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.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mulling Over The Times

Lately I've been mulling over the state of things: my own country (USA, election and all), the world (Israel, Hamas), the universe (poor Pluto, you had a good run) and everything else in between. It can be daunting to take a good, hard look--all that seems to be lacking, all that obviously needs to be done.
The mulling over makes me appreciate every story I've read, for it is in stories, poems, the written word that I see, time and time again, the same inexhaustible truth: good triumphs over evil. It just does.

I love that. I need that--as an artist and as a human being. I am grateful for that truth today. It keeps me going. It keeps me coming back around to my writing (which frightens me just as much as the state of the world does). It makes me realize what a blessing it is to be able to communicate in times like these--when information can be shared so quickly, when a wealth of knowledge is literally at the tips of our fingers.

These are hard, unsettling times, but when has the best art been created? It springs from the hard & unsettling, the mess. So here's to the mess, art's inspiration. Where would I be without you?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

This week I have mostly been... interning at Valley Press!

(Note from JM: presenting a guest-post from a young lady named Madeleine, who spent the week of 5th-9th November helping out in the Valley Press office - her post can be thought of as a sequel to this classic effort. She accidentally announced one of next year's books in the second paragraph, I will edit the name back in when his book has been officially announced.  Enjoy!)

I was very excited to be part of the prestigious Valley Press team at the beginning of last week. And in fact, the work began as soon as I arrived! Settling down with a cup of Jamie McGarry's finest tea; he, Stephanie (who was also interning) and I began a rapid and enjoyable proof-read for a book that needed to be sent off to the printers quick-smart! What a fantastically immediate and immersive introduction to the world of independent publishing.

With a later start the next day, thanks to all our hard work, we started the process of editing a collection of poems from Leeds-based writer --------------. What an exciting new talent has been found. His poems are vibrant with insightful descriptions and witticisms of a very real and often touching regional world. In the office we had many disagreements on which poems to include in the collection, but this of course was all part of the dynamic nature of good editing. Plenty of brain-storming surrounded the issue of the front-cover design and consequently patterned our week's work. It actually kept me up well into the night trying to find inspiration! Stay tuned to see what will be the final stroke of creative genius from VP.

On Tuesday we visited the Scarborough campus of the University of Hull, to give a talk to the students about the realities and benefits of a career in publishing. We all had different perspectives to lend an elucidating hand to the young scholars; from Jamie's entrepreneurial point-of-view, to Stephanie and I as young publishers gathering our thoughts from our recent voluntary work. Stephanie was on fire with useful contacts and website suggestions, and it was satisfying to feel that we may be able to contribute to the mapping of someone's career path at such a turbulent time for employment.

We also visited York mid-week, and were treated to warm and diverting performances from musician Izzy Isgate, poet David Tait, and Valley Press poet James Nash in celebration of the latter's book Some Things Matter: 63 Sonnets. Manning the book-stall, we sold many copies of Nash's book amongst other Valley Press wonders.

Later on in the week we handled new submissions, of which there were a couple of hidden gems that must stay hidden for the time being!

In and around our hive of activity, we were also treated to the various hedonistic possibilities of the town. Most memorably... lunches at Café Venus and Bonnets, dinner and cocktails, Talking Heads tea-breaks and some (personally) traumatic yet hilarious audio-bursts of Keane, cake-sharing, James Bond, and walks along the beach.

I'll say it twice, and I'll write it again: I couldn't call my week at Valley Press work experience, even though we did put our heads together to get great wads of work to the next stage of publication. I think Jamie should be advertising editorial retreats!