Life, death and books in ‘21
Our first news roundup of the year features a freshly-released memoir, an update on submissions, two notable bits of publicity and a poem by Rebecca Swift. (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.)
In the UK, a new year has brought with it a new lockdown, and with that comes a generous helping of darkness and uncertainty — but hope, too, and from us at least, books. The online shop remains open for business, and we’ve decided to continue our planned publishing programme in the coming months, despite the considerable setback of all those wonderful physical bookshops being closed.
Our first offering for 2021 is Rosie Driffill’s Suddenly, While Living, a combination of memoir, self-help, poetry and comedy — a heady cocktail of literature in any circumstances, but especially when used to describe a year under the influence of a debilitating, medically-unexplained illness.
Rosie’s great gift is to write relatively informal, bubbly prose without sacrificing any depth of meaning or insight along the way. She’s also a talented poet of course, but we’ve got enough of those on hand to fill a double-decker bus at this point in VP history (!) — the talent I described above, to write about suffering and make it both laugh-out-loud funny and profound, is rare enough that publishing this volume was an absolute must … for me, anyway. There’s a chapter comprised entirely of negative feedback from other publishers and agents, including “Don’t write a memoir about a mystery illness. Write about cancer. Cancer sells!”
If you think you might need this book in your life, but want to read a few pages first, a substantial extract can be found here. Within that eight-minute read, you’ll discover the many reasons this book was written, which include “to get one-up on pain … to put it on some paper and charge as much for it as hand cream from the White Company, see how it likes that.” To teach pain a further well-deserved lesson, you can purchase a paperback copy of Suddenly, While Living on our website now — let me know what you think.
There are a few other things I want to address today: first of all, submissions, as I know the prospect of those opening again keeps many of you world-weary authors hanging off my every word within these missives. Let me start with a reminder that, for authors of fiction and non-fiction who are interested in contributing to the costs of publication, our new imprint Lendal Press is taking manuscripts right now and still has some slots open within this calendar year (but they’re closing fast!)
For the rest of you, I can confirm there will be an old-fashioned submissions window opening within the next few months, for all genres, seeking at least six new titles for publication by Valley Press in 2022. It’s likely that, as with our last big “open call” a couple of years ago, submissions will be only open to those who have purchased a book from our website within the current calendar year — something to bear in mind!
We’re trialling another idea too to fill the 2022 list: ‘Editors-at-Large’, which in this context refers to talented, visionary editors affiliated with VP but not working in-house; they are out there in the world (digitally, for now) on the lookout for phenomenal new writing, and with the power to commission a handful of their own projects each year. The first two holders of this post are Teika Bellamy, formerly editor and manager of Mother’s Milk Books, and Kate Simpson, Assistant Editor of Aesthetica Magazine. Their first projects are underway as we speak, so keep an eye out for more news as it comes in.
Meanwhile, a couple of VP-book-related media links from 2020 that you won’t want to miss: Patricia Hammond, author of She Wrote the Songs, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour before Christmas, and you can still listen to her interview here (11 mins 26 seconds in, it’s brilliant). I also must link you to the recording of the virtual book launch for Caroline Hardaker’s Little Quakes Every Day, which featured live illustrations by Chris Riddell and guest readings by Jo Brandon and Russell Jones. You can watch that here — what a phenomenal hour of artistic genius that was, and it now doubles as a handy preview for our next publication, by the talented Ms Brandon (more on that next time).
Finally, in the last newsletter I promised to share a full poem from Rebecca Swift’s A Suitable Love Object, one that absolutely floored me when I first read it and has taken up permanent residence in my head. I hesitated to include it today, given what’s going on out there in the world — but ultimately, I decided an honest look at this particular subject would do more good than harm (see also: Suddenly, While Living, more writing notable for its absolute honesty). So I’ll end with that; thanks for reading as ever, and I’ll be back in touch in a few weeks with more new books.
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher
Death (days after)
by Rebecca Swift, from A Suitable Love Object
So afraid of death.
Why should we not be –
how could we not be –
seeing as he’s on the prowl?
Last night my mother slept with her father’s ashes
and our sad animal had crept in with her to die
and she had, tear-stained, come to me and wailed noiselessly
and I had been silent in the face of such things.
It had been easy to forget him,
like gazelle and all the desert deer
caught up in their games and light dances
so that they imagine all the world
to be as bright a dance as theirs –
Ah. How easy
not to scan past those bushes and
their perimeter where he,
lurks and lurks.
On days that greet a yellower sky, he
breaks sometimes from deep-down earth,
clasps, and claws and claims
Days after the skies remain yellowish –
the dance of the graceful, rhythmless –
every movement is streaked with unease,
and every goodbye, a stark desert tree
as if it were death’s ghost that haunted and hunted still,
and not his victim’s soul.
And who can tell
(as how can we after such a year)
if the cat still distorts
because he is still near
(and peering and sneering and causing the bushes to sway…)
or because his power’s power, or stain
allows the yellow to hang
which, once commanded as a prop, now
long after he himself has turned,
gathered up his pride,
and sauntered off?