Sunday, 26 February 2017

This week at Valley Press, #43: 'Fully booked'

Dear readers,

Depending on your perspective, I have some good or bad news to start with – as of Friday, I've filled our 2017 'list'. The whiteboard at VP HQ is bulging with exciting forthcoming titles, scheduled between now and November, and I'm looking forward to telling you all about them in the months to come.

However, as I still have a bag of really excellent 2016 submissions that I haven't said 'yes' or 'no' to yet, I've decided to keep the current process going until we've filled the first half of 2018. So if you haven't heard from us, don't give up hope just yet (but don't get too excited either, probably only 1 in 6 of those left in the bag will get an offer of publication).

This means I'll need the email reading group to continue the phenomenal work they've been doing so far – if you'd like to join that, it's definitely not too late, just let me know. It's time I set a hard deadline for this saga to conclude, so here goes: everyone who sent a manuscript to Valley Press in 2016 (and remembered to enclose the official form) will hear from us with a final decision by 31st March. Thanks for your patience!

* * * * 

Looking beyond the next week (when I seem to have eight days worth of work to do), I'm pleased to announce an upcoming Valley Press event happening in Birmingham, on March 22nd. I'll be there with my book stall, and there will be readings from Tom Preston, Di Slaney and Michael Stewart, three fantastic writers at the top of their game.

The event starts at 6.30pm, and the venue is The Woodman, which I'm told is a short walk from major train stations. I don't believe you can book tickets in advance (I'll let you know), but you should be okay just turning up as things stand. It's been organised by the English department at Birmingham City University (hence the image above), so many thanks to them for supporting such a distant enterprise! Hope to see some of you there.

* * * * 

Finally, I promised to share a poem from our next publication, the highly-anticipated Helen Burke Collected Poems, now due at the end of March (along with the subs replies, and the Yorkshire anthology ... no pressure then!) This poem hasn't been published by Valley Press before, but does have a special place in history: it was the first poem I ever read by Helen, way back in 2009. So I'll leave you in her capable hands, and see you next week.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Recipe for a Poet

by Helen Burke, from Today the Birds Will Sing: Collected Poems

First, take an unusual childhood.
By the age of three, you should be at least be sporting a wooden leg.
By the age of four, you should be dressed completely in wigs,
pseudo-chess pieces and old sailors’ clothes,
preferably without the old sailor being attached.
An eye-glass would also be good.

Your mother should be, unwittingly, a great beauty,
able to paint upside-down in the nude, and take in lodgers
who were once either aristocrats or murderers.
Both would be ideal.
Your father, the seemingly saner one,
should be a Russian Prince, with a liking for cheroots,
balalaikas, and looking mystically out of windows clutching a book.
The book must never be identified. This is crucial.

Don’t panic. You’re halfway there already.

Next, you should have a half-mad sister, who
makes love to passing tradesmen on the dining room table –
well, any table really –
wearing only wellington boots and fishnet tights.
She is called Esmeralda, but only answers to Gert.
Your older brother, well, let’s face it, he can be anything
from an accountant to a taxidermist to a line dancer
(though this last is pushing it).
Older brothers are often irrelevant and he will almost certainly outlive you,
so you are allowed to dislike him. Heartily.

Now, we come to you.
You must die young, and be mad, bad and brilliant.
You should practise some incredibly deep last words, like:
‘Je ne regrette rien’, ‘Et tu, Brutus’ or
‘Okay, I’ll see the doctor now.’
You may have 486 lovers – all of whom will speak well of you,
despite the fact that you treat them like lemmings.
In fact, lemmings have it easy, compared to them.

In your teens, if you make it that far,
you should have a completely committed breakdown.
And I don’t mean one of those half-hearted affairs,
involving therapy and pleasant chit-chat with other loonies,
sorry, doctors. No. No.
No. I mean really throw yourself in at the deep end.
Pamper yourself. Show the others how it’s done.
You must go completely and superbly bonkers.
Here are a few tips, if you’re stuck.

