Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

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Shortlisted Thresholds Feature

2016-04-20 22.26.27

Well, I didn’t get any further than the shortlist. But I still won some cool swag (I’ve got a couple of them already, but the rest are all new). And here’s my piece, published today with some very nice comments from the judges. Oh all right, if you absolutely insist. This is what they said:

‘A highly inventive and playful piece that recreates – with verve – the Borgesian tension between philosophical inquiry and creative mystery’; ‘witty and clever’; ‘a creative approach to the brief, with an admirable satirical and philosophical tone’.

And in case you’re wondering how I ended up writing it, it was based on the submission I did last year for Tessa Hadley‘s short story module on the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA. Rule no 1 of writing: everything is recyclable…

Spilling Cocoa

I may come to regret this. I’ve just set up my first-ever magazine. It’s called Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis and it’s open for submissions now. Go and have a look. Submit. Please.

Film Review: VICTORIA

On paper, this sounded amazing. A high-adrenaline heist thriller shot in a single take on the early morning streets of Berlin. No cuts, no trickery, just one long hand-held take. I love a narrative gimmick, me, and this sounded right up my street. Here’s the trailer. Fun, eh?

I should have been warned. Last time I fell for this kind of thing, I wasted an hour and a half of my life watching “Russian Ark”, which is a fabulously glitzy single-take ramble through the rooms of the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum. Totally spectacular and technically brilliant, but (for me at any rate) it lost the plot, along with my attention, about halfway round. It became far more entertaining to wonder about all the frantic scurrying around there must have been going on behind the scenes.

The thing is, gimmicks are great fun, but if that’s all there is, the story fails to resonate. The main reason why Pixar were successful from the off wasn’t just that they produced the first-ever full-length computer-animated film. It was that they coupled their technical brilliance with a terrific story, and it’s the story that ultimately lingers on. The clue’s in the title of their first feature, “Toy Story”. It’s technology (toys) and narrative (story) working together. I’m really looking forward to putting that into a PowerPoint presentation one day, BTW.

“Victoria” is, despite the hype, not a great film. For me (again), while it was technically clever, it didn’t work at all as a story. However, it didn’t work at all in quite an interesting way, because not only did the gimmick fail to serve the story – it actually wrecked it completely.

Now from this point on there will be spoilers, so I’ll make a break and then continue.

Continue reading

Thresholds Feature Writing Shortlist

Well, then. I seem to have made it through to the next stage. This is all rather splendid, because it means that whatever happens, my piece will be published on the Thresholds website. It also means that whatever happens, I’ll win something. I’d completely forgotten there were prizes for all the shortlistees, and to be honest, that stack of books is almost enough to make me hope I don’t win either of the big prizes. Almost, but not quite.

In other news, my 2009 story “Hidden Shallows” was one of managing editor Camille Gooderham Campbell’s picks from the Every Day Fiction archives. In case you’re interested, here’s the Dashipedia entry about how it came into being. (What, you mean you’ve never looked at Dashipedia? Took me bloody ages, that did. Did George Saunders bother doing something like that for “Tenth of December”? Did he hell.)

Citations and Erdős Numbers

I’m suffering from a  cold today so I’ve given myself permission to do something silly. I was recently Googling my name (don’t tell me you don’t do that, because I won’t believe you) and I thought I’d have some fun and try Google Scholar instead. It turns out that my work has been cited in some pretty hardcore places, so I’ve added a couple of new pages to this site, just to show off.

Here’s where my software books have been cited. (Actually, at the moment, it’s just the one book – there are too many for the collaborative ones.)

And here’s where Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens has been cited. Yes, it really has. Amazing world we live in, eh?

Of course, I began to wonder if these citations might point towards me having an Erdős Number. Because, obviously, this is something that everyone should aspire to. However, it turns out that the online tools to check collaboration distance (try this one if you want some fun) sometimes get a bit confused. I got quite excited when a couple of my Wrox co-authors appeared to have an Erdős number, only to find that they’d swapped places with someone with a similar name halfway along the chain. In any case,  it turns out that collaboration on an elementary textbook doesn’t really count, although I have to say I’m quite prepared to argue the toss about the Wrox books being elementary if I ever actually do find a collaborator who’s made it all the way. “Erdős Number 5″ would look massively cool in my Twitter profile.

Thresholds Feature Writing Longlist

Quiet here, isn’t it? The reasons for my silence are not entirely unrelated to the terror alluded to in my previous post, which has induced one of my (thankfully quite rare) episodes of frozen brain. Anyway, I had some good news today from the people who run the excellent Thresholds annual feature-writing competition. Last year I failed to make the longlist, although they did like my contribution sufficiently to subsequently publish it. This year I have gone at least one better. There are, however, fourteen very talented writers (including several online chums) still between me and that £500, so I’m not counting my chickens quite yet. Instead, I’ll just be adding it to the list of things to worry about…

The Terror of the Finished Manuscript

Yesterday morning I made the last couple of tweaks to the first complete draft of my new book and I am now in a state of high anxiety, a state that I anticipate being in for the next few months at the very least. There’s a lot said about the terror of the blank page, although I’ve never really found this an issue. The question has never been “what on earth do I write?” but “which of the many things buzzing around my head do I want to pick?”

