Friday, 28 April 2017

This week at Valley Press, #52: 'Mountain Stories'

Dear readers,

A book launch was held this week in the city of Xi'an, in the Shaanxi province, Northwest China. Word on the street is that esteemed local writer Ye Guangqin has work coming out with an English publishing house ... apparently (it is whispered) these publishers have close ties to Her Majesty the Queen, are responsible for some of greatest works of literature ever to be laid down on the printed page, and arrange all this from a castle on the English coast (while famous cyclists pass underneath, for their entertainment).

The name of this prestigious organisation? Valley Press, of course.

The green speck on the above picture is a stack of Mountain Stories, our next-but-one publication, due to hit bookshelves in July. (The next project is still Helen Burke's book, which is currently in the middle of typesetting – Jo claimed on Thursday that we're 'getting close' to finishing, which I was happy to hear! More on that next week.)

So how did the work of an acclaimed Chinese author travel all the way from Xi'an to Scarborough, and how did the resulting books make the five thousand mile journey in the opposite direction; from a shelf in our humble office to that grand table in Northwest University? The answer to the second is: by plane, I guess, and the first is a long story of chance encounters and deeply engaged literary people at both ends (particular thanks due to Robin Gilbank and Professor Hu Zongfeng, pictured above with the author and other key staff at the university.)

You may not have heard the word Shaanxi before, or be particularly familiar with the bestselling Chinese-language authors who call that province their home, but you're about to be: in an unprecedented arrangement, we've signed an agreement to publish a whole series of titles from the region's finest authors, in 2018 and beyond. Translated with great care by the team in Xi'an, then edited and proof-read by native English scholars, these books offer an astonishingly fresh literary experience for UK readers. I'm excited; it's something genuinely new for us all to get to grips with.

What kind of writing should you expect? I've put up a sample from Mountain Stories here; one of my favourite extracts, describing the author's struggles to film a TV drama in a remote Chinese village. If you've read and enjoyed that, and want to know more about the book and the author, all the details are on our website here (and you can buy, of course! Remember to apply your 10% subscriber's discount code, TENFOREVER).

If you are fluent in Chinese, you can read their side of the story here (Google translate isn't much help!), but otherwise I think that's enough info for the time being. More later in the year. In other news this week: Norah Hanson will be reading in Scarborough on May 18th, details to be confirmed – keep that evening free if interested – and there's some truly fascinating anecdotes about Aunts from Emma Press writers on our blog, in honour of their latest anthology. You can't say we don't give you anything to read!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

All about Aunts: Part One

The Emma Press Anthology of Aunts will be launching in a couple of weeks! The anthology focuses on exploring the role of aunts, it seemed fitting to asked some of our poets to write on their own experience of aunts; the aunts that they have known, their role as an aunt, and influences on their poems.

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Anita’s aunt Freda

Anita S. Pulier 

My father’s unmarried older sister Aunt Freda was completely devoted to my parents and us three kids.

I took her for granted. At every holiday and birthday she was there. If any one of us needed something she was ready to help. Of course, she had her odd ways and pronounced idiosyncracies... to me they were endearing.

 On her death bed she confessed to me that in all the years I had assumed she was alone she had had a secret lover, the owner of the large meat distributor where she had been the office manager.

He became the butcher in my poem “The Butcher’s Diamond” which is the title of my first full length book that Finishing Line Press is publishing this year.

Gill McEvoy 

My outstanding memory of this aunt is this: one day when this aunt was staying with us my mother demanded I take Aunt Vi out walking just so my mother could get on with cooking lunch (Auntie Vi was doing her usual bit of talking away about the insubstantial and my mother was a pragmatic soul who simply wanted to get things done). I took my aunt on my favourite walk, over two Gloucestershire hills and up through a wood to a dry-stone wall, beyond which you would always get the most spectacular view of the Severn Plain, with Wales hazy in the distance. As it was uphill to the wall, the view sprang itself on you with a suddenness that took most people by surprise, and no-one, but no-one, had ever failed to gasp at the sheer magnificence of it. Almost everyone I’d taken there would linger for some time to admire and exclaim. But not Auntie Vi. She didn’t even see it. I was truly taken aback for my aunt, having lectured the whole way, reached the wall, climbed over it without breaking stride, carried on down the far side and was still jabbering on and on when we reached home again. She then talked right through lunch, about how cabbages have souls and we shouldn’t cut them, while all the time cheerfully shovelling rabbit pie and buttered cabbage into her yapping mouth. I never took her on another walk!

