Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

Category: Stuff (page 1 of 4)

What I Read in 2015

Time to take a look at the books I read last year. According to my spreadsheet, I seem to have only read 70, which is considerably down on 2014’s 95 and 2013’s 92. No idea what went wrong, but it doesn’t really matter as  long as I got something out of the ones I did read. And, by and large, I did. Once again, I’ve avoided any attempt at star rankings because they scare me, frankly, particularly when it comes to books by people I know (and, yes, I know those are the ones I really should be shouting about). Maybe one day I’ll screw up my courage and risk doing something like the Facebook friend of mine who perfectly honestly and with well-argued (albeit completely wrong – obviously) reasons gave me a one star review for Mrs Darcy. (She’s still, incidentally, a Facebook friend. I’m that grown up, people.)

Generally speaking, of course, my friends write wonderful books. That’s one of the reasons why they’re friends.

Anyway, here’s my list, with a few notes as to what made a particular impression this year.

Ali, Monica Brick Lane
Amis, Martin Heavy Water and Other Stories
Amis, Martin Money
Blissett, Luther Q
Borges, Jorge Luis Fictions
Bray, Carys A Song for Issy Bradley
Burchill, Julie and Parsons, Tony The Boy Looked at Johnny
Cleave. Chris The Other Hand
Coe, Jonathan The Rotters Club
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Valley of Fear
Crème, Lol and Godley, Kevin The Fun Starts Here
Ewen, Paul Francis Plug: How to be a Public Author
Fallada, Hans Tales from the Underworld
Filer, Nathan The Shock of the Fall
Fleming, Ian Goldfinger
Fletcher, Tom The Home
Frayn. Michael Skios
Gallant, Mavis Paris Stories
Garfield, Simon Just My Type
Gawande, Atul Being Mortal
Gebbie, Vanessa and Roberts, Lynn Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures
Gee, Maggie Virginia Woolf in Manhattan
Goldacre, Ben I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That
Gonzalez-Crussi, F. The Senses
Hadley, Tessa Married Love
Haig, Matt The Humans
Harris, Joanne Chocolat
Haynes, Steve (Ed) The Best British Fantasy 2014
Healey, Emma Elizabeth is Missing
Hersey, John Hiroshima
Hilary, Sarah No Other Darkness
James, Clive May Week Was In June
James, Clive North Face of Soho
Joyce, James Dubliners
Kurkov, Andrey Penguin Lost
Mantel, Hilary Wolf Hall
Mantel, Hilary Bring Up The Bodies
May, James How to Land an A330 Airbus
McVeigh, Paul The Good Son
More, Alison The Harvestman
Mueenuddin, Daniyal In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Munroe, Randall What If?
Murakami, Haruki Norwegian Wood
Nadjaran, Nora Ledra Street
Padua, Sydney The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
Parkin, Cassandra The Summer We All Ran Away
Parkin, Cassandra The Beach Hut
Powell, Gareth Hive Monkey
Pratchett, Terry Making Money
Pryce, Malcolm Aberystwyth Mon Amour
Pryce, Malcolm Last Tango in Aberystwyth
Readman, Angela Don’t Try This At Home
Rose, David Meridian
Royle, Nicholas (Ed) The Best British Short Stories 2014
Royle, Nicholas (Ed) The Best British Short Stories 2015
Schlosser, Eric Gods of Metal
Smith, Ali Ali Smith’s Supersonic 70s
Smith, Ali How To Be Both
Smyth, Richard Wild Ink
Stoller, Fred My Seinfeld Year
Swarup, Vikas Six Suspects
Townsend, Sue The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year
Ware, Chris (Ed) McSweeney’s Quarterly 13
Ware, Chris Building Stories
Welty, Eudora The Golden Apples
Wodehouse, PG Jeeves in the Offing
Wodehouse, PG Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Much Obliged, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen
Wynn Owen, Andrew Raspberries for the Ferry

 

