MY INTERVIEW WITH IAIN PATTISON
My guest tonight is a Scottish author, competition judge,
creative writing tutor, journalist, speaker and script doctor. Blimey!
His short stories have been widely published
around the world in both magazines and radio. Now living in
Birmingham, Iain also critiques short stories, novels and plays
for a national appraisal service and runs workshops on the secrets of selling
sizzling short fiction and winning competitions. So it’s not difficult to see
why his latest collection Is That A Pun
In Your Pocket? 21 Short Stories To Tickle Your Fancy is going to be such a
Iain, it’s a pleasure
to be talking to you this evening, especially as I understand that like me you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett. You don’t happen to be a fan of Bernard Cornwell as
well by any chance?
Actually, yes, I’m a
massive fan. My wife and I spent some time in Boston in 2011, learning all
about the history of the American War of Independence and I came straight back
and bought The Fort – Bernard’s brilliant account of an ill-fated mission by 41
American ships to try to dislodge 150 British soldiers who’d set up a fort in
Massachusetts in 1779. The book was mesmerizingly good – and helped to debunk
some of the legends we’d been told about the heroes of the Revolution,
especially Paul Revere.
I totally agrre. He's a hero of mine and was very forthcoming when I interviewed him about a month ago. Let’s talk about your
new book and then after the plug we’ll get down to finding out about you and
why you’re known as “the man with the golden pun”!
Sounds good. Well, let’s
get the hard-sell bit out of the way first. Is That A Pun In Your Pocket? is a
collection of my (hopefully) funniest short stories – described by one reviewer
as “riotously comic” and another as “A Feast of Fun”. They include comp
winners, stories broadcast on Radio 4 and tales that have appeared in various
anthologies and magazines. I like to think of it as a “Greatest Hits” album but
readers may take the view it’s better described as “Grating Hits.”
The stories vary from
the slapstick to the droll, and I think it’s an eclectic mix. I hope it
showcases all the different comedic styles and techniques I use to raise a
It sounds like an ideal mix. Although your short
stories have appeared in 24 anthologies (I counted them!), I think I’m right in
saying this is the first collection solely of your own stories. Is this
something you intended?
Most definitely. I’ve
wanted to do a book purely of my own humorous material for some time now – not
just to raise my profile (although that’s useful) but to see how well they could
dovetail together. I wanted to bring
together more thoughtful wry smile stories, with belly laugh comedy, and wicked
satirical digs so that the reader never knows quite which style the next story
will have. I’m thrilled with how it’s turned out, I hope others agree.
pleased to be able to give a second airing to many of these tales. Often short
stories have too fleeting a shelf life – especially once they’ve won a comp and
appeared on the organiser’s website for a few months, perhaps read by very few.
They’re effectively dead after that. This is my bid to give them a chance for a
I understand what you mean, Iain. You’re really
well-known for writing humorous stories. Do you find it easier to write
satirical and offbeat tales rather than dramatic prose?
Easier – no. More fun –
yes, certainly. I do write straight stories (I like to think I can do a neat
line in tearjerkers when required) but it’s the comedy that really gets my
motor revving. I think humour is much more difficult to get just right and I
love the challenge. But even in a funny story I always aim for a dramatic
storyline. There must be a gripping narrative at the heart of the action – it
can’t afford to be only an assortment of gags. It needs believable characters,
real jeopardy and tension, and a plotline that intrigues.
I agree, otherwise you've written a sketch show. Sarcasm is supposed to
be the lowest form of wit, but also the cleverest. Personally I love well
constructed puns. Do you have a preference?
I love all forms of
word play. As long as it doesn’t sneer or demonstrate mean spiritedness, any
form of comedic writing works for me. It can be risqué, sharp edged or just
I’ve always loved puns
– I think it might go back to listening to those brilliant BBC radio comedy
shows like Round The Horne. I’m thrilled when someone can twist words round in
a clever way and produce an unexpected joke – like a magician pulling a rabbit
from a hat.
Puns can be ingenious
and thoughtful – a wise man should be
able to tell friend from faux. Or just warm and engaging – so many cook books, so little thyme.
But they must be witty
and original. I’m a big admirer of Tim Vine
- his puns and one-liners border on genius - and I hope mine show just a smidgeon of that
same cleverness. But unlike a stand-up comedian who can rattle them out, I have to use my word play sparingly and to best effect in my stories.
Rambling Sid Rumpo and other Horne charaters are classics. I’m curious – who was
it first christened you The Man With The Golden Pun?
Ah, that actually
pre-dates my fiction writing career. I worked as a journalist for 23 years and
during my time as a headline writer my colleagues gave me the nickname. I think
they meant it as a compliment!
Evolving the plot and
characters for a one novel is hard enough, but as a prolific short story writer
how do you think up so many plots, stories and twists? And funny ones at that?
I know this will make
people hate me, but ideas and plot twists come easily to me. I have at least
six story ideas every day. I put it down to my years in newspapers where I had
to generate my own article ideas and fill acres of space. I also have a quirky
mind that is constantly churning over famous sayings and reworking them. I can’t switch off.
Other people might see
a sign that says: DO NOT FEED THE BEARS, I see a sign that says DO NOT FEED THE
BARES and immediately gives me a mental picture of a protest outside the
opening of a nudist colony restaurant!
