Yen Lu.

Mandatory editor selfie
in front of bookcase
I'm hoping to find... honest, earthy, and diverse writing. I’m interested in young adult, coming-of-age stories, particularly ones that break traditions and subvert tropes and stereotypes.

Three of my favourite books are... Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo.

I wish I'd published... The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I was completely in awe the first time I read it. She wrote fearlessly about a very difficult subject matter (police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement), and told an authentic and impactful story which still ended on a somewhat hopeful note.

I wish I'd written... Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne. The way she integrated the protagonist’s anxious OCD thoughts into the text was very simple but creative and I love how her characters in this series were so unapologetically flawed.

I've got a soft spot for... stories about friendship! It feels as though they are still undervalued in literature or written as secondary to stories about family or romantic love and it would be nice to see more of them.

I'm less keen on... clichés.

My advice to anyone thinking of submitting is... Ask yourself: 'What did it cost to write this?' This was something that my creative writing lecturer would say to me and I found it useful to think about when trying to write something authentic or personal.

* * *

This round of pamphlet submissions ends on 10th December 2017. See the Emma Press website for guidelines.

Meet the Emma Press editors: Richard O'Brien

The Emma Press is introducing a new element to pamphlet submissions: authors get to choose the editor they would like to read their submission in the first round. This doesn't mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best.

We've put together profiles of all four Emma Press editors, to help you decide which editor might look most favourably on your manuscript. We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don't agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it's good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.

* * *

Hello, I'm... Richard O'Brien.

Mandatory editor selfie
in front of bookcase
I’m hoping to find... poems that take something familiar and make it something new, whether that means bringing contemporary life to a traditional form or using precise, unusual language to help the reader see an object, an experience, through new eyes. Above all, I want poems that care about communicating with a reader. I’d also be interested in building our list in the essay and creative non-fiction genres.

Three of my favourite books are... My answer to this question changes every day. When I first got into poetry, the writers I was most drawn to were Philip Larkin, John Donne and Frank O’Hara. But most of what I’ve been reading in the past few years has been a concerted effort to engage with a greater range of voices and perspectives, and I’d especially welcome submissions by authors from less well-represented groups.

I wish I’d written... In the last year or so, poetry-wise, Jason Koo’s America’s Favourite Poem (I love its swagger, and its easy familiarity with a variety of styles and traditions), and what I’ve read online by Hera Lindsay Bird – I don’t know how she does it, and I don’t think I ever could. On the prose front, I wish I could write like Leslie Jamison, or James Baldwin, or Jon Mooallem.

I wish I'd published... Jacqueline Saphra is one of our authors already, but her crown of sonnets for the photographer Lee Miller is exactly the kind of project I wish I'd worked on.

I’ve got a soft spot for... riffs on history and classic texts, forms and characters – particularly when the author uses these to explore contemporary concerns and power dynamics. Poems, with or without formal constraints, where the author actually seems to be having a good time with the voice and medium.

I’m less keen on... writing that’s complacent about its place in the world, about who will read it, about things as they are being allowed to go on more or less unchanged; but I’m not a fan of much poetry which is purely and exclusively political sloganeering, either. There are many poems I enjoy where conventional meaning-making doesn’t seem to be a primary concern – but I’m very unlikely to pick that kind of writing out of the slush pile.

Recently I edited... an anthology of poems about Birmingham, alongside Emma. I loved the range of entries we received, and the process of picking out entries which showed that breadth of approaches to the city when we came to put the whole book together. My next project is a children’s anthology about dinosaurs!

My advice to anyone thinking of submitting is... read the kinds of things we do. The Emma Press exists for a reason, and picks up work that resonates with contemporary readers in niches other publishers have neglected. It’s also worth really considering the specifics of the pamphlet form, rather than seeing it as a stepping stone to longer work.

* * *

This round of pamphlet submissions ends on 10th December 2017. See the Emma Press website for guidelines.

Friday, 13 October 2017

This week at Valley Press, #76: 'Subs talk'

Dear readers,

We need to talk about submissions! (Cue collective *gulp* from prospective authors.) It's okay folks, don't fret; normal service will soon be resumed... it'll just take a few paragraphs.

Our current process, described here, has been open for about six months now, and we're starting to become victims of our own success. Tess, our Submissions Coordinator (who is currently away for her birthday) told me she has 200 unread manuscripts sitting on her computer; if we're going to give them all a fair 20/30 mins consideration, that is going to take a serious amount of time.

So I'm assigning her a couple of assistants, for a start, and I'm also pausing new submissions, effective this coming Thursday (19th October, probably at 5pm). They'll re-open in the new year, and I'll almost certainly tweak the format a bit. I can never resist a little experimentation... but the goals stay the same: happy submitters, happy staff, and lots of great books on the schedule.

