Wednesday, 21 December 2011

On Writing, Art & Loneliness

Art is loneliness. I write because there’s no on near to read. It keeps me calm; it keeps me going.

Sometimes the intellectual in me likes to think otherwise. I reason with myself: Writing is a complex form of artistic expression, and therefore an intricate medium, meant to relay a meaningful message or agenda, a genius thought or idea. But it’s not. Writing (the act of art) is simply the breath between swimming strokes, the necessary overflow of silence from the mind, soul.

Art comes easily to man because loneliness comes easily to him (Adam soon lost his rib; even cavemen drew on walls). Writing has always come easily to me because my nature has always strayed away from human contact: I bristled as a child when a parent coddled me. I recoiled as an adolescent when a peer brushed against me. Even now, as an adult, I keep my hands, eyes and ears to myself. But it doesn’t bother me (anymore): I know that one must let the loneliness be. It is the way of art, the climb. No man can completely bear the burden of his brother. Each artist must carry a weight all his own—because that is the nature of this tree called life. It is the unavoidable, undeniable truth (as Yeats so perfectly put it, the perpetual virginity of the soul). 

Loneliness was made for art (why did God create man?). The more tears an artist keeps to himself, the more someone else will not shed alone. The more blood I bleed here, now (in silence, at home), the more I will have to give—on the page, and in life.

I have always kept my loneliness a secret because I have always known it is the one thing I must keep safe. It is the root of the root and the bud of the bud of this thing called writing—because it (loneliness, art) is the one thing each of we humans shares.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

VP Recommends: Scarborough's New Bookshop & Cafe

I imagine many readers of this blog are a) from Scarborough (or nearby), and b) interested in good bookshops and good food/drink.  If this description fits you, then listen up - a new independent bookshop/cafe opened this Friday, run by Scarborough author G.P. Taylor and family.  You can check out the Facebook page for the shop here, it's on Bar Street and is looking fantastic.

Mr. Taylor has also shown great support (or/and crafty business sense!) by accepting stock of all the current Valley Press titles - making the shop the only place in the world where you can browse the whole VP range in physical form at your leisure.  A picture of our dedicated shelf is below, and of the shop.  I suspect I will see you down there!  (Try the 'After Eight' flavoured hot chocolate, you won't regret it).



Tuesday, 6 December 2011

James Mcloughlin reads new poem

Just a little video for you to sample at your leisure, trying to improve my reading in front of the camera, feedback welcome :)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Symbiosis: Vladmir Nabokov

To read previous posts in this series, click here.


I latched onto Nabokov my second year of college. I was skipping classes, then, shacking up in a wicker chair next to the poetry section of a local used bookstore, spending my hard-earned tuition money on as many raddy literary classics as I could my dirty hands on. One day my hands found Lolita. I groped the cover, opened to the first page and ran my eyes up and down the first paragraph. My face turned hot. My pulse rang heavy. O the words, they flowed like milk! O the syllables, they dripped, like honey! I licked my lips and took a big, deep breath before leaning in for more.

Writing is such a full-fledged artform, to do it right one has to be a multi-instrumentalist. There's language, character, structure. There's rhythm, scheme and rhyme. Nabokov is that someone-special who can play all of the instruments in the band--and play them well. He's the one who taught me that fearlessness (along with respect for craft) produces the most memorable work; that writing can and should be an experiment.




To view a recently re-surfaced video interview/ footage of Nobakov (dating back to 1965) click here

To read further text from the interview click here.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Launch Report - 'Love Letters & Children's Drawings'

Hello!  It's been a while since I wrote to you on the blog - the day-to-day neccessities of publishing are taking up more and more of my time, leaving little space for luxuries such as blog writing, which you'll agree is a shame.  The plan is to develop my 'time management' skills to the extent I'll not only be able to keep up with the blog, but also handle the two books a month I've arranged throughout 2012 (what was I thinking?!)  Anyone with time-management tips to hand should get in touch immediately.  I've made a good start - I'm writing this on a train to Leeds.  Anyway, onto business...

Last weekend we launched the nineteenth Valley Press book, Love Letters & Children's Drawings by Norah Hanson.  If you haven't had time to read the blurb/bio ect, please feel free to do so now and come back - I'll wait for you.  Done?  Great.

It was decided this time to hold two launches, to try out a new theory of mine - namely that since Friday night and Saturday afternoon events produce such different crowds, holding an event at both those times would result in two healthy turnouts.  This scheme, combined with Norah's astonishing existing popularity, and the proximity of Christmas (thus, people buying multiple copies), lead to this being the highest-selling launch of any book so far.  I don't wish to brag, but I was absolutely bowled over by the response - we had sold 85 copies by the end of the Saturday event, and at the end of the first week we're close to 150 - big business for a small poetry press.

You should have seen it, readers.  Both launches were held in Hull, the Friday night one in upstairs in Fudge restaurant - it was standing room only by the time we started, people were crammed shoulder to shoulder, sat on tables... I even had to let people sit behind the book table next to the cash box!  The Saturday one, held in the Endsleigh Centre (run by a very friendly nun, Sister Catherine) was slightly more civilised, but still attended by a swarm of keen poets and locals.  As I was busy hosting the events, this time, there is no photo record of either day, though I was sent the great photo on the right by Bernard Swift - that's me on the left, not quite looking my best, and still stunned by the turnout.

Norah excelled herself in terms of readings from the book, she had the audience 'in the palm of her hand' (to be cliche), gave them extra and still left them wanting more.  This business can be such a struggle sometimes, that when things go well it's important to savour it (perhaps with a blog post!) - before you move on to the next book, that is, which of course I should.  Back soon with more news.



P.S. Fans of Jo Reed may be interested to know she currently has an exhibition of her print-work (including this snail) running at the Electric Angel Gallery in Scarborough (who are also stocking a range of Valley Press books, I'm delighted to report!)  More information can be found on their website here.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

On Annie & Losing Loss

I found Annie the summer I turned fourteen. I was living up in the Rocky mountains, then, in a stucco house amidst a few acres of Ponderosa Pines. My family had moved from a small suburb of Chicago the year before. I was a loner, still--hadn't made any friends yet and kept to myself mostly, wandering the hillsides and reading girlish novels. Finding Annie was a surprising surprise.

It was a typical summer, Friday morning. My mother had gone off on one of her weekly garage sale-ing jaunts and returned with her usual bag of finds, one being a hardcover book she'd found lying in a box of dusty, one-dollar paperbacks. She bought it because it looked pretty: The cover was made of cloth; the text on the binding shimmered with gold, scripted lettering. I was rummaging through her bag of finds, as I always did, when the shimmering caught my eye. My eyes quickly panned over the binding--it was Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Picking up the book, I immediately began fondling the pages, peeking inside the front cover. To my surprising surprise, it was a first edition.

