Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

Hairdressing

1372603_300A couple of months ago I was asked if I fancied submitting a 300-600 word short story on the theme of “Unisex” for the very elegant and stylish .Cent magazine‘s “Man: Explained” edition. Well, I had an idea, wrote it up, sent it in and didn’t hear another word. I assumed that it wasn’t quite what they were looking for and put it to the back of my mind.

Until, that is, it got published, along with a rather spiffy illustration.

(In case you’re wondering, Sammy did exist and he did used to tell me that my girlfriend wouldnae like me with one ear. He was a deeply scary man.)

In other news, I am delighted to be able to announce that my flash “Ultima Thule” will appear in this year’s National Flash Fiction Day anthology. OK, I got a free pass as one of the judges for the micro fiction competition, but I’m especially pleased to see it find a good home as it’s a piece I’ve always liked.

And speaking of the micro fiction competition, I really should be getting back to the judging. There were 300 entries this year and I need to read them all and pick and grade my favourites before the end of the month…

Ventriloquism for Dummies

So where do you get your ideas from, eh? Traditionally this is the question that writers dread, although I actually find it quite fascinating. In fact I went so far as to set up an entire Wiki devoted to the story behind the story for every single one in Dot Dash. (Not sure if this indicates vanity or obsessiveness or – more likely – a combination of both.)

Sometimes the process is a lot simpler. A title arrives, unbidden, in your head, just as you are about to walk to the station for your daily commute. By the end of the walk, the bare bones of the story are there, just waiting for you to flesh them out a bit. This was how ‘Ventriloquism for Dummies’ came into being, back in the days when I had a regular commute. I submitted it here or there but it didn’t quite work and no-one was interested in publishing it.

A few years later I noticed that Liars’ League had a forthcoming theme called ‘Master & Servant’ and my old story seemed to be a perfect fit. So I took it out of the drawer, shaved getting on for a quarter off its length and simplified the horrendously complicated ending. This turned it into a much better story, which was duly accepted, subject to some very helpful editorial suggestions.

So here it is, read superbly by the excellent Tony Bell. Hope you like it.

My Book is Sad

Take it Cool Cover with groovesMy book ‘Take It Cool’ is sad because no-one has reviewed it. Actually, that’s not strictly true, because the Herald really liked it and Family Tree Magazine made it their TOP CHOICE for September 2014. Even Songlines … well, let’s not go there, because I don’t think they got what I was trying to do. Several bloggers have also chipped in with some nice comments. Have a look here if you want to see more.

BUT there haven’t been any reviews at all on either Amazon or Goodreads. And that makes my book sad, because it makes it feel terribly unloved.

So, if you live in the UK, I’m offering to give away not ONE, not TWO but THREE copies of it. All you have to do is add a comment below↓, and I’ll put you into the draw.

THERE ARE, HOWEVER, STRINGS ATTACHED. If you are one of the lucky people who gets a free copy of this very entertaining book, your part of the bargain is that you have to write a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or preferably both) within the next month or so.

Deal?

Off you go, then!

Structo and a Return to Liars’ League

transparent_logo-Custom1There are few more satisfying things that can happen to a short story writer than finding a good home for a much-loved and much-passed-over story. In fact, the only thing that comes close is finally getting accepted by a classy print journal after several failed attempts.

This week’s acceptance of ‘The Picture of Mrs Tandoğan’ by Structo ticked both of these boxes.

I first wrote this story in late 2012, not long after we’d moved down to Somerset. I knew it was a decent concept, and I started submitting it straight away. But it was singularly unloved, possibly because it had never been through any sort of critique process. Last year, my old chum Oscar Windsor-Smith took a look at it and pointed out several weaknesses that I hadn’t noticed. I sent it out again. Still no luck. I then put it through two different workshop groups on my Bath Spa MA course, and that seems to have finally done the trick.

This acceptance was followed the very next day by one from Liars’ League for ‘Ventriloquism for Dummies’, for their forthcoming ‘Master & Servant’ event. This is a story I originally wrote back in 2009, basically because the title popped into my head and I had to do something with it. However, the ending was far too tricksy, although it wasn’t until the MA course that I realised this. Also, the need to hack it from over 2500 words to under the 2000 limit required by LL tightened the story up a lot.