The current process has required aspiring authors to buy a book before they submit, which has been a little controversial at times; if that comes as a surprise, check out this recent Facebook thread (particularly the comments; I felt I was eavesdropping on my own funeral at one point). I am considering dropping this rule in 2018, particularly if our next Arts Council bid comes through, but what do you lot think? Do you think we're missing out on any great work by impoverished authors, who can't stretch to the cheapest book? (That's not a joke; I've been there, as I'm sure many of you have at one time or another.)

Something to ponder on, anyway. I'll have plenty of time for that tomorrow, as I head to Ilkley for Daljit Nagra's 'Chapbook Battle', set to include our newest author Caroline Hardaker – and, in spirit, as many of the other Valley Press pamphlet writers as we can squeeze into each round.

Next week is the week of the mole, and then we've got all other kinds of excitement coming for you before the end of the year. Stay tuned!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

"What does a dinosaur's roar sound like?" Editor Richard O'Brien on dinosaur poems and submissions

When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be a palaeontologist. I read magazines about dinosaurs at my grandma’s house, spelling out their complicated names over her shoulder; I went to the Natural History Museum and gawped up at its cast diplodocus; I went to dinosaur-themed ‘safari’ parks in faded coastal towns, and at one point wrote a letter earnestly expressing my theories about the great extinction to Tony Robinson, who doubtless wondered what on earth he had to do with it but nonetheless, as I remember, took the trouble to send a brief encouraging reply.

I am not a scientific person. People in my life regularly comment on my shockingly vague understanding of the processes of the physical world. But as a kid, I loved dinosaurs: creatures who existed, or still exist, in a heady hinterland between science and myth. Twenty years on, my nephew loves them just as much as I did. He won’t be the last child whose imagination is fired by the idea of these enormous beasts, lumbering across a fern-filled landscape, alternately tearing chunks off each other and superintending busy level crossings. And though I myself am no longer wholly confident at telling the difference between a T Rex and an Albertosaurus, the names and the feeling associated with them have stuck with me much longer than my other main primordial obsession: models of tractor.

Like many childhood fascinations, dino-mania is kept alive by cultural production, from Dinotopia to The Land That Time Forgot. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say kids — and the adults who write for them — are drawn to that blend of the knowable and unknowable. Unlike human history, paleontology leaves no written traces: it’s up to our creative minds to put flesh, and scales, on the bones. And that leaves room for balsa-wood model-building, wilful anthropomorphism, and for play. What does a dinosaur’s roar sound like? I didn’t know, but I gave it my best shot!

Now, as an adult, my feathered proto-avian reptiles have come home to roost: I’m editing an anthology about dinosaurs for the Emma Press. The last book I edited, an anthology of poems about Birmingham, was concerned with giving a composite portrait of the city. There’s not much linking the subjects, other than the fact that for many London-centric journalists who’ve never been here it might as well be Isla Nublar. But what I found in that project was that most of the poems that really captured my attention started from an obvious love and engagement with their subject, but carried that over in a careful control of their material. It’s easy to pour out ideas, to splurge, but it rarely pays to overlook the small things. That’s how you end up with gender-flipping frog genes, and before you know it the island is over-run, you fools!

When writing for children, that sense of control is also extremely important. I remember viscerally hating the feeling of being patronised as a kid, so that’s not to say that poems have to talk down, or babify their subjects. It is, however, a hard ask to retain the attention of somebody discovering the whole variety of the world for the first time, and I’m looking for poems that speak clearly, that don’t dissolve into cerebral abstraction — that see keeping a child’s interest as a responsibility and a joy. 

I’d also love to see poems that do interesting things with the sounds of language — that remember, in their own DNA, how it felt as a kid to try to parse a word like ‘parasaurolophus’ for the first time. I want poems that explore the intellectual pleasure of science, and poems that just want to share the pure feeling that raptors are awesome. And finally, I want poems that share the thrill of the encounter: what it feels like when dinosaurs, as a concept and as a physical presence, first arrive in a child’s life, and the only question on their lips — the only question there is ­— is ‘Do you think he saw us?’

* * *

The call for dinosaur poems ends on Sunday 29th October. Read all the submission guidelines here.

Friday, 6 October 2017

This week at Valley Press, #75: 'Year Ten'

Dear readers,

Valley Press is now nine years old; October is the start of our tenth year of publishing in Scarborough. When I registered with the Nielsen ISBN agency as an 'official' publisher (on a paper form!), I had to say when my first books were coming out: I just put 'October 2008', which they then noted in their system as 1st October 2008. I can't remember if I had the books by then or not, but that's the only confirmed date I've got from that era – so that's our official birthday.

