Friday, 30 May 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #5 ('Jamie's first book' edition)

The Edible Book Launch for Love and Eskimo Snow was a huge success - tickets and books completely sold out! I'm hoping some photos or reviews will materialise soon; but until they do, this is another lean week for Valley Press news ... in fact, that's pretty much it.

I don't want to leave you empty-handed, though, so please see below for a complete scan of the ultimate Valley Press backlist title - The Jelly Turtle, the very first book I ever made, dating from 1994 when I was just six years old. I produced this using the school's Acorn computer, a pair of fancy scissors, and perhaps some help from teacher ... but the words, and the illustrations, are pure Jamie.

Be honest ... did you see that ending coming?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

John Clegg on bandits and bottled heads: the story behind 'Captain Love and the Five Joaquins'

I swore by heck I’d break his neck
for the jolt he gave my pride,
so I threw my noose on that old cayoose
and once more took a ride;
then he turned around and soon I found
his tail where his head should be.
So I says, ‘Says I, perhaps he’s shy,
or he just don’t care for me.’

                     (‘The Devil’s Great Grandson’, Bob Nolan)

Like Skyball Paint, the devil’s horse and subject of Bob Nolan’s hillbilly song, here’s a tale where a head should be. The head belonged to Joaquin Murrieta, a horse-thief and bandit active during the Californian gold-rush, and the tale belonged to Harry Love, a veteran of the Mexican-American War contracted by California’s embryonic government to put a stop to Murrieta’s career and that of his associates: four more bandits, each also called Joaquin. Love had been hired for a three-month term, concluding in mid-August 1853, and there is little doubt that there was a tacit agreement of a substantial bonus if Love brought down his man. On August 4th, Love reported to Governor Bigler that the deed was done; as proof, he brought with him Murrieta’s severed head, preserved in a jar of alcohol. It was taken on a tour of the state by two of Love’s confederates, with admission charged at a dollar, and during this period a number of affidavits were taken as to the identity of the head. The route, however, seemed to purposefully avoid those areas where Murrieta had been well-known, and most of the affidavits were signed with Xs, indicating that the witnesses had not been able to read what they were signing. One of Love’s confederates was reported as bragging in a pub that ‘one pickled head was as good as another if they [sic] was a scar on the face and no-one knew the difference’.

An illustration from Captain Love and the Five Joaquins

This is history, of a sort. My poem ‘Captain Love and the Five Joaquins’ plays thoroughly fast and loose with it. My real inspiration was the legend of Zorro: the serials, the Douglas Fairbanks film, Youtube clips of the Mexican telenovela (in which Zorro battles pirates and zombies, and is assisted by a flamboyant coterie of gypsies), and especially the 1998 film starring Antonio Banderas. All of these (apart from possibly the telenovela, which plays by rules of its own) engage with history but are not bound by it. To get a clearer view of Love alone, as his lie begins to close in on him, I have made him a solitary figure, erasing the twenty California Rangers he rode with; on the other hand I have made the Five Joaquins real, whereas all evidence suggests they are a joke being played on the California legislature by a cynical state senator called De La Guerra. I have also played merry hell with Californian geography: Fresno was not a city at this point and certainly not a seat of government, and Laredo is mentioned in tribute to the beautiful song rather than out of any topographic plausibility.

And in a way this is honesty towards the source, because in fact Murrieta is Zorro. The early newspaper accounts were turned into a sensational novel by John Rollin Ridge (who was incidentally the first Native American novelist), pirated and corrupted by the California Police Gazette, and thereafter told and retold as much or more than any other piece of Gold Rush folklore; and these accounts were plainly the main source material Johnston McCulley drew on when he created for the pulp serials his ‘masked man dressed all in black’, the fox, so cunning and free, and who is especially free with carving his initial on stationary objects.

— John Clegg

* * *

Captain Love and the Five Joaquins, by John Clegg and illustrated by Emma Wright, is publishing on 29th May 2014 with The Emma Press. You can read more about it and buy it for £5 on The Emma Press site.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #4

So it's Friday again, and this time I have a new problem - nothing of note happened or was achieved this week. I've been keeping my head down, catching up with emails, doing some freelance work, and working on the remaining 2014 books so they can appear in the next Inpress catalogue. What can I say, the publishing life isn't all glamour!

