Friday, 26 May 2017

This week at Valley Press, #56: 'Stick together'

Dear readers,

This week, you’re not hearing from Jamie, your usual bearer of Valley Press-related news – instead, you’re hearing from me, Rebecca, one of the lucky interns working for VP this summer. You can check out a blog post about my first week as an intern here. So, whilst Jamie is busy working on other important things, it's my job to make sure you’re all up-to-date on what has been happening this week.

Of course, it goes without saying that this week has been a tough one. With the news of a terrorist attack in my home city of Manchester, there has been a strange atmosphere lingering in the air. What happened was devastating, but the love we have witnessed since the event; the people of Manchester offering victims a place to stay, the tireless work of the emergency services, and the kindness of strangers in the aftermath, have shown us that love is stronger than hate.

The important thing to take from this tragedy is that we have to stick together in the face of evil, and we showed that this week – it was beautiful to see the support given to the people of Manchester. Even though the events made me feel so far away from home, I felt the love. Sharing this newsletter feels unimportant in contrast, but maybe it's more important than ever? The fact we have this community, this newsletter, is an opportunity to spread the message that we must come together as one. As our friend Stephen May wrote on Facebook, it's a victory “every time we gather together to celebrate freedom of expression”. It is important we keep in our minds what happened, that we take time to grieve and remember the victims, but it is also important to carry on.

* * *

I am aware that Jamie has already shared the news, in a previous week, about VP's exciting new Chinese translated books project – but, it has now caught the attention of The Bookseller, the go-to magazine for all things publishing. They have written an article this week all about the project, which you can see for yourself here. Since the news spread about our project, there has been a real buzz within the Chinese literary community across Twitter – which is promising!

On Saturday 3rd June, Jamie and I will be attending a literary event in Leeds city centre, a fairly new opportunity to appear on the scene – the Northern Short Story Festival. The day will see lots of published authors come together, along with editors and publishers (Jamie is appearing on a panel!) It’s open to the public, and there are some great workshops to get involved with, but it looks like they’re selling out of tickets quickly, so make sure you head over to their website if you’re interested in attending.

As I’m sure you all know, our new website went live last week. However, it unfortunately experienced some teething problems. The site had a bug, which meant that when some of you ordered books (between Friday 19th at 11am, and Tuesday 23rd at 11am), the orders weren’t being processed properly, which meant no payment was collected, and we weren’t informed of any orders. The issue has since been resolved, so if you would like to try again with your order, please do.

And finally, an update on Helen Burke’s Today the Birds Will Sing: the typesetting of the poetry has been completed, all 248 pages! The book is still available for pre-order, with a definitive delivery date to be announced next week.

* * *

And that is all from me! You are now up-to-date on what has been happening here at Valley Press. I hope you all have a lovely week ahead, and it was a pleasure to act as a stand-in deliverer of news for Jamie.

All the best,
Rebecca Moynihan, Valley Press intern

Friday, 19 May 2017

This week at Valley Press, #55: 'When we were winners'

Dear readers,

This week, Valley Press won its very first literary award. Remembering Oluwale, an important and poignant collection of writing inspired by the tragedy of Leeds immigrant David Oluwale, was voted 'Best Anthology' at the 2017 Saboteur Awards. It was a moment of great satisfaction for the many contributors, including editor SJ Bradley and co-organiser Max Farrar (pictured below attending the ceremony), and of course the book's designer, our own Rosa Campbell. I was delighted too, even though my sole contribution was saying 'yes, we must publish that!' this time last year.

Sarah (SJ Bradley) had this to say shortly afterwards:

"It is so wonderful to have Remembering Oluwale recognised by the Saboteur Awards. This is a book which faces up to a shameful episode in Leeds’ history, and persuades the city to do better. David Oluwale was a man who could so easily have been forgotten – at the time of his death, the only official records left about him were the arrest records left by the police who victimised him, and papers from a psychiatric institution. It’s a testament to the resonances of his story that so much wonderful and powerful writing has come about and continues to do so. I am so proud to have been a part of it."

The news of our win, and subsequent reactions from the reading public, inspired me to finally finish the Kindle version of the book, which you can now access here. A half-finished file had sat on my hard drive for many months; the complexity of the formatting (with notes, and a multitude of page layouts) had discouraged me somewhat, and I was able to tell myself: 'they've got the paperback... Kindle publications are old news.' But I knuckled down on Tuesday afternoon and got the job done.

