Thursday, 24 September 2015

Valley Press celebrates 'greatest ever week'

Dear readers,

It's been a remarkable week at Valley Press – you may want to sit down with a strong drink before reading this blog post.  Done that?  Right, on we go!

Back in July, for the first time in my publishing career, I decided to apply to Arts Council England for a grant to support the growth and development of Valley Press.  Many of my publishing heroes run their businesses with the aid of money distributed by ACE (which is originally from the National Lottery); I'd not previously felt there was any chance of me joining their ranks, but in July I decided it was time to find out for sure.  So I diligently spent a week or so filling out the form, and off it went.

This week I heard my application was successful, and I can now announce Valley Press will be recieving nearly £50,000 of Arts Council funding between today and May 2017.  I know – I didn't see it coming either!  Time to take a sip of that strong drink you sat down with, two paragraphs ago, and enjoy the official, compulsory logo, which you'll be seeing a lot of from now on:

A press release about this can be read here (two, even), and an article from The Bookseller (who broke the news simultaneously with the VP newsletter) here.  What I promised to do with the money was: publish at least twelve books in 2016, from familiar and new authors, and do an absolutely outstanding job on them; take those authors and others on a national tour (like the one we did in 2013, but bigger); construct a new website for Valley Press which works on mobiles and has a shopping basket; and carry out an extremely active search for new writing throughout 2016, to find truly undiscovered writers from every corner of society. So look out for more information on all of that over the next few months.

Moving on now; it was a lively week even before the grant news arrived.  The non-fiction books I told you about last month have gone from strength to strength – Tom Preston's second-person cancer memoir The Boy in the Mirror received a five star review in The Sun (see here), and Tom was interviewed for the most recent edition of The Sunday Times (clipping below, full article here for subscribers).

Kris Mole's epic travel adventure Gatecrashing Europe appeared in Brighton paper The Argus (see here), in rather photo-heavy style in the Daily Mail (see here – though approach with caution!) and perhaps most informatively in The Mirror. This kind of national press attention is unprecedented for VP books, really; hopefully a sign of things to come.

Still with me?  There are some great events coming up this week too.  Let me first tell you about three forthcoming readings in Scarborough – see the poster below for details.

There are still a couple of tickets left for Norah's reading, which is happening today (Thursday 24th). We'd love it to be a sell-out, and we'd love to see you there, so give Wardle & Jones a call!  (If you haven't heard of Scarborough's new independent bookshop, by the way, the proprietors wrote a post for this blog which is well worth a read.)

We also have a reading coming up at the weekend, in London, as part of the 'Free Verse' Poetry Book Fair.  Here comes the obligatory poster:

If you're going anywhere near Conway Hall on Saturday, this reading is a must – and there are lots of others on during the day, all free, including one with The Emma Press (outside in the square at 11am).  We have a stall too, come and say hello!  Possibly some congratulations in order...?

By way of a closing note, I'd like to acknowledge that I am just the centre of the web that is Valley Press – it's the wonderful authors who've worked with me over the last seven years, the legions of readers who've bought their books, and all the hard-working freelancers and interns who've actually built VP to the point where it deserved funding.  So a huge, huge thank you to everyone who has supported Valley Press so far.  I think you'll be sticking around to see what happens next!

All the best,
Jamie McGarry (VP Publisher)

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

'Poets on Bar Street' – and, meet Wardle & Jones

Today, I'm excited to bring you news of a new series of poetry readings in Scarborough, at recently-opened independent bookshop Wardle & Jones. Details of the readings can be found below, in the poster, and afterwards I thought I'd let W&J's proprietors share a few thoughts on the daunting process of opening a new bookshop. Wish them luck!  J.M.

We are Rachel and Karl – the two halves of Wardle & Jones. 

I am the Wardle half and it's my smile you'll usually see as you come through the door. I mainly read fiction, I also love children's books and am more likely to be found perusing our children's stock than reading a book aimed at grown ups. Karl, the Jones half, on the other hand much prefers non-fiction – history, politics, philosophy – he also loves Terry Pratchett.

We decided to open a book shop after lots of talking, thinking, research and training. It is the one thing Karl and I had always talked about doing together with true excitement. I was aiming to find my sparkle again after leaving a 12-year career as a project manager. It was definitely the right decision – my sparkle’s back and we love being in Scarborough.

We opened on 20 June 2015 after a frenetic five weeks of work from both family and some of the most conscientious trades people I've ever met. There was only one major hiccup when, 10 days before opening, we were told the material for the shelves and counter was not available. Not only would it not be delivered in the next three days as planned, it wasn’t going to be delivered at all! I began contacting local joiners and carpenters and by the end of the following day I'd managed to line up a two-man team. They were new to the area and needed to build a good reputation quickly, it was a fortuitous meeting for all concerned. They did a good quality job and we opened on time, phew!

We decided on books, coffee and cake as the right combination because we'd visited other places where this mixture worked well. Two of our favourite bookshops are Barter Books in Alnwick and Mr B's Book Emporium in Bath. Mr B's doesn't serve coffee and cake but they do have lots of space and comfy nooks to sit and enjoy the books. We wanted to give everyone a place to enjoy being around books in a safe, comfy environment where there was a reason to stay longer and have a proper look.

Our challenge was to fit that into a very small space – just 30m2; serving only cake was the solution. We knew we wanted to serve freshly ground coffee, that way book and coffee lovers alike would have a reason to visit, stay – well, only until closing – and return. So we made sure there was space for an espresso machine and grinder on our carefully designed counter (thanks to Mr Jones' hidden – until now – talent for technical drawings).

Almost 10 weeks in I am enjoying life more than I have for years. I’m excited every day about the people I might meet in the shop and the thoughts, opinions, ideas and memories they might share. But I am fearful of the future too, will we be able to sell enough books, coffee and cake to stay open? Business is at best steady and we certainly need to be selling more in the coming weeks, months and years to carry on for the foreseeable future, but we're hopeful. There are a number of as yet untapped income streams – we are just starting to put together an events calendar, we'd like to start supplying schools when the new school year starts and we have yet to run any joint events with local venues.

Finally, one thing I find useful as a bookseller is to remind myself the books in the shop aren't mine, they already belong to someone else. That way I find it easy to let people look, touch, feel and enjoy the books in their own way, so hopefully they're more likely to make them theirs before leaving.

You can read more about W&J here.