The first two books were out of print by the end of that year; good luck finding them anywhere now! They were both written by me, a novel from my late teens and a collection of semi-respectable poems. I went on to self-publish two more books of poetry under the Valley Press name, but realised when going 'professional' in 2011 that it might be a bit of a faux pas have myself on the roster... so those early books were swiftly dropped. Tenebrae, by Nigel Gerrans, is the earliest VP title still for sale; that dates from October 2009.

Since going into publishing full-time, I haven't written a single word of 'creative writing', though my book about snails was resurrected (pun intended) by The Emma Press in 2014. There's some news on that front, however; I've decided to celebrate VP's tenth birthday (next October) by writing a company memoir, and have made a decent start already. So far it reads like a really long, rambling, nostalgic newsletter – if you've enjoyed these last three paragraphs, you'll like that book when it appears. Watch this space.

While we're looking back (and speaking of The Emma Press), here's a great photo of myself and Emma from last week's 'Free Verse' Poetry Book Fair:

We have done a lot of book stalls together over the years; so being in a nostalgic mood, I searched my computer just now to find a classic snap with a similar pose. This is the closest I could get, from a time when Emma only had two books of her own; hard to believe when you see what her stall looks like now! (Also hard to believe: I used to wear a suit to book fairs?)

That's from mid-2013, judging by the books on display. The latest plan for Emma/Valley harmony, adding to our ongoing joint blog, is for us to host a fortnightly podcast discussing 'how to make books, a living, and a difference' – it's still in the early stages, but I find announcing plans publicly makes them more likely to happen. (That's also why I mentioned the book I'm writing, above.) Again, look out for that!

One genre of writing I didn't abandon was the 'informative article', and I've done another one this week, with advice for aspiring small press publishers on how to price and discount their books. If you'd rather just read books, and not see how the sausages are made, you might like to give it a miss – but otherwise, you can find it here.

One final bit of entertainment for you this week: John Wedgwood Clarke appeared on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday, discussing his latest poetry collection Landfill. You can listen on iPlayer here if you missed it on the day; jump to 1 hour 41 minutes (and 40 seconds) in to catch the exact start. It's another great opportunity to hear the thinking behind Landfill; they even get the boss of our local tip on the phone, to get his view on John's year spent visiting and observing the mechanisms of waste.

I'm not going to lie to you: it's still a thrill to hear one of our books discussed on Radio 4 (for the third time, that I know of). If you'd told me back in 2008, when I filled in my ISBN registration form, that a hundred books would follow – and the 101st would get discussed on Today, just after the papers – I'd have thought you were absolutely bonkers. But here we are! Thanks for reading, as ever, and I'll see you next week.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 29 September 2017

This week at Valley Press, #74: 'Strong language'

Dear readers,

As you can see above (if you squint), Valley Press is safely ensconced at the BBC's 'Contains Strong Language' festival, currently running all over the city of Hull. The lovely ladies from Inpress will be manning the stall today (Friday) and tomorrow, then I'll be dropping back in on Sunday to enjoy a bit more of the heady literary atmosphere.

Meanwhile, you may be wondering what to do with your Saturday, so let me offer a suggested itinerary: start the day in London at the Poetry Book Fair, listening to our Yorkshire Anthology poets (11.30am). Then whizz up to York for Oz Hardwick's launch (2.30pm), which promises to include a slideshow; then hop in your helicopter to catch John Wedgwood Clarke in Hull (4pm). After that, since you're in Hull, you may as well visit the VP stall, and enjoy some of the other BBC festivities!

Someone asked me how long the CSL festival was on for; I replied: 'four days... no wait, a fortnight...' and then just looked confused for a few seconds. Turns out both were right; there's one four-day festival and another straight after. There's also the Turner Prize shortlistees to see while you're there. If you ever think you might visit Hull, this is the time.

However, if you don't like travelling (I quite sympathise), we've got some spoken-word poetry for you right here, right now. I had an email from Helen Burke a couple of weeks ago: 'Am doing a new CD of poems with musician Grammy nominee friend Kevin Keough. Will forward you a couple of the spoken poems, wonder if we might refer to em in next newsletter! Might be handy.'

They are really brilliant actually, a whole new avenue for our pal Helen. You can listen by following these three links: 'Moon Landing' (a brand new poem), 'Moments' (from the Collected, page 227), and then the rather dramatic 'Road Poem / Hustle', two uncollected poems which started life separately, then were combined a few years ago.