For some literary excitement, you should check out Emma's post which went up yesterday, offering a first look at the Emma Press Fatherhood Anthology, which will be epic. Also, it seems Kelley Swain can be relied on to have an interesting week, as she was asked (on the back of Opera di Cera) for advice repairing one of Susini's original waxworks, and she was also interviewed on Cambridge 105 radio.

I guess I should take this opportunity to thank everyone who has sent in a submission this month - I plan to work through the pile in the middle of June, maybe around the 13th, so bear with me until then. See you next week!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Exclusive extract from the introduction to 'The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood'

The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood
We're publishing a pair of orange books next week: The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood and Captain Love and the Five Joaquins! Captain Love is a fantastic yarn from the talented John Clegg (Eric Gregory Award, 2013) and the latest in our Emma Press Picks series, and The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood is a collection of poems about different aspects of fatherhood, following on from our book about motherhood. I'll be posting more about both of them in the coming weeks, but for now I thought I'd give you a taster of the Fatherhood book through an extract from my introduction:
'For a book full of confessions and confrontations, The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood contains remarkably little direct communication. Poets commune with lost fathers in addresses destined never to reach their subject, and explain themselves to children who are too young to understand. Poems such as Oliver Comins’ ‘Brown Leather Gloves’ and Sara Hirsch’s ‘Tonight Matthew’ find resolution and peace beyond the grave, while Di Slaney’s ‘On the forestry commission track’ and Rich Thompson’s ‘And he the maul’ analyse old memories for clues and redemption. In their many ways – and often through some sense of distance – all the poets convey great depth of feeling, and offer a fascinating insight into the state of fatherhood in the twenty-first century.

'When Rachel Piercey, my co-editor, and I were planning the call for submissions to this book, we expected some responses to focus on the pressures of modern fatherhood. The role of the father has expanded rapidly over the last few decades and I thought this would be reflected in poems about the pressure of living up to society’s expectations of what a father should now be. Instead, poets seemed more preoccupied with their own fathers and the impact their approach to parenting had on the poets’ lives. Jerrold Yam’s ‘Ornament’ and John Saunders’ ‘My father is the breeze that opens the shed door’ explore the impassive twentieth-century father who appears throughout the book, reflecting the enduring legacy of the traditional father figure. [...]'

You can read more about The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood on The Emma Press website. The launch party is taking place in Vauxhall, London, on Thursday 29th May - full details here.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #3 (Saturday Edition)

It happened again - I put 'write the weekly round-up' at the bottom of my Friday task list, and here I am doing it on Saturday afternoon, in between the weekly shop and some gardening. To be fair, this is only my third effort in this new series, so I'm still getting into the swing of it... perhaps I'll do better next week? Anyway, here's what's been going on in the world of Valley Press over the last seven days:

  • Since I published my very first book in 2008, I've been keeping one copy of each edition on a special shelf I refer to as 'the archive'. Whilst gazing happily at it this week, I realised I'd never taken a picture of this shelf and shared it with the world; so I remedied that immediately, as you can see below. Perhaps I'll update this every so often, as it continues to grow?

  • The next addition to this hallowed stretch of shelf will be In Between by John Wedgwood Clarke, a new pamphlet I announced this week - you can read all about it here. With this publication, John becomes the first person ever to be published by Valley Press three times - we did Sea Swim in 2012, Ghost Pot in 2013, and now this small but perfectly-formed new title, due out on June 13th.

  • In Between is a short sequence of poems considering the 'snickets, passageways, courts and yards' of York, in particular how people 'have shaped and been shaped by these transitional places' (a lovely turn of phrase I can't take credit for). These poems were commissioned by the York Curiouser project, and were first seen written in chalk in the locations they describe (if you follow me). Photographer Chris Jones captured some of this work, as you can see below, and on his website here.

