Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

Category: Dot Dash (page 1 of 4)

Putting It All Together

Back in February of this year I signed a contract with Cultured Llama for my next short story collection, Dip Flash. One of the clauses of that deal stipulated that I was to provide them with a complete manuscript by the 1st of December. So it’s probably about time that I got this thing into some kind of order, right?

Deep breath.

A collection of short stories – or indeed poems – should be more than the sum of the parts. There should be some kind of logic and flow to it. When I was sequencing Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff, for example, (still available,  by the way – I’m told it’s rather good) I grouped poems with a similar theme together, but I also tried to manage the movements in tone throughout the collection, so that there wasn’t a sudden clunking gear shift from sad to funny. The choice of poems to open and close the collection was also important. I went through a similar process with Dot Dash (also still available), although I was also constrained there by my structural high concept of short stories interleaved with very short ones.

Dip Flash, despite its related title, doesn’t share the same structure as Dot Dash. For one thing, I haven’t got as many very short ones lying around – mainly because I lost enthusiasm for that kind of thing. There are a few, however, which begs the question as to where I put them without jolting the reader. As far as opening and closing is concerned, I know which story is going first and which one is going last – in fact, I’ve know about the latter since I started planning Dip Flash back in 2011 (or to put it another way, as soon as Dot Dash was put to bed).

As for the rest, I’m almost certainly going to stick to stories that have already been published in magazines or have been listed in competitions, as I did with Dot Dash (and indeed most of Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff). I do this purely and simply because I don’t trust my own judgement. Anything I put in a collection needs to have found its way past at least one gatekeeper in order for it to justify its presence there. It’s not enough for me to like it. Someone else has to.Which is a shame, because some of my favourite stories are still trying to find a home even as I write. I guess they’ll have to wait until the third collection comes along in 2024.

But is it any good, I hear you ask? Is it better than Dot Dash? Well, I’d like to think so. There are certainly one or two stories in there that I’m quite proud of. But I’m far too close to the thing to be 100% sure, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

[Edited to add: Of course, all of this is contingent on my publishers actually approving my selection…]

Housekeeping News

When I started having stuff published, I resisted the idea of having my own Facebook page, because it seemed a bit vain. Which is odd, really, because I’m actually quite a vain person. However, when I was campaigning to get MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS out in the world, it became a necessity, so I set up a page for her, and that became the page for the book when it finally did get published.

When DOT DASH and TAKE IT COOL came out, I followed the same logic and set up individual pages for them. However, when it came to LOVE AND LOSS AND OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF, I decided not to create a new page because it was all getting a bit out of hand.

The trouble was, the whole point of having a Facebook page is to encourage more engagement, and I needed to face up to the fact that what I really needed was an Author Page. Fortunately, it turns out that you can actually merge Facebook pages. But it’s not entirely straightforward.

The first point is that you’ll keep all the likes and followers from both of the pages you choose to merge, but you’ll lose all the posts from the page you choose to merge in. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

Secondly, you can only merge pages that have similar names. How similar? Well, I’ll come to that.

Thirdly, given Facebook’s Byzantine navigation system, the only way you’ll find out how to merge two pages is by Googling “How to merge two Facebook pages”. Alternatively, you may just want to bookmark this link.

So how did it go?

This is what I did.

  1. I renamed “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” to “Jonathan Pinnock, Author”.
  2. I renamed “Dot Dash” to “Jonathan Pinnock, Dot Dash”.
  3. I renamed “Take It Cool” to “Jonathan Pinnock, Take It Cool”.
  4. I then tried to merge “Jonathan Pinnock, Author” with “Jonathan Pinnock, Dot Dash”.
  5. It told me there was a request to merge already pending for “Jonathan Pinnock, Dot Dash”. It took me a while, but I found out eventually that what this misleading error message actually means is “you have to wait a week after changing a page’s name before you can do anything about merging it”.
  6. So I waited a week and tried again.
  7. This time, it told me that the page names weren’t similar enough. So I changed “Jonathan Pinnock, Dot Dash” to “Jonathan Pinnock, Author 1”, and “Jonathan Pinnock, Take It Cool” to “Jonathan Pinnock, Author 2”.
  8. I waited another week.
  9. Finally, this morning, I tried again and, joy of joys, it all went through.

So I now have a bright new shiny Facebook Author Page with all the likes and (slightly confused) followers merged together. Here it is.

Consider this a public information service for any other authors out there wondering whether it might be worth doing this. It’s certainly do-able, but it takes a little time and patience.

And to reward you for persevering this far, here’s me performing a massively puerile new poem for kids, entitled “The Humungstrous Fart”. I hope you like it.

Some More Thoughts on Failure

Inevitably, once I’d hit the “Publish” button on my last post, it struck me that there were a whole load of things I’d meant to say but had forgotten. Or to put it another way, the post itself wasn’t actually ready for the world. So here are a few more thoughts on the subject of failure. I’ll probably forget something important in this post too.

Anyway, what I meant to add was that as well as “the world not being ready for your story” and “your story not being ready for the world”, there are a couple of other frequent reasons for failure. First of all, there may simply be too many other really good entrants to that particular competition. Yours may simply not be up to scratch, and however hard you polish it, it still won’t ever be good enough. (Very rarely, the opposite is occasionally true: Zadie Smith famously refused to pick a winner for the 2007 Willesden Herald Short Story competition because she felt that none of the stories in the preferred shortlist was worthy of the prize.) I’ve got plenty of stories like this lying around and I know that whatever I do to them, they’re never going to win a prize or get published anywhere nice, usually because the central idea has turned out to be dull or unoriginal or (frequently) both.

