Friday, 31 March 2017

This week at Valley Press, #48: 'Hello!'

Dear readers,

I started the email version of this post by welcoming new subscribers – we've just added all the people who submitted manuscripts in 2016, who indicated they'd be happy to receive emails from us. Hello! We've spent the last four months reading your work and processing those submissions, but as of today, we believe we've sent everyone at least one email letting them know the outcome, good or bad.

So it almost goes without saying: if you still haven't heard from us, please get in touch, as something has obviously gone slightly wrong. If we've called in a full digital manuscript and you're waiting to hear the outcome, you'll need to be patient a little longer; there are still around twenty that I need to read through myself, and as usual I'll need the skills of the digital reading group to back me up. More volunteers would be very welcome.

Here's a photo of the team who finally got the job done: Mrs McGarry in the foreground, our first 2017 intern Luke Taylor in the middle, and 'Assistant Publisher' Jo Haywood in the distance (it was the first day at work for her and Luke). Thanks to all three for fantastic work on this mission, under some pressure!

It all went smoothly, except when four 'subs forms' slid between piles, resulting in those authors getting both good and bad news within minutes of each other – what can I say, we like to keep you on your toes!

In other news, tomorrow is the first day of business for "Valley Press Ltd." after my six years of self-employment. Nothing particularly will change, but with the new staff (and the clearing of the subs pile) it does feel a little like a fresh start, and surprisingly motivating. A new bank account without a single transaction, an unmarked diary for all the staff to use ... a chance to do everything right, from day one. What could be better?

Also this weekend, our friends at Chapel FM have a 'Writing on Air' festival in progress; all kinds of stuff going on (consult their website for details), but VP followers will particularly appreciate Helen Burke's show (noon on Saturday 1st) and Oz Hardwick's (12.30 on Sunday 2nd) (with nods to their collaborators Phil Pattinson and John Tuffen.)

Work continues on Helen's book of course, the next VP publication, and on the many other exciting titles we've got lined up for you in the rest of 2017. Don't go anywhere!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Friday, 24 March 2017

This week at Valley Press, #47: 'Friday Feeling'

Dear readers,

It's Friday – so what is the Valley Press newsletter, traditionally posted on a Sunday evening, doing here? I've decided to move it, permanently; to dedicate some time on a Friday afternoon instead of trying to piece it together outside working hours, over the weekend. You can still read on Sunday if you like!

Last week I confessed the volume of incoming tasks and emails at VP had far exceeded what I could keep up with, and declared they would go undone and unreplied to until I could find some help. So that's been my focus this week, and I'm pleased to report I've found them (or actually, they found me): an 'Assistant Publisher' to share the production and admin work, and a 'Submissions Coordinator' to keep manuscripts moving smoothly, once we re-open to new authors next month.

I'll introduce them to you in future newsletters, once they get their feet under the table and up to speed with the work (which will take a little while, I would think). Make no mistake, this is very good news – a huge relief, in fact! – and is part of the reason I felt able to move the newsletter to a Friday. I honestly think the era of constant delays, missed deadlines and muddling through could be coming to an end. Hooray!

(On a related note: if you're wondering about last year's subs, I'm still hoping to have sent at least one email to everyone by the end of March. We'll continue reading full manuscripts until we've done them all justice.)

* * * * *

More brilliant news came in this week: both of the short story collections we published last year have been longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize (pretty much the only award for books of this type). Michael Stewart's Mr Jolly and Sue Wilsea's Raw Material will be up against collections from the likes of Susan Hill and Mark Haddon, with the shortlist announced in June and the overall winner in August. The winning author receives £10,000 (and probably sells quite a few books), so wish them luck!

If you'd like to read our entries and judge for yourself, you can have 20% off either (or both) by entering the code STORIED in your 'basket' when shopping on the Valley Press website. Follow the links in the paragraph above to reach the relevant book pages, and click 'preview' once you're there to read some intriguing sample stories.

* * * * *

Mr Jolly got an airing in Birmingham this week, along with The Boy in the Mirror and Reward for Winter, as Michael, Tom and Di put on an amazing show for some lucky BCU students, lecturers and literature fans in general. I was genuinely blown away by their sets (and the student open-mic was good too!) I don't think I'm ever prouder than at a reading, seeing VP books getting out there into the world.

Here's a photo of the authors, taken just before the event started... as you can see, they meant business. (Confession: I was originally in this photo too, but I didn't get the memo and was grinning widely – looking, as everyone who's seen it has agreed, like a competition winner who borrowed his dad's smart shirt.)