Hope you enjoy those, and let me end by wishing everyone involved with this weekend's events the best of luck. I'll see you back here next week, when I'm hoping peace and quiet will have once more descended on the literary world...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 22 September 2017

This week at Valley Press, #73: 'Them bones'

Dear readers,

This week I'm pleased to introduce you to a new face: Caroline Hardaker with her debut pamphlet Bone Ovation. Caroline submitted during our now-infamous 2016 submissions period, the one with the 20,000 leaflets that asked 'have you got a book in you?' She had, it turns out, and her book is the first of those 600 submissions to make it onto bookshelves. All three October publications are from that enormous pile, with a half-dozen more coming in 2018. (November's publications are special cases, more about them in due course).

Without any particular hooks or publicity angles to speak of, and as the work of a 'new' author, Bone Ovation soared to the top of the pile purely on the strength of Caroline's poetry. I won't say any more about it (for fear of over-doing expectations!) but I will let you see a couple of poems. Here goes:

The Rains

Each raindrop contains a soul
I’m told, and sleet is nought
but the urgent need of the dead to meet
their loved ones once more in the mortal world.
To stroke their skin, to leave a living trace;
a tear drop – a thin, translucent meridian.

My grandmother never used an umbrella
and would tip back her head and eat the rain.
She said it made her feel alive again.

The Woman is Like the Picasso

You’ll not know her, she looks to the side
all eyes
a spectrum of illicit shades
hair all quantum in sharp directions
but swooning around the face
a moon, in carven perfection,
radiating with flowering action
and reaction
a myriad of connections between
the dazzling colours she’s made.

See that fierce pride under bashful eyes?

Even Picasso couldn’t capture it.
He tried
through abstract and dreams
to channel by subconscious
a force too violent
a face too vibrant to lay down
and his mind filled with it
and fell
warped flat.
Her form so potent for creation
it was like painting the rain in clouds,
lightning waiting.

She is facing away, but she is looking.

Though not officially published until 5th October, we're selling Bone Ovation now – copies are here, we figured we may as well! It's already a fairly reasonable £6.99, and remember that newsletter subscribers get 10% off all our books forever; you lucky souls. If you'd like to read a few more poems (including a great one about feet), head here.

Now then: this coming week is a busy one, so you may want to get your diaries out. You'll remember that if you're in York on Saturday 30th, there's an Oz Hardwick launch event and in Hull there's John Wedgwood Clarke. Also in Hull that day (Thursday to Sunday in fact), Valley Press is taking part in a book fair organised by the BBC as part of their 'Contains Strong Language' festival. It's in Hull College, in the Horncastle Building. Myself and Jo Haywood are hoping to be there on Thursday, and I'll likely be back on Sunday if it's as exciting as I expect – but VP books will be there for the four days.

Also on Saturday 30th, this time in London, we'll be at the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair. I'll be manning the stall most of the day, except for a lunch break; and between 11.30 and 12, when seven of our Yorkshire Anthology poets will be sharing their poems with a packed audience in the Brockway Room. Do pop and see that if you're going to the PBF, and of course, come for a chat with me and Emma at our shared table.

Adding some extra excitement to the week (which is clearly needed), Thursday 28th is National Poetry Day, which means there'll be some kind of poetry event near you, for certain. NPD have taken our Yorkshire Anthology under their wing this year, listing it as an official recommendation (see their write-up here). Which was nice of them!

Finally, you can now see John Wedgwood Clarke's BBC programme Through the Lens of Larkin on iPlayer here; yet another way for you to celebrate poetry this week. If you're reading this as someone who doesn't like poetry (I hear such people do exist), I'd first say: give it a chance? And second, don't give up on us ... we have a mammoth non-fiction book coming before the year is out, and all kinds of novels next year. There's always another book around the corner at Valley Press!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 15 September 2017

This week at Valley Press, #72: 'Ghosts and Mirrors'

Dear readers,

This coming week sees another familiar face back with a new collection: Oz Hardwick and The House of Ghosts and Mirrors. The cover art, partially pictured above, is a photo of the exact spot where Oz was born, which should give you a clue about to what to expect from the new book – we're looking backwards only to find ourselves, figures from generations past, and a touch of both the infinite and the domestic. (And there's a few darkly funny bits, he's only human!)

Here's the opening poem, which asks a few questions that may linger, unanswered, within your mind for some time: (you have been warned)

The Pros and Cons of Immortality

Is it really so bad to begin with an ending?

Here I am, queueing for dreams
in a new world that hardens around me
like a scab on the wound of growing apart
from where I belong, what I know.

So, I ask again, is it really so bad
to be here, where walls crumble,
where your solitary love
is long gone and, surely, forgotten?

Because from here – half a century away,
and counting – even I forget
most of the time. But
that’s what hurts,
you tell me,
the long forgetting that hangs
in the air, its cold breath
dampening your sleepless face.

You forget everything
one heartbeat at a time
until you forget yourself.
But is that really so bad?