Anna’s nephew Isaac

Anna Woodford 

One of the best conversations in my life was with someone who couldn’t speak. It was on a car’s back seat somewhere in 2007 with my new nephew Isaac. Being completely clueless on the baby front at that point, I was trying to get him to say words (unlikely at a couple of months old and, looking back, I was obviously sabotaging his nap time but my brother and sister-in-law who were in the front of the car were either too kind or sleep-deprived to say so).

Isaac’s new word was ‘Ah-ba’. I tried him with ‘Aunty’ and ‘Anna’ (egotiscal, much?!) but he kept smiling delightfully and repeating ‘Ah-ba’. In what Oprah might call an ‘A’ha’ moment, I realised he was actually the one teaching me* – to relax and not to rush on to the next thing and to enjoy the experience of communicating without words. My poem ‘Travelling with Isaac’ came from this experience.

*It was one of many things I learnt from my nephew Isaac – although these days, it’s more likely to be the offside rule.

Charlotte Eichler 

The poem ‘Survivors’ is inspired by early memories of visiting my father’s family in Sheffield. My grandfather, Bertold Eichler, came to England from Czechoslovakia in 1939. He was Jewish and had been politically active in smuggling people out of Germany. A local policeman warned Bertold that his name was on a Gestapo list, so he escaped across Poland in an empty petrol tanker. His immediate family died in concentration camps, but one of his close friends, Edith Rosenberg, survived Auschwitz, was reunited with her husband, Otto, and settled in a flat in London.

Edith was a sculptor, and the ‘curled-up figures’ of the poem refer to the dark wooden sculptures of tortured bodies that she made, and which lined her dining room in glass cases. That dining room also had a large, patterned rug hanging on the wall – a Slavic fashion that struck me as strange when I was a child. My brother and I, on family visits to Sheffield and London, would make up strange games to entertain ourselves, including making a bee graveyard in the gardens of my grandma’s block of flats. My memories of our visits to my great-aunts, my widowed Yorkshire grandma, and to Edith and Otto are some of my earliest, and rather confused, so the flat of the poem is a combination of several different places. ‘Survivors’ tries to capture some of the atmosphere of that time for us, as small children who had no idea, yet, about our family’s recent past.

Mary Anne’s mother and her sisters

Mary Anne Clark 

To me, each of my aunts has a different set of memories, associations, and attributes, and I have learned different things about life from each of them. But they have at the same time a single unified identity - ‘the aunties’. They are a matriarchal herd, a stampede of women with their mother, my Nan, who died two years ago, at the head.

This picture is of my mum (front, second from right) and her four older sisters. It is by my aunt, Celia Paul (back, reflected in the mirror while painting). They are all wearing identical white smocks, which makes them look almost indistinguishable to a casual glancer, but which emphasises the differences in their faces and postures to someone who looks more closely. To someone who knows them, they are immediately recognisable as their individual selves. I think I could tell them apart just by their feet.


Auntie Hil was my favourite aunt. I was so fond of her that I decided, in grade one, that I wanted to be called by my middle name – her name – and wouldn’t answer to the first name my parents had chosen for me. Auntie Hil was cheery and had a lively sense of humour; the sort of person people would strike up a conversation with on the bus or in the street. She often retold these encounters, laced with her infectious laughter. This openness and lack of reserve was alien to me. In my immediate family, introversion was the default mode. She showed me a different way of interacting with the world.