So that’s two stories that I can at last wave a fond farewell to, knowing that they’ll be happy in their new homes. I’m now wondering if any of my other long-stay residents are going to move out any time soon…

Limbo in Fine Linen

Fine LinenFine Linen is not just another literary magazine. It’s a chapbook plus a broadside plus a linen bookmark plus a cardboard bookmark. In fact, it’s a pretty extraordinary artefact all round.

And I’m in the new edition, with a piece called ‘Limbo’, somewhere in the broadside bit (I think that’s what it’s called, anyway – it opens out to a sort of poster thing). I’m in great company, too, with folk like Susan Howe, Simon Kewin, Kathy Steinemann and Angel Zapata.

Well worth getting hold of, if I say so myself.

In other news, this year’s National Flash Fiction Day Micro-Fiction Competition has just opened for business, and I’m one of the judges again this year. Make me laugh. Make me cry. Make me scratch my head and ask WTF just happened.

York Literature Festival Poetry

site-logoI’ve probably said this before, but I do find poetry a little baffling. I think I have a reasonable idea of what constitutes a half-decent story, but I don’t really have a clue when it comes to poems. ‘The Orange Girl and the Philosopher’ is a case in point. I wrote it originally for a challenge on the late, lamented Slingink website back in late 2008. I didn’t think it was much cop, to be honest, but it got some very positive comments from some of the real poets there (and I think it even won that week month’s challenge).

I’ve sent it out every now and then since, and it’s been largely ignored, apart from one commendation in the quarterly JBWB competition. Anyway, last Saturday it gained another commendation, this time at the York Literature Festival / YorkMix Poetry competition, as one of over (really?) 1700 entries, and – according to the judge - ahead of ‘several well-known poets’.

I still don’t really know if it’s any cop, though. Still, you can judge for yourself – it’s there on the website if you scroll down to near the bottom.

In other news, my flash ‘Cinema Date’ had been published on the splendid Stand Up Tragedy website. Now this is a piece that was never going to win any prizes, but it’s always made me laugh, so I’m very pleased it’s found a home.

Sleeping with the Fishes, and other stuff

cow_anatomy_dorsal_skeletoncropwhitespace

Several odd bits and pieces to report.

First of all, my rather peculiar flash, “Sleeping with the Fishes” is now up at Cease, Cows magazine. I’m not 100% sure what it means, but I think I like it anyway. See what you think. I like the picture they’ve chosen to go with it.

Secondly, another equally curious flash, “Limbo”, has been accepted by the up and coming Fine Linen Magazine. Rather surprisingly in this day and age, this is a paying gig, so I’m doubly pleased about this.

Thirdly, I got longlisted in this year’s Fish Short Story Competition. Slightly mixed feeling about this. Yes, it’s nice to be longlisted, but it is a hell of a long longlist…

Finally, there’s something else. But I can’t tell you quite yet :)

The Caterpillar Again and Other Stuff

CaterpillarI’m beginning to think there are essentially two publication strategies open to the short story / poetry writer. Strategy 1) is to find somewhere you like and who likes you, and chuck everything you have at them. Strategy 2) is to systematically try to tick off as many different places as possible.

Most of the time, I lean towards option 2), but every now and then I like to try to return to old haunts. Often it turns out that these old haunts are not interested in what I have to offer (which is good, because I’d hate to be accepted just because it’s me and we got on so well last time), but every so often I get welcomed back. This, of course, is even better.

So here I am, back in the excellent Irish children’s magazine, The Caterpillar, with three poems: “The Sulphurous Sphygnum”, “The Limpopo Loon” and “Bodrills”. I’ve got quite a few of these things lying around, but I have absolutely no idea what to do with them. I would love to see them in a big illustrated book, but I suspect the chances of getting such a thing published are close to zero.

I’ve also been allowed back into the splendid Cease, Cows magazine, with a forthcoming flash entitled “Sleeping With The Fishes”. I don’t know when it’s going to appear, but I will let you know. In the meantime, here’s the last piece I did for them, “Wood“.

Finally, a lot of you writers out there (particularly the ones on MFA / CW MA programmes) have been getting into a bit of a lather about this rather snippy piece of clickbait. Must admit I found it pretty annoying too (particularly the ageist stuff). But then I read this splendid riposte by the ever-reliable Chuck Wendig, and I felt a lot better. A whole lot better.

Where’s the Careers Advisor?

