Friday, 23 June 2017

This week at Valley Press, #60: 'Better than never'



Dear readers,

A very late blog post this week, as it's been a packed Friday – full of important meetings, complex tasks and some exciting parcels; including the flyers/posters for our 'Literary Lunch Hour' events (viewable here), the 'machine proof' for Today the Birds Will Sing, and the paperbacks of Madame Bildungsroman's Optimistic Worldview (photos below).



Speaking of that mysterious character... Madame B is set to be officially 'launched' in Edinburgh, on Friday 21st July at the Lighthouse bookshop, all details here. Attendees have been promised a chance to 'quiz' the author, hear sections of the book performed live, and enjoy jazz music performed by non other than legendary local poet Don Paterson! It should be quite a night, I can tell you. (Entry is free.)

Before that, author Nora Chassler is coming to Scarborough on Wednesday 5th July to run a flash fiction workshop; that's in the evening from 6pm at Wardle & Jones, our go-to independent bookshop. (For those still living in the real world, 'flash fiction' is a trendy phrase for 'very short stories'.) Attendees will be writing these stories with guidance from Nora, who's aiming for a supportive and relaxed mood. It's just £5 to attend (with a drink included), get in touch with W&J to book a place.

The wonderful Wardle & Jones has just turned two years old, and if you visit today (Saturday 24th) there's 40% off all books and an all-day party atmosphere! To run an independent bookshop for any amount of time requires a superhuman love of books, infinite patience with readers, and more than a little visual-merchandising magic... so you can imagine what it takes to last two years. Huge congratulations to them.

Oh, and while I've got my congratulating hat on... same goes to Richard O'Brien, who won a prestigious Eric Gregory Award this week for his as-yet-unpublished debut collection of poetry. Long-time followers will remember we published his pamphlet A Bloody Mess in 2014 (with Dead Ink, back when they were only doing ebooks). It was obvious back then that Richard was a poet destined for great things; and he's still just getting warmed up...

Richard will be a familiar face for fans of the Emma Press, and we were inspired this week by a typically feisty blog from their founder Emma Wright (read it here) about starting her business. 'It's not fair that the poorer you are the safer you have to play it,' she writes, about job prospects for our generation... no-one does hopeful defiance like Emma!

Another great blog this week came from Helen Cadbury, discussing her forthcoming Valley Press collection, as well as her origins as a poet and the 'forensic' nature of that art form (connecting it to crime writing). Read that one here.

A great blog post you won't be reading this week, despite promises last time, is the one from our 'Submissions Coordinator' Tess. I've ended up saying too much myself – and as I write this, midnight is fast approaching! I'll hope to bring you that soon; in the meantime, thanks as ever for your time reading our newsetter, it's much appreciated.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 16 June 2017

This week at Valley Press, #59: 'Forever, Now'



Dear readers,

I'd like to start today's mailout by announcing a book we're publishing in five months' time; both author and publisher are far too excited to keep it under wraps. Forever, Now will be the first collection of poetry by celebrated crime writer Helen Cadbury – you can read more about the book here (including mini-reviews by Carole Bromley, Antony Dunn and James Nash) and a sample poem can be found here.

You might think it odd that, when introducing someone's poetry, I would mention their success in a very different literary genre... but in this case it can't be avoided, such is the stir Helen has caused since starting her career in crime (so to speak). I usually find that great novelists make great poets; they bring an economy with words (counter-intuitively), strong narratives and carefully-drawn characters, and those who've read Forever, Now so far have agreed that's very much the case here.

The front cover image was taken by Helen herself (we love to get authors involved in their design), and the title comes from Emily Dickinson's quote that 'forever is comprised of nows' – though begins to mean a lot more as you progress through the poems. You'll be hearing a lot more about this book in the coming months, but for now, consider yourselves well and truly introduced.

* * *

Second piece of news: after toying with the idea of running some lunchtime events in Scarborough this summer, I've now gone ahead and booked them. They'll be happening at Woodend, 1-2pm on a Thursday afternoon for six weeks. Here's what I've got lined up:
  • on August 10th, James Nash will be sharing his classic sonnets and some brand new ones, as well as discussing nine years of Valley Press history with myself.
  • on August 17th, Helen Burke will be celebrating the release of her Collected Poems, performing highlights from forty-eight years of writing.
  • on August 24th, a selection of Yorkshire Anthology contributors will be taking a trip through that marvellous volume, led by co-editor Oz Hardwick.
  • on August 31st, Nora Chassler will be taking you on a guided tour of Madame Bildungsroman's Optimistic Worldview (and what a view it is).
  • on September 7th, Cath Nichols will be launching her new collection of poetry This is Not a Stunt (more on that in a future newsletter).
  • on September 14th ... author to be confirmed, watch this space.
I hope some of that sounds tempting. It's £5 to attend, or £4 concession, and you can book the complete series of six for £25 (or £20 concession). Tickets can only be purchased from the Woodend reception, or by calling them on 01723 384500.

