Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 5)

Getting Things Moving

In many ways, this is the worst time in the publishing cycle. The book’s been out for a week or so and you’re waiting for the reviews to start trickling in. If you’re sensible, you put everything to one side and get on with something else. If you are not sensible, you devote every waking hour to googling your name, the book’s name and the publisher’s name and every combination of the three, and wondering what else you can be doing to get the whole world to read the book.

I am not sensible.

On the plus side, I feel a lot more confident about TAKE IT COOL than I ever felt about either MRS DARCY or DOT DASH. Despite the fact that MRS DARCY made it as far as the W H Smith top 50 promotional racks for a few weeks, it was still fighting against a lot of negative feelings from some quarters. It arrived on the tail end of the Jane Austen plus zombies/sea monsters/whatever fad, and however much I tried to tell people that it was conceived a long time before all that and it wasn’t really one of those things AT ALL, no-one was listening. The first review, in the Gatehouse Gazette, was also pretty awful, which didn’t help, and no-one in the print media was sufficiently interested to review it at all.

As for DOT DASH, even though it did eventually get a nice four star review in the Independent on Sunday, I never felt entirely confident about it, mainly because I have a slightly semi-detached relationship with the short story world. This is largely because I have – as yet – no qualifications whatsoever to be writing anything approaching literature and also because I’m the bloke who wrote MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS.

But TAKE IT COOL comes with no baggage. It’s the first book I’ve written that I feel 100% comfortable about, and I really, really want it to succeed. I know my publisher is working as hard as I am (probably harder) but the truth is that – as with everything in publishing – no-one really knows what is going to happen.

It has, at least, started to get some nice reviews, starting with this from ace short story writer David Rose:

Any mention of reggae calls to mind the Conservative politician several decades ago who attempted to boost his street cred by talking about his love of it, but who scuppered all cred by pronouncing it ‘Reggie’. I did at least know how to pronounce it, but not much more. My point is that this book is not just for reggae buffs (if that is the term). It is intriguing, unusual and very, very funny. Apart from the main theme, there are riffs on the coolness – or otherwise – of the oboe, a cemetery in Portishead, and the graveyard of Stevenage. Even the secondary theme – the worrying possibility of ancestral involvement in the slave trade – while by no means flippant – still doesn’t dampen the wit. And there’s a happy ending (and who knows, maybe this book will do for Dennis what ‘Searching For Sugarman’ did for Rodriguez).

I honestly can’t think of a better, more off-beat summer read, with maybe ‘Total Reggae Summer Vibes’ in the background, and a long, cool drink. ‘Lovely stuff’.

It’s wonderful to hear that from someone who probably wouldn’t have picked up the book unless he happened to be a supporter of Two Ravens Press but absolutely gets it. So much so that he’s apparently ordered another copy for a friend. The momentum is beginning to build. We’re going to get this thing moving somehow.

Review: The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky

51V9ce7Dc3LJust over a year and a half ago, I reviewed a most unusual book by Harry Karlinsky entitled The Evolution of Inanimate Objects. After reading that one I was intrigued to see what he might come up with next – or indeed if it was a complete one-off.

The good news is that he has come up with something else, and the even better news is that it is just as bonkers. As soon as I heard about it, I wanted to get hold of a copy, but because by TBR pile was already overflowing, I held off buying for a while. But when Scott Pack, who runs The Friday Project, the book’s publisher, was offering free review copies, I could no longer avoid adding to the pile. But just to be sure I wasn’t really adding to it, I snuck it to the top.

The Stonehenge Letters is a similarly peculiar mix of fact and fiction as the first book. The premise is that Alfred Nobel, as a result of an unrequited relationship with the remarkable Florence Antrobus, wife of the heir to the estate that included Stonehenge, develops an obsession with the mystery surrounding the monument. This obsession develops to the point where Nobel secretly offers a further prize to existing laureates for the best solution to the mystery.

And then the fun starts, as various luminaries – from Theodore Roosevelt to Marie Curie – pitch in with their submissions, ranging from the highly plausible down to the frankly daft (Rudyard’s Kipling’s contribution is particularly feeble). Sigmund Freud also provides an entertaining commentary via footnotes.

