Friday, 21 July 2017

This week at Valley Press, #64: 'Spread the word'



Dear readers,

As mentioned in last week’s newsletter by the lovely Harriet (there was no way she was going to let me get away with this one!) today you will be hearing from me, Emma, another Valley Press intern for July. Despite having to check whether, in her own words, her “irritating habit for ‘hilarious’ bracketed-off asides” was too much, Harriet has certainly set the intern newsletter-writing bar high (a dazzling 10/10, in Jamie’s own words… no pressure then!) And as you may already be able to tell, I’m afraid I will not be providing too much relief from that ‘witty bracket habit’ this week! Clearly, we both find ourselves too funny for our own good. Harriet, my partner in crime, has now completed her internship, leaving me to fend for myself (only joking). It’s a good job then, that the Valley Press team are so delightfully lovely, making me feel completely at home here in the office… at least, once I’d actually managed to find to find my way here. Stay tuned.

The commencement of my experience was an interesting one as I found myself all-too-nearly wandering into the former Valley Press office. Little did I know that the team had moved into a delightful new space – thank goodness I can only describe my experience as an upwards spiral from there on (phew!) Now that I’ve actually managed to make my way into the correct office, I’ve so far had a wonderfully exciting experience witnessing first-hand what really goes on in a publishing house – seeing all the individual cogs that fit together to make that Valley Press engine run!

To my surprise, I found that there were a lot more cogs than anticipated. I can’t help but recall being asked by Jamie in my interview back in April something along the lines of: “What do you think goes on between a book being proposed and that book turning into a physical ‘real life’ copy?” I responded rather naively that a bit of editing and formatting probably occurs along the way. It was therefore quite the surprise when on my first day I was presented with a page-and-a-half step-by-step ‘ticklist’ which has to be applied to every book Valley Press receives!  This publishing business is definitely quite an undertaking, yet it is pulled together spectacularly here by such a small team.

* * * * *

Now onto the important stuff: in traditional Valley Press fashion, I have a bit of exciting news to share (there always seems to be something exciting going on here!) The Valley Press Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry, edited by Miles Salter and Oz Hardwick, officially "launches" on 1st August in York. The evening will feature readings from contributors: Antony Dunn, Oz Hardwick, Amina Alyal, Miles Salter, Rob Miles, Dave Gough, Robert Powell and more...  tempting, right? As spectacular as that all sounds, I should probably mention the important bits: the event will take place at City Screen in York at 8pm. Entry is £4 and copies of this landmark anthology will be available for purchase during the evening. The marvellous Jamie and Jo are also going to be there – so spread the word – it’s all set to be a knock-your-socks-off evening.

In other exciting news (it just keeps on coming!), Kate Smith – pictured excitedly below, and who can blame her – has just signed the contract to have her novel The Negligents published by VP in June 2018. So don’t be negligent (yes, that was supposed to be funny), and make sure to look out for that!


A quick reminder that Nora Chassler's Edinburgh launch for Madame Bildungsroman’s Optimistic Worldview will be happening this evening (still plenty of spaces if you want to surprise us!) The evening is sure to be a stimulating one, with a chance to hear readings from Chassler’s edgy and eccentric work, quiz her about her enticing, eclectic thoughts then sit back, relax and enjoy some jazz!

I’ll end by saying that I’ve had the most wonderful and vibrant few weeks so far – as a steadfast book worm, finding myself completely immersed in this inviting world of brand new up-and-coming literature has been a dream, and it’s been great to be able to dip in and out of the wide variety of roles involved in the publishing process. What could be better?

You may be pleased to hear as I sign off that next week you will be hearing from another intern, Rebecca – perhaps she will be the one to finally offer you all some relief from the witty asides?

All the best,
Emma Goff-Leggett
Valley Press Intern

Friday, 14 July 2017

This week at Valley Press, #63: 'Only nice people'



Dear readers,

I’m Harriet, and today is my penultimate day as an intern at Valley Press, having been here for almost two weeks now. I’m very excited to be e-meeting you all, as Jamie assures me (and I’ve discovered for myself) that “only nice people” are associated with Valley Press! Jamie’s original plan for this week’s newsletter was that I would write it alongside Emma, another July intern, but it turns out that collaborative writing is harder than anticipated, as we discovered after having spent five minutes agreeing on “We are Harriet and Emma”. So, today you’re stuck with me, and you can look forward to hearing from a fresh new voice next week.