I asked my mother if I could borrow it. She said it wasn't for reading; it was only for looking at and put it on the shelf in her bedroom with the other "pretty" books--old, gilded copies of Dickens and Austen. The next morning I snuck into her bedroom as she was tidying up the kitchen and slipped it stealthily off the shelf. Hiding myself in her closet, I began to read--one, raw sentence at a time. Although I was only fourteen, I got it. Mysticism was mine. I knew the language Annie was speaking. I spoke it even more fluently than she.

Hours passed by quickly, intensely--the bloody cat crawling through the open window, the muskrat and mantis eggs, the eskimo. It was time for dinner. I said I wasn't hungry; I was on Fecundity and sprinted off with Annie tucked beneath my arm, making my way up Old Antler's Trail to Hidden Springs Glen, a small, communal lake that I liked to call my own. I lay on the grass as the sun set and soaked up the hypnotic buzzing in Annie's head. When dusk had finally settled down, I ran back home, crawled into bed and kept reading until the sun made its way back over the mountains.

In the fall of the year I turned twenty, that stucco house amidst a few acres of Ponderosa Pines burned down, burning my first edition of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek along with it. The moment I heard the news is still clear in my mind. My mother called me from the driveway of the house, speaking calmly. I sat on the steps of my small apartment, the phone cradled against my shoulder, looking at concrete parking lot below.

"How about the Annie? Is she gone, too?"

My mother didn't say anything. She didn't have to.

Of all the loss I have experienced in my life thus far, it is the first edition of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that has plagued me the most. Losing that book was worse than losing my first lover. I felt an emptiness in every molecule of my being for what seemed like an eternity afterwards.

But time has passed, and just as the age-old addage says, with its passing, the wound has healed. I have lost that sense of loss. In its place I have found something new: the genuine knowledge of a voice all my own and a shimmering hope for the future. Things like these always seem to come as a surprising surprise.

Monday, 26 September 2011

First Look - 'The Border' / 'Leeds Writers Circle Anthology 2011'

A series of coincidences has led to the next books from Valley Press being published in the same week, their launches held within 48 hours of each other - so it seems only fitting that I bring them to the attention of blog readers in the same post.

I first met Miles Cain in York, at a poetry open-mic event in February of this year, and was impressed (along with the rest of the audience) by his confident, flawless performance skills and the powerful, skillfully-constructed poems themselves.  I planned to sidle up to him at some point and suggest he might be in need of a publisher, such as myself, but he beat me to it - the decision was what you might call a 'no brainer', Miles' poetry was (and is) exactly what VP is about.

The first handout which Miles gave me that night (and the larger selection which followed over email) contained quite a high percentage of fun, whimsical poetry, though still highly crafted work.  I was a big fan of this, and the original title ('Significant Bothers'), but when Miles returned with a proposal for the collection, the comedy poems had been almost entirely thinned out.  After a lengthy discussion, some of them were put back in, and I believe we've now hit on a perfect combination of humour and seriousness - the kind peddled by the likes of Philip Larkin and Carol Ann Duffy, people who Miles very much deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as.

His collection, The Border, was sold for the first time at our Valley Press Reading on Thursday, an event which I hope to have video evidence of soon (you'll find it right here on the blog when I do).  This was also where I first announced the other book this post will discuss - much to the surprise of Deirdre McGarry, who appears in it but hadn't heard anything since submitting her poems for it in the Spring!  Before we talk about that though, I can't discuss The Border without thanking John Illingworth, who kindly donated the stunning photograph which appears on the cover (and made my job, as designer, laughably easy).  It is absolutely perfect, especially as cars (working or otherwise) appear throughout the book as a sort of running (or not-so-running) motif.  I also can't discuss the book without mentioning its launch, which will be held in York on Saturday 1st October - see this link for full details.

Moving on then.  Representatives of the Leeds Writers Circle contacted me in May, and we soon came to a mutually-beneficial agreement to publish an anthology of their members' work (both prose and poetry) by the 3rd October, when they had secured a plum slot on the Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe in which to launch it.  (See here for details of the event - hope you can make it.)  Edited primarily by Circle members Ian Harker and David Thom, I was astounded by the variety of work in the anthology - it contains something for every taste, and yet at the same time I failed to find a single section I didn't enjoy; difficult goals to achieve in the same volume.  I was also astounded by the sheer quality; it is an outstanding literary achievement, which again is difficult to achieve whilst also being as inclusive as possible.  All contributors should be very proud of the work they've produced for the book.

The writing in the collection is loosely themed around life in Leeds; both in the modern day, and in other decades/centuries, so is an essential purchase if you're a fan of that fair city - and of course, I highly advise you to pick one up even if you're not.  Prepare to be converted!  As for the cover, my brief was to create something 'a bit Faber-and-Faber' esque, so I looked to an era I've always curiously enjoyed - the 1990s Faber, exemplified in covers such as this one.  But of course I couldn't just rip them off, so I looked for a repeat-design pattern that fit the book's contents and reminded me of Leeds in general, eventually coming up with the leafy effort above.  There are plenty of trees in the book, but I can't explain why that design reminds me of Leeds - it must be something subconscious.

Should you be tempted to purchase The Border or the Anthology, I hope you enjoy them very much - ebooks are forthcoming, of course, shortly after the release dates, and there should be more news on these titles (and our final 2011 efforts) soon.  Until then, happy reading!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Symbiosis: The Prince of Pathos

Artists have symbiotic relationships with one another. We feed, we nourish off of each other. Many times one artist could not, would not exist if it weren't for the other.

One such relationship I've formed is with the late and great Charlie Chaplin, whom I refer to as "The Prince of Pathos," for he undeniably turns my stoic heart into an absolute puddle of humanistic mud whenever his Little Tramp graces the screen. The way he wears not only his heart on his sleeve, but his own contradiction as well--the short, tight waistcoat and big, baggy pants--that innocent heart and beguiling mind; the way he wanders around, lonely as a cloud: Chaplin created the quintessential moving picture of what it means to have inherited the artistic spirit. He is the one who best reminds me of the reason why we artists must exist: to remind our fellow human beings that we are each made of dirt, of clay; that we are fallible; and that this life is indeed meant to feel like one, long beautifully-tragic flaw.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Valley Press Reading 2011 - 22nd September

This post is one of the few with no content other than shameless advertising - I'm writing to let you know about the first ever Valley Press Reading, which will be held at Scarborough Public Library on the 22nd September 2011, with a relaxed 6pm start and an optimistic 7.30pm finish.  If my plans all come to fruition (and they have been known to) the reading will feature all eight authors I've published this year; they will be reading from their work, signing books (of course) and possibly answering a few questions.

Nigel Folds, artist behind Lonely Destiny, will be bringing some of the original artwork for the book (ensuring your eyes are as entertained as your ears), and the public will have their first chance to see (and buy?) copies of our seventeenth publication, Miles Cain's The Border (though of course it is available to pre-order here - expect the usual barrage of posts about that one shortly).