Grow an extra nipple.
Change your hairstyle to resemble an anteater’s.
Wear a cat as an accessory.
Give one of your eyebrows a separate mailing address.
Call yourself by the name of an undiscovered galaxy.
Take to riding a horse in full armour –
even if it’s only to pop down to the local Co-op
for a loaf of bread and a couple of muesli yoghurts.
It’s this sort of attention to detail that people notice.
This is what makes the difference between the fourteen-liner
and the card-carrying sonnet scribbler.

Now we come to death.
You should be travelling somewhere distant
(this could even be out-of-body if you’re short of cash).
Either you receive a sudden snake or anteater bite
(blame it on the hairstyle) –
or your plane’s wind-mobile should fuzz, fur or clog
causing you to make a sudden, unprecipitated, unexpected
and painful crash-landing. Peru is quite popular.
Or Basingstoke. Although obviously pack more sensibly
for Basingstoke.
At any rate, the tribe where you pull up were not anticipating visitors,
and catching them rather on the hop, as you do
(and in the absence of their own Co-op)
they invite you to stay for dinner.
Unfortunately for you, young poet, you are dinner.

And this is how poets are made.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

This week at Valley Press, #42: 'Views from Yorkshire'

Dear readers,

A huge week here – lots of stuff going on behind the scenes (which I'll tell you about in the future), and plenty going on in front of the scenes too (if that's a phrase?), which I'll tell you about today. Strap yourselves in!

As promised last week, the editors of our Yorkshire Anthology have presented their finished manuscript to me, and it is looking brilliant. We gained an editor in the process; the anthology's instigator Miles Salter has been joined by fellow VP poet Oz Hardwick, and together they've brought the thing home.

So I can now announce the 66 writers whose poems feature in the book; they are listed below in alphabetical order. Some names will be familiar, some will be completely new to you, and can you spot any laureates..? (I should say, I'm yet to email most of these poets with the finer details and confirmation, so this is provisional for now.)

Amina Alyal, Bruce Barnes, Matt Black, Helen Boden, Pat Borthwick, Jo Brandon, Carole Bromley, Michael Brown, Anne Caldwell, Becky Cherriman, Neil Clarkson, David Coldwell, Oliver Comins, Joey Connolly, Julia Deakin, Janet Dean, Carol Ann Duffy, Ian Duhig, Antony Dunn, Mike Farren, Rachel J. Fenton, Kate Fox, Dave Gough, Cora Greenhill, Doreen Gurrey, Martyn Halsall, Mike Harding, Oz Hardwick, Ian Harrow, Yvie Holder, Andy Humphrey, Carol Rowntree Jones, Will Kemp, Pauline Kirk, Peter Knaggs, Gill Lambert, Patrick Lodge, Char March, Fokkina McDonnell, Andrew McMillan, Ian McMillan, Rob Miles, Pete Morgan, Helen Mort, Paul Munden, James Nash, Marie Naughton, Ian Parks, Stuart Pickford, Clare Pollard, Robert Powell, Wendy Pratt, Davina Prince, Lesley Quayle, Bethany Rivers, Miles Salter, Peter Sansom, Michael Shann, Jane Sharp, John Siddique, Hannah Stone, Matthew Hedley Stoppard, Nick Toczek, Fiona Ritchie Walker, Sarah Wallis, Mike Watts

The whole 'anthology' business is rather complicated, it turns out; I don't know how Emma keeps them coming at such a pace!

The official release date for this anthology is August 1st, Yorkshire Day, and that's when you'll be able to buy it in Waterstones etc. (they like a lot of notice). However, because the book is part of our 2016 Arts Council project, which ends in April, I need to start selling copies ASAP, and hold an event related to the book next month.

Luckily, Headingley Literature Festival (that's an area of Leeds, non-locals) have stepped in to help with the latter; so we'll be launching the book on Saturday March 18th, from 7.30pm, at the New Headingley Club. Tickets are £4, and include entry to the next event, which features the hugely talented novelist Anna Chilvers. If you can't make it, you can pre-order the book here, or come along to another event later in the year.

