Gratitude, Our Birthday and Free Verse: The Poetry Bookfair

Since I wrote our last blog post a lot has been going on. Those of you who receive our monthly newsletter will be more up-to-date than those who don’t but still, I always seem to be behind with relating all our news and all too often I don’t manage to get my (seemingly important) reflections on publishing onto the page and onto this blog. So in this post I’m going to try to change that. First, I would like to once more express my deepest gratitude to all those kind folk who bought books, cards, prints, made donations and sent me good wishes and offers of help after I sent out our SOS newsletter. It helped us get through a real difficult patch, and although finances are still an issue (they’re always an issue with a small press) fingers-crossed we are staying afloat *just* and looking forward to the future. Hooray!

Second… we managed to get through the summer busyness and unexpectedly found ourselves in September with our annual Writing Prize once more welcoming submissions, a brand new book to launch (the excellent, and fast selling out – The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2014: The Story of Us) and a visit to Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair. So I kind of overlooked the fact that Mother’s Milk Books has turned four! We will celebrate with a Facebook giveaway very soon (and perhaps a nice cup of tea for me and Helen) and then it’ll be back to business as usual.

Turning four is actually quite a big thing. In that time I have published eight books and my son has gone from being one to five (he turns five this weekend – how did that happen?!). It is his chubby baby hand in the above photograph on the cover; nowadays his hands are a lot less dinky. Sob! I have been an at-home mother for those four years and only now have I found myself occasionally mentioning to people that I publish stuff as well. What stuff? they ask. And it’s then that I realize that I’m much better at writing about the books I publish than talking about the books I publish. But hey, that’ll come…

Anyway, so we’re four and it’s a big deal really since I do the business side myself (accounts, admin, website etc.) the majority of the publishing stuff (commissioning, editing, typesetting, proofreading, cover design) and all the bookselling too (marketing, social media management, advertising, visiting independent bookshops, packaging books, cycling to the post office to get books sent out…). So I can’t help but feel proud at what I’ve achieved – particularly as it’s mainly been done late at night when my children are asleep. So I’ll silence the voice that’s saying ‘But, but, but…’ and which likes to tell me that I should be doing more. ‘Sssh!’ Anyway, here’s to the past four years and (hopefully) to another four more years (going from being in the red to being in the black would be a bonus too!).

So on to Free Verse. This was the first time that I was there with my Mother’s Milk Books stall. There was a great buzzy atmosphere and it was fantastic to see (and meet) so many people enthusiastic about poetry (though, unfortunately, that enthusiasm didn’t always spill over and translate into actual book sales!).

Teika Bellamy behind the stall. Photo courtesy Sarah James of V. Press

As I don’t think I can expand on what others have written about the event I’ll just list a few things that impressed on me: (forgive me my cheesy overuse of the word ‘glow’ – it’s a nod to yesterday’s National Poetry Day; the theme being ‘light’).

1) Catching sight of the welcome glow of Sarah James’s hair at the far end of Conway Hall when I first arrived and felt a bit nervous.

Sarah James behind our joint stall

2) Chatting to the legend that is crime writer (and poet) John Harvey and introducing myself to him as the publisher of Oy Yew (author Ana Salote met him at Lowdham Book Festival). Later on, rather fantastically, he bought a copy of Oy Yew. Warm glow inside. 🙂

3) The sheer number of publishers, poetry lovers, poets, *potential* buyers and beautiful books on offer. Conway Hall was fairly glowing with poetry.

4) Seeing Angela Topping’s poem ‘Empty Nest’ in the Free Verse Programme. Warm glow inside (again).

5) Listening to Sarah James reading from Hearth and Jacqui Rowe reading from Ransom Notes (V Press). “Great Grandpa’s fireside” from Sarah’s poem, ‘Hearths’, glowed in my mind’s eye.

Jacqui Rowe reading from Ransom Notes (V. Press)

6) Meeting and talking with other publishers, who were fairly glowing with poetry enthusiasm. (As the day wore on, though, the glow did lessen as fatigue took hold.)

7) The legend that is Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Press wandering past and saying hello to me as though it was completely natural for us to both be here in this crazy melee of poetry right in the middle of London 130-odd miles away from our Nottinghamshire homes. Happy glow. 🙂 (Five Leaves Bookshop, in the centre of Nottingham, is run by Ross if you didn’t know. We are very thankful to them for stocking our books and cards.)

8) Catching up with ‘lost poet’ Ben Johnson (and founder of Ravenshead Press) whose poem ‘Kids’ featured in Musings on Mothering. Another warm glow. 🙂

9) The colourful glow of the multi-coloured tablecloth on the Bloodaxe poetry stall.

10) The sight of so many kind volunteers helping out during the day and packing up at the end of the day. Warm glow of gratitude for those kind souls.

Photo courtesy Ben Johnson of Ravenshead Press

I would have loved to speak to all the publishers but really, there wasn’t enough time. However, I did get to speak to the following, and as ever, I was impressed by their beautiful poetry books and enthusiasm.

Sarah James of V Press, Nadia Kingsley of Fair Acre Press, Sam Smith of The Journal, Camilla Nelson of Singing Apple Press, Steven Hitchins of Literary Pocket Books, Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press, Adam Craig of Liquorice Fish Books, Lawrence Schimel of A Midsummer’s Night’s Press, Tony Frazer of Shearsman Books, Martin Parker of Stonewood Press, Helena Nelson of Happenstance, Alwyn Marriage of Oversteps Books, Krishan Coupland of Neon Books, Jamie McGarry of Valley Press, Emma Wright of The Emma Press, Sarah Miles of Paper Swans Press, Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press, Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books, Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Press and Adam and Michael Horovitz of New Departures/Poetry Olympics.

Apologies if I have left anyone out – my memory’s not as good as it used to be. For more on ALL the fabulous publishers who were there at Free Verse, there is a list of them here.

And finally, a huge thank you to Chrissy Williams and Joey Connolly who made the whole crazy-poetic shebang happen (as well as the Arts Council for funding – Long live the Arts Council!).

I will look forward to next year.