Friday, 19 July 2013

Iain Pattison


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 success. 

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”!

Product DetailsSounds 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 chuckle. 

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?
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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.
I’m particularly 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 longer life.

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 plain fun.
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 life experiences?

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 little dull.
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 both.
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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 born.
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 England?

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 others?

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 great success.

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

You can buy Iain's anthologies and his new collection of short stories on Amazon at Amazon

Twitter: @AuthorIain


  1. Thanks again Richard for another brilliant post. How do you get all these famous (and not so famous) people to agree to let you pester them?

    1. Thanks Carol, but if I tod you my secret I'd have to swear you to silence Besides, if I told yuo, it wouldn't be a secret any more!

  2. He's holding my family hostage. Send help.

  3. Another super interview, Richard. Best of luck with your book, Iain, it sounds great.

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  5. Thanks Teresa. That's very kind. Glad you liked the interview. It was fun to do.