Antony Dunn says Oz's new collection is 'sad in the best way', which is a great turn of phrase (he's known for them I guess). By the way, you can now enjoy an hour in Antony's company via the video of our sixth "Literary Lunch Hour", which can be found here; we really get to the bottom of how he writes, what makes him tick, how his latest collection was assembled and many other crucial matters. I'm so glad we took the trouble to film these events; they stand as a great record of some truly magnificent writers.

Back on the subject of Oz, and speaking of events (this newsletter is a tricky one, keep up!), he is launching his new collection at York Explore on the 30th September, all details here. This is our day of being in four places at once: you'll remember John Wedgwood Clarke's book launch is also that day, and I'll tell you about the other two events in the next newsletter – you're spoiled for choice!

What's more, both those authors are leaping out from the printed page at the moment: John can be seen on TV screens shortly hosting Through the Lens of Larkin, which Yorks/Lincs residents can catch on BBC1 next Wednesday, the 20th September, at 7.30pm. The rest of you must wait until the 25th September on BBC4, also at 7.30 (and I'll share the iPlayer links here if I remember). It should be excellent, particularly if you have even the slightest interest in Philip Larkin.

Oz, meanwhile, has been working with musician Peter Byrom-Smith on an album setting some of his latest poems (also featured in the book) to music, which can be found here; one for all you opera fans I would say, and there's a great story behind it involving Oz's maternal grandfather.

You're up to date with Valley Press now, thanks as ever for sparing me some of your time. I'd like to end by saying we approve of the shortlist for this year's Booker Prize (we didn't have any eligible titles, so there's only good wishes!)  It includes a debut author from York, evidence (as if you needed any) that North Yorkshire is fast becoming the centre of the literary universe ... and Paul Auster, who after hanging out with Nora Chassler last month, is pretty much part of our gang. As are you, dear reader! It's quite the organisation we're running here...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 8 September 2017

This week at Valley Press, #71: 'Of the Dump'

Dear readers,

The video of Cath Nichols' launch event can be found here, and it's essential viewing – moving, incisive, thought-provoking (much like the book), rather like having an in-depth conversation with a friend about some important, deeply-felt social issues. We also invited Wendy Pratt, author of this forthcoming collection, to be a sort of 'warm-up act' and read a few poems at the start, so there's a bonus for you. More on Wendy next month!

Next week, this series of events comes to a close when we spend an hour in the company of Antony Dunn. Antony will be appearing at the later time of 3-4pm, but in the same location as always; the Sitwell Library at Woodend, Scarborough, a.k.a. Valley Press HQ. There will of course be more events in future (Vanessa is working on approximately four zillion ideas), but probably not in this format, so enjoy it while you can!

* * *

This coming week sees the release of a new poetry collection by John Wedgwood Clarke, his first since Ghost Pot four years ago. The title is simply Landfill, and though not all of the poems are on that subject, the majority were inspired by a residency at the local tip here in Scarborough, which we optimistically call the "Resource Recovery Centre". Here's John explaining how this period of his writing life began:

"I’d driven past Seamer Carr on the bypass and always noticed the great flock of gulls circling over its summit and the slow lorries crawling over it. The lorries were like fishing boats or tractors with the way the gulls followed behind them. So while this might seem the least wild part of our ‘natural’ landscape, I also sensed it was a place of great ecological energy, a fertile and exciting place from which to view our culture and identify our behaviour as a species. Also, if there’s a fence around a place, I want to have a look behind it."

Reading the book will give you a better idea of how the poet relates "the dump" to the larger ecological / biological issues that have long fascinated him. Hanging round the public skips, watching people dispose of their rubbish was one thing, but the biggest "coup" was to access an open landfill cell, as described below:

"That took some persuasion. I was driven up in a land rover and only allowed ten minutes on the cell itself. It fell like I’d landed on the moon of waste. I bounced along over marshy fields of nappies and chicken carcasses and plastic water bottles. They’d had to fire off rockets to clear the gulls before we could step outside, so my visit was timed to the vast flock that wheeled away on a vast arc over the A59 before making its shit-laden return: the droppings were a key part of the hazard of being on the landfill cell – that and the enormous tractors with spiked wheels twice my height that had enormous, shining, bespattered blades that spread the rubbish out like butter."

We'll bring you the full text of this interview once you've all had time to digest the actual poems. I'd like to feature one here though, and I'm going to be inexplicably awkward and share one of the few poems in the book with no direct link to the theme (but you can still draw a line in the subtext). I think this is just an extraordinary bit of work.

Know Your Place

A Northern classroom after the war
and her hand’s in the air.
She wants to try for grammar school.
Oh, the teacher smiles, put it down. 

