Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff


Category: Things I like (page 1 of 3)

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.


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.


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.

Willesden Herald Giveaway Winner

It’s all go today. To coincide with the opening of entries for the Willesden Herald New Short Stories Competition, I hereby announce that the winner of the great anthology giveaway, out of no less than 15 entries, picked out of a hat at random by international celebrity cookery blogger Rachel Pinnock, is…

Drum roll, please


Keep drumming, goddamnit


Come on, come on


So step forward, Dan, and claim your prize. If you want to e-mail me your address, I’ll pass it on to Steve. Many thanks to everyone who took the trouble to join in. I may well do the same for Mrs Darcy in the next day or so, so watch this space…

Oh Blog, I Have Been Neglecting You

Sorry, blog. It’s just… well, I’m not sure, really. Let me try to explain.

Weird business, being a writer. Weirder still, being a writer-who’s-about-to-have-two-books-published. Part of me is desperate to get the books out there so that I can point to them and say, “Look! I’m a proper writer now!” and part of me is terrified lest they are badly received or (worse) ignored altogether.

But until then, like I said back in this post, I’m in limbo, trying to work out what to do next. Project X, incidentally, staggered on to 3000 words, at which point I decided that I didn’t really fancy spending a substantial part of my remaining life in its company. So at the start of this week, I axed it – and almost immediately a completely new concept appeared out of the blue and proceeded to occupy the vacated space in my head. I threw together the first 1000 words yesterday and read it out to my writers’ circle last night, who seemed to like it too. I think I could have a lot of fun with this one.

Meanwhile, Project Y continues on its merry way and has now reached the end of the letter A. Project Z also emerged, in the shape of Wickhampedia. Hmmm. About time I wrote a few more entries for that, too. So as you can see, my writing life is wobbling about in several directions at the moment (and I didn’t even mention Project WhatevercomesafterZ, which grabbed my attention for an afternoon at the beginning of the month before being slapped down again).

Anyway, here are a few other things to divert you if you’ve a moment or two to spare. On Tuesday I went to a fascinating talk from several old-school SF legends at the British Library; read Oscar Windsor-Smith’s splendidly offbeat account of the event here.

Also worthy of scrutiny are my chum Sandra Norval’s excellent recent posts on cyber-networking in Fantasy Faction (here and here).

And its just struck me I haven’t mentioned Pike! Have I mentioned Pike yet? I don’t think I have, which is unforgivable. My mate K J Bennett has bravely decided to follow Mrs Darcy’s lead and is now serialising his wonderful novel Pike’s Quest here. Do please take a look: it’s hilariously daft.

Finally, I should also let you know that the super-snazzy new Ether app was officially launched today, so go here to download it if you haven’t done so already, and then go and buy some of the fab stories on there (preferably one of my three, of course). Perfect to read on the train when you get stuck outside Basingstoke owing to points failure.

OK, blog. Happy now?

Good. I won’t leave it so long next time. Promise.

Another Fling at Every Day Poets

every-day-poetsWell, today started nicely with an acceptance from Every Day Poets for my parody “Now We Are (Practising Safe) Sex”. A.A.Milne’s corpse should probably get ready to spin now.

In other news, I received my signed copy of Nicola Morgan‘s “Write to be Published” today and it looks terrific. Especially page 246. Page 246 is wonderful. In fact I would go as far as to say that page 246 of “Write to be Published” is the best page of writing advice ever written. I certainly can’t stop looking at it. Buy the book here. You won’t regret it.

Café Doom Annual Writing Competition and Other Stuff

cafedoom_780x195The Sixth Annual Café Doom Writing Competition came to a close today. It’s quite a feat of endurance for the participants because all the entrants have to read everyone else’s entries and then pick their top three. This year there were 50 in all, with a maximum length of 5000 words, making a potential 250K of words to be read in a fortnight.

In fact, it turned out to be a breeze to do the actual reading part because in most cases you could decide pretty early on if a story was going anywhere and the ones that did go somewhere were a joy to read. Actually writing something new for the competition turned to be a bit more challenging, what with Mrs Darcy and the Slingink Scribbling Slam both going strong at the time, so I ended up re-visiting a story from 2007. This was “Symbiosis”, the everyday story of the relationship between a young woman and her intestinal worm, which I’d originally written for a Writing Magazine competition on the subject of “Putting on the Inches”. No, I have no idea what I was thinking either. Anyway, I’d always intended to go back to it and make the ending a bit more gross, so it seemed the ideal opportunity.

As things turned out, I was quite pleased that the piece made 5th place in the popular vote and was thus shortlisted. However, that was as far as it went. I suspect that the fact that there was another worm-related piece last year (which I’d completely forgotten about) may have gone against it, along with the fact that it was very English in tone (there can’t be that many horror stories around that reference Greggs, can there?) The presence of several better stories in the shortlist may also have had something to do with it, of course. Either way, I now have another piece that is ready to send out into the world when I get round to it – along with last year’s flop and 2008’s shortlistee.

Meanwhile, “M is for Monster” has picked up a couple of nice Amazon reviews. Obviously, this is my favourite bit of the first review:

As short as it is grotesquely satisfying, Pinnock’s darkly comical tale is delivered in a staggered fashion, setting down the back-story and plot whilst Tom’s final minutes are played out. The finale hits the reader with the full force of a good dollop of splatterpunk, concluding this downbeat little tale with complete and utter horror-enthusiastic perfection.

Splatterpunk. I like that.

Next – something that I completely forgot to mention a while back. My online chum Geoff Nelder got in touch with me asking if I fancied joining him and Bec Zugor (amongst others) in contributing some ultra-short pieces to go with a book of Sci-Fi art called “The Sixty” being produced by Andy Bigwood, two-time winner of the BSFA award for best artwork. When I saw the pictures, I leapt at the chance, picking this one to write a piece for (called “Pioneer”). I in turn invited my VWC mates Oscar Windsor-Smith and Dave Weaver to join the team and I’m really looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with. Should be quite some book.

Finally, stop whatever you’re doing and take a look at this extraordinary piece of video art by Richard O’Callaghan based on Tania Hershman’s wonderful story, “The White Road”. Wow. Just wow.

The Celery and the Ivy

Toby Frost has done it again! A year on from last year’s splendidly festive Space Captain Smith Christmas special, “When Slay Bells Ring”, he’s just brought out “The Celery and the Ivy”. Here’s the blurb:

Toby Frost has put aside his iMelodiatron to decree:

By popular demand it has been declared that the universe of Space Captain Smith must get even more exciting, so we are proud to present The Celery and the Ivy, in which Isambard Smith, Polly Carveth, Rhianna Mitchell and Suruk the Slayer set out to bring Christmas cheer to a remote research station.

With Suruk seeking to feast on Stephen, Carveth yearning for equine company and Rhianna wanting to get her hands on Smith’s nut roast, how will the sole inhabitant of a biological research station take to his visitors?

Find out by downloading The Celery and the Ivy, by Toby Frost – and then feel free to pass it on to all your chums, especially if they are yet to discover the wonderful world of Space Captain Smith.

I think the only thing wrong with this is the idea that there is anyone out there who is yet to discover the wonderful world of Space Captain Smith. Surely everyone on the planet is a fan? At least, that’s the way it would be if there were any justice in the world.

So what are you waiting for? Download it here. Oh, did I say it was free? Well it is. So no excuses whatsoever, then. Pass it on.

Bits and Pieces

I’ve been away and otherwise busy over the last two or three weeks – hence the rather sporadic posting. So here are a few random sweepings from the floor …

1) On Tuesday night this week, I took part in the NYC Midnight “Tweet Me a Story” competition. Basically, I got a word at midnight UK time and then had five hours (yeah right, I said midnight UK time) to write three twitter stories using it. The word for group 19 was “attack”, which could have been a lot worse. Anyway, I threw my three together in half an hour. I find out next Tuesday if any of them are going to go forward to the next stage of voting.

2) I’ve just sent my story off to Jim Wisneski‘s ‘Twelve Days of Christmas” project; I’m one of the ones doing “Eight Maids a Milking”. It’s a rather odd piece altogether. I’ll let you know when it appears.

3) I’ve decided that the perfect in-flight movie is “GI Joe – The Rise of Cobra”. Why? Because it’s full of action (read “guns and explosions”), has an idiotic plot and (crucially) you don’t need to be able to hear any of the dialogue in order to follow it. There is no excuse for watching it outside a plane, however.

4) Weirdly, two out of the five writers shortlisted for the National Short Story Award (Sara Maitland and Jane Rogers) were judges in competitions where I won prizes this year. Following this logic, if Zoë Heller wishes to make an impression on the NSSA next year, she knows what to do. OK, Zoë?

5) By the way, well done to both of them for getting onto the shortlist, and especially to Sara Maitland for getting the runner-up prize. I read her collection “Far North” earlier this year, and I can strongly recommend it – especially the title story, which is quite extraordinary.

Something Rather Inspiring

In case anyone out there’s feeling a bit, you know, icky after watching this week’s Question Time, here’s something that I picked up from Vanessa Gebbie’s blog that will go some way towards cleansing the image of Nick Griffin’s ugly fat face from your mind. It’s a talk given by Chimamanda Adichie at TED on the dangers of the single story. If you haven’t seen it already, I really suggest clearing 20 minutes of your day to give it your attention. Trust me: you will feel better after this.

The T.E.Lawrence Approach to Editing

Talking of Lawrence of Arabia (well, we were two posts ago – work with me here), my father recently had to move out of his house and I’ve been sorting through some of his old books. In the middle of this I came across an old two-volume hardback edition of Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. As it happens, I’ve never read this (although I’ve seen the film, of course), but I think I want to now. Because the preface contains this wonderful exchange between the editor and the man himself:

Hands up who else could hear Peter O’Toole reading that. It’s brilliant, isn’t it?

Light Bulb Moment

I had a light bulb moment today.

I’m finding that my new computer has had some unexpected effects on my on-line life. One of these is that I’ve found that Safari has a way of managing RSS feeds that is just that bit neater than Internet Explorer, with the result that I’ve been collecting RSS feeds with wild abandon over the last couple of weeks. I’m now following far more blogs than I used to, and as a consequence I’ve come across loads of interesting new stuff. I came across the one that I want to share with you today via Tania Hershman’s blog, and it’s a fascinating piece about the state of short story publishing, and a lot of excellent points may be found therein, along with the associated comment stream.

But it set me thinking: why are short story collections the cinderellas of the industry? I’ve often thought (and I’m clearly not the only one) that in the era of MTV attention spans, short stories really ought to be aggressively marketed as the saviours of the publishing world. I’ve been reading a whole load of short story collections lately (mainly as a result of trying to support Salt Publishing’s extraordinarily successful Just One Book campaign), and it is quite cool to be able to absorb an entire story (or two) in the duration of a commute into London.

One thing did strike me, though. Short story collections are – of necessity – patchy. If they were entirely consistent, they would be dull. A good collection should show a writer trying out all sorts of different things. Some of them will work, and some of them won’t. A case in point: some time ago at If Shakespeare …, my mate Ian Cundell recommended a collection by Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain) entitled “Running from Legs and other stories”. In particular, he raved about a story entitled “Terminal Misunderstanding”. As it happened, I liked it, but I didn’t think there was anything special about it. However, I thought that the story that came next in the book, “The Sharers”, in which a black man is aggressively patronised by a white man who insists on sharing his ride to work, was absolutely wonderful.

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