Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

“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?

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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:

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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.

Fish Poetry Shortlist

Fish_logoAnd so this year’s Fish campaign draws to a close, with longlistings in the short story and flash categories and (yay!) a shortlisting in the poetry category. I didn’t make much of a fuss about the longlistings, because the Fish longlists do tend to be rather long, but I’m quite pleased about the shortlisting, given that it makes my entry one of the sixty-odd selected out of an entry of a thousand or so.

The poem in question is the same one that was commended in the Café Writers Competition a little while back, which is nice in some ways because it means that two entirely separate judging panels have decided that it has merit. It’s also slightly frustrating because it also means that two entirely separate judging panels have decided that it doesn’t quite have enough merit to get a placing. Such are the joys of competitions.

Spilling Cocoa – The First Week

The first week and a bit, actually, but who’s counting? It’s a day or two over a month since I registered the www.spillingcocoa.com domain and it’s all going a whole load better than I’d ever imagined. For one thing, I’d only anticipated having enough material to publish a poem a week, but it soon became clear that a poem a day was not only going to be possible but also necessary in order to get through all the wonderful stuff I was being sent.

Not only that, but people are reading the poems. Rating them. Sharing them. Subscribing. Take a look at this usage statistics graph:

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I won’t divulge the scale used (yet – although let’s just say that the traffic is a LOT higher than I get here), but what the shape of it means is that, following the inevitable initial burst of activity, we seem to have settled down to a remarkably consistent traffic profile. I’d half-expected interest to drop off, but it doesn’t seem to have done so quite yet.

This, of course, is mostly down to the excellent quality of the submissions, and the good news is there’s plenty more to come. But please don’t be afraid to submit – as I hope you can see, we have a pretty broad definition of what constitutes humour.

The oddest thing that happened in the last week was finding out that we had a Duotrope listing a mere two days after going live. I had no idea they were so proactive. Quite a scary moment in some ways, though, because at that moment it suddenly seemed that this was something real and rather public. It is of course entirely possible that at some point in the future, in the middle of some horrendous scandal, I may look back on this time and wonder how it all seemed so innocent. Let’s hope not, though, eh?

Spring Cleaning

Thought I’d give this place a bit of a spring clean. I’ve moved the menus around up there ^^^, so that all the short stuff is gathered together in one place, leaving room for a couple of new pages. I also found out (somewhat belatedly) that you could embed tweets amazingly easily, so the TwitFic page looks a lot smarter now.

The first of the new pages is Plays and it contains the entire script of my one and only radio play, D.O.E., along with the long and tragic tale of its non-production. Do take a look.

The other one is Audio, and this contains a couple of performance recordings, along with the first and only episode of a peculiar serial called The Last Snows of Summer. I still quite like this, although it is entirely possible that your mileage may vary.

Meanwhile, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis is primed and ready to start publishing this very Sunday, May 1st. As Shaw Taylor used to say, “Keep ’em peeled!”

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