Thursday, 28 April 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'On the cusp of greatness'

(In my haste to pack up, I forgot to post this on Sunday – whoops!)

Dear readers,

As promised, I'm writing to you this week from my 'publisher in residence' desk at the Wenlock Poetry Festival (pictured above; I've been lurking behind the signs at the end). I haven't been to this part of the world before; I've found the people very friendly (though it is a poetry festival crowd, not known for their unfriendliness) and the town very beautiful. Great cakes too.

I won't launch into an elaborate reminiscence, as I need to let you know about our next book (the third in our 'five books, five weeks' phase) and our next new author. Mark Waddell has described himself as a 'comedy-poet-libertine for the modern generation' – which is a decent attempt at at describing a truly unique writer. If you're familiar with John Hegley, and can imagine him with somewhat bluer material, you'll be in the right ballpark, but still a little way off.

The marvellous thing about Mark is, although he is a legitmate 'stand up comedy poet', there's a lot of thought and intellect lurking behind many of the poems (the others are purely hilarious). We've been working on his first book, titled on the cusp of greatness (he prefers lower case titles) for what seems like years, finding the best examples of his work and putting them into a sensible order. I'm delighted with the result.

There is no truly representative single poem, but have a go at 'The Sound of a Falling Possum' on our website, and here's the title piece:

one evening
I was standing
at the bar
and blurted out
how I was
on the cusp of greatness
raised their drinks
and shouted
me too.

We're doing a launch for Mark in London next Saturday (see advert below), and of course don't forget to come to Joanna Ezekiel's launch on Tuesday if you're based in York. I now have a train to catch, so am signing off – lots to tell you next week!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A Wenlock poem

As we pack for our three-day stint in Much Wenlock, serving as 'publishers in residence' at the Wenlock Poetry Festival, I thought I'd share a poem written specially for this occasion, by one of my newsletter subscribers (they're a talented bunch). Enjoy!

Very Much Wenlock
by Alun Robert

Gone to earth in the wild heart of Salop
near the border with mid Cymru,
three days de rigueur reading and writing
for makars and their publishers in
Much Wenlock. More Wenlock. Most Wenlock:
the perfect place for poetry is claimed
on flyers, on the worldwide web
when a spurious brood comes calling
each and every springtime from
Yorkshire valleys, from Birmingham
and rural conurbations stretching
twixt Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth,
and training up from Oxford spires
yet halting at Adlestrop unwontedly
as express trains seem to do. Or did.
Then changing at Worcester (Foregate)
en route north to Much Wenlock through
Wyre Forest and most verdant vales.
For poetry. For enlightenment.
For craic: a long way from home.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'Coming and going'

Dear readers,

I'm going to call it: this is the busiest thirty days in the entire history of Valley Press. Things are hectic, to say the least – schedules have conspired to see us delivering a new book to you every week, starting with Shenanigans this past Thursday, and ending with a book called Quick on May 12th. Up next is Homecoming, and here's what on-duty Associate Editor Rosa Campbell has to say about it:

This week sees the release of the second Valley Press book I’ve overseen, the wonderful Homecoming by Joanna Ezekiel. I reckon I captured the spirit of this excellent collection in the description I wrote for the website, so let’s take a look:

“By necessity, to come home is to look with fresh eyes at what is familiar. Joanna Ezekiel’s exquisite second collection captures this experience with a combination of quiet observation and vivid sensuality. She draws on her British Jewish upbringing and Indian Jewish heritage to explore what it means to belong – to a family, to a country, to a culture – in poems that sing with warmth and generosity. Playful juxtapositions of characters and landscapes create a sense of the unexpected, and her treatment of the past is as subtle as her commentary on the present. Evocative and tender, Homecoming is a collection that invites the reader into an unfamiliar place and makes them feel at home.”

Yeah, not bad, me. In all seriousness, though, this is a fantastic book, including poems that wouldn’t look out of place next to the greats of contemporary British poetry (think Moniza Alvi meets Grace Nichols meets – somehow – Pride & Prejudice). It also features cameos from Roger Moore, Jean Rhys, and George Osborne, among others. Prizes for anyone who spots a certain infamous ex-PM, as well.*

Alright, enough gushing. I need to get my mind back on all the exciting forthcoming VP titles that I’m responsible for. I’m currently working on the anthology of entries to the Remember Oluwale Writing Prize which, I cannot stress enough, is going to be the most incredible and affecting collection of new writing, and with which I’m so honoured and excited to be involved. Also coming soon, a truly brilliant debut collection from Peter Spafford, whose touring performance Threshold is coming to Scarborough in a couple of weeks! Phew, it’s all go, and it’s all good.

