IttTL: Hi, Jon. Welcome back to my scruffy crash pad. We're out of milk and coffee, I'm afraid, so I hope black tea's OK? The tea bags are behind you, drying on the radiator. Oh, and the jammy dodgers are a bit soft, but you'll find the furry stuff comes off if you wipe them with your sleeve. It could have come from my sleeve, of course…
JP: Nice to see things haven’t changed. I’ll just have a glass of water, please. Boiled.
IttTL: Right-you-are. Water, boiled and cooled, coming right up, sir! Jon, it is public knowledge that your hilarious Jane Austen mash-up, Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, published by Proxima in 2011, was pretty weird stuff. In fairness, that publication marked the cards of your readers and set the benchmark for your Scott Prize-winning collection Dot Dash, published by Salt in 2012. But your latest opus, Take It Cool, has zoomed out of left field even for those countless loyal fans expecting, indeed relishing the unexpected from you.
For the benefit of the few fans remaining unaware, Take it Cool, published by Two Ravens Press is a true-life account of your search for a West Indian reggae musician bearing the same unusual surname as you.
Was this project a long-planned change of direction or–– how can I put this? ––an itch you simply had to scratch?
JP: The truth is that I started work on TiC some time before I actually got published in any shape or form, back in 2005. It always seemed like a story worth telling, although it took me a long, long time to work out how to tell it. Writing a novel (even one like Mrs Darcy) and all those short stories were extremely valuable in helping me solve that problem. So yes, it’s a bit of a change of direction, but it’s one that builds on everything I’ve done before.
IttTl: Reviewers have described Take it Cool variously as genealogical, musicological, historical and even 'a British man's odd quest.' Each of these descriptions seems to touch on aspects of your book but none truly does it justice. Is there an existing term that accurately describes Take it Cool, or will the world have to invent one?
JP: TiC is one of those books that refuses to fit in any particular pigeonhole. It’s pretty much sui generis. This suits me fine, but it’s a nightmare from a marketing point of view. What’s nice is that the genealogists (at least the one who reviews books at Family Tree Magazine) seem to get it from their angle, although I’m still waiting to see if anyone in the music press takes an interest. What I really want to shout from the rooftops is ‘Look, FORGET ABOUT $£@%^& CATEGORIES, this is a book you’ll ENJOY. Just trust me and TRY it.’ However, last time I tried doing that, I got arrested for causing a breach of the peace.
IttTL: Sui generis? That phrase must be one of a kind. I usually discourage the use of suspect language on this blog, and clambering about on the roof poses safety issues for the landlord, but I digress… In your quest for a connection between your own family history and that of Dennis Pinnock, the trail took you to 18th century Jamaica. When did the possibility of a slavery connection occur to you, and how did you feel when it did?
JP: No question about it, that was the point at which the project took flight. Up until then, it was going to be the story of me trying to track down this obscure singer, with a vague sideplot of me trying to find out how we were related. It really wasn’t much to build a book around. However, once slavery raised its ugly warty head, there was a whole new dimension to explore. There was always the risk, of course, that I might end up implicating myself (or at least a contributor to my genes), but it seemed worth taking.
IttTL: It seems to me that your eclectic musical tastes, your confessed magpie collecting tendencies – having discovered Dennis' career and discography – and a growing admiration for Dennis as your researches progressed have coalesced in Take it Cool to produce a unique bond across time, race and culture. So, it must have been quite a moment when you finally came face to face with Dennis. Can you describe that meeting in a few words?
JP: I’ve no idea what he made of me, but I liked him a lot. He was very unassuming, but also keen to talk about his career and his music, and the conversation didn’t flag for a moment. This was true of the other guys I interviewed as well, Paul ‘Snoopy’ Nagle and Tex Johnson. What was really nice, and quite unexpected, was that they all took my quest at face value and didn’t think I was some kind of idiot. In many ways, this was the best validation of the project.
IttTL: In Take it Cool you make great show of being uncool. In this respect, sir, you are a fraud. Take it Cool has done what it says on the label: it has taken you, Jonathan Pinnock, cool. How can a white British guy whose book has received a warm and enthusiastic review on itzcarribean.com, not to mention a prize book giveaway on that same coolest of websites, continue to claim un-coolness?
JP: I’m not sure you can ever truly shake off un-coolness. You either are or you aren’t, and I’m most definitely not. However, if the book ever does get reviewed in the music press, I may have cause to re-evaluate this.
IttTL: Indeed you should,
JP: That’s a very good question. As ever, there’s a whole load of things I’d like to do, almost none of which will actually make it beyond the first 1000 words or so before they self-destruct. For example, having had one stab at narrative non-fiction, there are now half a dozen other similar projects I quite fancy having a bash at. But I’d also like to go back to fiction, although exactly what form that’s likely to take, I have no idea. I’ve recently enrolled for the Creative Writing MA Programme at Bath Spa, so I’m hoping that will help me decide what I should be doing.
IttTL: Best of luck with sales of Take it Cool, Jon, your MA, and with all your future undertakings. Thanks for dropping by.