If you're a person with a Facebook, you can RSVP in the most convenient fashion on the event page here.  For a map to the venue, try here.  I'm afraid you do have to pay to come - £3 in fact, tickets on the door - but a lot of you already own all the books, and I gotta pay those room fees somehow!  Plus, think of all that great entertainment... to say nothing of the complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits.

I'm hoping this could be a regular thing, twice-yearly, especially if it goes as well as I think it will.  Also, I hear rumours the whole thing will be professionally filmed, so we'll be on our best behaviour (and this means international VP fans might get a look too, at some point).  Either way, wish us luck, and I'll see you there!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Pulse: Additional Miscellany

Steve befriends a camel.
It would be fair to say Steve Rudd's Pulse is a lengthy book.  It runs to an unprecedented 98500 words - though of course, that's only unprecedented for Valley Press; I'm not suggesting it's the longest book in history, though I admit I don't have the statistics to hand.  Either way, the editing and typesetting on this occasion took rather a long time - much longer than I originally planned, in fact - and though the text is a constant delight, even the man working on publishing a newly discovered edition of the Bible ('My Life: By Jesus') will find his attention wandering sooner or later.

So it came to pass that, in order to entertain myself, I began to play a series of what might have been drinking games - if I was reckless enough to drink whilst 'on the job'.  As readers, you bear no such responsibilty, so if you want to play along, take a shot each time:

  • Steve mentions Jack Kerouac
  • Steve stumbles upon a branch of 'McDonald's'
  • Steve mentions Facebook in a disparaging manner
  • Steve is saddened after observing a less-than-100%-honest business practice
  • Steve is mistaken for Chris Martin from Coldplay 
  • Someone 'kowtows' to something

Not mentioned are 'Steve boards a means of transport' or 'Steve eats something', as playing the game with these rules will lead to serious liver damage.  Also missing is the one that brought me the most delight during the editing process, as it is sadly no longer relevant: 'Steve consumes something out of a punnet'.  I noticed this curious trend early on; I've never established what Steve thinks a punnet is, but I believe it to be a small basket in which you might put some fruit or vegetables (see illustration below).  With this in mind, I was puzzled to see the humble punnet appearing in all manner of unlikely contexts throughout Steve's original draft of Pulse, some of which I reprint below:

  • 'For five rupees, a scolding hot punnet of Nescafe hit my throat where it hurt.'
  • 'Favouring train travel (if only for the early morning punnets of 'chai' and delicious omelettes served by mobile vendors on-board)...'
  • 'Various concoctions of medicine were relayed to patients prior to their main meal. I joined the queue of volunteers to help dole out white plastic punnets filled with a tablet or two, along with a nut chaser.'
  • 'Seated and satisfied with punnets of caramel-laced popcorn, we were fools to get comfortable.'

As you can imagine, I began to be deeply perplexed and disturbed by this trend - I hadn't even heard the word 'punnet' for the fifteen years prior to my starting work on Pulse!  I didn't quite know how to tell Steve about it; I believe I said very gently: 'Steve... can I just ask you... what's with all the punnets?'  We eventually agreed to remove most of these instances, though I have left the popcorn one in the final book for sentimentality's sake - watch out for it when you read.

With an understanding that I mention these things as possibly the world's biggest fan of Steve and his writing, I'm sure you'll allow me to bring up a couple of other points.  When running an initial spell check on the book, my poor computer went beserk - not because Steve is a poor speller (far from it!), but because he has a tendency to invent words where existing ones don't quite do the job.  So now, in association with the Oxford English Dictionary (basic edition), I can present the twenty-four new words invented by Mr. Steve Rudd for his first book:

promenaders, animalistically, linguistical, vagabonder, automisation, desertscape, metrosexualised, skyscraping, monotonal, wisening, technicoloured, patronaged, wisen, glammed, unentranced, resaddled, palmful, headlessly, wisened, iconically, nutted, transportational, behemothic, overlanding

I've actually left most of them in; they all make sense to some degree, and I'm secretly a big believer in this practice myself.  There are certain things I 'always do' in my books, when writing, and one of them is to include a word not featured in the OED - I'm hoping one day to appear as a source.  Trivia fans will be interested to note in The Dead Snail Diaries it was 'conversate' - '...in fact, I learnt to conversate...' - though I have since learned the word is an accepted part of 'black slang', so it's unlikely that a man once described as 'so white it's almost beyond belief' will be credited for inventing it.  Steve's chances are somewhat higher.

And then there's his trademark way of starting a new article, which is to capitalise the first sentence.  For example, if I were to document the last half hour of my life in a Rudd-esque fashion, I'd probably start it: 'I LOGGED ON TO THE EDITING SOFTWARE FOR THE VALLEY PRESS BLOG, AND KNEW A TAPESTRY OF LITERARY ACCOMPLISHMENT WAS ABOUT TO UNFOLD.'  This is actually an effective strategy, and one with a long, noble history in literature - though that didn't stop me making a list of the section openers which would be quite funny taken out of context.  So here are some teasing headlines to give you a flavour of the action at hand:

  • DUMBSTRUCK BY A DUST-STRICKEN OCEAN OF CAMELS
  • EMERGING FROM SPIRITUAL SLUMBER, I COULDN’T BELIEVE MY EYES.
  • WISELY, NOT ALL OF US CRAVE CHANGE.
  • ‘FLY, LITTLE BIRD, FLY!’
  • IT SOUNDED LIKE CHILDBIRTH.
  • GIVEN THE CHANCE, INDIANS LOVE TO MAKE A RACKET.
  • MOSQUITOES CAN SEEMINGLY SENSE SWEET BLOOD FROM A THOUSAND PACES.
  • I’D FINALLY DISCOVERED A ROUTINE WHICH NOURISHED MY SOUL
  • WE WONDERED WHY HE WAS POINTING THE FINGER.
  • IT APPEARED TO BE A SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS ON THE SURFACE.
  • TAPPING THE MAN’S FOREHEAD, THE CONDUCTOR ACCIDENTALLY DEFACED THE SLEEPING PASSENGER’S THIRD EYE.
  • ‘MAN! DON’T WORRY! BORROW MY BIKE AND TAKE A FERRY TO LOMBOK!’
  • I’D BECOME EVERYTHING I DESPISED; I’D BECOME WOEFULLY PREDICTABLE.
  • AT LEAST THE VACATIONING FRENCH GIRLS CONSIDERED IT FUNNY.
  • ‘HARDY! I’M LOOKING FOR A HARDY! I DON’T SUPPOSE YOU KNOW A HARDY, DO YOU?’
  • THE DAWN CHORUS WAS AS UNBEATABLE AS IT WAS UNREPEATABLE.
  • ‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S NOT A SINGLE BANK MACHINE ON THE ENTIRE ISLAND?’
  • ‘GET A BIKE, YOU LOSER!’
  • THE FINEST EATERIES TEND TO BE THE MOST SECRETIVE.
  • THEY WERE CLEARLY NOT ‘AU FAIT’ WITH THE INEVITABILITY OF SPINAL COMPRESSION.
  •  ‘IT’S NOT FUNNY. I HAVE BRUISES ALL OVER MY LEG.’
  • WHY DID THE CHICKEN REALLY CROSS THE ROAD? (Steve follows this with: 'Because it was cooped in a liberal country where it could!')
  • DASHING IN FRONT OF THE BLOOD-RED ‘SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND’ TRUCK WASN’T THE WISEST MOVE I’D EVER MADE.
  • ‘WHAT ARE WE DOING? WHERE ARE WE GOING?’
  • IT WASN’T THE TYPE OF DAY TO BE PRANCING ABOUT OUTSIDE
  • AT NATURE’S MERCY, I EXCEL; I THRIVE; I NEVER FEEL MORE ALIVE.
  • VERY LITTLE COMPARES TO THE HEIGHT ADVANTAGE OFFERED BY PLANES.

