The first week and a bit, actually, but who’s counting? It’s a day or two over a month since I registered the www.spillingcocoa.com domain and it’s all going a whole load better than I’d ever imagined. For one thing, I’d only anticipated having enough material to publish a poem a week, but it soon became clear that a poem a day was not only going to be possible but also necessary in order to get through all the wonderful stuff I was being sent.
Not only that, but people are reading the poems. Rating them. Sharing them. Subscribing. Take a look at this usage statistics graph:
I won’t divulge the scale used (yet – although let’s just say that the traffic is a LOT higher than I get here), but what the shape of it means is that, following the inevitable initial burst of activity, we seem to have settled down to a remarkably consistent traffic profile. I’d half-expected interest to drop off, but it doesn’t seem to have done so quite yet.
This, of course, is mostly down to the excellent quality of the submissions, and the good news is there’s plenty more to come. But please don’t be afraid to submit – as I hope you can see, we have a pretty broad definition of what constitutes humour.
The oddest thing that happened in the last week was finding out that we had a Duotrope listing a mere two days after going live. I had no idea they were so proactive. Quite a scary moment in some ways, though, because at that moment it suddenly seemed that this was something real and rather public. It is of course entirely possible that at some point in the future, in the middle of some horrendous scandal, I may look back on this time and wonder how it all seemed so innocent. Let’s hope not, though, eh?
Thought I’d give this place a bit of a spring clean. I’ve moved the menus around up there ^^^, so that all the short stuff is gathered together in one place, leaving room for a couple of new pages. I also found out (somewhat belatedly) that you could embed tweets amazingly easily, so the TwitFic page looks a lot smarter now.
The first of the new pages is Plays and it contains the entire script of my one and only radio play, D.O.E., along with the long and tragic tale of its non-production. Do take a look.
The other one is Audio, and this contains a couple of performance recordings, along with the first and only episode of a peculiar serial called The Last Snows of Summer. I still quite like this, although it is entirely possible that your mileage may vary.
Meanwhile, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis is primed and ready to start publishing this very Sunday, May 1st. As Shaw Taylor used to say, “Keep ’em peeled!”
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
I’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.
My name's Jonathan Pinnock. I lead a dual life. In one half of this, I run a software development company called Jonathan Pinnock and Associates. If you've come here looking for that, here's where you need to go.
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There's quite a lot of stuff on this site (apart from the blog), but if you want to find your way around, the sitemap is probably a good place to start as any.
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The bio-historico-musicological-memoir thing Take It Cool was published by Two Ravens Press in July 2014.
The Scott Prize-winning short story collection Dot Dash was published by Salt in November 2012.