Sunday, 26 June 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'The footprints I left'

Dear readers,

It's been an exhausting and emotional week here in Britain, and indeed here at Valley Press. So here's a big long blast of good news –

As mentioned last week, we headed to the House of Lords on Wednesday for a celebration of poetry from 'non-resident Diaspora South-Asian writers', as they were described by organisers Word Masala. I treated the dignitaries to two poems from Saleem Peeradina's Final Cut, and received for my efforts a small trophy from Baroness Prashar and Lord Parekh (I guess this is the kind of company I'm keeping now?)

Here are a couple of pictures taken by Laura; with Lord Parekh on the left, Word Masala editor Yogesh Patel in the middle, and yours truly on the right. (You can also just make out a picture of Saleem, who was there in spirit.)

So that was all very exciting. We were also thrilled this week to hear Di Slaney's Reward for Winter had been Highly Commended in this year's Forward Prizes – her poem 'Doubtful Words' will appear in the Forward Book of Poetry 2017 – and to read a glowing review for The Finest Years and Me from the Churchill Centre's journal (they know their stuff). I'm declaring £3 off both those books this week with the code GOODNEWS.

And it continues: Valley Press is at the Ledbury Poetry Festival this Saturday, with a veritable bonanza of talent on stage. I'll be talking about the realities of modern poetry publishing at 12.15pm, in the 'Panelled Room' in 'The Master’s House' (all sounds very grand). I'll then be introducing John Wedgwood Clarke at 1.20, and we'll be followed by Di Slaney at 3.40 and James Nash at 4.30, all in the same venue, and all completely free to attend! It's a must if you're anywhere near Herefordshire next weekend.

And there's more. There's a new Rosa-produced VP book out in early July, which she'd like to introduce you to. This was actually a submission for autumn 2016, but Rosa (and the readers) loved it so much, I was persuaded to add it to the end of our already-bulging spring schedule. Over to her:

"In a week of drama and (in Liverpool, at least) appropriately apocalyptic weather, I'm thrilled to introduce an antidote – a beautiful debut collection from a poet that I'm certain has an incredibly bright future ahead of her. All the Footprints I Left Were Red is Rowena Knight's astonishing and assured take on coming of age in a world that can be at once alienating and joyful, harsh and beautiful. She tackles vast themes – as varied as violence, migration, food, and love – in compact poems filled to the brim with vivid imagery. Distinctly feminist in stance, and with the outsider perspective that moving from New Zealand to England at thirteen has afforded her, this debut is sharp, lyrical, and a true breath of fresh air. A book for anyone who has ever felt out of place, wondered why it is that women so often write poems about being in the bath, or grew up believing the Goblin King was real!"

You must check out that cover at the very least (as used in the header for this post), and look out for a preview poem on the site soon – it's exemplary stuff.

If you're wondering why you're hearing about Rowena's book so early, the answer is the one slight bit of sad news today; this is the last of my 'weekly update' emails until September. Valley Press is something of a seasonal business, with the book releases and events mostly happening February-June, September-November – in the other months, like the next two, I get my head down and concentrate on production, admin and submissions. (I also spend some time on the beach; there's a reason I live by the sea!)

I might sneak out one more book during those months: I'm working on a huge Collected Poems project, and if that makes it to print before September I'll do a special bulletin. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful summer, that the sun shines, and that you remember where to go should you be stuck for reading material...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 19 June 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'What I'm looking for'

Dear readers,

I've spent this weekend at Wentworth Castle (pictured above), near Barnsley – which is actually a stately home, built by someone who wanted a castle but had to make do with a big house ... then named it 'castle' anyway. I think that's a good attitude to have.

I was there talking to authors, giving them the chance to ask any questions they had about publishing, and promoting our current search for 2017 publications. The first question at these events is usually 'What are you looking for?' – so I thought I'd answer that in this week's newsletter, in case anyone else was wondering.

When I first look at a submission, I ask myself 'could I ever imagine this becoming a Valley Press book?' Exactly what constitutes a VP book is hard to define, but I will now try: they tend to be a bit quirky, often on the fringes of their genre (except the poetry, which is itself a fringe!) They are never deliberately useful (like a handbook on gardening would be), and they are never purely of topical interest, because I want to be selling these books forever. They are also never hateful, or cynical – and they are written with great care for language.

Meeting those standards only gets you through the first stage, however. A greatly-reduced pile of envelopes is then taken to a group of volunteer readers, and together we ask of each proposal: 'would I buy this if I picked it up in a bookshop?' If the general consensus is yes, I ask the author for a full manuscript – so far I've only seen 15 pages of each book – and then things get really difficult as I must choose a final selection, usually six from twelve, to take forward to publication.

So here's a question for you: would you want to know what stage your submission got to? Would you be upset to know it was ruled out straight away (which usually just means it doesn't match my personal taste), or would you be more upset to hear a room of strangers didn't like it? And if you were one of the finalists, is that the most frustrating scenario – to know you would have been published, if the company was slightly bigger?

Something to ponder, there!

This week, me and Laura ('Mrs McGarry and I', for grammar purists) are going to the House of Lords. After publishing our very first Indian poet, we are receiving an award for supporting writing from the 'South-Asian Diaspora' (a term I've only just learnt), and launching the book in question, which is all rather exciting. Emma is getting an award too, and some company called Faber and Faber (no, me neither).

