Interview by Rupert Dastur
Hi Urška, thank you for speaking to us as TSS, it’s great to be chatting to a publisher interested in short forms – from the short story to flash fiction – hurrah! What else can you tell us about Fairlight Books?
Fairlight Books was established in June 2017 with the aim to promote high-quality writing and beautiful books. We publish both novels and novellas in the literary genre, besides having a freely-accessible short story portal on our website. A lot of our authors are debut writers that we acquired through our open submissions. Accepting submissions direct from authors has allowed us to find some real talent that would often be otherwise overlooked.
You’re in charge of Fairlight Shorts and must read a great many pieces of short fiction – what do you look for and what are the main things to avoid?
I look for a story that grabs me from the very first line; I like a good opening, and for me it needs to be tight and concise, almost like a ‘prologue’ to the rest of the story. Another aspect that is very important for me is the dialogue: in a short story the writer doesn’t have many words to express the characters’ thoughts (as he/she would have in a novel), so the dialogue has to be precise and convey just what the reader wants to hear; and, especially, it needs to feel real! Sometimes I would read through a short story and find myself thinking: ‘There’s no way someone would talk like that in real life.’ So I guess one of the things to avoid is this one. Another one would be overwriting: as I said earlier, a short story needs to be concise, to the point, without the going-around-in-circles style which can be allowed in novels.
I read that you’re fluent in three languages – English, Slovenian, and Italian – do you think this shapes the way you read?
I have never really thought about this before. I don’t jump between the languages; when I read in a certain language I also think in that specific language; English, Slovenian and Italian are too different from each other, so I only read the text in itself without comparing it to how it could sound in another language. I guess you could say that in a way it does shape the way I read as each time I read in one of those languages I have to completely switch my mindset.
I’m also aware that you studied English Literature and Publishing Media at university and would be interested to know how this has served you in your role at Fairlight?
Both of the courses had a great impact on my work. Studying English Literature I had to analyse the text, the meaning, the structure and all the different aspects of a book. When reading a novel/short story now I go through the same process.
Publishing Media has taught all the different aspects of the industry. Before starting the course I didn’t know much about publishing, but there I learnt the whole process of going from a manuscript/ book idea to the finished product that sits in a bookshop. All that I learned during the course I know try to apply at my job.
What’s it like working for a new publisher – and one that seems to be picking up some great traction – can you share the highs and lows for us?
Being a new publisher allows us to try different things: the open submissions approach that I mentioned earlier, which means that I get to read a lot of different manuscripts; the online short stories, too, as there are not many traditional publishers that would publish short fiction on their website as well as publishing books. The whole concept of the Fairlight Moderns, our novella series, came about in an interesting way: we very receiving a lot of really good novellas but we didn’t know how we could package them; and from there the idea of having a series started to evolve.
I guess one of the lows is that, being fairly new, sometimes we have to learn as we go, make mistakes to improve the next time.
Turning to some of the things you’ve published, what do you most like about Sophie van Llewyn’s Bottled Goods and what would you say makes for a successful Novella-in-Flash?
Sophie’s novella is just brilliant. From the first moment I read it I was captivated by her writing style. I’d never read a novella-in-flash before but I immediately saw the advantages that a structure like that can bring. But what I like most about Bottled Goods is the variation of style: no two flashes are written in the same way, there are lists, diary entries, third person, first person, anything you can think of is in there. This means the narrative never gets boring and is always bringing something new.
In a novella-in-flash each piece of flash fiction needs to be a story in itself, it has to feel like it could stand on its own, while at the same time is part of this wider narrative. I think it’s important to try and experiment a little bit when writing novellas-in-flash, mix the styles up, make it interesting.
Fairlight Books has also worked with other authors familiar to TSS – from Emma Timpany’s Travelling in the Dark to the more recent announcement of TSS editor, Barbara Lovrić’s book The Corn Road – are you allowed to offer us a glimpse into this new offering?
Barbara Lovrić’s The Corn Road is a novel Fairlight Books will be publishing in September 2019. We’re currently finalising the edits and starting the work on the cover.
The Corn Road brings us the story of two young people from opposite ends of the world, one in Boston and the other in Vukovar, Croatia, who start to dream about each other. They both have to deal with personal demons, Claire running away from an abusive relationship, while Alen is struggling to live up to the expectations everyone has for him, and so dreams become an escape from the real world. When tragedy strikes, will they be able to help each other? To find out the rest you will have to read the book 🙂
If you were giving a talk on submitting work to Fairlight – especially for those looking to send their short story and flash collections – what would be your advice?
We read everything we receive, so just submit! Our short stories are all different: from flash fiction to stories that are almost 10,000 words long; sad stories or happy stories. We don’t focus on a specific genre, the only thing we are looking for is good writing and an engaging plot. First of all, though, read our submission guidelines carefully; you’ll find all of the information there and, something that applies always when submitting, follow them to the letter, if you can.
I’m sure you’re aware of the many debates currently being had in the publishing industry about access, openness, representation – do you have any thoughts on how things might continue to improve? There’s the Northern Fiction Alliance and I wonder whether something for the south – outside London – might be worthwhile…
Actually, at Fairlight Books we have a much more international approach to publishing. Our authors are from all over the world – Italy, Romania, New Zealand, America, Ireland, as well as all corners of the UK. For us it is more about supporting and nurturing fantastically talented writers and helping them to get published.
Any last thoughts about writing or publishing you would like to share with our readers?
Never give up submitting your work! It doesn’t matter if you get rejected, it only takes one person liking your book to get it published; you just need to find that person.
Thank you very much, Urška, for your time.
Urška Vidoni was born in a small village near Trieste, Italy, where she lived until she moved to Oxford to attend Oxford Brookes University. She graduated in June 2018 with a major in Publishing Media and a minor in English Literature. Urška now works as an Editorial Assistant at Fairlight Books in Oxford.
Rupert Dastur is a writer, editor, and founding director of TSS Publishing. He studied English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and is Associate Editor at The Word Factory, a leading short story organisation based in London. He’s also Events Coordinator for the Society of Young Publishers (London) and Curator for WritingCompetitions.org. His own work has appeared in a number of places online and in print and he is currently working on his first novel.
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