In the past I've often been heard to say, somewhat snootily, 'Valley Press is not an events company', and have stuck religiously to the view that publishing a new book is a noble cause that creates an everlasting achievement... while events are fun for an evening and then they're gone. Recently I've come to realise how narrow-minded this is, which brings us to today's third piece of news: the appointment of Vanessa Simmons to the new post of 'Events Manager' at Valley Press.

Vanessa spent nine years as the Events and Communications Officer at York St John University, and handily has a BA and an MA in Literature Studies, so really knows her way around the literary world. Her key missions are 1) to arrange many more events for VP authors, and 2) to improve the quality of existing events... she has some big ideas. In our first conversation about the role, we concluded that publishing a book was like installing a streetlamp, while running an event was like letting off some fireworks; and from now on, Valley Press will be doing both.

* * *

The last thing I wanted to mention is that the increasingly infamous Madame B has now leapt from the pages of her eponymous book and made it onto Twitter. You can 'follow' her unique worldview in 140-character form here, and of course the book (and its luxury hardback twin) can be found here.

Next week: a few words from Tess, our Submissions Coordinator, on how things have been going in that department since she swept in to work her magic...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 9 June 2017

This week at Valley Press, #58: 'Madame B.'



Dear readers,

Jamie here – I'm back, nursing an election coverage hangover after staying up far too late last night. For those outside the UK (or those who get their current events fix solely from this newsletter): it was a draw, pretty much. The winners felt like they lost, the runners-up felt like they won, and the rest don't know what to think...

Once again the split of public opinion was pretty much even, reminding us that, to some extent, this is a world divided into two halves. But everyone is welcome at Valley Press; so long as you agree that the world would be a better place with a few more books in it.

* * *

Talking of which: due to an endless stream of lively newsletters, I don't think anyone has noticed that VP hasn't released a new title in the past six months. Sparks appeared in December, and Mountain Stories will be officially released in early July, along with the long-awaited Today the Birds Will Sing – meanwhile, not so much as a slim pamphlet has left these hallowed halls.

So what have we been up to? You might call it 'restructuring'. After running myself into the ground finishing our 2016 programme, working from home as a new dad, I took some time in the new year to consider the future of Valley Press... even going so far as to plan it out on the back of an A4 envelope. New systems, new approaches, a new(ish) website, a new office, and most importantly new staff were called for; the goal being to create an infrastructure that could support the publication of 30 titles each year.

With a mixture of confidence and nerves, I can report that's now in place. A quick look at the about page (right-hand column, or at the bottom if you're on your phone) will give you a brief introduction to the team now assembled at VP. I'm hoping at some point, each of them will write a newsletter introducing themselves and explaining what they do – and of course you'll be hearing from a few more interns too, during the summer.

Our new publishing schedule will start in the autumn: three new titles in September, October and November, then two quiet months, then three a month from February 2018. You'll hear about them all here; you could even be the author of one. So stay tuned!

* * *

I'd like to end this week's bulletin by announcing a third title for July 2017 (now we're back up to speed). It's the second VP publication from New-York-born, Edinburgh-based novelist Nora Chassler; her first was the unforgettable Grandmother Divided by Monkey Equals Outer Space, which William Boyd said 'broke all moulds' in a Guardian review.

He's going to need a stronger turn of phrase for this new book. Madame Bildungsroman's Optimistic Worldview is billed as a collection of ‘fragments, pensées and table-talk’, which I've translated as 'flash-fiction and micro-essays' for the sales catalogue (to give less imaginative buyers a fighting chance). The titular heroine is a full-size papier-mâché mannequin who sits at Nora's kitchen table, listening to these jumbled thoughts and very occasionally speaking back... It's a truly mind-expanding experience; but also very funny, and full of great bits of wisdom, like this:

"When we were young there were more boxes and crates with FRAGILE stickers on them; giant video cameras packed tight in grey foam, synthesizers in wooden trunks. You could sit on them on the corner or the subway platform. Am I alone in not wanting everything shrunk as small as possible? Where is everything?"