I'll end by recommending a blog post from The Emma Press's Yen-Yen Lu, giving general advice for writers submitting their work; anyone who does that (or is just thinking about it) will gain something from this short article. I've also just heard about a great night of feminist poetry taking place in Oxford on April 8th, featuring our own Kelley Swain and Rowena Knight – details here. Otherwise, that's a full lid; see you next Friday!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

An open letter to writers submitting their work

Particularly to those writers who are hesitant to submit their writing to magazines, websites, or even, for example, the Emma Press calls for submissions. I’ve recently started submitting my work for publication as well and while I don’t claim to know everything that you are feeling, there are some general things that I understand.

First, the frustration of writing to a theme. Some writers might find it useful to have a theme or subject to focus on, while others might find it limiting. At first, seeing what the theme is, it will seem difficult to come up with even one idea. “Customs and rituals”? “The colour red”? “Escape”?!. You start wondering what on earth any of these mean. Sometimes you think of some associations with the theme: “the colour red – like anger, or blood? Should I write an angry and bloody story?” Or you might think about what it means to you – “I had a red shirt that once belonged to an ex – is there a poem in that?”

And then, once you start thinking of some ideas, there might be some doubts about whether they are “good enough”. You start wondering whether they’re right for this theme, if you’re able to write something good from these ideas, if you can even write at all. It’s difficult having all these doubts but it’s important to work through it to get to the actual writing process (which, unfortunately, is also full of challenges). For me, I try to freewrite the beginnings of some ideas to see if any of them work for me. Normally, I’ll be able to choose one that I don’t hate and then develop it into something I actually kind of like. This process might not work for you but finding something to get you writing in the first place is usually helpful. Another thing I like to do is imagine Project Runway’s Tim Gunn telling me to “make it work!” But that is really… just me. You don’t have to do that.

Then comes the time to send your work in and with it, the fear of rejection. Once you’ve submitted it, your work will be read and judged and, for whatever reason, might be rejected. It’s scary for some people, but it’s also not the worst thing that could happen. It can be disappointing if your work isn’t accepted, but the other possibility is that it is successful and you do get published. It is worth finding out. Probably the worst feeling, however, is when the deadline has gone by and you haven’t submitted anything. It is always worth trying. Even if your work is not accepted in one instance, there will be more opportunities to try again, and learn, develop, improve, and all those other clichés.

With this in mind, I hope that all of those hesitant writers might feel more encouraged/less disheartened and get their work in for the Emma Press’ current call for poems – good luck!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

This week at Valley Press, #46: 'Off the hook'

Dear readers,

The highlight of this week was our 'don't call it a launch' launch event for the Yorkshire Anthology. Due to the vagaries of my Arts Council project, and the selling schedule of the book trade, the anthology won't be in shops until August 1st – but we needed to 'launch' it in March. And launch it we did, in style! Although the event featured no less than twenty poets reading consecutively, everyone seemed to agree that the hour flew by.

I got an emergency print run to cover the event, and those copies are already pretty much gone: I'll get some more of course, but pre-orderers please note, you may need a wait a little longer for yours to arrive. The scene was captured by anthology contributor David Coldwell, who as you can see was sat with the other readers behind the microphone. The figure at the mic here is me; one of the better photos of me, actually...

This was also the week of my final meeting with Helen Burke about her new book. Slightly magical things tend to happen when you're with Helen, and this was no exception: Helen last saw her late father at 4.20pm on the 13th March 1999, and every year on that day, at that time, he finds some way to drop into her life. This is described to some extent in her poem 'The Last Time'.

Sure enough, as we headed towards the end of the meeting, with all other questions settled, there was one poem out of the hundreds in the book which I didn't have a 'note' for (Helen's books always have a notes section, offering background information on the poems). The poem without a note was 'The Last Time', and as I brought it up on the screen so Helen could dictate the story above, it was 4.20pm on the 13th March. Thought that was worth a mention here.

I won't share the poem now, will save it for another time, but here's an illustration by Helen that might make it into the book – though won't be quite as colourful.

While I was on my way to see Helen, Antony Dunn's 'Animal Rescue' (from Take This One to Bed) went on the Guardian's website as 'Poem of the Week'. You can read the poem, and Carol Rumens's elegant examination of it here – a highly recommended article. It's always wonderful to see a Valley Press poem getting such careful consideration, and the publicity is not too shabby either!

Someone reminded me this week that I never told you the end of the saga about the limited edition hardbacks for Antony's book. When I wrote the last newsletter before Christmas, two months after they were originally due for delivery, I'd given the offending printer a deadline of 5pm on the 21st December to hand over the books – or I'd never accept them, and would be demanding my money back.

After a tense day watching the clock, they were eventually delivered by the printing firm's managing director, personally, just minutes before the deadline. So all's well that ends well (sort of), and there are now only a couple of dozen hardbacks left; you can purchase one here for just £10. They look like this:

The final bit of news this week is perhaps the most significant, long-term; so brace yourself! On my way to Leeds on Saturday I took a good long look at my diary, my to-do list, and my inbox (all bulging), and realised I've reached a point that has been steadily creeping up for months – it is now physically impossible for me to keep up with the basic running of Valley Press.