I think the last one there is my favourite; you just can't argue with that, can you.  I like to imagine him saying those bits in an unnaturally loud and monotone way; try it yourself - when your significant other comes home, smile and say: 'VERY LITTLE COMPARES TO THE HEIGHT ADVANTAGE OFFERED BY PLANES.'  Then come back here and tell us how they reacted.

That about wraps it up, though there is a neat coincidence that I've yet to discuss.  In Pulse, Steve mentions a few musicians his 'sensitive temperament' is 'more suited for' - and one of them is Miles Cain, whose poetry collection The Border is the next book scheduled for publication by Valley Press!  It's almost like Steve is 'passing on the literary torch', which could be a nice tradition if there was any chance of it happening again.  I made a note of what page this mention was on (pg. 124), so I could tell Miles when I saw him, but this knowledge came in useful sooner than I thought. When me and Steve accosted Edwina Hayes with a view to her appearing at the launch, Steve told her she was mentioned, and began flicking through the proof copy trying to find the sentence, which was of course the same one as Miles' shout-out.  'I think you'll find that's on page 124,' I said casually. Steve turned to the page, then looked at me like I had just performed an earth-shattering feat of mental acuity.

'Do you know the whole thing off by heart?!'  He asked me, stunned.  I decided to play along, thinking that this talent would never be tested.  'Oh yeah,' I replied, casually.  'All part of the Valley Press experience.'  Steve (and possibly Edwina) went away impressed that night, and I promptly forgot about this moment - until the launch came around, and someone asked Steve to read the passage from the book where he encounters a cockroach.

'No trouble!'  He said, turning to me. 'What page is that on then, Jamie?'  Caught off guard, I began frantically flicking through the pages, unable to remember even which continent that moment had occured on; I could see the disappointment creep over Steve's face as he realised I was not, in fact, the natural successor to Rain Man.  'I thought you knew the whole thing by heart!'  He said, sadly, and in the end he found the extract several minutes before I did.  There's a clear moral here; don't tell lies, as they often come back to haunt you.  Oh, and also, that you should buy Steve's book - it's excellent, and now you've had the education provided by this post, you can enjoy it on a whole new level.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

VP Live: Saturday August 13th

Valley Press was all over Yorkshire this Saturday, attending the first ever 'VP book signing' at the Scarborough branch of Waterstone's, and performing as part of the 'Poetry Showcase' at Bridlington's Spotlight Theatre.  I was there with my camera to capture some highlights, and thus the photo recap below was born...

The Valley Press table - sadly not a permanent feature in the shop - organised on the day by 'merchandising' whizz and all-round genius staff member Sean Lewis.

The day was a big one for collaboration - I left home that morning with two heavy boxes of books, in a superbly designed wheeled suitcase (almost classifiable as a sled) which had been donated to the VP effort by Jo Reed the previous Thursday.  Steve Rudd was also there during the initial trek, to help with another bag containing sellotape, blu-tac, the signage, a small bowl... all the other important items needed for the day's success.  In addition to this, we recieved several lifts from Helen Burke and her partner Phil (star of her poem, 'Why I Fancy Him'), and James Mcloughlin made a four-hour journey from Southport under his own steam, all to aid the VP effort.  This is what Valley Press is about, of course - great authors coming together to be greater than the sum of their parts, to offer a bit of mutual assistance.  As I considered the people I'd published since May, I felt a great sense of pride.  Here's a photo of all of us, taken by the multi-talented Phil:

One for the scrapbook - five VP authors in one place.  Left to right, James Mcloughlin, Jo Reed, Steve Rudd, Jamie McGarry, Helen Burke.

As part of my continuing interest in raffles, there was one held during the signing - visitors were invited to enter in order to win signed copies of all five books; worth 30p of anyone's money I believe.  The raffle was eventually drawn as we departed at 4pm, by Waterstone's staff member John (who pointed out a flaw with my administration of the raffle, which I won't reprint here, thus relegating the flaw into the fog of history).  The winner of the raffle was David Goh, who I have been emailing recently regarding his book about how to improve your skills at lawn bowling using sophisticated mental techniques.  Should that end up being published, you heard it here first!  His victory must be a good omen for that book.

James Mcloughlin explains something; possibly a sophisticated technique on how to improve your lawn bowling.

James and Steve wait for the rush to start.  I attempted to kick it off by personally approaching every person who came in and informing them of the remarkable gathering currently taking place.

With the signing wrapped up, we bid farewell to James and Jo, and the remaining VP-sters headed to Bridlington for the 'Poetry Showcase', which was hosted and organised by yet another one of the fold, Deirdre McGarry, pictured below introducing us with a glowing monologue which allegedly made me blush.  'Even if you don't read the books,' she said, 'just pick them up, have a feel... they're beautifully produced items!'


There was a very healthy turnout for the 'Poetry Showcase' - even the Mayor of Bridlington turned up (that's him in the red tie and blue sash).  He was an unusually cool and hip Mayor by anyone's standards; I've never seen a politican make such a decent attempt at stand-up comedy.  Behind the performers (not pictured) was a dozen full-size original paintings by Nigel Folds, mimicing the Lonely Destiny launch, and meaning every author published by VP this year was involved in the day.

The only slight problem with this event was that Deirdre had neglected to mention the words 'Poetry Showcase' to me in the run up; it had always been referred to as the 'Spotlight Theatre'.  This put Steve in an interesting position, promoting his travel writing (and armed with nothing else), but I think we got away with it by introducing him as 'a poet who on this occasion will be delighting you with some poetic prose.'  Here he is at work:


Steve was bookended by me reading some of my snail poems (after which it was gently suggested that I retire them, lest I be known only for those two poems - 'it didn't hurt Frost!' was my response) and Helen reading from The Ruby Slippers.  She went down extremely well, in fact people were clamouring to pick up a copy before she even took to the stage!  Here she is charming the crowd:


We returned to our respective homes that night, tired and happy - thanks to all the authors for their contributions, and everyone who came to see us at both venues, it was all highly appreciated!  I'm aiming to top all this on the 22nd September with our Valley Press Reading, 6pm at Scarborough Library - more information on that soon.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Pulse: Launch Photos

Huge thanks to Craig Zadoroznyj for taking a great set of photos at the launch of Pulse, and allowing me to put them on the blog.  I knew they'd turn up sooner or later!  You can have a look at some of his other work here, but not before you check out the great snaps below...

