Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

Thresholds

Every year the people who run the Thresholds short story forum hold a feature writing competition. I entered it for the first time this year, with a piece that drew heavily on this blog post from around this time last year. I didn’t make the long list, but they decided my piece was worth publishing anyway, which is nice. And here it is. I still think it’s relevant.

BBC Radio Bristol

IMG_0955It struck me on the way home from Bristol today that a live radio interview to promote a book is a bit like a first date. You’re desperate to make a good impression and anxious to keep the conversation flowing, even though half the time you’re wondering “What in God’s name did I just say that for?”

But it was a lot of fun. Steve Yabsley, BBC Radio Bristol / BBC Somerset’s lunchtime presenter is a really nice guy and he managed to put me at my ease very quickly. He’d also done a lot more research than I’d expected, and he was able to keep nudging me back on course when I was in danger of going off-piste.

If you fancy listening to it (I haven’t dared to yet), it’s available here for the next seven days. My bit starts at just after 32 minutes in.

By the way, when you’re waiting to be let into the studio complex, you get to sit on the sofa that used to be used for BBC Points West. Apparently this is worthy of a plaque:

IMG_0954

In other news, I started the MA course on Monday, and I’m really enjoying it already. Unexpected highlight so far was starting to read my first set book, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Living, and finding out on page 24 that she and her late husband used to watch Tenko. Fellow fans of Ed Reardon’s Week (and I assume that includes any writers out there) will appreciate how satisfying I found this.

 

Phase Two

I usually think of Phase One of my writing career to have begun around about September 2004. OK, I’d had software books published before then, and I’d also dabbled a little bit in creative writing, but September 2004 was when I decided to have one last bash at carving out a proper writing career for myself. I started off gently, by re-joining the local writers’ circle and becoming a regular entrant in their competitions. Then I started to reach out further, joining various internet forums and submitting stuff left, right and centre, until slowly I began – in a small way – to make a bit of a name for myself.

BRAG ALERT WARNING: There’s a bit coming up that sounds like I’m bragging. But it’s contextually necessary. Trust me.

If I were to go back a decade in time and tell my ten-years-younger self what had actually transpired in those years between 2004 and 2014, I would have been pretty amazed to hear that I’d actually managed to get three VERY different books accepted by respectable publishers, had one of them (briefly) in WHSmiths’ charts, had the other two reviewed in the national press, had a story read on BBC Radio 4, had the same story read by a bunch of naked women in New York (actually, that’s probably one to save for my 12-year-old self), won several prizes for short stories and poetry, had several poems published (where did THAT come from?), appeared in 40 anthologies, read my work in public on many occasions, had random strangers get in touch to say how much they like my work and so on and so on and so on.

BRAG ALERT ALL CLEAR. RETURN TO YOUR HOMES. I REPEAT, ALL CLEAR, RETURN TO YOUR HOMES.

And yet. The thing is, I still don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I’ve never had any formal training (beyond what I learnt along with everyone else at that writers’ circle and those forums – and don’t get me wrong, I learnt a hell of a lot from them). I’ve never had a mentor. I don’t have an agent. My writing career, such as it is, is a bunch of random events with no underlying logic to it. (Vanessa Gebbie’s interpretation of this as me not wanting to be pigeonholed is far more generous than it deserves.) To be honest, right now, I haven’t the faintest clue as to what I should be writing about. I have a few ideas, sure (I’m very rarely short of them), but they’re currently showing an alarming tendency to self-destruct a few thousand words in. Whether this is because I don’t have the right skills or if it’s simply because I’ve lost confidence in my writing doesn’t really matter. The plain fact is that there’s only one way I’m ever going to find a route upwards and out of this.

I need to go back to school.

So tomorrow I’m off to register for the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. I’m going to be taught how to write by People I Have Heard Of. It could of course all go horribly wrong. I may find it impossible to fit it all in with the day job. I may not even like being taught stuff at my age (it’s been a while, after all, although I was delighted to find out recently that I won’t be the only extra-mature student there). But it may just be the start of something wonderful.

This is the campus, by the way. They have peacocks there and all.

Corsham CourtPhase Two, here we come. Wish me luck.

 

The Caterpillar and the Beeb

Lots of excitement here at Pinnock Towers. First of all, I had a sudden urge yesterday to see if I could get a few more of my strange animal poems for kids published. So I dug out a selection, read them through and fixed some of the scansion (amazing what you find when you go back to something with a more critical eye). Given that (a) the only place I know of that publishes that kind of thing is The Caterpillar and (b) they’ve published a couple of mine there before, I decided to send them to The Caterpillar. Classic marketing skills on display there.

Anyway, I had a very positive response the  same day and some of them will indeed be appearing in either the next edition or the one after that. I’ll let you know either way. Seriously, if you do have kids who enjoy reading (or indeed kids who don’t and bloody well ought to), it’s a terrific magazine. Oh, and did I mention that it’s published people such as Michael Morpurgo, Frank Cottrell Boyce and John Hegley. That last name may make readers of TAKE IT COOL prick up their ears, as they may recall that I once almost formed a band with him.

The other even more exciting thing is that I’ve just been invited to be Steve Yabsley‘s main guest on his lunchtime show at BBC Radio Bristol / Somerset on Wednesday October 1st. Make a note in your diaries now. I will too, with a special addendum telling me to get there several hours in advance, unlike my Ujima Radio cock-up.

Our Book Reviews and Other Stuff

The lovely Maryom over at Our Book Reviews has given a definite thumbs up to TAKE IT COOL. This is what she says in her 4* review:

Having read Jonathan Pinnock’s fiction, I expected him to turn what could be a plodding piece of research into something interesting and fun – and he did!  The different threads are easily followed, and build an amusingly-told story that held the attention of a non-Pinnock with no interest in reggae.

Meanwhile, the excellent Dave Weaver has put up a post about TAKE IT COOL on his blog. Dave is a highly talented writer who has had three books published by Elsewhen Press, most recently THE BLACK HOLE BAR, which looks superb. I haven’t read that one yet, but I can say that JAPANESE DAISY CHAIN, his last one, was terrific: a short story sequence with a neat gimmick in which a minor character in each story becomes the main protagonist in the next one. Recommended. Here’s where you can buy it on Kindle.

This week, I had my most testing public appearance yet: the Allerton Women’s Institute. I think I got away with it, but I’m going to be more than usually paranoid about how people look at me in the village over the next few days. There’s nothing quite so unnerving as speaking for an hour in front of a bunch of people you know. Give me an audience of strangers any day.

Finally, for those of you who have already read TAKE IT COOL (which I guess means pretty much everyone reading this, right?), I’ve added a comprehensive picture gallery containing loads of images that didn’t make it into the book. So if you want to see what Dog-Face Phil really looked like, here’s where you need to go.

 

Interview with Carys Bray

Last week I was interviewed by the humungously talented Carys Bray. Carys was a Scott Prize winner in 2012 with her excellent short story collection Sweet Home and is currently enjoying stellar success with her first novel A Song for Issy Bradley, which I am going to pounce on as soon as it comes out in paperback. And when I say stellar, I mean stellar: massive advance, a slot on Radio 4′s Book at Bedtime and amazing reviews everywhere you look.

I am obviously not the slightest bit jealous about this. Definitely not.

OK, I am a tiny bit. But it’s also more than a little inspiring to see someone who’s kicked a ball around the same playground as yourself making it into the Premier League.

Many thanks to Carys for taking the time to talk to me. Let’s hope some of that stardust rubs off, eh?

The Binnacle and Twiction Addiction Again

A couple of very short hits to report. First of all, I snagged an Honourable Honorable Mention in this years The Binnacle Ultra-Short Competition, with my 135-word story “99942 Apophis” (feel free to Google that if you want to find out a clue to the subject matter). The story will also appear in print, along with the winers and the other honourees honorees, which will be nice. Secondly, an as yet untitled 23-word story of mine was published today at Twiction Addiction.