In an unexpected twist, the festival organisers have invited me to take part in another event earlier in the day; titled 'Pitch and Pen', it involves authors pitching their books in person to three 'industry professionals', including Kevin from Bluemoose and Alison Taft. We then choose a winner, who gets to slip their submission into my still-significant 2016 pile, from which I'm slowly populating the 2017 and 2018 lists. If you're interested in pitching, details are on the Festival's website.

Let's pause for breath now, and look at a photo of our new office, which has been up and running since Monday:

So tidy, isn't it – and filled with promise! Last week I hinted at a 'new face' who might be seen there, and today I'm pleased to introduce Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe, who has joined the Valley Press team as 'Director of Publicity'. We all know how important publicity is for a book's success; a bit of luck there can be the difference between 200 sales and 2000, so having someone devoted to this pursuit seems like a great step forwards. (It's also an area I'm guilty of neglecting in years gone by ... it comes after all the production steps, and there's never enough time to do it justice.)

Local readers may know Elizabeth for her acting work, but her career has been spent in marketing, publicity and promotion – at one point, for royalty – and she's also a published writer, who studied Creative Writing at Hull University. She's qualified and enthusiastic; what more can we ask? You'll be hearing from Elizabeth soon on Facebook and Twitter, if you follow us on those (and when I remember to tell her the passwords!)

That's enough excitement for now: next week I'll give a hard deadline for subs decisions, share a poem from the elusive Helen Burke book, and tell you about a great VP event coming up in Birmingham. Thanks for reading!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 12 February 2017

This week at Valley Press, #41: 'Land ho!'

Dear readers,

Last week's newsletter was an epic tale; one man's battle against a bag of A4 envelopes, valiantly trying to make decisions on your 2016 submissions (with all relevant deadlines having long-since whooshed past). I spoke about misjudging the time needed to complete a task ... and I've realised since then just how often I fall into that trap. Every project I'm supposed to update you on this week is running late; some by a couple of months, some by half a year! If you've been irritated or inconvenienced by any of this, I'm truly sorry.

The problem is inexperience; even after six years of professional publishing, there's still much to learn. With some projects, like publishing a standard poetry collection, the journey is now familiar – I know the way, and can be pretty sure when I'll arrive. In the cases mentioned below, I knew the destination I wanted to get to, and roughly which direction to sail in ... but had no idea how long it would take, or what sea monsters I might encounter on the way. (I'm working on a nautical metaphor this week, in case you hadn't noticed.)

But I set off anyway, and had to suggest a date of arrival; who wants to hear their book will be out 'someday', or that I'll give them a verdict on their submission 'in the next few years'? The good news is, I think I spy land on the horizon; let me bring you up to date.

•  The 2016 submissions are still being narrowed down, and my call for volunteer readers last week received a huge response; dozens of you got in touch kindly offering me the benefit of your literary wisdom. The first full manuscript is in your inbox now. Together, we'll get some decisions made!

•  Our anthology of Yorkshire-themed poetry, delayed from last year, is now on the brink of completion. You'll recall this book is being edited by Miles Salter, who also came up with the idea; he has been facing his own waves of incoming submissions, but is now (to preserve the metaphor) approaching safe harbour. All being well, I'll announce a full list of the included poets in this newsletter next week.

•  Helen Burke's Collected Poems, teased in November as 'the most complicated book I've ever tried to put together', was originally due to arrive in 'mid-February'. I'm sorry to say that, with mid-February upon us, I don't yet have a firm delivery date for this book. On a brighter note, no less than three people are currently working like mad to get every word in the right place, and their efforts are set to bear fruit within the next few days. More news next week.

•  The new Valley Press office, mentioned briefly last Sunday, is now just a few hours from being tidy and having a connection to the internet – a month after I got the keys! (I think only two people are waiting for this, but it still counts as a late project, causing annoyance.) I mentioned a new face, too, who I'm pleased to say has the title 'Director of Publicity', helping me tell the world about our wonderful books. Formal introductions will be coming in a future newsletter.

Reading that back, it sounds like we've made only the very tiniest progress since last week; but at least the sails are up! And hey, I've provided you with something rarely found in a publisher's email newsletter – a sense of suspense. "Will they get anything done? Tune in next week to find out..."

