Tuesday, 12 February 2013

This Blog Now Closed

After almost two years, I am retiring this version of the Valley Press blog - time to move onwards and upwards, with a 21st-century blogging tool and a design that reflects the new direction of the VP website. From now on, you'll find new posts (hopefully on a more regular basis) on valleypress.tumblr.com  See you over there, and thanks for visiting!

Update: six months later I moved on again - the official Valley Press Blog is now shared with The Emma Press, and can be found at emmavalleypress.blogspot.co.uk.  See you there!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Paul Sutherland's 'Journeying' - A Review by Tim Neave

We start this year on the blog with a review of Journeying by Paul Sutherland, published by VP in October 2012. The review is by Grimsby-based poet Tim Neave, whose collection i. d. s. t. was published by Nunny Books in 2009.

I find I like this new book by Paul Sutherland very much. Engaged by the early poems, enjoying the voice and its thoughtful measured cadences - hardened by a convincing modernism - I'm equally drawn to the longer, more elusive poems, because I trust the voice encountered there.

Whatever their subject - the people, places, and things we meet within experience - these poems speak with subtle but reliable resonance, which lingers beyond their lines, beyond the page, and suggestively beyond the book itself. That is not commonplace in poetry, contemporary or otherwise.

Emotional, geographical and cultural journeys are described here, emphasising the essential openness of each path travelled, its consequent encounterings and temporary engagement; whether that's a few moments on a plane or the ongoing business of lifetimes, families born to and loves achieved. Impressively, his sense of journeying includes a proper awareness that the act of leaving is consequent in its own right:

I once abandoned my father and mother, left them
bewildered at their beloved land's failure
to hold their child.
'Journeying', p.33

There is both a willed and a found sense of seriousness in these poems, and a respect for things discovered in the world, beyond their descriptive usefulness. Objects, people and places are thought about and re-homed for us in imageries which ask us to re-examine the familiar, to re-imagine ordinary things because the language is alive to them in disconcertingly concrete terms. Sutherland recollects a friend's description of walking into a valley as 'like [entering] a vagina' ('Up From the Costal Route', p.51), inviting us to deal with ourselves as much as anything.

The geography covered here is extensive, but his places seem adequately peopled, even the "barren" tundra seen by an English tourist approaching northern Canada ('My Foreign Land', p.13); or, these places are experienced in history or public life sufficiently to make the poems meaningful beyond any superficial picturesque. Landscapes are evoked beautifully, of course, but not fetishised for their own sakes, and the lives borrowed from these journeys seem strangely independent; afforded sufficient respect to continue in their own philosophical worlds beyond any discrete meanings Sutherland has discovered for them. 'Our love will last, won't it?' someone asks, completing nothing ('Hide and Seek', p.79). His willingness to de-romanticise human sexual experience and pick at its serious bones is impressive and, again, refreshingly unusual.

These are quiet poems, but loud with the ongoing music of the everyday, and its background clatter of existential gears turning against the mundane and the ordinary. Proper sense is made and temporary homes inhabited,
                                    as interim earth ends
and the unknown of existence begins.
'Red Hawthorn-Hedged - XII',  p.103

Exactly where that takes us, metaphysical or otherwise, I wouldn't know. While Sutherland himself may have no intimate awareness of the verified beyond, he does explore the present, the contingent, those little histories which have led imperceptibly here, with a sense that surely - with proper openness and inquisition - we can begin to name and therefore share the abiding wonder of a cosmic sense of more; or, at least,
                                                            the sacred
in-between-ness of here and now.
'Red Hawthorn-Hedged - IV', p.88

I was pleased to share these complex and rewarding journeys, and liked very much the worlds found or made here. Fine poems, to be sure. A mature and humane book. 

- Tim Neave

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

'Winston and Me' - The Interview

Presenting an interview with Mark Woodburn, author of our historical fiction blockbuster Winston & MeThe article was written by Oliver Robinson, and first published on TALKonline, the internal newsletter for Lloyds TSB. It is reposted here with their permission.

The cover of Winston & Me.
You might say Mark Woodburn became a novelist by accident.

He had no intention of writing a book, he says. It began as a diversion, something to take his mind off things in the evenings.

He started to jot down a few ideas. Four months later, Mark, who works for our Commercial Banking business, had finished his first novel and a few months later had found a publisher, a small start-up business called Valley Press in Yorkshire.

Winston and Me follows the lives of a young Winston Churchill and his servant or ‘batman’ during the First World War. It is a novel of conflict and contrasts: Blenheim and the battlefields of France, the English aristocracy and Edinburgh slums, the longing for home and the urge to flee domestic dead-ends.

Mark's story is told through the eyes of teenage batman Jamie Melville, who lies about his age to join the army.

"I wanted to create a story of parallel lives and tell it from the point of view of someone who had no axe to grind about Winston Churchill. Even now he is still a really controversial character," Mark explains. "I wanted someone with absolutely no preconceptions about him, and just to see him as he is, as an ordinary person."

The novel also charts the teenager's personal journey towards manhood – his role as the breadwinner in a large family, the pains of first love in his relationship with a nurse and, after the war, his efforts to find a career in London.

Understandably, though, the myth of Churchill looms large.

"Everyone has an opinion about Churchill," says Mark. "But as a battalion commander, he was a huge success, first class in every way. He was also a Renaissance man, he could paint and write. He suffered some terrible setbacks in his life, but he always seemed to come back.

"The thing I identified with most was his humanity – the empathy he had for his men. When he arrived at the front, soldiers wrote home and told their wives and families. The wives and families bombarded him with letters asking to do ridiculous things for them – one soldier's wife had lost her birth certificate and couldn't get it back, so she wrote a letter to Winston to see if he could help get it back – he answered every single letter that came to him, no matter what the subject. He wrote back and he did his bit to help. He wasn't this remote politician some people think he is."

As for his own efforts, Mark is low key about his success and plays down the effort needed to hold down a job and write a novel.

"It can’t be that difficult because I've already started on my third book. I never saw it as being work. Some people come home at night and they go to the gym. My sporting days are over because I had a very serious injury playing rugby. I don't go to the gym and I don't have other hobbies after work. If I were to do this for a living and suddenly a publisher said you’ve got six months to write it, then that might be a different story."

Winston and Me is published by Valley Press, and available through the publisher's website for £9. It is also available from Amazon and Waterstones.com.

There is a pleasing parallel story to the book's publication. Valley Press, established by poet Jamie McGarry, was highly commended in the 2012 Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards, making it one of the top thirty graduate businesses in the UK.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

My Week at Valley Press

(Note from JM: presenting a guest post from a young lady named Stephanie, who spent the week of 5th-9th November helping out in the Valley Press office. If you missed her fellow intern Madeleine's post about the same week, you can catch it here.)

Having been generously offered a week's work placement at Valley Press, I was very excited to get started and engage in some hands-on work, and become more closely involved with books at their editing and production stage. Having only done internships at larger publishing houses before, I had not yet had the experience of working directly with the books and their contents, and so it was something I was very eager to be a part of.

Much to mine and fellow intern Madeleine's surprise, we were given an opportunity to do so on the same night that we arrived in Scarborough! The manuscript in question was due to be sent to the printers the next day, and so valiantly our fresh, new team of brilliant editorial minds (including Valley Press' own Jamie McGarry and local author Felix Hodcroft) took on the roles of proof-readers and typesetters in order to get the manuscript prepared on time. I couldn't have asked for a more hands-on project than that to kick-start the week!

The following day Madeleine and I were given the opportunity to help edit an anthology of poems soon to be published by an author whose name must sadly be kept in the dark for now.  After a lunch in a nearby cafe at which it seemed Madeleine consumed a lake-full of Haddock chowder (a challenge I gamely predicted she would not manage - see, who's to say interning can't be fun?) we delved into a poetry-filled afternoon, fulled by tea, coffee and biscuits provided by our gracious host.

