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:
- (Flattered author self) “Wow! Someone in America has actually read my book and actually likes it!”
- (Legalistic self) “Hmmm. But they didn’t ask for permission, did they?”
- (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.
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.)
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.
Just realised it’s about time I made a bit of a noise about this upcoming thing. Short 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
Is it really over a fortnight since I last blogged? I guess it must be. Someone said to be on Twitter today that I’d been a bit quiet lately. I really must get back to blogging a bit more regularly as I have a number of reviews piling up waiting to appear, along with some really cool interviews.
Anyway, the reviews of “Dot Dash” have continued to trickle in and they’re still extremely positive. The enigmatic womagwriter certainly seems impressed, ending her brief review with:
they are beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.
Curiosity Killed the Bookworm is even more positive, giving it five stars and remarking that
It’s one of the best short story collections I’ve read and one I think I will go back to repeatedly.
Many thanks to both bloggers for those generous comments.
I’d also like to give a quick mention for this blog post by my good friend Ian Cundell, which is mainly about the brilliant Julie Mayhew’s debut novel, “Red Ink”. There is a reason why all three of us (and I’m sure there are others) included Ian in the acknowledgements for our respective first novels, because a lot of our success in getting published is down to the curious combination of grumpy critique and unbridled enthusiasm that he brings to the process. I should add (as I’ve said before) that he really ought to get his finger out and write a bit more too, because he’s no slouch himself.
I’ll be saying a bit more about what I’ll be doing at Get Writing soon here. Once I’ve got everything else out of the way, of course…
Is it a week since my last post? Well, obviously it is. There are reasons for this, none of which, sadly, have anything to do with writing. Anyway, last Sunday, the always excellent Jim Murdoch put up a startlingly thorough review of “Dot Dash” – so thorough in fact that I haven’t quite dared to read it all yet. However, the good news is that he starts his summary with:
This is a fine collection of short stories and well-balanced
so perhaps I should screw up my courage and give the review the close reading that it clearly deserves. There are, as I write, seven comments under the piece as well and I’m probably being extremely ill mannered by not joining in the discussion.
This was followed up by a wonderful review by crime writer (and fellow Salt author) Christina James of “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens”, timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the publication of “Pride and Prejudice”. It’s always nice when a title that’s over a year old gets a bit of renewed attention, especially from someone who so obviously gets it.
What else? Oh yes, my poem “Bloody Italians” (the one that was Highly Commended in the Fire River Poets competition) has now gone up on their website. Click the “Highly Commended” button to read it.
And finally, bookings have opened for this year’s “Get Writing” conference. I’ll be saying a bit more about my workshop in due course, but in the meantime, here’s where you need to go to sign up.
Yesterday was one of those milestones in my career as a writer – the day when something of mine was reviewed by one of the broadsheets. Not only that, but The Independent on Sunday saw fit to give Dot Dash four stars out of five, describing it as
an entertaining collection of grotesque, fantastic, pungent little tales
which is as good a one-line summary of the book as I’m likely to get. Knowing how many books the papers get sent to them every week – and especially given that Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens was rigorously ignored by everyone apart from the British Fantasy Society, the Gatehouse Gazette and a handful of plucky bloggers (to whom I’ll be eternally grateful) – I’m absolutely over the moon about this. I do wonder if it’s evidence of Salt’s increasing presence in the book world, following on from Alison Moore’s Booker triumph. Or maybe I just struck lucky. I can’t say I mind either way.
Whether it actually means anything in terms of sales is yet to be revealed, but it does mean that I can point to a place that everyone’s heard of and say, “Look! That’s me! I’m a writer!” Pathetic, really, but you have no idea how insecure and needy we writers can be, and it doesn’t seem to get any better.
There’s also a somewhat longer review of Dot Dash in the first issue of Synaesthesia magazine, by Bec Zugor. This is an expanded version of her original blog post and very nice it is too. Seems like a good publication; I recognise a some of the other contributors – in fact I remember Jac Cattaneo reading “Cry Wolf”, which has one of the best opening lines ever, at Sparks in Brighton a while back. Do take a look.
In other news, I was asked last week to provide a cover quote for a splendid new chapbook, “Threshold”, by David Hartley for the excellent Gumbo Press. Do watch out for this and get yourselves a copy when it comes out – this is where much of the cutting edge action is right now, places like Gumbo, Nightjar and Spectral. They’ll be collectors’ items one day, mark my words.
