Monday, 28 March 2011

21st Century Boy

I'd just like to take a little time to do some shameless self-promotion here. I've just set up a YouTube account in order to upload some videos of me reading my poetry out. I may look a fop and feel a fool, but it's just part of an attempt to reach that wider audience and broaden my experience of performing, which at the current moment is very minimal.

Here, for your pleasure, is the first and so far only video:

If you have any comments or feedback please let me know. Indeed, requests are even considered! Enjoy.

Friday, 25 March 2011

An Interview with Jamie McGarry

Valley Press is a rare find in the publishing world: The voices it's giving a platform to are as fresh and new as the publishing house itself. Founded just three years ago, in 2008, it came into being as a result of a budding poet's desire to self-publish his first book of poetry--as well as his first work of fiction--and is now already home to a small group of naturally-gifted writers and artists, with room to grow. In an effort to get to know Valley Press' history and heart better, I sent Jamie McGarry, the aforementioned founder and current executive, a few questions, and he has been so kind as to share a few of his honest insights into the world of literature, publishing, and Valley Press.

Cora Charis: First and foremost, Jamie—favorite book?

Jamie McGarry: That is an interesting question...there's book as in a particular work of art, and there's a book as in an object. In the future, when books are all just beamed into our heads from passing vans (thus removing the 'object' bit), I imagine my favourite book will be Ted Hughes' Collected Poems - I am always surprised by how divisive he is, that half of all poetry fans I encounter seem to really dislike him and his work. But it is of course impossible to be truly great and infinitely popular. I think he was an incredibly creative man, an outstanding writer, and I am forever turning to the Collected Poems and trying to figure out the process behind whatever poem it falls open on. I love the introduction as well, especially the bit about how he used to run a small press! I find it an inexhaustible literary mine - it would be my 'desert island book', the one I would want to be stranded with.

But as an object, my favourite 'book' is my copy of Tony Harrison's Collected Poems (signed!) - or at least, that's the one I am most attached to. When I first got into serious poetry, I would continually return to my local bookshop and read a few more pages of this volume - it was expensive, and not in any of the local libraries, so this was my only recourse. Something about this experience really altered the direction of my life...I got a feeling from it that I'd never had before. Now my feelings towards the text are a bit different; I wrote my dissertation on Tony Harrison, I bought the book and have been formally introduced to him in person - they say you should never meet your idols. Now, I can put him neatly in his place in the English literary timeline/leaderboard, I can take the poems apart to see how they tick, but I can't recapture that initial feeling I got in the bookshop...which was something like standing in front of an enormous obelisk, and wanting to understand how it came to be there.

Short question, long answer!

CC: Have you always been interested in writing and publishing? When did your love for the written word begin?

JM: I can't remember a time when I wasn't excited by a book, even those pointless little volumes you are given in the very earliest years of school. There's a certain promise that comes with a new bit of life for you to devour, and I don't think that feeling will go away even with the van-to-brain scenario I described earlier.

I think I've mentioned before that at the age of 7, maybe even earlier, I would spend my spare time writing stories in excercise books and then adding a list of contents, copyright page, barcode ect. which is a strange past-time for a young lad - was I writing so I'd have something to publish, or was I publishing to make my writing look respectable? Still a valid question! I still have some of these books, has a version of the 'Gingerbread Man' story, except in mine a turtle made of jelly comes to life, runs amok, and eventually gets eaten by a fox. In an epilogue, the fox's teeth drop out and he has to attend the dentist. Fully illustrated of course.

CC: How did your metamorphosis from hopeful poet to proud publisher unfold, exactly?

JM: 'As Jamie McGarry awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic publisher...' No hang on, I'm getting mixed up.

I like the adjectives in your question, 'hopeful' to 'proud!' Pride has a lot to do with it, definitely. I was at a dinner party last year, telling some nice lady about VP, when the bloke sat between us said: 'well, it's just a vanity press really, isn't it.' My first instinct was to punch him (emotions run high in the world of publishing), but it was probably because he cut close to the nerve. I taught myself the process of publishing in 2007 because I personally had a lot of unpublished writing, and though it wasn't really suitable for traditional publication, it annoyed me that it wasn't out there for people to buy (if they so wished.) After doing two books of my own, I realised it could possibly be more rewarding (in every sense) to publish other people, and so I gently pushed my friend Nigel Gerrans into letting me release a book of his poems.

