Jonathan Pinnock leads a dual life. In one half, he runs a software development company, and in the other he is an author and poet. His novel, Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, was chosen as the first publication to launch Proxima Books and has been widely hailed as ‘much funnier than the original’ and ‘the most fun you can have with a bonnet on. Jonathan has also had over a hundred short stories and poems published, as well as penning works for BBC Radio 4.
What made you realise you are a writer?
It was probably the moment when I heard someone in the supermarket queue behind me peer into my basket and say to her companion ‘Bet he’s a writer.’ Actually, that never happened. The real answer is it slowly dawned on me over a very long period of time.
What was the last book you read?
The last published book I read was David Rose’s ‘anti-novel’, Vault. Experimental but very readable, although there are some bits I’m still processing. I’ve also just read a pre-publication proof of Cassandra Parkin’s New World Fairy Tales, which is ace. Definitely one to look out for.
What achievement in your life are you most proud of?
Ha. Now this question is the smug trap, isn’t it? Most of the best things that have happened to me (meeting my wife, having kids etc.) have been a matter of being in the right place at the right time and failing to screw up the opportunity presented. I guess I’m proud of managing to get to a reasonable age having achieved a fair few of my ambitions without making too much of a mess of things for anyone else.
If you were stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you like to be there with and why?
I’d like to ask Godot along ’cos he sounds like a cool dude, but chances are he wouldn’t show up. So I’d settle for Suruk the Slayer from Toby Frost’s Space Captain Smith series, Nanny Ogg from Discworld and William of Baskerville from The Name of the Rose. Suruk would be terrific for killing wildlife, for protection and food, Nanny Ogg for magical cures, filthy jokes and camaraderie and William of Baskerville for spiritual enlightenment and mental stimulation, as well as solving any crimes that occurred.
What phrase do you find is the most played in your head?
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake.’ Sorry, but true.
Where on earth did you get the idea for Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens from?
I can pinpoint the exact moment. I was talking with another writer back in 2007 about Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and we agreed it was – with apologies to Susanna Clark – essentially a Regency novel with added wizards. From there it was a small step to postulating a Regency novel with added aliens. At which point the title presented itself, demanding that I write the book.
Of course I then had to find my way into writing it, and it took me quite a while to get going on that, by which time things had become a bit complicated by the arrival of the zombie book and the whole Jane Austen mash-up phenomenon.
Are you a Jane Austen fan?
Nearly every review has mentioned how funny the book is. Do you think humour is important?
Massively. OK, Mrs Darcy is primarily intended to be a humorous book (although there is a plot in there as well), but I think even the darkest book needs a leavening of wit. I guess this is my problem with epic fantasy: not enough knob jokes.
What is your dream piece of software? What would it do?
I think I would simply like a word processor that had actually moved on from where MS Word was around ten or fifteen years ago. It’s not too much to ask, is it?
Where do your own reading tastes lie?
All over the shop. I like books that challenge me a bit and nice easy ones that make me laugh. I also read a lot of short story collections. I do find I’m steering away from very thick books, though. As you get older you begin to count the days left.
As both an author and a technologically-minded man, eBook or physical book?
Physical book every time. The Kindle is terrific for reading documents that you’d otherwise have to read on the computer, and also for e-serials (my publishers have got one running now, Niall Boyce’s Veronica Britten, Chronic Detective, which is fab). But I just like the presence of a physical book. It’s the same with CDs vs MP3s. My brain loses track of stuff if there’s no physical representation of it.
Do you plan to write more fiction?
Oh yes. Mrs Darcy was such a breeze to write, I’d love to write a load of sequels. But I’ve also got some slightly more ambitious ideas that I’m kicking around, as well as a long-cherished non-fiction project. And I’d still like to write more short stories, too.
You have written quite a volume of (prizewinning!) short stories. What is it about that format you like, and did it contribute to the episodic format of Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens?
I love the fact that you can play with stuff without feeling you’re committed to a long-term relationship. So you can try out new things, like writing a piece in the second person, or the future tense or whatever. And subjects you wouldn’t want to be involved with for a whole novel.
Yes, it certainly did contribute to the episodic format of Mrs Darcy. Basically I started writing it that way because I was so used to writing short stories. And that in turn influenced my decision to serialise it on the web in order to try to attract a publisher. Which meant that I carried on writing it in episodic form. I have a remarkably short attention span, both as a reader and a writer, so it helps with that, too.
Tell us a poem.
This is one I wrote for my kids years and years ago. It’s called The South Sargasso Salmon.
The South Sargasso Salmon
smells of artichokes and gammon,
avocado, rubber bands and kitchen string.
But it actually tastes of custard,
badgers’ brains and Dijon mustard –
quite pleasant if you like that sort of thing.
You have a section of your website dedicated to music – this must be something that plays a big part in your life?
Well, I don’t play any more (and I was a seriously indifferent oboist when I did) but I’m still a big music fan. I’m always on the hunt for new stuff. Ever heard the Hang-Playing Hedge Monkeys? They’re my latest faves.
How did you get involved in the Book Swap night?
I remember Scott going on and on about it on Twitter, to the extent that I eventually dragged myself all the way over to Windsor to find out what it was all about. I enjoyed it so much I promised myself that one day I’d have a book published and be one of the guests. Took me just over a year, which I don’t think is too bad.
What do you hope to gain from the evening?
Fame. Fortune. Cake. Let’s face it: mainly cake.
Can you give one good reason to come along?
I’ve heard John Harding’s very good. However, I will do my best to keep up. I will also be doing a special bookswap version of my celebrated tentacle signature™ for anyone who buys my book. Can’t say fairer than that.
Book Swap takes place on the third Thursday of every month
at the Firestation Centre For Arts and Culture, 7.30pm onwards.
There is a bar and chatting/further book-swapping afterwards is encouraged.
Jonathan Pinnock is a guest on the sofa on Thursday 20th October 2011 – more details can be found here.
Find out more about Jonathan Pinnock at his website/blog – www.jonathanpinnock.com, on Twitter @jonpinnock. You can find out more about Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens at http://www.mrsdarcyvsthealiens.com/, on YouTube, and Mrs Darcy is of course also on Twitter, @RealMrsDarcy.