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23rd October 2020

In conversation with Comma Press

Maisie Scott chats with Zoe from Comma Press and discusses Northern soul, lockdown and the National Creative Writing Industry Conference
In conversation with Comma Press
Selection of titles published by Comma Press. Photo: Zoe from Comma Press

Comma Press is a Manchester based indie publisher who specialise in publishing short stories, translated fiction and northern writers. The press have set up a range of initiatives including the Northern Fiction alliance, which works to unite northern independent presses and to celebrate regional literature. Comma Press is a not-for-profit publisher and Arts Council funded.

I spoke to Zoe who works as an in-house publicist at Comma Press in order to find out a bit more about the publishing house and the National Creative Writing Industry Conference.

The National Creative Industry Conference runs from the 26th to the 30th of October 2020, and is worth checking out if you are interested in pursuing a career in writing.

Q&A with Zoe from Comma Press

How does Comma Press promote Northern Soul through its publishing?

Comma Press have set up a city series called ‘Reading the City’. The series focuses on publishing anthologies of short stories focused on one city. The latest release was Shanghai but there is also a Northern strand which includes Sheffield and Leeds. There are plans to re-do the Manchester edition soon. We want to focus on post-industrial towns in the future including Middlesborough.

Why is it important to decentralise publishing from London?

It’s important to decentralise publishing houses from London to ensure that the people on the boards of staff are representative of the population. Representation is political and impacts all aspects of life including regionality, class, race and gender. Commissioning editors continue to be disproportionately white and middle-class. The lack of representation of regional areas in the industry affects the stories that we read and perpetuates middle class norms.


Lockdown was a big time for reading and consuming culture. What was your favourite lockdown read, or the one that has stayed with you the most?

I think it would have to be Boy Parts by Eliza Clark. Clark uses a strong Northern voice in her novel, and champions her Newcastle roots. The main character is a photographer and a troubled woman. But her art becomes a way for her to reclaim control over her life and sexuality. She photographs young boys and there’s a big twist, but I don’t want to tell you anymore spoilers. Boy Parts is dirty, dark, funny and I would definitely recommend it.

How has coronavirus impacted Comma Press?

We had to cancel some book tours which we were really excited about. Events and tours are a big source of our income so it was a shame (and slightly stressful) that we had to cancel them. During the first lockdown in March we set up a translated fiction online book club in collaboration with Peirene Press and several other indie publishers. You can still get involved with the book club, so please check it out on our socials. The book club offers discounts on the books discussed to make it pocket friendly. Our book club has just been shortlisted for the FutureBook awards.

What effects do you think the pandemic will have on the arts and creative industries?

The arts are in danger. Everyday I see people who are falling through the cracks and there are redundancies everywhere. Indie publishers and indie bookshops are struggling, so please support them. There’s an online service I would recommend called Hive where you can buy books, and a percentage of the sale goes to an indie bookshop of your choice.

The National Creative Writing Industry Conference

How long has the National Creative Writing Industry Conference been running for?

Six years, but 2020 will be the first online conference.

Who is the target audience for the conference?

Just any aspiring writer to be honest. In the past we’ve tended to focus on writers from the north, but now it’s open to everyone because it’s online. We hope to spark the interest of writers who have just come out of a creative writing course or who have a body of work they’re looking to progress to the next chapter. The aim of the conference is to break down the industry for people. We run events including ‘How the publisher works with you’ which follows a panel structure. ‘Meet the Literary Agents’ is another panel I would recommend checking out.

What events are you most excited for at the National Creative Writing Industry Conference?

I’d have to say the talk Irenosen Okojie is going to give at 7pm on the 26th of October. Okojie is our keynote speaker this year, and she will be covering so much ground. Okojie’s talk will cover different ways to get yourself out there as an aspiring writer, how to harness different areas of the creative industry, and building relationships with potential mentors or peers. Okojie will also cover the specificity of being a black author in a white-dominated industry.

Student involvement

How can students get involved with Comma Press?

Students can attend any of the free events at our industry conference next week. Students can also submit short stories they are working on to the Dinesh prize which is in collaboration with Northern Soul (a Manchester magazine). The competition ends on the 23rd of October, and the submissions have to relate to the theme of Home. If any students are book bloggers they can contact me at Comma Press and be added to our mailing list.

Please make sure to check out Comma Press’ social media feeds if you’re interested in joining the National Creative Writing Industry Conference.

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