Thursday, 1 November 2018

Novel News and The Stroud Book Festival

My new novel, or at least its opening chapters, was placed second by best-selling author Katie Fforde in the mainstream fiction competition organised by the Stroud Book Festival and sponsored by Katie.

I had to provide an excerpt of 3,000 words and a brief synopsis for the competition

Stroud Book Festival takes place between the 7th and 11th of November, features a huge variety of events, and includes famous names such as Prue Leith and Mary Portas. Patrick Gale and Bernadine Evaristo, Professor of Creative Wring at Brunel University, will be reading Refugee Tales written by the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. And there will be a visit from Ade Adepitan, author, TV presenter and wheelchair basketball champion.

The competition news was a great surprise, a marvellous boost, and the feedback provided by Katie will prove invaluable when I'm editing. I submitted the pages to the competition before the novel was finished, but 'The Days Between the Hours' is now a complete draft undergoing revisions and I will hopefully have more news of it soon.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

A Mathematical Mystery by Jonathan Pinnock - The Truth About Archie and Pye

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Jonathan Pinnock. I have had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan at literary events and have always enjoyed and admired his writing skills for their originality, insight and humour. He is already the author of two short story collections, a poetry collection and a novel, Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens. And on October 4th, Farrago published his hugely enjoyable new novel, The Truth About Archie and Pye, A Mathematical Mystery:
Something doesn't add up about Archie and Pye ...
After a disastrous day at work, disillusioned junior PR executive Tom Winscombe finds himself sharing a train carriage and a dodgy Merlot with George Burgess, biographer of the Vavasor twins, mathematicians Archimedes and Pythagoras, who both died in curious circumstances a decade ago.

Burgess himself will die tonight in an equally odd manner, leaving Tom with a locked case and a lot of unanswered questions.

Join Tom and a cast of disreputable and downright dangerous characters in this witty thriller set in a murky world of murder, mystery and complex equations, involving internet conspiracy theorists, hedge fund managers, the Belarusian mafia and a cat called µ.
To find out more about The Truth About Archie and Pye, I asked Jonathan a few questions.

·         What originally sparked the idea for The Truth About Archie and Pye?

Several things. First of all, I wrote a short story about two mathematicians in response to a competition prompt on a website called The Write Idea. That was eventually read at Liars’ League and published in my first collection Dot Dash. Then it sat in the back of my mind for several years until I was casting around for something to write on my CWMA course. On the drive home from Bath Spa one day I was thinking about the book we’d been studying on the Narrative Non-Fiction module, Janet Malcolm’s The Silent Woman, which was about her search for the truth about Sylvia Plath. I was very taken with the cast of odd literary characters she’d unearthed and it struck me that there was rich material for a novel there. Almost immediately afterwards it also struck me that I actually knew very little about literature, although I did know quite a lot about maths. And that led me to bring back Archie and Pye from that old story. By the time I got home, I knew exactly what I was going to write.

·         I love the way some short stories linger, waiting to lead their author towards a novel. Did you plan the plot in great detail first, or did the characters develop it for you?

It was very much driven by the interactions between the characters. I love the way you bring someone into existence and they develop their own motivations.

·         It's very exciting that another Mathematical Mystery is underway. What are the pros and cons of writing a sequel?

Pros: 1) the confidence gained from the fact that my publishers feel sufficiently invested in the project to commission it, 2) the opportunity to revisit and further develop old characters and to flesh out some minor characters. Cons: the scarily compressed schedule. I had years to write and refine the first book, and considerably less than a year to write the sequel.

·         You studied maths at university – how much has your mathematical background impacted on your writing in general, and on The Truth About Archie and Pye in particular?

I don’t know really. I think maths teaches you to be rigorous and to make sure that every step follows from the previous one. Which I guess is useful for avoiding plot holes.

·         Yes, it must be so useful when plotting to have that methodical and structured approach. How about your writing process? Has it changed since your first book was published?

                  Not that much. It’s still as chaotic as ever. I have a pathological aversion to planning and plotting.

         As for your intriguing characters, do you have a favourite in The Truth About Archie and Pye?

I actually like all of them, and I’d feel quite bad picking one of them as my favourite.

·         How about a favourite mathematician?

It’s got to be Paul Erdös, who collaborated with every mathematician under the sun and lived an eccentric itinerant lifestyle, where he would turn up without warning and crash on their sofas before putting together a paper with them over breakfast. You know the thing about actors having a Bacon number – the number of degrees of separation between them and Kevin Bacon? Well, Mathematicians have Erdös numbers. A select few have a Bacon-Erdös number.

·         And your favourite literary character?

Probably Sam Vimes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. The decent, wise and incorruptible authority figure we all secretly desire. Or possibly Granny Weatherwax. She’d do just as well.

·         And finally, Jonathan, how do you make time to write around your job and family life?

I run my own business, so I have a reasonable degree of control over how I structure my day. I used to write a lot in the evenings, but I’m trying to do less of that and be a bit more sociable.

You can listen to Jonathan reading an extract of The Truth About Archie and Pye here and both the paperback and Kindle editions are available to purchase here.

Thank you so much, Jonathan, for visiting the blog. Wishing you great success with Archie and Pye and looking forward to more Mathematical Mysteries!

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Stroud Short Stories - new anthology

Cheltenham Literature Festival has described Stroud Short Stories as "possibly the best short story event in the south-west". And in this beautiful new anthology edited by John Holland, you can read almost sixty of the stories, all written by Gloucestershire authors. They have all been read aloud to the fantastically responsive audiences at the six most recent (always sold-out) Stroud Short Stories events. I'm really thrilled that two of my stories feature in this beautiful book.