  • There was some great news for Love and Eskimo Snow this week, as a deal was struck with WHSmith Travel to feature the book in a 'buy one get one half price' offer during the summer, starting in mid-July. WHSmith Travel are the branches in train stations, airports and motorway service stations, so if you find yourself in one of those after the 17th July, ask the staff where you can find that summer book with the word 'snow' in the title - you'll be led straight there, I should think!
  • And finally: I spent as much of this week as possible editing on paper, outside, as the weather has been lovely. However, by now I am running out of work I can constructively do whilst on a deckchair - so suggestions are welcome. Some excitement was provided on Thursday by the arrival of a new printer at Valley Press, my first wireless one; and yesterday I enjoyed reading this post on Rebecca Goss's blog, which happens to feature an excerpt from Opera di Cera not previously seen online - so head over there and enjoy that, and I'll see you next week. On Friday!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #2 (Saturday Edition)

A busy Friday meant I was immediately regretting my promise of last week - that I would write a blog every Friday letting you know what I've been up to in the preceding seven days, and pointing you in the direction of any interesting links that might have cropped up. Nonetheless, I did promise that, so here is the second instalment ... just very slightly overdue.

  • If you're one of those people who thinks Sunday is the first day of the week, my week began at the Totally Locally Scarborough Fayre, held in and around VP HQ, a.k.a. Woodend. It quickly became clear I was no longer the only publisher in town, as I shared the reception area with a young lad who had produced a book of old Scarborough photos - and in fact has more than six thousand Facebook followers for it, so may well know something I don't! The talented Mr. Steven Ayckbourn was also there with some charming (and well presented) children's books he'd just published. He took his chances outside, on a day when rain was forecast - but it turned out to be lovely, so Steven won the day by default. I sold four items, which is not too bad.
  • Also in the reception area was the Big Smile Photo Booth, and after a day sharing a small space with the friendly proprietors, I had to oblige when they asked me to get in front of the lens, with a couple of props. Here is the result:

  • This was the week after I announced submissions were re-opened, with the proviso that you must buy a book first, and the response has been staggering - literally dozens of sales and enquiries, some of them very promising indeed. I've spent many happy hours this week (probably a full day) meeting with prospective authors for the future; I can't give you any names yet, but I will as soon as the contracts are signed. Some very exciting stuff in the pipeline.
  • VP followers have been almost unanimous in their support for the new submissions system. Everyone except Paul Robinson-Kamp, that is, who sent me this message: "So if Jack London were to appear now on the streets of Leeds, ragged and penniless after an epic trek across some frozen tundra, and somehow he had managed to salvage the tattered manuscript under his coat, hoping to give the world a chance to share his experiences, you wouldn't look at his work because he didn't have a Paypal account?" I replied that, in the situation he described, I would probably accept a cheque - and this goes for everyone else too. There are no exceptions to the 'buy something first' rule, but you can post a cheque if you're frightened of PayPal for some reason.
  • It turned out Paul was already in the process of being published, and agreed I could use his witty message in my blog if I plugged his book, This Scheme of Things, which is due out on December 1st. Look out for it - if the dramatic stakes are as high as in his enquiry, it should be worth a read!
  • Besides the aforementioned meetings with 'prospectives' (which is in contention for my favourite part of the publishing process), I divided my time this week between calculating everyone's October-April royalties, and working on a forthcoming pamphlet, which has been fully edited and designed in the last five days. I'll tell you all about that next week, but for now, you can rest assured that the editing was a success ... at once point, by removing a single letter, we agreed we had 'enhanced the interchangeability of pronoun and primacy of the common physical experience of space' (that is an actual quote from an email).
  • Finally for today: if you follow this link you can read a charming article about Cara Brennan which appeared in some sort of Newcastle cultural supplement. See you next Friday for more fascinating insights!

Friday, 2 May 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #1

The management of this blog have been talking, and we've decided to attempt a bi-weekly schedule of posts for the foreseeable future. The thinking is that the posts will be 'updates on our projects, reviews of poetry books, little interviews with authors and other publishers, write-ups of events, and reflections on publishing.' So if any of that sounds good, you'll want to come here more often!

To this end, I'm going to post a short(ish) blog every Friday letting the world know what's been happening at Valley Press over the last five days; a helpful digest for people who don't follow every single tweet I post (so, for people). This will take a certain amount of discipline, not something I've previously been known for, but I like a challenge - lets see how far I can get. Emma has warned me that nobody reads anything on the internet on Friday, but that's probably for the best while I figure out the finer points of this new undertaking.