For a long time, things worked like this: when I replied to an email or completed a task, another one would arrive immediately in its place – which is a somewhat sustainable situation. But for the past few weeks, as I sent a reply or finished something, two new items arrived in the 'in tray'... which meant the situation got ugly, fast.

I'm urgently working on finding more staff to join me in the Scarborough office, but in the short term, the majority of Valley Press emails are going to stay unanswered, and non-critical tasks remain undone. I simply don't have a choice; I've done fifteen days' worth of work in the last two weeks, but there's no way I can keep that up. So please try your best to let me off the hook, and I'll make sure normal service is resumed as quickly as possible.

I probably need a holiday ... but in the meantime, at least I have a trip to Birmingham to look forward to! A quick reminder about that: on Wednesday 22nd, from 6.30pm at The Woodsman, you can hear VP authors Tom Preston, Di Slaney and Michael Stewart read from their recent publications, and you can meet a rather tired (but hopeful) young publisher. See you there; and if not, in your inbox next week.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 12 March 2017

This week at Valley Press, #45: 'Turning point'

Dear readers,

It's 6.30pm, and I'm only just sitting down to write the newsletter – so let's keep it short this week!

The Yorkshire Anthology is finished; I have the print-ready files sat here, ready to go to the printer first thing in the morning. It's been quite a journey, I can tell you, with 66 contributors needing to check the proofs! I think by now, we're all looking forward to showing it off to the reading public.

Also tomorrow, I have what should be my final meeting with Helen Burke regarding her Collected Poems, to dot the 'i's and cross the 't's (and I almost mean that literally). I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, as far as last year's publishing programme is concerned – regular readers will remember both of these books were originally scheduled for 2016 – so naturally, the future is sneaking up on me too; I also have meetings with prospective new authors and interns next week.

Next Saturday (18th), we have a special event at Headingley Literature Festival to 'preview' the Yorkshire Anthology (which won't be in shops until the summer, but will miraculously be there next Saturday!) Here are the readers, in order of appearance:

James Nash, Yvie Holder, Hannah Stone, Nick Toczek, Cora Greenhill, Char March, Anne Caldwell, Sarah Wallis, Michael Brown, Becky Cherriman, Patrick Lodge, Bethany Rivers, Doreen Gurrey, Mike Farren, Julia Deakin, Jo Brandon, Neil Clarkson, Marie Naughton, David Coldwell, Matthew Hedley Stoppard, Ian Parks

What a selection! The event runs from 7.30pm at the New Headingley Club, Leeds, and tickets are £4. You really should consider booking ahead – it's filling up, and not just with the readers! Hope to see some of you there; that's all for today. (Except for a sea view, which I'll sneak in below – taken just before I scurried to the office to type this.)

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Sunday, 5 March 2017

This week at Valley Press, #44: 'Putting in the hours'

Dear readers,

A lot of small steps forward this week – but maybe that's the best way to get somewhere? I remember, from a little book of Chinese philosophy: 'the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step'. (Valley Press will embark on its own Chinese journey this year; but that's a subject for another newsletter.)

I'm also reminded of the '10,000 hours' theory, which was all the rage when I registered as self-employed, back in January 2011. Gladwell wrote that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice would make you a world-class expert in any skill, so I did a calculation of how long I would need to stick with my new career in publishing before I had it all sussed out. If I worked to a standard full-time schedule, I could have it wrapped up by March 2017...

Sadly, the theory has now been mostly disproved, even without my own example (which may be the final nail in the coffin). I logged into some new software this week, designed to streamline data at a publishing house, and found 98% of the services it offered were a complete mystery to me. So I'm still not a world-class expert – maybe in another 10,000? – but you could argue that the Valley Press that exists today was built from those hours, one hour at a time. Or, to borrow another bit of philosophy, Grimm interpreted by Steven Moffat: 'that's a hell of a bird'.

* * * * 

So what were this week's 'small steps'? One of them was registering the company 'Valley Press Ltd.', which is the beginning of a new chapter for us (and a ton of admin); though it won't make much difference to the day-to-day running of things. Another was sending out page proofs for our Yorkshire Anthology to the contributors – I hope you all enjoyed having a sneak preview! I was stunned to see that within 24 hours, 43 of the 66 contributors had already got back to me with feedback; who says poets aren't organised?

Elsewhere, myself and the 'digital reading team' made it through a few more manuscripts submitted in 2016. I've found this process so helpful, it's the best idea I've had in months; the volunteers have been phenomenal, tackling each manuscript faster and with more insight than I could possibly have imagined. Next time we take submissions (which I'm hoping will be in April), I'm going to formalise this pseudo-committee and arrange some sort of reward for them. They deserve it!

