Friday, September 12, 2014

Comma Press invites new Iraqi futuristic short stories by 10 November deadline

Manchester-based Comma Press is looking, by a deadline of 10th November 2014, for new short stories written by Iraqi writers and set in Iraq to be submitted for an anthology to be published in both Arabic (as an eBook) and English translation (book and eBook) in 2015. The anthology will be edited by the Iraqi short story writer and filmmaker Hassan Blasim, whose collection The Iraqi Christ, published by Comma, won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for Blasim and his translator into English Jonathan Wright.

Contributions will be selected according to how well they respond to the following brief.

Each story must:

• be set in the year 2103 - exactly 100 years after the allied invasion of Iraq.
• present visions of how the authors imagine life in particular Iraqi cities might be in 90 years' time.
• be a stand-alone drama and tell a complete human story in less than 6000 words.

Please note that the culture, politics, technology, architecture, and - most importantly - the language must all be set firmly in the future and tied to one particular real-life Iraqi city.

 editor and co-organiser Hassan Blasim

The reason for the futuristic setting is intedned to give Iraqi authors one of three possible opportunities.

They can use the setting to either:

(i) completely escape the political/religious context of Iraq today, and write about a different society/environment altogether;

(ii) write allegorically about the present (or recent past, e.g. the invasion) through the prism of the future; in other words, they can project current issues onto an ostensibly otherworldly or unconnected setting (use the future to write about now);

or to

(iii) write literally about the influence of the invasion 100 years down the line.

Comma invites submissions from Iraqi authors working across all genres - not just science fiction. "We feel that it's just as interesting to ask literary writers to try their hand at something they've never considered before, whether that be science-fiction or futurism; an allegory which allows authors to express what normal literary realism doesn't; or the opportunity to metaphorically comment on the present political, social and cultural existence through the prism of the 'future' (2103)", says Comma. "In short, we are interested in stories about relationships, comedies, existential narratives - everything! Not just science fiction and politics!!"

Ten stories will be included in the anthology. Comma envisions that each will be set in a specific Iraqi city in the year 2103.

With the exception of Kut, Najaf and Kirkuk which have already been commissioned, submissions can be set in any of the cities outlined in the list below.

Comma can pay £200 for every story it publishes. However it cannot pay for a story if it does not ultimately publish it.

If you would like to write for this project, please contact the two organisers via email to express your interest and to check that the city has not already been taken: and

DEADLINE for submissions: 10th November 2014 

co-organiser Christine Gilmore

The Setting
The setting is important - "the history of each city should be written into its future". The list below isn't exhaustive - you can pick other cities or even regions if your story is not limited to an urban setting. Feel free to contact Comma with your queries and ideas!

Cities to choose from: 

In Iraq:
1. Baghdad
2. Basra
3. Mosul
4. Karbala
5. Fallujah
6. Tikrit
7. Nasiriya
8. Amarah
9. Sadr City
10. Ramadi
11. Ukbara

In Kurdish Iraq:
1. Hewlr / Erbil
2. Silman /Sulaymaniyah
3. Dihok
4. Zaxo
5. Kelar
7. Rewandiz /Rwandz
8. Helebce / Halabja
9. Saml / Sumail
10. Ranye / Ranya

Comma wants writers to think about which city to choose to set their work in creatively, and carefully. For example, if you want to write a piece of classic utopian/dystopian futurism, Basra might be a very interesting setting. Basra is the town from which HG Well's futuristic saviours, the 'Wings Over the World', appear, to save war-torn Western Europe in his book and film The Shape of Things to Come. Or if you're interested in a Borges-inspired vision of the future, Ukbara might be a great setting. Ukbara is the real-life origin of Borges' unreal city 'Ukbar' in his famous "Tln, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". The very fact that it's a real place undermines Borges' un-real game, so perhaps it could be a setting for a more existential set of questions, about the nature of reality. These are just examples.

H G Wells
Frequently Asked Questions  
Why has 2103 been chosen as the date in which the stories must be set?  
The idea here is both to give Iraqi writers some creative space to reflect on the long-term legacy of the Iraq invasion and, simultaneously, the chance to escape the pressures of the current political climate by projecting their visions of Iraq in the future. Setting the stories 100 years after the invasion gives writers freedom to be creative. They can choose exactly what direction they want their story to take, whether that be a complete escape from the present into a fictional future world; a realistic projection of the war's aftermath and how its' legacy affects the future; or an allegorical portrayal of contemporary issues in a future setting. Remember that for many science fiction writers, setting a story in the future gives them greater freedom to critique the present and evade the censorship and social taboos that so often hamper creative expression.

What are the requirements?  
The story should not have been translated into English before and should be written in response to the brief above. It must be fictional and set in one particular Iraqi city; the stories must be human stories rather than political. Each story will present a vision of how the authors imagine life in their chosen city in 90 years time, but through the story's context or background readers must grasp something of the city's past as well as the long term effects of the US invasion.

Who is eligible to submit a story?
Comma welcomes submissions from all Iraqi writers. We are particularly seeking authors currently based in Iraq.

Will the book be published in Arabic?  
The anthology will be published in both Arabic and English as an e-book, but the English version will also be published in print. Is Iraq + 100 a science fiction book? No! Science fiction is one possible genre, but the anthology is open to all styles and genres as long as the stories are set in the year 2103.

How many words can the stories be?
Ideally stories will be between 1250 - 3500 words in the Arabic, although we can be flexible.

How much will Comma pay for my story if it is published?
Comma can pay £200 for each story that it chooses to publish in the anthology.  

When is the deadline for submissions? All submissions must be received by 10th November 2014

Supported by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (Gertrude Bell Memorial).

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