The real terror, to my mind, is the terror of the finished manuscript. What if the thing I’ve spent over a year of my life on turns out to be shit? The MA programme at Bath Spa was a wonderful safe place to try out stuff without fear of embarrassment, but I’m now about to start the long process of sending this thing out into the real world. Here’s a chronological list of things that could go wrong (all of which I am envisaging right now):

  • Beta readers hate it – since these are friends and family, this could be especially awkward
  • No agent will touch it
  • An agent will take it on but won’t be able to sell it
  • It’ll get sold to a rubbish publisher
  • It’ll get published and ignored
  • It’ll get published and reviewed badly
  • No-one will buy it
  • People will buy it but will start looking at me in a funny way

And that’s just the first few that came into my head.

The worst of it all is that I suspect it doesn’t get any easier. Why am I doing this again?

Café Writers Poetry Competition Commendation

PrintI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I still don’t really understand poetry. With fiction, I can read most things and have a decent stab at working out what they’re going on about, however opaque or experimental. But there is a sizeable body of poetry that eludes me completely, and I’m forced into a position where the best I can say is that sometimes I like what I read and sometimes I don’t. I really don’t feel I’m that much above the level of understanding shown in this hilarious exchange on the York Literature Festival / YorkMix poetry competition.

Which is an odd way of introducing the fact that I’ve just won a commended prize in the latest Café Writers competition – one of a dozen prizewinners chosen out of almost 2000. Yes, you read that right. 2000. I still can’t really get my head round it. It’s actually the best competition result I’ve had in years, whether fiction or poetry, and yet I still don’t really feel I know what I’m doing.

The awful truth is that I haven’t actually written a poem for over a year. There are good reasons for this – I’ve been concentrating on my current novel, for one thing – but it still means I feel like a bit of a fraud. I like writing poetry, though, and I’m sure I’ll go back to it soon once the first phase of novel edits are done. And maybe I’ll understand it a bit better one day so I begin to feel like a proper poet.

Oh, and I do like the published prizewinners, by the way – especially ‘Living in Trap Street’, which is wonderful. Take a look.

Fish Off The Hook

Excellent news. The people at Fish have sorted out the problem with my entry. The problem – as far as I can make out – seems to have been a twofold one.

First of all, there definitely seems to be some kind of issue with the “buy one entry, get one half price” offer. I know of at least one other person who has had a similar problem (although, for reasons related to the second part of the problem, they got their entry fixed a lot quicker than mine). The good news is that they appear to be going through all the “unpaid” entries by hand and sorting them out. (I don’t envy them having to do that.) However, if you have taken advantage of this offer, it might be worth checking your author page to see what the status of the second one is.

The second part of the problem was to do with my having two author accounts and e-mailing them from the address that was tied to the wrong one. For some reason, they don’t seem to be able to look up entries by using the name of the account (which I was giving them), or indeed by using the number of the entry (which I was also giving them). They can only look them up by using the e-mail address, which of course was the only piece of information that I was (implicitly) giving them that was wrong. The result of which was that I appeared to be banging on about a completely unrelated entry that was (a) paid for, (b) for a different competition and (c) several years old. They almost certainly assumed I was some kind of crank.

Many thanks to the people at Fish and also to those who helped behind the scenes.

The only thing is, after all that, I’m really not sure if the entry’s any good. But I guess it’s the principle that counts.

The One That Got Away

UPDATE This issue has now been resolved satisfactorily. More information here.

Attention short story writers! Has anyone else had problems with their entries for the Fish competition this year? Or is it just me?

This is what happened to me.

I’m a pretty regular entrant for the Fish competitions. They’re pricey, but there’s potentially a fair bit of kudos to be had if you get into the winners’ enclosure. I haven’t, as it happens (and chances are I won’t in the future once this post has gone live) but I have been shortlisted for the poetry competition in 2014, the flash fiction one in 2008 and the full length short story one in 2009. Long shortlists, but close enough to make it think it might be worth carrying on entering.

On November 30th of last year, I uploaded two entries for the short story prize, noting that whereas the price for one entry was €20, the price for two was €30. I duly paid my €30 via PayPal. However, I didn’t receive any confirmation that my stories had been entered, so I went to look at my author page on their website, where it appeared that only one of the stories had actually been entered. The other one was flagged as “unpaid”.