What else? I took on another new team member; Martha Sprackland, formerly of Cake magazine and Faber & Faber, will be editing a series of poetry manuscripts for us in the coming months – you'll see the first fruits of her labour in September. I also quietly changed our 'FAQ' section to indicate we are now considering applications for internships, for the first time since 2013. People must have been watching that like a hawk, I've already had ten CVs! (It's tough to get publishing experience in this part of the world; I always wanted to offer regular internships, but haven't had the time or facilities in recent years.)

On top of all this, I did an interview for the excellent blog 'Book and Brew', which you can read here. As usual, it's pretty frank stuff; I always end up saying far more than I intend to when I do interviews. I think possibly I confuse it for therapy...? Anyway, enjoy that, if you fancy a bit more of my waffle this week; otherwise, see you next Sunday.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Happy World Book Day from the Emma Press!

In celebration of World Book Day, here are a few words (and some wonderfully bad selfies) from the Emma Press with some of our favourite books.

Emma Wright, publisher - The Folded Clock, by Heidi Julavits

"I was given this as a birthday present and I was hooked after the first couple of pages. It starts with the author explaining how she discovered her childhood diaries and was disappointed by how dull they were; she then goes on to keep a diary of sorts in her current life as a fortysomething woman. As someone who gave up writing her own childhood diary due to a horrible suspicion that her adult self would find it both tedious and shaming, I was on board with this premise from the start and I have found every entry so far extremely funny and relatable." 

Elīna Brasliņa, illustrator - Invisible Cities (Les villes invisibles) by Italo Calvino

"I bought a French edition of "Invisible cities" during an Erasmus semester in Nancy and would often take it to the Pépinière Park, delighting, arguably in equal measure, in Italo Calvino's poetic prose and the fact of reading it to the accompaniment of crying peacocks. I believe it was my favourite book for some time afterward. Now, almost eight years later, I'm working on illustrations for the Latvian edition and am both exhilarated and awestruck."

 James Trevelyan, poet - Transition by Luke Kennard

"I've just finished reading Luke Kennard's incredible novel The Transition and can't stop telling people about it. I think it should be compulsory reading for any renter-generation Millennial like me. Painfully close to the bone at times, it builds a Black Mirror-esque dystopia where young couples are forced to live with older, more successful couples to receive mentoring and advice on their way to home-ownership, fruitful start-ups and a better life. It's darkly funny and generally terrifying throughout, you can't help wondering when the government will actually set this scheme up... and then if you might be desperate enough to enroll." 

Deborah Alma, poet - Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

"Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping is her first novel published in 1981 and I remember reading it back then and thinking, yes, this is the real thing. A work of beauty and grace and flawless. Wise, eccentric, poetic. I love it!"

Rachel Piercey, editor - How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

"I have just finished Samantha Ellis's wonderful How to be a Heroine, where she revisits her favourite childhood and teenage books to ponder how they have shaped her life and what she makes of them now, as an adult. There are so many old friends here - Anne of Green Gables, Flora Poste, Elizabeth Bennet, the March sisters... I didn't want the book to end! Here I am with my hair in pigtails in homage to Anne-with-an-e Shirley, one of the great literary heroines of my life."

Emma Simon, poet - Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

"I love Angela Carter, her myth-making and wild language and Nights At The Circus is one of my favourites. It tells the story of Fevvers, a winged trapeze artist in19th century London. No-one is quite sure if she is a fake or not. It's an extravagant book, full of stories and surprises. I think I'd like any book set in circus -- the fictional ones are always far superior to the real thing." 

Andrew Wynn Owen, poet -Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues by Iris Murdoch

"My chosen book for World Book Day is Iris Murdoch's Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues. It's full of interesting thoughts about art and life. An extract:

Of course we are philosophers and Plato is a poet so we must make allowances --


I'm very sorry, but really, you're all so unserious about art, as if it were a sort of side issue. As if one could say there's the navy and the silvermines and the war and the latest news about Alcibiades and this and that and then of course there's art and -- But art is -- in a way it's almost everything -- you don't see how deep art is, and how awful it is!

I think your poems are rather nice.'" 

Yen-Yen Lu, publicist - Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

"I have chosen Les Misérables, sometimes nicknamed The Brick because the dimensions and weight of the entire book (I am holding an abridged edition) are about the same as...a brick. I read this partly for bragging rights but also because I love stories that are timeless and truthful in the way Les Misérables is. As Victor Hugo writes in the preface: ‘As long as ignorance and misery endure on earth, books such as this cannot but be useful.’"

Have a wonderful World Book Day!