But her most profound, and early, influence on me was as a writer. She was always writing, mostly novels but also poetry, and she never gave up sending her work out, though she had little success. Her example set me on the writing path. After I left Australia and moved to London in my early twenties we occasionally corresponded, and she would end her letters wishing me ‘all power to your writing elbow’.

Auntie Hil died in January 2005, aged just 64. A few months later my niece Ana was born, my parents’ first and only grandchild. Becoming an aunt has given me a new role in the family, one I relish, and was the inspiration for my poem in the anthology.

Rob and his family

Rob Hamberger

Rob and his family After my father left when I was six years old, my childhood and adolescence was surrounded by women: my maternal grandmother Jane, my mother and her three sisters – Suzie, Nettie and Hannah – their half-sisters Alice and Harriet and their cousin Anna. They peopled my landscape, tall as standing stones. Playing with my brothers and cousins on the front-room carpet in my Nan’s flat, women’s voices lilted their continual accompaniment to our games, sharing jokes and stories with each other; another comment chucked into the criss-crossing mêlée of words; laughter suddenly blossoming over my head. Laughter I never fully understood, though I wanted to share it because it made me happy.

Aunt Anna had a great sense of style. When she had a new passport photo taken for our trip to old wartime friends in Holland she sounded delighted as she showed it to us: “It makes me look like a French tart!” She worked for the London Underground at Bethnal Green Tube station. I associate her with singing, especially at the crowded Boxing Day parties in our Whitechapel flat. I catch her singing down the years with my mother. They sway together with drinks in their hands, Aunt Anna balancing a fag between her fingers:
Call round any old time
Make yourself at home – 
My poem came from a workshop led by Naomi Foyle, where she asked us to celebrate a relative. The words flowed easily, as if they’d always been on the brink of being written.

* * *
The Emma Press Anthology of Aunts is available to buy now on our website.

Friday, 21 April 2017

This week at Valley Press, #51: 'Ten per cent'

Dear readers,

Sorry to use a coin in the header again – sometimes finding an appropriate, creative image for what I've got to say is beyond me! (Particularly last thing on a Friday afternoon.) Ten per cent of what, anyway?

Some work is being done on our website, behind the scenes, and as part of that we discussed the reward which newsletter subscribers receive for ploughing through these missives each week. The current system is a touch vague, and doesn't really work as a reward or an incentive, so a new offer has been agreed on: from today onwards, subscribers of the newsletter are entitled to 10% off any purchase through the Valley Press website. Not bad eh? The web guys are working on a system to make that apply automatically, but in the meantime you can use the code TENFOREVER to get your 10% off (named after the period of time we intend this offer to apply).

* * *

In other exciting news: we followed through on our promise in the last newsletter, and submissions for new books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction are once again open at Valley Press. It feels good! Based on overwhelming feedback from last year, the 'form' is now filled out online – you just need to go here and follow the instructions. Please excuse any teething problems with this system; it's very new.

Also, please note we're going entirely paperless with subs from now on. A4 envelopes were wonderful when we had 100 coming in a year, but with 600 (and presumably more in future) the logistics just get too difficult. We actually lost a few envelopes, it turns out – which were posted recorded delivery – so hoping that won't happen again with the new spreadsheet/email system (and the diligent efforts of Tess each Saturday).

Last week I requested more volunteers for our submissions reading group (which I'm thinking of re-dubbing the 'editorial board' in future, sounds more prestigious). Thankfully, there was a big response – you people really are wonderful. Many readers sent CVs and details of their qualifications; wonderful, but definitely not necessary! If you buy and read books, you're qualified. All I need is a brief message, and you're in.

* * *

Finally, I learned earlier today that one of our 2013 interns (and her colleagues... and future generations of UK children) are desperately in need of your help. Stephanie Cox and co. have been working on a petition to make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools; and when I say working, I mean time, expense, effort and sacrifice for months – only to have the rug pulled from under them this week, with their deadline reduced by two months due to the snap election.

They now need to get to 100,000 signatures by May 3rd, if they want the issue to reach parliament; so if you're a UK citizen, please consider signing the petition here, and sharing the link of course. This isn't going to become a regular thing, but I felt this was a particularly good cause that had been particularly screwed by the system.

