Friday, 30 November 2012

Author Visit: Jonathan Pinnock

Hello everyone! The lovely Jon Pinnock is here to talk about his award-winning short story collection Dot Dash. So, pull up a seat. 

Everyone who replies to this post by midnight Wednesday 5th December will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Dot Dash. Giveaway is open worldwide.

Prepare to enter a world where nothing is ever quite what it seems, where elephants squat in living rooms, plastic ducks fall from the skies and even the rabbits can’t be trusted. The fifty-eight stories in Jonathan Pinnock’s Scott Prize-winning collection Dot Dash show a vivid yet disciplined imagination at work.

Jon! Welcome to the blog. Please make yourself at home. 

Thank you! It’s nice to be here. [SITS DOWN AWKWARDLY, PUTS HAND OUT TO STEADY SELF, KNOCKS OVER WINEGLASS] Oops. Did you like that carpet? Ah. I think salt is the best thing, isn’t it? Or is that for white? Ooh, and I’ll have a top-up whilst you’re at it. Right. Where were we? (Jen: *sigh* I can't take you anywhere)

I’m in the middle of reading Dot Dash, and loving it. Can you sum it up for those who haven’t read it yet?

That’s right, start off with a nice easy question, won’t you? (Glad you’re enjoying the book, though!) OK, Dot Dash is a collection of 58 stories of widely varying length. The book is structured so that the longer stories are interspersed with very short ones – hence the title of the collection. Other than that, there’s no real overarching theme connecting the stories. Some of them will make you laugh, some will make you cry and others will make you gasp. There may one or two that do all three.

‘Convalescence’ gave me the chills. A lot. Where did the idea for that come from? (Also, I need to ask: is the red frock a deliberate nod to Red Riding Hood? I think that reference amplified the chills.)

Ah yes, that one. I originally wrote that for a competition run by the University of Hertfordshire where the theme was “Vision”. That led me onto the old punk song “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” by The Adverts and I wondered what I could do to crank things up a little.

Funny you should pick up on the red frock – I hadn’t even thought of that! Could be subconscious, because it fits. Or maybe I was thinking more of the figure in the red coat in “Don’t Look Now” – in the sense of someone you can’t quite see or whose significance you can’t quite fathom. (Jen: Thanks for explaining - I'm fairy tale mad, so I was bound to see Red Riding Hood whether you intended it or not, ha!)

I’m very fond of “Convalescence” because it was a kind of a breakthrough for me, in that it was the first time I’d got any kind of recognition outside my immediate circle.

Ali Smith says in one of her short stories that people like short stories because they’re young and exciting; they’re fresh and enticing - a brief affair. Whereas she dubs the novel, jokingly, as a ‘flabby old whore,’ ha. What excites you about short stories? How do you approach writing them?

Ha! Lovely quote :) The thing I like most about short stories is that you can explore different themes, different styles, different voices and so on without feeling obliged to commit to spending an entire novel-writing year in their company.

Occasionally I start off with a fully-defined story in my head, but more often than not I only have a rough idea of where I’m heading, trusting my subconscious to come up with something as I write. When it does, it’s the most wonderfully exciting thing.

This collection has pieces of flash fiction as well as not-so-short stories. Do you have a favourite story? (A mean question, I know, I’m sorry. Actually, no, I’m not sorry. Choose!)

It’s still a mean question, though, even if technically I could simply answer “No”. But I’m not sure I’ll get away with that. Oh dear. I’d probably go for “Return to Cairo” because I think I managed to judge the emotional level about right without tipping over into mawkishness, and I’m quite proud of the central character.

Where were you when you found out you’d won the Scott Prize? How did you celebrate?

I was sitting at my computer, staring at Salt’s website and wearing out the F5 key. I celebrated by letting out an excited “Whoop!” I may also have punched my fist in the air. Then I went and told everyone I knew, some of whom were quite impressed.

What’s it been like working with Salt? You have two books out with them now: Dot Dash and Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens.

The experience has been quite different with each book. Steve Haynes (who edited Mrs Darcy) took a very “hands-on” approach and we had some interesting differences of opinion. Annoyingly, he turned out to be right most – if not all – of the time. Jen Hamilton-Emery has been a lot more “hands-off” with Dot Dash, although I guess you could say that most of the stories in the book have been through some sort of editing process already as they’ve pretty much all been published elsewhere or been through at least one judging/critique process. Both books look absolutely gorgeous, and it’s a real treat to have something that classy with my name on the cover.

Do you have a writing routine?

I have a rigid, infallible routine, which basically involves waiting until about two days before a vital deadline, panicking and then scribbling away frantically. I have found that this approach, suitably adapted, works for novels too. I originally wrote Mrs Darcy to a self-imposed publishing deadline of two online episodes a week.

Any book recommendations for us?

I’ve read loads of really good books this year, but I think the two fictional ones that really stood out were Alison Moore’s “The Lighthouse” (although everyone who reads your blog’s probably read that one already!) and Sophie Coulombeau’s “Rites”. I was sent “Rites” out of the blue by the publishers and I devoured it in a very short space of time – a riveting, all-too-believable story with pitch-perfect characterisation (Jen: I love both of those - Sophie stopped by for an interview last month). The best non-fiction book I read this year was definitely Jon Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test”, but then every book of his is terrific. The one book I always come back to, though, is Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth” – one of the cleverest and wisest books ever written, even if it is – nominally – for kids.

What are you working on at the moment? Any goals for the future?

I finished book #3 (the story of an offbeat real-life quest I undertook recently) a little while back and I’m currently engaged in the tiresome process of submitting it to all and sundry. Book #4 may turn out to be the novel I’ve written about 6000 words of, but it may not. Alternatively, it may turn out to be a sequel to Mrs Darcy. But then again, it may turn out to be something different altogether.

In terms of writing goals, I’ve already achieved way more than I ever dreamed possible when I started writing again in 2005. I really do have to pinch myself sometimes. I guess the next goal is to somehow establish some kind of proper career as a writer, which is unfortunately a rather intangible thing to aim at and I have a horrible feeling I’ll never know if I achieve it!

Well, it sounds like you're doing pretty damn well! I have faith. Thanks for chatting to us!


  1. I'd love the go in the draw (but I'll buy it anyway if I don't win).

  2. I already have a copy but I want one for a friend. Pick me!

    1. Re. your other comment - your post didn't get deleted, Katy; there's comment moderation on the blog to stop spam. I have to confirm comments before they're published.

  3. I love these little online interviews - intimate, funny, informative and ... whoops, is that a deadline at the door - gotta go

  4. Great interview. Sounds like a great book as do the recommended books - so little time! X

  5. I love short stories and this collection sounds intriguing.

  6. Would love a copy of this, sounds great. It's currently on my Christmas list!

  7. (Argh -- does that mean I'm working on a flabby old whore? Well, that's pepped up the job description...) Really enjoyed this interview, well done both!

  8. Thanks all for entering - the name pulled out of the hat was Debbie :)