Next day, at the front, there’s a box,
gift-wrapped, and she’s called forward.
She likes ‘nice things’
but can’t think what she’s done.

As she reaches for the gift,
the teacher grabs her wrist and squeezes.
You must open it in front of the class. 
The clock cuts one moment from the next.

Should she save the wallpaper?
The outer layer reveals a lidded box.
Heat glazes her face as the class gazes
like sunlight through a magnifier

at her fingernails. Inside, she finds
another box, string-tied, the paper
fingernail creased. She picks at the knot
as she will always pick at the knot,

her nails bitten to the quick.
There’s only another, brown paper this time,
the paper of dispatch and back office,
of shop counter and bags

of seconds, minutes, hours, clocks and klaxons –
open it, it’s yours, the teacher urges.
Inside the box is nothing, and inside nothing
another box, in which she prays.

A launch event will be held on Saturday 30th September, in Hull, details of which you can find here. There are four separate Valley Press events that day, spread all over the country, a real sign of how busy we are at the moment! I'll share details of the other events next week. Oh, and you'll be able to catch John on BBC4 soon presenting a programme about Larkin's photography – details of that will be in a future newsletter too.

* * *

Before I get back to my publishing responsibilities, two other exciting pieces of news: we've just signed our first comic book artist, Si Smith, for a "graphic novel" (or, literary comic book) in March 2018. Very excited about that project, and getting into a whole new genre.

Also, we heard this week that Valley Press is a finalist in the Chamber Bridlington and Yorkshire Coast Business Awards, the scope of which apparently includes Hull, East Yorkshire and North Yorkshire. We're up for "Arts Business of 2017"... you can't vote though, it's judged by business experts, who are coming for a visit in a week or two.

The winners are announced at a black tie gala (!) at Bridlington Spa on the 20th October – and we're all going, of course – so look out for more news on that nearer the time. It seems newsletters are going to be increasingly packed this autumn; my poor keyboard is already praying for the return of an intern or two...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 1 September 2017

This week at Valley Press, #70: 'Not a Stunt'

Dear readers,

This is Jamie – Jamie McGarry that is, "the original" – back at the helm of the newsletters to see you through what should be a busy autumn season. The start of September means the beginning of our new schedule, bringing you three new titles per month in September, October and November; and we'll need to maintain that pace going forward, to keep the now seven-strong VP team supplied with the posh biscuits that they deserve.

Our first September book is titled This Is Not a Stunt, and it's by Cath Nichols, from an original submission in May 2015. Like many poetry collections, simply listing the key themes – in this case, disability and gender identity – fails to do justice to the great swathe of human existence which is captured within the pages. Many of the joys, frustrations and monotonies of life are featured, but it was the short poem below that originally stopped my eye when reading through the 2015 manuscripts:


The pond made winter’s bed
from blackened sycamore leaves,

now green arms razzle through the waterline.

Marsh marigolds hold out their cups
shout, Look at me! Look at me,

don’t I do yellow exceptionally well?

I then saw this one, which sealed the deal:


Between the hours of two and four
our muscles slacken, heartbeats slow,
if needs we’ll slip our mortal coil
on this night tide: deep breaths, let go.

Between the hours of two and four
most people pass away if passing
in their sleep is what they’ll do.
Don’t be alarmed, this is the death

we’d all choose, asleep in bed.
The hours of two and three and four
are those when analgesics reign,
we slip with ease through that last door,

but other slippage has its place
between these hours, slip in, drift low.
Watch: this quietest ebb will even out
the balance sheet of loss, will pace

our bodies’ sighs and dreams. Balm pours
into our bones and loosens joints, so
most births take place at night
between the hours of two and four.

For those who enjoy the little extras that sometimes accompany poetry, you'll be glad to hear this collection features a lengthy poetic dedication, a notes section, and an afterword from the author (who becomes the ninth Valley Press author to appear on their own book cover; can you remember the others? If you can get all nine, there might be a prize.) You can read more about the book here, and remember to use your 10% newsletter discount if you decide to treat yourself to a copy.

In a handy coincidence, 'Stunt' author Cath Nichols is our next guest at Woodend for the 'Literary Lunch Hour'. These events were always considered something of an experiment, to be tweaked and amended as time went on... Thus the newly-branded poster below, dropping the original title and adding a prominent mention for new host Laura McGarry (something of a local celebrity). You can meet Cath and hear some poetry from 1pm next Thursday (7th), and the following week we are graced by the presence of Antony Dunn; but please note his event has moved to 3-4pm (because he's needed in Newcastle that morning for something exciting, and poetry-related, which we can't reveal until January).

