Jonathan Pinnock, whose story rZr and Napoleon was shortlisted for last year’s Bristol Short Story Prize is having his debut novel Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens published by Proxima Books in September this year. Jon explains how it all came about:
“Tricky business, this writing. You’re a short story writer. But deep down, you know that unless you are stupendously fortunate, the only thing that will really bring you any chance of a remotely sustainable writing career is to write a novel. The annoying thing is that however much you try, you always fail to come up with anything approaching a concept that will stretch to more than 3000 words at the absolute maximum.
“And then, out of the blue, in the course of a slightly tipsy pub conversation, you come up with something. But there’s just one problem (there’s always one): it’s very silly. And you’re a SERIOUS WRITER. You have AMBITIONS. You’re hoping that one day you’ll get your work read out on the BBC and maybe even get on the shortlist for the Bristol Short Story Prize. You imagine that someday you’ll get a book published by one of those literary imprints, like, I dunno, Salt Publishing. To say nothing of the fact that you’re not even sure you can sustain your daft idea for an entire book. So you try to put as much distance as you can between you and the whole concept.
“The trouble is, by now, the cat’s out of the bag. Your writer friends know about this and they want you to write it. So you knuckle down, remembering a piece of advice that someone once gave you to kick off at least five plot strands in the first chapter. You combine this with your experience in writing flash fiction by chopping it up into easy 600-word episodes. And suddenly, you have lift off! You’re flying! You’re ACTUALLY WRITING A NOVEL.
“Then disaster strikes. Out of the blue, someone else has come up with a very similar concept and the general public have flocked to buy it in droves. You try to convince yourself that your book is actually much better because the humour is almost certainly more layered and nuanced, but deep down you are seething because the last thing you want to be taken for is a Johnny-come-lately imitation. And once more you give up. Or at least you try to give up.
“However, by this stage you’ve fallen, Pygmalion-like, in love with your unwanted wannabe novel. So you carry on writing it in secret, until one day it strikes you that if you can somehow persuade a whole load of other people to love your book too then maybe, just maybe you can get a publisher interested too. So you serialize it on the web. You tweet the hell out of it, set up a Facebook fan page, upload some suitably bonkers promo videos to YouTube and pester everyone on every writers’ forum you can find.
“Now something very odd happens. Against all expectations, you start to get regular readers. Some of them are friends. Some are writing acquaintances who you thought would be a bit sniffy about the whole thing. But a lot are complete strangers. It turns out that they are really enjoying the story. This is the most wonderful thing and it spurs you on to continue writing the book. Finally, when you’re about 10K short of the finish, nearly a year after starting the serialization, you notice that a new science fiction imprint is seeking new submissions. On a whim, you send off your manuscript. Within a month, you have signed a contract, just over three years since you had that drunken conversation.
“This isn’t fiction. It’s the true story of how “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” came to be picked up by Proxima Books, an imprint of those literary types at Salt Publishing. It’s going to be published in print and digital format in September 2011, and I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am about this. There’s more on my blog at http://www.jonathanpinnock.com and at Mrs Darcy’s dedicated site, http://www.mrsdarcyvsthealiens.com. You can also follow me on Twitter as @jonpinnock and Mrs Darcy as @realmrsdarcy.”