Whether you are just starting out, or already have experience of short story writing, if you are a writer living in Gloucestershire, you have until Sunday 14th October to enter the current competition.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Ink Tears Short Story Competition

I'm so looking forward to judging the Ink Tears Short Story Competition, along with highly acclaimed writers, Melanie Whipman and Hannah Persaud. Last year the standard was greatly impressive, so I can't wait to see what 2018 will bring.

Click here for the judges' views on how to give your entry the best chance of success.

The closing date is 30th November 2018 and the first prize is a huge £1,000 - wishing everyone good luck!

Sunday, 26 August 2018

A Short Affair

It is a great thrill to see 'Brad's Rooster Food', my shortlisted story from last year's Royal Academy Pin Drop competition, in A Short Affair, this beautiful hardback book published by Scribner (Simon & Schuster).

A Short Affair features in Red magazine's 'This Month's Best Books' (September issue)

The full list of authors is: Elizabeth Day, Bethan Roberts, Nikesh Shukla, Claire Fuller, Ben Okri, Anne O’Brien, A. L. Kennedy, Anna Stewart, Craig Burnett, Douglas W. Milliken, Will Self, Jarred McGinnis, Barney Walsh, Rebecca F. John, Joanna Campbell, Emily Bullock, Cherise Saywell and Lionel Shriver.

We had a wonderful time at the launch in the gorgeous life drawing room at the Royal Academy:

Here I am with Simon Oldfield, founder and artistic director of Pin Drop and Jessy Jetpacks, who created the stunning artwork which accompanied my story.

Lovely to browse in Hatchards before the event and spot A Short Affair on the shelves

I would highly recommend short story writers to enter the RA Pin Drop annual competition - I have had a wonderful experience since the shortlisting, both at the results announcement when Dame Penelope Wilton read Cherise Saywell's winning story, and then at the launch of A Short Affair. Huge thanks to everyone at Pin Drop Studio, The Royal Academy and Scribner. The book is available to buy from all usual outlets, including Amazon, priced £11.52.

Friday, 15 June 2018


Ripening is the 2018 anthology for National Flash Fiction Day (June 16th) and for the fifth time, I have been fortunate enough to have my flash fiction entry included. The theme this year was food and my dark and creepy story is called Gingerbread.

Flashflood Journal is currently open to submissions and all the selected stories (500 words maximum) will be flooding the internet throughout June 16th. This journal has been widely viewed and hopes this time to hit the half a million mark. My story will be live at 4pm and is called Friday Night at the Gaumont, a piece I began ten years ago and have been sculpting ever since.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Stroud Short Stories May 2018

On May 20th, I was lucky enough to read again at the brilliant Stroud Short Stories event for Gloucestershire writers. Videos of the readers are on the website here.

There is a video of me reading my story, The Journey To Everywhere. on Stroud Community TV

It was fantastic to meet up with writer friends again and listen to such an entertaining variety of stories. As always, tickets quickly sold out and the audience gave the readers a warm and enthusiastic response. There is something special about reading your work aloud, particularly when the listeners laugh in all the right places!

Thank you so much to the magnificent John Holland and Ali Bacon, for reading and judging the stories, and also for working so hard to make the event such a success.

Later this year there will be a Stroud Short Stories anthology which includes the stories in every event from November 2015.

The next Stroud Short Stories event, on November 11th, will be part of the Stroud Book Festival.

Monday, 21 May 2018

24 Stories of Hope for Survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire

All the proceeds from this beautiful anthology will help survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire.

24 Stories of Hope for Survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire will be published by Unbound on June 14th, the anniversary of the tragedy.

After losing their homes, friends and loved ones, survivors of the fire continue to be in great need of support, not only with the obvious practicalities, but also with the devastating and long-term effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

24 Stories is available from Amazon, edited by actress Kathy Burke, and many of the authors are very well-known. The theme is community and hope for the future. (I am honoured to have my story, 'Nearly There', included.)

If you can, please give your support to this deserving cause.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Pain of Rejection - for judges as well as writers

I took a temporary break from writing to help judge two short story competitions and hope this post is useful for writers who suffer the disappointment of not seeing their story reach a long-list, or move from long to short-list. As a writer well-acquainted with the pain of rejection, I'm acutely aware of the hopes being dashed when a story doesn't make it.

As a judge, I have read scores of truly excellent stories. Plenty of strong voices, original premises and stunning conclusions. It has been such a privilege. I gave so many stories a YES, or a very strong MAYBE, and meanwhile my fellow-judges were choosing their favourites too.

Ultimately, this meant incredibly tough choices had to be made, especially during the re-reads when a MAYBE might change to a YES because several delicately nuanced stories were even more impressive at the second reading. It was exciting to discover these, but had the effect of adding more contenders to the next stage - and therefore even more anguish to the decision-making.

It is horribly hard to part company with these stories. Many miss the final selection by a hair's breadth. In the end, the fate of an otherwise beautiful piece of writing can rest on one awkward sentence, or a touch too much distracting backstory in the opening paragraph.

Other reasons for not making the final cut? Perhaps the narrative holds the tension brilliantly until the denouement, then slightly peters out in the vital last few paragraphs. Or the pace of a slower starter eventually picks up well and builds to a spectacular ending, but the story has taken one too many detours along the way. And sometimes it's a case of the theme not being fully explored, or it might have become a little lost or obscured within the plot.

It may seem nit-picking, but locating these kinds of distractions from the narrative is the only means of separation.

Some of the stories which came so close to winning through will stay with me for a long time. These 'rejected' favourites don't stop being favourites. They don't stop being well-executed, compelling stories. They may have missed the lists this time, but only because of the other strong contenders - not because they didn't deserve to be there.