Leeds residents can attend an event celebrating Remembering Oluwale on Wednesday June 7th at Outlaws Yacht Club, from 7.15. This also seems an ideal time to announce that some of the team behind the anthology (including SJ) are lauching a new project along similar lines; a competition which leads to an anthology in support of a good cause. Entries aren't open yet, but you can read the details in the left-hand column here. We'll be publishing the resulting book in March 2018.

As promised, here are Sarah and Max at the Saboteur ceremony:

The other big news this week is that we have a new website. Not entirely-from-scratch new, but built 'on top of' our previous website by original designers Askew Brook.

As well as new functionality – you can now contact a department directly, and audiobooks and hardbacks can be listed alongside paperbacks – it has a new design. Less big blocks of turquoise, more white space, and we can now choose an 'accent colour' for each book, as well as upload a second image (which will sometimes be the back cover, sometimes an object photo).

You can see the new design firing on all cylinders on the Remembering Oluwale page (if you haven't already visited that by now!) It'll be a while before we've added the new images and colours to every book, but we'll get there eventually.

I hope you approve of the new site; these changes all came about by talking to VP fans over the last twelve months, so I'm hoping this version of the site will last us a good few years. If you have any feedback, or spot a bug, let us know.

* * *

Helen Burke update: we're very close to finishing the "primary typesetting" (a process I described last week). Tomorrow could be the day!

And finally, for those who missed Norah Hanson's reading last night at Wardle & Jones, our latest intrepid intern Rebecca has edited and uploaded a video of her poem 'Spark', which you can watch here. Enjoy!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 12 May 2017

This week at Valley Press, #54: 'Corner office'

Dear readers,

It's been another hectic, eventful week; and once again I'm not at liberty to tell you about most of it. One more email from various sources would unlock a wealth of news... but for now, let's see what I can mention.

One thing I can reveal is that we're moving office again – cue newsletter readers yawning in unison – but hang on, it's for good this time! The office I imagined would be Valley Press headquarters 'one day, when we make it big' came onto the market, and we'll be based there from 1st June. For those who know the Woodend building in Scarborough (formerly home to the Sitwell family), it's the first floor corner office, pointing towards the Crescent. I've skillfully highlighted it on the header image above.

Our weekly Helen Collected update, as promised: we've got the skeleton of the book assembled, we know where all the illustrations need to go, so the next step is to format them all and place them in. After that, it's a question of assembling the notes section, and the indexes, then we can book a printer and get a firm delivery date! Fingers crossed we'll have that for you by the next newsletter.

Finally, in brief: there was a tiny bit of publicity about Mountain Stories in the Yorkshire Post this week (thank you Mrs Henry). Saturday will reveal whether Remembering Oluwale has won its category in the Saboteur Awards, with SJ Bradley attending the ceremony on our behalf. And don't forget Norah Hanson is reading in Scarborough this coming Thursday; a few tickets still available – see last newsletter for details.

That's all for now, back to the grindstone!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 5 May 2017

This week at Valley Press, #53: 'Bless this Handbag'

Dear readers,

This week was filled by the pursuit and registration of two exciting new titles, recruiting one more person for our burgeoning team, and behind-the-scenes prep for two more big bits of news – but I can't announce any of that today!  It'll all be detailed in some future newsletter; there's enough happened this week to fill five editions.

Meanwhile, Helen Burke and her fans are chomping at the bit for her Collected Poems, which we've still not finished. I'm going to commit to weekly updates on that book until it's in your hands, starting now:

Currently we're doing the typesetting, which used to involve bits of metal type but now refers to designing 'the bit inside the book, where all the words live' (that's what I tell people, if they ask). As with most aspects of this title, we've taken the hardest route, and are attempting to individually centre each of the 250+ poems on its particular page – they're still aligned left, of course, but the resulting block of text is then centralised, a process that has to be done pretty much by hand.  That's our usual style, and it looks great; but it's not quick. For a standard poetry book I'd set aside a few solid days for this stage, and Helen's Collected is no ordinary book!

The next step is adding the many illustrations we have planned, which brings its own challenges – I'll speak about that next week, perhaps.

* * *

In other news: details of Norah Hanson's reading in Scarborough have been confirmed, her first here for a couple of years. It starts at 6.30pm, on May 18th, in Wardle & Jones bookshop on Bar Street. Tickets are £5 and include a drink, and can be procured by visiting the shop or calling 01723 353260. Hope to see some of you there.

