Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

Happy Birthday, Jane!

janeaustenYes, it’s Jane Austen’s birthday today. And quite coincidentally, it’s also the fifth anniversary of the online publication of the prologue to Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens. Doesn’t time fly, eh? And what a surprising number of things have happened since then.

Anyway, I thought it would be nice to celebrate this with a new special, as we haven’t had one of those for a while. So here’s Mrs Darcy and the Fairy Godmother. Hope you like it.

When the Man from Del Monte Says Meh

Songlines Take It Cool reviewSo, do we start this with “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” (always a bit suspect, that one) or “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” (which doesn’t really stand up to close inspection, either)?

Oh well.

I got reviewed by Songlines magazine. I like Songlines. I’ve had a subscription to it since it first came out. So I was quite excited when I heard that they were going to review Take It Cool, although I was more than a little apprehensive. I had a vague feeling that the music press might be a little more picky than, say, Family Tree Magazine (pick of the month, remember – oh, that seems so long ago now).

The thing is, it’s not actually a bad review. It’s more of a meh review, and what’s really annoying is that I can’t complain about much of what the reviewer is saying (although I don’t quite understand that bit about “Jammin’”). The only thing that we strongly disagree on is whether or not the book was worth writing. Although that is, I guess, quite a fundamental difference of opinion. It’s Dennis I really feel sorry for – I feel like I’ve let him down somehow.

Still, the book has now had three print reviews, of which the first two (in the Scottish Herald and Family Tree Magazine – did I say it was their pick of the month?) were excellent. Two out of three ain’t bad, after all.

So I won’t be cancelling my subscription to Songlines. It is still an excellent magazine, even if they do get things ever so slightly wrong every now and then.

National Short Story Week

B24l9NUIIAENwZq.jpg-smallIs it that time of year already? Apparently it is, and I’m not talking about that festival beginning with C either. No, I’m talking about National Short Story Week, the time when the entire nation comes together to celebrate the short form.

As is customary on these occasions, the week has been preceded by a competition for young writers and the resulting truly excellent anthology has just been published. Go and buy yourself a copy now – you won’t be disappointed. Not only that, but all the proceeds go to a terrific cause.

Well, come on, what are you waiting for?

While you’re visiting the NSSW site, you might also like to read this interview that Ian Skillicorn (aka Mr National Short Story Week) did with me, in which I talk about short stories and Take It Cool and stuff. I think it’s quite interesting, but then I suppose I would.

TAKE IT COOL on Kindle!

Take it Cool Cover with groovesWe’ll kick off this post with some excellent news for those of you out there who suffer from paper allergies: TAKE IT COOL is now available on Kindle, at the very reasonable price of £3.84. And if you’re still hesitating over whether to take the plunge, you can even download a sample to try out, via the very same link. Get IN, as I believe the young folk say.

By the way, in case you’re wondering why the posts are coming a little more sporadically than in the past, blame the Creative Writing MA. At the moment, I’m just about keeping up with it as well as the rest of my real life commitments, but it doesn’t leave a lot of space for stuff like this place. The good news is that I am absolutely loving the course and – so far at least – getting out of it exactly what I was hoping to get.

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?

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