What was the first short story you ever read?
Apart from the ones in the Armada Book of Ghost Stories (which were pretty excellent, as far as I can remember), the first one I ever read by a recognised writer was probably Graham Greene’s “A Little Place off the Edgware Road”, which we had to read at school. I loved the dark twist at the end and I ended up buying the collection that it came from.
What was the first short story you ever wrote, and what was it about?
The first short story I wrote as an adult was for a competition run by Rymans. It was called “Edgar’s Lodger”, and it was about someone who meets up with an old friend who relates this bizarre story about a lodger he’s had, who has basically taken over his identity. The twist at the end is of course that the narrator has in fact been talking to the lodger rather than his friend. It was quite a neat idea, apart from the fact that it made no sense whatsoever. I think there was a film called “Single White Female” which came out a year or so later that told a very similar story.
Some of your stories in Dot Dash are very short indeed, flash fiction rather than a traditional short story, which do you find easiest to write?
The first draft of a really short story tends to arrive quicker than a longer one, but it can take many more iterations to get it absolutely right.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Random prompts are always useful to get a story flowing, although the actual theme can often turn out to be something quite different. Very occasionally, an idea appears fully-formed, but I can only think of a couple of times this has actually happened. I actually put together a Wiki describing how each of the stories in Dot Dash came about – you can find it here: http://www.jonathanpinnock.com/wiki_dotdash/?title=Main_Page.
What difference, if any, does winning a literary prize make, as a writer and on a personal level?
Depends on the prize 🙂 As a writer, it can give you a certain amount of credibility – although this does depend on whether or not the people you’re trying to impress have actually heard of the prize. On a personal level, it tells you that you’re probably not entirely rubbish and you’re not wasting your time. That’s surprisingly important.
Your book Take It Cool is a bit of a departure for you – could you tell us something about it?
It’s the true story of my search for an obscure reggae singer called Dennis Pinnock, whose work I first came across in the early 80s. It’s also about my investigations into how we came to share the same pretty daft surname, which led to some interesting and somewhat alarming research into eighteenth-century Jamaica, including a corrupt chief justice and plantation owner called Philip Pinnock.
How did it come about?
It came about because I felt it was a story that had to be written, because it touched on so many diverse areas. I actually started writing it in 2005, so it took a long time to find its way into its final form.
What reaction have you had to it from readers?
The small select band of people who have read it have been very positive about it. It also had a very nice review in the Scottish Herald and it was the top choice for the month in Family Tree magazine. There’s apparently going to be a review in December in one of the music magazines as well, but I’ve had no indication as to whether it’s going to be positive or negative.
Can you recommend one short story people should read for NSSW?
Can I recommend two? When I read “Flora” by David Rose in the 2011 Best British Short Stories anthology, it was the best story I’d read that year. I read it again this year in his collection Posthumous Stories and it’s still wonderful. If they’ve got time, I’d also recommend George Saunders’ somewhat longer “The Semplica-Girl Diaries”, which is available online here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/15/the-semplica-girl-diaries.