And this, an affectionate dig at my profession:

"The things publishers look for are not inside books."

The best way to get to grips with this particular book is to read it; so with that in mind, I've laid on an extract for you here. The cover design, as teased in the header image above, can be seen in full here, and is explained in the book (sort of).

A final note: I'm trying the 'limited edition hardback' idea again with this one. For twice the price of the paperback, you can have a hardback, signed and numbered by the author – tempting, I hope? There are still a few left from last time, if you're into that sort of thing, and the poetry of Antony Dunn.

That's all for this week; enjoy the extract if you find the spare 10 mins, and be kind to each other (until the next election anyway!)

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 2 June 2017

This week at Valley Press, #57: 'Moving story'



Dear readers,

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of me – I’m back! Jamie has once again trusted me (Rebecca, an intern and aspiring publisher) to deliver the happenings of this week at Valley Press; things are very busy for him at the minute and there is always another important thing to get done. Before I bring you up-to-date, I just want to say thank you for the lovely responses I received from some of you last week, after my last newsletter – it really made my day. If you want to read my latest blog post about my second week as an intern at VP, feel free to check it out here.

Today rounds up my three-week internship (I am over in Leeds for the Northern Short Story Festival tomorrow) – and I am feeling all sorts of emotions about that. I am sad to be leaving such a lovely team behind, who have made me feel so welcome and part of the VP family; I am also excited, however, to continue my journey on the road to making a career out of publishing – and this internship has really set the bar high. I cannot ever thank Jamie, Laura, Jo and Tess enough, but I can try. THANK YOU, times a million!

* * *

This week has been very exciting. We moved to our new office over the weekend – which was an eventful day, to say the least. Relying on the man-power of six people, we thought ‘how hard can this be?’ but oh, it was difficult. But, after local ceramicist Karen Thompson kindly offered us her services – and her car – we were quickly rewarding ourselves with a huge buffet style lunch, admiring the new office space (see below for the lunch, above for a blurry image of the office). We felt at home in no time, and one of the other reasons I am sad to leave is that I’ll be leaving this office behind!


A quick reminder that tomorrow (03.06.17) is the Northern Short Story Festival in Leeds. It is anticipated to be a great day; I know both Jamie and I are looking forward to it. If you still haven’t made your minds up about whether or not to come – we will have a bookstall set up, which will be a great opportunity for you to check out some of our books ‘in the flesh’, so to speak. Jamie is also appearing on a panel, What do editors look for in a short story? So, for those of you hopeful short story writers out there – here’s your chance to get all the insider info.

Helen Burke’s Today the Birds Will Sing is approaching its final stage, after 20 months of hard work. It is expected that printing will take up to three weeks, so Jamie is now advertising its delivery to be early July. I have worked a little on the book myself and I promise you, it really is worth the wait – it is so beautiful and has been crafted into something spectacular, that both Helen and VP can be proud of.

I'll leave you with three more videos to enjoy of Norah Hanson’s reading, held in Scarborough two weeks ago. You can check them out here: 'Targeted', 'Multi-tasking' and 'Too Soon It Is Over'.

Now, this really is goodbye. Thank you, again, for being patient with me whilst I temporarily took over Jamie’s job and thank you to Jamie for allowing me to take over – it has been a pleasure. Keep on reading, keep on supporting Valley Press, and have a lovely weekend.

All the best,
Rebecca Moynihan, Valley Press intern

P.S. Ken Pickles: I have since found out, after your email, that my surname is particularly popular in the counties of Cork and Kerry!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Writer's block and postcard stories: Jan Carson on her new book

We are very proud to have published two fantastic short story collections this month: First fox by Auckland author Leanne Radojkovich and Postcard Stories by Belfast author Jan Carson. There are of course stories behind all stories, and we asked Jan to tell us about hers.

* * *

By the end of 2014 my imagination was almost worn out. I’d just returned from two months in America promoting my first novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears, and researching a book about Bob Dylan. I was juggling a more than full time day job plus the onslaught of speaking engagements and interview requests which seem to come hot on the heels of a new book. I wanted to write some short stories but every time I sat down at my lap top the inclination evaporated and I’d find myself fiddling about on Facebook or simply falling asleep, (there are, it has to be said, both positive and negative aspects to being the kind of writer who likes to write in bed). I had very few ideas. This was not normal for me. I have always been blessed by an overleaping imagination. My parents, who knew me as a non-stop talker long before they knew me as a writer, aren’t quite as romantic. They call it a tendency to exaggerate wildly and take most things I say, both on the page and off, with a generous pinch of salt. Still, my imagination has served me well over the years. I’d never before been short of ideas for stories, so much as the time to actually get them written. In December 2014 I found myself, for the first time in my writing career, exhausted and without any ideas worth developing.


Jan Carson, author of Postcard Stories
Now, with hindsight, I have come to realise that this might have been a good time, to relax, rest and catch up with my creative self. But I am not very good at resting, and writing is the only way I know how to relax, and I am, (I’m finally ready to admit), a dreadful overachiever. So, instead of taking a wee break from writing I began the New Year by setting myself a ridiculous challenge. I would write a short story every day for the duration of 2015. This would force my imagination back into fifth gear. This would get me writing again. This, I quickly discovered, would feel like trying to push a particularly unwieldy elephant up a hill for 365 days straight. Thankfully, I’d limited myself to the two hundred or so words per day which I could, with cramp-inducing care, squash on to the back of a regular postcard. By January 8th I’d realised my mistake. There were still 357 days left in the year and I was already fed up forcing myself to find ideas, to develop ideas and squeeze these half-baked ideas on to tiny pieces of cardboard, but I hadn’t left myself any room to back out. I’d already recruited 365 recipients for my Postcard Stories. I’d already promised I would post stories to friends in South Africa and China, and slightly less exotic, Dundonald. If I didn’t knuckle down and write the stories, people, (including small children and very elderly ladies), would be disappointed. I couldn’t be the responsible for disappointing old people so I got writing.

By mid February the art of finding a daily story had once again become instinctual. I would listen in the line at Tesco, find myself all ears on the bus to work, eavesdrop on my colleagues and devour Radio 4 documentaries with an appetite I hardly recognized. My imagination went from first to fifth gear in a matter of weeks and by the time I’d completed the project on the 31st December – the last Postcard Story dropping into a Portrush postbox on a stormy New Year’s Eve at the North Coast – I was seeing potential stories everywhere. It is testament to the success of the experiment that I was to spend the entire first fortnight of 2016 resisting the inclination to write about all the Postcard Story prompts I kept stumbling upon as I made my way from one end of the day to the other. I closed the book on Postcard Stories, started a new novel and was grateful to have my imagination back. I never, for a minute, thought that my little postcards would have a life beyond the various fridges and mantelpieces they’d landed upon. They belonged to a season in my life which hadn’t been the easiest and I was thankful for them, but ready to move on.

However, last summer, when the Emma Press expressed an interest in publishing a collection of the Postcard Stories, and I took them out of storage to begin re-reading them in order – January through to December – I began to realise that they were more than just snapshots of a difficult year. Each one was a little anchor connecting me to a person, or family, who had had some part, however small, in shaping the stories I tell. There were postcards to my parents, my cousin in China, my old housemates from my years living in Portland, Oregon, university friends, now relocated to exotic places like South Africa and Bristol, the older people I’ve grown to know and love through my arts practice. I started to get excited about curating a little collection of these short stories. This would be a snapshot of so many of my most important people. This would be a way of giving something back to them; a small token of my gratitude for the part they’d played in shaping me. I chose my epigraph from Sam Allingham’s beautiful short story collection, The Great American Songbook, “your life so full of people, you can hardly believe it will ever end,” because this is a collection as much about the people who inspired these stories, as the stories themselves.

I am grateful to the Emma Press who immediately understood the spirit of this pamphlet, who held each little story gently and coaxed the goodness out of it, so the editing process was a joy rather than a trial. I am grateful also to the fabulous illustrator Benjamin Phillips who caught the spirit of the stories and created images which are both beautiful and very human. It is such a lovely object of a book because of all their hard work. It is such a pleasure to be able to give this back to the fifty two friends included in the pamphlet and the three hundred and thirteen others who we couldn’t quite squeeze in, but are nonetheless important, for having helped me remember why I began to write stories in the first place.

Postcard Stories

ISBN 978-1-910139-68-4 / RRP £6.50
Publication date: 16th May 2017
Pages: 80 / Stories: 52 / Illustrations: 6
READ MORE / BUY NOW