This isn’t by any means a conventional novel at all: there’s no plot development to speak of, and no real conclusion at the end. But the whole confection is great fun as well as informative and oddly thought-provoking. I’m still pondering what a weird old fish Nobel was, and how extraordinary it is that the prizes named after him are still so highly thought of. Highly recommended.

Take It Cool Full Cover and First Review!

2RP Cover Complete TIC May 2014Take It Cool is now feeling a lot less exposed, because it now has a back cover as well as a front one. And apart from that picture of yours truly, it’s rather spiffy, is it not? All we need now is the book to come out and for loads of people to read it.

What? Someone has already? You’re kidding…

Many thanks to Pete Sutton for some very nice comments there.

Meanwhile, back in short story land, I had an acceptance yesterday from the people at the very excellent Unthology for a rather odd story of mine called “Hay. Pee. Ah. Wrist.” Not sure if it’s going to be Unthology 6 or Unthology 7, but either way it’s going to be extremely cool to join that list.

My Year of Reading

About this time a year ago (or perhaps a little while before that) it struck me that I wasn’t reading enough. My to-be-read pile was getting higher and higher and there were still loads of things out there that I felt I really ought to read in whatever time was left to me. So I started reading more, and according to my stats I managed to read 89 90 91 books last year. I didn’t keep very good records, so it’s entirely possible that one or two of those may have been read in 2012, but I think it’s close enough.

Here’s the full, completely un-star-rated, list:


Aldiss, Brian (ed) A Science Fiction Omnibus
Auslander, Shalom Hope: A Tragedy
Boyce, NP Veronica Britten
Bray, Carys Sweet Home
Brown, Dan Digital Fortress
Burroughs, Augusten Running with Scissors
Cain, Susan Quiet
Cameron, Ash Confessions of an Undercover Cop
Carter, Angela The Bloody Chamber
Casselle, Paul Blue Skies Over Dark Days
Chabon, Michael The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Child, Lee The Visitor
Conan Doyle, Arthur A Study in Scarlet
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Sign of Four
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Moby Dick
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon
de Witt, Patrick The Sisters Brothers
d’Lacey, Joseph Blood Fugue
d’Lacey, Joseph Splinters
Fisher, Carrie Wishful Drinking
Fleming, Ian Casino Royale
Fleming, Ian Live and Let Die
Fleming, Ian Moonraker
Flynn, Gillian Gone Girl
Fox, Kate Watching the English
French, Mike Blue Friday
Frost, Toby A Game of Battleships
Garfield, Simon The Error World
Glashan, John John Glashan’s World
Govinden, Niven Graffiti My Soul
Grimwood, Terry Soul Masque
Hamid, Mohsin The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Harrod, Andy Living Room Stories
Harrod, Andy Tearing at Thoughts
Hartley, David Thresholds
Higgs, JMR The Brandy of the Damned
Hogart, Simon and Monk, Emily Don’t Tell Mum
Honoré, Carl In Praise of Slow
Horsley, Ross My First Dictionary
Hunt, Stephen The Court of the Air
Ishiguro, Kazuo When We Were Orphans
James, Christina In The Family
James, Clive The Dreaming Swimmer
Joyce, Laura Ellen The Museum of Atheism
Kane, Paul Creakers
Kerr, Calum Lost Property
King, Claire The Night Rainbow
Lanchester, John Capital
Larsen, Reif The Selected Works of T S Spivet
Lee, Harper To Kill a Mockingbird
Mahmutovic, Adnan How to Fare Well and Stay Fair
Marek, Adam The Stone Thrower
Mason, Amy The Islanders
McGregor, John This Isn’t the Sort of Thing that Happens to Someone Like You
McMillan, Ian Dad, the Donkey’s on Fire!
Okotie, Simon Whatever Happened to Harold Absalom?
Page, Ra (ed) Lemistry
Parikian, Lev Waving, Not Drowning
Parker, Matt The Exploding Boy
Pendragon, Arthur and Stone, CJ The Trials of Arthur
Ridgway, Keith Hawthorn & Child
Ronson, Jon Out of the Ordinary
Ronson, Jon Lost at Sea
Rowling, JK The Casual Vacancy
Royle, Nicholas (ed) Murmurations
Satrapi, Marianne Persepolis
Saunders, George Tenth of December
Schlosser, Eric Reefer Madness
Singh, Simon Fermat’s Last Theorem
Smyth, Richard Bum Fodder
Spiegelman, Art Maus
Stack, Steve 21st Century Dodos
Stack, Steve Christmas Dodos
Tarrant, Padrika The Knife Drawer
Taylor, Jonathan (ed) Overheard
Townsend, Sue Adrian Mole: The Capuccino Years
Townsend, Sue Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction
Weaver, Dave Jacey’s Kingdom
Wener, Louise Goodnight, Steve McQueen
Wheen, Francis How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World
Williams, Tony All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten
Wodehouse, PG Carry On, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Very Good, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Thank You, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Right Ho, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG The Code of the Woosters

