Friday, 22 December 2017

This week at Valley Press, #86: 'Our 2017'

Dear readers,

It's that time of year when we can easily find ourselves looking backwards... 'another journey round the sun, and what have I achieved?' is the phrase spoken on many a wintry, late December street corner. So I suppose we may as well embrace it fully, with a brief run through everything that's happened at Valley Press this year, in case you missed any highlights (and then we'll end by looking forwards, another fine tradition).

I was astonished to find, flicking back twelve months, that in December 2016 I was the only employee of Valley Press; a 'sole trader' in every sense. I was more or less on paternity leave too; just keeping things ticking over. Then, after my traditional end-of-year pondering (which also led to me first going into full-time publishing in January 2011), I emerged into 2017 set on starting 'Valley Press Ltd.' and staffing up as thoroughly as possible.

I was soon joined by Jo Haywood and Tess Dennison (pictured above on the left, at our Christmas party), with Jo taking on... well, just about everything, in her role as 'Assistant Publisher', and Tess running the submissions department like she'd been doing it all her life. We heard from Tess in this newsletter in late June, you may recall, by which point we had Vanessa Simmons on our team (pictured above on the right). Starting as 'Events Manager', Vanessa's role will be expanded next year to encompass 'Education' projects, connecting VP and our authors with schools and universities – look forward to that.

Staff-wise, I mustn't forget the contributions from our various publicists throughout the year, most notably Suzannah Evans (who has now moved on to greener pastures), and of course the phalanx of interns who joined us during the summer months (twelve in all, many of whom graced this newsletter with guest posts). A month ago we were joined by Sasha Hawkes, a veteran of the London publishing industry, with a decade of experience at places such as Scholastic, Quadrille and Nick Hern...  she'll be taking care of the 'bread and butter' of publishing in the production department (as 'Production Editor').

All these new people needed an office, and after a temporary stint above a curry house (which I may have glossed over at the time), my 'dream office' in the building that's always received the Valley Press post, Woodend, became available and we made ourselves at home there from the start of June. I can't imagine life without it now (or without the team). The new office has plenty of room in it, which is handy as it meant we could find a spot for the Yorkshire Coast 'Culture/Arts Business of 2017' trophy, and mine for Scarborough's 'Young Entrepreneur of the Year' (thought I'd slip those in).

But did we manage to publish any books? Well, not until the summer actually – we try to work a few months ahead of schedule, so having spent the autumn parenting and the winter building the new team, I'd failed to line up anything between January and June. But when we got going, my goodness did we get going! There have been 15 new titles published by Valley Press since July, not bad considering we managed 20 in the whole of 2016 (with Arts Council money, and Rosa and Laura backing me up).

Those 2017 titles started with Helen Burke's Collected Poems, the product of 45 years of writing and 30 months of publishing – then moved on through our first Chinese translation, Nora Chassler's inimitable feast of 'fragments', our definitive anthology of Yorkshire Poetry, and new collections from Cath Nichols, John Wedgwood Clarke, Oz Hardwick, and Wendy Pratt. There were tears when we lost Helen Cadbury, months before the launch of her poetry debut Forever, Now; but what a privilege it was to publish that magnificent book.

One title I didn't mention in this year's newsletters was Paul Sutherland's New and Selected Poems, which originally came out in September 2016 (just as my 'paternity leave' started, earlier than expected) – so in November, we gave it a fresh cover (by local design agency Fitzpatrick Design) and re-launched it to a world of eager readers. Antony Owen made it a 'choice of 2017' in a recent edition of the Morning Star, saying Paul 'shows us his strength not only of character but of his lyrical writing quality.' Agreed!

We also published debut pamphlets by Caroline Hardaker and Ian Stuart, and were proud to put those wonderful new poets on the shelves. Then we were well and truly Britpopped while working on a comprehensive guide to that musical era, before receiving an education in why Verse Matters from Rachel Bower and Helen Mort, and meeting the Prideaux Angels just a week ago. Not a bad year's work! Well done to all involved.

And 2018? It'll be bigger and better; you should expect nothing less than a deluge of fascinating, unexpected literature bursting forth from our corner office in the heart of Scarborough, as we lead up to our tenth birthday in October. I can also reveal exclusively, right here right now (as a reward for anyone who has read all the way to the end) ... our second 'Grants for the Arts' bid was accepted by Arts Council England, and we will be receiving £40,000 worth of funding for our publishing efforts over the next twelve months.