Hmmm. Need to hone my headline writing skills, I think. Whatever. I found out on New Year’s Eve that my poem “Seven Day Wonder” was Highly Commended in last year’s Newark Poetry Competition. Once again, it would have been nice to get into the winner’s enclosure, but I’m not really complaining because it’s still very encouraging. I really must spend a bit more time at this poetry lark. It would be quite cool to have a slim volume out there with my name on it.
Meanwhile, “Dot Dash” continues to gather reviews, including one or two nice ones on Amazon from complete strangers, and another brilliant one today from Scott Pack. I love the idea of getting someone like Park Chan-wook to film “Convalescence” – “Oldboy” and “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” are two of my all-time faves. However, it is VERY unlikely to happen, so calm down, Pinnock.
I was recently sent a copy of this book by the publishers, Souvenir Press, who subsequently turned out to be the people who publish not only “Le Petomane” but also “The Specialist”, thereby making them almost certainly the best non-fiction publishers on the entire planet.
The purpose of “Better Than Great” is to tackle the problem that so frequently assails all of us: how to express the sheer wonderfulness of something without resorting to tired words such as “brilliant”, “fantastic” or “awesome”. To this end, the author has assembled no less than 6000 alternatives, arranged by categories such as “sublime”, “delicious” and “trendy”. Within each category, there is a brief introduction, followed by an alphabetical list of terms and a brief “vintage gold” section at the end (for example, the “vintage gold” section for the “cool” category includes such old favourites as “groovy” and “outta sight”, as well as “torrible”, which was new to me).
This is clearly a book for dipping into rather than reading from cover to cover, although the brief narrative sections are erudite and written with considerable wit and style. For example:
One way to make our acclaim forceful – attention-getting and convincing – is to associate it with powerful forces. Sinewy bridges. Incinerating wit. A fissionable fastball. Why hitch your wagon to feeble praise when you can harness the power of muscle, nature, even the atom?
The terms are illustrated with examples from a wide range of writers, from Annie Proulx to Wells Tower via Will Self. The terms themselves are, as you might expect, wide-ranging and occasionally bonkers. Opening one page at random, I came across the splendid term “Godzillian” in the “large” category, along with the useful numerical terms gazillion, jillion, goozle and grillion (I think I’ve got those in ascending order, but correct me if I’m wrong).
Is it a useful book, then? I think it might be. More specialised than thesaurus, but for that very reason possibly more useful. Is it entertaining? Most definitely. Is it – as Franz Kafka apparently said (on page 56) of what a book must be – an “axe for the frozen sea inside us”? Probably not. But all in all, it’s splendiferociously wonderful. (I made that one up. But you probably realised that.)
Here’s where you can order a copy. You might just get one for Christmas if you really hurry.
This is the most fascinating Venn diagram in my life at the moment. One of my big worries when I was blogging “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” was how it would affect my street cred as a writer. That sounds really arsey, I know, but a part of me does want to be taken seriously, even if it’s a part that’s in constant conflict with the other part of me that just wants to spend the day composing knob jokes.
So it was something of a relief to me to find that several of the literary short story writers that I looked up to seemed happy to indulge me (and even more of a relief – not to say surprise – when an imprint of Salt decided to publish it). But I’m even more intrigued now to know what Mrs Darcy’s readership will make of Dot Dash. It is a very different book, after all, although I guess you could probably tell it was written by the same bloke.
So far the reviews are looking pretty positive, anyway. This is what they look like on Amazon (including a couple by complete strangers, which is always particularly gratifying). And here’s another one that appeared today, courtesy of Our Book Reviews (who’d previously given Mrs Darcy a major thumbs-up).
One of the writers who gave Mrs Darcy an unexpected endorsement was Tania Hershman, and – somewhat belatedly (it’s been a busy week or so) – here’s a link to an interview I did with her a little while back. Whilst you’re over there, I do recommend taking her up on her offer of a customised edition of her wonderful book “My Mother was An Upright Piano” – a brilliant idea for a present for that literary chum who’s impossible to buy for.
Finally, don’t forget that the Salt Kindle 77p deal is STILL on. Half a dozen terrific books at an absurd knock-down price. Further to my previous post on the subject, I’ve now finished Carys Bray’s “Sweet Home”, and I can confirm that it is indeed an excellent, if at times quite harrowing, collection.