Jonathan Pinnock Interview
As part of my Crafting Short Fiction, and of Jonathan Pinnock’s blog tour, I have the privilege of interviewing Jon.
First of all I would like to welcome Jon to WinstonRoberts.net.
JP: Thank you for having me. It’s very nice to be here!
One thing that interests me is names. Names of people, places, and stories. I have read much about writing short stories and seldom do I hear anything about the importance of naming stories. The only sources, so far, that I have found that deal with naming stories is a chapter in Barrett’s Short Story Writing and a couple of lines in Baker’s How to Write Stories for Magazines. So in this interview I will ask Jon about naming short stories.
I would like to start off by asking about the name of your collection of short stories Dot Dash. How did that come about?
JP: Very simple. I wanted to do something a bit unusual with my collection and I realised I had enough very, very short stories to alternate them with the longer ones. So the book is actually named after its structure. However, there is a slight nod to the work of the post-punk band Wire in there, too. I’d really like my next collection to be called “Dip Flash”.
When do you name your stories?
JP: Usually after I’ve written them. I look at what I’ve written and think about how I can label it in such a way as to intrigue the reader. Sometimes a title can explain the story, and sometimes it can be deliberately misleading or ironic. Just occasionally, I’ve come up with a story title and then written a story to fit it. There’s an example in “Dot Dash” called “Hidden Shallows”, which existed as a title long before I ever wrote the story.
“Hidden Shallows” does sound interesting. I’ll have to see about reading that story. Of all the story names in your collection which one is your favourite?
JP: Probably “Mr Nathwani’s Haiku”, because it’s intriguing and – in the end – an accurate description of where the story is leading to.
From the good to the bad now. Do you have an example of an incorrectly named, or just a bad named, story?
JP: I had a story that I was sending out for ages called “A New Man”. It was a bit of a broad satire about the concept of becoming a “New Man”, but the trouble was it was a very dull title. So I changed it to “How I Became a New Man and What Good It Did Me”, and almost immediately afterwards it was shortlisted for a JBWB competition. As a result of that, it even got translated into German for a magazine called WorkMosaik.
From that experience and your general experience what would you say is the most important point in naming a story?
JP: The thing about the title of a story is that it is your first come-on to the reader. So it’s got to be something that catches the eye.
Eye catching, that does make sense, what else do you feel is important in naming a story?
JP: Having said that, it’s no good having a fantastic title that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the story. So it has to be relevant to the content in some way. If that’s a slightly oblique way, so much the better.
Other than being relevant to the story what about points should be avoided while naming a story?
JP: Generally speaking, single-word titles are uninteresting (although there are one or two in “Dot Dash”, although mainly for the very, very short pieces). Anything made up of “The” plus a noun is also a no-no. “The Wedding”, for example, adds very little value to a story – unless the word “wedding” is somehow ironic (although I’m not entirely sure how that would work).
Barrett divided titles into three broad categories: names that flows from the text of the story, names based upon the main character, or names based upon an important object. Would you agree with these categories?
JP: Hmmm. That sounds a bit over-analytical and reductive to me. I’d propose a more holistic approach and simply say that, ideally, a title should somehow add value to the story. Maybe it helps to introduce the story, maybe it somehow explains it or maybe it even adds an extra twist to the story. It’s not in “Dot Dash”, but if you ever find yourself near a copy of Murky Depths Issue 16 (or maybe wait to see if “Dip Flash” ever gets published), there’s a story of mine in there called “Teamwork” which kind of demonstrates the last of these.
Outside of your work what is your favourite short story title and why?
JP: Some of Vanessa Gebbie’s are hard to beat: “Words From a Glass Bubble” is a particular favourite. It makes you wonder what on earth it’s going to be about, but makes perfect sense when you read it. It also makes the perfect overall title for the collection it comes from.
Thank you for your time Jon. Why don’t you tell us more about your book Dot Dash and where we can purchase it.
JP: Thank you very much for having me! “Dot Dash” is a collection of 58 short, very short and very, very short stories. Several of the stories have individually won prizes, and the collection as a whole won Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize. There’s more about it on its website, www.join-the-dots.com – including details of where to buy it on www.join-the-dots.com/buying.php, where you’ll also find a button to enable you to buy a personally signed copy. My blog is at www.jonathanpinnock.com.