History

Comma Press is a not-for-profit publishing initiative dedicated to promoting new writing, with an emphasis on the short story. 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). Read about our NPO plans.

Why the Short Story?

Something happens in good short stories that's quite unique to them as a form; the imaginary worlds they create are coloured slightly differently to those of the novel. Their protagonists are more independent and intriguing. The realities they depict more arbitrary, accidental and amoral. Comma believes British publishing is missing out on something in its neglect of the short story, and to make up for it we are currently the most prolific hardcopy publisher of short stories in the country.

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 in which an emperor plays no greater role than a humble hussar. 

At Comma, we believe that short stories have other tricks up their sleeves, 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 or 'science-into-fiction' collaborations, build on the belief that short stories can cross borders!

*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.

Formed in 2003 (as an 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 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 four translation anthologies to date covering Europe and the Middle East, and five single author collections in translation, most recently The Madman of Freedom Square, 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 recently launched the adaptation-only festival Version (14-15 Nov, 2009), set to return in November 2010.