Nigel had been writing poetry for seventy years...which is a very long time...and it turned out he had built up a vast list of contacts and fans. I printed 150 copies of Tenebrae in all, and I only have a couple of copies left in the 'warehouse' (actually a large box under my desk) so it could be considered a success (studies show the average sales for a volume of poetry are 98 copies...sad isn't it.) And I guess at that point, I was a publisher, whatever they might say at the dinner parties of this world!

CC: What are a few of your writing/publishing inspirations?

JM: Besides the aforementioned Hughes and Harrison, I am inspired by the plethora of successful publishers that start with the dream of just one or two people - in the North of England alone, there's Jean Hartley and the Marvell Press, Ann and Peter Sansom at Smith/Doorstop, and Neil Astley with Bloodaxe. I have yet to meet any of them (besides Jean), but their stories and successes inspire me no end. Honourable mention to Kate Atkinson, who inspires the (usually buried) novel-writing Jamie, and John Hegley who is serious yet silly, successful yet underrated...very nice people and great writers.

CC: As a publisher, who do you consider your audience to be?

JM: At the moment, the majority of my impersonal sales come from people who are already interested in snobs, you might say! But every time we run an event, I get at least one person come up to me and say: 'I've never been interested in poetry/literature before, but now I really want to find out more' I'm growing my audience one person at a time. Some of the titles coming up later in the year, particularly a travel book by Steve Rudd (coincidentally, the last person to interview me, in 2008!) are attempts to put that situation to rights; to let the whole world know about Valley Press.

CC: What do you look for in manuscript submissions from writers?

JM: First, it's amazing how many submissions I'm already put the words 'accepting submissions' with the words 'publishing house' on the internet, and people turn up in their hordes! The way I've got things set up at the moment is to not publicise any email address, but offer a simple contact form on the webpage. People are then effectively judged before I even see a manuscript - it's amazing how many people don't take the time to use punctuation, or even string a decent sentence together. 'I writer have written many poems and stories you publish me plz' is a strangely typical opening message.

However, if you write a nice couple of paragraphs, explaining who you are and what you're up to, I will usually send an email asking for samples of work and start a conversation. At this point, I'm looking for writers who have something to say, who show evidence of a god-given talent (not that I'm religious...that's another interview!) and who are able to present themselves well over a series of emails. If you've got all this, I am definitely going to give you something to do, even if you don't have enough material for a solo release, or if you're still working on your big project. There are quite a few of these people now (possibly including yourself, Cora!), and most of them are still off working on whatever VP-related task I assigned to them...hopefully these side-projects will bear fruit in the months to come. I just want to get a community going, really - that's essential.

CC: What would you say is the most difficult part of the publishing process?

JM: Without a doubt, it is managing the finances, the risk, cashflow ect....I ran things quite happily as a hobby for several years, but since the full-time self-employment in January, I feel financial pressure hanging over me like an enormous anvil, waiting to come down and crush me any second! I'm sure readers don't want to hear about this unglamorous side to the industry, but it is the most honest answer I can give.

The second most difficult part is marketing, but it just needs time and persistence. Sylvan Rose, who edited Patterns of Hope, has sold 900 copies (or thereabouts) of that book without spending a penny on marketing...she has just put herself out there, book in hand, and got cracking. In my defense, it does help that it's a charity book, and she only had to worry about that one - I am currently responsible for fifteen books in print or post-production! Yes, if I won the lottery, and bought a VP office, the first person I'd hire would be an experienced head of marketing. Every other part of publishing is too much fun to be difficult.

CC: Any advice you’d give to someone interested in getting into the publishing world?

JM: In all seriousness, the most direct route into publishing is to get an internship or work experience role at an established company...I'm sure there are people who'd disagree, but I've never known anyone do this and not get a job within six months. The trouble with this is, you have to be in a position to a) live somewhere where publishing happens and b) work for free, which I never have. I applied for many salaried publishing roles in 2010, but at the moment, the competition with experienced publishers who've been made redundant is too intense for a newbie to get a look-in...most of the posts I applied for received 200 or 300 other applications, which made my meagre publishing achievements look rather insignificant.