Steve hard at work signing some books.  Note the two ladies to the left - none other than the winners of the raffle, whose unlikely success was documented in my last blog post.

Close-up of Steve signing a book.  I was really impressed by his signing skills - some of the best I've ever witnessed, beautiful work!

Steve fielding questions - a wry smirk here I think.

Steve continuing his Q&A, in this case clearly laughing at one of my great jokes.  To his right you can see one of the photos, 'carefully displayed', and a copy of a 'Pulse' map.

The lovely Edwina Hayes, who charmed us with her extraordinary talents - in the fields of both music and raffle-administration.

Another close-up of that excellent signature.  The atlas behind is an old one belonging to my mum - pre-dating Indian independence!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Pulse: Launch Report

So it's away!  On Friday 5th August, The Bell in Driffield hosted the launch of Steve Rudd's Pulse, the sixteenth Valley Press book, notable for being the longest, most lavish production to date - 312 pages of writing, with a 16 page colour insert (I've got those stats off by heart, very proud).  As of yet only one photo has emerged, which you can see to your right - but if anyone reading this was there and took some snaps, please do get in touch and share them, perhaps for inclusion in a future post?

The spectacular evening started with a song from Ben Parcell (a Green Day cover, no less) and moved on into an extended Q&A with Steve, during which we collectively probed the depths of his well-travelled mind.  We were also graced by international folk sensation Edwina Hayes, who not only performed some of her beautiful music, but also helped no end with the raffle - turns out she's a seasoned raffle veteran!

If you're wondering, the raffle was a last-minute idea, in which visitors were offered the chance to win a signed, one-off A2 print of each of the photos below, as featured in the Pulse insert:


The idea behind getting the photos produced was originally to have them stuck behind Steve as he fielded questions - I always like to give people something to look at as well as hear.  In the end, however, not only did I end up paying twice as much as expected to have them done, the wall behind Steve had been waxed and polished to such an extent that they wouldn't stay stuck for more than a few seconds... the tropical heat that night probably didn't help either!  So they were carefully laid down behind Steve on a table, and offered to visitors as prizes in the raffle.  In a further twist, the winners of the photos were Sarah T. (an important person in Steve's life, and someone who features throughout Pulse) and a lady who was attending the event with her; the chances of that happening (if anyone's interested) were 0.4%.  Clearly there was a certain magic in the air that evening!

I've made some additional notes on the book which I may translate into a review - certainly another blog post - so look out for that soon.  In the meantime, enormous thanks from myself and Steve to everyone who came; I hope you're spending this weekend reading the entirety of his finely-written exploits!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Rudd's Reviews: James Mcloughlin's Encore

Latest Valley Press author Steve Rudd is continuing his attempt to review every VP publication from 2011, though sadly his travel-weary netbook is struggling to load up the blog; thus, I will be posting the articles for him.  The next book to fall under his critical microscope is Encore by James Mcloughlin, so without further ado, over to Steve...

Ripping at the seams with thirty-three profound poems, Encore couldn’t be any more apt as a title, for the reader is left craving for much, much more from this exciting young talent. Opening with the four-part title-piece, James comments upon the changing seasons without further ado (‘I am a guest at nature’s costume change’), going on to regulate the beat of ‘A Calmer Child’ with an alternative but no less alluring rhythm: ‘I was a hassock child, kneeling at the altars of faraway trees and galleons, gallivants and glory’. Literally within a minute, James eloquently transports all those willing to read and reflect on his entrancing train of thought, his reality-rooted flight of fancy.

‘Expanding Borders’ boasts a volley of superb lines (consider the oft-repeated chorus-line ‘A twenty-year-old’s expanding borders are not of outstanding order’ for instance), while the genius of ‘For Ireland’ - a personal favourite - reveals itself with a startling succession of perfectly conceived line-breaks, leaving ‘the flame of the wordsmith, silent, exiled’. The questioning nature of ‘Digested Read’ (‘The pointless comet hurtles closer’) looks towards ‘Lost Bothers’, the latter piece a beautiful poem in which James unleashes his anger at the speed of time’s indifferent passing. Indeed, ‘Where does life go and when does it come around again, to make hours happy?’

‘Lucidity I’ (‘I wore his garb to advise myself to cut my love’) runs into James as he expertly details a detached encounter with his own conscience. For those folk hopelessly hankering after love-leaning poetry, ‘Remind You’ proffers terse observations about love and its associated fallout, maturely acknowledging ‘the river of guttural instinct’. ‘Photos in the Sun’ proves equally as pensive, before the deliciously dark thrum of ‘Mud Money’ (‘Cigarette fugues and blackened teeth speak for bodies in the ground’) leads readers towards the insightful mastery of ‘OCD’.

Few poems are as poignant as the purposefully misspelt ‘Wntr’ (‘Their wrinkled laughs don’t tell of autumn or age – just wisdom’) which revolves around an aged couple unwittingly approaching the inevitable, yet the crafty arrangement of ‘Trampoline’ imprints the most impact, its cliffhanger of an ending proving delightful as opposed to frustrating.

In spite of having spent so much time on Merseyside and in Yorkshire (he’s in the midst of undertaking a degree in Leeds), James often alludes to America in his writing, yet his style remains distinctly British, the quality of language artistically framing his output in both time and place. Splurges of his poems closely resemble song lyrics, yet the deep and meaningful nature of all that’s conveyed elevates every aspect of the content, not least because all manner of themes are embraced. Luring readers into his world, James uses vivid description to his advantage, regardless of whether he’s muscling through disdainful reality, or his fantastical imagination.

If one didn’t know that he’s in his early twenties, it certainly wouldn’t be obvious to the casual poetry consumer. The manner in which sentences flow and stories emerge speaks volumes about James’s ability to capture moments and distill emotions. What’s more, his work manages to be as true-to-life as it is fiendishly surreal, the idealistic ‘I Imagine’ (‘I imagine arid deserts that heighten the glory of the saviour, the oasis…’) sharply contrasting with the textured flavour of ‘Tangible’. Evidently - and understandably - confident about his way with words, James is teetering on the verge of a glittering literary career. Remember where you heard his name first.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Mega Week: A VP News Roundup

Quiet periods on the blog usually mean the inverse is true for Valley Press, and this week has been no exception!  In fact I hardly know where to start.  I feel bullet points might help.

  • This week, the 2000th Valley Press book was sold, which has me most pleased!  Of course, the big publishing houses are disappointed if they sell less than 2000 copies of one book, but we all have to start somewhere.  In fact more than 100 books have been sold this week, through all sorts of avenues... thanks to anyone reading this who bought one, it's much appreciated.  The great thing about the grand sales total is that it can only go in one direction!  (So, yeah... no refunds.)

