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Comma Press Interview

Posted on 02 June 2005. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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Writewords talks to Ra Page of Comma Press, whose recent short story collection, Under the Dam by David Constantine, is out now

Tell us about Comma Press- history, ethos, list etc

Iíve only really been working on the press for a year and half now Ė although I had a few trial runs under the name of Manchester Stories before that. The main thrust of the press is to get behind the short story: a form shunned by the bigger publishing houses and turned away from even by independents when they donít sell as well as theyíd hoped. Comma was set up first and foremost to offer an opportunity for writers place their short stories Ė either individually, or in sequences and occasionally whole volumes. Nor are we interested in championing one particular type of short; weíre looking for all types Ė from rigorous, tautly plotted ones, that tie a little knot at the end that brings everything together, to looser types of story, that present you with a single image which opens and goes on opening up as you read, and with each re-reading.

What kind of writing do you look for?

Writing thatís confident and relaxed in what it does, but isnít so confident itís blinkered, or decides to have a set take on things. Condensation is obviously key to the short story, so whatever type of story it is, everything has to be inch perfect: if itís an open story, the central image has to vivid, built-up to, sustained and then unfettered; or if itís a closed, plotted type, the scenes and themes, the inter-cutting, and the timing have to be rehearsed to the point of instinct; everything has to be as greased as an eelís pocket.

How do you find your writers?

By reading. The first batch of Comma projects came from knowing a store of writers in the North West, who were either unpublished or not published as short story writers Ė in many cases their Trusthouse Forte. I also knew the quantity and range of talent in the poetry world (as a closet poetry fan), so it was a no-brainer to do a book like Hyphen, which invited a whole tribe of poets to storm the No Manís Land of the short story, wailing and screaming, tearing their hair and howling at the moon.
Since then, more and more of the good stuff comes to us by recommendation from others and directly, unsolicited. Our new writers series, which started with Bracket, and continues this year with Parenthesis, is bringing in more and more writers we want to do larger books with.

Who are your favourite writers/writing and why?

There are so many. Iím extremely fond of Gerard Woodward, who weíve published now and again, and am pretty pissed Chatto & Windus have got his first collection and not Comma. Gerardís probably the most talented writer Iíve ever met. Iíve been re-reading Jeremy Dysonís Never Trust a Rabbit and think itís the benchmark in Britain, and the UFO story in Murukamiís After the Quake is something to build a little temple to. Itís not a writer thing, itís a story-by-story thing. At the moment Iím in a very plotty mood; I want every story I read to go snap at the end, so fast it takes the skin off my fingers.

What excites you about a piece of writing-

I love it when a writer says: ĎLook at thisÖ now forget you ever saw ití. Again, itís my plot mood. Iím excited by writers who use sleight of hand to distract you and keep distracting you; when theyíve got a main story going on thatís so engrossing, you donít have time to remember the weird secondary thing they set up beforehand. I love having the sensation as a reader Ďhang on, youíre playing with me knowí which you actually enjoy donít want ruin by slowing down, thinking about the clues and predicting the end. The essence to all of these kinds of stories is speed, I guess. Keeping the goats gambolling.

and what makes your heart sink?

Judgmental voices. In fact any obsession with the internal voice of a character. Leave it to the sodding novel, or the dramatic personae poem. Or better still, just leave it. What is an internal dialogue anyway, but the authorís very external droning? Iím not interested in the authorís personality, their wry perspectives, or - horror of horrors - their Ďwití. Iím interested in characters, and whatever type of short story it is, the reader usually has as much possession of the protagonist as the author. Short stories are so short no-body really gets to know their protagonists that well and as such theyíre more independent, more alive.
For the editor, purgatory is a pile of manuscripts, each one beginning with a volley of attempts by the young author to convince you theyíre hilarious.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

anisoara at 22:34 on 02 June 2005  Report this post
Thank you, this is superb. Sharps insights into the short story. Funny too. Thanks!


PS - just bought the book.

Dee at 18:36 on 03 June 2005  Report this post
Great interview.

Off to check the website and find the book now!


Dee at 18:37 on 03 June 2005  Report this post
Great interview.

Off to check the website and find the book now!



There's an echo in here...

choille at 19:17 on 03 June 2005  Report this post
Mmmm Interesting.

SamMorris at 20:24 on 03 June 2005  Report this post
Great interview, thanks. It's good to see someone backing the short story. I'm very tempted to try the book.


sahelsteve at 20:37 on 03 June 2005  Report this post
Nice interview - interesting, that thing about letting poets loose on the 'No Man's Land' of the short story - what a good idea.

Becca at 18:09 on 23 April 2007  Report this post
Yes, good interview, and a good looking website. It isn't clear though how you approach them if you have a single author collection already published by another publisher and want Comma to consider another set of stories. Unless I've missed a link somewhere - I don't think so though.

Nik Perring at 19:35 on 23 April 2007  Report this post
Great interview. Thanks for sharing.


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