Unusually, this week I've found myself beset with suggestions on what to talk about in the newsletter. I've had requests to discuss the political elephant in the room (who packed and left for the circus, etc), the war poets (as it's Remembrance Sunday here in the UK), baby George (of course!), Antony's first launch (more appropriate), where the hardbacks are, what books are still to come this year, and – as we make a last promotional push for this year's submissions process – why we made you fill in the now-infamous paper forms.
Guess what? I've decided I actually will touch on everything above; this is one time when all the people can have what they want! So let's get started.
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I've always been determined to keep politics and Valley Press separate; I want VP to be a place where every single person can come together to be creative, enjoy the fruits of other people's creativity, and maybe learn something – no matter what their opinions or values. If 2016 has taught me anything, it's that this bitterly divided world really needs places like that (metaphorical or otherwise), and I need to keep it up.
This has led to me holding (and indeed biting) my tongue on the issues of the day for a good five years or so, to the point where I apparently seem totally disengaged. I'm okay with that! But just once, here are some opinions of mine (that shouldn't be too controversial or surprising):
- I think our society has a deeply flawed attitude to/understanding of money and work.
- I think this is both a cause and and effect of our education system, which I've seen from many sides and appears to also be profoundly flawed.
- Because of points 1 and 2, but worsened in this century by accelerating technological changes (think, automation), it is getting easier for people with money to make money, and harder for everyone else.
- 'Everyone else' is therefore frustrated, to put it incredibly mildly. (I am too, but I have a cushy life and a new son to take my mind off things – I also have no idea how to change points 1, 2 or 3.)
- Some people thought Brexit and Trump would shake up this status quo, so voted for them. No-one knows what the future holds, right now; could be bad, could be good, but it's coming either way. We'll find out together.
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Antony's Leeds launch was a success, of course, boosted by a great introduction from Faber and Faber's poetry editor Matthew Hollis (spot him in the header image; and James Nash, Peter Spafford and Matthew Hedley Stoppard if you're feeling ambitious). He reminded us of 'the Dymock poets', a group that assembled in the years before WW1 and was dismantled by it (that's your war poets mention); and went on to describe a trip he and Antony took to the village of Dymock, walking the paths walked by Edward Thomas and Robert Frost. Matthew described being there in the exact moments poems about this experience were written; readers of Antony's new collection can enjoy these from page 35.
More prosaically, Matthew also mentioned doing an event with Simon Armitage recently, who apparently leaned over and whispered: 'Antony Dunn is a good poet'. We'll take that as a review!
The night was only slightly dampened (for me) by the absence of our luxury Antony Dunn hardbacks, which I'm still waiting to actually see. The six-week saga of these missing books, which began with me telling the printer 'they must be ready by the 10th November', is worth a lengthy essay one day (which will make you laugh or cry), but for now I'll say the last straw, the ultimate delay, was due to 'the glue not being dry'. Oh, I also had to send them the front cover illustration three times – and eventually say, almost shouting: 'I don't know how else to put this across. The fish goes at the front in the middle.'
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Let's calm things down (briefly) by looking at baby George, now seven weeks old:
Despite me being almost as tired as George looks, there are still three books coming from Valley Press this year – according to the spreadsheet anyway. I'm confident you'll see two, at least; the third, being the most complicated book I've ever tried to put together, is somewhat unpredictable (but completely worth it). I can't really tell you about any of them today, but keep an eye on the next two newsletters for details.
That leaves me with only one last issue to mention: why did we make you fill in paper forms to submit your work this year? We've always done paper submissions, mainly as I like to discuss them with real people in a real room, and don't like paying for printer ink; but the form was a new invention for 2016 – and funded by the Arts Council. You could (and still can) get them by buying a book from our site, or attending an event (such as Antony's next launch reading, at York's Friargate Theatre this Friday, 18th, from 7pm.)
This policy has led to hundreds of emails during the year from prospective authors grumbling furiously, most of which have been valiantly dealt with by Laura. They don't like jumping through hoops, which is fair enough; but my thinking was, if you've made your way to our website, you're either a convert to the Valley Press cause (in which case buying a book will be a natural next step), or you don't like the look of us, in which case you won't be wanting to submit your precious work. It makes sense!
The reason the form exists in the first place is actually to reach the general public: people who'd never dream, in a million years, of searching online for 'publishers welcoming unsolicited submissions'. That's why it says on the front of the form, 'have you got a book in you?', instead of something mundane and typical like 'The Valley Press Writing Prize, 2016, Entry Form'. I've been spreading the forms as far as I can all year: supermarkets, cinemas, theatres, hospital waiting rooms, and even if they touch just one person who didn't previously think they could be published, and get them to pick up a pen and write something for us, the whole thing has been a success.
That brings us back to politics: we can't just talk to 'our own kind' any more, can't get stuck in bubbles of common beliefs and interests if we're going to fix the world's problems. That's my last point today – hopefully I can go back to holding my tongue for five years!
Thanks for reading, as ever; see you next week.
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher