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!

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