Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

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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?

Work Still In Progress

I had a plan. I was going to finish this novel by the end of 2015. Then I was going to give it a quick whizz through and send it out to a couple of trusted beta readers so I could have it ready to chuck out into the world some time in the first quarter of this year.

Then December came along with all that December brings with it and I ended up not writing a word between the end of November and the beginning of January. And the problem was that I’d left my main character on the cusp of the BIG REVEAL which would explain pretty much everything that had happened in the rest of the book.

This was a problem because during December, when I wasn’t able to find the time to sit down and write, I was constantly going over the big reveal in my head and planning how it was going to unfold. Over and over again. The result of this was that by the time I sat down to write it, it already felt as if the big reveal had been going on for a month and I was frankly bored of the whole thing. I ended up with a horrible, clunky mess.

I guess it all comes of not plotting. I somehow imagined with this book that at some point I’d sit down and work out what was going to happen and why, but somehow I never actually did. I raised this with my tutor at Bath Spa and, to my considerable surprise, she told me that if I felt comfortable with not plotting, I didn’t actually need to. So I didn’t. And I was very pleased to find out recently that Ian Rankin feels exactly the same way (and, it turns out, for much the same reasons).

The downside of not plotting is that you tend to end up with a massive tangle of stuff to explain at the end. This is really good if your aim is to confuse the reader, which I guess is the case in the kind of mystery novel I’m working on. However, the time has to come when you do have to sort it out, but – and here’s the tricky bit – without looking as if you’re sorting it out. I suppose it’s analogous to the problem with exposition at the start of a novel. It’s probably necessary for you to explain, for example, that your characters have three arms, are the size of ants and live on a square planet called Zöbsqurtz, but do you let that emerge during the course of a (possibly rather stilted) piece of dialogue or do you just come out and just say it? Or do you incorporate some kind of device like Douglas Adam’s Hitch Hiker’s Guide?

Anyway, I ended up disposing of the large clunky explanatory mess (and one entire character, who now no longer needs to make an appearance at all) and I’ve now got a slightly tighter, slightly less clunky explanatory mess. The really good thing is that I’m happy enough with it to put it to one side and continue on to the spectacular final scene, which I’m enjoying a LOT more.

85000 words down, maybe 5000 to go. Let’s say we’ll do this by the end of January, right?

You’re on.

Phocoena Phocoena

One of my New Year resolutions was to blog more often. And lo, only two days after the last post, here’s another one. Actually, this should probably have appeared back in December, when this story was first published in The Pygmy Giant, but I didn’t actually notice that it was up until Shirley Golden on Twitter happened to remark on it.

In the spring of last year, I was persuaded to put on a Creative Writing course at the pub in a village near us. For whatever reason (limited catchment area / botched publicity / the person running it) it wasn’t particularly well attended, with the class size hovering between one and two for its duration. However, if nothing else, I can at least say that the course gave birth to this flash, because one of the tasks I set my tutee was to write a story beginning with this phrase (which I came up with at random on the spur of the moment):

Derek’s wife ran off with a porpoise.

I thought I ought to show willing by writing something myself, and this flash is what I came up with.

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.

All Sorts of Stuff

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 16.18.49And the pre-Christmas flurry of stuff continues. First, and most importantly, the excellent Refugees Welcome anthology is now available to download or order (US or UK). It’s got my story, “Pure Blood” in it, but that’s not the main reason for buying it (it’s actually around about the 273rd reason). Buy it because (a) all the profits go to excellent causes and (b) there are loads of other excellent writers contributing to it.

Next, my story “Heart of Snow” is up at Every Day Fiction today. It’s been a while since I’ve had a story there and I was delighted to be asked to contribute to their December invitation-only season. EDF was one of the very first places to publish a story of mine (this one, since you ask), so they always have a special place in my writer’s heart. Having agreed to do this, I’ve now remembered how active their commenters are and I’m dreading what anyone’s going to say, because I’m really not sure about this story at all!

Finally, seeing as it was Jane Austen’s 240th birthday yesterday, I thought I’d better put together a new Mrs Darcy special. So sit back, take a bite out of a two-headed lizard and enjoy Mrs Darcy: Fury Road. Had to happen, really.

Phosphorescence and Other Stuff

7505114Bit of a pre-Christmas flurry of activity going on here. First of all, my story “Phosphorescence” is now up at The Nottingham Review. As I think I mentioned when I posted about its acceptance, it was shortlisted – under a different name – for the Bridport Prize back in 2012 but it’s struggled to find a home ever since. I think the reason for this is that it doesn’t, on the face of it, make a lot of sense. To be honest, I really wasn’t sure what I was doing when I wrote it, but it sort of felt right, so I went with it. I should do this more often.

I’ve also had an acceptance from The Pygmy Giant for my flash “Phocoena Phocoena”. Not sure when this is going to appear, but I’ll let you know.

And finally, I’ve also got something coming up at an old favourite haunt of mine, but I think I’ll keep that under wraps for the time being. Always keep your readership hungry for more, eh?