I’ve also been tweaking this site a little bit, adding galleries of all the various anthologies and stuff I’ve been in to the bottom of the Fiction and Poetry pages, as well as a slide show of various appearances that Mrs Darcy made in the bookshops of the UK. Seems such a long time ago…

Another TAKE IT COOL Interview and Other Stuff

I’m still awaiting that all-important third print review for TAKE IT COOL, but in the meantime, the excellent Gordon Darroch has furnished me with a physical copy of that splendid Herald review and a scan of it now graces the Review page. Gordon is an exceptionally fine writer going through a terrible time at the moment, and I do urge you to take a look at his remarkably moving blog.

I’ve been casting around for possible local groups to talk to and I’ve already got a few potential engagements beginning to line up . However, the first one on the list is going to be the most terrifying: the village WI. These are people I know: if I screw up, I will become a pariah.

I’ve also got myself added to the Literature West SW Writer Directory, which is nice, because all the other people on there look like proper writers.

Meanwhile, back in the world of TAKE IT COOL, I have been on the receiving end of a very comprehensive interview by the splendid Oscar Windsor-Smith, short story writer extraordinaire. There’s a mild spoiler in there if these things bother you, although the existence of a particular photo in the middle of the book does rather give the game away too, so I’m not that worried about this.

[EDITED TO ADD: Forgot to say that I had this unexpected mention of an old short story pop up on Twitter today. I love it when random stuff like that happens because you have things scattered around the place.]

A Farewell to CSS

Regular visitors may have noticed a few changes around here lately. First of all, I moved to a much smarter WordPress theme (called, rather splendidly, Hemingway). Less obviously, but considerably more significantly, I’ve added a new item to the menu: Books. See?

The thing is, I used to have individual sites for all my books. This went back to the days when I was running the Mrs Darcy serialisation on its (her?) own separate blog, with its own url, www.mrsdarcyvsthealiens.com. When publication loomed, I thought I’d have a go at creating a striking promotional website for the book, using hand-crafted CSS/HTML, and the end results weren’t too bad, if a little amateurish.

I hated using raw CSS/HTML, though. OK, I’ve done programming all my life, but laying out a web page involves a load of other visual skills that I don’t have. You may have noticed that I kept using the same template for every single other book website I produced. I also tried using it for a website that Mrs P asked me to do for her, and this was the point at which I realised that I needed to find another approach.

I then had a blinding revelation: just go with WordPress. OK, there’s no capability for fancy stuff, but for a site that’s purely there to give out information and – most importantly – is easily maintainable, it’s very hard to beat. Want to add breadcrumbs? There’s a plugin for that. Want to add redirection? There’s a plugin for that. Want to add Facebook page likes? There’s a plugin for that. And so on.

So I threw together a WordPress site for Mrs P in no time and she was very happy with the results. I moved on to my business website and re-wrote that too.

Then I thought, why not get rid of all these individual book sites and merge them into my main writing site? So that’s what I did. And what fun it was too – I’d forgotten how many Mrs Darcy specials I’d written, for one thing. It’s so nice to have everything in one place.

Do have a look around. There’s loads of stuff to keep you occupied for hours. Here’s the sitemap (oh yes, there’s a plugin for that too):

Ujima Radio and Another Ace Review for TAKE IT COOL

It’s been another exciting day in the world of TAKE IT COOL. First of all, I spent an hour (or slightly less than an hour, owing to a mix-up with the location of the front door of the studio) in the delightful company of DJ Cheryl Morgan and other guest Natalie Burns at Bristol’s Ujima Radio, talking about Dennis Pinnock and short stories and so on. You can listen to it again here (my bit starts at 22:17 minutes in). I don’t think I made too much of a hash of things, but your mileage may vary, as they say…

There’s been another review of TAKE IT COOL, this time in Family Tree magazine (available from all good newsagents, price £4.99). Here’s what they said, in a spread that took up nearly half a page:

Family Tree Sept review

As you may imagine, I’m pretty chuffed by this, and really pleased that – like the review in the Herald that I posted yesterday – they absolutely get it. I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction. It’s also nice to see that a small publisher like 2RP can still get stuff noticed, even without the massive marketing machinery of the big players.

And there’s more… I dropped in on the lovely Vanessa Gebbie’s blog yesterday to talk about the story behind the story of TAKE IT COOL. I love her comment about me refusing to be pigeonholed. I wish it were deliberate policy on my part, but it’s more a case of me not having a clue about what I’m doing…

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