This has been quite an eventful week, so without further ado, here is the first Friday Digest:

  • Our latest book has arrived, and is pictured below. The arrival of a finished book is almost enough of a high that I can live on that alone, especially when it coincides with the author writing to me saying I'd made her childhood dream come true (I'm sure Sarah won't mind me sharing that!) In some ways, it feels even more of an achievement when the book in question is a novel; novels are such big blocky things, and take so many hours of effort to produce (easily twice as much as a poetry book), that when the job gets done I feel I've really accomplished something epic. Please hum the opening music from 2001: A Space Odyssey as you gaze on this monument to human achievement:

  • In celebration of the paperback book arriving, I also produced a Kindle edition. I put in just a little more effort than usual to include drop-caps and similar niceties, yet for some reason they only appear on your Kindle device, or on the PC software, not on the 'look inside' web preview. If any techy types are passing by - why is that?
  • Talking of web previews, the publication of Love and Eskimo Snow inspired me to use 'issuu', for the first time, to show website visitors exactly what reading the book would be like (click through and scroll down to see what I'm talking about). As of yet I've had no feedback on this feature, good or bad - do we like it? Should I do more in future? 
  • Because you'll never see them otherwise, here are the first and second cover designs I produced for the book, dating from November and March. I think good taste triumphed in the end, don't you?
  • Besides the arrival of the new book, the big news was that - as of 11am yesterday - Valley Press is once again open to unsolicited submissions. The only catch is that you have to buy a book through the VP website before you can send anything in. I'm looking forward to seeing how the world responds to this! I've been trying to solve the problem of submissions ever since I started; I feel they are an important part of a publisher's job, but with a ratio so far of (approximately) 1000 enquiries to (exactly) 7 books found through this avenue, I was spending an awfully high number of my working hours on a part of the business that doesn't make money. Now, that won't be the case.
  • I have to dutifully credit Emma for coming up with this idea, though she has gone about it in an altogether more generous, classy and professional way - 'The Emma Press Club', which you can read about here. My wording on the VP contact page is pretty much 'buy something, then we'll talk'; but at least there should be no confusion, right...?
  • Before I could re-open submissions, I felt it was my solemn duty to catch up with all the unread ones that have amassed over the last few years (I found one dating back to November 2012 - sorry to that person!) Having worked through both my folder on the computer, and my 'bag for life' full of paper, I believe myself to be completely up to date in this regard; but if you know differently, and think I've missed you, please get in touch.
  • I spent the whole of Tuesday at an intense 'Social Media Masterclass' put on by Superfast North Yorkshire; I felt totally drained at the end, but I did take about ten pages of notes, which I will dig out in a week or two when I've fully recovered. I was sat next to a very smart freelance marketer named Jane Harper, who suggested this Facebook thread which ended up being extremely popular and interesting.
  • Miscellany: I also found time this week to work on my new website design, which may or may not arrive in July. Aesthetically, there won't be a big difference to the current one, but it should be easier to buy the books (which is important), and it'll be really easy to use if you're browsing on a mobile phone or small tablet. Finally, I entered the eligible 2013 books into the 2015 Read Regional scheme, and bought 400 jiffy bags (which costs £50, if you're wondering). I think that's everything.
  • Web links of the week: This week we were all excited by the detailed review of Pocket Horizon in The Lancet, and I also really enjoyed this interview between Jonny Aldridge (who I've previously declared to by my favourite reviewer) and Mike Di Placido. 'Don't give up until you're five years dead,' Mike declares.
  • Further reading: I must admit the only publishing blog I really read, religiously, is Charles Boyle's, and I enjoyed this post this month (for obvious reasons). I especially like the bit where he thinks perhaps CB Editions has been successful because it received zero funding, which is a beautifully empowering thought. (By the way, I think I might have got the 'bullet point' format subconsciously from him.) I'm sure there are other great publishing blogs I could be reading - if you know of one, why not let me know? Emma also pointed me in the way of this post by Fiona Moore, which is a great insight into a typical pamphlet publishing process from a poet's perspective (Emma recommended this post through a haze of jealousy over how well it was written - which is usually a good indicator of quality).