Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff


Category: Interviews (page 1 of 4)

Interview with Oonah Joslin

oonahI can’t remember when I first bumped into Oonah Joslin online, but from what she says below, it was probably in 2007, which is – coincidentally – the same year as I started sending stuff out, too. Funny thing about the online literary world – you keep coming across the same people everywhere. I always enjoyed reading her work, and she was also very encouraging to me in her editorial role at Every Day Poets when I started sending poetry out for the first time.

So when she mentioned to me that she had her first collection of poetry coming out, I was only too happy to offer to interview her. This is what she had to say.

Tell me about your new book. Does it have a specific theme?

It’s called Three Pounds of Cells which is a quotation from the final poem in the book and that is a poem dedicated to the memory of cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. It’s about perception – how the brain acts as director and cinematographer for our experiences. It is our lens, our camera, and it edits what we keep and what we discard – it filters and alters our perceptions to the extent where sometimes dreams and reality intermingle. How do we know what is really real? We know so little about the brain even now. Personality, memory, perception, imagination – we are greater than the sum of our parts. So this book is a bout the miracle of moments – the moments the brain chooses to remember and put into the ‘final cut’. And the picture on the cover is of one such moment in Minnesota – a moment when my brain recognised (or interpreted) a pattern, a geological moment, a moment in time and space and eternity that happened only to me. It was a moment created of light and rock and brain cells. Have you ever had a moment like that? Of course you have. But many people don’t stop or think or recognise these moments. Poets do. That’s what the book is about.

Which do you prefer to write, fiction or poetry?cells1

Poetry. I am a story-teller but I don’t write at length preferring micro-fiction. I do have a novella to finish but poetry always seems to come first with me. And poetry isn’t the easy option. It has taken me as much as twenty years to craft a poem and I can spend months deliberation over a word
or a space!

Which do you prefer to read?

Poetry again. When I read anything long it has to immediately draw me in like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or The Lord of the Rings did but I prefer biographies to novels. I’ve a long love affair with C S Lewis (in fact there is a tribute to him in the collection) and I adore Oscar Wilde and Asimov. I love The Waves by Virginia Wolf too – its slipstream, its flow of consciousness, its voices. It fascinates me.

How long have you been writing?

Well call it 50 years! I wrote my first poem at the age of 12 and Mr Linton put it on the classroom wall. I was so proud! But writing essays, stories, anything was always my favourite homework. I took after my mother in this. She told me once she would have loved to be a writer – but she had all us children instead. At Ballymena Academy I had poems in the school magazine every year. Later, years of teaching meant that I wrote little but I still wrote from time to time and when I left teaching I turned immediately to writing in That was ten years ago and I have never stopped since. I need to write and it’s great to have the time. I feel very privileged.

Was there ever a point where you suddenly felt you’d made some kind of breakthrough?

Have I broken through? In 2007 my very first year of writing, I was published in Every Day Fiction and in Bewildering Stories and then in October that year I entered the Micro Horror Competition (as we all did in Flash Fiction). I had never written a horror story before and I won. I couldn’t believe it! And I won such a gorgeous prize too. That convinced me to keep going. But in a way this book is the greatest breakthrough. It has my name on as a writer and not an editor. But I haven’t ever sent manuscripts to publishers really. I am not great at organising my time and lack confidence and so when Marie Fitzpatrick suggested I Put a wee book together, I sort of panicked. But I had encouragement from her and Kathleen Mickelson and from Pippa Little and Geraldine Green and what was only an idea vague and in the making last year is this year’s reality. It’s a big thing for me!

What do you like about being an editor?

I like editing because I get to read lots of new poems! And I like that I can choose how a publication is formed, its themes and contrasts. I like to give people a chance to be published too. And I know this would not be most people’s cup of tea but I really enjoy writing the editorial. It’s like English Homework a bit and I loved that! I get the chance to tell people about a favourite poem or talk about someone whose work I admire, as I did for Welsh poet Vernon Watkins. Lastly it’s lovely these days at The Linnet’s Wings to have that quarterly magazine or book in my hand and see all the poems together. I didn’t have that at EDP though we did publish two anthologies. It’s a treat. It’s like picking the book you always wanted to read! And Marie does a truly fabulous job of designing. She’s a bit of a sly genius, our Marie. If you haven’t ever bought a hard copy of The Linnet’s Wings, do. It’s so beautiful you’ll want to be in it! [Well, I have tried – JP]

What is the poem you’ve written that you’re most proud of?

