I'm very pleased to welcome Jonathan Pinnock to my blog today, to talk about how Sylvia Plath helped him out of the creative doldrums to write his new novel, The Truth About Archie and Pye. I've only read Jonathan's excellent flash fiction up to now, but I intend to put that right and get hold of a copy of Archie and Pye as soon as my To Read pile gets down to twenty books (the minimum level before FOROOB* sets in!)
The Truth About Archie and Pye
"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."
How Sylvia Plath Helped Me Out of the Creative Doldrums
At the beginning of 2014 my writing career was going nowhere fast. I’d had a small amount of success with Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens in 2011 and Dot Dash in 2012 and Take It Cool was on the way to publication, but I had no idea what to do next. So I’d decided to take the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA to help me find some kind of path. I’d sort of assumed that the array of illustrious tutors on the course would be able to steer me in the direction most suited to my abilities.
Oddly enough, that’s what actually happened, but not quite in the way I’d anticipated.
When you start the Bath Spa CWMA, you’re expected to come along with an idea of the book that you’re going to develop on the course. The idea I had in mind was an ambitious one. I intended to write a creative non-fiction alternative history of St George, framed as my (almost certainly unsuccessful) attempt to get the BBC to produce my putative sitcom about St George in the modern world and my (equally unsuccessful) attempt to get Omid Djalili to play the starring role.
I still think this wasn’t an entirely bad idea – I had a very early draft of something like it performed at Liars’ League in July 2008, called The Patience of a Saint – but it soon became clear that it wasn’t going to wash with Bath.
However, the Narrative Non-Fiction Module that I’d signed up for in order to help with the St George concept didn’t turn out to be a complete waste of time. The selection of books to study on the module was, frankly, a bit grim, being to a large extent about death and terminal illness, but I was rather taken with Janet Malcolm’s enquiry into the life and death of Sylvia Plath, The Silent Woman. This is actually an enquiry into the nature of biography, and takes the form of a series of interviews with various people who knew Plath and Hughes, discussing her own feelings as she evaluates the different conflicting narratives.
What I loved about it was the range of eccentric literary folk that she encountered along the way, and I was thinking about these people on my drive home one day. I imagined what a wonderful novel you could construct about a literary mystery and I suddenly realised that this was what I wanted to write for my course submission.
The problem was that I knew nothing much about literature – certainly not to the extent that I could get away with writing a book about one. I did, however, know quite a lot about Maths. And then I remember Archie and Pye, a couple of eccentric dead mathematicians that I’d invented for another story, Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions, that got read at Liars’ League (the month after The Patience of a Saint, in fact). By the time I’d got home, I knew exactly what I was going to write.
I submitted the first chapter of it to the next Professional Skills Workshop seminar and awaited the verdict of my tutor and peers with some trepidation. When my turn came, our tutor, the formidable Celia Brayfield, opened the critique session by asking everyone if they felt I should continue with this. One by one every hand went up, including hers. OK, I thought. We’re on.
So that was how I ended up writing an absurd mathematical murder mystery, with a little help from Sylvia Plath and a lot of help from my tutors at Bath – especially Celia Brayfield and also Maggie Gee. I’m quite proud of the result, although I’m not entirely sure what Sylvia Plath would have made of it.
Jonathan Pinnock’s THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE was published by Farrago Books on October 4th. A surprising number of people seem to be enjoying it.
You can buy your copy here
*Fear of Running Out Of Books