What can I say to that?! Perhaps just: I promise we'll use it wisely, and I hope you can agree it's in safe hands. See you next year, lots of love, and thanks for reading.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Phillipa Barker reflects on her work experience with the Emma Press

Back in September, I had just finished an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. I was beginning to explore what a career in publishing might look like, whether it might be something I'd like to be part of and how I would even start to venture into the notoriously competitive industry. I'd only recently heard of the Emma Press, but after taking a look at their website, was immediately drawn to their beautiful books. Emma very kindly not only agreed to meet, but to take me on for a period of work experience, one day a week over eight weeks to peer behind the scenes of the Emma Press.

Now You Can Look, by Julia Bird
In the larger publishing houses there are different departments for Editorial, Sales, Publicity, Marketing, Production, Rights etc. What I valued about my time with the Emma Press was being able to see, and be a part of, a range of different tasks from various 'departments'. Over the eight weeks I wrote a press release for Now You Can Look by Julia Bird; compiled anthologies; emailed anthology poets; was introduced to InDesign and tasked with typesetting an anthology manuscript; updated spreadsheets; emailed printers for quotes; and helped with packing orders from the online shop.

First fox, by Leanne Radojkovich
One of my favourite tasks was interviewing Leanne Radojkovich, author of First fox, for the Emma Press and Valley Press blog. As well as asking Leanne about her influences and the themes that shaped her collection, we discussed her writing practice and experiments with flash fiction.

Another firm favourite was reading prose submissions and translations, writing an editor's report and drawing up suggested edits. This was partly because it felt like familiar territory after critiquing the work of other students for my Creative Writing MA, but mainly down to the fact that there is much joy to be found in reading new writing, discovering new authors, and sensitively shaping an early draft into its final form.

My time with the Emma Press has given me an invaluable introductory insight into the numerous tasks that keep an independent press running and take a book/pamphlet from start to finish. Real creativity, passion, kindness and innovation goes into each Emma Press publication and I've been inspired by their skill, commitment and drive in championing new writing and forging a new kind of publishing.

Friday, 15 December 2017

This week at Valley Press, #85: 'Nearly there'

Dear readers,

The year is winding down, and as of today, Valley Press can begin to do the same. Our penultimate book of 2017, Verse Matters, was successfully launched in Sheffield last night at another emotional, inspiring event (pictured above). Manning the book stall in a charming space known as the Holt, I met a lot of brilliant new writers that I'll be wanting to keep an eye on – and so should you. The anthology is absolutely crammed with talent, young and old, with poems and prose from the first-time-published sitting comfortably alongside brilliant new work from a handful of featured 'A-listers' (if poets can aspire to such a term!)

There's still time to grab a copy or twelve before Christmas, and of course if you use discount code HAMPER (valid until noon on Monday 18th) you'll get 15% off and be entered into a prize draw to win £200 of fine VP publications. After that, please remember to get any and all Christmas orders placed by midday on Thursday 21st, before we close the office and the post elves hang up their satchels for a few well-earned days of rest.

The hamper offer also applies to our final book of the year, which I can (at last!) reveal is titled Prideaux Angels (pronounced 'pre-dough'). It's a beautifully-illustrated children's story, based on a series of promenade performances at Prideaux Place, Cornwall, happening from tomorrow up until Boxing Day (details here). You can only get this book at those performances or through our website it's an exclusive, a limited edition (only 500 copies of this version will ever be printed), and actually very attractive indeed:

Credit goes to Kimberly Campanello for writing a story that is charming and festive (with just that hint of darkness that is essential for a Christmas classic), and that works both as a dance piece and as words on a page; no easy task. Then there's renaissance man Simon Birch, choreographer and illustrator for the project – we're delighted to add both of them to our ever-growing roster of Valley Press authors. Find out more about the book via its homepage here, and do consider making one of the performances if you live nearby.

Next week's newsletter will be the last one of the year, and I'm planning a 'lap of honour' reviewing the highs and lows of 2017 ... except, missing out the lows, because who wants them so close to the holidays?! I may have one last bit of big news too, so hang on in there and watch this space (and as ever, thanks for reading).

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 8 December 2017

This week at Valley Press, #84: 'Your five a day'

Dear readers,

Another late newsletter this week – can you believe I've barely had a minute to myself since the last one went out? One of the things I've been doing tonight (besides publishing) is building another book tree, pictured above, this time at our local chapel and made out of non-VP books. They have a Christmas tree festival every year, and the theme this year is 'words that end in tree'; so after last week's pun, Mrs McGarry volunteered us to construct an actual 'poet tree'. Maybe you can spot some of your favourites? (If not, you might like to visit the 'optome-tree' someone built to our left, covered in pairs of glasses.)