 

I don’t propose to make many recommendations (some of the people here are my friends, for heaven’s sake) but there are one or two things that are worth saying.

 

Series

Why, oh why, have I never read any of the Jeeves and Wooster books before? Utterly sublime. I think “The Code of the Woosters” may well be the funniest book I’ve ever read. I have most of the rest queued up, and I’m looking forward to continuing with them in 2014.

Gideon Defoe’s “Scientists! …” are wonderfully daft, and I’ve read all but one of them this year.

The Bond books are bloody weird, aren’t they? “Casino Royale” reads more like a cry for help than a spy novel. Still, they seem to be getting better, and I’m going to carry on for a while.

I’ve read most of the Holmes books before, in a fragmented way several decades ago, but it’s nice to read through them in sequence. They still hold up pretty well, although hasn’t “A Study in Scarlet” got an odd structure? Didn’t expect that at all. Suspect Conan Doyle hadn’t quite worked out his formula yet.

I hadn’t read an Adrian Mole book for years, although I’d picked up a copy of “The Prostrate Years” cheap a while back. I was just about to pick this one up when I realised I needed to catch up with the previous two. “The Capuccino Years” was a bit of a disappointment but “The Weapons of Mass Destruction” is a wonderful return to form, as is “The Prostrate Years”, which was my first book of 2014. They’re brilliantly balanced between humour and pathos, and it’s extraordinary how Townsend makes you care about a character who frankly needs a slap most of the time. I really do hope he’s OK.

 

Things I should have read aeons ago that turned out to be every bit as good as I expected

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, obviously. See also Jeeves and Wooster above.

 

Disappointments

Yes, there were a few. “Capital” was full of clichéd characters with implausible motivations. I really wanted to love “T S Spivet”, but it fell apart completely at the end. “Hope: A Tragedy” started so well and had such a brilliantly tasteless premise, but I got highly irritated by the main character by the time I’d finished. Maybe I was supposed to. And I really didn’t engage with “The Bloody Chamber”, I’m afraid. I really found it a struggle to wade through all those dialogue-free pages. I’ll try more Carter in 2014, though. I really want to like her work.

 

Nice surprises

“The Casual Vacancy” had me riveted. Yes, it takes a while to get going, and yes, some of the adult characters are a bit clichéd, but it’s the kids that carry the story and if there’s anyone who knows about how to write adolescent characters, it’s JKR. Lanchester, take note please. This is how to write a fat, state-of-the-nation novel.

The best thriller I read this year was “The Visitor”. Child has a very spare, uncluttered writing style. I like him a lot and will read more of him.

I loved “Hawthorn & Child”, despite seriously divided opinions among Twitter folk I follow. It’s kind of an anti-detective story. Go into it with no pre-conceptions about what a story should do and you’ll learn something. Then again, you may hate it.

“The Sisters Brothers” was pretty magnificent, too, so two scores to Granta Books there.

Oh, and George Saunders is a genius. I didn’t know this before, but I do now.

 

There are probably things I’ve failed to mention, but feel free to comment, put me right or laugh at my bizarre tastes.

[UPDATE: Just realised that with stupendous irony, I managed to leave out Susan Cain's "Quiet" in my initial list. One of the most important books I read all year, which genuinely gave me a new perspective on life.]

[UPDATE #2: Also realised I forgot John Glashan. One of the greats of cartooning.]

Vast Emptiness

So, Gravity, then. I’ve been wanting to write something about this ever since I saw it on Tuesday, but for various reasons haven’t got round to doing so. This isn’t a bad thing, because it’s given me a bit more time to think about what I wanted to say. Here goes. Oh, and there will be minor spoilerage, so if you haven’t seen it yet, look away now. Also, if you’re a friend of mine and you thought it was wonderful, you might also want to look away now. I’d hate this to come between us.