As a company, we've been a bit lax on events recently, and I'm thinking about dipping my toe back in the water. I'd like to put on a recurring series of nights in Scarborough, each featuring a VP author, but currently have no good ideas for a format or a catchy name. If you're a local person who'd attend such events, why not get in touch and let me know what would get you out of the house on an evening/afternoon? (If you're not local, apologies for essentially wasting your time for two paragraphs!)

On a final note, I'm pleased to report that petition I mentioned a couple of weeks ago soared past its target – partially thanks to you lot, so well done! Follow the Shaw Mind Foundation and Headucation to keep up with the progress of that issue, if interested.

I feel like I still haven't done enough for Helen Burke fans today, so please accept another great poem by Helen at the end of this newsletter. Another busy week ahead, see you on the other side!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Bless This Handbag

by Helen Burke, from Today the Birds Will Sing: Collected Poems

At crucial moments of my life
you will find me ironing.
A trick learnt from my mother.
She always smoothed things out,
made peace between warring parties.
Now, the only creases left are around her eyes.

We meet in town, for coffee
and some sort of a cake.
She says she’s taking sugar in tea again,
and perhaps I should.
I don’t look well. Much too pale.

I manoeuvre the talk onto politics.
The Gulf, the Catholic viewpoint,
the new outlook on water births, legalising pot.
Undeflected, she overrides me with
a brief statement on
meringue and eggs you couldn’t get in the war, then
back we go to my own queer pallor.

I wish I’d put more blusher on.
She toys with me like a footballer, playing me back and forth.
Or as if we’re in a trench and she can constantly order me
over the top.
The confrontation is endless.
I wish I could learn this trick from her.
I wish I knew how the war could be won.
I wish I could eat meringue that fast.

I will my cheeks to glow with health as
she leads me across the No-Man’s-Land of
combinations and corsetry, of
hosiery appliances and multi-size inner soles.
Everything the colour of a rich tea biscuit.

Playfully, she tweaks at a string vest as we pass.
‘Call that a changing room? I wouldn’t send a dog in there.’
Like a russet bomb, her handbag is ticking.
It is bright scarlet, goes with nothing that she wears.

Patiently, she shows me something that doubles as
an omelette scoop and a thing for killing wasps.
‘If you’re going to wear green for God’s sake, do it on a Wednesday,’
she says,
and leaves it at that.
We narrowly miss a rail of pinnies.

Slowly we make our way to the bus stop.
Even this much walking is too much now.
I promise to eat more, but to smoke
and go out less.
She waits for the bus, handbag clutched stoically.

Inside it I can glimpse
two tins of rice pudding
and a bottle of Lourdes water – in case of emergency.
She climbs onto the bus. Hands me a separate package.
It’s the third tin of rice pudding.

Even as the bus rounds the corner
I can still see the handbag, gathered to her,
its words of wisdom
like a million sun’s rays, glinting, fabulous.
Eradicating all conflict, going over the top.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

All about Aunts: Part Two

Our Anthology of Aunts will be launching in a couple of weeks! The anthology focuses on exploring the role of aunts, it seemed fitting to asked some of our poets to write on their own experience of aunts; the aunts that they have known, their role as an aunt, and influences on their poems. 

* * *

Jan Heritage 

The Joyces in my poem are an excitable, cardigan-toting gaggle, collectively representing my many aunts and great aunts, all of whom came from Burnley, Lancashire and were the daughters of cotton weavers. So there is perhaps a suggestion of a factory outing here; of general giddiness and letting go.
In reality, many of my aunts await better poems from me: quieter and more nuanced words to hint at their fortitude in the face of two world wars; the loss of husbands, fiancés, brothers; the loss of children to measles and limbs to bombs.

The aunts I was lucky enough to know well had grit and wit in equal measure; made it their business to survive, enjoy themselves and be whole-hearted in their engagement with the lives that came their way. They loved to advise and judge – and I loved it when they did.

Their stories preoccupy me, as do their young faces in black and white photographs.

My last aunty died a few weeks ago. At 90 plus she was very much the tail-ender of an earlier generation, but remained fit, very fashion-conscious and inspirational to the end. I’m even more aware that I have to hurry up and write my own anthology of aunts before their names are lost: Clara, Alice, Martha, Edith, Sarah, Eva, Florence, Kathleen, Barbara, Mary, Elizabeth, Jane, Winifred, Jessie – and Joyce.