This week, rather than lengthy anecdotes, I have five interesting links for you. Feel free to pick and choose which ones you click on, in line with your interests... or show the full extent of your love of Valley Press by engaging with all five!

Firstly, we launched Helen Cadbury's Forever, Now this week at York Explore. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, beginning to end; I felt so honoured to be involved with the book and the evening (as did the rest of the VP team). YorkMix have captured some of the spirit in their thoughtful write-up; for me, it was the first time I'd ever truly experienced 'bittersweet'... happiness and sadness pulling at your heart simultaneously. A truly unforgettable evening. If you missed out, I'm pleased to report we have more events planned for this book in 2018 (details coming soon).

Secondly, there's news that John Wedgwood Clarke will be teaching a five-day course on 'The Poetry of Rubbish' with the Poetry School in the new year. If you can't get to Exeter to take part, there is at least this wonderful long interview on that subject which they published a few days ago, a great companion piece to Landfill.

Thirdly, we were excited to see that the 'Travelling Man' chain of shops (more commonly known for comics and games) have taken a liking to Caroline Hardaker's Bone Ovation. Not only they did they post this glowing short review, they're also stocking it in all their branches, pitching it as a kind of stocking filler for the more thoughtful, quirky gift recipient in your life. Which I'd very much like to second!

Fourthly (is that a word?), lurking in this article about the reading habits of the 'great and good' is a tiny review of Madame Bildungsroman by the novelist Regi Claire. She says Madame B 'offers a brilliant perspective on existence through fragments and aperçus: ambiguous, acerbic, moving and searingly intelligent.' Once again, couldn't have put it better myself... though I did have to look up aperçus; it's an "illuminating or entertaining comment." One to add to your vocabulary; all part of the service here at Valley Press.

Finally, the latest episode of the 'Friday Morning Meeting' podcast (featuring myself and Emma Wright) is now online here. As this is the last one of the year, we've made it a Christmas special framed around the three spirits of A Christmas Carol... and then there's a little discussion of the value of coding skills at the end. Put on the spot to illustrate this episode, I cooked up the picture below starring Emma in the Cratchit/Kermit role and me as Scrooge... I laughed when I saw the result, and I include it here in case you do too.

All of which adds up to a full newsletter, in my eyes... which means you'll have to wait another week to find out about that final, secret Christmas book we're still working on. I'll get to it next week, for definite. It'll be worth the wait!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Thursday, 7 December 2017

"Besides the practicalities of assembling the pamphlet, the Emma Press supported it hugely." Stephen Sexton on publishing his pamphlet with the Emma Press

Over the course of our call for pamphlet proposals, we'll have some of our existing pamphlet authors writing about their experience of having a pamphlet published with us. Here we speak to Stephen Sexton about his pamphlet, Oils!

Tell us about your pamphlet and what drew you to the Emma Press.

My pamphlet changed shape many times, as these things do. It contains several poems based on paintings — I was very into that at the time. One is based on large, strange landscape by Peter Doig, and there is a little sequence of three poems based on various images of Orpheus, or more specifically, his head, since he’s only a head in each of paintings. I guess I was interested in the act of looking, and the politics of looking, and figured it would be interesting to look intensely at one of mythology’s biggest lookers. Besides that, there’s a poem about an English class watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and a poem in the voice of Popeye.

I encountered the Emma Press sometime in early 2013, I think, when Emma and Rachel Piercey accepted a poem to be included in Mildly Erotic Verse. It was the first, or one of the first significant publications for me, and I was overjoyed that Emma and Rachel brought Amy Key and Jacqueline Saphra on the accompanying book tour to Belfast. I had been thinking about pamphlets and how I should go about finding someone to publish it. Over a terrible falafel that Emma never tires of hearing me complain about, she and Rachel so warmly suggested the Emma Press might publish my poems.

What did you enjoy about working with the Emma Press?

I enjoyed everything about working with the Emma Press. I found the editing process to be both considerate and rigorous. Rachel is a really wonderful reader, and she has such an eye not only for the ways in which a poem can go amiss, but also the ways its can go. At every stage of assembling the pamphlet, I felt supported, but I also felt encouraged to try different approaches to the poems. I expect the sequencing of the pamphlet varied widely, but it settled in an order I’m pleased with.

