About a year ago my girlfriend started her own business. Oh, it's called BearHugs, thanks for asking. Sure, you can place orders using that link, go ahead. Yeah, it's these personalised gift boxes. Yeah, she sends the boxes straight to the person you want to receive them. You're right, that is a good idea. My point is, if you'll stop interrupting, that over the last year I've developed this real admiration for people who manage to get businesses of the ground while still retaining some sort of personal stamp on it.I think the first thing you're supposed to do when you talk about art is pretend that you're only interested in the art itself. You know, act like you fell in love with Sylvia Plath's writing as a kid and had absolutely no idea about her tragic demise. I'm not clever enough to make those separations. I'm a total sucker for a sort of artistic cult of personality. My bookshelf is half-filled with books that I enjoy, and half-filled with books about books (or writers or records or bands or people) I enjoy. I like to plug into things and feel like I've connected with them in some personal way. It's childish and it's naive and it helps me a lot. Sure, Faster is a brilliant song. But would I have fallen so in love with it if the guy who wrote those lyrics hadn't looked like this and then disappeared without a trace? Probably not. The fourteen year old me loved all that stuff, and the twenty five year old me isn't all that different. Recently I discovered Tarkovsky. In fact, they've been having a Tarkovsky season at a cinema here in Sheffield. And you best believe I'm not just leaving it at loving the films. I'm spending every spare minute of the day reading everything around them/him that I can. My point is, I think personal connections to things are important, and I like things that are presented in such a way where I feel like they want people to connect with them on a personal level.I talked a little bit about when I first came across Emma Wright and The Emma Press here. The fact that it was called The Emma Press alone had me won over. Then Emma talked about how she'd got into publishing poetry, how The Emma Press came together, and showed off some of the very cool looking books The Emma Press had recently put out. Again, I know all that stuff shouldn't count and it's all about the art blah blah blah, but like I said, I'm a sucker for that sense of deliberate, personal choice.Best of all though, Emma actually managed to talk about what she was doing in a way that a) I understood (not easy) and b) seemed accessible (again, not easy). I knew I'd be able to find something to love in The Emma Press catalogue and placed my first order when I got home. How did I find the books once I read them? The fact that I immediately chose to interview Deborah Alma after reading her Emma Press chapbook should tell you all you need to know.
I know you do a lot of the illustrations for the Emma Press publications yourself – and they always look fantastic. Do you create much artwork outside of the stuff you do for the books?
I don't! I feel quite insecure about my illustrations, because I'm self-taught and I feel the lack of real training whenever I' m trying to draw a foreshortened body or some kind of complex composition. When I started the Emma Press, right at the very beginning in 2012, I mostly wanted to be an illustrator, which is why the first book (The Flower and the Plough) was illustrated. Then people were kind about my pictures so I carried on doing them, and now the majority of the Emma Press books are illustrated by me. I think I've got better with time, and I think my illustrations make the books feel more welcoming, but I'm still not sure if I'm good enough at drawing to do it just for fun. Each time I pick up my pencil it's got to be an ordeal!You recently put out DISSOLVE to: L.A – a collection of poems about characters who died in action films. Do you like reading poetry pamphlets that have some sort of thematic link to them?I think it's always interesting to see a poet sustain a theme across a series of poems, approaching that theme from different directions. I'm fundamentally very nosy, so if someone is fascinated by something I want to understand why. I haven't seen any classic action films, but I find DISSOLVE to: L.A. delightful and compelling because James Trevelyan, the author, clearly loves his subject. He treats all these minor characters and bombastic films so seriously that he manages to tread the line between poignancy and hilarity, and I love getting an insight into the mind of someone who sees beauty in action films.
You’ve mentioned your desire to put out more children’s books in the future. Was that an area you always wanted to move into?
Sort of. I've always wanted to be a children's book writer, though of course I've never actually written anything, and also Rachel Piercey (my co-editor at the Emma Press) and I first bonded over a shared love of children's authors like Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson. I think we had an unspoken understanding that we would start publishing books for children once we felt ready, and suddenly we did in 2014, after we'd published a few anthologies and pamphlets for adults. We put out a call for submissions and in 2015 we published our first poetry anthology for children, which was Falling Out of the Sky: Poems about Myths and Monsters. Our next one, Watcher of the Skies, is themed around space and aliens and we're launching it in September, hopefully alongside an announcement of our plans to do even more children's books.
How far ahead have you planned in terms of what you’ll be putting out and what you’d like to achieve with the Emma Press?
You've actually caught me at a bit of a crossroads, as I'm taking stock of how everything is going and trying to plan sensibly. Usually I have the themed poetry anthologies planned about a year and a half in advance. Then, with the pamphlets slotting in around the anthologies, I know roughly how it's all going to go in the near future. But, at the moment, we've got three books definitely publishing in the autumn, and then after that we have the anthologies themed around love and aunts to come out sometime in 2017, and then whichever pamphlets we choose from this round of submissions. So, beyond the autumn, I feel there's a fair amount of flexibility and I want to take this opportunity to think about how to keep growing the business across the next ten years, for example, without burning out or growing bored. I've got so many things I want to do with the Emma Press, starting with the basic but elusive one for small publishers – to be sustainable and not go bust – to bigger goals like having an international audience and starting a poetry magazine for children.
Finally, what was the last thing, book, song, blog, video, place etc that you totally fell in love with?
I was hooked from the first few seconds of 'Helpless' from the soundtrack of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway hit Hamilton. I find it totally hypnotic, with the clicky beat and the 'I doI do I do I dooooo' refrain, and the lyrics and story progression are gorgeous too.