Gill Learner 

Gill’s aunt Bob
Adelaide Marie (known first as ‘Blossom’ then ‘Bob’) was born in Australia in 1897 while my grandmother was on tour with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (or that’s the story!). She was the oldest of the Pollock children. Ilma Heloise (1900) known as ‘Bill’, was born in Hampshire, as was Tommy, who died of peritonitis having served on HMS Excellent during WW1. Mum (1910) was the youngest. (My husband was bewildered by these oddly-named Aunts and was never quite sure which was which.)

Bob married Roy Matthews in 1919. The certificate said she had ‘no profession’ though she had served as a nursing auxiliary during the war. She was also a talented pianist and for many years played for silent films. The Matthews, who had one son, lived first in Hampstead, later Solihull, where I attended grammar school. I often used to call in on my bike-ride home and the house usually smelled of rising dough; I have the wooden bowl, now cracked, in which it proved by the hearth. (I also have a lovely satin-glazed pottery coffee-set of hers, stamped 1947.) She served as a Labour councillor during the late ’40s/early ’50s.

After Roy’s death in 1953, Bob bought a New Forest bungalow called ‘Tidbatch’. My parents eventually moved south from Shirley and lodged there while house-hunting. My sister Jen, also now nearby, helped Mum nurse Bob in her final illness and the bungalow was bequeathed jointly to them in 1976. Jen and her husband Jim live there still.

Joan Michelson 

Aunt Syl was six years old when she fell ill with polio. Her sisters took turns rubbing her stricken leg. My mother shrugged, “Did this help? What did we know? The doctor said keep rubbing.”

In my grandma’s eyes, she’d become a girl no man would marry.

In time, she discarded her wheelchair, her metal brace, her wooden crutches and her hooked cane. On her right foot, she wore a heavy elevated shoe, witch-black and thumping like thunder. She was studying to become a social worker.

Then my mother said that a woman could live a good life without marrying and we girls should learn that now.

Aunt Syl took a job six hundred miles away and was gone for forty years. When she came home, she moved into a facility for lower income seniors. Morris was the helper resident who carried her luggage up to her apartment. 

Why did Morris marry her seven years later when she was eighty-two?

With her full breasts, narrow waist, and constant blinking, she was cute as a doll. Her spirit was ready and eager. She knew her worth. And she believed in God and life-long learning.

On behalf of my mother who had been dead for many years, I attended Aunt Syl’s bridal shower. The question we debated: Should Aunt Syl let her apartment go or to keep it so she could come and go?

Of nine siblings, five older and three younger, Aunt Syl is the only one alive.

Kim Russell 

When my mum gave birth to me just over a month after her nineteenth birthday, she and my father were living with my maternal grandparents; it was a bit of a squeeze and money was tight. Dad had not long left the Royal Engineers due to a serious injury. Being an only child, Mum didn’t have any sibling support, but she had cousins and my father’s three sisters, one of whom was Janet. We spent a lot of time with her and she once gave me a ‘walkie-talkie’ doll as a present.

Kim’s aunt Janet (with the dark hair) 
I was two and a bit when my sister came along and I know Mum struggled. She and my grandmother had both contracted TB and it was difficult coping with two young children. Mum was glad of Janet’s company and a chance to relax with someone closer to her own age.

When I was four, Janet, who was catering manager at Streatham Locarno, organised a birthday party for me there. I remember sliding across the polished dance floor. Around the same time, she took me on holiday to Clacton with her boyfriend and his boxer dog. It wasn’t socially acceptable for an unmarried couple to go on holiday together. I can only assume they pretended to be married and I gave them some kind of credibility!

Simon Williams

The poem was written about my aunt Beulah, the youngest of my mum's sisters. Although she never had children of her own, it was always a joy going to visit her, as she knew exactly how to inspire me with whatever she suggested doing. As it says in the poem, this visit was while my mum went into hospital to give birth to my sister and I was six at the time. I must have stayed with her and my uncle for about 10 days and each day she had some new idea to keep me amused. My uncle was perhaps the most avuncular of my uncles, a studious man, serious but kind and a lovely counterpoint to my aunt's light touch on everything she did.