Best books I read this year

The best pair of novels I read this year were Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. I’ve never been a big fan of historical fiction, but these, along with Q, were a revelation. Utterly gripping. The best short story collection, by a country mile, was The Redemption of Galen Pike. I didn’t quite engage with Carys Davies’ previous collection, Some New Ambush (perhaps I should try again now), but every single story in this one was a delight. And what I really loved was the slightly old-fashioned way in which she seemed perfectly at ease with the deeply uncool idea of a revelatory twist at the end. Several of these tales wouldn’t look entirely out of place in a Roald Dahl collection – particularly the title story. Both the graphic novels I read were excellent (I really should read more of these), but I’d single out The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage for particular praise – hugely entertaining as well as nicely informative.

Series

I got to the end of Jeeves and Wooster (I’m not going to count anything by anyone other than PGW), and while they didn’t quite hit the mid-period peaks of Code of the Woosters and Joy in the Morning (two of the best books ever written), they were all terrific fun. I should have read these ages ago. I read another Bond novel, which was OK, enjoying it more for making comparisons with the film than anything else. Hive Monkey was a terrific sequel to Ack-Ack Macaque and I’ve now got Macaque Attack to look forward to in the new year. Best new discovery of the year was Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Noir series, which was very funny as well as a remarkable exercise in world-building – even if the world in question consisted of a down-at-heel Welsh seaside town populated by a bunch of mad druids. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these in 2016. The Best British Short Stories series continues to impress and I thought 2014 was particularly good, as was The Best British Fantasy of that year, although that series seems to have come to an end now, more’s the pity.

Nice surprises

The Rotters Club was the first Jonathan Coe I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it was one of those dreaded “coming of age” novels (come on, you can play bingo with most of them). I’ve actually just finished the (even better) sequel, The Closed Circle, and if I read a better book in 2016, I’ll be very happy. Marvellous combination of pathos and humour, and a bunch of flawed characters that you can really care about. I would probably never have read Virginia Woolf in Manhattan if it hadn’t been for the fact that the lovely Maggie Gee was one of my tutors at Bath Spa last year, but I’m so glad I did, because it’s wonderful. Brick Lane was a marvellous read, too, although I would have loved to discuss the central character’s almost complete lack of agency with my tutors. Ed’s Wife was a bizarre and rather wonderful curio  that entertained and disturbed by turns (actually, no surprises there really, knowing Vanessa – but the form of it was especially unusual). Having provided a blurb for Cassandra Parkin’s short story collection, New World Fairy Tales, I really shouldn’t have taken so long to get round to reading the two novels she’s written since, but I’m very glad that I did get round to it, because they were both absorbing reads and I’m looking forward to whatever she comes up with next. Cards Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley was a lovely, touching story of loss. Finally, I read my first Murakami this year, and I’ll definitely be reading more.

Disappointments

There were a few. I’d never read anything by Martin Amis before (you’d be amazed by some of the gaps in my reading) and I thought I’d start with a short story collection that I picked up in a charity shop. I hated it. I asked Facebook for recommendations for something else to read by him and I ended up buying a spanking new copy of Money. Which I also hated. I may try once more, but then again, life is short. Of authors I usually love, I have to say that I didn’t get on with The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year at all. And it really pains me to say that I found Making Money well below Pratchett’s best.

Best single short story

As with last year, The Best British Fantasy came up with the goods here, this time with a lovely, odd story called “Triolet” by Jess Hyslop. It’s worth buying the book just for that, but there are plenty more good ones in there.

Other things I enjoyed

I didn’t see many films in 2015, but Mad Max – Fury Road was easily the best. I didn’t watch much TV either, but I loved series 3 of The Bridge – every bit as good as the first two. I also discovered (late again) Twenty Twelve and W1A – I’ve been a fan of John Morton for years, and this is some of his best work yet.

Anything else? Probably. Oh yes. Gig of the year was (obviously) King Crimson at St David’s Hall in Cardiff. But you knew that already, didn’t you.