Continue reading

DOT DASH in The Short Review

cropped-shortreviewThe excellent Short Review (to the best of my knowledge, the only magazine that focusses exclusively on short story collections) has just turned its spotlight on DOT DASH. Fortunately, it’s a generally positive review, although I was a bit apprehensive when I read the first full paragraph:

A couple of pages in, I began to wonder what strange forces had possessed me to request Dot Dash.  I’m a habitually po-faced reader.  I gravitate toward books that are sad and harrowing.  I like to claw through a couple of hundred pages in which nothing much happens only to feel emotionally wrenched at the end.  Yet I had unwittingly invited Dot Dash onto my bookshelf.  It was shooting jokes at Steppenwolf and trying out cheesy chat-up lines on The Bell Jar.

The good news is that, despite this, DOT DASH seems to win her over and by the end, I get the feeling that she actually quite enjoyed reading it. It’s a very thoughtful review, even if it does go straight to my insecurity about being a bit lightweight. (Yeah I know. I wrote a book called “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens”, didn’t I? Not exactly Proust.) Maybe I shouldn’t worry. Maybe that’s what I am. There are worse things to be, after all.

Dot Dash is like a good pair of hiking boots: light but solid.  The stories skip and stride through precipitous versions of reality.

I’m pretty certain this is the first time my work has been compared to an item of footwear. On reflection, I’m OK with this.

Quite by chance, TAKE IT COOL gets a bit heavy today, with my attempt to calculate how many slaves Philip Pinnock owned. It’s not a pretty part of the story, but I think it has to be addressed. By the way, if you’ve somehow managed to miss the story so far – or indeed, haven’t managed to keep up – another one of those useful “Previously on TAKE IT COOL…” posts appeared the other day. So no excuses then.

 

Fun with Google

Every now and then, I Google my own name. Sometimes I can go as long as an hour before I feel the need to do it again. This is of course, absolutely essential practice for a writer; it is, after all, of vital importance to know what one’s readership is thinking about one. Sometimes, for a change, I even use other search engines (DuckDuckGo‘s pretty good, if you want to stay clear of the Google data-harvesting machine) and different spellings. And every now and then, odd things pop up.

Like this, for example, written by a teacher who went to the launch of the 2011 Bristol Short Story Prize. Here’s my favourite extract:

Mr. Pinnock read the funniest story I have ever heard about a drunk, some vomit and a dog.

Of course, as was pointed out to me on Twitter, there is a crucial missing comma there, potentially reducing the population from which the sample is taken to somewhere in the region of one. Still, it’s a great quote. And also, oddly, a great name for a band if I ever decide to form one. I can just imagine Stuart Maconie announcing the latest release from ” A Drunk, Some Vomit and a Dog”, can’t you?

The other mention I found was a little more outré. Did you know there was a regular event in New York called “Naked Girls Reading”? Nope, me neither. But there is, and it is exactly what it says on the tin. Here’s the slightly NSFW link to it.

Now if you can somehow manage to skip past the tab labelled “Photos” and select “Past events” instead, you will notice that in January, one of the works read was “The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife” from “Dot Dash”. This resulted in several conflicting reactions:

  1. (Flattered author self) “Wow! Someone in America has actually read my book and actually likes it!”
  2. (Legalistic self) “Hmmm. But they didn’t ask for permission, did they?”
  3. (Inner 12-year-old self) “Naked women! On stage! In New York! Reading my stuff! Phwooarr!”

Well, I’ve tweeted them regarding 2. Whether or not it was deliberate, they need to know it was a bit naughty. And yes, I did think (or at least my inner 12-year-old did) of asking them for a video as payment. But then it struck me that it might come across as a bit creepy. Look at me, being all mature and responsible.

This is what I love about being a writer. The unexpected, random stuff. You really never can tell what’s going to happen once you put your work out there.

The Late Review: Bum Fodder by Richard Smyth

As everyone knows, there are two books that no aspiring toilet library should be without: Charles Sale’s “The Specialist” and Nohain and Caradec’s “Le Petomane”. By a curious coincidence, both of these titles are published by Souvenir Press, although for some inexplicable reason they seem to have passed over Sale’s lesser-known sequel, “The Master Builder”. One hopes that this omission will be rectified at some point.