Of course I have a few favourites. Pipestone, for the reasons I stated in Q1 has to be one of them and I think it’s a keystone of this selection. Other of my favourites are there too but there’s a poem in there that I don’t much like. Kathleen and Marie and lots of other people I know, love it. My sister is particularly fond of Heart of Brightness. The thing is that I know everybody has their own favourites and that’s as it should be. I have at least one that I am still working on now that has been years in the making and it’s very close to my heart. You have to love the poem you’re working on. You have to love them all one at a time. I suppose they are like children – some make you proud and there’s always the odd disappointment but sure somebody will love them all in the end.

What’s your favourite poem written by someone else, and why?

Now this is the question I can’t answer. Do you want a list? How long do you want the list to be? Read my editorials. That’ll be a start.

What do you plan to do next?

Micro Horror is no longer a site and my stories have disappeared with it. I have them of course. But they were meant to be read and I really have to do something about that. It seems I may have to learn some new skills. Also I have to complete the story of A Genie in a Jam. I really need to do those books. I would also love to put all my Ulster poems into a collection.

What question should I have asked that I didn’t?

How can people get hold of Three Pounds of Cells? [Good call – JP] Well it’s available from The Linnet’s Wings Press from 17th October and I will be going round the North East of England here making a nuisance of myself, doing readings and selling copies. It’ll cost you £6.99 and that is good value [Very good value – JP] for the quality of product (designed with Marie’s usual panache) as well as for the poems themselves – a good mix of seriosity and heeheeness, a good mix of international and home observations. I am pretty sure there’s a poem in there for everyone – plus some pics I took myself. I hope you’ll like it.

Bonus question: What question did I ask that I shouldn’t have?

Agh sure you’re great :) [That’s a relief – JP]

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.

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:


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 Thinking, 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.


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.

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?

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.]

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.

Get Writing 2013

Yes, it’s Get Writing time again soon! Hope you’ve all booked your tickets for April 20th, because you haven’t got much time left. I’ll be doing a workshop on the important subject of “How to Stand Out from the Crowd”. Here’s the blurb:

It isn’t enough to be a good writer. A successful writer has to learn how to stand out from the crowd. Jonathan Pinnock draws on his experience of getting both his first novel and his first short story collection picked up for publication in rapid succession to offer advice on how to get yourself noticed. He covers such topics as how to attract the attention of competition judges, how to be ubiquitous without being really annoying and how to make the best use of social media to build an audience.

I’m also going to be one of the co-judges for this year’s competition, which has a closing date of this Sunday, March 31st. So you have just five more days in which to get your entry in. Inspire me! Scare me! Intrigue me! And all that. I’m really looking forward to reading them all.

In other news, there’s an ace two-page interview with me in the latest edition of the excellent What The Dickens magazine, along with other folk like my old VWC chum Julie Mayhew, Rebecca Front and Olivia Colman (yes, really!) Cool company, eh?

And don’t forget to come along tonight to Short Stories Aloud if you happen to be anywhere near Oxford. Me, Jon McGregor and Ernest Hemingway. And cake.

Another interview with Dave Weaver

Today it’s time for a return visit from the highly talented Dave Weaver. Last time he was here, he’d just self-published a couple of short story collections and was musing about the chances of getting his first novel taken on by a publisher. Given that this has now actually happened, it seems a good time to invite him in again…


Last time you were here, you said that you’d “like to think [you] might be able to get [your] first novel ‘Jacey’s Kingdom’ taken on by a publisher.” Which of course has now happened – so the first thing to say is a massive “Congratulations!” How does it feel to have crossed that threshold?

Weird, it feels weird as if everything and nothing’s happened to me at the same time. I thought, like most first timers I expect, that being professionally published would be a kind of pinnacle for my writing but after the initial punching the air moment and walking around in a warm glow for a few weeks I felt like I was in the foothills again. Especially when the novel came out first on e-book and I began to feel responsible for its sales success. I was so lucky to get it picked up by Elsewhen Press and felt they’d done such a terrific job that I suddenly had an irrational fear of letting them down. [That’s a feeling I know well – JP]


Can you say a bit about ‘Jacey’s Kingdom’ for the benefit of those of us who haven’t been privy to its gestation?

I began writing it three years ago. The original story was about a man trapped in another person’s nightmare after a terrible car accident. We presume both both the two main characters, Jacey Jackson who is an eighteen year old half Nigerian schoolgirl who’s collapsed with a brain tumor at her final History exam, and George, a grumpy thirty-nine year old salesman, are both sharing the same coma. This is obviously Jacey’s dreamworld; a vision of early sixth century England full of rival Celtic Kings and dangerous Saxon warriors where our two unlikely protagonists are forced to take part in a quest for a magic cauldron that can bring the dead back to life. George decides the dream is showing them the way to cure Jacey, and thus release him back to consciousness from her dream; that stealing the cauldron is their escape route back to reality. Unfortunately it doesn’t work out quite like that and when the true nature of things is revealed their is an even more dangerous task ahead that only George can fulfill to save his young friend. After the first draft I was advised that it would be better to have two alternate viewpoints, both Jacey’s (as she’s the dream’s creator after all) and George’s. This immediately improved the story and allowed me to make the twist that I feel makes the tale work and gives it a logic and drive it lacked originally.


