Discover more from By the Book: Jamie McGarry at Valley Press
Here's what I'm publishing this autumn
A world tour, taking in all the hotspots – Venice, Australia, Bermuda and (checks notes) Hull
Before anyone gets too excited, this is not the post announcing the winners of the September submissions window. Instead, I’m writing with a brief introduction to the books Valley Press is releasing in October and November 2023, which were signed months (or in one case, years) ago and are now finally arriving on shelves.
They can all be purchased from the Valley Press bookshop, as well as (in theory) everywhere else books are sold – but I hope you’ll consider buying directly from VP. For those who missed the news last time, I am donating a third of all sales income through our shop until the end of October to the Red Cross’ Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory Appeal, so it really is one of the best places to spend your book budget. (Thank you for all your messages of support about that pledge, by the way; I’ll share the total raised at the start of November.)
This post is intended to be only a brief introduction to these books, so I hope the authors will forgive me for a lack of detail – hopefully you’ll be able to hear from them directly before the year is out. Even if you don’t have a book budget to spend at the moment, I’ll try to make this post an entertaining read in its own right; and remember you can always request our books from your local library in the UK (and possibly beyond; all four titles should be available internationally by mid-November).
Okay then, off we go – first stop, Venice!
by Ilaria Boffa (£12.99, October 5th)
This book was a real treat to work on – it’s deeply ambitious, literary and lyrical, but not at all daunting, as it attempts to “reimagine scientific and ecological language as sites of beauty”, whilst holding the reader’s hand throughout. (“It's good to think difficult things,” the author gently reminds us.) It even starts with a quote from David Bowie – no prizes for guessing which.
Intriguingly, the author has written the entire text of this choral, book-length poem twice, in English and Italian, and when Ilaria reached out (via Sean Borodale and Kate Simpson) in February, proposing a bilingual edition, I just couldn’t resist. She is also a sound recordist, and I understand a performance of this book is forthcoming; until then, you can hear some of her other audio work here.
The prior VP publication this most reminds me of is Kelley Swain’s Opera di Cera, released in 2014 (when you could ask a UK printer to add flaps and foiling to a cover, and it would cost just a few extra pence per book – what a time to be alive!) They’re both set in northern Italy, should be officially classified as verse dramas, and most coincidentally, have a slightly unsettling sculpture of a hand reaching up on the cover. The Beginnings cover began its life as the author’s photograph of a sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn – yes, those giant hands were actually there, in Venice, holding onto that building, and like the book were intended to “sound the alarm” about climate change (which still, sadly, needs sounding in 2023).
By the way, if you’ve not kept up with Kelley Swain, she emigrated to Australia a couple of years ago – and what a perfect segue to our other October title…
by Catherine Cole (£19.99, October 12th)
Slipstream is really three books in one: a touching memoir of the Cole family, a fascinating first-hand account of the ‘Ten Pound Poms’ scheme that encouraged UK citizens to emigrate to Australia, and a general reflection on the concept of migration, reflecting on a wide range of other writing on the topic. Overall, the experience is somewhat akin to having an extended conversation with a very wise and compassionate academic on the subject of migration – and my thinking, when I signed this book late last year, was that we could all benefit from such a chat.
It’s not a dry tome though; as you can expect when Yorkshire meets Australia, some humour must inevitably ensue. The Cole family made their epic voyage from a small Northern English mining village to Sydney in 1949, and Slipstream tells the stories of both the family and our two nations from WWII to the present day – including some light-touch reflections on contemporary politics (but don’t let that put you off!)
I worked on this book entirely by myself, including the copyediting, something I hadn’t done for a prose title for many years – enough that I can’t remember the exact number! I think it’s come out brilliantly, if I might say so, and definitely provided me with a confidence boost as I contemplated becoming a solo small press publisher again. Which led me to work on…
by Nancy Anne Miller (£12.00, November 2nd)
Coincidentally, this author wrote to me for the first time just two hours after Ilaria Boffa, on the 28th February; I don’t know what I had for lunch that day, but by dinner I had green-lit two new publications, with nothing similar happening for months either side!
I’m glad I did though, as Queen Palm – almost entirely, as you may have guessed, concerned with the celebration of Christmas in Bermuda – brought me a lot of joy every time I opened the file. Also, to be honest with you, I think I aced this cover; I love those bold greens and blues, and the contrast. The image of a lit palm tree was a real designer’s gift, and kudos to the original photographer Jennifer Boyer.
Nancy Anne Miller is a poetry veteran; she is the author of no less than ten previous collections, and Queen Palm is in some respects a very focused ‘New and Selected’, with just over half of the poems making prior appearances in her earlier books. She’s also a poet who gets around; I didn’t use the phrase “internationally-published” in the blurb lightly, the poems were originally published across multiple continents. They are carefully put together, with a light touch that first welcomes in the reader, then gets to work inspiring and illuminating (no pun intended).
For those who celebrate Christmas, especially with a spiritual leaning, this could be the ideal surprise gift – even for relatives with only a passing interest in poetry. In my Zoom seminar last month, I spoke about books anyone can pick up straight away and enjoy that also reward deep concentration, and this is a great example of that.
Time for our last stop, a touch closer to home…
by Will Kemp (£12.00, November 9th)
Originally signed in March 2021, this phenomenal short story collection is the result of almost two years of careful editing – mostly by Jo Haywood, who served as VP’s Editorial Director for five years, with this book serving as the last hurrah (for now) of her truly amazing literacy legacy. (Don’t worry, reader, we’re still pals!)
It’s not all about Philip Larkin, don’t worry – in fact that story occupies only three pages, but we seized on it at some point in 2022 to replace the book’s working title Not That Yellow, Vincent, which is a touch baffling out of context. (It comes from a description by Tony Wilson of Factory Records, of music management being like someone peering over Van Gogh’s shoulder and shouting that phrase.)
There are a pair of stories about the obsessive (yet strangely healthy) appreciation of a particular musician in this collection, which together would have to be right at the top of my list of all the material we’ve published this year – Queen Palm brought me joy, but ‘Not That Yellow, Vincent’ and its prequel made me break into a wide grin, even on the 15th reading. It’s not all grin-inducing though, with the author effortlessly moving between pathos, life-and-death drama, angst, outright silliness and occasionally into the supernatural without missing a step. More on this book (along with, hopefully, everything else we’ve published this year), and maybe even a playlist or two, will be forthcoming in due course.
So, that’s the whole set; as ever, huge thanks for reading. It feels odd now to be simply describing books I’ve published – for a long time this was the only sort of newsletter I ever wrote, and now it’s very much in the minority!
However, this may not be the last such post of the year. I’m working on two, maybe three more projects that I hope will see the light of the day before the end of 2023; but as they are unlikely to officially release until the start of December, we’ll call those the “winter” titles. I must confess, I also have six other books lined up for early 2024, and after that we’ll be getting into the results of last month’s submissions – there’s a lot to look forward to round these parts. See you soon!