Kathleen Jones

Kathleen’s aunt Hilda
Hilda was actually my great aunt, but I come from a large extended family where the ‘greats’ were sometimes younger than my parents. Hilda had been one of five girls, but three of them died of Tuberculosis - a big killer in working class communities before WWII. The family came from Ireland, originally to work in the cotton mills of northern England, but by the time Hilda grew up the mills were closing and she got a job working in the Carr’s biscuit factory. She was one of a generation of women affected by the dearth of male partners after both the first and second world wars, which was a great loss because she was a quiet girl who had no ambitions beyond a family life for herself. How she came to be engaged to Fred, another member of the Irish community, is a mystery. He was younger than her, the only child of a widow living a few doors down the street, and afflicted by ‘nerves’.

The adults used to talk about Hilda and Fred when they thought we children weren’t listening. But of course we were! There was a lot of whispering about his reluctance to ‘be a proper man’. My forthright Aunt Clara was given the task of ‘having a word’. I think now that he was probably homosexual, but back in the fifties and sixties there was a great deal of ignorance about such things. For Hilda it was a tragedy that denied her the chance to have the children she longed for and it wrecked her mental health. The drama was played out against the background of my childhood and adolescence and it had a big effect on my view of relationships and marriage. I still feel regret that I wasn’t able to be more of a surrogate child to her.

Winifred Mok

The modern family unit may be getting smaller as we climb the family tree, but the extended family continues to branch outwards. My parents’ siblings and cousins, who belong to the ‘Aunts and Uncles’ category in relation to me, make a multitude of curious connections.

The challenge is finding someone old enough to draw the lines, who can still remember people by their names rather than their titles. In my culture, aunts and uncles are literally numbered; I refer to my grandmother’s cousin as my ‘Tenth-Aunt-Grandma’. The importance of knowing your history shows your awareness (or lack) of your relation to others. Sometimes far-off relatives would visit, and not knowing our connection, I would not know how to address them. Embarrassingly, it took me years to realize that some old ‘family friends’ were, in fact, blood relations (counting back a few generations). My mother’s youngest uncle’s daughter, who is younger than me, is generationally speaking, my aunt (!!!)

In traditional Chinese families, what you name your child directly indicates the generation they belong to, so you can (somewhat) deduce your relation to someone who shares the same surname. For example, my female cousins on my father’s side share a name with me (so out of three Chinese characters including our surname, we all share two), and refer to me as a ‘sister’ rather than ‘cousin’. If I ever come across someone who shares the same two characters as my mother and her sisters’ names, I will have discovered another aunt!

Rob Walton

Growing up I was blessed with many aunts on my dad’s side of the family. He was blessed with lots of brothers and sisters. My mum was an only child, so from her I had those ‘aunts’ who weren’t blood relations, but were always there for us. There are fewer of them now, and my poems in the anthology are intended to celebrate them, and my mum, and a time and place – my happy childhood on the Riddings Estate in Scunthorpe. The poems are based on truth; though they may contain inventions. On a recent visit to my mum and dad I went to see my Aunty Brenda (and Uncle Reg) for the first time in many years. I was so pleased I did, and so glad of the warm welcome I received.  When I think of my aunts I think of love and food and happiness. And laughter over the odd glass of Babycham.

* * *
The Emma Press Anthology of Aunts is available to buy on our website.

Friday, 28 April 2017

This week at Valley Press, #52: 'Mountain Stories'

Dear readers,

A book launch was held this week in the city of Xi'an, in the Shaanxi province, Northwest China. Word on the street is that esteemed local writer Ye Guangqin has work coming out with an English publishing house ... apparently (it is whispered) these publishers have close ties to Her Majesty the Queen, are responsible for some of greatest works of literature ever to be laid down on the printed page, and arrange all this from a castle on the English coast (while famous cyclists pass underneath, for their entertainment).

The name of this prestigious organisation? Valley Press, of course.

The green speck on the above picture is a stack of Mountain Stories, our next-but-one publication, due to hit bookshelves in July. (The next project is still Helen Burke's book, which is currently in the middle of typesetting – Jo claimed on Thursday that we're 'getting close' to finishing, which I was happy to hear! More on that next week.)

