2021 Year in Review (Part 3 of 3)
I have returned to the “blogosphere” once again, for the last time this year, to tell you about the books we published in the second half of 2021. (If you missed the other parts of my annual round-up, you can still read about the year’s first four titles here and the six that followed them here.)
There may have been some rash talk about a song last week, in part two — I couldn’t bring it to you for technological reasons in the end, but I did grab a screenshot of the senior staff in a festive mood. What a bunch of legends.
Not present was Anne, who was busy in the postroom getting ready for the last Christmas post, which unfortunately you’ve just missed — but order now for a chance of being the first person to receive a Valley Press book in 2022! Only one person will ever hold that honour in history, so it will be quite the accomplishment…
Let’s now head back to July, which saw the release of one of our biggest 2021 titles, Out of Time: Poetry from the Climate Emergency. In her very first project as a Valley Press “Editor at Large”, Kate Simpson curated what the Poetry Book Society called “the definitive anthology for this decisive decade”, awarding it one of their four annual ‘Special Commendations’ for 2021. It also appeared, thanks to the good taste of Rishi Dastidar, in the Guardian’s “Books of the Year” round-up. It was one of the few Valley Press publications to be genuinely in tune with the zeitgeist — one to look back on in future years, hopefully thinking about how close we came to disaster and how we all worked together to put it right. (’Tis the season for hope!)
It was followed by one of our smallest titles — in terms of word count, anyway — Cosmonaut by Anna De Vaul. This is one of those very short poetry titles that insiders like to call a “pamphlet”, the kind of small-scale project I hope we’ll always be able to make room for at VP. Within its 36 pages, the author uses the tiny details of life as keys to unlock doors that lead to the bigger mysteries; the cosmonaut, her journey and space itself are all flexible metaphors, used to explore the narrator’s place in and perceptions of her world.
Our contribution to fiction publishing this autumn came via June Wentland’s Foolish Heroines and Sarah Salway’s Not Sorry, which were written about with some eloquence by their editor Jo Haywood last month. Never one to be impressed by celebrity, Jo didn’t mention that Neil Gaiman gave us a cover quote for Not Sorry (“astonishingly smart … beautifully structured, touching and clever” was the gist) or that bestselling novelist Katherine Webb said Foolish Heroines was a “beautifully written, wonderfully bizarre exploration of middle age” — good job I’m here to do so! I can also report that the Heroines are going on tour, digitally of course, thanks to Isabelle Kenyon. The plan is as follows, keep an eye out:
As the nights began to grow darker, I gazed at the remaining space on our 2021 shelf and thought: “hmm… four more poetry collections will fill that nicely.” (That’s how I remember it, anyway!) So it was that VP readers were introduced to a new voice in the form of Anne Ryland, and new collections from Valley veterans Ralph Dartford, James Nash and Robert Powell.
Anne’s collection Unruled Journal is filled with quiet tragedies and gentle humour, yet fraught with the author’s unique brand of inventiveness and mischief. When so many tones and subjects are covered by a single collection, it can be hard to describe it briskly, but the cumulative effect (also one of my favourite parts of reading poetry) is that of spending an hour in deep conversation with a thoughtful and interesting friend, who just happens to have exactly the right words to express their thoughts on every subject that comes up.
The same simile could be used to describe Robert Powell’s Lost and Found. A stunningly prolific writer, Robert has published three full collections of poetry in the last six years (with plenty of side projects along the way), and at no point has the quality of the writing ever dipped below exceptional. If I ever want to experience a moment of pride, I’ll just need to browse through all three of Robert’s VP collections in one sitting; I’ll feel proud, and thankful that we were here to give a home to all this great writing when it was ready to walk out into the world.
Talking of legacies and prolific writers, Valley Press and James Nash have been working together now for almost a full ten years — there will soon be children in secondary school who haven’t lived in a world without James’ Valley Press publications (truly a blessed generation!) His latest is Heart Stones, and readers will find delight on every single page thanks to the author’s utter mastery of the sonnet form. There are also charming illustrations in this collection, highlighting some of the objects the poet’s gaze falls upon as he makes his way from the streets of Leeds to the Yorkshire wolds and back again.
Last, but by no means least, Ralph Dartford brought us some Hidden Music. If the other three collections were like an hour in conversation with a friend, this is one where they also curated an excellent Spotify playlist to have on in the background while you talked (and that part is not metaphorical in this case, you can find the official playlist to accompany the book here). ‘A great, genre-defying piece of work from a poet at the height of his powers,’ said Sarah Gillespie; ‘a refreshing, boundary-testing setlist that hits every note’ said Wendy Pratt. If you’re not sold by now, try to catch Ralph at one of his (hopefully) numerous live gigs in 2022, at which you will be converted to the Dartford cause for sure.
And with that, I down tools for the year, content that I’ve done all I can in the name of literature for these twelve months at least. A huge thank you to the VP team, the authors, and all the freelancers who joined us along the way whenever we needed an extra little help — the books we published this year will be around for as long as people want something to read, which I for one am hoping will be the remainder of human history. So well done, it’s quite something!
Thanks to you too, reader, for seeing out another year on the Valley Press blog. Next year: more of the same, but also the opposite — truly amazing, unprecedented things are afoot and you won’t have to wait that long to see them. Until then!