Thursday, 26 September 2013

Under the Covers, Pre-Wakefield

This weekend sees Valley Press host an afternoon at Wakefield Literature Festival, and in honour of this, writer-in-residence Steve Dearden interviewed me (Jamie McGarry, if we haven't been introduced) for a feature he calls 'Under the Covers'; asking what book I'm currently reading, and three books which have influenced me as a publisher. Here's what I said:

I am currently reading Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany by Stephen Sondheim - a long title I know, but it seems a shame to trim it down, especially as that's how it's expressed on Amazon.

This is a perfect book to very slowly make your way through over a period of months. Like my usual reading material of poetry (or short non-fiction), the lyrics make brief, impressive reading, matched by the 'attendant' content, which is nothing short of brilliant. Sondheim has been working at the very top of the art world for what must be sixty years, and you don't go through that without picking up some essential wisdom. Everything he says is to be picked apart, savoured and considered, and is relevant to people working in all areas of art, not just musical theatre. I may never finish this book - and I mean that as a compliment. I'll probably just start again at the beginning.

Three books that have influenced me, as a publisher:

Tony Harrison, Collected Poems - this eggshell-blue hardback arrived in 2007, when I was just getting seriously into poetry, realising its power and that it was a medium worth spending your life on. My student finances couldn't stretch to buying the book, so instead I would walk innocently into Waterstones each time I passed, and read a new poem or two from their copy (which I eventually did manage to buy).

Leaving the content aside (for today), the production of this book was a big influence on me. It felt important, monolithic even, like the book could appear in the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is due to the paper, the cover, the font, the typesetting - everything. It really is a work of typesetting genius - no poem is stretched or distorted, and they are able to jump from obscure German calligraphy to small caps in the middle of a poem without causing any distress.

In the last few months, I have acquired the font used in this book (Adobe Minion)... and the strange thing is, it appeared on my computer one day without explanation or announcement. I have, however, chosen not to investigate this, and to test it out on John Wedgwood Clarke's new collection, launched the day before our Wakefield Lit Fest event.

Philip Larkin, Collected Poems - the green-covered version with yellow and light-blue text, where the running order of the original collections are preserved, and all those second rate works from the first CP are removed. Small, neat, tidy and beautiful, this is perhaps the most effective Faber poetry cover design from their 'just the name and title' Pentagram series, and was another great influence on me in terms of typesetting and design. Perfectly proportioned in every way, this book's design again manages to make its content seem even more important than it already is (if that's possible).

My Tony Harrison book is signed by the author; unfortunately me and Phil didn't have a crossover period, but I did managed to get this signed by Jean Hartley, whose Marvell Press insignia is all over it - her story is a constant reminder that small-press poetry publishing can make a lasting difference, and (occasionally) does count/matter in the grand scheme of things.

John Glenday, Grain (or, all recent Picador poetry titles) - when Picador were working on, say, the first edition of The World's Wife, they were doing fantastic, flawless work. Then they got better. Grain is an example of a book I bought just because I was overwhelmed by the quality of the design - so perfect is this particular book, with its double-sided colour cover and thick, wonderful paper, it actually never leaves my desk. It's always there, so I can pick it up any time and remind myself what I'm working towards at VP.

P.S. An honorary mention must go to The Flower and the Plough by Rachel Piercey, illustrated by Emma Wright - buying this book led me into a conversation that led to a marriage, and the sheer attention to detail (and beautiful illustrations) within this slim volume are very much responsible for that.

According to anecdotal evidence, I've been studying book design (and copying it on old exercise books) since I was six years old - so you can see how far gone I am down the road to publishing obsession, with no sign of turning back. Luckily for you, the readers, I suppose!

The VP event at Wakefield will take place at The Orangery, 4-6pm on Sunday 29th September, and feature readings from Kate Fox, Adam Strickson, Paul Sutherland, Sue Wilsea, Tony Howson, James Nash, Miles Salter, Helen Burke, Norah Hanson and Mike Di Placido. See you there!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Poetry Book Fair Report (Valley edition - with a bit of EP/VP back-story)

In Emma's Poetry Book Fair report, she promised you a report on this year's Fair from a 'veteran' - she must mean me! - thus laying down the challenge of following her fantastic 'rookie' post, and adding something new and interesting. I have chosen to dodge this challenge, and in the spirit of our now almost-month-old union, cover entirely different ground... to complement, rather than compete with, my dearly betrothed. Which is exactly the point of all this 'engagement' business!

I realise that besides the somewhat jokey first couple of posts, neither of us have offered comment yet on the actual reality behind the engagement. Here then, briefly, is the story: I read an article on Emma and her new Press on the Bookseller website, way back on the 3rd February. So impressed was I by the attitude (both textual and graphical) on her site, I was moved to spend some of my always-scarce money on a copy of her first title.

This was apparently just enough to insert Valley Press into her subconscious, so when she set up a market stall in May, she wrote to ask if I wanted her to sell some VP books on her stall - I did, of course, and she shifted quite a few! We then started a tentative email exchange, asking questions about each other's approach to survival in the Wild West world of self-employed poetry publishing; these emails continued indefinitely, and became longer and longer, as we discovered a vast variety of shared interests and opinions even beyond publishing (for example, we're both mega-fans of Swedish songster Jens Lekman).

