Friday, 20 October 2017

This week at Valley Press, #77: 'Filey via New Zealand'



Dear readers,

A new poetry book has arrived at VP HQ, and though we've had dozens of similar arrivals over the years, the moment never loses its excitement. (When it does, it's probably time to pack all this in!) The new book is Gifts the Mole Gave Me by Wendy Pratt, who becomes one of our most local writers, based in our neighbouring coastal town of Filey.

It's worth saying though, despite us already knowing Wendy and her work, her collection rose to the top of our 600-ish 2016 submissions fair and square – there was no leaning on the scales of subs justice, this genuinely was one of the very best poetry books we were sent last year. The local connection just meant she could join me in the office for such important tasks as typesetting and cover design; it was a nice change to work 'up close and personal' with an author on those crucial parts of the process.

I won't share a poem just yet, as I've got a lot to tell you today, but Wendy has asked that I enclose a few blurb highlights: such as Carole Bromley saying: 'A sureness of touch, a startling image, and an ability to move the reader mark this Yorkshire poet as something very special indeed’, with Deborah Alma adding: 'These poems are the wonderful work of a poet in full control of her art and craft; they are beautiful, musical, understated and unexpected.' And of course, they're right.

We'll piece together a launch for Wendy before the end of the year, but in the meantime you can see her (and Oz Hardwick) at the legendary "Word Club", on Friday 27th from 7.30pm at The Chemic Tavern, Leeds; will be a great night out.

* * *

Speaking of great nights out, I need to flag up our next book today as well: and brace yourselves, it's a surprising addition to the catalogue. I Was Britpopped is the first and last word as far as that titular musical movement is concerned; it's an A-Z, a comprehensive guide to everyone and everything involved, with more than 500 entries covering everything from Albarn to Zeitgeist.

Originally self-published by the two authors, we took the rights early this year and have since given it a complete overhaul, with Jo Haywood doing approximately two million hours of work ensuring every word was perfect. It's got infographics too; I know how much you all love those. I'm looking forward to showing it off in the next couple of months.

This isn't quite the random deviation from our list that it seems; I'd already signed one book on music history by the time Britpopped came to my attention, and am working on more – music-related titles are set to be a significant part of Valley Press going forward. Someone had to go first!

The book's authors, Jenny and Tom, have graciously agreed to do a couple of events to launch the book; I say graciously because Tom lives in New Zealand (making him our most distant author), and is coming over especially for the launches. You can meet them at Waterstones Leeds on Thursday 2nd November, from 6.30pm, or in London the following day at Waterstones Camden (details here), which I'm told is pretty much the centre of the Britpop universe. Thanks to Waterstones too, for having us at short notice.

* * *
Having followed through on our promise a few weeks ago, I'm pleased to report a pilot episode of the Emma Press/Valley Press podcast is now available. The series will be titled 'The Friday Morning Meeting', named after the phone conversation that myself and Emma have been holding every Friday morning (when practical) for about four years now. You can listen here, if your ears aren't doing anything in particular for the next 24 minutes.

The calls are typically quite lively, as we discuss the ups and downs of the small press lifestyle with our characteristic frankness; however, this first one isn't quite so spicy, as we are finding our podcasting feet, figuring out the format and so on, but we have had some positive feedback so far. Do let us know what you think, and forward any questions you'd like answered in a future edition. (We're thinking new episodes will be coming fortnightly.)

* * *

Thanks to everyone who emailed me about the subs issue discussed in last week's newsletter; I will reply at some point (horribly behind with emails again!) I might even put together some anonymous highlights from the correspondence for a future newsletter, when a quiet week inevitably rolls around.

For the moment, you can stop worrying about the rights and wrongs of submissions procedures, as our subs are now closed for the rest of the year. Tess and two glamorous assistants will be combing through the 200 outstanding manuscripts tomorrow – assuming she's not too worn out, of course, from the swanky awards 'do' that four of the VP team are attending tonight. (The Yorkshire Coast Chamber of Commerce Awards, if you're wondering; we're up for 'Arts/Culture Business of 2017'.)