However, walking round the streets of Yorkshire with my publisher's hat on, I feel slightly more important! There's no reason for people wanting to get into this world not to try and start-up themselves - I did it, after all, and I'm not a genius, not wealthy, no more special than the next man. Just go out and do it. Or better still, be my head of marketing, and work on commission! Any takers?

CC: Where do you see Valley Press in ten years? What are your hopes and dreams for it?

JM: I hope I will still be doing it, for a start - that it will have grown enough to support me comfortably (truth be told, at the moment I have to count up my coppers before heading to the supermarket.) I'd like to have a little office for VP, a brass plaque on the wall outside, a friendly secretary to greet me when I stroll in on sunny mornings... I am someone who spends a lot of time imagining happy versions of the future. 'Good morning, head of marketing!' 'Good morning Jamie.' ect. I'd like to be putting out two books a month - but more than anything, I'd like to be the publishing house talented young writers dream about being published by, and at the same time, one where there's a genuine chance of that dream coming true.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Upcoming Poetry Events in Scarborough

I'm writing today to let you know about some major poetry-related events coming up in Scarborough over the next couple of weeks.  These are events I have been vaguely responsible for whilst wearing my Scarborough Poetry Workshop hat, and aren't strictly Valley Press related, but I know many of you blog readers are based in the area and keen on the literary arts. (Please note: there's not really a hat, it's a metaphor.)


Thursday 31st March

Poetry Cafe - 8pm
Venue: Stephen Joseph Theatre, Restaurant
Running Time: 2 hours
Price: £5
Feed your body and your soul with delicious food and wise, funny, poignant and whimsical words and music provided by Scarborough Poetry Workshop. Enjoy a relaxed meal in The Restaurant and listen to verse and melody from our own local poets.

Tickets include a glass of wine or, for a party of 4, a bottle of wine. You don’t have to dine but there will be a tempting menu and the performance will be arranged around courses.


Friday 8th April

Poetry Snap - 5pm
Venue: Scarborough Library Concert Hall
Running Time: 75 minutes
Price: Free on the door
Scarborough Poetry Workshop presents the very best of the regional poetry scene, in an extraordinary digest of Yorkshire-based talent. Representatives from four poetry groups will perform short programmes of their finest work, and the 'Snap' will culminate with a reading from established Scarborough poet Mike Di Placido.

Poetry Slam - 8pm
Venue: The Cask Inn
Running Time: 3 hours
Price: Free to non-competitors on the door
Inspired by the 'Snap'?  Why not head over to The Cask for Scarborough Poetry Workshop's fourth 'Poetry Slam'?  The 'Slam' is a knockout competition where poets read up to three pieces of original work, attempting to impress a panel of judges selected from the audience.  The competition is open to all, simply turn up at 7.45pm and put your name down.  £3 to enter, but free for those who simply wish to come along to listen and cheer on the poets.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Lonely Destiny: Launch Photos

I've just returned from the launch event for Lonely Destiny, and you'll be pleased to hear it was a big success - for starters, we raised £115 for Comic Relief, thanks to the auction of Nigel's paintings and a surprise last-minute decision by the authors to donate a pound from every book sold on the night.  A big thank you to everyone who came; if you missed out, you can still help the VP Red Nose cause by going here and donating a few spare pence.  You can catch up on what you missed by viewing some of the charming photos below...

Deirdre taking names for the 'open mic', filled with pre-launch excitement.

Nigel and Deirdre get into the 'Red Nose Day' spirit - fortunately they'd only been able to find two noses.

Nigel brought along evidence of the photo-session that came before he produced the paintings; I photographed the photos, for posterity.

Nigel with a Mrs. Palmeira, the proud owner of a Lonely Destiny original, post-auction.

A reluctant photo of myself, flanked by Deirdre and Nigel brandishing books.

...and finally, a shot of my local railway station as I caught the train to Bridlington.  I thought it looked sort of mysterious and cool - any takers?