There are probably other books I should have singled out – feel free to add your thoughts below.

In the meantime, roll on 2016. And I really should get back to finishing writing that novel.

A Farewell to CSS

Regular visitors may have noticed a few changes around here lately. First of all, I moved to a much smarter WordPress theme (called, rather splendidly, Hemingway). Less obviously, but considerably more significantly, I’ve added a new item to the menu: Books. See?

The thing is, I used to have individual sites for all my books. This went back to the days when I was running the Mrs Darcy serialisation on its (her?) own separate blog, with its own url, www.mrsdarcyvsthealiens.com. When publication loomed, I thought I’d have a go at creating a striking promotional website for the book, using hand-crafted CSS/HTML, and the end results weren’t too bad, if a little amateurish.

I hated using raw CSS/HTML, though. OK, I’ve done programming all my life, but laying out a web page involves a load of other visual skills that I don’t have. You may have noticed that I kept using the same template for every single other book website I produced. I also tried using it for a website that Mrs P asked me to do for her, and this was the point at which I realised that I needed to find another approach.

I then had a blinding revelation: just go with WordPress. OK, there’s no capability for fancy stuff, but for a site that’s purely there to give out information and – most importantly – is easily maintainable, it’s very hard to beat. Want to add breadcrumbs? There’s a plugin for that. Want to add redirection? There’s a plugin for that. Want to add Facebook page likes? There’s a plugin for that. And so on.

So I threw together a WordPress site for Mrs P in no time and she was very happy with the results. I moved on to my business website and re-wrote that too.

Then I thought, why not get rid of all these individual book sites and merge them into my main writing site? So that’s what I did. And what fun it was too – I’d forgotten how many Mrs Darcy specials I’d written, for one thing. It’s so nice to have everything in one place.

Do have a look around. There’s loads of stuff to keep you occupied for hours. Here’s the sitemap (oh yes, there’s a plugin for that too):

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.

T Minus 2 and a Bit Weeks…

… and I haven’t got a coherent blog post for you, I’m afraid. I’m alternating between feelings of wild elation and the feelings of a particularly confused rabbit frozen in the headlights right now, so coming up with anything remotely sensible is beyond me. September’s blog tour is taking shape nicely, though, with a wide variety of stops along the way. There are still a few places left, so if you fancy putting me up for a day, do drop me a line. I’m reasonably well behaved and I will try to leave your blog in the state it was before I arrived.

I’m also going to be posting an interview here very soon with Steve Moran of the excellent Willesden Herald Short Story Contest, at which time we will have a FREE GIVEAWAY. Which is a bit of a first for this blog and frankly rather exciting, so watch out for that.

I should also say that my online chum Nicola Morgan, whose splendid book Write to be Published has possibly the best page 246 ever committed to print, also has a new Kindle-only book out, called Tweet Right – The Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone out there who isn’t yet on Twitter or is on Twitter and can’t make sense of it, because she’s a great tweeter and she knows what she is talking about.

Finally, there’s a bit more Wickhampedia this week, although I have no idea what you’ll make of it. Incidentally, if anyone out there knows anyone really famous who’d like to publicise this a bit, it would, like, be really good, you know.

National Short Story Week Guest Editorship

Last week I was asked if I fancied being this month’s guest editor for the National Short Story Week web site and I must have hesitated for – ooh – at least a couple of seconds before saying yes. Anyway, the resulting piece is now up on the site – do go and have a look. It turns into a bit of a rant in the end, albeit a very polite one.

In other news, I’m on Google+ if you’re into that kind of thing. To be honest, I’m not madly excited about it at the moment. The “circles” concept strikes me as exactly the thing that a geek would come up with as being really cool, but I’m not sure I really see people making great use of it. Sure, in theory it enables you to post different stuff for different groups of people to see, but I have two problems with this.

Firstly, if a tech-savvy US senator can accidentally post a picture of his todger to his Twitter stream instead of a DM, then sure as hell other people are going to screw up which Google+ circle they’re posting their “look at me I’m so wasted LOL” pictures to. At least on FB and Twitter you know that everyone’s watching.

Secondly, I actually quite like the blurring that occurs in these places. You find out that people you’ve had one kind of interaction with have a whole other side to them and sometimes that’s very interesting. Sometimes it’s weird, too, but there you go. Ho hum. I’m probably just resisting change as usual. We’ll see.

Versatile Blogger, That’s Me

VersatileBloggerAwardSome time ago, my good mate Oscar Windsor-Smith tagged me with this, for which I feel deeply honoured. He also gave strict instructions that I should reveal seven hitherto unsuspected things about myself and then tag a further seven hapless victims myself. I was just about to respond to this when I saw what Claire King had done and decided that anything I said would look very insignificant beside appearing on the Crystal Maze.

But then I felt like a party pooper, so I’ve decided to go ahead and make a fool of myself, although one out of two will have to do, I’m afraid, ’cos I really hate pestering people. Anyway here are those seven things:

I used to have a soft toy dog called Dismal Desmond. (What ever happened to him, I wonder?)

I once had to be taken screaming out of a showing of “Swiss Family Robinson”. Hey, that was one scary movie. There was some kind of big cat involved, if I remember correctly.

I got thrown out of the school chess club for playing suicide chess. Oh come on, it’s much more fun.

The first computer program I ever wrote calculated the volumes of spheres for radii 1 to 10. It was written in FOCAL and worked first time. (FOCAL? Trust me, you don’t want to know.)

I once gave a performance of the rondo from Mozart’s 4th horn concerto on a 14’ length of garden hose with a trombone mouthpiece in one end and a plastic funnel at the other. It was almost but not quite recognisable.

At university, I was secretary of the Dampers Club, a society for people who had fallen in the river off punts. I had fallen in within 5 minutes of first setting foot in a punt.

I met Mrs P in a prom queue. We were the last two people allowed in, because the Albert Hall was full. Good gig if I remember right, although we did spend most of the evening eyeing each other up.

I think that will do for now, don’t you?

Some Jetlagged Ramblings

If I fall asleep in the middle of writing this, it’s because my brain is still somewhere midway between here and Indochina. I have a number of reasonably heavy-duty posts lined up, including a review of Ed Siegle’s “Invisibles” and a reflection on belatedly encountering the work of Raymond Carver for the first time (or to put it another way, What I Read On My Holidays), but they’ll have to wait for the rest of my cerebellum to arrive before I attempt to write them.

Instead, here’s a quick plug for an event coming up in London next Monday evening: Imran Ahmad giving one of his inimitable narrative performances. If you haven’t read his book “Unimagined”, you are missing out on a treat. I’m quoted on his website as describing it as a “quietly subversive masterpiece of militant moderation”, but don’t take my word for it, check out what everyone else says. Especially Scott Pack – because Scott Pack’s endorsement is of course a copper-bottomed guarantee of quality. Ahem.

Anyway, I’ve heard Imran speak twice – once at the Verulam Writers’ Circle and once at Get Writing 2010 – and he was extremely entertaining on both occasions. Definitely recommended.

In other news, my print copy of the The Right Eyed Deer 5 arrived today, including that interview with yours truly. Well worth a few quid if you ask me, but then I would say that :)

Ramblings…

For no particular reason, the day job has gone a bit bonkers at the moment, which means that most of the carefully crafted posts that I had planned have been elbowed out in favour of this general ramble about stuff.

First of all, I really had planned to say something about the splendid “Get Writing” conference a couple of weekends ago, but everyone else who went seems to have overtaken me and written about it already, so it hardly seems worth it now. One thing that I will say was that possible the most interesting talk of the day came from Matt Bates, who is the fiction buyer for WHSmith Travel. I hadn’t heard anyone from the buying end of things talk before, and it was quite an eye-opener.

Basically he said that the single most important criterion for deciding whether or not a book makes it into one of his stores is the cover (the second most important criterion is how informative and interesting the blurb on the back is, by the way). The moment I heard this, I made it my mission for the rest of the day to get one of my postcards printed with Mrs Darcy’s cover into his hands – something that I actually achieved within ten minutes of his talk ending. The good news is that he really liked it. But then, who wouldn’t?

I happened to be in Bath last weekend, so I took a few of the postcards there with me, giving a couple to the young lad on the till in the Jane Austen Centre (“Awesome!”), one to Waterstones and one to another bookshop who reacted by saying they’d heard that the “first one” was being made into a film. Hmmm. Although does it really matter if I get confused with P&P&Z? I need to practice how I react to this :)

Today I had a fabbo day pretending to be a real author for a while by attending a lunchtime reception for new joiners at the Society of Authors and an evening launch party for Ed Siegle’s “Invisibles”, which looks as if it’s going to be a superb read. At the latter it was also nice to meet Alison MacLeod, who was one of the other authors involved in the National Short Story Week “Consequences” stunt. My combined intake of wine across the two events was quite high. I could get used to this.

Finally, when I got back this evening, I found that a particularly daft piece of mine (I know I’ve said that before, but, trust me, this one is dafter than average) is going to be published by The Pygmy Giant at the weekend. I’ve also been invited to contribute to another publication, but I’ll keep that one a little mysterious for the time being.

And I nearly forgot. My piece “Perfect Moment” was apparently one of OneFortyFiction’s most popular stories in February. Here it is again, in case you missed it.

NYC Midnight Tweet Me a Story – Surprise!

Yesterday morning I found out that I’d made it through to the final of “Tweet Me a Story” for the second year running. Many thanks to all of you out there who voted for me, as I ended up as being the “Audience Award” winner for my group (again for the second year running). There is a little voice in the back of my head that is telling me this was probably more to do with the power of social networking than any real merit, but I’m going to ignore that for the moment …

And last night at midnight the word for the final was distributed, and it was “surprise”. Which was a bit of an awkward one, because half the trick in these things is to find a less obvious interpretation of the prompt word and at first sight “surprise” doesn’t offer much scope for thinking outside the box. But I’m quite pleased with the three I came up with eventually – certainly more so than last year’s final, anyway. The results are announced on Monday.

Before that, Mrs P and I went to see The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in concert. Wonderful. Here they are in case you’ve never come across them before:

Connections

Sometimes you don’t need to go looking for stories. All you need to do is rely on your brain to make a few connections.

A couple of evenings ago Mrs P was away for the night and I nearly blew the house up (or at least I thought I nearly did, except that Ed who runs Café Doom and who knows about these things now assures me that I didn’t really, but that doesn’t matter for the purposes of the story). Basically I left one of the gas rings on for a few hours and only noticed the smell just before I turned in for the night. At which point I switched it off, opened the windows wide, turned on the fan and averted disaster.

Thinking about my apparent near-extinction, I remembered the extraordinary ending of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 film, “The Marriage of Maria Braun.” Here it is in case you’ve never seen it. Obviously, being the ending of the film, it does contain spoilers. It does also contain Hanna Schygulla, which will be sufficient for most of the male readers of this blog:

Terrific film, I seem to remember. From Fassbinder I then started thinking about 80’s one-hit-wonder Susan Fassbender, of “Twilight Café” fame. Here she is (also featuring the dumbest voiceover EVER by Steve Wright):

Great, isn’t it? I bought that single when it came out, back in 1981. Weirdly, she definitely sounds like she’s singing with a German accent, although it turns out that she was English. No idea why she started calling herself Fassbender.

And then I looked her up on Wikipedia (as you do). And I found out that she died twenty years ago, in 1991, at the age of 32. No more details as to how or why.

Somewhere in that lot there is a story. Isn’t there?

[EDITED TO ADD: I’d forgotten that Rainer Werner Fassbinder also died tragically early at the age of 37.]

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