What’s it been like working with Elsewhen?

Elsewhen are excellent in every way. They apparently received my initial synopsis just as they were closing up and heading home on a Friday evening. They stayed behind to read it, liked it and asked for the first three chapters then the whole manuscript. Just a month later they offered me publication without any editorial interference or conditions of any changes. The editing process was smooth and enjoyable, at least for me, and apart from the obvious typos and a few plot snags, again nothing was changed from my original story. I have the distinct feeling this is not always the case but they obviously trusted my vision. They published a thorough press release, an excellent video and kept me in touch throughout the process. I will be joining them at Eastercon in Bradford on Sunday 31st of March to launch the paperback publication. I think Elsewhen, who are a small outfit of four dedicated individuals, have to love each of their projects first before they put their all behind them. It’s this commitment that makes you want to do well for them.


As well as ‘Jacey’, you have also self-published a number of short story collections. Do you see yourself continuing with this dual-track approach? Can you say a bit about the advantages and/or disadvantages?

I have three self-published short story collections on Amazon Kindle; ‘Flowerchain Stories’ – interlinking character tales set in modern day Japan, ‘Ha-Bloody-Ha’ – a collection of literary parodies, and ‘Short and Sour’ – a round up of the best of my other short stories with a rather bitter edge to them. The obvious advantage of professional publication is the promotional clout the publisher brings to the project, the contacts, the across the board styles of publication in all technologies, the promotion of the author as well as their novel on their own site and the feeling of working in a team to achieve the result everyone wants. Self-publication means you have the freedom to try different styles and approaches both to your content and cover design with the only responsibility being to your own tastes. You may make more money that way if you’re incredibly dedicated to the hard work of promotion and networking that entails, although you’ll find that has to be done anyway. Having done both I’d say its more lonely on your own with out a publishers back-up, organization, and most of all, belief in you. But that’s just me.


What advice would you give to a writer who had just started out on the road to publication?

I guess the obvious; look at all the options of self-publication, be pro-active in looking for the publishing company that best represents the kind of work you want to do and would be a good fit, not necessarily a big or famous one as many small specialist publishers are more attentive to their authors needs and try harder for them. But don’t wait around to be discovered while you’re sending your manuscript off for the nineteenth time, think about putting it out there yourself; it’s free, it can be rewarding and it can lead to your gaining enough readers for the industry to ‘discover’ you on your own terms.


What’s next for Dave Weaver?

I am going to expand my ‘Flowerchain Stories’ collection to novel length and try to get it accepted for publication as an actual novel of interconnected stories with the various themes of Japanese culture binding it together as one whole piece. I will also attempt to finish the fantasy ghost novel I am just over half way through, ‘Evangeline’, and try to get that accepted for publication. I also have a collection of science fiction stories, told to one another by their writers in a future spaceport pub called ‘Tales From the Black Hole Bar’, which I have nearly completed and will self-publish.


Sounds excellent! Good luck and many thanks for dropping in again.


‘Jacey’s Kingdom’ is currently available on Kindle, and will shortly be out in paperback too. Go and order a copy now, because it’s ace.

Eleventh Stop on the Blog Tour and a Stonking Review!

Yesterday I dropped in on Winston Roberts (aka Kenny Norris)’s blog for a chat about story titles. I met Kenny at a workshop I did a while back and the titling of stories was something I briefly covered, and as he says it’s a subject that doesn’t always get much attention. Odd thing, titles, sometimes they can be so important and sometimes almost a throwaway thing. I’ve been reading Raymond Carver lately and I’ve noticed that a lot of his stories tend to have titles that pick up on apparently insignificant details and amplify them. Although it’s interesting that even he (or perhaps Gordon Lish?) didn’t always have the confidence in the reader to go hunting – “The Bridle”, for example, ends with a rather blatant bit of additional signposting.

In fact, yesterday was quite busy because I also had a live chat with Danny Smith on Radio Verulam (even if, strictly speaking, I’m not entirely local any more – but keep that between you and me, OK?). We chatted about “Dot Dash”, how it came about and the vexed question of how to go about getting those ideas bouncing around in your head down onto paper.

Last but not least, the estimable Scott Pack has put up a truly magnificent review of the first two stories in “Dot Dash” on his Me and My Short Stories blog. As you may imagine, this last paragraph is going straight into my publicity materials:

It would be easy to devour this book, this collection of dots and dashes, in one or two sittings but I am trying to eke it out for as long as I can. It has all the makings of a bit of a modern classic.


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