*There may or may not actually be prizes.

I'll add to that: there's a launch event for Homecoming on Tuesday 26th in York, from 7pm, at the Oxfam Bookshop on Micklegate (not High Petergate!) Joanna will be there, as well as me and Rosa, and there will be sets from our own Oz Hardwick and the equally great Amina Alyal. Facebook event here, if you'd like to RSVP.

Rosa also mentioned a touring performance called Threshold, which is coming to Woodend (our Scarborough HQ) on the 5th May. I highly recommend this event, which includes songs, stories and actual hospitality; everyone involved is hugely talented, and it has been organised by one of the best creative companies working in the north. You can find out more here, and see the FB event here.

Two great bits of press for VP books this week: first, an interview with Michael Stewart in the Yorkshire Evening Post, which is essential reading for any fans of his short story collection Mr Jolly. (Apologies to those who've ordered that book in the last few days, by the way; we've run out, so need to get some more stock, meaning your orders will arrive late – good news for us, not so much for you!)

Second, I was pleased to see the London Review Bookshop giving a huge plug for Reward for Winter on Instagram – see here. They say it's 'one of the most exciting collections of the year', and from people who spend as much time with books as they do, that means a lot. I also hear the book has spent some time at the sharp end of the 'Poetry Bestsellers' list on Amazon, which as we know, is where fortunes are made...

This Friday I will be setting off for the town of Much Wenlock, where (you may remember) me and Emma will be 'Publishers in Residence' at the world-famous Wenlock Poetry Festival. You can read more about what we are doing there on the festival's website, which also includes the chance to book a one-on-one session to pick our brains about all things publishing-related. If you do book one with me, please be kind – I'll be a long way from home!

Due to the aforementioned hectic-ness, I didn't have time to write my fifth 'behind the scenes' article this week, but hopefully I'll get to that soon. Next Sunday's newsletter will be coming to you 'live' from Wenlock (in that I'll be trying to write it whilst 'in residence'), so be sure to give it a read – should be interesting.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 10 April 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'Playing the fox'

Dear readers,

I sit here at the end of a particularly exhausting week, and realise that at no point during it did I do any work to move a Valley Press book closer to publication – but that's how it goes, sometimes. Since 2008, I've slowly discovered there's a lot more to the job of publisher than actually publishing. One day I even hope to come to terms with that...

Fortunately, someone has been getting work done, and I'm pleased to say this week will see the release of the first VP book overseen by Associate Editor Rosa Campbell. Though freelance designers and editors have come and gone over the years, this is the first title I haven't designed or edited, that I haven't worked on at all; the first book brought to the shelves entirely by Rosa (and the author – a familiar face, thank goodness). A significant milestone!

I asked Rosa to say a few words on this occasion, so over to her:

Good afternoon, VP family! It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday over here on the “West Coast,” and to make things even sunnier, the first Rosa-Campbell-edited-and-produced Valley Press book is just about ready to be launched into the wide, waiting world. And what a book it is! The second collection from the award-winning Patrick Lodge, Shenanigans (from the Irish sionnachuighim, meaning “I play the fox") is as cleverly crafted as the foxy friend on its back cover suggests (pictured above).
This highly-anticipated collection makes delightful use of wry remark and delicate wordplay, and is remarkable (I think!) for the interweaving of distinct landscapes and voices. Look out for poems about Mykonos and Cambodia, nestled next to a soaring, brilliant retrospective on the industrial past and commercial present of my hometown, Leeds. At once familiar and strange, Lodge’s poems are rich in detail and narrative – astute observations that transport the reader to a whole new world with each turn of the page. And, in keeping with VP tradition, I’ve tried very hard to design a cover that lives up to the book’s contents, with the wonderful help of illustration work by artist (and friend of the author), Denise Phelps. It’s a real ray of sunshine, and I really, really hope you guys enjoy this book as much as I’ve enjoyed working on it!

... which means we've got a natural choice for this week's half-price paperback: Patrick's first collection, An Anniversary of Flight, which you can save 50% on using the code 50FLIGHT. More from Rosa next week, with her second book. She's been busy!