  • This week has seen the release of our latest publication, Steve Rudd's Pulse, which you can read all about here.  The book is being launched in Driffield, East Yorkshire, this Friday (5th), so if you happen to be in town do come along and see it.  Running to 312 pages, Pulse is the longest and most elaborate book published by VP so far, and it's also the first one which I've attempted to sell directly to the public through the VP website - I'm delighted with how that's gone so far. There's a few blog posts upcoming on the subject of Pulse, so stay tuned...

  • There have been a couple of VP events this week.  With some help from Felix Hodcroft and Catherine Boddy, I read the entirety of The Dead Snail Diaries in Scarborough Library, and I was delighted by how it went.  Perhaps the most ingenious idea - inspired by my inability to find a cheap projector for hire - was me re-creating the book's illustrations on a flip-chart, in the midst of the performance, in a style that some have compared to Rolf Harris (though this is probably an insult to poor Rolf.)  I had a great night anyway, thanks to everyone who turned up!  VP was also present at the 'Coastival Picnic', organised by one of Scarborough's foremost arts organisations - I was pleased to note the picnic took place behind 'Woodend', so actually in the valley which Valley Press is named after.  A photo of Valley in the valley can be seen above; as well as books I offered a poetry competition, where you had to re-write a classic poem to be on the subject of picnics.  A lot of fun (particularly when an assistant arrived with two bottles of wine). Roll on next year's picnic!

  • I can announce two events are upcoming in the near future.  Both on the 13th August, in fact!  There will be a VP book signing in the Scarborough branch of Waterstone's, featuring myself, Helen Burke, Jo Reed, and Steve Rudd - something (or perhaps someone) for everyone.  It will be between the hours of 1pm and 4pm, you can see a nice poster I made for it to your right.  Later that night, me and Steve will be appearing at Bridlington's Spotlight Theatre as part of a 'revue' of the local arts organisations.  Apparently this event has been sold out, so it's a case of either you already know about it and are going, or you don't so you can't!  I guess we'll see you there, if the first case is true.

  • Our call for short-story submissions is now closed. Thanks to everyone who sent in stuff - I'm sure Dan Formby (editor) is surrounded by them as we speak, sweating over what can and can't go in.  Look out for more news on that soon, especially if you submitted something.

  • Finally, you may have noticed a new book on the homepage... the next Valley Press publication will be The Border by Miles Cain, another first full-length collection by an exciting Yorkshire-based poet, by far my favourite sort of book!  Check out the cover, featuring a stunning photograph by John Illingworth, to your right.  Also coming up this Autumn (and in the exact same genre) are Love Letters & Children's Drawings by Hull poet Norah Hanson (who is in the process of planning three launch events!) and Phobia by Leeds-based poet (until recently) Jo Brandon, who I believe is still recovering from a move to London, where she's destined to hit the big time in short order.  Look out for lots more on those three in the months to come, and also news of a Leeds Writer's Circle anthology which I am due to start working on tomorrow.  Assuming this next week is a bit quieter!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Rudd's Reviews: Valley Press Edition

With his work on Pulse now (mostly) done, and the release just days away, I'm pleased to report Steve Rudd has dedicated some of his valuable time to reviewing some recent Valley Press releases.  He's promised to disperse them across the web, but also allowed me to stick them up here, for any interested parties!  So scroll down and get stuck in.

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Read more about the book here.
Jo Reed's Stone Venus - Review by Steve Rudd

A lifetime in-the-writing, this sumptuous collection of thirty-eight poems delights the senses whilst fortifying one’s imagination. Proving herself to be an artiste in every sense of the word, North Yorkshire-based poet Jo has evidently - and wisely - invested eons of quality time into the crafting of the material which dominates her very first book of poetry.

From the reflective nature of opening masterwork ‘Embarkations’ (‘… an old life pours down steep stairs’), the reader is lured onto a journey of the most formidable and hypnotic order. Taking her audience figurative and geographical places not usually courted by fellow poets, Jo transports all those who are lucky enough to read her entrancing work. Whether she’s focusing on ‘fox-trots with Eros’ in ‘Piccadilly Circus’, or entering ‘bleak palaces on the arms of Poet Princes’ in the Egypt-anchored majesty of ‘Life Class’, you can be assured that Jo’s detail-laced writing is destined to move you on every level.

It’s clear to read that Jo’s experienced a remarkable life less ordinary. She’s lived all over England for a start, having been born in Durham, before spending time in Norfolk, Surrey and Lincolnshire. Currently calling the seaside resort of Scarborough ‘home’, she wields that ever-so-rare knack of pitting people into arresting scenarios, painting lavish pictures with words that seem to be very carefully chosen by default.

One may be reminded of Dorian Gray’s fate as they lap up ‘Vanity’ (‘… you bared lupine teeth into the smiling surfaces of silver teapots’), before the short but perfectly eloquent ‘Woman Drinker’ coquettishly threatens to stall readers in their tracks given its succinct brilliance, ‘A glass fan reflecting the glare of all who desired her’. ‘Suffolk Romance’, meanwhile, stops time ‘as green horizons wash velvet over the village’. As if to purposefully counter such ruralised innocence, ‘Two Crows’ (‘… entwined in anger’) promptly manages to startle, its descriptive focus utterly compelling in tone. ‘Hill Farm’ goes on to prove to be the most haunting poem on offer, the brief beauty of ‘Making Silk’ hankering after the collection’s ‘Most Magical’ title.

All poems sit beside one another as though their order evolved organically over time and through space. Not a single word is out of place, as reminded when the breathtaking power of ‘Violin Section, 1941’ proceeds to glue readers to their respective seats with ‘music perverted into an instrument of death’. As stark as relevant language allows, Jo never shies away from being brutal when she needs to be in order to heighten the emotional impact of her poems. Refusing to sentimentalise her work for the sake of doing so, her extraordinary poetry remains true as a direct result of her searing honesty. Far from being enslaved by the language that she so clearly adores, Jo uses the English language to her own ends, her energising mastery of wordplay guaranteed to delight readers of all ages.

Having recently completed an MA in Creative Writing, it’s heartening to see that her talents have been brought to the literary fore with this genuinely stunning collection from ‘Valley Press’. Reeling from the strength of material within, let’s hope Jo succeeds in collating supplementary material – old and new – for publication in the near future.

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Read more about the book here.
Jamie McGarry's The Dead Snail Diaries - Review by Steve Rudd

The third book of poetry to be unveiled by Yorkshire-based poet Jamie McGarry, ‘The Dead Snail Diaries’ has Jamie attempt to absolve himself of the guilt inspired by accidentally crushing an innocent snail to death. In a surreal twist of fate, upon hearing the fateful crunch, Jamie stooped to find a tiny book: the snail’s diary. Recognising the strength of the scrawl within its belittled pages, Jamie conspired to adapt the snail’s writing into a legible format. ‘The Dead Snail Diaries’ is the stunning result.