It's the night before the UK's big referendum on the European Union, so look out for us appearing as 'talking heads' on the news channels, as journalists mistake us for people of power... (it might happen). A full report on that next week; have a good one!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 12 June 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'Final Cut'

Dear readers,

What fruit is that in the header image? I've heard lemons, kumquat, even lychee – in any case, the significance is that it's from the cover of Final Cut, a new Valley Press collection published this week.

Saleem Peeradina is the first Valley Press author to not be resident in the UK, and the first Indian-born writer published by ourselves too. It's great to break those two boundaries, at once: VP suddenly feels a much bigger operation, and I'm looking forward to the challenge of managing distribution to the US and India. Here's another question for you: how many rupees does a poetry collection go for, nowadays?

Unusually for us, Saleem is a poet with a long and significant career already behind him: in 1972 he was editor of Contemporary Indian Poetry in English, still used in universities today; he has published four previous collections, one with Oxford University Press (when they were a force in British poetry); his memoir The Ocean in My Yard was published by Penguin in 2005, and he's currently 'Emeritus Professor of English' at a university in Michigan.

That doesn't get anyone a free ride though: his poetry still had to pass through my 'submissions panel', and if I remember correctly they unanimously loved it. You can read the opening poem on our website here, a wildly imaginative piece called 'The Lesson' – I was sold on that alone, but I'll include another of the bird-related poems at the end of this email so you can get a further taste.

As I mentioned last week, birds are a key subject in Final Cut (making it an ideal present for viewers of BBC's Springwatch, which my wife, mother and cat are all glued to at the moment.) The others are fruit, the human body, and more unexpectedly, inanimate objects – there are monologues from a stapler, a shaving brush, a grater and more. Oh, and I nearly forgot another record set by this book: it's the biggest we've ever published, measuring 9 inches tall by 6 wide, to try and contain the longer lines. So there's another challenge: finding suitable jiffy bags in which to pack it...

I think I've done justice to our newest book now, so I'll close this week's email, first by wishing the Queen and Prince Phillip happy birthday (they are 90 and 95 respectively – my mother insisted this deserved a nod, especially as me and HRH are old pals), and by telling you about a new offer I want to try. It's nothing revolutionary, it's a bundle: any five Valley Press books for £35, with free postage, a real bargain if there are five you've always fancied getting (or if you have a lot of birthdays coming up).

This will be available indefinitely: so if interested, send £35 to via PayPal with a list of titles, or post a cheque (and list) to our usual address: Valley Press, Woodend, The Crescent, Scarborough, YO11 2PW. See you next week!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

A Rumor of Birds

by Saleem Peeradina

In my sleep, birds stream silently overhead – flocks of them –
wave after wave of a high altitude river unbound
by banks, wings riding the wind, navigating by stars in the pitch
black of night, or the water’s magnetic glaze.
Sometimes, they storm above my roof in a cloudburst
of feathers, squawks, and screams.

One watching through a telescope will see them
scatter like flakes of pepper against lunar light;
but mostly, these night-travelers will pass invisibly, afloat
on a murmur. Before daybreak, they sift down
to settle in the trees or fields to awaken us with their
morning songs. After dusk, they flutter up again to migrate south.

Jays, thrushes, blackbirds, finches, wrens, larks, swallows, tanagers,
warblers, orioles – you live, love, breed, and die at full tilt
claiming only a bit of earth and infinite sky.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'I offer this material'

Dear readers,
This week I've been really busy – I know I always say that, but with events on in three cities, and me manning the book stall at most, I've hardly had a minute to myself! See below for a taste of the festivities: first, Ian Duhig and SJ Bradley announcing the winners at the Remembering Oluwale launch; then, a fully-clothed Kelley Swain reading from The Naked Muse at an event celebrating that book.

After Kelley's launch, I found myself re-reading her first Valley Press book Opera di Cera – a dark, gothic verse drama about wax modellers in the 18th-century – and realising how much that book also has to say about modelling for art, through the character of Teresa. She observes, whilst posing for a class:

They do not feel the sweat in the crook of my underarm.
They do not hear the purr in my belly as lunchtime nears, and passes.

And later:

Nude, not bare. Each sense is quickened, cloaked in stimuli: warm sunlight in afternoon, pungent linseed fumes, the whisper of a rinsed brush, the kiss of bristles to canvas, the mingling of oils upon wooden palettes.
When one paints my arm, birthmark, a breast, I know. I feel the weight of his mind on it. I offer this material, feel their eyes on my figure, stand in for saint or goddess.

Readers of The Naked Muse will recognise those situations continuing into the 21st century. If you enjoyed Kelley's latest book, and fancy a trip to the murky world of Renaissance Florence (and you love intense, intricately written verse dramas – who doesn't?) then give Opera di Cera a try; have £3 off this week with the discount code OPDI. It's a lovely item, as you can see below:

I don't have any other news for you, except to say I've appreciated your replies to my call for your favourite Valley Press poems of all time (for a possible anthology). If you'd like to mention a poem that particularly jumped out for you, please do let me know. So far, title poems and collection-opening poems are doing well; but I think we can go deeper!

See you next week, when I hope to introduce another new book – one with an abiding interest in birds, fruits, and everyday objects.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher