2021 Year in Review (Part 1 of 3)
In which Valley Press founder Jamie McGarry takes the obligatory look back over a year of publishing triumphs. (N.B. If you’d like future editions of this blog to be sent straight to your inbox, you can sign up on the Valley Press homepage.)
A long year of publishing has come to an end at Valley Press, with all sixteen of our 2021 books now firmly ensconced on the shelves of the nation. The hard-working VP team will have a chance to rest and recuperate before next year’s publishing programme gets underway in March 2022 — though perhaps not just yet, after all, the March titles are going to print next week!
We hope you will soon get a chance to put your feet up too, and of course, you’ll be needing something to read while you do so. I’ll be using this three-part series to reflect on everything we’ve published in the last twelve months, hopefully in a light and frothy way, but of course the subtext is always that these books could be yours — to enjoy, to gift to a loved one, or if you play things cleverly, both — with just a couple of clicks! The Valley Press bookshop is right here, open for business 24/7, and taking orders for Christmas all the way up to 9am on Tuesday 21st December. That’s all I’ll say on the subject; do with that information what you will.
Our year started with a book that I felt was an important one, a feeling that has only grown over time as people continually sing its praises to me (“thanks,” I say, “but don’t tell me, I already know!! Tell everyone else!”) That was Suddenly, While Living, Rosie Driffill’s memoir of contracting and coping with a medically unexplained illness; a book with real bite, but one that goes about its business with a wonderfully self-aware sense of humour — one of those rare books that you will read for pleasure but will change your life in a measurable way. You can read an extract here if that sounds like your kind of thing.
Rosie’s book suffered the misfortune of being released on the second day of the third national lockdown, with all bookshops closed — not ideal by any means — and as I recall, it all happened too quickly for us to do anything about the release date. In the end, we pressed on with our whole schedule as planned, with the second January book being Jo Brandon’s Cures. “It is rich and clever and filled me up,” Kate Fox wrote about this collection, adding: “I had to stop halfway reading it to send one poem to somebody because it summed up my year (‘We Are Volcanoes’), wanted another to be a historical novel I could read immediately (‘Bonesetter’) and fought the urge to make one of many quotable lines my Facebook status or a poster.”
In a late January newsletter, I described how Jo’s poetry is situated in a perfect “goldilocks zone” incorporating literary excellence, narrative splendour and performability — what more could you possibly ask for?
In February we brought you Jaimie Batchan’s Siphonophore, marking the end of that manuscript’s four-year journey from submission to shelves, which I wrote about in detail here. Starting out as an intriguing piece of historical fiction, the book takes a surprise turn early on when the protagonist realises he is a character in a novel, and fears that his dying author may not survive long enough to write him a happy ending.
Given this premise, Jaimie’s genre-bending work went on to fulfil another useful role as the book I recommend when aspiring VP authors nervously ask if their novel is “too experimental for Valley Press” — a noble and historic position if ever there was one. (If you’re wondering, my answer is always “no”, even as the other staff sigh in despair all around me.)
Hot on the heels of that novel came another journey into the past, via Susan Furber’s The Essence of an Hour, in which the author inhabits the mind of an American teenager in 1941 (and the same woman a decade later), bringing the character to life with the kind of dazzling fidelity only a novel can provide. Too many readers to ignore tell me this book is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, especially impressive considering Susan wasn’t born until the 1990s. You can read the first chapter here, if you’d like to witness what Anna Monardo called “a voice that sparks like the click of a cigarette lighter.”
That’s probably enough books for one sitting (should see you through to Christmas Eve?), but I also want to shine a brief spotlight on our imprint Lendal Press, which took its first fragile steps into the world in 2020 under the stewardship of Paige Henderson. 2021 saw the release of the first six books from Lendal, and it goes into 2022 in the capable hands of newly-minted Managing Editor Seline Duzenli, who has just sent out her first email newsletter. It’s worth a look for anyone intrigued by this new branch of the Valley Press family, and much, much shorter than this missive — which is still only a third of the way done!
If you’d like to hear from Seline occasionally next year you can sign up here. Meanwhile, I will be back later in the week to warm your inbox with a reminiscence of our spring 2021 releases (editor’s note: click here for part two) — until then, I advise taking it as easy as you possibly can, and will endeavour to do the same myself.