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.

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