Monday, 14 March 2011

Lonely Destiny: First Review

The first collaboration between poet Deirdre McGarry and artist Nigel Folds, Lonely Destiny filters through both time and space by seamlessly weaving vivid imagery alongside vivid illustration, taking its reader to unseen heights and unplumbed depths. McGarry's handwritten lines of bold spiritual poetry read like rivulets straight out of humanity's collective stream of consciousness, while Folds' illustrations speak straight to the heart in subtle, undetailed movement, capturing the light and tone of McGarry's words--and the human psyche--perfectly. Although the title of the book suggests a theme of isolation, Lonely Destiny is a deeply intimate metaphysical voyage, personal to the touch; and the tune it leaves ringing in its reader's ear is one of complete understanding. 

*Lonely Destiny is now available for purchase via Valley Press. For details of the launch event on Friday 18th March, consult the VP site or Jamie McGarry's 'First Look' entry.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Lonely Nose-tiny: Comic Relief News

As the date for the launch of Lonely Destiny gets ever nearer, it has occurred to those involved that the launch falls on the same day as the British institution that is Red Nose Day.  So with this in mind, I can announce that during the launch we will be auctioning five of the original Nigel Folds paintings from the book, and giving the proceeds to Comic Relief.

If you're not familiar with Comic Relief, consult their homepage here, or better still, have a look at the page I've set up specifically to do with VP's charitable efforts.  If you're going to donate anyway, why not do it through the VP page and give us all an extra inner, charitable glow?  And if you're not going to donate anyway - now you've a good reason to!

So if you're free this Friday, let me just confirm the details for the launch: 7.30pm, 18th March, at 'the Old Parcels Office' on Bridlington Railway StationThere will be an open-mic section (so bring your own poetry!) and plenty of other fun stuff.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

War of The Platforms

Look at the comments section on any literary website, peek at the writers' forums or listen in on radio discussion shows and you'll be splattered with sticky, dark debris from the diatribes on the rise (or not) of the e-book.

If you're reading this blog, chance is that you're interested in literature, fiction, poetry, reading, writing and all that artsy jazz. Chance is also, then, that you've heard a few rumbles in the blogosphere regarding the progression of e-books from clunky, difficult novelty products into a serious (or not) threat to the future of paper-print books. You may even have your opinions formulated already; I certainly hope so.

I hope so because it's a massive issue, not only for publishers but for writers and readers, too. The implications go way beyond the financial to the environmental and even further. The current debate rages mainly around the decreased enjoyability an impersonal object like the Kindle can offer the reader; many a man and more have complained that e-readers can never match up the the feel and smell of a fresh paper book. Furthermore, detractors of the new-age state, e-readers are no match for the durability of a good book, vulnerable to spillages, malfunctions, dropping, anything. Should a beverage seep its way toward your reader with all the malevolence of Lord Voldemort that is, seemingly, the end of it. Fork out on a new one. Start your collection again. The truth is most likely at variance with this but I'll leave that to you to discuss...

However, there are supporters to the contrary. E-readers offer greater portability than a stack of books, being smaller, lighter and more compact in general. They are just as easily readable as most regular books, with a slight advantage in the ability to zoom and re-size text or have the book read to you in a charmingly jerky, Stephen Hawking-type computerised fashion. They're also much more environmentally friendly and really make very little difference to the reading experience, whatever critics might say. This applies particularly to the Amazon Kindle, which I own and therefore have the most knowledge and experience of. I'm really not sure about other devices. The eBooks available on such devices are inevitably cheaper, too, given the absence of print-costs for publishers, making e-readers a little more enticing to the reader. The drawback comes, of course, with the price-tags for the readers, which at present are rather inflated.

This is far from an in-depth article and could have done with a lot more sourcing and individual interpretation but that, I feel, leaves the topic open for further debate. I invite you here to add your own views on the issue: which side are you on, if any? Do you own an e-reader? Can they ever really replace the good old paper book? Does any of this even matter (for all you Hegelians out there)?

Have fun!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Lonely Destiny: First Look

The time has come for a post introducing the world to the eleventh Valley Press publication, due out on the 14th March.  Lonely Destiny is a book where unique, lovingly-reproduced paintings stand alongside handwritten poetry; part of a fascinating genre which seems to be enjoying a resurgence in England - the art/poetry book (I've seen at least four in as many days.)