The last major reason for failure is that your story is one of those ones that people either love or hate and that so far you’ve managed to pick the haters. This is particularly tricky if you’ve entered it in a competition where there are two stages to the judging process and you’ve therefore got to get it past two different judging agendas.

I checked back over the stories in DOT DASH (I have all this logged for easy access – did you know that?) and one in particular stood out: “The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife”. The first version of this was entered in a closed competition on the much-lamented Slingink website, where it pretty much bombed, coming 31st= out of a field of 57. This is what the judge said:

Compelling and thrilling once it’s going. The opening feels a little stumbling.

So the question is: what did I change to improve that stumbling opening before the same story took second place in the 2008 City of Derby Competition? Let’s take a look:

Ah. OK. So that would be no substantive changes at all, right?

Now this story subsequently went on to be chosen for BBC Radio 4’s 2010 Opening Lines season. So presumably I made loads more changes to improve it for that, yes?

Hmmm. Looks like it mostly involved strengthening a few of the verbs:

In other words, the story that got broadcast on BBC Radio 4 was to all intents and purposes the exact same one that failed dismally in a closed competition. Now it’s entirely possible that the Slingink judge was right and that it did need some more work to sort out that opening. But it could also be simply down to a difference of opinion.

That said, I have a couple of stories where the difference of opinion has lasted almost a decade. But we’ll get there. Eventually.

Cultured Llama to Publish DIP FLASH

Well, it’s been a while since I last had a book published. Almost three years in fact. So I have to say I’m extremely pleased, not to say relieved, to announce that I have a new short story collection coming out in 2018, courtesy of the excellent Cultured Llama Publishing.

This book is a sort of sequel (or at least follow-up) to 2012’s DOT DASH, and is going to be called DIP FLASH. The running order is still a little fluid, although I can say that there will be fewer of the ultra short pieces, mainly because (1) I haven’t written many of them recently and (2) I’m beginning to think that kind of thing has run its course. As things stand at the moment, most of the stories have been published somewhere or other already, but it will be nice to have them all gathered together in one place. Stories do get lonely, you know.

And in case you were wondering where the title came from, here’s a clue.

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:

 

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.

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?

Dashipedia

I meant to do this when DOT DASH came out, but I didn’t have the time and I thought it was a bit self-indulgent. Well, I still don’t really have the time and it’s certainly still self-indulgent, but I’ve done it anyway. I’ve created an entire Wiki devoted to DOT DASH, explaining how all the stories came into being. There’s some fascinating stuff in there, such as this entry on The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife, which went from an exceptionally lacklustre initial showing to a slot on BBC Radio 4. Have a dig around anyway and see what you think, and pass it on to all your short story writing chums.

And now that I’ve got that out of the way I can think about what I’m going to do by way of a website for TAKE IT COOL…

The Stinging Fly and Other Stuff

Issue_027_cov_0The Spring edition of the Irish literary magazine The Stinging Fly has just been published, and what a lovely thing it is. It’s always nice to appear in print, and I’m especially chuffed that my odd little magical realist flash “The Meaning of the Rabbit” has been included in Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s flash fiction showcase, along with loads of other cool people’s work.

I do hope that last Monday’s BristolCon fringe audience appreciate that magical realism reference, by the way.

The excellent Short Review have also put up an interview I did with them about DOT DASH and other stuff. I quote George Saunders in it, which just goes to show how hip I am.

If you’re near Bath this Friday, do come along to Story Fridays at 7:30PM in Burdall’s Yard, where I will be reading “Nature’s Banquet” as part of their “Feral” evening. More – ahem – magical realism.

Finally, I had an urge the other day to start submitting some TwitFic again, and I’ve just had a couple of acceptances, from Confettifall and Twiction Addiction. They’ll both be appearing in April, and I’ll give you a nudge when they do.

The Story Player

series-220x180One of the things I’m coming to realise is that the most exciting thing that can happen as a writer is when someone with a different skill set collaborates with you. I am by nature a solitary creature when it comes to the actual business of putting the words together, but I love seeing what happens when you let go of the words and let someone else play with them.

So far I’ve been lucky enough to have a few of my stories illustrated by some very talented artists (although I’m still awaiting a full-blown graphic novelisation – my life would probably be complete if that ever happened). I’ve also had some excellent live readings by some wonderful actors and a couple of excellent studio productions (one by the BBC and another by Short Story Radio).

And we can now make that three excellent studio productions, because a new site has just gone up called The Story Player, and my story “The Birdman of Farringdon Road” is one of the first to appear there. It’s expertly read by David Wayman and superbly produced by the man behind Short Story Radio, The Story Player and National Short Story Week, Ian Skillicorn. Do have a listen – it’s only 12 minutes long. Whilst you’re there, take a listen to some of the other stories from great writers like Susie Maguire and – coming soon – Tania Hershman and Jon McGregor.

I also heard today that my story “The Alternative Electrician”, which I read at Story Friday in Bath nearly a year ago, has been accepted for publication by Every Day Fiction. It’ll be nice to see that one getting a second audience.

And don’t forget that “Take It Cool” is still running, having just hit its thirtieth episode. If you haven’t been following it, don’t worry, there’ll be another “Previously…” post along soon. Or just start wherever you like and pick it up from there. I’m not fussy. Just as long as you read it, right?

Older posts