What also happened was this: although I don't always live up to it, I have a pretty clear idea of how a perfect small press would/should operate in 2013 - Emma and her Press not only matched my ideal, but surpassed it; and not just sometimes, but every day, in new and surprising ways. Her energy, enthusiasm and commitment cannot be adequately described in words, nor can her god-given artistic and design talents (you'll see plenty of evidence of those in the coming months, if you haven't already). By the time we finally met up in August, I knew I simply had to find some way of harnessing these powers - rather like a cyclist hanging on to a juggernaut to gain speed - and for some reason, she was totally up for it too. So, we came up with the idea of the two presses getting married, sharing as many resources as possible; and even a blog, which you're on now. What the future has in store is anyone's guess, but I look forward to finding out!

So onto the Book Fair: you've heard from Emma how it was absolutely packed, and in a smaller space than last year - leading to an atmosphere of heady excitement and fevered book buying. In terms of hard cash, I took home about twice as much as the 2012 event, which I credit to two things. Number one: my use of a conversation-starting sign, which I then turned round to reveal the answer...

Number two: the efforts of Matthew Hedley Stoppard and Jo Brandon, who not only gave a world-beating reading from their books (and others), but actually ran the stall for some quite considerable periods of time, while I wandered about and fraternised with Emma. They sold about a dozen copies of each of their books in the end. Here's what Matthew looked like during his reading:

Very expressive! And here's Jo, and me, in a picture that could have been taken at any reading we've done:

All these photos are courtesy of that long-lensed genius Marcos Avlonitis. (You can see the full set on Facebook if you like.) That about wraps up my thoughts on the Poetry Book Fair 2013 - except to answer the question: will I be back next year? to which I would reply: does the Pope love hats? (Yes, he does, and yes, I will.) Keep an eye on this blog for more exciting posts soon.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Poetry Book Fair Report (Emma edition)

I've been running the Emma Press for nearly a year now, and I still take a great deal of pleasure in counting up my firsts. First book, tick. First printed press coverage, tick. First anthology, (nearly) tick. Last Saturday I had my first book fair, which felt significant in a way my first craft fair hadn't. My biggest fear before Aunt Elsie's Spring Fling back in May was that I'd be unable to arrange my stall properly, but the scenario overall had been experimental and therefore pressure-free. The Poetry Book Fair, on the other hand, felt like my formal introduction to the poetry world, and I was anxious that I should come across well, as a capable and approachable publisher instead of a people-repeller with a suspicious circle of tranquility around my table throughout the day.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about, at least as far as circles of tranquility are concerned. The PBF was rammed, a brilliant showcase for the vibrancy of the poetry scene. The main hall in Conway Hall was packed with a huge variety of different poetry publishers, and after midday there was a steady stream of people shuffling around the room, poring over hand-bound, saddle-stitched, letterpressed, limited-edition publications, and coming in and out of the readings room.

I was sharing a table with the cutting-edge Egg Box Publishing, which meant I had the pleasure of chatting to publisher Nathan Hamilton during the quieter moments of the day. These were few and far between, however, due to the afore-mentioned ramming, and I spent most of the time chatting to visitors at my stall and putting faces to names, including Chrissy Williams, one of the organisers of the fair and an excellent poet, and Lorraine Mariner, who I knew worked at the Poetry Library but I hadn't realised was a poet, published by Picador. I also met Jamie for the first time since our engagement (moment preserved for posterity, right), and proudly attended a reading by two Valley Press poets, Jo Brandon and Matthew Hedley Stoppard.

After the fair had closed, the readings from different presses continued in a pub across the road, as did the introductions and poetry publishing gossip. I left buzzing and wishing that something like the PBF occurred more frequently, to get the gorgeous publications out into people's hands and to share the infectious atmosphere of industry and creativity which makes the poetry scene so exciting.

Coming soon: a Poetry Book Fair report from a veteran and, from me, another first: the EP's first wedding fair, next Sunday!

Friday, 6 September 2013

First Responses From The Literary World

Since announcing our engagement last week, Jamie and I have received many lovely messages from friends of our presses, and even been dubbed 'the most important celebrity wedding of the year ' by one perceptive onlooker. We continue to be extremely excited about our betrothal and hope to be able to share our plans for our forthcoming nuptials with you all very soon, but in the meantime here are some of the responses from the literary world.

"A wonderful marriage of minds!  - And publishing talent!  North meets south, boy meets girl, beautiful books meet beautiful books; hopefully leading to the begetting of more beautiful books… As a Valley Press author I couldn’t be happier to witness these delightful nuptials with The Emma Press." 

"Congratulations to the Emma Press and Valley Press on their marriage. Small presses with such similar values are a match made in heaven and I think, in these uncertain times, a willingness to partner up, vow to stick together for richer, for poorer and share the best of themselves is a decision that I, as a poet, want to shower with confetti. I wish them all the very best for a fruitful, fertile union."
  Kate Fox

"This is fantastic news - a true meeting of minds, enthusiasms and plans for the future. The Emma Press and Valley Press are both dynamic and forward-thinking publishers with lots to share and celebrate. Can I be a bridesmaid?" 

"Let's all toast Emma Press and Valley Press and wish them a long and fulfilling coadunation. It's immensely gratifying to see the institution of marriage returned to its roots as a means of forging alliances, consolidating power and sharing spoils. It's also very sensible of them - poetry needs cooperatives and collaborations more than it needs individualistic fervour and queue-jostling. This way, we all get a slice of the cake. By which I mean the wedding cake, but also the metaphorical poetry cake. Two cakes, one marriage. Good luck to them!" 
–  Jon Stone

If you want to add your own thoughts, let us know in the comments box, or tell us in person at the Poetry Book Fair tomorrow. Both Valley Press and The Emma Press will have stalls, so come on by for a chat!