If you missed the last event, with Laura chatting to Nora Chassler, it can be watched online here; they made a good double act! We're headed for the local tip in next week's newsletter (you'll see what I mean), but in the meantime, have a wonderful week, and don't ever stray too far from a decent book.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Women in Translation month with the Emma Press

It’s the final day of Women in Translation month! Founded by Israeli scientist Meytal Radzinski, this month is dedicated to female writers in translation who are, unfortunately, much rarer than male writers in translation. This is slowly starting to change and #WITmonth seems to gain more attention each year, proving that there are some fantastic titles and authors out there. Here are some top picks from the Emma Press team for titles by women in translation:

Sarah Hesketh, editor

Nic dwa razy/Nothing Twice: Selected Poems by Wisława Szymborska, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh 

“In 2004-05 I lived in Warsaw working as a TEFL teacher. For my birthday that year a group of my teenage students very sweetly clubbed together to buy me this beautiful dual language edition of Szymborska's poetry. They knew that I was interested in poetry, and they said that Szymborska was 'the best Polish poetry.'

I love the humanity of Szymborska's voice – the combination of resignation and hope that runs through the best of her poems. It's a poetry that loves to celebrate 'commonplace miracles' and she's the poet I turn to instinctively when the bad things in the world seem too much.” 

Richard O’Brien, poet and editor

Secrets to the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt, translated by Laura Watkinson 

“I picked up Tonke Dragt’s The Letter for the King on a whim a couple of years ago when thinking I should read more for children if I ever wanted to write for them, and I’m so glad I did. This is the sequel, Secrets to the Wild Wood, and both are translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson.

Both books are medieval fantasy with a rollicking plot, compelling jeopardy, and near-absurd levels of moral clarity, and the second gets bonus points for having more developed female characters. They are a refreshing blast of goodness and wholesomeness, despite featuring a number of evil men doing wicked things, and I wish there was more of this world for me to spend time in.”

Yen-Yen Lu, publicist

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell 

“For this year’s Women in Translation month, I decided to read The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, which had been on my to-read list for a while. It follows the life of a young woman who works in a thrift shop.

It’s not a story that’s particularly filled with lots of dramatic and exciting events but instead focuses on smaller details and interactions, which I loved. It made me feel nostalgic for a time and place I haven’t experienced, and also made me quite hungry for Japanese food (the book opens with a very descriptive lunch scene).”

Zosia Kuczyńska, poet 

Tutaj (Here) by Wisława Szymborska, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh 

 “On the cover of the dual language edition of Tutaj (Here), Wisława Szymborska looks as though she’s never been more at home than where she is right now, ‘At ease’– a mood in which ‘people are good’ and ‘houses are constructed in the sweat of brows,/ and quickly inhabited’. At ‘Attention!’, however, ‘people are evil’, and ‘wastelands are created’.

Unlike those poets for whom to write about place is to conjure something eternal out of a given landscape, Szymborska makes place relative to the self, destabilising both with a quick, subversive wit. More than that, it’s a way of problematising the human tendency to equate who you are with where you are: if you are here, then ‘nowhere might extinguish you’.”

Friday, 25 August 2017

This week at Valley Press, #69: 'River in the Sky'

Dear readers,

As promised I (Jamie #2) have returned to newsletter duty, and there is a lot to report.

Undeterred by the torrential downpours on Wednesday, myself and Jamie (the Two Jamies?) bravely took to the rainy streets of York, armed with just one umbrella and one coat between us, for a series of top-secret meetings. I can’t tell you the details of these meetings, but one of them included poet Robert Powell, a book that is not entirely written yet, and a boat. Exciting things are happening at Valley Press! It was also during this meeting that Robert gazed romantically out of the window and calmly proclaimed: ‘the river is in the sky’. Poets, eh?

Yesterday saw the return of the Literary Lunch Hour, and this week was a celebration of the Valley Press Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry. Presented by co-editor Oz Hardwick, 15 of Yorkshire’s finest poets descended upon Scarborough as we saw readings from – pause for breath – Patrick Lodge, Sarah Wallis, Carole Bromley, Wendy Pratt, Ian Harrow, Anne Caldwell, Mike Farren, Pauline Kirk, Jane Sharp, Robert Powell, Yvie Holder, Amina Alyal and Rob Miles. This made for an extremely talented – if slightly crowded – room, and you can watch the entire event here.

Next week’s literary lunch hour will be with Nora Chassler, fresh from the Edinburgh festival with a new, subversive book: Madame Bildungsroman’s Optimistic Worldview. In the meantime Laura McGarry will be doing a ‘live-reading’ of the book – posting excerpts of it on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag ‘#readingwithLM’. Madame Bildungsroman is full of snappy philosophical wisdoms, presented in such a way that it almost comes across as Nietzsche’s Man Alone With Himself’s younger, easier to read sibling. If this sounds like your sort of thing, why don’t you buy a copy and join in the debate (which has already sparked a good-natured Facebook argument about racism in Sherlock Holmes)?