Outside the office, me and Mrs McGarry managed to attend two poetry events in Scarborough; one a wonderful tribute to our own Nigel Gerrans (with Nigel as the star guest) and the late, great Chris Woodland, whose work you may know from A Pocketful of Windows. It was a rare chance to hear the life's work of these two extraordinary poets, and a real achievement by the readers, deserving of a mention here.

The other event, a performance poetry night at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, couldn't have been more different ... suffice to say, it ended with a rambling two-hour set from a somewhat tipsy legend, which very nearly turned into a drunken brawl (and I'm sure resulted in some injuries) but was worth three times the ticket price. Both events were thoroughly unforgettable.

Of course, I also found time to hear Di Slaney on Woman's Hour (34 minutes in on the link, don't miss it!), and produce part four of my series of articles. The longest (and let's be honest, dullest) installment yet, part four is all about pricing books, the economics of printing and what to do about business overheads. It does answer the question of why poetry books cost more than prose, though (sort of), and there's a cat photo...

I'm going to try and get something constructive done now – wish me luck!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 3 April 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'Polishing type'

Dear readers,

A fairly quiet week this one, which I must admit has come as something of a relief! We have three new books coming up in April, however – including the first two overseen by 'Associate Editor' Rosa Campbell – so things won't stay quiet for long.

So what has happened? The biggest news was that results of the 'Remember Oluwale' competition were announced, which also meant we got our first look at the book's contents (wow). I posted the third installment in my series of 'behind the scenes' articles about publishing, this one dealing with the issue of how to sell books – which it turns out, isn't that complicated. (Did you know you personally are part of my 'tribe'? Now you do!)

I can also reveal details of our first 'outreach' event for prospective 2017 Valley Press authors, which is happening during the Wenlock Poetry Festival. VP and our perennial allies The Emma Press will be 'publishers in residence' at the festival, which will see us literally taking up residence in Much Wenlock on the Saturday and Sunday (23rd/24th April) to answer any questions anyone might have, and offer some workshops. The actual festival programme is amazing too – but I promise to dutifully man my post and not sneak off to too many other events.

In the week to come, I'm looking forward to hearing Di Slaney discussing Reward for Winter on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour (that's 10am, Thursday 7th); not the first time a VP author has graced the national airwaves, but still a huge deal for this humble publisher. If you want to hear from Di before then, she did a great interview on BBC Radio Oxford a fortnight ago, starting 2 hours 8 minutes in here (after 'Take On Me'...)

Last week's newsletter included some poems, and the response to that was surprisingly strong – so I'd like to offer you another one to end this week. It's the title poem from Helen Burke's first collection (pictured in the header), which is actually a rather risky choice as I only have one copy of that book in stock ... so if you'd like it, move fast! (Or go for Helen's second book, which you can have half-price with the code HELEN2.)

I've chosen this poem simply because it's been stuck in my head during the week, particularly the penultimate line – hope you enjoy it.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

The Ruby Slippers

by Helen Burke

You come in to the shop with me and
we take my new false leg off and
look around for an assistant but
they all seem to be very busy breathing and
polishing the shoes in the window.
Which is strange because they don’t look the polishing type.
I have seen the pair I want.
They are red and exotic of course and
I would like to point to them but
a small elderly man comes out from the back-room
(where I think he has been in storage since 1940)
makes eye-contact with you and asks you what you would like.

You say you would like to be treated like a normal human being.
All the assistants stop polishing now, to listen.
Which is strange because they don’t look the listening type.
The man says he fought in a war for people like us
and where has it got him?
Then he accidentally knocks my wheelchair and has to make eye-contact
with me which is painful to him. Just like the war was.
Then, he wheels me to where they keep
the selection of trainers that nobody buys, and walks off back to 1940.

We were happy before we came in.
We had bought chocolates and Parma ham and
we were oh so happy.
Now, you are frothing at the mouth and I have fixed that smile on my face
like Harry Corbett, when he used to say –
‘Bye bye, everybody, bye bye.’
when Sooty had done something wrong and he was covered in flour and water.

Then, as if by magic – the ruby shoes get up and walk out of the window
and climb up onto my knee and apologise.

And all the assistants suddenly want to open doors for us and bow and scrape and help us get the hell out.
Which is strange because they don’t look the opening doors type.
So, we leave, with those ruby slippers clinging on to us for dear life and
I want to say: ‘Don’t you know – I’m fighting in a war for people like you.’

But, I don’t. And Kansas? It just gets further and further away.