That's in a couple of hours' time, actually – Mrs McGarry is stood in the doorway tapping her watch, so I'd best go and get my tux on. Look out for the result next week!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Meet the Emma Press editors: Rachel Piercey

The Emma Press is introducing a new element to pamphlet submissions: authors get to choose the editor they would like to read their submission in the first round. This doesn't mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best.

We've put together profiles of all four Emma Press editors, to help you decide which editor might look most favourably on your manuscript. We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don't agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it's good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.

* * *

Hello, I’m... Rachel Piercey.


Mandatory editor selfie
in front of bookcase
Here's a bit about what I’m hoping to find: Samuel Johnson said the aim of writing was to enable readers ‘better to enjoy life, or better to endure it’. I’m hoping to find poems and pamphlets which manage both, which navigate between consolation and transcendence. I’m also keen to find poems which pay close attention to their network of sounds. I’d love to discover some new writing for children, too – something well-crafted, engaging and empowering.

Three of my favourite books are... God Loves You by Kathryn Maris, Public Dream by Frances Leviston and High Windows by Philip Larkin.

I wish I’d published... White Hills by Chloe Stopa-Hunt. I love these mythic, mysterious, profound poems. Stopa-Hunt’s voice is contemporary, direct and urgent whilst drawing on archaic language and sentence structure. It’s a mesmerising combination, and gives White Hills a timeless quality.

I wish I’d written... Falling Awake by Alice Oswald. I am currently musing on how to write about nature myself. The poems are almost painfully emotive, without being sentimental, or using nature as a translucent metaphor to talk about human experience. Oswald has found the language to make nature fully present.

I’ve got a soft spot for... poems about joy. And half-rhyme.

I’m less keen on... poems that set up and explore a conceit but don’t take it any further.

Recently I edited... a whole range of wonderful pamphlets! Rakhshan Rizwan’s vivid, impassioned debut Paisley; Julia Bird’s warm and filmic semi-biographical, semi-autobiographical Now You Can Look; and Simon Turner’s dashing arrangement of experimental riffs, Birmingham Jazz Incarnation. I like a collection to have fire in its belly, whatever the source of that flame.

My advice to anyone thinking of submitting is... to think carefully about ordering your selection. Look at it as a journey – what experience do you want the reader to have? And on the practical side, don’t underestimate the power of a clean and readable presentation!

* * *

This round of pamphlet submissions ends on 10th December 2017. See the Emma Press website for guidelines.

Meet the Emma Press editors: Emma Wright

The Emma Press is introducing a new element to pamphlet submissions: authors get to choose the editor they would like to read their submission in the first round. This doesn't mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best.

We've put together profiles of all four Emma Press editors, to help you decide which editor might look most favourably on your manuscript. We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don't agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it's good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.

* * *

Hello, I’m... Emma Wright.


Mandatory editor selfie
in front of bookcase
I'm hoping to find... deft, crisp writing that charms and delights. Prose and poems where I lose all sense of time while I’m reading them and then feel like I’m floating when I’ve read the final line. I’ll be focusing on the prose pamphlets, and I hope to find some cracking short stories, essays, novellas, and who knows what else. I'll also be looking out for poetry that is wild, angry and full of colours and rich imagery.

Three of my favourite books are... I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Stranded at the Drive-In by Garry Mullholland and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

I wish I'd published... The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits.

I wish I'd written... All but a Few by Joan Aiken.

I've got a soft spot for... dabs of humour in most kinds of writing. Writing that screams ‘THIS IS SERIOUS TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT AND SAD’ the whole way through makes me want to blow raspberries.

I'm a stickler for... prose that scans well. I want my authors to be in command of the rhythms of their sentences, using the beats and stresses to communicate with the reader just as much as the choices of words.

Recently I edited... Leanne Radojkovich’s cool, twisty fairytales in First fox, Jan Carson’s warm, lightly surreal Postcard Stories, and Daina Tabūna’s alarmingly honest coming-of-age stories in The Secret Box (translated by Jayde Will).

My advice to anyone thinking of submitting is... Think about what your pamphlet will bring to the readers’ lives. Sometimes writers are advised to write for themselves and no one else, but when you’re at the stage of sending out a manuscript it’s probably helpful to put yourself in the editor’s shoes and think about what will make them decide to devote months towards bringing your manuscript into print. At the Emma Press, it’s most likely to be because the editor believes your book will bring comfort and/or joy to the reader. Also, if you're nervous about submitting, go for it! Other people have books – why shouldn't you?


