Friday, 5 August 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH CLARE HEY OF SHORTFIRE PRESS -'Taking the story out of the collection...'

Shortfire Press is a digital-only publisher specialising in short stories from new & established authors. Its founder, owner, editor and general good egg is Clare Hey, who I met at ShortStoryVille in Bristol a few weeks back - and between us we cooked up an interview swap. So here is Clare - telling you about herself, about her press, about her other day job as freelance fiction editor working at some great publishing houses...she is quite a power-house! Shortfire has exclusive short stories by some stunning writers, among them Niven Govinden, Tiffany Murray, Salena Godden, Sarah Hilary, all carefully selected for your delectation. It ain't easy to join that list - your work has to really sparkle. But I asked Clare to give writers, especially those who may be new to submitting, a few tips...

Welcome to the blog, Clare. Firstly, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm an editor by day and a bitter-drinking Yorkshire lass by night. I moved to London ten years ago to go to university and have been here ever since, working in publishing since I graduated. My first job was at HarperCollins, where I stayed for eight years, working my way up to Senior Editor, commissioning some great books. I left there eighteen months ago and have since been a freelance editor for lots of big publishers, and am currently working at Simon & Schuster as a fiction editor. Oh, and running Shortfire Press too!

Tell us about Shortfire!
We are an independent digital-only short story publishing house. We specialise in stories from both d├ębut and more established authors, and boast some amazing award-winning writers on the site. The thing we do differently is that each story is downloadable separately, so you can try just one story for just 99p. All our stories are exclusive to us and brand new - and we hope the site is a place for readers to discover the best writers around today.

What gave you the idea for Shortfire Press?
The idea came about as I've always been a fan of short stories and I suspected the advent of digital publishing would offer new opportunities for short stories. So, in a moment of inspiration whilst on holiday I decided to marry the two and to take the story out of the collection, if you like; to make stories available one by one for 99p. The mission is to bring the short story to everyone!

How did you select the very first story, and what was it?
I launched with three short stories: 'Topple' by Laura Dockrill, 'Summer in the City' by Nadifa Mohamed and 'It Snows they Say on the Sea' by Elizabeth Jenner. I asked Laura and Nadifa to write stories for me as I'd worked with them both before (I edited Laura's amazing short story collection Echoes, and I commissioned and edited Nadifa's Black Mamba Boy, which went on to be included in pretty much every shortlist going - which was nice!). Elizabeth's story came to me through a mutual friend, Ben Johncock, who said it was the best story he'd ever read. I hear this a lot and was sceptical, but he wasn't wrong. Elizabeth's story is now our bestselling story - and the fact it was the first piece of writing she's ever had published makes it even more special.

Tell us about the subs process - and your selection process.
I'm looking for amazing writing, great plots, evocative settings, and a freshness of voice. I want our readers to be able to trust that every story they download from Shortfire will be a corker, so I am pretty picky in choosing which stories to go for. I'm happy to take on a writer who is not well known - I want to discover the writers of tomorrow as well as featuring the best writers of today. For more details about the ins and outs of submitting, visit the subs info on Shortfire's website.

What makes the short story so perfect for this - length of course, but what else?
I feel like short stories are undergoing a renaissance of a sort and digital publishing is part of that. They are ideal for reading when you have a set amount of time - a train journey, or a lunch break - and they are just great full stop! I don't really buy into this whole idea that people have less time so they want to read shorter works. But whatever brings people to Shortfire, I'm happy!

I love discovering work from new writers - if there is a new writer who is a bit scared of submitting to you, (and indeed anywhere good) what would you say to them?
I hope no one would be scared of submitting to us! I would say make sure your story is as perfect as you can get it. Then be bold! Yes, you'll get rejections, but hopefully along the way you'll get some useful feedback. But do your research. Make sure you read the submissions guidelines and that your story fits what the publisher is looking for. If they say they don't do SF, then don't submit SF - the editor isn't going to look at it and think, Well, this is not what we're looking for but it's so amazing I'm going to turn my publishing house upside down to accommodate it. And read some of the stuff the publisher does publish - it's the best way to find out what they are looking for. But, in the end just go for it!

What are you reading in your spare time?
One of the best things about my job is the free books so I always have a massive to-read pile. At the moment I'm reading Helen Oyeyemi's new collection of stories, Mr Fox - it's so original and impressive. I've got Seeing Stars by Simon Armitage for my hols (I've got a bit of a crush on him), as well as The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. That should keep me going for a while!

I loved Oyeyemi's Mr Fox. I devoured it in a train journey and a morning, and it's one of those books I can't wait to read again. There's so much in it...but back to you! Anything else you'd like to natter about!
I was once nervous about approaching a famous and rather aged writer, and was worried about what I'd talk to her about. Then someone told me that she liked to talk about the same things as the rest of us: cats, food and sex. So that's been my mantra ever since!

Love that! Do you write stories yourself?
Nope. And I hugely admire anyone who does.

Thanks Clare, for that glimpse into the world of Shortfire Press. Readers and writers of short stories - get over there to download some extraordinary pieces of work, and to check out the submission guidelines. And while you're at it, you can read my own interview, alongside others. Check out Stuart Evers...and dip into a short masterclass in short story writing, with Marcel Theroux! A veritable goldmine.


  1. Great interview, thanks Vanessa and Clare.

  2. Glad you approve. I noticed I endowed you with an extra 'l' - now corrected!

  3. Very useful interview. I love hearing that short stories are undergoing a revival! I am sure this is the case. There are some great collections to read this summer and I can't wait to finish my novel revisions and get back to short story writing this autumn! Best wishes cat

  4. I enjoyed reading that, thanks ladies.

  5. Great interview - I'd just mentioned Shortfire Press on my blog today and when I tweeted it, the New Writer told me about this interview! Will link to this from my blog post.