I'll end with a reminder that you can see VP poet Norah Hanson and a star-studded supporting cast at Kardomah in Hull, this Thursday (16th) – more details here. It's a must if you can possibly get there ... when your ship has come in?

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Emma Press Newsletter #39: The Year of Firsts and Lasts

#39: The Year of Firsts and Lasts

Hello everyone,
I'd like to wish you all an extremely belated but no less heartfelt happy new year. As you may have deduced from the tardiness of this newsletter, I've hit the ground running in 2017, spending the majority of January working with editors and authors and trying to get a head start on the nineteen (!) books we've currently got in the works.
This will be a year of many firsts for the Emma Press, as it has been every year since I started it. I know that 2017 will be the first year we publish prose and translations, and I've promised myself it's the first year we'll publish a book without a mad rush to get the files off to the printer. It will be the first year I launch our books in Birmingham as well as London, the first year I really ask for and accept help, and – I hope – the last year the Emma Press is a one-woman operation. I'll let you know how that all goes!
And now, on with the newsletter. Scroll down for details of our Valentine's giveaway and an exclusive preview of our next call for submissions.

* * *

Introducing... This Is Not Your Final Form

This Is Not Your Final Form is our anthology of poems about Birmingham, featuring poems from the Verve poetry competition. I had tremendous fun editing the book with Emma Press stalwart Richard O'Brien, and we're looking forward to meeting the poets in the book at the (sold out!) launch on 18th February. 
Seasoned Emma Press-watchers may notice that this is the first time we've used a photo on a book cover, and subscribers old and new may spot that the photo is of an enormous pink gorilla's head. I feel I owe you some answers:
  • The head belongs to the 7ft pink gorilla sculpture built by the Birmingham Originals last year, utilising the various skills of the team members. I'm a member and I actually worked a bit on the early stages of the head, as well as contributing a snippet of pink-themed poetry by Rachel Piercey to be stencilled across the gorilla's torso. 
  • The title is a quote from one of the poems in the book (by John McGhee), and we picked it because it nods at the way Birmingham is constantly re-inventing itself. Once we'd decided on that, Richard suggested that the pink gorilla was the perfect fit for the cover, because it's an homage to the famous King Kong statue which stood in Birmingham in the 1970s. The photo is by Lee Allen Photography.

* * *

Andrew Wynn Owen's new poetry pamphlet

We published Andrew Wynn Owen's first poetry pamphlet, the delectable Raspberries for the Ferry, back in 2014, followed by his collaboration with John FullerAWOL, in 2015. 
We're delighted to be working with Andrew again for The Dragon and The Bomb, his mini-epic poem which tells the tale of Don Armando, who wants to be a saint, and Haplo Nous, who wants to split the atom. There's also a dragon, but you'll have to read the book to discover the extent of its involvement in DA and HN's plans.
We're launching The Dragon and The Bomb at All Souls College in Oxford on Friday 24th February and you are all invited – see our Events page for details.

* * *

Dates for your diary: events & opportunities

The Tangerine, the new Belfast-based magazine for new writing, is open for submissions of all sorts of writing. Deadline: 12th February.
BIRMINGHAM. Verve Poetry Festival runs 16-19th February in Waterstones. Booking info here.
* The Christopher Tower Poetry Competition for students aged 16-18 years closes very soon. It's judged by Sarah Howe and Vahni Capildeo and the theme this year is 'Stone'. Deadline: 17th February.
BIRMINGHAM. Remember 1000 Trades, our new favourite bar in the Jewellery Quarter? We're running a poetry-and-wine evening with them on 23rd February. £10 earlybird tickets are available until 11th February (£15 after that) – details here.
* The Poetry Business has two contests open at the moment: their International Book & Pamphlet Competition, judged by Ian Duhig and Mimi Khalvati, and their New Poets Prize, judged by Andrew McMillan. Deadline: 1st March.
LICHFIELD. Come and see three of our new pamphlet poets read at Lichfield Literature Festival on 4th March! Details here.
LONDON. Save the date for our launch party for our three newest poetry pamphlets on 24th March, with readings from Andrew Wynn Owen, Emma Simon and Jack Nicholls.

* * *

Valentine's Giveaway!