As cliché as it sounds, I’m going to begin by saying that I have had an amazing two weeks, and I’d like to thank Jamie, Jo, and Tess for making me feel at home within the team. Having found it so difficult to get any kind of work experience in publishing, I’m incredibly grateful to Valley Press for giving me such an enjoyable and hands-on introduction to the publishing world. There’s been lots going on around here, and I’m certain you’re all dying to hear exactly what I’ve been up to, so bear with me as I give you a brief snapshot of some of my most exciting endeavours.

You’re all undoubtedly very diligent with your newsletter-reading, so I’m sure you’ll know that Jamie has taken on seven exciting books translated from Chinese, the first of which is titled Mountain Stories and is already available to buy. Much to my surprise, I’ve been let loose on the final stages of the second of these fascinating books. Without giving too much away (Jo is keeping a careful eye on me from across the desk), I can tell you that you’re in for another treat with this next one! Although I study English Literature at university, I also take a French literature module, so I’m definitely an advocate for immersing oneself in a different way of thinking and living. I hope you all agree that Jamie and team have taken on a very admirable and worthwhile project.

I also had the pleasure of attending an author meeting with the lovely Caroline Hardaker and her editor Char March, where I watched in awe as together they carefully grafted away at Caroline’s debut poetry pamphlet, due to be published in October (see candid ‘creatives at work’ shot below!) Far from being a depressing session of hole-picking, we all left feeling inspired, refreshed, and ready to move forward with her beautiful collection (Jamie’s round of G&Ts helped too). In fact, I was so taken by Caroline and her poems that I have since made it my mission to find the perfect cover image for the book: it’s nice to think that I might make a genuine contribution to all the wonderful work going on here.


Speaking of wonderful work (see what I did there?), the team here have recently struck up a friendship with the literary folk of Marsden, who are hoping to put their village on the map as ‘Marsden the Poetry Village’. When they approached us to support them in their first project – to fill the village pubs with poetry books – of course we were more than happy to oblige. Pairing great poetry with great alcoholic (or otherwise) refreshment sounds like a no-brainer to me.

In other news, it seems Jamie has been spending his ‘email holiday’ imagining what it would be like to have fourteen other people who could answer all his emails for him. Only (half) joking. But following on from his ‘Small Press Publishing for Profit’ articles, he’s written a new piece fast-forwarding the Valley Press timeline and envisioning life with a team of fifteen. (Before the masses descend, I’d like to call first dibs on roles #2-#15, please and thank you.) How all the work gets done with a team a quarter of this size is beyond me, but I’m certainly glad Jamie has allowed himself to take a tiny step back for the next fortnight! Here he is at the British Grand Prix, presumably selected as the furthest possible pursuit from literary publishing...


Before I sign off, and before you think the intern role at Valley Press is nothing but glamour, I should probably mention that Emma and I spent a day distributing posters around Scarborough last week (I got incredibly sunburnt and Emma’s shoes rubbed – oh, the perils of being a publishing intern!) The posters were advertising the ‘Literary Lunch Hour’, a series of events running throughout August and September, which offers you the chance to spend an hour with your favourite Valley Press authors for just £5 (full info here). Sadly, I’ve been informed that lunch is not included, but why waste time eating when you could be nattering away with Nora Chassler or Antony Dunn?

Lastly, but not least(ly), don’t forget about Nora Chassler’s Edinburgh launch on Friday 21st for Madame Bildungsroman’s Optimistic Worldview, which is, in her own words, a “book of fragments, allegories, aphorisms and general oversharing”. There will also be live jazz and wine, as though that description isn’t tempting enough.

Thank you for sticking with me as I negotiated my way through Jamie’s ‘newsletter to-do list’ for this week. You’ll be relieved to know that you won’t have to put up with my irritating habit for ‘hilarious’ bracketed-off asides next week, as, like I said, you’ll be hearing from the other intern, Emma!

