Thursday, 22 March 2018

This week at Valley Press, #92: 'Cracking reads'

Dear readers,

Hello there! I’m Jo, Assistant Publisher at VP, in charge of editing, press, direct sales, staff happiness and tea-making (strong, drop of milk, big mug).

I thought it was about time I said hello as I’m celebrating my first anniversary with Valley Press today (I’m assuming all your cards and gifts are in the post – thank you in advance). It might seem like I’ve been ignoring you for the last 12 months, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, VP, its authors and supporters have become something of an obsession. If I’m not here in the office at VP Towers (aka the rather stunning Woodend in Scarborough), I’m editing and proofing books at home, emailing authors, chatting with book-buyers and generally nattering on to people about how great VP is.

There are many, many reasons why working here is a real treat, but the chance to talk books (cake, cocktails and nonsense) with my hugely entertaining colleagues is very high on the list. We all met up this week in the luxurious surroundings of Gray’s Court in York to discuss/debate/fight over our spring 2019 list. Inspired by the array of books in the hotel library and the generous platter of warm scones provided by the psychic waiter (I’d literally just said ‘I could really do with a coffee’ to Tess when he stuck his head round the door and said ‘Coffee anyone?’), we whittled down a mountain of manuscripts into a more manageable molehill. We’ll tell you about them in detail in a future newsletter but for now, trust me, you’re going to be wowed.

Another highlight of the week was the launch of Beyond the Walls on Wednesday night as part of York Literature Festival, which continues until March 26th, so you’ve just got time to grab a ticket for something bookish if you get your skates on. Beyond the Walls is a collection of shiny new writing from shiny new writers, namely students from York St John University. Their fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction is fresh, informed, unflinching and compassionate, instantly melting any preconceived notions you might have about their so-called ‘snowflake’ generation.

Another VP title being launched in grand style this week (March 23rd) at York Lit Fest is Riverain. As Canadian poet Robert Powell was inspired by the twin rivers – the Ouse and the Foss – in his adopted home city, we had thought of asking the Queen (an old friend of VP) to wallop the book with a bottle of champagne before launching it into the murky depths. Instead, we decided a river cruise book launch was probably more fitting (and less liable to land us in trouble with the Palace for wasting the monarch’s time when she could be enjoying a boxset of The Crown with Phillip and the corgis).

Back on dry land, we’re very much looking forward to the launch of Light After Light, the debut pamphlet from West Yorkshire poet Victoria Gatehouse, at The Book Corner in Halifax on April 18th. This is a particularly special one for me as Vicky was the first author I met at VP. She was nervous, unassuming and ever so slightly cock-a-hoop at the prospect of being published, while I was desperately trying to sound cool and professional while also being ever so slightly cock-a-hoop about having an exciting new job in publishing. We’ll be having our own little reunion, but do feel free to come and join us.

While Vicky is one of our newest finds, we’re pleased to report that long-time VP author Michael Stewart has a new book out today that’s gaining a lot of positive attention. In fact, the film rights to Ill Will, which speculates on what Heathcliff might have done in his three-year absence from Wuthering Heights, have already been snapped up by Kudos, the production company behind Broadchurch and Apple Tree Yard.

Though not a VP title, this is obviously very egg-citing news for Michael and we are egg-stremely happy for him (you can already tell where this is going, can’t you?). It’s nearly Easter and as a special treat we’re offering 20% off all book orders via our website until April 2nd using the code EGG, plus the chance to win a delicious VP chocolate egg (it took me ages to pipe our logo on the front) plus (yes, there’s more!) two books from our spring list, namely Light After Light and Trace Elements. And we’re not even yolking (that’s the last one, Brownie’s honour).

Good luck – and Happy Easter!

Jo Haywood, VP Assistant Publisher

P.S. Note from Jamie: as we approach one of the busiest seasons of the publishing year, me and Emma haven't managed a new podcast since episode 5, but rest assured a new 'season' of Friday Morning Meetings will be coming soon. In the meantime, there is a jukebox musical to enjoy, telling the Emma Press story (filmed secretly by me from the back row, but eventually shared with permission!)

In the editor Tom Sastry

Some inspiration for our call for poems about the future from editor Tom Sastry! 

In the future...

things you can customise will include: the sound of rainfall; the colour of the grass; the number of moons in the night sky.

new continents will appear on the maps of your hands.

there will be a sitcom with a running joke in which a couple complain about their robot overlord while the robot does the housework.

it will become a cliché around the world that English has a hundred different words for 'idiot'.

you will be able to download a digital simulation of someone from your past. This will result in a new kind of sadness for which no word currently exists.

machines will misunderstand you in the same ways humans do.

there will be good years, full of laughter and sometimes a little hope.

at first, you will be terrified by the optimism of the young.

you will write a letter to your twenty-year old self, advising it to disregard the letter you wrote some years before

time travel will continue to take place in one direction only, and at a uniform pace.

pockets will become redundant.

there will be beautiful graphics and ugly streets; digital affluence and material squalor. Food will be scarce; time will be scarce; love will be scarce. Escapism will not.

the settlement of other planets will result in whole civilisations from which we can receive only fragmentary news, several years after the event. This will lead to wild speculations about life in the colonies. Intellectuals will speak of the New Medieval Ignorance.

research will show that in the robot age, the happiest people are those who have learnt to accept simulated kindness as real.

a body will be a body not just anybody.

the strangeness will still be within you.

there will be a fashion for designer emotions including smorger, popness and mux but they will never replace traditional recreational drugs.

people will go away for months just to sleep.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Five Futures by editor Suzannah Evans

In seeking submissions on the theme of ‘The Future’ (deadline: April 1st), I thought it might be a good idea to provide a few pieces of inspiration, or at least an introduction to a few futuristic things that have had some influence on me over time.

