Following on from our Long Live Print column, we met with Nicholas Royle, the founder of Nightjar Press. Elevating the short story as a form of fiction is Royle’s MO. Each release from Nightjar brings a single short story to the fore and presents it as an elegant chapbook with all the care and aesthetic consideration of a longer work.
It’s a bold move to sell single stories. The advent of digital literature has caused several ripples in the price of books, fluctuations which haven’t yet settled and which people still aren’t completely used to, or comfortable with. By releasing and putting a price on single stories, Royle is definitely taking a step towards a universal recognition of the value of words. I can’t imagine it’s an easy journey, but his astute choice of writers (he’s got stories from the likes of Alison Moore, Man Booker nominee, and Joel Lane, two-time fantasy award winner) should help the general reader to get on board with his particular style of publishing.
Annexe editor Nick Murray met Nicholas Royle to chat about small presses, the uncanny and the basking shark.
Nick Murray: Let’s start with the history of Nightjar. How and when did it start?
Nicholas Royle: I started Nightjar in 2009 because I had done something vaguely similar in the 90’s. I ran a small press called Egerton press and I put out two anthologies and a collection by an author called Joel Lane, who has actually returned for Nightjar. I really enjoyed it and then for many years I didn’t do anything similar. I was an editor for many publishers, but I wasn’t publishing myself, which is something I hugely enjoy. I wanted to try it again, but in a slightly different way. I love short stories and I think that the short story deserves to be made a fuss of; its own artwork, its own ISBN.
What caused you to drive forward with releasing single stories as opposed to collecting them into a larger book?
Well, I’d already edited so many anthologies of stories so there was no need for me to do that on my own, as a publisher. My hunger for that kind of work is being met by the opportunities I get with other publishing houses. So, I wanted to do something a bit different. I decided to do stories one at a time, on their own. The first two were by fairly well known authors. The first was by Michael Marshall Smith and the second was Tom Fletcher. Those first two were easy and sold very well. I slightly spoiled myself by starting with writers that were quite easy to sell. Maybe I made it hard for myself to follow that up, but I don’t choose stories on how easy they would be to sell, I choose them on how good I think they are.
So, how do you choose the stories? I’ve noticed that a common theme is a sort of internal unease…
They are all stories of the uncanny. Weird or strange or dark in one way or another. Because of this I sell a few to horror fans, though they aren’t out-and-out horror stories. It’s something subtler, often more unsettling.
I became quite interested a few years ago with Freud’s theory of the uncanny and there are a number of things that he identifies as generating this feeling of the uncanny. It includes things like déjà vu and doubles. Generally it culminates in a feeling of a strangeness in something that feels both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Perhaps it’s a leap, but is that sense of the uncanny linked to your choice of the nightjar as the name and emblem of your publishing?
Absolutely, it’s a twilight bird, and not often seen by the ordinary man or woman. I’ve been looking for them for some time and never seen one. Sylvia Plath wrote a poem about the nightjar in which said about it ‘flying on wings of witch cloth’ and called it a devil bird. Many birds have been associated with death, it’s hard to find a bird that hasn’t, but among those birds the nightjar is really quite a compelling one. It’s a very strange looking bird. It has a very large mouth and flies with its beak open. Like a basking shark, it flies around hoovering up food.
Are you a writer yourself?
I am, although I’m writing fewer short stories at the moment. The more I put into Nightjar, and editing for Salt, the less time I find I have. Though I have recently finished a novel that is coming out in January, it took far longer than any of my previous work due to things like Nightjar and teaching creative writing, but it has been getting some good feedback and so I’ve been encouraged to split my time better between writing and editing.
Could you say a little about the novel?
It’s a story about a man having quite a major crisis in his life, which manifests itself in an inability to choose between opposites. Not like he can’t decide. He physically can’t distinguish between them. Left and right, life and death, right and wrong. He can’t tell the difference.
What’s the next step for Nightjar?
I have the next two stories ready to come out in the spring, by Elizabeth Stott and Conrad Williams, and I’m preparing the two for the autumn.
Do they always come out in pairs?
Yes, two in the spring, two in the autumn. Four a year.
Nicholas Royle is the founder of Nightjar Press, a lecturer in Creative Writing and an editor for Salt Publishing.