Besides the practicalities of assembling the pamphlet, the Emma Press supported it hugely. Emma so generously invited me to several events in support of the pamphlet — including a wonderful showcase event at the Poetry Library in the Southbank. Emma worked so hard to help promote the pamphlet, and kept an eye out for reviews of it. Moreover, she entered the pamphlet for the various accolades for which pamphlets are eligible, such as the Michael Marks Awards. It meant a lot that Oils was selected as a Poetry Book Society Winter Pamphlet Choice in the year of its publication.

What have you been doing since publishing your pamphlet?

I feel like the publication of Oils began the most recent phase of my writing practice. Since then, I’ve completed a PhD at the Seamus Heaney Centre, and I’ve been fortunate to have my work published in some fine journals and magazines across the UK and Ireland. I’ve also received support in the form of a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, for which I’m hugely grateful. Most recently my poem ‘The Curfew’ won the National Poetry Competition. I’m pleased with how my writing has been going, and these acknowledgements give me a lot of encouragement and confidence. I’m so happy to have published Oils, and I am delighted that many exceptional writers who happen to be good friends have also had pamphlets published with the Emma Press. It’s always an occasion for me to read the Emma Press’s latest publications, and I look forward with excitement to the pamphlets of 2018.

Oils is available to order on our website. You can also find out more about our call for pamphlet submissions here.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

"It’s about your reader way more than it is about you." Zosia Kuczyńska on publishing her pamphlet with the Emma Press

Over the course of our call for pamphlet proposals, we'll have some of our existing pamphlet authors writing about their experience of having a pamphlet published with us. Here we have Zosia Kuczyńska talking about her pamphlet, Pisanki!

Turning your family history into a poetry pamphlet is hard. There’s the ethics of it for a start: you may have the strongest claim in the world on what is after all your own heritage, but when push comes to shove you’re still telling the story of something that didn’t happen to you. When I first submitted the poems in the then-untitled Pisanki to The Emma Press, the fact that it opened with a poem about Daedalus’s precocious nephew Perdix inventing the saw by appropriating fish skeletons (and ultimately being shoved off a cliff) was a very deliberate foregrounding of the anxieties I was wearing on my sleeve.

It was also far too self-important. The poem is still in the pamphlet, along with any number of poems that, obliquely or otherwise, try to navigate the moral mirror-maze that is the act of storytelling. The finished pamphlet, however, is a reflection of The Emma Press’s commitment to something I’d forgotten in amongst all that sort-of-a-little-bit-maybe-comparing-myself-to-a-Soviet-scientist-who-sends-dogs-into-space-to-die-just-because-they-can: that it’s about your reader way more than it is about you.

What the editorial process of Pisanki brought to these poems was context, clarity, and a realisation that I was going to have to give the running order something of an overhaul: if I was going to do justice to the story I was trying to tell, I needed to get out of its way a bit. It was a task made more difficult by the fact that, by the time the editing stage came around, I’d been recently bereaved. When you have no emotional reserves left and your brain is turning itself inside out on a daily basis, being asked to rethink a comma feels like being asked to perform laser eye surgery on yourself with only your reflection in the back of a teaspoon to let you know how you’re doing.

Rachel Piercey was a superb editor. She was thorough, sensitive, astute, and—most importantly—stuck to her guns. Bernard O’Donoghue had already been more than accommodating in incorporating my babcia’s (grandmother’s) account of her wartime experiences into his introduction; Rachel convinced me that the pamphlet should also have not only a ‘Notes’ but also a ‘Further Notes’. It sounds silly now, but agreeing to both was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. Of course I’d never intended for the reader to tackle what is, to the Anglophone world, a largely unknown chapter in European history without some help. However, the insidious idea that has crept into poetry criticism in particular that Googling, say, Nerval and/or his lobster is something that should be done in secret—that all those furtive hours spent trawling Wikipedia ought never to be admitted—is a difficult one to overcome. Giving the historical context of the poems a dedicated space in the pamphlet took an enormous amount of pressure off the poems themselves, which were only ever always about how to tell a story and never the whole of it.

Working with The Emma Press was an experience for which I will always be grateful. Rachel and Emma understood what I was trying to do and worked with me to help me understand how to do it. (I hope it’s not too insulting to Emma’s artwork that quite a few people who know me well asked me whether I’d illustrated the cover, which is a testament to the pamphlet’s coherence as an object.) Their approach was hands-on but with a lightness of touch that meant I never felt pressured to take the pamphlet in unwanted directions. Their confidence in the poems gave me the confidence to say ‘here is a pamphlet with a Polish-looking name by a Polish-sounding person that engages with parts of Polish history you won’t necessarily have encountered before; reader, I’ve got your back’.

Pisanki is available to order on our website. You can also find out more about our call for pamphlet submissions here.