I got into a minor spat on Facebook recently, after someone posted a link to the BBC Opening Lines submission details, remarking that it was a ‘career-changing’ opportunity. I commented that yes, it was an excellent thing to go in for, but not necessarily career-changing, adding a link to my recent post on that very subject by way of evidence. This led to a slightly heated discussion as the original poster clearly felt that getting a reading on BBC Radio 4 (albeit via a different route) had changed their career.

So I began to wonder about the nature of career changing moments. Actually, I also began to wonder about writing careers, full stop. When do you start to call yourself a writer? Even after four books, if anyone asks me what I do, I still say that I’m a software developer, and, oh, I do a bit of writing as well. Because after all, software is what pays the bills, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

I do know the exact moment at which I started taking myself seriously as a writer. It was when I got the e-mail to tell me I was on the shortlist for the University of Hertfordshire Creative Writing Award, back in 2007. I eventually won third prize, but that was just the icing on the cake; I’d already made it to base camp. Even then, though, I remember my father saying to me ‘Well, what does that mean?’ – a question only an accountant could ask. The irony is that the one thing that might have convinced him that I wasn’t totally wasting my time was getting picked for the BBC, and that happened in 2010, four months after he died. He might have seen it as career changing, even if I didn’t. To me, it was  just another – albeit very prestigious – credit to add to the list.

So at what point can you say you have a writing career? When can you say you have a successful writing career? As I was considering this, up popped a remarkable series of blog posts from Harry Bingham, a writer who seems to have had the most extraordinary switchback of a career, and is – unusually – prepared to spill all the beans. And quite by coincidence, this considerably more downbeat blog post from another Facebook friend, Sally Zigmond, appeared today. Both of these gave me pause.

I know a lot of writers both online and in real-life. I’ve also known quite a few of them long enough to see them make it big, make it small, fail to make it at all, make it big and then have to retrench and sometimes walk away altogether. The only consistent thing that seems to emerge from this is that writing careers demand a Sisyphean level of perseverance. Relying on a single career-changing moment is a recipe for disaster. The only consolation is that a significant level of obsession comes with the territory, so we are remarkably well-suited to Sisyphean tasks. We keep buggering on, and eventually with a bit of luck something good may happen.

Opening Lines

p026jj45It’s that time of the year again, when the BBC open their virtual doors to unsolicited short story submissions from writers new to radio. If you are such a person and have a suitable story to hand (or can put one together in a couple of weeks), you have until February 13th to send it in.

I would thoroughly recommend having a go, by the way, because hearing your work read on national radio by a proper actor is, frankly, bloody wonderful. Even hearing the announcer saying your name is pretty fantastic.

However, the odd thing about Opening Lines is that it doesn’t seem to provide much of an opening into the BBC. I used to wonder if it was just me who didn’t get invited back (I thought I’d behaved myself, but you never can tell what other people really think), but it turns out that very few of us have been.

I really must emphasise that I’m not in the least bit ungrateful. Opening Lines was a wonderful thing to put on my CV, and I even got paid for it. I’m also quite sure that it helped me towards getting Dot Dash published. Indeed, if you look at the careers of a lot of other OL alumni, it doesn’t seem to have done any of them any harm either – most notably 2014′s Claire Fuller, who was recently identified as one of the new faces of fiction in the Guardian, no less. But it does seem a little odd that the BBC themselves appear to lose interest.

I recently Googled the names of all the 38 writers whose stories have been broadcast in OL since 2005, or Series 7 (I couldn’t find any data on the earlier years), along with the word BBC. One or two of them proved tricky owing to search pollution (particularly the one who happened to share the name of an ex-Speaker of the House of Commons), but the only ones I could identify as definitely having had further work commissioned were:

  • Zoran Zuvkovic (2005), who had a further short story broadcast two years after his OL appearance; however, he turned out to have had 11 full-length works of fiction and 5 works of non-fiction published before OL, so I’m not sure he really counts as an emerging voice,
  • Ian Dudley (2006), who had a further short story broadcast the year after OL,
  • Kachi A Ozumba (2007), who had a short story commissioned for The Verb three years after his OL appearance; as this was also after an acclaimed novel had been published, I’m not sure if OL can really be said to have been a factor.

(If I’ve missed anyone out, please do let me know.)

But as for the remaining 35 of us, it looks like we’ll have to be content with being one hit wonders. Still, there are worse things to be, and I will at least always have this to remember it by:

 

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