So I wrote to Fish via their online form:

I just entered a couple of stories for the short story prize and paid €30 (order ID XXXXX). However, only the first one is showing up as being “paid”. Can you reassure me that both will be entered into the competition?

I also mentioned underneath my sign-off that my user account was JonPin. Remember this, because it will be important later.

On December 1st, I got this message back:

You have uploaded and paid for one Flash Fiction entry.

To upload more, simply repeat the entry process.

Let me know if I can help in any way.

Huh?

This is what I wrote back:

I hope not! If you take a look at my account, you’ll see that I uploaded and paid for two short stories (entry ids SS15/YYYYY and SS15/ZZZZZ). I paid €30 for this (€20 for the first one and €10 for the second one). However, only SS 15/YYYYY is marked as having status “Marked”. SS 15/ZZZZZ is marked as having status “Unpaid”. I hope this doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been entered.

I then got a generic e-mail from the “Fish Publishing Team”:

We noticed you are experiencing difficulty uploading one or more entries to the Short Story competition.

Entry lines have been extended until December 3rd at mid-night GMT, to assist you with any technical difficulties you may have encountered.

Let us know if we can help in any way.

To which I responded thus:

No problem in uploading at all. The story is there and, crucially, paid for. The problem is, as I’ve already reported to you, it’s showing up as “Unpaid”. So extending the deadline isn’t going to do me any good, I’m afraid.

Their response on December 2nd was not entirely helpful:

Your entry is showing up as paid from this end.

So I replied with this:

Sorry to be pedantic, but do you mean that BOTH of my entries are showing up as paid? Because SS15/ZZZZZ is still showing up as unpaid.

They replied with this:

Yes, with the e-mail address: [redacted 1] there is one entry. Do you have another account set up with a different e-mail address?

which at least explained some of the confusion. It turned out that I had a zombie author account (jonpinnock) at Fish containing a single one page story entry from 2013 which was tied to the e-mail address [redacted 1]. My main author account was tied to a different e-mail address, [redacted 2].

Unfortunately, the people at Fish had assumed that because I was e-mailing from [redacted 1], I was referring to the zombie account, despite (a) the fact that I’d told them I was specifically referring to the user account JonPin, (b) the only story in the jonpinnock account was one from 2013 and (c) none of the short story identifiers I’d given them matched up with the zombie account.

I thought I could clear things up by sending them, on December 3rd, a couple of screenshots from JonPin:

Please find attached two screenshots (user JonPin). The first is from my payment screen. As you can see, I’ve paid for TWO entries, the first at €20, the second at the discounted price of €10.

[screenshot showing entry ID XXXXX with two stories, YYYYY at €20 and ZZZZZ at €10]

The second screenshot is from my entries screen, where it shows the second entry as “Unpaid”.

[screenshot showing YYYYY flagged as “marked” and ZZZZZ flagged as “unpaid”]

Please can you sort this out?

There was no reply to this, so on December 7th, I e-mailed them again:

I was just wondering if you’d got any closer to resolving this. It’s still showing exactly the same – both paid for, but only one marked as such. The account name is JonPin, and I think it’s tied to account [redacted 2].

There was still no reply from Fish, so on December 17th, I e-mailed them again:

This still doesn’t seem to have been resolved. I just logged in again as user JonPin and the situation is exactly as I reported before: two entries to the short story competition paid for, but only one of them marked as such. Can you please either confirm that both have indeed been entered (and marked as such) or refund the fee for the second entry, €10.

Which seemed fair enough.

However, there was still no response from Fish and to be honest I got caught up in Christmas and other stuff and didn’t chase it any further. But then on January 25th, a stray neuron fired at Fish HQ and the following e-mail popped into my inbox:

From this end, you have uploaded one entry and paid for it and there is no sign of  another entry.
What competition did you enter it to? Can you please forward a copy of your PayPal receipt?

Apologies for any inconvenience.

Gritting my teeth, I responded with a screenshot of my PayPal receipt:

I entered two stories (SS15/YYYYY and SS15/ZZZZZ) into the Short Story Competition. I’m attaching my PayPal receipt which clearly shows that I paid €30, i.e.€20 for the first one and then the discounted price €10 for the second.

I hope it isn’t too late to sort this out.

There was no response to this. So yesterday (January 26th) I thought I’d nudge them along once more in case they were still confused about what I was talking about:

I’m attaching a picture of part of my author page (JonPin). As you can see, I have one entry flagged as marked and one flagged as unpaid. Can you please either (1) reassure me that the “unpaid” one (which, as we all know, has actually been paid for) has been entered and marked or (2) refund me the €10 for my second entry.

What worries me is that this suggests there is a problem with your entry system and I’m sure there must be many others in the same situation.

So far I have had no response to this at all.

Anyone else taken advantage of the €30 two-story discount? If so, have both your stories been entered? Have you checked?

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