Suffused with twenty-four exquisite poems that focus on every imaginable experience and emotion once endured and enjoyed by the late snail, the premise is too extraordinary to overlook. Coolly beginning where the snail’s life left off, the opening poem is craftily entitled, ‘The Haunting of Poet by Snail’. As hoped, it details ‘A tragic mix of slime and shrapnel’ in light of Jamie unwittingly becoming a killer… though he’d undoubtedly escape with a manslaughter charge were he to be summoned by a court of law. After all, shell-shocking accidents happen.

Hilariously portraying slugs as ‘beer-swilling’ and ‘hard-living’ in comparison, Jamie sets up a strain of sibling rivalry, the menacing nature of ‘The Hollow Snails’ startling with its apparent brutality: ‘You saw us from a window, between release and our demise.’ In ‘Snail Browner Than Ever’, affairs sway into existential territory, at least relatively-speaking: ‘The world grows ever upwards, without glancing at its feet.’ Jamie’s correct to so boldly commit such an observation to paper. It’s heartening to know that fellow scribes are equally as keen to comment upon the way in which some folk dismiss the art of paying attention to detail, unwilling to keep themselves grounded for fear of stagnating, perhaps.

Whether he’s focused on snails, or describing Hannah Hauxwell’s humble life in his debut collection of poetry, Jamie remains an objective observer whilst subjectively pandering to the entire gamut of emotions. Crucially, his tongue is forever lashing around his cheek, Jamie’s sharp wit triumphing in making his poetry as accessible as possible without sounding pretentious. Channelling offbeat bursts of humour into a staggering proportion of his poems, Jamie proves that he can be serious yet lighthearted in one fell swoop - very often in the same sentence.

‘Snail Goes Speed Dating’ speaks for itself in the most ironic manner. ‘Even mutual love at first sight cannot be consummated for several minutes,’ Jamie relates by way of the deceased snail’s most potent observation. Throughout, slugs tend to get the last laugh. For instance, ‘Slug’s Night Out’ pounds with the self-belief of a tough-as-nails slug psyched-up for a hedonistic night on the patio tiles. In spite of a slug committing suicide in lukewarm beer, the poem can’t fail in raising a smile. The same goes for the genius extolled in ‘The Snail Not Taken’ (‘I moved the one with regret in its eyes – and hoped it would make a difference’), for it’s a beautifully crafted poem partly inspired by Robert Frost’s most famous work, ‘The Road Not Taken’.

‘Snail’s Advice to His Son’ succeeds in being utterly charming from the get-go as a young snail receives wise words from Papa Snail, chewing on advice along the following lines: ‘Don’t take life too seriously, son, for few survive uncrushed.’ In its wake, the colossal ‘In Search of the Great Green Sea Snail’ muscles into the word-obsessed fray. Providing the multi-act backbone of the collection, it tells the epic story of an all-conquering snail. ‘A Snail at the Races’, meanwhile, chances upon arguably the most confident snail to ever have marked a trail in history, implying that he could ‘move’ as fast as Usain Bolt if the urge commanded his shell to shift at earth-shaking speed. Delighting in all nooks and crannies of Snail World, the problem of swimming with one ‘foot’ is also brought to the reader’s attention. ‘A Snail Says’ and ‘Slug Goes to Rehab’ foster further laughs.

Complemented by a grin-inducing range of illustrations throughout, ‘The Dead Snail Diaries’ perfectly showcases Jamie’s artistic talents from the first page to the last. Admirably acting as a marked deviation from previous work, the book is a joy not only to read, but also to look at. Quirkily designed with a plethora of loving touches, it represents the most endearing manifestation of Jamie’s sensational literary output to date.

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You heard it here first, readers... 'sensational'!  Though I think when it comes to the obituary, 'grin-inducing' may be the one that sticks.  Don't forget to come to the Snail Reading on the 28th July, and Steve's launch on the 5th August!

Friday, 8 July 2011

A News Roundup (July/August Events)

A special post today to summarise some recent interesting developments in the Valley Press world... a couple of upcoming events, first:



The Dead Snail Diaries - Live!

Venue: Scarborough Library & Information Centre
Date: Thursday 28th July 2011
Time: 6pm-7.30pm

Ticket price: £3, available on the door

As I didn't have time to host a 'launch' for my Snail book when it was first released (too busy with everyone else... Mr. Selfless eh!), I've decided to do a one-off event at the end of July - a reading of the entire book, cover to cover, in Scarborough library.  It might be a bit much to listen to me talk about snails for that amount of time, so I'm in the process of recruiting guest readers to play the various characters.

It would be great to see you there - £3 is (hopefully) a very reasonable price for an evening's entertainment of this calibre, plus you get as much tea and coffee as you can drink, and (if you want) you can have £3 off a copy of the book.  Or buy one in advance and be an educated listener - all the info on the book is here, and there's a Facebook event here for you social-networking fiends.



Steve Rudd's 'Pulse' - The Book Launch

Venue: The Bell Hotel, Driffield
Date: Friday 5th August 2011
Time: 7.30pm onwards

Free entry

The next VP book is Steve Rudd's epic travel diary Pulse, which will be launched in his home town of Driffield on the 5th August.  It's free to come, and the books will be cheap too, so I don't know what could possibly put you off!  Precise details are still to be worked out (and I'm still hard at work producing the books), but the evening will definitely feature a Q&A with the author, readings from the book, and general milling around admiring the guy's hard work and adventurous spirit - all part of what makes book launches such pleasant ways to spend a summer evening.

Find out more about Pulse here, or see the FB event here.



As promised, there are just a couple of other things worth mentioning - Sabotage Reviews very kindly took it upon themselves to review our 2010 charity anthology The Day of Small Things, and they appear to like it - have a read here.  Also, James Mcloughlin was interviewed by James Nash on his latest podcast (July 2011), which you can listen to here - he appears about 4:45 in, if you're impatient!

Great to see so much positive 'Valley Press press' - long may it continue.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Stone Venus: Launch Report

Last Friday, the 24th, Scarborough's 'Arts Workshop' was host to the launch of the fifteenth Valley Press book, Jo Reed's poetry collection Stone Venus.  And readers, good news - I think I've finally cracked the whole 'launch thing'.  Which is not to say the last two launches weren't successful; it's just that this one was really successful.  The secret was almost certainly holding it in the VP heartland, Scarborough's South Cliff area, where I would estimate more than half the residents have both heard of Valley Press and wish us well... how could it fail?