Thanks once again to Jamie et al, as well as all the other brilliant people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

Have a lovely week!

Harriet Clifford,
Valley Press intern

Friday, 7 July 2017

This week at Valley Press, #62: 'The Eagle'



Dear readers,

I must start by thanking everyone for the outpouring of kind words after our last email. I've included another Helen Cadbury poem at the end of this post, in a different genre; a childhood anecdote in fact (showing the great storytelling skill everyone's been talking about in the past week, along with a 'Twinkle' of humour).

After a few requests, I turned last week's poem, 'The Dance', into an image which can be easily shared on social media (find that here). The family have asked that donations in Helen's memory go to Accessible Arts and Media, York, a brilliant organisation which Helen chaired for a number of years – details here.

* * *

Elsewhere at Valley Press, Helen Burke's twenty-month wait to see her Collected Poems is almost at an end – hardback copies arrived in the VP office on Thursday (see picture above). An ebook is also available now. The hardback, after all this effort, is priced at £30... but we realise that is a touch steep, so for the next few weeks you can all have 20% off using the discount code BIRDIES.

In other new releases: Mountain Stories is "officially" published today, and should be appearing on bookshop shelves across the UK. For those who've already ordered, I hope you find it as intriguing and entertaining as we did. A sample can be found here, if you've not yet read anything from our new Chinese translation series. We're working on the second volume at the moment; I have the final manuscript in my hand.

This week also saw the release of our third audiobook publication. We invited Norah Hanson over to Scarborough to record her latest collection Sparks, using the brilliant studio/production setup at Tom Townsend's Village Records. We did take after take of each poem until they were perfect, and the results are available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes now for just a few pounds – less than a posh coffee! Give it a try.

If free entertainment is more your style, VP authors Sue Wilsea and Nora Chassler recently visited the Valley Press office, and graciously agreed to film video interviews, answering the questions from TV programme 'Inside the Actor's Studio'. (In the video, I credit them to James Lipton, but have since learned he borrowed them from a man called Pivot... who in turn lifted them from Proust. So more literary than you'd think.) You can see Sue's video here and Nora's here.

* * *

I'm about to embark on an email holiday for a few weeks, starting Sunday – I'll be keeping one eye on the workings of Valley Press though, and still doing the occasional meeting/event (so don't panic if we've got one booked!) The next few newsletters will be from enterprising interns and other VP staff, so look out for some lively new voices in your inbox. Enjoy those, and the poem below – see you in August.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher



The Wrong Label

by Helen Cadbury, from Forever, Now (published November 2017)

The Christmas I unwrapped an Eagle annual
there was Dan Dare, all black lines, strong jaw,
the Mekon, slime-green, repulsive, sucking me in.
Each comic strip a rush of danger, thrill of speed.

Minutes in to this new-found joy, a cry went up,
my brother sat with a Twinkle annual in his lap.
I fought my case, ruined Christmas with my argument,
and lost. These things happen, simple mistake.

I flicked the pages of Twinkle, where fat-faced
children smiled pink-lipped smiles, cherubic.
I was having none of it. I spent the afternoon
plotting how to make the Eagle mine.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Sad news from Valley Press

Dear readers,

It's for an extremely sad reason that you are hearing from Valley Press twice today. Helen Cadbury, an inspiring, remarkable woman and a magnificently talented novelist and poet, passed away this afternoon (Friday 30th June), surrounded by her family. Many of you will be aware of her battle with cancer, which she spoke about in the Yorkshire Post last year, but this still comes as an enormous shock. Helen was constantly filled with life and ideas, and was speaking only yesterday about launch plans for her forthcoming books.

Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time; the outpouring of love on social media shows how deeply she'll be missed. I've included one of Helen's wonderful poems below, please feel free to share it far and wide.

Best regards,
Jamie McGarry, Valley Press Publisher



The Dance


In the dream
I am younger,
the room is huge
and I dance
over a wooden floor.
I do it often. It’s what I do.
I have a huge room,
as high as a church,
to myself and I dance across
its beautiful wooden floor
again and again.