So how did the work of an acclaimed Chinese author travel all the way from Xi'an to Scarborough, and how did the resulting books make the five thousand mile journey in the opposite direction; from a shelf in our humble office to that grand table in Northwest University? The answer to the second is: by plane, I guess, and the first is a long story of chance encounters and deeply engaged literary people at both ends (particular thanks due to Robin Gilbank and Professor Hu Zongfeng, pictured above with the author and other key staff at the university.)

You may not have heard the word Shaanxi before, or be particularly familiar with the bestselling Chinese-language authors who call that province their home, but you're about to be: in an unprecedented arrangement, we've signed an agreement to publish a whole series of titles from the region's finest authors, in 2018 and beyond. Translated with great care by the team in Xi'an, then edited and proof-read by native English scholars, these books offer an astonishingly fresh literary experience for UK readers. I'm excited; it's something genuinely new for us all to get to grips with.

What kind of writing should you expect? I've put up a sample from Mountain Stories here; one of my favourite extracts, describing the author's struggles to film a TV drama in a remote Chinese village. If you've read and enjoyed that, and want to know more about the book and the author, all the details are on our website here (and you can buy, of course! Remember to apply your 10% subscriber's discount code, TENFOREVER).

If you are fluent in Chinese, you can read their side of the story here (Google translate isn't much help!), but otherwise I think that's enough info for the time being. More later in the year. In other news this week: Norah Hanson will be reading in Scarborough on May 18th, details to be confirmed – keep that evening free if interested – and there's some truly fascinating anecdotes about Aunts from Emma Press writers on our blog, in honour of their latest anthology. You can't say we don't give you anything to read!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

All about Aunts: Part One

The Emma Press Anthology of Aunts will be launching in a couple of weeks! The anthology focuses on exploring the role of aunts, it seemed fitting to asked some of our poets to write on their own experience of aunts; the aunts that they have known, their role as an aunt, and influences on their poems.

* * *

Anita’s aunt Freda

Anita S. Pulier 

My father’s unmarried older sister Aunt Freda was completely devoted to my parents and us three kids.

I took her for granted. At every holiday and birthday she was there. If any one of us needed something she was ready to help. Of course, she had her odd ways and pronounced idiosyncracies... to me they were endearing.

 On her death bed she confessed to me that in all the years I had assumed she was alone she had had a secret lover, the owner of the large meat distributor where she had been the office manager.

He became the butcher in my poem “The Butcher’s Diamond” which is the title of my first full length book that Finishing Line Press is publishing this year.

Gill McEvoy 

My outstanding memory of this aunt is this: one day when this aunt was staying with us my mother demanded I take Aunt Vi out walking just so my mother could get on with cooking lunch (Auntie Vi was doing her usual bit of talking away about the insubstantial and my mother was a pragmatic soul who simply wanted to get things done). I took my aunt on my favourite walk, over two Gloucestershire hills and up through a wood to a dry-stone wall, beyond which you would always get the most spectacular view of the Severn Plain, with Wales hazy in the distance. As it was uphill to the wall, the view sprang itself on you with a suddenness that took most people by surprise, and no-one, but no-one, had ever failed to gasp at the sheer magnificence of it. Almost everyone I’d taken there would linger for some time to admire and exclaim. But not Auntie Vi. She didn’t even see it. I was truly taken aback for my aunt, having lectured the whole way, reached the wall, climbed over it without breaking stride, carried on down the far side and was still jabbering on and on when we reached home again. She then talked right through lunch, about how cabbages have souls and we shouldn’t cut them, while all the time cheerfully shovelling rabbit pie and buttered cabbage into her yapping mouth. I never took her on another walk!

Anna’s nephew Isaac

Anna Woodford 

One of the best conversations in my life was with someone who couldn’t speak. It was on a car’s back seat somewhere in 2007 with my new nephew Isaac. Being completely clueless on the baby front at that point, I was trying to get him to say words (unlikely at a couple of months old and, looking back, I was obviously sabotaging his nap time but my brother and sister-in-law who were in the front of the car were either too kind or sleep-deprived to say so).

Isaac’s new word was ‘Ah-ba’. I tried him with ‘Aunty’ and ‘Anna’ (egotiscal, much?!) but he kept smiling delightfully and repeating ‘Ah-ba’. In what Oprah might call an ‘A’ha’ moment, I realised he was actually the one teaching me* – to relax and not to rush on to the next thing and to enjoy the experience of communicating without words. My poem ‘Travelling with Isaac’ came from this experience.