In the end, a record forty people turned up, and seventeen copies of the book were sold (as well as a few other titles) - a gauntlet for future launches has very much been laid down.  Other lessons I will take from this experience (besides the 'hold events in Scarborough' one) are as follows: 1) that it is possible to produce two books in one month... a bit stressful, yes, but doable, and 2) that you shouldn't leave books lying around unsupervised... unbelievably, while the reading was on, some wise guy slipped copies of both Lonely Destiny and Encore into their bag, in what I believe is known as the 'five finger discount'.  I have mixed feelings about this, but on the whole I think I'm pleased to have produced objects that induce such desire for ownership that people will break the law to possess them.  Now I know how Steve Jobs must have felt when the first iPod was shoplifted.

I should probably say a few words on how the book came about.  In fact, Stone Venus pre-dates most of the other recent projects, starting in early September 2010 when the publishing was very much a hobby, and I had no intention of pursuing it seriously... things have moved fast!  I had known Jo for a few years, she is part of what might one day be called the 'Scarborough set', including the likes of Felix Hodcroft and Nigel Gerrans, and a few others who I hope to get under the VP umbrella eventually.  She had just finished a Masters degree in Creative Writing, at Newcastle University, focusing mostly on poetry, and had produced a vast portfolio of poems - which I was only too happy to look through and edit.  After a bit of collaboration (which we managed despite Jo spending the entire winter in Dubai) we had soon trimmed the manuscript down to a manageable thirty-eight poems; Jo was even kind enough to let me order the poems, which is one of my favourite parts of the poetry publishing process.

In fact the whole process went extremely smoothly - even the cover design was worked out in the end, though with Jo being a professional artist by day, that part of the project did provide the most friction.  In fact Venus has set a new record for different versions of the cover, too... there were eight in total, the process finally ending with Jo getting pretty much what she wanted in the first place.  For the record, my favourite was a couple of editions previously - you can see it on the right.  Not bad eh?

Talking of pictorial content, it would be a poor launch post indeed if I didn't at this point produce a series of photographs documenting the launch... and there's another attempt at capturing poetry on video, though this one breaks additional records for poor quality.  I will definitely be investing the profits from July (if indeed there are any) on a mid-range video camera... suggestions for which model to go for should be forwarded in the usual manner.  Enjoy!


I noticed this welcome sight whilst getting a lift to the venue.  Why don't you have VP poetry books in your back seat pockets?

Here we can see a small portion of the massive crowd... I now look at this and try to spot the thief.  I think that might be him at the back, in the black-and-white striped shirt, with the calico sack labelled 'swag'.

Jo shows off the infamous rock, making the audience laugh by listing other things people think it looks like, besides the Venus de Milo.  Guests were invited to write their suggestions in a small book, and the winner won a free copy - this went to Jenny Thomas, who thought it was 'a failed prototype for a polar bear.'

The flowers on the left include a begonia, propagated from a plant previously owned by Jo's mother, a plant which is mentioned in the collection's opening poem.  Guests were invited to take a clipping themselves as a souvenir - this was a really interactive launch!

Rosie Larner reads her favourite poem from the collection, 'Exit Stage Left'.

Felix Hodcroft tackles 'Minotaur', in his usual dark and dramatic style... cracking stuff.


Saturday, 18 June 2011

Poetry in Music: A Decline?

We all love music (if you don't, go away). It can cause great surges of emotion, inspire you, distract you and impress (or disgust) you. Often what I look for in music, in order to acquire these things from it, is creative, admirable lyrics or at least creative, admirable instrumentation. Most of my love for poetry stems mainly from great lyricists of the past and present and much that I write finds its origins in a rhythmic, musical womb.

However, is poetry and careful lyricism dying out in music? Modern day 'popstars' such as Rihanna, Chris Brown and Katy Perry seem to think it should be. Lyrics like ' Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?' are hardly the most incisive, heart-rending, spine-tingling lyrics one can ever have heard. Compare the inane lyrics of Rihanna's 'What's My Name' with the masterful, beautiful lines in Leonard Cohen's 'So Long, Marianne' and you'll begin to see what I mean.

Poignant, poetic and even bizarre themes & lyrics seem to have had much more prominence in the past decades of music. In the 90s, Stephen Malkmus and Pavement brought a madcap touch of poetry to their alt-surf rock, whilst Trent Reznor haunted listeners everywhere with chilling, goosebumptastic Nine Inch Nails songs. Going back further and to even more obvious examples, Bob Dylan's constantly brilliant wordplay and imagery make his lyrics just as effective on the page as in the earphones. See the heartbreaking but brilliant 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll' for just one example.

Despite the fact that it would be both harsh and naive to state that there is no great poetry remaining in music (bands such as Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens & Frank Turner keep that flame alight), it would perhaps be acceptable to say that the majority of modern music eschews meaningful subject or theme in favour of distressingly uninteresting ideas. Notice how often the words 'dj' and 'floor' are used these days? Jeez. Hardly the pagan imagery and beautiful acoustics of 'Stairway To Heaven' is it?

That being said, it's wonderful that bands with provocative, engaged lyrics such as Arcade Fire are beginning to get the recognition that they thoroughly deserve. What's not so wonderful are the countless number of genuinely poetic, earnest bands and songwriters left in the shadows because of a mass clamour for trash like that already mentioned. If I hear 'Do It Like A Dude' one more time....

I'd love for something of a resurgence of original, thought-provoking lyrics. Until then, though, I'll make do with this:


Keep it surreal.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Ruby Slippers: Launch Report

On Saturday 11th June, London's 'Poetry Cafe' hosted the official launch event for Helen Burke's poetry collection The Ruby Slippers.  The launch came to be at this prestigious venue entirely thanks to Helen; she had negotiated a gig at the cafe when the book was just a twinkle in my eye. When I heard she'd got it, I immediately suggested it become the launch - and now here I am the week after, reporting on it.

This was the first Valley Press event of any kind to be held outside Yorkshire, and may well be the last - despite the gig being advertised in every conceivable location, and on every poetry listings website Google could trawl up, only one person turned up who none of us already knew (and even he only stayed for ten minutes, eventually excusing himself very politely).  A small rethink will be needed before attempting another launch outside of the VP comfort zone (which is located somewhere in a triangle between Scarborough, Hull and Leeds) but I do not wish to do Saturday's event a disservice - there was a great atmosphere, Helen and our musical guest Julian Willmore were on top form, and I ended up well in profit (sorry to bring money into the equation, but a man's gotta eat!)

Another plus point was the presence of professional musician and photographer Rikki Blue, who set about unobtrusively taking brilliant photographs, some of which I include below (see Facebook to view the full set).  I also include another of my grainy, slightly suspect launch videos, which has become the first content on the brand new Valley Press YouTube channel, open as of today.  Enjoy!

Me introducing the audience to Helen, while she inspects a copy of the book.

Helen pauses for dramatic effect during the first poem.

Reaction to an amusing audience comment during the Q&A.

Helen and Julian Willmore in full flow.

Helen signing a copy of 'The Ruby Slippers'. She has an interesting habit of never signing in the same place twice... no area of the introductory pages is safe.

Helen hands back Sarah's book, freshly signed.



Video of Helen reading the title poem of 'The Ruby Slippers'.