The poetry has been written by Deirdre McGarry, a friend of mine but (as I keep telling puzzled onlookers) no relation, as far as we can identify.  There are a lot of McGarrys in this world - and on the Yorkshire coast, they just happen to be poetry kingpins.  Deirdre is a founding member of local cultural group 'Fish Pie & P.E.A.S.' (which allegedly stands for 'Poets, Entertainers, Artists and Songsters'), and has been published in many anthologies, local and otherwise.  She is perhaps best known for her 'Writers Open House' events, where writers of any background, genre or stature are invited to visit her Flamborough home for as long as they wish over a two-week period, in order to enjoy uninterrupted writing time, regular workshops, useful networking with other writers and publishers, and putting a hand-print on a large piece of paper (but wash it off quick, that paint ain't soluble!)

Nigel 'working' on a painting from Lonely Destiny
Nigel Folds is a neighbour of Deirdre's - it appears Flamborough is something of a retreat for creative and interesting folk (like this blog, in a way), but he is also a very talented painter who is regularly exhibited in the region.  I first saw his work on the 6th June 2010, when I headed to Gallery 49 in Bridlington's 'Old Town' for the grand opening of the 'Lonely Destiny' exhibition, which at that point included the full-size original paintings, the poems written on A3, and a CD of specially composed music - it was a truly impressive experience, and remains one of few occasions where I have drunk wine in the morning.

Nigel's latest exhibition (also featuring artist Mark Lozynskyj, who modelled for the Lonely Destiny paintings) opens at the Bridlington Spa on the 14th (hence the book release date), and will be open to the public throughout the week.  On Friday 18th we are having a launch event for the book, please consult the flyer below:

If you're in the area we'd love to see you; you can find a map to the station here.  Please also check out the book's page on the Valley Press site, and note you can pre-order it from Amazon, if you're feeling flash.  Stay tuned to the blog for more news on VP0011, as well as photos from the launch and of happy people reading the book - see you again shortly.

- J.M.

Bin The Cliches!

'Good writing is perfect control,' said Ezra Pound, and he was damn right. This control is not slapdash or reliant on feeling, but careful and nuanced. Too often writers end up with a product that is sloppy. The good writer knows the value of returning again and again to the poem, story, article, or chapter. This is the callous truth about good writing - it's a kind of work, requires a mildly obsessive quality, a willingness to look at a paragraph or a stanza over and over again, removing a phrase or re-positioning it. This is quite the opposite to many dreamy notions of writing, the sort that imply writers have a lovely time, work drifting easily from them like autumn leaves falling from the trees.

You can easily spot a writer that hasn't tried hard enough by their use of cliches. I know. I've done it often enough. Get rid of any dark clouds or doornails that are dead. They are useless. Instead, reach for original expressions - if you're not sure, reach for a volume of poetry by Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage or Sharon Olds. But resist, at all costs, the cliches. Instead, aim for writing that is fresh and alive. Go back to the work. Try again. Repeat the process. Put it aside for a while and then come back again. This is where a good writer succeeds, despite the small pain. It hurts. But not like hell.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

First Sight

I was eleven years old when I first knew. My sixth grade teacher assigned me the task of writing an original screenplay of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex in September. By the time it was due in October, I was head over heels.

It was love at first read, love at first write. I stalked Sophocles—got my hands on any and all translations, researched his biography, studied his contemporaries. I wrote and wrote and wrote—in the morning, at night, during lunch, after class. No one needed to tell me that I had found it. I knew because I knew.

Perhaps it was the language that did it, the perfect blend of poetry and plot. Perhaps it was the characters, the depth of Oedipus’ psychological destruction. Whatever it was, this thing—this thing that made me invincible, able to bend and manipulate meanings, metaphors and my own imagination—had me at hello. For the first time in my life I felt what it was like to salivate at the beauty that is a line of epic poetry. For the first time in my life I became deaf to the annoying humdrum of suburban civilization, of my constant anxiety; and I heard only music—sweet music.

It is one thing to fall in love with a man or woman, but it is another thing entirely to fall for a vocation—and one so elusive as the written word. If I knew what I know now, I would have taken one look at Sophocles and run in the opposite direction. I would have put my pen and that blank of piece of paper down and tried my hand at other things—softball, maybe, or flute. But there is no going back. Writing will forever be my first love. For better or for worse, Sophocles still makes me drool.

Cora Charis is a writer from the United States who is currently finishing her first book of expiremental poetry while teaching English as a Second Language to refugees in Tucson, AZ.