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.

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