Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

The Incredible Zapriskie Ponders His Retirement Plan

I should have posted about this yesterday, but I didn’t really feel like writing anything because of that thing that happened in the US. I haven’t got anything to add to the millions of words already written on the subject, except to point you in the direction of this post from eight years ago, which is really quite a sad thing to read now.

Ah well, onwards and possibly upwards. My poem “The Incredible Zabriskie Ponders His Retirement Plan” was published at Ink, Sweat and Tears yesterday. I’m quite pleased with how this one worked out, and I hope you like it too.

Interview with Oonah Joslin

oonahI can’t remember when I first bumped into Oonah Joslin online, but from what she says below, it was probably in 2007, which is – coincidentally – the same year as I started sending stuff out, too. Funny thing about the online literary world – you keep coming across the same people everywhere. I always enjoyed reading her work, and she was also very encouraging to me in her editorial role at Every Day Poets when I started sending poetry out for the first time.

So when she mentioned to me that she had her first collection of poetry coming out, I was only too happy to offer to interview her. This is what she had to say.

Tell me about your new book. Does it have a specific theme?

It’s called Three Pounds of Cells which is a quotation from the final poem in the book and that is a poem dedicated to the memory of cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. It’s about perception – how the brain acts as director and cinematographer for our experiences. It is our lens, our camera, and it edits what we keep and what we discard – it filters and alters our perceptions to the extent where sometimes dreams and reality intermingle. How do we know what is really real? We know so little about the brain even now. Personality, memory, perception, imagination – we are greater than the sum of our parts. So this book is a bout the miracle of moments – the moments the brain chooses to remember and put into the ‘final cut’. And the picture on the cover is of one such moment in Minnesota – a moment when my brain recognised (or interpreted) a pattern, a geological moment, a moment in time and space and eternity that happened only to me. It was a moment created of light and rock and brain cells. Have you ever had a moment like that? Of course you have. But many people don’t stop or think or recognise these moments. Poets do. That’s what the book is about.

Which do you prefer to write, fiction or poetry?cells1

Poetry. I am a story-teller but I don’t write at length preferring micro-fiction. I do have a novella to finish but poetry always seems to come first with me. And poetry isn’t the easy option. It has taken me as much as twenty years to craft a poem and I can spend months deliberation over a word
or a space!

Which do you prefer to read?

Poetry again. When I read anything long it has to immediately draw me in like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or The Lord of the Rings did but I prefer biographies to novels. I’ve a long love affair with C S Lewis (in fact there is a tribute to him in the collection) and I adore Oscar Wilde and Asimov. I love The Waves by Virginia Wolf too – its slipstream, its flow of consciousness, its voices. It fascinates me.

How long have you been writing?

Well call it 50 years! I wrote my first poem at the age of 12 and Mr Linton put it on the classroom wall. I was so proud! But writing essays, stories, anything was always my favourite homework. I took after my mother in this. She told me once she would have loved to be a writer – but she had all us children instead. At Ballymena Academy I had poems in the school magazine every year. Later, years of teaching meant that I wrote little but I still wrote from time to time and when I left teaching I turned immediately to writing in www.writewords.org.uk. That was ten years ago and I have never stopped since. I need to write and it’s great to have the time. I feel very privileged.

Was there ever a point where you suddenly felt you’d made some kind of breakthrough?

Have I broken through? In 2007 my very first year of writing, I was published in Every Day Fiction and in Bewildering Stories and then in October that year I entered the Micro Horror Competition (as we all did in Flash Fiction). I had never written a horror story before and I won. I couldn’t believe it! And I won such a gorgeous prize too. That convinced me to keep going. But in a way this book is the greatest breakthrough. It has my name on as a writer and not an editor. But I haven’t ever sent manuscripts to publishers really. I am not great at organising my time and lack confidence and so when Marie Fitzpatrick suggested I Put a wee book together, I sort of panicked. But I had encouragement from her and Kathleen Mickelson and from Pippa Little and Geraldine Green and what was only an idea vague and in the making last year is this year’s reality. It’s a big thing for me!