Some may say it’s a
gift – but probably one that’ll end up on eBay.
Somehow I doubt it, though the auction should be interesting! Do you ever write from
Strangely, no. People
are always saying to me: “you should use this or that incident in your next
story” but I never do. Partly it’s because many of the tales I write have
exotic or unusual settings, often with a fantastical element. But mostly it’s
because my writing is about offering the reader escapism. Real life is just a
My life is certainly duller
than most. All I do is sit at a keyboard for hours on end. Hardly, the stuff of
high adventure. I also tend to focus my stories on the upbeat, and leave kitchen-sink
angst, doom and gloom realism to others.
You also write dark fantasy for the US
anthology market under the incredibly cheesy pen-name Jay Raven. Quite a departure
from quirky puns. How did you get into that?
I fell into writing
dark fantasy (or horror lite, as I call it) by accident. About four years ago
new Canadian publisher Absolute Xpress ran a competition for creepy flash
fiction stories to appear in their Creatures of The Night anthology. I was addicted to Hammer Horror films when I
was a teenager and thought I’d have a go at seeing if I could recreate the feel
of those Gothic chillers. I wrote a vampire tale and a werewolf tale - and, to my delight and surprise, they took
Suddenly, it was like
an explosion in my head. I was flooded with ideas for other gruesome tales –
twisted fairy tales, psychological thrillers set in the old West West,
reworkings of the Arabian Nights, chilling sci-fi. It tapped into a dark side I
knew I had, but had never really mined before.
I was reluctant to
write horror under my own name – people who know my work would expect these
tales to contain jokes or a comic twist. So I went for a pen-name and Jay Raven was
As most of the
anthologies I feature in are published in the States or Canada, I wanted a name
that had a vaguely North American feel. If you look at any list of American
birds you’ll see Jay and Raven immediately one after another and it seemed an ideal
fit. And there are all the Edgar Allen Poe connotations conjured up by ravens.
If you think that
name’s cheesy, be glad I didn’t go for Plan B – Jack Monterey!
Back to you again, Jack.... I mean, Iain. You grew up in Scotland. Whereabouts and when did you move down to
I’m a Glaswegian which
means, like most other people, all I know about the rest of Scotland is through
watching Monarch Of The Glen and Dr Finlay’s Casebook. I moved south in the
early 1970s because I was ambitious to make my mark in journalism and all the
really big regional papers were in England.
I found it easy to
settle – I picked up the language pretty quickly, working out that “bloke” was
a man and not a piece of wood and that “heavy” was an adjective and not a
tipple of choice. These days I have dual nationality, holding both Scottish and
English passports. The English citizenship test was simpler than I expected.
They asked me “What did England win in 1966?” I replied: “The Battle of
Hastings?” Apparently that was close enough.
So, do you still base
many of your stories in Scotland?
Do you know, in 18
years of writing short stories I’ve only ever based one in Scotland and that
was set in Glasgow. I’d never thought about it before but it does seem a
terrible omission to have ignored the land of my birth. Mind you, I do have a
Scottish theme to one of the stories in this collection – C.S.Aye, Jimmy. It
charts the mishaps that happen when the cast of Taggart are sent to investigate
a murrrderr in Middle Earth!
Sounds like "Stitch that, yon Hobbit!".
You spend much of your
time helping and advising other short story writers to hone their skills. Which
do you prefer, writing your own stories or passing on your experience to
Being honest, it has to
be the writing. It’s my passion. I left papers to be a writer, not a teacher.
However, I do seem to have a knack for passing on info and advice in a way that
people like (it might be the comedy!) and I get a huge buzz from performing to
an audience, even if it’s only 12 bewildered people in a workshop. I always try
to help new writers. I can still remember how tough it was at the beginning of
my fiction career. And it’s a two-way street – new writers brim with enthusiasm
and that’s intoxicating to be around.
That's must be very fulfilling. Do you have any plans
to expand into writing novels?
You bet. This autumn I’m having a go at two novels – one comedic as
Iain Pattison, and one very dark Gothic horror as Jay Raven. That should keep
me out of mischief through the winter!
I’m one of those short
story writers who’s found it difficult to make the switch. I haven’t really got
the patience for novels. I want to tell my tale, wham bam, and move immediately
on to the next. I find the idea of
putting in lots of description and characterisation daunting. But I’m really
going to try to knuckle down this time.
My major motivation is
that I have a chip on my shoulder. I’m fed up meeting people at parties and
being asked: “I hear you’re a writer. What novels have you had published?” When
I tell them I specialise in short stories, I see their eyes immediately dim.
I’m not alone in this
hang-up. I was chatting to Della Galton the other day and she told me she used
to get similar reactions and that’s what spurred her into novels. Like Della,
I’d like to produce novels but still be a very active short story writer.
Iain, it’s been a
pleasure talking to you this evening and I’m sure your anthology will be a
Thanks Richard. It’s
been great. I really enjoyed it.
Iain has an excellent website that details of his anthologies and the courses he offers at http://www.iainpattison.com/
You can buy Iain's anthologies and his new collection of short stories on Amazon at Amazon