In which our Editorial Director Jo Haywood introduces two fantastic publications, coming to a bookshelf near you this autumn. (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.)
Hello, lovely people! Jo here (the editorial diva and Olympic standard tea-drinker who gets a kick out of fiddling about with full stops) to tell you about two wonderful books by two equally wonderful women.
Foolish Heroines by June Wentland and Not Sorry by Sarah Salway have brought me great joy in the past few months. Much as I love a bit of a scrap — particularly if it’s over the use of the Oxford comma — sometimes it’s nice to be able to cruise through the editing process and emerge at the other side with more laughter lines than frown lines.
June and Sarah are both wickedly good company, as humorous as they are human and astonishingly talented to boot. Their books reflect their personal warmth, their incisive minds and their deeply-rooted curiosity about what makes us all tick (and, occasionally, tock, like the perilously unsteady timebombs that some of us are).
June’s debut novel takes the reader on a surreal journey through suburbia, peeping unapologetically through the windows of seemingly-ordinary homes to reveal the extraordinary things everyday people get up to when they think no one’s looking.
Her main protagonist, Janina Reston, spends her days wrestling with fiendishly tricky Arabic and Asian mathematical and scientific texts, but can’t work out how to string a few simple words together to converse with her husband. Instead, she confides all her secrets in a spider, who lives in her downstairs loo and who might or might not be her deceased grandmother.
After her husband flushes Gladys (the spider) down the loo in a fit of pique — dislodging one of her legs in the process — Janina is surprised to find she still gets some comfort from chatting with her now very dead arachnid antecedent.
“That evening, after getting the girls off to bed, Janina managed a quick visit to the toilet for a chat with her invisible kinswoman. Her grandmother had never been keen on Owen in real life. She’s noticed that when he and Janina came to visit her on Sundays, Owen wiped his knife and fork on the tablecloth before eating, as if he thought she didn’t clean her cutlery properly. As a result, she’d always made sure that he got the fatty bits of meat off the joint. Being drowned by him had done little to change her opinion.”
Meanwhile, in Sarah’s new collection of ultra-short stories — some little more than a paragraph in length — she takes a similarly witty, razor-sharp approach but distils it down until it is a crystal clear, diamond-like drop of literary magic.
Whatever subject she tackles in her taut tales – a man trying to bury his wife and marry his mistress in the same ceremony; astrologers rejoicing because the government has cancelled April and May; or the crushing disappointment of purchasing a robotic lover only to find they’ve been pre-programmed with unappealing habits — she manages to capture a whole world of wonder in fewer words than the average shopping list.
“You start simple and cast the husband on first. The bags of pink wool in the cupboard are kept under the stairs, and you tremble a little as you needle in the dark curls, pull the small red strands for his nipples.
Later that night you wonder if you should have followed a pattern. His right shoulder is higher than his left, but at least only you know you ran out of wool and his feet are blue. Next time you’ll order more pink.
The house takes longer. You keep changing your mind. The vegetable garden becomes green kitchen units. Halfway through the roof, you pause, rest your wrists, order bigger needles. You use crochet for the chimneys. Important to keep stretching yourself. Your husband nods from his chair. A brain next time, you think. You’d do so many things differently.”
If you’d like to get to know June and Sarah a little better (I’d strongly advise you do), you can visit June’s website to find out if — among other things — she has a Cosmology degree from Samarkand University which she achieved after spending a short spell as a classical Greek-speaking, viola-playing librettist in a Tibetan nunnery. Sarah’s website is a similar treasure trove of gems — you can watch her TEDx Talk ‘In Praise of Everyday Words’, take her 30-day writing prompt challenge or treat a loved one to a word-related advent calendar.
Talking of which…
As Christmas is now hurtling rapidly towards us like there’s ice on the tracks and no one has checked the brakes on the Polar Express, can I suggest that you might consider popping a book in your family and friends’ stockings this year? The last couple of years have been a tricky time for small businesses — including your favourite independent publisher (waves enthusiastically from the turret of VP Towers to get your attention) — and every sale is, frankly, a blessing.
I’m not saying you have to buy all your Christmas books from us at Valley Press, but Anne in dispatch has already stocked up on a bumper pack of extra-large envelopes and a pair of sparkly antlers to amuse the ladies at the post office, so it would seem cruel to disappoint her.
That’s all from me for now — but let’s talk about books again soon.