* * *

This round of pamphlet submissions ends on 10th December 2017. See the Emma Press website for guidelines.

Meet the Emma Press editors: Yen-Yen Lu

The Emma Press is introducing a new element to pamphlet submissions: authors get to choose the editor they would like to read their submission in the first round. This doesn't mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best.

We've put together profiles of all four Emma Press editors, to help you decide which editor might look most favourably on your manuscript. We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don't agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it's good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.

* * *

Hello, I'm... Yen-Yen Lu.


Mandatory editor selfie
in front of bookcase
I'm hoping to find... honest, earthy, and diverse writing. I’m interested in young adult, coming-of-age stories, particularly ones that break traditions and subvert tropes and stereotypes.

Three of my favourite books are... Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo.

I wish I'd published... The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I was completely in awe the first time I read it. She wrote fearlessly about a very difficult subject matter (police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement), and told an authentic and impactful story which still ended on a somewhat hopeful note.

I wish I'd written... Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne. The way she integrated the protagonist’s anxious OCD thoughts into the text was very simple but creative and I love how her characters in this series were so unapologetically flawed.

I've got a soft spot for... stories about friendship! It feels as though they are still undervalued in literature or written as secondary to stories about family or romantic love and it would be nice to see more of them.

I'm less keen on... clichés.

My advice to anyone thinking of submitting is... Ask yourself: 'What did it cost to write this?' This was something that my creative writing lecturer would say to me and I found it useful to think about when trying to write something authentic or personal.

* * *

This round of pamphlet submissions ends on 10th December 2017. See the Emma Press website for guidelines.

Meet the Emma Press editors: Richard O'Brien

The Emma Press is introducing a new element to pamphlet submissions: authors get to choose the editor they would like to read their submission in the first round. This doesn't mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best.

We've put together profiles of all four Emma Press editors, to help you decide which editor might look most favourably on your manuscript. We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don't agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it's good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.

* * *

Hello, I'm... Richard O'Brien.


Mandatory editor selfie
in front of bookcase
I’m hoping to find... poems that take something familiar and make it something new, whether that means bringing contemporary life to a traditional form or using precise, unusual language to help the reader see an object, an experience, through new eyes. Above all, I want poems that care about communicating with a reader. I’d also be interested in building our list in the essay and creative non-fiction genres.

Three of my favourite books are... My answer to this question changes every day. When I first got into poetry, the writers I was most drawn to were Philip Larkin, John Donne and Frank O’Hara. But most of what I’ve been reading in the past few years has been a concerted effort to engage with a greater range of voices and perspectives, and I’d especially welcome submissions by authors from less well-represented groups.

I wish I’d written... In the last year or so, poetry-wise, Jason Koo’s America’s Favourite Poem (I love its swagger, and its easy familiarity with a variety of styles and traditions), and what I’ve read online by Hera Lindsay Bird – I don’t know how she does it, and I don’t think I ever could. On the prose front, I wish I could write like Leslie Jamison, or James Baldwin, or Jon Mooallem.

I wish I'd published... Jacqueline Saphra is one of our authors already, but her crown of sonnets for the photographer Lee Miller is exactly the kind of project I wish I'd worked on.

I’ve got a soft spot for... riffs on history and classic texts, forms and characters – particularly when the author uses these to explore contemporary concerns and power dynamics. Poems, with or without formal constraints, where the author actually seems to be having a good time with the voice and medium.

I’m less keen on... writing that’s complacent about its place in the world, about who will read it, about things as they are being allowed to go on more or less unchanged; but I’m not a fan of much poetry which is purely and exclusively political sloganeering, either. There are many poems I enjoy where conventional meaning-making doesn’t seem to be a primary concern – but I’m very unlikely to pick that kind of writing out of the slush pile.

Recently I edited... an anthology of poems about Birmingham, alongside Emma. I loved the range of entries we received, and the process of picking out entries which showed that breadth of approaches to the city when we came to put the whole book together. My next project is a children’s anthology about dinosaurs!