Proving that great minds do not, in fact, necessarily think alike, Madeleine and I disagreed on our opinions of the vast majority of the poems; however, as a collection we both, including Jamie, agreed that the anthology is definitely something special.  The poet's ability to display his subject matter in such a thought-provoking manner was a breath of fresh air to me; his portrayal of everyday and universal situations from such a unique angle and perspective was certainly impressive. We did attempt to come up with equally thought-provoking ideas for the front cover illustration, but this was something that continued to have us stumped throughout the week. I have to admit, though, that Madeleine had the edge in this task; she came up with a few quite interesting ideas while I struggled to come up with anything nearly as constructive!

Dinner that night consisted of home-made quiche (divine) and cocktails (awesome!) provided by Madeleine's aunt; not that I'm saying that all interns would be given such a treat; but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the good company, good drinks and great food. Madeleine and I agreed that the internship was beginning to feel like a holiday even on our first day - we were enjoying the work and the people and, as Madeleine correctly described it, it felt more like an 'editorial retreat' than an work placement!

Tuesday saw Jamie, Maddy and I taking a trip to The University of Hull, Scarborough Campus to give a talk to some undergraduates taking English degrees (at which a previous intern was coincidentally sitting in the audience). Jamie managed to quell one student's misconceptions of the poetry publishing world, proving that publishing poetry is a safe and cost-effective venture into the world of publishing, rather than the risky manoeuvre that the student supposed it to be. (Note from JM: that's that sorted then!)  Madeleine gave details of her MA, her past work placements and how she had managed to get to where she was in her publishing career path. I decided to start giving out names of organisations and societies that I'd been involved in which allowed me to gain my work-experience placements, as they were what led me to the opportunities to get involved in interning. As a lovely surprise afterwards, the lecturer Kevin Corstophine took us for drinks and a delicious dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant as a thank you on the behalf of the university. With perks like those I'd give as many talks as they'd want!

(That night we also took a trip to see the new film, Skyfall. Any work placement that involves James Bond films is a successful one for me!)

Madeleine did come up with some magic advice for breaking into the publishing world that kept us tickled for most of the week: "Just live your life." Unfortunately this nugget of wisdom was not shared with the student body, however Jamie and I understood perfectly what she was getting at: live your life, and gain contacts that can help you progress and get your foot in the door. In the world of publishing, networking is everything.

On Wednesday we took a trip to the university at York, where we listened to readings from the very smart and immensely interesting James Nash, author of Some Things Matter, 63 Sonnets (published by Valley Press). We managed to sell numerous copies of his book at the stall that Jamie had set up, and rightly deserved, as his collection of sonnets were witty, amusing, and touching all at the same time. It was a pleasure to hear him read. We were also treated to readings from the brilliant David Tait and the music of Izzy Isgate.

For our second-to-last day, Jamie gave us the opportunity to look at submissions, a task I thoroughly enjoyed. Again, the three of us disagreed on many submissions, especially Madeleine and me, but it just showed that any we DID both agree on were definitely worth a second look. This task gave us an insight into what kind of submissions publishers receive and also what they look out for in terms of content and quality.

Friday was an interesting day for me; as Jamie had to be elsewhere on business, he asked if I could attend an Amnesty International book event at the Guild Hall in Hull (as that is where I live, conveniently!) As a sort of ambassador for Valley Press, I attended the book event where I met many of the authors that had contributed to the anthology, entitled Small Candles, that Jamie had helped produce.  We listened to readings of the poems by their respective authors, and I helped take photos of the readings too. The people were very lovely, providing us all with free tea and cupcakes, and I even got a personal mention in the thank-you speech for my attendance! What a lovely way to finish a brilliant 'editorial retreat'!

Do not underestimate the benefits of undertaking an internship at a small publishing company; in fact, if you want more hands-on involvement and a feeling of really contributing, then I would more than happily suggest Valley Press, and more generally the smaller publishing firms. They are not necessarily just a stepping-stone into bigger things, either, because I undertook two previous work placements at large London-based publishing firms before I came to Valley Press, and I enjoyed this placement just as much, if not more, and certainly took just as much from the experience. Thank you very much, Jamie, for allowing me to take part in such a fantastic work experience placement. I could not recommend it enough.