Interview With Author Jonathan Pinnock

My name is Jonathan Pinnock. I’m British and I live in a small village in Somerset, which is probably the best place on the planet. Amongst other things, I’m the author of a series of Mathematical Mysteries, which are published by the excellent Farrago Books. There are two of these published so far: THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE and A QUESTION OF TRUST, with a third, THE RIDDLE OF THE FRACTAL MONKS, to be published on April 16th. Despite the name of the series, the books are actually quite light on the mathematics, with more of an emphasis on humour than anything else.

The stories in this series are pretty absurd and outlandish and prefer not to be tethered to real life to any large extent. However, I guess there is always something lurking in the background. For example, Channellia, the offshore platform where much of the action in A QUESTION OF TRUST takes place is based on similar inhabited structures around the British Isles, such as Sealand. This particular one also has elements of a rig that I came across that’s being used to build Hinkley Point C nuclear power station a few miles down the road from me.

All sorts of things inspire me. I’m always on the look out for unusual locations and ideas. My day job is as a software developer, and I’m always fascinated by technology and how it goes wrong. For example, the finale of THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE takes place in a kitchen where various internet-connected gadgets are hacked to entertaining effect. The cryptocurrency stuff in A QUESTION OF TRUST came out of a highly sceptical book I read on the subject (“Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain” by David Gerard). I’m not entirely sure where the Fractal Monks came from in the new book (THE RIDDLE OF THE FRACTAL MONKS), but I’ve always found cowled figures entertainingly sinister.

Creative block isn’t something that seems to be an issue for me. I’m now well enough into this series of books that I have an ever-expanding universe of characters and locations that I can draw on if I feel that I need to inject something new, and it’s not as if we’re short of weirdness in the real world right now either.

The biggest mistakes to make in a book? Where to start… I think the most important thing to be wary of is creating characters who have no agency. Everyone needs to have an agenda – preferably one that’s different – to a greater or lesser extent – from everyone else’s. The biggest technical mistake to make in a series like the one I’m working on is to lose track of the plot. My plots are quite complicated and twisty and it’s very easy to introduce continuity errors if you’re not careful. This is where editors (and in particular, copyeditors) are worth their weight in gold.

Titles should be intriguing without being excessively quirky, and ideally should ask a question, preferably several. I’m quite pleased with THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE (who are they? what is the truth? what truth in particular?) and THE RIDDLE OF THE FRACTAL MONKS (who are they? what have fractals got to do with them? what riddle?). I’m less pleased with A QUESTION OF TRUST, because it’s a bit bland and doesn’t ask much of a question. The cover process for this series is quite fun, as it basically involves me coming top with a list of interesting objects that crop up in each book, and the graphic artist the works them into an entertaining composite image.

Most of the negative feedback I get is from people who seem to have read a different book altogether, so I mainly deal with it by being baffled. To get anywhere as a writer you need to be able to handle a massive amount of rejection and criticism, so I’ve developed a reasonably thick skin along the way. After all, the worst thing of all is to be ignored.

I guess the most important way in which my creation process has improved in time is that I no longer have any issues with writing novel-length stories. I used to be a prolific short story writer and I struggled to find anything that lasted longer than, say, 5000 words at maximum. But once I’d managed to get to the end of my first novel, MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS, and – more significantly – my second one, the first in my current series, THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE, it didn’t seem quite such a big deal.

Personal satisfaction has got to be my primary aim, because if I’m investing that amount of time in a book, I’m going to have to enjoy the process. That said, I do try to avoid being completely self-indulgent and I do kill the occasional darling if they aren’t serving a narrative purpose.

The best creativity trick I know is to paint your protagonist into a corner and let your subconscious come up with a way for them to get out. Think of Douglas Adams and the Infinite Improbability Drive – as I understand it, he had absolutely no idea how he was going to solve the cliffhanger at the end of the first episode of the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy radio series, and his subconscious filled in the blanks.

I’d like to continue with the current series as long as my publishers let me. I’m contracted for one more and then we’ll see what happens after that. I do have a few plans for what to do with my ever-increasing cast of characters, but a lot depends on how interested the general public are in finding out.

Quirky fact about myself: I once attempted to perform the first movement of Mozart’s 4th horn concerto on a 14-foot length of hosepipe with a funnel stuck in the end. Parts of it were almost recognisable.