Rumjhum Biswas by Rumjhum Biswas

Jonathan Pinnock runs a software development company, and lives with his wife, two children, several cats and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox. That’s the half of him. The other half, the one that makes up the whole Jonathan writes fiction and poetry, and runs a blog for writers called Jonathan Pinnock’s Write Stuff . Proxima Books published his novel Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, the first book in their stable. Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens is a humorous retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and has been widely hailed as “much funnier than the origina” and “the most fun you can have with a bonnet on” by Beat Magazine.  Read more praise for Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens.  Jonathan has written for BBC Radio 4 and has had his short stories and poetry published in many places. Fifteen of his stories have been long listed/shortlisted/commended and nine have won prizes in the last three years. Jonathan is the judge for this year’s short story competition at the New Writer Prose and Poetry Competition .

Here are links to some of Jonathan Pinnosk’s published stories: “Canine Mathematics “(Smokebox), “Feast” (52 Stitches), “‘Ello ‘Ello What’s All This Ear Then (Gloom Cupboard), “Hidden Shallows (Every Day Fiction), “Advice re Elephants (Metazen),  and “Special Relativity” (Eclectica).

Rumjhum Biswas: In your interview in Between the Lines you said, “I’m one of those people who’s always wanted to be a writer
but who’s always lacked the necessary drive to actually make it happen.”  So when and how did the desire change into action? When did you start taking your writing seriously?

Jonathan Pinnock

Jonathan Pinnock: I can pinpoint the exact date: April 26th, 2007, when I received the e-mail to tell me I’d been shortlisted in the University of  Hertfordshire’s Creative Writing Award for my story “Convalescence.” That was the first sign I’d ever had that I could hold my own in open competition (there were over 500 entrants from 36 different countries). The next nudge came a few weeks later, when I found out I’d won third prize. 

RB: Do you still write for your children?

JP: Well, they’re no longer children! So not so much these days, which is a shame. One day I’d quite like to write for some grandchildren, but I’m in no hurry.

RB: You’ve mentioned (in Between the Lines) that Dan Brown was a major influence when you wrote Mrs Darcy. How?

JP: Ha. I might just have been a bit mischievous and contrarian there, although there was a serious point in that one thing that Dan Brown is VERY good at is constantly dangling cliffhangers in front of the reader to make them read on. So I tried to do that when I was serializing Mrs Darcy in order to keep my readers coming back to find out what happened next. At the end of last year I announced a new project to re-read   The Da Vinci Code now that (in theory, at least) I know bit more about writing. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time yet to get started on it.

RB: What do you enjoy writing most, short stories, flash or novels?

JP: All of them! It depends how the mood takes me – in fact, I’ll throw in a fourth category: creative non-fiction, which is what I’m doing right now. I think each discipline feeds into the other. For example, writing flash is wonderful for tightening up your prose style – as indeed is poetry.

RB:  Can you tell us about your first flash fiction experience? Both, the one you read and the one you wrote?

JP: Both happened at the same time, in late 2007. I’d never come across the term before, but I was taking part in an event for charity where you had to write something new every hour based on e-mailed prompts and the very first flashes I wrote came out of that. Also, we had to critique each others’ work, so I also had to read everyone else’s flashes. It was quite a learning experience, both from the point of view of opening my eyes up to a new form and almost immediately having my attempts at that form subjected to fierce critique!

RB: Who are your favourite flash fiction writers?

JP: Gosh. So hard to pick favourites. Well … David Gaffney, Tania Hershman, Vanessa Gebbie and Nik Perring for starters. There are probably loads more!

RB: What do you look for in a great piece of flash?

JP: Someone once told me that the most important thing about a poem was that every word had to earn its place, and I think the same principle applies to flash. It doesn’t need to make perfect sense but it needs to make me think. Or laugh. Or cry. Ideally all three, although that doesn’t happen very often.

RB: What are the things that you as a judge believe would make a flash fiction competition entry stand out? Many flash pieces are perfectly good for publishing but don’t make the cut in a contest? Any advice for contestants?

JP: It would have to grab me from the first sentence and not let me go until the end. There’s no scope for flab. Also, it doesn’t have to be a twist or a punchline, but the ending has to deliver something. Sorry if that sounds a bit enigmatic. A good ending is very tricky to define, but you know it when you see it.

RB: What are things that you don’t like in some of the flash fiction that you’ve read or are reading? What kind of flash puts you off?

JP: I try to read without prejudice, and the thing about flash is that you can play with different styles of writing and different subjects without asking the reader to get involved in something they don’t care for. You can also break rules and get away with it. So provided the writing is lively enough, I’ll read anything. However, you asked about things I don’t like, didn’t you! I guess the thing that annoys me most is when the writer takes too long to get going, over-explains or doesn’t know when to stop. All of which boil down to flabby writing.

RB: Do you have a favourite genre in flash?

JP: I do like a bit of magic realism, although it can get very self-indulgent if handled by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. However, as with everything else that I read, I’m not over-obsessed with the concept of genre. I never understand people who say that they won’t read a book about such and such a subject because it doesn’t interest them, because a good writer can take any subject and make it interesting. For years I shied away from reading “Fever Pitch” despite being a fan of Nick Hornby because it was about football, but it turned out instead to be a book about male obsession and consequently absolutely fascinating.

RB: Can you take us through a writing day in your life?

JP: That’s a very tricky question. Sometimes I do in fact spend a day writing, but more often than not I don’t actually do much until the evening, and my writing day actually runs from around 9PM through to the early hours of the morning. Right now because of the somewhat odd nature of my WIP, I’m dividing my time between listening to music, scouring the internet, badgering people for interviews and then writing up the results.

RB: What things disrupt your writing? Do your cats sit a lot on your keyboard?

JP: Fortunately, the cats know not to disturb me. Things that do distract me include real-life work (because I have to feed my family somehow), lack of confidence in what I’m doing and of course the internet. And I can’t even switch the internet off at the moment, because (see above) the research for the current WIP requires me to spend hours surfing. I’m also going through a phase of throwing out a lot of stuff, which means that my office looks as if a small, highly-localized tornado has struck it, and I keep finding interesting stuff lying around in unexpected places. Once everything sorted out again I hope to achieve an atmosphere of zen-like calm.

RB: Do you write when you’re holidaying with your family? And if so, any reactions from your family?

JP: I try to avoid it. It doesn’t go down well. However, going on holiday often involves extended periods of travelling from one place to another, which is excellent time for thinking about writing. I often come back bursting with ideas, one or two of which are even sometimes worth pursuing.

RB: What pearls of wisdom would you share with someone who knows he or she is a writer but hasn’t started to write yet?

JP: Get writing! Try all sorts of different things, especially ones you’ve never tried before – even poetry. Join a writers’ group – ideally real life, but online ones are good, too. Be brave enough to submit your work for critique. Learn how to critique others. Send your work out. Learn to deal with rejection. Share your successes. Oh, and read lots.

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Rumjhum Biswas is a writer based in Chennai. Her fiction and poetry have been published all over the world. She has won a couple of prizes and accolades for poetry and fiction, including having one of her stories among Story South’s top ten stories of 2007, being long listed for the Bridport in poetry in 2006, shortlisted for Aesthetica’s Creative Works in 2011 and recently the first prize in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Competition.