What do you like about being an editor?

I like editing because I get to read lots of new poems! And I like that I can choose how a publication is formed, its themes and contrasts. I like to give people a chance to be published too. And I know this would not be most people’s cup of tea but I really enjoy writing the editorial. It’s like English Homework a bit and I loved that! I get the chance to tell people about a favourite poem or talk about someone whose work I admire, as I did for Welsh poet Vernon Watkins. Lastly it’s lovely these days at The Linnet’s Wings to have that quarterly magazine or book in my hand and see all the poems together. I didn’t have that at EDP though we did publish two anthologies. It’s a treat. It’s like picking the book you always wanted to read! And Marie does a truly fabulous job of designing. She’s a bit of a sly genius, our Marie. If you haven’t ever bought a hard copy of The Linnet’s Wings, do. It’s so beautiful you’ll want to be in it! [Well, I have tried – JP]

What is the poem you’ve written that you’re most proud of?

Of course I have a few favourites. Pipestone, for the reasons I stated in Q1 has to be one of them and I think it’s a keystone of this selection. Other of my favourites are there too but there’s a poem in there that I don’t much like. Kathleen and Marie and lots of other people I know, love it. My sister is particularly fond of Heart of Brightness. The thing is that I know everybody has their own favourites and that’s as it should be. I have at least one that I am still working on now that has been years in the making and it’s very close to my heart. You have to love the poem you’re working on. You have to love them all one at a time. I suppose they are like children – some make you proud and there’s always the odd disappointment but sure somebody will love them all in the end.

What’s your favourite poem written by someone else, and why?

Now this is the question I can’t answer. Do you want a list? How long do you want the list to be? Read my editorials. That’ll be a start.

What do you plan to do next?

Micro Horror is no longer a site and my stories have disappeared with it. I have them of course. But they were meant to be read and I really have to do something about that. It seems I may have to learn some new skills. Also I have to complete the story of A Genie in a Jam. I really need to do those books. I would also love to put all my Ulster poems into a collection.

What question should I have asked that I didn’t?

How can people get hold of Three Pounds of Cells? [Good call – JP] Well it’s available from The Linnet’s Wings Press from 17th October and I will be going round the North East of England here making a nuisance of myself, doing readings and selling copies. It’ll cost you £6.99 and that is good value [Very good value – JP] for the quality of product (designed with Marie’s usual panache) as well as for the poems themselves – a good mix of seriosity and heeheeness, a good mix of international and home observations. I am pretty sure there’s a poem in there for everyone – plus some pics I took myself. I hope you’ll like it.

Bonus question: What question did I ask that I shouldn’t have?

Agh sure you’re great :) [That’s a relief – JP]

Too Old for Suzuki

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-17-18-43I haven’t had a lot of short fiction published lately (mainly because I haven’t actually written much), so it’s nice to see this one up at EDF. On the face of it, it’s quite an inconsequential little story, but I think the subject – familial solidarity – is one that doesn’t get touched on a lot. I’ll be interested to see what the transatlantic audience make of the references to Little Chefs and Eddie Stobart lorries…

“On my way here tonight…”

The thing I like most about having had a book or two published is the random stuff that tends to happen. Once you have a book out there, you have NO IDEA who is going to read it or what they’re going to think about it. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it is less than good and sometimes it is downright odd.

Anyway, it struck me last night that I hadn’t Googled Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens for a while, and in doing so one or two new hits popped up. The first was a nice review on Anne Wrightwell’s blog from just over a year ago, in which she says:

It reminded me of a Carry On film, one of the better ones not the travesty that was ‘Carry on Columbus’. I think an alternative title for the book could have been ‘Carry On Darcy’ Now, there’s a film I’d like to see. It is stuffed with puns and allusions to modern day topics. Some of these are very clever and funny and some of them aren’t so much. Although mercifully (in my opinion) there aren’t too many references to ‘pearl necklaces’ and ‘pork swords’.

