This week is National Short Story Week, and by an amazing
stroke of good luck feat of planning, my guest today is none other than short story supremo Jon Pinnock who guested here a couple of years ago before he was famous. So while I congratulate myself on an ace bit of talent-spotting, here is the man himself to to explain that all you need to get a novel and a short story collection published within a year is talent, determination, and a trip to a certain clothing chain.
Take it away, Jon
I’ve got a piece of card stuck to the wall in my office, just by the door. It’s actually a tag from an item of clothing – from Fat Face of all places
(ED: and I had you down as a White Stuff kind of guy!) – and under normal circumstances the inspirational message written on it is the kind of thing that would really annoy me. (Ed: ditto) But it’s just so apposite that I can’t help giving it prominence, because it sums up my life right now.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer – a writer of fiction, to be strictly accurate. But it wasn’t until half a dozen or so years ago that I actually had the right combination of time, motivation and confidence in my abilities to make anything like a push towards achieving that ambition. However, once I do get properly focussed on a target, I tend not to do things by halves. I am, in summary, a bit obsessive.
My first target, I suppose, was to get a short story or two published somewhere and maybe to enter a few competitions. The idea of, say, getting a story broadcast on the BBC was clearly insane, as was getting an entire collection published. But after a sustained period of writing and submitting stories, I was beginning to build up a bit of a CV. I was also having a lot of fun seeking out new outlets – especially places like Liars’ League, where real actors would read my work, and Tales of the Decongested, where I got to read my own work to a roomful of people.
I think the turning point was probably the 2008 Winchester Writers’ Conference. I was pitching a kids’ book in one of the one-to-ones with the writer Jane Bidder, who had stepped in at the last minute to cover for illness. She (probably quite rightly) demolished my proposal; however, I happened to mention in passing that I’d love to have a short story collection published “but of course that’s never going to happen”. Her response, looking at my CV, was “Why not?”
Over the next year or so, I began to believe that it might indeed happen. I’d already decided that the ideal publisher would be Salt, as they seemed to be one of the few places that were still publishing short story collections. Indeed, I’d read and enjoyed several of them, by writers such as Vanessa Gebbie and Tania Hershman. The problem was, they weren’t open to direct submissions. How could I get them to notice me?
The Scott Prize came to my rescue, although not quite as soon as I’d hoped. My first attempt, in the 2009 competition, bombed. However, I kept writing and by the time the 2010 submission window came around I had a much stronger set of stories. I’d also had a story broadcast by the BBC by then as well (I think there’s a kind of rule that if you achieve one kind of insane ambition, then other ones seem to follow). So it was that “Dot Dash” was one of the winners announced in early 2011.
In the meantime, “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” (Ed: sorry, too soon after breakfast for me to display the wickedly gruesome cover) somehow got accepted for publication as well, so I went very quickly from a no-book author to a two-book one. Two very different books, too. The only downside was that “Dot Dash” ended up being delayed for a year in order to avoid saturating the market with too much Pinnock product. (Ed: I wonder how that feels exactly?!?)
But it does mean I get to enjoy the buzz of being published all over again a year after the first time, and it’s still every bit as exciting.
John, thanks so much for coming along and reminding us of what we probably already knew (hard work and perseverance more important than fashion labels). And by next year, who knows what you’ll have out there – chick lit? poetry? (Actually come to think of it you do poetry too, but the first one is a joke – isn’t it?)
Meanwhile I’m off to put Dot Dash on my Christmas list and go through my wardrobe in search of inspiration. (M&S Woman, Hand Wash with Care, … no this isn’t working…)