Continuing our recent theme of having more videos than books, Kate Fox (of The Glasto Code, Jagger’s Yurt and Tour de Force, among others) was featured on Good Morning Britain today, discussing the pressure on women to have children. If you fancy a change from all of the literature videos we’ve been giving you, you can watch Kate’s debate here.

As just about the last intern at Valley Press this summer, I feel I have a duty to thank Jamie and the team for being so welcoming and helpful (and a special mention to my friends at the post office – I will miss each and every one of you). It is a testament to Valley Press that despite the pressures of being an independent publishing company they are still doing their best to give experience to people like myself. Two weeks ago I arrived as a confused southerner in a strange land. Since then I have I have seen first-hand how books are created, bored you all with my adventures and found myself charmed by the northern grace of a town (and company) that I do not want to leave.

Sadly, I must depart tomorrow. Before I sign off, though, there is one last thing…

Readers, friends of Valley Press, lovers of literature: we need your help! Our ‘readers group’ is now recruiting new members to look at submissions, via email. If you join, every week (ish) you will be sent poetry and novels that Valley Press are considering publishing – totally free of charge! All you have to do is read through them – whichever ones you choose, and totally at your leisure – and then send us your thoughts. Seems like a pretty good deal, right? I know I will be signing up as soon as I leave tomorrow. To join, just email Submissions Coordinator Tess and let her know.

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend, and rest assured that by the next newsletter the number of Jamies in the office will have returned to one.

Jamie Firby,
Valley Press Intern

Friday, 18 August 2017

This week at Valley Press, #68: 'A tale of two Jamies'

Dear readers,

I’m Jamie – the latest intern to descend upon Valley Press. As you can imagine, having the same name as the ‘boss’ causes some confusion in the office, so you can know me as ‘Other Jamie’, or ‘Jamie 2’.

This is my latest publishing adventure, following on from another internship with Penguin last month. It’s safe to say that being able to go to a picturesque beach at lunchtimes trumps rushing around the manic London tubes in a desperate attempt to make it to work on time, but I am thrilled and grateful to have been given publishing opportunities at opposite ends of the country.

Like interns before me, finding the Valley Press office on my first day was a struggle. After spending half an hour of Tuesday morning hopelessly trying to navigate myself around the sunny streets of Scarborough, I was rescued by the lovely Jo who took me up to the new office.

Since then working for Valley Press has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Discovering first-hand – and at such close quarters – how a publishing company works is a truly illuminating experience, and even just three days into my placement I have learned so much about the many different facets of an exciting business. Thanks to Jamie and Jo I have already had a go at designing a front cover, tried writing a blurb – and become on very good terms with the staff at the Scarborough post office!

Enough of my own publishing endeavours and onto the important stuff: what’s been going on at Valley Press. Yesterday was the second Literary Lunch Hour, which this week was a celebration of the poetry of Helen Burke and the recent publication of her Collected Poems. Unfortunately, the poet herself was unable to attend the event and so poems were read by our own Jamie McGarry, as well as Valley Press poets Jo Reed, Norah Hanson, VP publicist Suzannah Evans, and a wonderfully dramatic reading from Felix Hodcroft. You can watch the video of this event here.

All of this hustle and bustle with staff and poets meant the Valley Press office was busy all day, at one point turning into some sort of human version of Noah’s Ark with two Jamies, two Jos and two Suzannahs. Next week, however, is set to be even busier as the poets of the Yorkshire Anthology are coming to read their own poems from the book, which will be hosted by co-editor Oz Hardwick. What better way to spend a lunchtime?

Earlier in the week, one of our authors Nora Chassler interviewed Paul Auster at the Edinburgh International Festival in front of an estimated 1200 people! Delivered in the edgy and enigmatic style her own books are known for, Nora and Paul discuss Auster’s latest book, 4321, an 800 page existential epic which has been longlisted for the Booker Prize! Phew, heavy stuff. You can find the whole interview here (it seems we have more videos than books to show you at the moment!)

One final piece of news: this Sunday, 20th August, Daniela Nunnari will be reading her poetry throughout the day at the Ryedale Book Festival – a tree-based literary event at the Yorkshire Arboretum in York. As well as reading from her book Red Tree, she will be running a lunchtime workshop. Details of the event are available here, so why not head down to what is sure to be a day filled with tree-themed fun?

As for me, I have to go now on another trip to visit my friends at the post office. All being well, I will be back again next Friday.

Have a fantastic weekend!

Jamie Firby,
Valley Press Intern