I’m delighted to welcome Jon Pinnock to FoxTales as part of his blog tour promoting his new short story collection, Scott Prize-winning Dot Dash, published by Salt and available from them or via your local independent bookshop. (Or Amazon, but I refuse to link to the evil-non-tax-paying-empire, even though we do occasionally give in and buy stuff from them, if not books.)
I first made Jon’s acquaintance in a couple of online competitions a few years ago. I’ve written the occasional story I quite like and one or two shortlisted for good things but Jon’s consistency, his ability to write superb stories week after week was scary. When one of his stories was read on Radio 4 I gleefully name-dropped to all my Radio 4 listening friends.
I have to confess that I only read his novel Mrs Darcy and the Aliens a few weeks ago (I bought it when it came out but it toppled off the to read pile and vanished behind the dresser for months). It’s a terrifically pacey rollicking mad romp with rakishly appalling puns all the way; thriller x Regency romance x farce-with-added-tentacles. I loved it.
Jon’s offered to answer questions, so here goes:
MF: In some of the competitions, all those years (well, months) ago, we were set “prompts” or themes. Do you find such a restriction aids your creativity or is a hindrance?
JP: Prompts are a MASSIVE aid to creativity. The thing about prompts is that they get you started writing something – anything! – that fits. The theme of the story you’re writing may not be obvious at all – in fact, it usually emerges during the writing. So you have a theme that arises naturally from your subconscious instead of something that you’re trying to impose. If it works, the end result is a much, much more interesting and compelling story. Generally speaking, the more random the prompts, the more interesting the story!
MF: I know when I write I quite often set out to subvert a premise. When you have an idea, do you deliberately set out to remove it several steps from the mundane or is that something that happens instinctively?
JP: Both, I guess. If I find myself writing something that seems to be following an obvious, “easy” trajectory, I will certainly stop and see if there’s any way I can change course and – as you say – subvert the premise. But quite often I find myself wandering along a fairly odd path anyway, and I’ve gradually learnt to trust myself to keep following that path until its logical conclusion.
MF: Are there any Mrs Darcy short stories in the collection?
JP: Ha, no! I try to maintain a secure firewall between those two aspects of my writing. I hardly dare to imagine what might happen if that lot spilled over into my short stories. Especially Charlotte Collins and Lord Byron – they’d run riot.
MF: Can you recommend a story you’ve read recently?
JP: Small Animals by Alison Moore. It’s one of a series of limited edition single-story chapbooks produced by Nightjar Press, and it’s utterly amazing. It’s got Moore’s usual strong sense of underlying menace combined with a classic horror movie location of an isolated house and an utterly jaw-dropping revelation at the end. Grab a copy now quickly before they all go.
MF: What are you working on at the moment?
JP: Book no 3 was finished a while back and is currently on submission. I’m around 6000 words into a new novel, which is an attempt to combine literary and sci-fi elements with a dash of humour as well, and it’s at that awkward stage where I’m trying to decide whether it’s really worth committing to. That’s what I love about short stories – there’s no commitment involved, and you can try messing around with any subject in any style you like.