My advice to anyone thinking of submitting is... read the kinds of things we do. The Emma Press exists for a reason, and picks up work that resonates with contemporary readers in niches other publishers have neglected. It’s also worth really considering the specifics of the pamphlet form, rather than seeing it as a stepping stone to longer work.

* * *

This round of pamphlet submissions ends on 10th December 2017. See the Emma Press website for guidelines.

Friday, 13 October 2017

This week at Valley Press, #76: 'Subs talk'



Dear readers,

We need to talk about submissions! (Cue collective *gulp* from prospective authors.) It's okay folks, don't fret; normal service will soon be resumed... it'll just take a few paragraphs.

Our current process, described here, has been open for about six months now, and we're starting to become victims of our own success. Tess, our Submissions Coordinator (who is currently away for her birthday) told me she has 200 unread manuscripts sitting on her computer; if we're going to give them all a fair 20/30 mins consideration, that is going to take a serious amount of time.

So I'm assigning her a couple of assistants, for a start, and I'm also pausing new submissions, effective this coming Thursday (19th October, probably at 5pm). They'll re-open in the new year, and I'll almost certainly tweak the format a bit. I can never resist a little experimentation... but the goals stay the same: happy submitters, happy staff, and lots of great books on the schedule.

The current process has required aspiring authors to buy a book before they submit, which has been a little controversial at times; if that comes as a surprise, check out this recent Facebook thread (particularly the comments; I felt I was eavesdropping on my own funeral at one point). I am considering dropping this rule in 2018, particularly if our next Arts Council bid comes through, but what do you lot think? Do you think we're missing out on any great work by impoverished authors, who can't stretch to the cheapest book? (That's not a joke; I've been there, as I'm sure many of you have at one time or another.)

Something to ponder on, anyway. I'll have plenty of time for that tomorrow, as I head to Ilkley for Daljit Nagra's 'Chapbook Battle', set to include our newest author Caroline Hardaker – and, in spirit, as many of the other Valley Press pamphlet writers as we can squeeze into each round.

Next week is the week of the mole, and then we've got all other kinds of excitement coming for you before the end of the year. Stay tuned!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

"What does a dinosaur's roar sound like?" Editor Richard O'Brien on dinosaur poems and submissions

When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be a palaeontologist. I read magazines about dinosaurs at my grandma’s house, spelling out their complicated names over her shoulder; I went to the Natural History Museum and gawped up at its cast diplodocus; I went to dinosaur-themed ‘safari’ parks in faded coastal towns, and at one point wrote a letter earnestly expressing my theories about the great extinction to Tony Robinson, who doubtless wondered what on earth he had to do with it but nonetheless, as I remember, took the trouble to send a brief encouraging reply.

I am not a scientific person. People in my life regularly comment on my shockingly vague understanding of the processes of the physical world. But as a kid, I loved dinosaurs: creatures who existed, or still exist, in a heady hinterland between science and myth. Twenty years on, my nephew loves them just as much as I did. He won’t be the last child whose imagination is fired by the idea of these enormous beasts, lumbering across a fern-filled landscape, alternately tearing chunks off each other and superintending busy level crossings. And though I myself am no longer wholly confident at telling the difference between a T Rex and an Albertosaurus, the names and the feeling associated with them have stuck with me much longer than my other main primordial obsession: models of tractor.

Like many childhood fascinations, dino-mania is kept alive by cultural production, from Dinotopia to The Land That Time Forgot. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say kids — and the adults who write for them — are drawn to that blend of the knowable and unknowable. Unlike human history, paleontology leaves no written traces: it’s up to our creative minds to put flesh, and scales, on the bones. And that leaves room for balsa-wood model-building, wilful anthropomorphism, and for play. What does a dinosaur’s roar sound like? I didn’t know, but I gave it my best shot!

Now, as an adult, my feathered proto-avian reptiles have come home to roost: I’m editing an anthology about dinosaurs for the Emma Press. The last book I edited, an anthology of poems about Birmingham, was concerned with giving a composite portrait of the city. There’s not much linking the subjects, other than the fact that for many London-centric journalists who’ve never been here it might as well be Isla Nublar. But what I found in that project was that most of the poems that really captured my attention started from an obvious love and engagement with their subject, but carried that over in a careful control of their material. It’s easy to pour out ideas, to splurge, but it rarely pays to overlook the small things. That’s how you end up with gender-flipping frog genes, and before you know it the island is over-run, you fools!