Graffiti and Other Things

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 09.36.20My cheeky little flash “Graffiti” went up at Spelk the other day. In case you’re wondering where the idea for this came from, I was thinking about the “sword” dangling from Orion’s belt and whether that interpretation might have been somewhat bowdlerised over the years…

In other news, I was chuffed to find out last week that I was one of the finalists in this year’s Aesthetica Creative Writing Award for my short story “Adagio Assai”. I also found out that my humorous flash “Embarrassing Dad” had been accepted for Flash Magazine’s forthcoming “Funny Bone” anthology, which I’d been invited to submit to a while back. I always panic when I get invited to submit to things, because I never know if the piece has been accepted on its merits or simply because I got a free pass. I’d like to think that they could have turned this one down, but I’ll never really know. (This is, incidentally, the same reason why I try to avoid self-publishing – I need to know that whatever I’ve done has succeeded in fooling at least one gatekeeper.)

And finally, I also found out last week that I have passed my MA in Creative Writing. Get me.

Spelk, The Nottingham Review and Other Stuff

A casual viewer of this blog over the last few months would scarcely guess that it’s been running pretty much continuously for seven and a bit years. Time was when I’d be constantly bombarding you with reports about things I’d had accepted or published, to say nothing of the occasional interview or even a review or two. I recently got invited to a couple of events for book bloggers at the Groucho Club, and I felt too embarrassed to go because it’s been so long since I last reviewed anything here.

Still, even though the blog is a bit thin on the ground, I have been writing stuff. TTAAAP is now over 77000 words long and is nearing the final showdown. I’d love to share some nuggets of information about the process I’m going through with it, but it feels a bit presumptuous to do so. I still feel like a complete beginner with this. Perhaps I always will. One thing I can say is that I had a massive wobble last week when I discovered a plot hole the size of a small crater and it seemed like I was going to have to unpick a considerable part of the book in order to fix it. Fortunately, I managed to find an acceptable way of filling it, and I think I can now see my way to the finish. Just one detail to sort out, and we’re done. Then one last edit, and it’s over to the beta readers.

In the meantime, I’ve had a couple of acceptances for short stories. My cheeky little ultra-short, “Graffiti”, has been taken by Spelk, and my slightly longer story, “Phosphorescence”, has been taken by The Nottingham Review. “Phosphorescence” was actually shortlisted in the 2012 Bridport Prize under the name “The Joy Inside”, but it’s been struggling to find a nice home ever since. I’m quite fond of it, even if I still don’t quite understand it. You’ll see what I mean when it gets published.

Refugees Welcome Anthology

12074783_785777198214482_843759186885204020_nBack in the middle of September, the excellent Greg McQueen put out a call for stories to make up a new charity anthology, Refugees Welcome, in aid of Syrian refugees. The guidelines were for stories up to 3000 words:

Stories about hope, happiness, humour, stories that somehow shine a light in a dark situation.

I really wanted to submit to this one, for two reasons. Firstly, Greg’s charity anthologies are excellent (I’ve still not quite forgiven myself for failing to submit to the Haiti one, but I was proud to be part of the Pakistan earthquake book). But more importantly, the whole tone of the current debate about refugees sickens me, and the idea of being part of a project that  would  plaster the phrase ‘Refugees Welcome’ all over the internet appealed to me.

There were, however, a couple of problems. The first one was that the submission deadline was the day after the final deadline for my MA manuscript. The second, slightly trickier one, was that bit about hope, happiness and humour, and shining a light in a dark situation. This is not an area that I am comfortable with. I can do humour (I think) but it tends to be a bit on the dark side. My forte is more in the area of casting a shadow over a light and cheerful situation.

Anyway, in the end I did manage to come up with something that came close to ticking the right boxes and I just squeezed it in before the deadline. And last night I found out that “Pure Blood” was one of the twenty-one stories accepted. Watch out for me boring you about it a bit more when the anthology gets published.

Liars’ League at Sevenoaks

Last Wednesday I delivered my 40000 word (well, 41439, words to be accurate) manuscript to Bath Spa for marking. Since then I have been tidying up a few things that got slightly out of hand during that final burst of activity, and now it’s time to breathe some life back into this thing.

At some point, I’m going to blog about the strange and wonderful world of Creative Writing MA courses, and I’ve also got a review or two lined up. But first, I thought I’d gently ease into things with a brief report on Tuesday’s Liars’ League event at the Sevenoaks Literary Celebration.

I’ve been submitting stuff to Liars’ League since 2008. Sometimes they pick my stuff, sometimes they don’t (which is, incidentally, what makes it especially satisfying when they do pick one). Anyway, back in May, they picked a story of mine called “Ventriloquism for Dummies”. Unfortunately I didn’t get there on the night, so when I heard that it was also going to be read again at a special LL night in Sevenoaks featuring stories from all eight years of the League, I was determined to go along.

I was so glad I did. Clive Greenwood gave the piece an absolutely superb reading, bringing out every nuance of the story. In fact, every single reader was excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening. What’s more, there was a decent sized audience – well in excess of 100, I would have thought. Eat your heart out, all you who say the short story is in trouble.

Anyway, judge for yourself. Here’s Clive:

And here’s a picture of the assembled actors, plus an author or two. One of these days I may learn to look like a normal human being when I’m having my picture taken.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Meanwhile, in other news, I almost forgot to mention that TAKE IT COOL got a very nice review from the lovely Marija Smits:

This book is fascinating and as creative non-fiction goes, a highly-enjoyable read. The author is a fine writer and very, very funny; he has the kind of self-deprecating, weird humour that really tickles me and I laughed out loud at many parts.

One final thing: if you’re interested in a signed copy of MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS, I’ve reduced the UK price to £4.99 including P&P. Bargain, I say. Bargain. GET IN.

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