When I wake
the dance is still in me.
It lightens my limbs
moves me to the kitchen.
The coffee brews on the hob
and I dance back and forth
from the table
to the fridge
and I am young
again and again.

This week at Valley Press, #61: 'Tess of the Submission-villes'



Hello!

I’m Tess, Submissions Coordinator at Valley Press. I started here in April, following a hectic round of submissions in 2016. I spend most Saturdays at Valley Press HQ, and my job is to coordinate and ensure the smooth running of the submissions process. I have a 9-5 job during the week, and many people ask, ‘gosh isn’t that tiring?’, but I’ve found that a Saturday occupied in a lovely book-lined office, sifting through and reading new writing – sent to me from every corner of the UK (and further) – is a day well spent. It’s a great brain-break from my full time job and as a bona fide bookworm, I would most likely be spending my Saturday reading anyway, if I wasn’t at Valley Press. So in short, yes I am tired on a Saturday evening – but I find myself feeling creatively energised, inspired and eager to get back to the office the following week.

Submissions are now sent to me digitally, and we ask writers to fill out a submissions form. We don’t charge a submission fee, but we do ask that submitters purchase a book from the website. This funds the submissions department, and also means that writers get a lovely book with their submission, and don’t have to submit through an agent or a competition. This has allowed us to have an open submissions arrangement, instead of a window with a deadline, meaning we can make decisions and send responses to submitters much more quickly than we could previously; we aim to respond within 90 days, so submitters aren’t twiddling their thumbs for too many months.

A typical day at Valley Press for me is answering the myriad of queries that come through the website, ensuring that new manuscripts are carefully saved, and pushing them through our highly organised submission process. I am the first filter for new works, so I spend quite a large part of the day reading through submissions. This is my favourite aspect of my job; I feel privileged to read through works which have been so lovingly and passionately created, and I can’t imagine how it must feel to part ways with your manuscript and send it out, hopefully, into the world. I always think of Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author at this stage: “we know that to give writing its future; it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author”. I imagine that sending your final draft, after you’ve made sure every comma is in its correct place, trusting someone else to interpret and appreciate your art to be a very big moment.

So, with this in mind, I make sure I have a big cup of tea, and ensure I pay utmost attention to each and every manuscript. I usually read around 20-30 pages of each, by this point I can usually decide if a submission will make it through to the next stage of the process. If I’m unsure about a submission, I get a second opinion from Jamie or Jo, as tastes vary so widely. The next phase of the process is the most exciting; Valley Press are lucky enough to have a ‘digital readers panel’ of about 30 volunteer readers, who provide us with feedback and let us know whether as readers, they would buy the book or not. This has proved to be a successful method; I always find it intriguing to see which manuscripts our readers do or don’t like. The group often unanimously agrees or disagrees, but often don’t have the reaction I think they’ll have, surprising me every week. I think it’s always good to be reminded how differently people react to art, and that we all have such individual taste.

I’m always keen to have as many different opinions as possible, so if partaking in the readers group is something you’re interested in (you don’t need any qualifications, just being someone who is interested in books and loves to read means you are plenty qualified), please contact me directly, and I will add you to our list!

Once the manuscripts have been looked over by all the eyes we have available to us, we are then in a position to make a final decision. Unfortunately, I have to send out quite a few rejection emails; we tend to take forward around 1 of every 100 submissions for publication, and sending rejections is never easy. However, every acceptance email I send makes up for it, and being the person who breaks the good news is a huge perk of the job. I recently received a reply from a writer who was standing in Sainsbury’s and informed me she was going to buy a bottle of fizz immediately she was so ‘over the moon’. This was a great ending to a day at Valley Press, and the celebratory mood was infectious enough to make me raise a glass of my own when I got home.

After I have broken the good news, I arrange a meeting between the prospective writer and Jamie – he aims to meet everyone in person to make sure that VP is the right match. If this meeting is a success, the book will be pushed through to production, from whereon the lovely Jo will take over. I haven’t yet seen a work that I have selected from the initial submission in it’s final, magnificent book form, but I am incredibly excited to see the first one, and it will be a pleasure knowing that I have had a small part to play in its creation.

Best wishes,
Tess Dennison, Submissions Coordinator

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

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.