Nicholas Royle: Horror in six words? That’s insane.

Nicholas Royle: Horror in six words? That’s insane.

I first met Nick when he was the tutor on the Reading Novels element of my MA. I still have an uneasy relationship with cormorants as a result. I’ve since had experience of him as residential tutor, editor, and organiser of readings. He’s great. As well as running the small but perfectly formed Nightjar Press, he has to his publishing credit five novels, two novellas, 150 short stories, and a collection, Mortality. At Salt Publishing, he was the editor of Alison Moore’s ManBooker shortlisted The Lighthouse, and also edits the Best British Short Stories series. His latest novel, First Novel, will be published by Cape in 2013.


Nick, how would you describe the literary scene in Manchester, and in the wider North West? And what would be your top recommendations for good places to hear the best new writing?

 Manchester has a very lively and exciting literary scene. The Manchester Literature Festival tends, increasingly, to concentrate on writers from all over, but you can often find interesting events on at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, some of them organised by the Manchester Writing School at MMU, where I teach, who also put on events at the Royal Exchange Theatre. Bad Language is a very good monthly night at the Castle Hotel. There’s no doubt millions of poetry readings, too, but I wouldn’t know about them.


At Nightjar Press, you publish original stories as signed, limited-edition chapbooks. Where did the idea for Nightjar come from? And what are the highs and lows of being a small independent publisher? 

I did some small-press publishing in the early 90s and was feeling around 2008/2009 that I wanted to give it another go, but doing something different. I had published two short story anthologies and a collection (Darklands and Darklands 2, both edited by me, and then Joel Lane’s The Earth Wire) and I wanted to do something connected with short stories again. I’d always been attracted to chapbooks and had seen a few examples of chapbooks devoted to single short stories – a Joel Lane story, in fact, and a Christopher Burns story. I think short stories are special. They deserve to be made a fuss of. They deserve their own covers and cover art. Making signed, limited editions seemed the thing to do. The highs have been many – publishing some amazing stories; Michael Marshall Smith’s story winning Best Short Story in the British Fantasy Awards; Alison Moore’s first story for Nightjar blowing my mind and quickly becoming one of my favourite short stories ever; being able to get creative with cover images; working with John Oakey, my designer, and Claire Massey, who not only contributed two stories to the series but also designed the new web site. The lows are it costs a lot, in terms of both time and money. Sales had really slowed down and I was considering packing it in. I confided this to a friend and he rallied a considerable amount of support that has convinced me to keep going, at least for the time being.


A three-in-one-question. I know that two of your favourite things are birds and horror. Can you: a. explain the appeal of horror in no more than six words; b. explain why birds are so suited to stories of unease; and c. tell us which is your favourite story of the genre which features birds?

 No more than six words? That’s insane. Er. OK. Stephen McGeagh’s debut novel Habit (Salt). There you go. Six words exactly. Birds are suited to stories of unease because they are such weird, alien creatures, totally familiar to us, yet utterly indifferent to us. Practically every bird species that’s ever existed has at some point been associated with death. Well, that’s true for the goldfinch and most of the crow family and no doubt lots of others. Favourite weird bird story? Maybe ‘The Gannets’ by Anna Kavan.


You have a new book out yourself in the New Year. What can you tell us about it? And how do your experiences as an editor and tutor affect you as a writer?

 First Novel took me about six years to write. Funnily enough that’s as long as I’ve been teaching creative writing. That’s the most obvious way in which working as a creative writing tutor has affected me as a writer. It’s made me take about three times longer than usual to write a novel. But it has enabled me to write one that I think is ten times better than any I’ve written before. Which is not to say I think it’s great or anything, but better. I’ve been editing almost as long as I’ve been writing. For me the two go hand in hand. Editing is a vital part of writing. First Novel is about dogging and creative writing.


It’s time for the annual Writers’ League Five-a-Side league finals. You are the captain of one of the teams: who are your other four literary footballers?

 I’ll have Albert Camus in goal, Conrad Williams in defence, Joe Stretch up front and Stephen McGeagh running like a bastard all over the pitch.

Many thanks there to Nicholas Royle.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be reviewing the latest Nightjar Press chapbooks. I’ll also be talking to Salt author Stephen McGeagh, and reviewing his new novel, Habit. For notifications of these, and other events happening in the area, follow me on Twitter @sarahontheboat

Don’t forget, you can find out more about Nightjar Press and buy their beautiful chapbooks by visiting their website here.


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