It was pretty hard to pick only five… Black Mirror, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, The Guardian’s ‘Future Food’ series, Harvard’s Robobees and Matthea Harvey’s Robo-Boy poems all came very close. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to include Star Wars, since technically it happened ‘A Long Time Ago’, so I’ll just say that I enjoy its retro futurism: a world where there are humanoid robots but no internet (or is the Force the ultimate internet?). 

1. Archigram

Archigram is an avant-garde architectural movement that formed in the 1960s and was inspired by futuristic technologies. The movement included the architects Peter Cook, Rod Herron and Warren Chalk and their projects were wildly imaginative:

  • the Plug-in City, in which components could be slotted in and moved around, the Walking City, which would be part-city, part-robot, the Instant City, which would drift around existing urban areas to make them more desirable. 

Their designs and drawings (the above is a screen grab of a Google image search for Archigram) are robotic, colourful, urban and mad.

As you can probably imagine, none of these dreamlike structures were ever built, but the movement was an inspiration to many architects, including Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano in their design of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, as well as Future Systems who designed the beautiful knobbly Selfridges building in the Birmingham Bull Ring. 

Founded in 2009 by Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth, Dark Mountain is, in their own words, ‘a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself.’  Dark Mountain produces stunning anthologies of poetry, prose and artwork twice a year, exploring the role of the arts in a time of imminent (as they believe) social collapse.

Their manifesto, Uncivilisation, can be read on the website above. It explores in particular the relationship between humans and nature and the fact that we almost definitely have the whole thing wrong:

The myth of progress is founded on the myth of nature. The first tells us that we are destined for greatness; the second tells us that greatness is cost-free. Each is intimately bound up with the other. Both tell us that we are apart from the world; that we began grunting in the primeval swamps, as a humble part of something called ‘nature’, which we have now triumphantly subdued. The very fact that we have a word for ‘nature’ is evidence that we do not regard ourselves as part of it. Indeed, our separation from it is a myth integral to the triumph of our civilisation. We are, we tell ourselves, the only species ever to have attacked nature and won.
Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, The Dark Mountain Manifesto

3. Threads

My walk to work (The Moor, Sheffield) with added mushroom cloud.

image credit:

Although I’d have to be feeling pretty emotionally robust to ever embark upon watching it again, I can’t deny that Barry Hines’ Threads  had a massive impression on me when I first saw it. Set against the backdrop of 1980s Sheffield, the story follows a young couple and their families as nuclear war breaks out and the city becomes a target.

It is pretty low-budget, although there are some melting milk bottles at one point, and a memorable scene with a dead sheep somewhere in the Peak District. It also has a distinct feel of being a public information film at times, with facts flashed up on the screen and narrated as we witness the ensuing months, years and decades after the attack. There is no redemption here; the ending is one of the bleakest things I’ve ever seen. You have been warned.

4. Riddley Walker

Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker took seven years to write and is an absolute post-apocalyptic must-read. The narrative takes place in a somewhat altered version of Kent, in a Dark Ages-esque future society that has rebuilt itself following a nuclear disaster referred to as ‘the 1big1’.

The story follows twelve year-old Riddley as he discovers more about the distant past and the people who hold power in his community. This new world is very small, which means cleverness, science and technology are causes for suspicion and fear. Their community's myths and folktales are a disturbing and twisted mixes of Bible stories, folk stories and nuclear fission.

And there’s the language, of course. Spoken English has become something a little different in these future times and reading it aloud is often the only way to make sense of it:

There hung over the place a kynd of scortchy smel a kynd of stinging scortchy smel and the grey smoak driffing thru the blue smoak of the chard coal harts. Twean lite it wer the 1st dark coming on. Bat lite it wer and dimminy the pink and red stumps glimmering in the coppises like loppt off arms and legs and the rivver hy and hummering. The dogs wer howling nor it wernt like no other howling I ever heard it wer a kynd of wyld hoapless soun it wer a lorn and oansome yoop yaroo it soundit like they wer runnying on ther hynt legs and telling like thin black men and sad. Crying ther yoop yaroo ther sad tel what theyd all ways knowit theyd have to tel agen.
Riddley Walker (chapter 16) 

The incredibly imaginative Catherine Sarah Young has set about exploring the future in inventive ways that make the consequences of climate change, global warming and other human influences on our environment into tangible experiences for an audience.

It’s not actually as apocalyptic as you’d expect, given the name, and is more about making the future real and exploring it in real terms. The Ephemeral Marvels perfume collection, for example, is a set of perfumes based on things we are losing: coasts, ice, honey, even wine (grape production will be hugely impacted by climate change and global water shortages) and their Future Feast includes recipes for dishes such as insect jelly and vermi (worm) steak.

The latest project listed on their website is the Sewer Soaperie which features, as you might guess, soap made from fatbergs!