Comma Press is a not-for-profit publishing initiative dedicated to developing new writing, with an emphasis on short narrative forms. It is committed to a spirit of risk-taking and challenging publishing, free of the commercial pressures on mainstream houses. In April 2012, Comma became one of the Arts Council's new National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs). More about our NPO plans.
Why the Short Story?
In his essay The Lonely Voice (1962), Frank O’Connor famously distinguished the short story from the novel in terms of the types of characters you find in each: ‘The short story has never had a hero,’ he argued. ‘What it has instead is submerged population groups.’ By this O’Connor meant characters on the fringes of society, disenfranchised, without voice or audience.
Publishing short stories is an act of giving voice to these characters on the margins, individuals like Chekhov’s Iona Potapov in ‘Misery’, who have no one to tell their story to, no audience that will listen to them in their daily lives. In this sense, publishing short stories is an attempt to democratize literature, to make sure voices and characters aren’t excluded from the narratives we tell ourselves. It is also a call for pluralism, for differing, contradictory ‘discrete moments of truth’, as Nadine Gordimer calls them, ‘not THE moment of truth, because the short story doesn’t deal in cumulatives.’
In this sense, an anthology of short stories has certain advantages over a novel: it is better equipped, for example, to give readers access and insights into new cultures, because it is able to embrace difference and diversity within any one culture: an anthology of short stories can accommodate a series of discrete, contradiuctory truths, rather than promote one single, cumulative, ‘Truth’.
When wider public debate sometimes reduces subjects to simplistic, one-sided narratives (often perpetuating myths like the ‘Great Man Theory’ that assumes 'the history of the world but the biography of great men’), short fiction can offer an alternative perspective, something closer to Tolstoy’s version of history – ‘the unconscious, common, swarm life of mankind’ – in which an emperor plays no greater role than a humble hussar.
At Comma, we believe that short stories have other tricks up their sleaves, too. Short stories are so tightly coiled, structurally, that they are already well predisposed for translation and transplantation: a short story gathers up it references, its back-stories and its contexts, and travels light - meaning it can be transplanted into new cultures, new languages, or indeed new audience groups. In this, we feel the short story is the most ‘smuggle-able’ of literary forms, and all of Comma’s commissions – be they translation projects of ‘science-into-fiction’ collaborations – build on the belief that short stories can cross borders!
Praise for Comma:
‘We are living through a golden moment in the history of the short story...Eudora Welty called [her editor] William Maxwell "the headquarters". I'm not sure where the headquarters of the current excitement lies – somewhere between McSweeney's in America and Comma in Manchester, perhaps...' - The Guardian.
'Remarkable for its consistent brilliance and commitment to the short story, you will be hard pushed to find a better short story publisher than Comma Press.' - Ink Sweat and Tears.
'Trailblazing.' - Arts Council England, Autumn Report, 2007.
'It’s not too great a stretch to see Comma as the literary equivalent of Factory Records.' - The Herald.
'The fiction landscape would have been a lot flatter without Comma.' - M. John Harrison.
Named as one of the 'Top Six Publishers Outside of London' - New Statesman, Oct 2012.
Initially formed in 2003 (as an unincorporated artists' group), Comma began by building on Ra Page's Manchester Stories series (published in conjunction with City Life magazine) with a series of short story booklets in four cities across the North of England (distributed as free supplements with each of the cities' listings magazines). This project then developed into a series of book-length anthologies - starting with The Book of Leeds and The Book of Liverpool. From the outset Comma has published a biannual 'new writers' showcase as a way of bringing in new talent alongside collections by already established writers such as David Constantine, Jane Rogers, Sara Maitland and Sean O’Brien.
We also publish the Ellipsis series (featuring linked or themed story sequences by three writers per book), and biannual genre anthologies, starting with crime (ID and MO), horror (Phobic and The New Uncanny) and SF (When It Changed). Since Oct 2007 Comma has been a Not-For-Profit Company Limited By Guarantee, Company Number 6390368.
In 2007 Comma also launched a translation imprint (again specialising in short fiction) to bring new masters of the form to British readers. It has published a number of translation anthologies to date covering Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and various single author collections in translation, most recently The Iraqi Christ by Iraqi refugee Hassan Blasim, described in the The Guardian as the 'perhaps the greatest writer of Arabic fiction alive'. Comma has previously won the Shirley Jackson Award (for The New Uncanny) and the World Fantasy Award (for Rob Shearman's Tiny Deaths).
Comma also publishes poetry collections and the occasional novel.
Alongside Comma Press, the organisers also run a film adaptation project, Comma Film, which commissions and occasionally produces adaptations of short literary texts (poems and short stories) into short films. Working with the Manchester based Picture Lock Productions, it originally launched the adaptation-only festival Version (14-15 Nov, 2009).
More Praise for Comma:'For the near future at least, short fiction is in good hands.' - The Independent on Sunday.
'A small but powerful champion of the short story.' - The Guardian.
'Fills you with hope for the form.' - Time Out.
'Manchester is fast becoming the UK's most influential centre for short story writing.' - The Observer.
'A high-performing specialist imprint with a robust commitment to the briefer forms.' - The Independent.
'Increasingly impressive.' - TLS
*Frank O’Connor's ‘The Lonely Voice’ & Nadine Gordimer's ‘The Flash of Fireflies’ are both available in Charles E. May, ed., Short Story Theories (1976). More on Thomas Carlile’s ‘Great Man Theory’ here..
Comma's Single Equality Scheme (SES)
1.2.2 Literature Northwest
2.1 Legal Context
3.1 Governance and Strategic Objectives
3.2 Equality Action Plan (EAP)
3.3. Equal Opportunity Policy and Documentation in Training and Employment
Comma Press has an existing Equal Opportunities Policy, which specifies its responsibilities with regard to preventing discrimination in the recruitment of staff (be they full-time, part-time, or voluntary). While this policy previously focused on race, gender and sexual orientation, it has now been modified to cover all the protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010 (and listed above). A copy of this policy is available on request from Ra Page or the Board of Directors.
Comma Press works extensively with partner organisations at a regional, national and international level. In order to ensure that our SES is fully implemented, Comma Press will a) notify any potential partner of our SES before working with them and b) require our partners to agree to adhere to our SES standards in any work they undertake in partnership with us, as a standard term of any working agreement made with them (whether expressed contractually or otherwise). For clarification, a partner organization could be another publisher, a literary agent, a cultural institute or a literary festival.
Monitoring of this scheme will take place on an ongoing basis at a strategic level via the schedule of the Comma Press Board meetings. Progress reports will be undertaken annually from the summer of 2012.