Mercifully, indeed. I tend to agree with the last point. I think if I had my time again, I’d probably trim some of the excess self-indulgences. One day, when I’m massively famous, I’d like to publish a revised edition. Or perhaps that long-promised sequel…

Next up was a review in Spanish of Señora Darcy vs. Aliens on this blog. As far as I can tell from Google Translate, it doesn’t say much, which is a blessing, since the last time I had a review from the Iberian peninsular, it was a Portuguese one that contained the word “atrocidades”.

And then it all got a bit weird. Because it turned out that Mrs Darcy had been mentioned in a sermon. Yes, you read that right. At St Barnabas’s Church, Southfields SW18, in February of this year, the vicar, Revd Ian Tattum, opened his address thus:

I don’t imagine that Jane Austen ever thought that one day there would be a sequel to Pride and Prejudice called ‘ Mrs Darcy versus the aliens.’ But there is- as one reviewer put it’ ‘it is much funnier than the original and has a lot more aliens.’

I can safely say that my career as a writer has now peaked. It’s not going to get any better than this, is it? The only thing that could possibly improve things would be for the vicar to turn out to be this chap:

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But then he ended up in a different parish altogether, didn’t he?

stiffkey_sign

 

Submitting Things

This post was inspired by a comment under yesterday’s post the post from two days ago about an acceptance from the venerable Every Day Fiction, which asked three important questions:

  1. How does one submit things?
  2. Where does one find out where to submit things?
  3. Can anyone submit things or does one have to be known already?

Rather than give a cursory answer in the comments, I thought it might be helpful to write up my thoughts on this in a separate post (in the vain hope that it might go at least semi-viral and draw some much-needed traffic to this place).

Before kicking off with the answers, I’d like to throw in one more question:

  1. Why might one wish to submit something?

And then, just to be perverse, I’m going to answer them in reverse order.

Why might one wish to submit something?

Why indeed? If you think the answer is “to make money”, let me introduce you to the real world. Yes, there are a tiny handful of people who make decent money out of, say, getting published in the New Yorker, winning the Sunday Times/EFG Short Story Competition and so on, but if you somehow imagine that writing short stories and poems is going to provide you with a regular income stream, you are almost certainly on the wrong planet.

Alternatively, you may imagine that by getting stuff published you are somehow building up some kind of reputation which will stand you in good stead when it comes to trying to get your first full-length work published. I’m really not sure about this. I certainly do recall one occasion when I bumped into someone in real-life who I’d always admired for getting stuff published in cool zines, who proceeded to greet me with “Are you Jonathan Pinnock? Gosh, you’re all over the place!” However, I’m also pretty sure that most agents will be unimpressed that your compelling cannibalism story “Angst with Alice: Turkey Street, Friday” was published in Issue 2 of The Goatfelch Review, and the unfortunate reality is that these are the people you’re really wanting to impress if you want to find a six-figure deal for that tenderly brutal coming-of-age novel of yours. The sad truth is that the only thing they’ll really be interested in is the manuscript of that novel, not your amazing track record.

I’m not being entirely fair here. I’m pretty certain that having my name pop up from time to time as a short story writer helped with Salt getting 100% behind Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens. And it obviously helped with Dot Dash that all but one (I think) of the 58 stories in it had already been published in various places (and had therefore been passed as fit for publication by one other independent editor). That said, I’m pretty certain that one of the other Scott Prize-winning collections that year only had one previously published story in it, so even that isn’t a hard and fast rule.

Incidentally, this did all get slightly out of hand when it came to the back of the actual book, resulting in two and a half pages of notes:

previous

previous-1

previous-2

In the end, however, I submitted all of this stuff for publication for two main reasons. Firstly, I’d written it and I wanted other people to read it. Secondly, as a deeply insecure person, I wanted validation, and an acceptance from a complete stranger gave me that. I think those are both about as good as you’re going to get.