*It was one of many things I learnt from my nephew Isaac – although these days, it’s more likely to be the offside rule.

Charlotte Eichler 

The poem ‘Survivors’ is inspired by early memories of visiting my father’s family in Sheffield. My grandfather, Bertold Eichler, came to England from Czechoslovakia in 1939. He was Jewish and had been politically active in smuggling people out of Germany. A local policeman warned Bertold that his name was on a Gestapo list, so he escaped across Poland in an empty petrol tanker. His immediate family died in concentration camps, but one of his close friends, Edith Rosenberg, survived Auschwitz, was reunited with her husband, Otto, and settled in a flat in London.

Edith was a sculptor, and the ‘curled-up figures’ of the poem refer to the dark wooden sculptures of tortured bodies that she made, and which lined her dining room in glass cases. That dining room also had a large, patterned rug hanging on the wall – a Slavic fashion that struck me as strange when I was a child. My brother and I, on family visits to Sheffield and London, would make up strange games to entertain ourselves, including making a bee graveyard in the gardens of my grandma’s block of flats. My memories of our visits to my great-aunts, my widowed Yorkshire grandma, and to Edith and Otto are some of my earliest, and rather confused, so the flat of the poem is a combination of several different places. ‘Survivors’ tries to capture some of the atmosphere of that time for us, as small children who had no idea, yet, about our family’s recent past.

Mary Anne’s mother and her sisters

Mary Anne Clark 

To me, each of my aunts has a different set of memories, associations, and attributes, and I have learned different things about life from each of them. But they have at the same time a single unified identity - ‘the aunties’. They are a matriarchal herd, a stampede of women with their mother, my Nan, who died two years ago, at the head.

This picture is of my mum (front, second from right) and her four older sisters. It is by my aunt, Celia Paul (back, reflected in the mirror while painting). They are all wearing identical white smocks, which makes them look almost indistinguishable to a casual glancer, but which emphasises the differences in their faces and postures to someone who looks more closely. To someone who knows them, they are immediately recognisable as their individual selves. I think I could tell them apart just by their feet.


Auntie Hil was my favourite aunt. I was so fond of her that I decided, in grade one, that I wanted to be called by my middle name – her name – and wouldn’t answer to the first name my parents had chosen for me. Auntie Hil was cheery and had a lively sense of humour; the sort of person people would strike up a conversation with on the bus or in the street. She often retold these encounters, laced with her infectious laughter. This openness and lack of reserve was alien to me. In my immediate family, introversion was the default mode. She showed me a different way of interacting with the world.

But her most profound, and early, influence on me was as a writer. She was always writing, mostly novels but also poetry, and she never gave up sending her work out, though she had little success. Her example set me on the writing path. After I left Australia and moved to London in my early twenties we occasionally corresponded, and she would end her letters wishing me ‘all power to your writing elbow’.

Auntie Hil died in January 2005, aged just 64. A few months later my niece Ana was born, my parents’ first and only grandchild. Becoming an aunt has given me a new role in the family, one I relish, and was the inspiration for my poem in the anthology.

Rob and his family

Rob Hamberger

Rob and his family After my father left when I was six years old, my childhood and adolescence was surrounded by women: my maternal grandmother Jane, my mother and her three sisters – Suzie, Nettie and Hannah – their half-sisters Alice and Harriet and their cousin Anna. They peopled my landscape, tall as standing stones. Playing with my brothers and cousins on the front-room carpet in my Nan’s flat, women’s voices lilted their continual accompaniment to our games, sharing jokes and stories with each other; another comment chucked into the criss-crossing mêlée of words; laughter suddenly blossoming over my head. Laughter I never fully understood, though I wanted to share it because it made me happy.

Aunt Anna had a great sense of style. When she had a new passport photo taken for our trip to old wartime friends in Holland she sounded delighted as she showed it to us: “It makes me look like a French tart!” She worked for the London Underground at Bethnal Green Tube station. I associate her with singing, especially at the crowded Boxing Day parties in our Whitechapel flat. I catch her singing down the years with my mother. They sway together with drinks in their hands, Aunt Anna balancing a fag between her fingers:
Call round any old time
Make yourself at home – 
My poem came from a workshop led by Naomi Foyle, where she asked us to celebrate a relative. The words flowed easily, as if they’d always been on the brink of being written.

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The Emma Press Anthology of Aunts is available to buy now on our website.