When writing for children, that sense of control is also extremely important. I remember viscerally hating the feeling of being patronised as a kid, so that’s not to say that poems have to talk down, or babify their subjects. It is, however, a hard ask to retain the attention of somebody discovering the whole variety of the world for the first time, and I’m looking for poems that speak clearly, that don’t dissolve into cerebral abstraction — that see keeping a child’s interest as a responsibility and a joy. 

I’d also love to see poems that do interesting things with the sounds of language — that remember, in their own DNA, how it felt as a kid to try to parse a word like ‘parasaurolophus’ for the first time. I want poems that explore the intellectual pleasure of science, and poems that just want to share the pure feeling that raptors are awesome. And finally, I want poems that share the thrill of the encounter: what it feels like when dinosaurs, as a concept and as a physical presence, first arrive in a child’s life, and the only question on their lips — the only question there is ­— is ‘Do you think he saw us?’

* * *

The call for dinosaur poems ends on Sunday 29th October. Read all the submission guidelines here.

Friday, 6 October 2017

This week at Valley Press, #75: 'Year Ten'



Dear readers,

Valley Press is now nine years old; October is the start of our tenth year of publishing in Scarborough. When I registered with the Nielsen ISBN agency as an 'official' publisher (on a paper form!), I had to say when my first books were coming out: I just put 'October 2008', which they then noted in their system as 1st October 2008. I can't remember if I had the books by then or not, but that's the only confirmed date I've got from that era – so that's our official birthday.

The first two books were out of print by the end of that year; good luck finding them anywhere now! They were both written by me, a novel from my late teens and a collection of semi-respectable poems. I went on to self-publish two more books of poetry under the Valley Press name, but realised when going 'professional' in 2011 that it might be a bit of a faux pas have myself on the roster... so those early books were swiftly dropped. Tenebrae, by Nigel Gerrans, is the earliest VP title still for sale; that dates from October 2009.

Since going into publishing full-time, I haven't written a single word of 'creative writing', though my book about snails was resurrected (pun intended) by The Emma Press in 2014. There's some news on that front, however; I've decided to celebrate VP's tenth birthday (next October) by writing a company memoir, and have made a decent start already. So far it reads like a really long, rambling, nostalgic newsletter – if you've enjoyed these last three paragraphs, you'll like that book when it appears. Watch this space.

While we're looking back (and speaking of The Emma Press), here's a great photo of myself and Emma from last week's 'Free Verse' Poetry Book Fair:


We have done a lot of book stalls together over the years; so being in a nostalgic mood, I searched my computer just now to find a classic snap with a similar pose. This is the closest I could get, from a time when Emma only had two books of her own; hard to believe when you see what her stall looks like now! (Also hard to believe: I used to wear a suit to book fairs?)


That's from mid-2013, judging by the books on display. The latest plan for Emma/Valley harmony, adding to our ongoing joint blog, is for us to host a fortnightly podcast discussing 'how to make books, a living, and a difference' – it's still in the early stages, but I find announcing plans publicly makes them more likely to happen. (That's also why I mentioned the book I'm writing, above.) Again, look out for that!

One genre of writing I didn't abandon was the 'informative article', and I've done another one this week, with advice for aspiring small press publishers on how to price and discount their books. If you'd rather just read books, and not see how the sausages are made, you might like to give it a miss – but otherwise, you can find it here.

One final bit of entertainment for you this week: John Wedgwood Clarke appeared on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday, discussing his latest poetry collection Landfill. You can listen on iPlayer here if you missed it on the day; jump to 1 hour 41 minutes (and 40 seconds) in to catch the exact start. It's another great opportunity to hear the thinking behind Landfill; they even get the boss of our local tip on the phone, to get his view on John's year spent visiting and observing the mechanisms of waste.

I'm not going to lie to you: it's still a thrill to hear one of our books discussed on Radio 4 (for the third time, that I know of). If you'd told me back in 2008, when I filled in my ISBN registration form, that a hundred books would follow – and the 101st would get discussed on Today, just after the papers – I'd have thought you were absolutely bonkers. But here we are! Thanks for reading, as ever, and I'll see you next week.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher