Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

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What I Read in 2016

Round about this time of year I usually post a list of all the books I read in the previous year, along with some fairly bland comments on what I liked and (if I’m feeling particularly brave) what I didn’t like. So here we go.

I only read 60 books this year, down from 70 last year, which was in turn a steep drop from the dizzy heights of 95 in 2014. I’m not entirely sure what to blame for this – possibly the stint I did as a first stage judge for the Bath Short Story Award, or possibly my involvement in the quixotic poetry venture Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis (now deceased, or at least in indefinite hibernation). Either way, I’m intending to read more in 2017, and I’ve joined Vanessa Gebbie’s Read 100 Books in 2017 Facebook Group in order to force myself to get a move on.

One interesting revelation I did have this year was that reading bad books is just as useful for a writer as reading good ones. Because reading a bad book forces you to think about why it’s so bad. What would you do to fix it? Are you making the same mistakes in your own work?

Here are those 60 books. Some of them were bought new, some of them were sent to me by publishers, one of them was borrowed, some of them had already been bought by members of my family and quite a few were random acquisitions from charity shops (which I always try to follow up by making a proper purchase – if I like the author, of course). Embarrassingly, despite the fact that I bought several books of poetry, I only got round to reading one of them. Must do better than that this year. I’ve also realised that there are only four books in the list by non-white authors, which is something else I need to work at.

Aaronovitch, Ben Rivers of London
Ali, Monica Alentejo Blue
Barbery, Muriel The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Barley, Nigel Island of Demons
Bath Short Story Award Anthology, 2015
Bath Short Story Award Anthology, 2016
Beadle, Jeremy J. Will Pop Eat Itself?
Blandford, Richard Flying Saucer Rock and Roll
Bowman, WE The Ascent of Rum Doodle
Brayfield, Celia Sunset
Bridport Prize Anthology, 2015
Bryson, Bill The Road to Little Dribbling
Cartwright, Netta The Many Lives of Zillah Smith
Chabon, Michael Wonder Boys
Coe, Jonathan The Closed Circle
Cope, Julian Japrocksampler
Cox, Tom The Lost Tribes of Pop
Davis, Lindsey The Silver Pigs
Davis, Lindsey Shadows in Bronze
deWitt, Patrick Ablutions
deWitt, Patrick Undermajordomo Minor
Ellis, Brett Easton American Psycho
Frayn, Michael Towards the End of the Morning
Freud, Esther Hideous Kinky
Fuller, Claire Our Endless Numbered Days
Gayle, Mike My Legendary Girlfriend
Gordy, Berry To Be Loved: An Autobiography
Hadley, Tessa The Past
Haruf, Kent Plainsong
Haruf, Kent Eventide
Hawes, James A White Merc With Fins
Hawes, James Rancid Aluminium
Hensher, Philip King of the Badgers
Hershman, Tania Nothing Here Is Wild, Everything Is Open
Johncock, Ben The Last Pilot
Knausgaard, Karl Ove A Death in the Family
Lambert, Charles The Children’s Home
Lewycka, Marina We Are All Made of Glue
Logan, Kirsty A Portable Shelter
Logan, Kirsty The Gracekeepers
Mars-Jones, Adam Lantern Lecture
Mayhew, Becky Lost Souls
McEwan, Ian On Chesil Beach
Munro, Alice The Love of a Good Woman
Perry, Grayson Playing to the Gallery
Perry, Sarah After Me Comes the Flood
Porter, Max Grief is the Thing with Feathers
Powell, Gareth Macaque Attack
Pryce, Malcolm The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth
Rao, Mahesh One Point Two Billion
Ronson, Jon So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
Shukman, Henry Travels With My Trombone
Stickley, Joel and Wright, Luke Who Writes This Crap?
Stickley, Joel 100 Ways to Write Badly Well
Stokes, Ashley (Ed) The End
Townsend, Sue Number Ten
Vigen, Tyler Spurious Correlations
Ware, Chris Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth
Welsh, Irvine Trainspotting
Williams, John Stoner

This year’s big discoveries (for me, obviously) were Alice Munro and Kent Haruf – both very low-key and unfussy writers who seem to be able to bring out some real truths about their flawed but realistic characters. Will be reading more of them in 2017. I also thoroughly enjoyed James Hawes’s first novel “A White Merc with Fins”, but the follow-up, “Rancid Aluminium” turned out to be a bit of a mess. (The film of it is supposed to be one of the worst British films of all time, incidentally, and I quite fancy watching it some time.)

Biggest disappointment was probably Stoner, which everyone was raving about a few years back. No idea what the fuss was about, although the fact that the protagonist is a creative writing lecturer may have had something to do with it, I guess.

Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” was a non-fiction highlight, and I also found Berry Gordy’s autobiography fascinating. My cousin-in-law Netta Cartwright’s “The Many Lives of Zillah Smith” was a fascinating insight into a totally different (and often-maligned) way of life.

Claire Fuller’s “Our Endless Numbered Days” was probably the best debut I read, and I’m looking forward to her next. I also thoroughly enjoyed Mahesh Rao’s “One Point Two Billion” (not technically a fiction debut, I guess, but it was his first collection of short stories).

I continued with Malcolm Pryce’s excellent Aberystwyth series, and I also got going on Ben Aaronovitch and Lindsey Davis (both form favourites of other members of the Pinnock household) – I’ll definitely be working my way through more of those in 2017. And I also got stuck into Karl Ove Knausgaard (the second one in the “My Struggle” series, “A Man in Love”, was the first book I finished this year). The premise for “My Struggle” isn’t enticing – basically a disagreeable Norwegian bloke describing his life in microscopic detail – but it’s oddly compelling and I can see why he’s such a cult figure.

The book I probably enjoyed the most this year was Patrick deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor – a weird fable with Freudian undertones that really should have got more attention. And my favourite short story of the year was Anne O’Brien’s winning story from the Bath Short Story Award, “Feather Your Nest”. I actually picked this one out myself during the first stage reading process, so it was good to see it go all the way to the top.

Drop me a line below if you see anything in the list you’d like to talk about, or if you’d like to suggest something I really ought to be reading this year.

My Book is Sad

Take it Cool Cover with groovesMy book ‘Take It Cool’ is sad because no-one has reviewed it. Actually, that’s not strictly true, because the Herald really liked it and Family Tree Magazine made it their TOP CHOICE for September 2014. Even Songlines … well, let’s not go there, because I don’t think they got what I was trying to do. Several bloggers have also chipped in with some nice comments. Have a look here if you want to see more.

BUT there haven’t been any reviews at all on either Amazon or Goodreads. And that makes my book sad, because it makes it feel terribly unloved.

So, if you live in the UK, I’m offering to give away not ONE, not TWO but THREE copies of it. All you have to do is add a comment below↓, and I’ll put you into the draw.

THERE ARE, HOWEVER, STRINGS ATTACHED. If you are one of the lucky people who gets a free copy of this very entertaining book, your part of the bargain is that you have to write a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or preferably both) within the next month or so.

Deal?

Off you go, then!

Happy Birthday, Jane!

janeaustenYes, it’s Jane Austen’s birthday today. And quite coincidentally, it’s also the fifth anniversary of the online publication of the prologue to Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens. Doesn’t time fly, eh? And what a surprising number of things have happened since then.

Anyway, I thought it would be nice to celebrate this with a new special, as we haven’t had one of those for a while. So here’s Mrs Darcy and the Fairy Godmother. Hope you like it.

The Only Thing Worse Than Being Talked About (Part 2)

This week has (like most weeks, if the truth were told) been a bit of a roller-coaster. It started on a bit of a high with the news that one of Amy McLean’s (remember her video review?) lecturers, to whom she had lent her copy of Mrs Darcy, proceeded to mention it several times to a lecture hall full of several hundred students on Monday afternoon. Oddly, I’d noticed a definite spike in Amazon sales that afternoon (not that I check that often, oh no), but maybe I’m overanalysing.

Then on Tuesday, John “Florence and Giles” Harding posted this rather extraordinary tweet, which obviously made my day. Still no word, incidentally, from the Battling Baroness. I have resolved to boycott her book as a mark of protest.

And yesterday, Martha Williams put up this lovely review on Amazon. So that makes seven 5-star reviews. Which is obviously nice.

However, late last night the first dissenting view appeared, courtesy of The Gatehouse Gazette. Although to be honest, given how massively subjective comedy is, it could have been a lot worse. My only concern is that the reviewer seems to be saying at the end that she’d quite happily read a sequel, but only if it was written in an entirely different style. (Oh, and why is there never any such thing as a good pun?)

Ho hum. Onwards and upwards…

Rejection and the Avoidance of Grudges

I’m going to change the nature of this blog very slightly this year, as there probably won’t be so many of the breathless “Look at me I won something” and “Look at me I’ve had something published” posts. This is mainly because I’m intending to focus a bit more on writing longer stuff – but do note the use of the word “intending” there though. So I’m thinking of doing the odd review and interview from time to time as well as the occasional homily from my lofty position as a Nearly Published Author. Hope this works for you out there, although I’m guessing the Russian viagrabots probably won’t care one way or another (hi, by the way, and no thanks, but it was nice of you to offer).

When I was made redundant from my last proper job, back in the early nineties, I did something odd that I’ve only recently worked out the reason for. After I’d had my interview with my boss (which I really hadn’t seen coming and the nature of which I only realised when it became apparent that he was reading from a script) and he’d walked me up to my office to collect my things, we paused on the steps outside the building. Then before I turned to head off into an uncertain future with a mortgage and young family to support, I shook his hand.

For years afterwards, I wondered why I’d done this. It was entirely instinctive, but it seemed the right thing to do at the time. But surely I was letting the man off the hook? Shouldn’t I have sworn at him and spat in his face? He was, after all, potentially ruining my life; in the early nineties, there weren’t many opportunities going, I had serious commitments and my financial position was heading due South even before this happened.

What I eventually worked out was that the handshake wasn’t for his benefit at all. It was all for mine. Basically I was saying to myself that I was big enough to cope with this in a dignified manner and there was no point in bearing a grudge. It was all about (here comes that word) closure. It meant that I could put it all behind me and move on without dwelling on the past. Which is, pretty much, what I did. (Incidentally, it struck me at the same time as this revelation that the Christian principle of “loving thine enemy and praying for thy persecutors” works on exactly the same basis – it’s not for your enemies’ and persecutors’ benefit, but yours. Why did no one ever explain this to me? Or maybe I simply wasn’t listening. Pity. Me and Christianity might have got on better.)

The relevance of this to writing is of course that writing is all about rejection. It will seem at times as if the entire publishing world is up against you. But the more you dwell on this fact, the less time you’ll spend writing and – more importantly – getting better at writing. So here’s a tip: every time you get an e-mail from an agent or publisher saying that your work isn’t quite right for them (or whatever), get right back to them to thank them for letting you know. You’ll feel so much better for doing so and they will be ever so slightly confused (which will also make you feel good). Then move onwards and upwards. Whatever you do, don’t bear a grudge against them in particular or (worse) the entire industry. It will only hold you back.

A similar principle applies to having your work critiqued. But maybe that’s a slightly different subject for another time.

So here we go …

Oh good, another blog. Well, not really. I’ve decided to set this site up as a kind of online writing CV, so that if by some remote chance anyone out there has come across something I’ve done and wants to read some more, I can tell them where to look. The secondary reason for setting this site up is that I have a massive ego.

As far as blogging is concerned, I’m not intending to post a lot here, over and above the occasional item about something being published. If I feel the urge to sound off about something, I generally do it over at the very wonderful If Shakespeare … blog, and I’ll stick to that for the time being.