The cosy world of the short story is undergoing a renaissance and this is due in part to the Manchester based publishing house, Comma Press. Comma has produced a huge range of collections from horror to crime, world writers to local anthologies.
Not a company to rest on its laurels, Comma Press is going from strength to strength. In February 2014 it was announced that director Andrew Haig is to direct 45 Years, a film version of award-winning Salford-born author David Constantine’s Another Country, originally published by Comma. The film will star Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.
Jim Hinks, editor at Comma Press, believes that the short story is perfect for film adaptation.
“Short stories and film have always had a close relationship, a lot of short stories are adapted, for example Brokeback Mountain, novels are different as they are so dense,” he told Northern Soul. “We have done four adaptations of our own short stories including one directed by Andrew who went on to direct Looking for Sky Atlantic. We were thrilled when we learned [the film was] going to happen.”
Comma was founded in 2002 by Ra Page, an editor at CityLife magazine. In the late 90s, Page commissioned a booklet of short stories set in Manchester. This proved successful and Page published more collections focussing on Liverpool, Newcastle and Leeds. From that Comma Press was born, an independent and not for profit publishing house specialising in short stories.
Hinks says: “We work hard to make the short story visible and champion it as a unique form and not a poor cousin of the novel. A short story is more demanding and closer to poetry, you can read more into it and employ symbolism. I think it is a rewarding form.” He continues: “The more readers put in, the more they get out.”
Comma became an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation in 2012 and will be launching a Writing Centre in the Northern Quarter very soon.
What makes Comma different from other publishing houses?
“We are independent and outside London and being not for profit means we can take risks without shareholders to satisfy,” says Hinks. “Our only concern is the quality so we have been able to do things which publishers would shy away from. Author Hassan Blasim exemplifies what we do. He is an exile from Iraq, he smuggled himself out of Europe in the back of a truck, wound up in Finland and published a short story on his website in Arabic. We found him for an anthology of Middle Eastern writers and published one story, we immediately commissioned a collection which won English Pen awards and was picked up by Penguin and published recently in the US to rave reviews.”
With changes to technology meaning that we buy fiction in different ways, Comma is working hard to stay ahead: they have an app called Gimbal which will be relaunched as Litnav soon. Users can download short stories in text or audio form, these stories are based on a journey and come complete with maps and visuals, perfect for boring commutes. Hinks adds: “We need to reach out to people and find innovative ways. We have two other app projects simmering away although traditional book publishing is important to us.”
So, what would Hinks advise people to read?
“Definitely David Constantine – In Another Country in the collection Under the Dam. Also Hitting Trees with Sticks by Jane Rodgers, It Was Just Yesterday by Mirja Unge and The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim.”
45 Years will be out in 2015