Can anyone submit things or does one have to be known already?

There are one or two competitions that require entrants to have some kind of publishing track record (the BBC National Short Story Award and the Sunday Times / EFG spring to mind) but generally speaking, competitions, magazines and anthologies are open to anyone. Indeed, some places take great delight in discovering new talent and may even follow your subsequent career with interest. So don’t hold back because you think you’re not worthy. Reach for the stars. And then when you don’t quite get there, try the Moon. And if that doesn’t work, try Basingstoke. The thing is, no-one ever needs to know about failed submissions. Just learn to deal with rejection (and, boy, does submitting stuff teach you that), suck it up and keep trying.

Where does one find out where to submit things?

Ah, now for the important question. There are a number of online resources that will help you find places that are looking for submissions.

Duotrope is a vast database of magazines, both print and online, with stats on acceptance rates, response times and so on. It used to be free but is now only available on subscription, so whether or not you spend your hard-earned £££ depends on how much you’re likely to be submitting. I would imagine that since going subscription-only, the stats are possibly less reliable, because there will be fewer datapoints. Or maybe they will be of better quality, because they’re all from paid-up subscribers? Dunno.

ShortStops, run by the excellent Tania Hershman, is a UK & Ireland – centred site that has comprehensive information on who’s taking short stories at the moment. She also sends out a regular newsletter that lists new opportunities.

The writer Paul McVeigh also maintains a very useful list of current short story opportunities on his blog, here.

Finally, the Thresholds forum, run by the University of Chichester, has an excellent list of competition and submission deadlines here.

Unfortunately, I’ve never managed to find anything equivalent to these resources for poetry, which may say something about poets as opposed to short story writers. If anyone reading this does know of anything, drop a note in the comments and I’ll update this post accordingly.

HOWEVER, I’ve actually found that the best way to find new markets for short stories and poetry is to STALK people. Writers love to brag about competitions they’ve won or been shortlisted for, and places that have published their stuff, and if you follow them on Twitter or hang out with them on Facebook (or writers’ forums), you’ll soon get to know what’s out there. Take a look at their websites, too. You may find stuff like this. Or this. Or this. (Yeah, I know. Sorry. I said I was insecure.)

Also, if you look at the magazines you know about, you’ll often find some other useful clues in the author bios. For instance, if you’ve chanced upon a story you like by Vince McFurby in the Fall 2015 edition of Clostridium Difficile, you may learn that Vince has also had work published in Splatter, BOLLOCK and What’s on in Peoria? (It will turn out that, sadly, BOLLOCK is on hiatus at the moment, but the other two may be worth a look.)

[UPDATE: Vanessa Gebbie has reminded me of this massively comprehensive (and slightly exhausting) list of magazines on the Poetry Library website. They also have an excellent list of competitions, ordered by closing date. I take back what I said about poets…]

How does one submit things?

There are only three rules:

  1. Follow the guidelines
  2. Follow the guidelines
  3. Follow the guidelines

So that’s it, really. Drop me a note in the comments if there’s anything I’ve left out or got hopelessly wrong. In the meantime, good luck.

Every Day Fiction Again

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-17-18-43Once upon a time I used to have loads of short story and poetry submissions on the go (I think the most I ever had out at the same time was 40). In recent years, however, this flood has dwindled to a mere trickle, mainly – I suppose – because I started getting proper books published.

I do still get a kick out of getting short stuff out there, though, particularly on places like Every Day Fiction, because you get to find out very soon what people think of your work – even if it isn’t always the reaction you were hoping for. So I was very pleased to get an acceptance from them for a piece I sent them recently called ‘Too Old for Suzuki.’ It’s a very slight piece, heavy on the dialogue with not a lot actually happening, so it may get some stick from the readers, but I still like it a lot. I’ll put up a link when it goes live.

Viral

balloonBack in April, I wrote a poem. It was (and I appreciate these things are always subjective) intended to be a funny poem. However, I couldn’t work out where to send it, and to cut a long story short, I ended up creating my very own online poetry magazine, specifically aimed at publishing humorous poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis.

Of course, what happened next was that one of the responders to my very first post on SCOMA (still not sure about that acronym – sounds like an unpleasant medical condition) pointed out that a humorous poetry magazine already existed, in the shape of Lighten Up Online. Well, there’s room enough in the world for two humorous poetry magazines, so I went ahead with SCOMA anyway. Doesn’t seem to have done either of us any harm so far.

Having set up SCOMA, I thought the least I could do was send LUO the poem that started the thought process off. So that’s exactly what I did. What’s more, they agreed to publish it, and it went up on their site last week.

The odd thing about it was that in the few months between submission and publication, it’s already become out of date, what with Gawker being sued out of existence. Such are the perils of trying to write up-to-the-minute satire. I can see this is one piece that’s going to evolve over the years.

The End, Amongst Other Things

FullSizeRenderCover blurbs are funny things. I’m fairly sure that if (and sadly it’s a very big ‘if’) TAKE IT COOL had ever made it into the bricks and mortar shops, Ian Rankin’s ‘Lovely stuff!’ on the cover might have gone some way towards making a passing punter pick the thing up (although it’s also just struck me that what I really should have done was try to get a second blurb from Rankin’ Roger of The Beat – it was a book about reggae after all).

Anyway, sometimes you get a blurb from Ian Rankin. And sometimes you get one from me, like the lucky people from the excellent Unthank Books. Unthank have just launched THE END, a totally ace anthology of stories based on paintings, and this is what I said about it:

At the end of the book, you’ll probably want to go back and start reading it all over again.

Actually, what I said in full was:

All good things come to an end. All bad things do, too. In this remarkably varied collection, many different things, both good and bad, come to an end: situations, performances, relationships, childhoods, lives and sometimes the whole world. Some of the endings are unexpected and some are pre-destined. We read what happened before the ending and sometimes what happened afterwards. And at the end of the book, you’ll probably want to go back and start reading it all over again.

Less of a blurb than a whole bloody review, in fact, so it’s not surprising it got trimmed a little to fit on the cover. Still, as I said, it’s an ace book. There’s more about the project here and you can pre-order yourself a copy here. Go on.

National Flash Fiction Day Anthology

71fj8Ot8RHLIs it that time of year already? Apparently it is. A week tomorrow (June 25th) is National Flash Fiction Day, 2016. I think I’m right in saying this is the fifth incarnation of the event, which suggests an impressive level of commitment from Calum Kerr and his loyal band of organisers.

As ever, there was a microfiction competition, for which my very short piece “Saved for Later” was longlisted – although it was up against some stiff competition (take a look at the second prize winner in particular) and got no further. I was slightly anxious that this might mean that I was going to miss being included in the NFFD anthology for the first time ever (as I didn’t even get a free pass this time – for the last couple of years I’ve been a microfiction judge). However, my submission “Family Values” was indeed selected, so my record remains untarnished.

And here’s the book itself – rather striking, don’t you think? You can buy copies here and if you take a look at the list of authors, I think you’ll agree with me that it promises to be rather special.

Back at IS&T

Had a mildly traumatic few days this week, after an OSX upgrade caused my vintage desktop computer to give up the ghost. It’s lasted almost seven years, so I can’t really complain. What I will say is that, for the third time in recent years, Apple’s Time Machine has proved to be a life-saver. If you rely on a Mac and haven’t set up Time Machine, (1) WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? and (2) DO IT NOW.

While all this was going on, I had an acceptance for my poem ‘The Incredible Zabriskie Ponders His Retirement Plan’, which will appear at the excellent Ink, Sweat and Tears in about three months or so from now. I’m really pleased that this one is going to get an airing, as I’m rather fond of it.

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