Next week: details of our China project, at last.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 14 April 2017

This week at Valley Press, #50: 'Long weekend'

Dear readers,

Happy holidays to all who are starting a 'long weekend'. I'm off today for Good Friday (except for the time it takes to write this newsletter!), but back in tomorrow for our Submissions Coordinator's first day at work. We're hoping to re-open to unsolicited submissions before the end of the month, and the plan is for them to be open permanently going forwards, with a 90-day turnaround (so writers can have an answer within three months of us receiving their sample).

It won't be easy, but it's what should happen in an ideal world, so that's what we'll be aiming for. With our time under the warming sun of the Arts Council at an end (for now anyway), we'll be funding this by requiring submitters to purchase a book – so if you're keen to send us your work, start saving your pennies and eyeing up the backlist!

We'll need more volunteer readers (over email), so the next question is: if you're considering volunteering, but haven't yet, what would seal the deal? The occasional free book maybe? It's not as arduous as it might seem; I'm only expecting the readers to start reading each manuscript. If they don't love it, they can give up straight away, and let us know ... though I'm pleased to say, that hasn't happened much with the work we've been sending out in recent months.

With so much quality writing coming in, I need a second, third and thirtieth opinion to know for certain what Valley Press should pursue – hence this request. I can't thank the current batch enough for helping me with the 2016 manuscripts (still plenty to go!), but if we're to do this job on the timescale mentioned above, it's going to take a community of literature lovers the like of which has never been assembled...

That's almost all I need to say this week, but if you'd like to read a couple of seasonal poems, be sure to dig out my newsletter from last Easter, featuring Di Slaney and Nigel Gerrans. Oh, and I can report Helen's book has finally progressed to typesetting, and there's a nice new review for Antony Dunn here.

This was the fiftieth 'Week at Valley Press' email roundup – hope you'll stick around for the next fifty!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 7 April 2017

This week at Valley Press, #49: 'Remembering'

Dear readers,

You may recall a book we published last year, titled Remembering Oluwale (with a title like that, how could you forget?) It's returned to the spotlight recently in various ways. One of the contributors won the 'Pitch and Pen' event we took part in during March, and is heading for a solo publication (the slow way – she still needs to write most of the book!) That encouraged me to re-read the anthology, and it's still as compelling a year on.

We're working on another anthology titled Verse Matters, due in November (eye-wateringly brilliant stuff, couldn't be more excited about that one), and during the first meeting today I heard that the editors were encouraged to offer it to Valley Press because of our great work on Remembering Oluwale. Particularly the design; so a big shout-out to Rosa Campbell, if she's reading. (She's very busy with her PhD at present.)

RO's editor SJ Bradley has been working tirelessly to get the book the attention it deserves, and this recently paid off in the form of a shortlisting for the Saboteur Awards. Unlike the typical literary awards, this one won't be decided in a secluded boardroom somewhere; it's a public vote, open until April 30th. Hustling for votes makes me feel a little queasy, but if you do feel compelled to give your opinions on literary matters, you can vote in all the award categories via their website here.

(I also heard SJ is gearing up to edit another 'prize anthology', this one exclusively for short stories – more details later in the year. That's probably a secret though, so shh!)

I'm constantly astonished at how a single project can send out ripples in all directions that don't become obvious until many months, or even years, later; that's been a big lesson from 2017 so far. The Chinese project I've been hinting at (which I will explain soon, I promise) originated from someone attending one of our very first book launches in 2011 – over the years, word spread from that room in Scarborough library to the foothills of the Qinling Mountains, in the middle of China.

That's all I've got to say this week, though after all this it would be remiss of me not to offer you 20% off Remembering Oluwale; use code REMEM at the checkout to claim that. Oh, and I also enjoyed reading this blog post by one of the 'winners' of our 2016 submissions process, Caroline Hardaker, who has a pamphlet coming out in early October. It's a rare insight into what happens after we say 'yes'; something I'm hoping to do a lot more in the near future.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher