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:

Chiaroscuro

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:

Fathom

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