Actually, I suspect that this may be less of a coincidence than it seems, because Souvenir have also recently published Richard Smyth’s “Bum Fodder: An Absorbing History of Toilet Paper”. There is a pattern emerging here.

So, is this home-grown addition to the genre a worthy contender? Can we start speaking in terms of a toilet library triumvirate? Or is it merely another also-ran, such as Philip Cammarata’s disappointingly one-note “Who F*rted?” (sic) or Wallace Reyburn’s comprehensive but frankly rather dull “Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper”?

I’m very happy to say that it is. “Bum Fodder” is an at times alarmingly informative and comprehensive work, but it carries its scholarship lightly. Smyth is an accomplished short story writer (he’s had work performed at Liars’ League, and indeed he runs their Leeds franchise) and it shows in the wit and panache he brings to the subject.

Quite apart from the sheer entertainment provided by the book, I can say that I have actually learnt a considerable amount, starting with the title. No, I’d never previously realised what “bumf” stood for – d’oh. Not only that, but having read the full, disturbing details of Gargantua’s extraordinary experiments in search of the ultimate wipe, it’s struck me that I really should try to read Rabelais one day. How many other toilet books can be said to inspire an interest in 16th century French literature, I wonder? Certainly not “Who F*rted?’, that’s for sure.

So there it is. The thinking person’s toilet library should now begin with three core acquisitions: Sale, Nohain/Caradec, and now Smyth.

(Many thanks to Souvenir Press for sending me a copy of this splendid book.)

Frank O’Connor Longlist

Today the longlist for this year’s Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award was announced, and Dot Dash is on it, which makes a nice double with last week’s Edge Hill longlist. The list itself is even longer than the Edge Hill one, which I guess is reasonable enough given that is a truly international prize rather than one restricted to those born or working in the British Isles.

There are consequently even more big hitters on the list than Edge Hill (if that’s possible) so I have no expectations whatsoever of getting any further. It is, however, quite nice and more than a little weird to be on the same longlist as Molly Ringwald. Yes, that Molly Ringwald.

In other celeb-oriented news, I had a weird Twitter conversation yesterday with Jim Bob out of Carter USM about loft ladders. I thought you might enjoy it, so I storified it.

Finally, I had a very nice review the other day from Dan Purdue, which you can read here. I also found out that the January edition of Faces of Oman (a monthly supplement given with the Times of Oman) had chosen Dot Dash as one of their two books to review. I say review, although the words are taken mostly from the blurb, plus one phrase from the Independent On Sunday piece. I’m there on page 65, next to Virginia Ironside. All very odd.

Short Stories Aloud and Other Stuff

Just realised it’s about time I made a bit of a noise about this upcoming thingShort Stories Aloud is a regular event held at the Old Fire Station in Oxford (what is it about Firestations and Arts Centres, by the way? Just wondering…). It’s a bit like Liars’ League, in that the short stories are read by trained actors, except that there’s a bit more of a focus on the writers.

This month, I’m going to be one of the featured writers, along with a couple of other blokes called Jon McGregor and Ernest Hemingway (nope, me neither). Apparently, four of the stories from DOT DASH are going to be read – one dot and three dashes, to be precise – which is more than a little exciting. Not only that, but as I’ll be the only one of the three authors present, I’ll be the one subjected to the audience Q&A.

Like a certain other Firestation-based event, it offers free entry to anyone bearing cake, so if I were you, I’d book the kitchen for next Tuesday. The fun starts at 19:30 and here’s the official Facebook event page. Be there or be square.

In other news, the estimable David Hebblethwaite has given DOT DASH the thumbs up, describing it as “lovely stuff”:

What brings them together so well is Pinnock’s wry wit, his knack for sharp twists and rueful endings. The dots are marvellously concentrated bursts of language – not just punchlines, but stories reduced to their essence in a few sentences.

Finally, Mrs P and I were browsing in a bookshop over the weekend and she drew my attention to this remarkable reference in Susannah Fullerton’s “Happily Ever After”. I say remarkable, because it’s quite clear from the description that the author – the President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, no less – has actually read the book :)

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