We've teamed up with our fellow Jewellery Quarter business Connolly's Wine Merchants to offer a Valentine's giveaway of champagne and love poetry books.
'Like' our Facebook page and leave a comment on the photo before 10th February to be entered into the prizedraw.

* * *

Verve Poetry Festival

It's been a pleasure to be involved in this brand-new poetry festival, hosted by Waterstones Birmingham and taking place next weekend 16-19th February.
I programmed the children's events, including readings, workshops, and an open mic event for children aged 6-16. You can find out more here and you can read my blog about the importance of children's poetry here.

* * *

Submissions Update

Open calls for submissions

Here's some exclusive news for readers of this newsletter: our next call for submissions will open on Monday 13th February and we'll be looking for POEMS ABOUT BRITAIN. This will be the fourth book in our Emma Press Ovid series, and our inspiration this time is the Fasti. We'll be looking for poems about customs, ritual and festivals which take place in Britain, to try and build up a picture of what this country and its people are now. The call will close on 26th March.

Closed calls for submissions

* Our call for poems about British and Irish KINGS AND QUEENS closed on 13th November 2016 and we are no longer accepting entries. We are aiming to send our responses by the end of February.

* We have sent out all the responses for POEMS ABOUT ANIMALS and POEMS ABOUT AUNTS. If you can't find your response, feel free to send me a nudge and I'll forward the response on to you again.
This is a complete update on all of our calls for submissions, and we do send responses to everyone's submissions individually. In the meantime, just keep an eye on our newsletters for news of our progress and read our blog to find out what we do when we process submissions.

That's all for now! Do forward this newsletter onto your friends if you think they might enjoy it, or encourage them to sign up themselves.
Best wishes,

Emma Wright
Publisher at the Emma Press

Sunday, 5 February 2017

This week at Valley Press, #40: 'The six bags'

Dear readers,

We've got some catching up to do!

I spent much of January reading the book samples you submitted to Valley Press during 2016 – and February looks to be going a similar way. 'But what went wrong?' you cry. 'In newsetter #39, you were so confident; we were supposed to hear from you ages ago!' I hold up my hands: my bad. If ever there are delays in the Valley Press system, it's usually because I misjudge the time needed to complete a task, one that can't be re-assigned to anyone else; that's exactly what happened here.

It turns out glancing at the contents of an envelope is much easier than reading it properly, comparing it to a hundred others, and making decisions – and foolishly, I'd set aside the same amount of time for this stage as I did in 2015, forgetting that (because of our big Arts Council-funded promotion) there would be hundreds more envelopes than before. When I gathered together all of them in one place, they filled six extra-large 'bags for life' – there could easily have been a hundred in each one. Here's a visual representation:

I've not been completely idle, of course. As of this evening, the situation looks like this:

The only problem being, the remaining bag is still stuffed full of envelopes, and I really would like to read the full manuscripts for all of them. But that's literally impossible, so every evening I rule a few out, take them out of the bag and give them to Laura; she then sends those authors one of her polite (but terribly sad) 'bad news' emails.

When I've got it down to a manageable 12 or so, I'll write to those last authors and ask for digital copies of their full books. Then, it would be really useful if some of you lot could read them too and give some thoughts; if there are any volunteers out there, please get in touch. Finally, we'll settle on books to publish at the end of 2017 (and a few for 2018 as well). We can't do any between Helen's Collected and July; time has beaten me, so you'll have to re-read some classics!

After that, I guess we'll open subs again – god help us! I see now why the big publishing houses don't have a huge, open window for new work, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop. I've not had complaints from any of you, which certainly helps. And there are a lot of worse ways I could be spending my evenings.

There's loads more to tell you: we have a new office (same postal address), a new face to see in it (and on Twitter, Facebook etc), those Antony hardbacks actually arrived, there's a new audiobook available, lots of great new reviews, and a dozen other things – shall we do those next week? The Yorkshire anthology 'results' are imminent too, you'll hear news on that here when it comes; and I must direct you to the second launch event for Norah Hanson's Sparks, which will be literally all-singing all-dancing (details here).

For now, thanks for reading, see you soon. It's good to be back!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher