Today I'm delighted to welcome Jonathan Pinnock to talk about his new series of books - The Mathematical Mysteries - fast-paced, funny thrillers in which innocent ex-PR man Tom Winscombe finds himself caught up in a world of murder, Belarusan mafia, cryptocurrency scams and, of course, mathematics.
My first question has to be - how, or why, did the germs for the series of Mathematical Mysteries take root?
Long story. I was doing an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and I was struggling to come up with an idea for my manuscript. I was actually thinking about a project that had more to do with narrative non-fiction, which is why I ended up taking the narrative non-fiction module. As it turned out, it was a terrible choice of module for me, apart for one thing. One of the set texts was Janet Malcolm's “The Silent Woman”, an investigation into the life and death of Sylvia Plath. In it, she interviews a wide variety of people who knew her, some of whom are, let’s say, more than a little eccentric. As I was getting in my car at Corsham to drive home after discussing it in class, I began to envisage writing a novel about a literary murder mystery populated with a cast of strange characters. By the time I was halfway to Bath, I’d realised that I was a lot more confident about writing about a mathematical murder mystery than a literary one, and by the time I was driving through Bath I’d remembered a short story called “Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions” that I’d written about a couple of mathematicians called (you’ve guessed it) Archimedes and Pythagoras Vavasor (it’s here, in case you’re interested: https://liarsleague.typepad.com/liars_league/2008/09/mathematical-pu.html). By the time I got home, I’d pretty much worked out what I was going to do for my manuscript.I wrote up the start of it for my next submission to the creative skills workshop class, and I still remember the moment when our tutor, Celia Brayfield, asked the group if they felt I should continue writing this, and everyone, including her, put up their hands. There was still a lot of work to do, including changing the age of the protagonist so that he wasn’t a jaded, middle-aged proxy for myself, and also swapping the skillsets round so that the protagonist was no longer the mathematician. From that point on, the book felt like it was writing itself.
Obviously the series' title mentions mathematics. Did you know much about theoretical maths before starting this series? How much or little does the reader need to understand? Can they glide along, as with Big Bang Theory, knowing nothing about the finer theoretical consepts? and, similarly, Dorothy and Ali computer company - presumably you had some more in depth knowledge of the computing world than I did (not difficult as the average junior school child probably does)
My first degree was in maths, so I guess the answer to the first part of your question is “yes”, although that should be tempered by the fact that it was quite a long time ago, so I’ve forgotten pretty much all of it. I’ve tried to pitch it so that the reader who understands it can nod along without being jarred by anything that’s obviously wrong, while the reader whose head starts to spin at the very thought of the subject can just treat the maths bits as - to quote Blazing Saddles - “authentic frontier gibberish” and move quickly on. Despite the fact that the books are billed as Mathematical Mysteries, the maths isn’t actually that essential to the plot, although I’d like to think that I might open the eyes of the occasional non-believer to some of the extraordinary stuff that the subject has to offer. For example, Euler’s identity is just the most amazingly weird and beautiful thing in existence, and EVERYONE should know about it. I guess the same applies to the computer content - it’s either stuff you recognise or more gibberish you can skip over, but it’s not essential to the plot.
There's wide range of odd background material packed in - Belarus mafia, off-shore private countries, pythons, cryptocurrency. How interesting, or alarming, does your search history look?
I suspect that if anyone did take a look at my search history with a view to finding anything incriminating, they’d probably just throw their hands in the air and give up. Oddly enough, not all of my research was online - for example, most of the crypto stuff came from a book by a sceptic called David Gerard. All I did online in the case of crypto was check to see what names might still be available for a new currency. This turned out to be quite surprising in itself. Would you believe that Madoffcoin, Ponzicoin and Tulipcoin all exist already? Also, Channellia grew out of a talk given to our parish council by a PR lady for Hinckley Point C, via a stag do that my son went to on another offshore platform. There’s material all over the place.
Good question. I used to think that Ben Whishaw would have been a good choice (partly because Tom is essentially a less furry Paddington), but I think he’s probably a bit old now. This may be a bit of a cop-out, but I think both he and Dorothy should probably be played by complete unknowns, with loads of famous character actors doing the bit parts. For example, I would love to see Tim McInnerny (in his later, post-Blackadder, phase) do Rufus Fairbanks from the first book. It’s nice to fantasise.
What next for Tom? More mysteries to solve, I assume, but do you have an overall plan of how the series will continue (publishers permitting)?
I have a contract for two more books, and after that I guess we have to see how things go. I’m very much a pantser rather than a plotter, so I don’t have a big idea of where the overall story arc is going, apart from the fact that there is one and that it will be driven by the characters. What I can say is that Book Three has just acquired a new title, “The Riddle of the Fractal Monks”. All the regular characters will be there, plus some old friends and enemies and one or two new ones. As with “A Question of Trust”, you won’t necessarily have to have read the other books in the series, but it will improve your reading experience if you have. Also, I make more money if people buy the entire series, so it’s a win-win situation.
Thank you for coming along, Jonathan. I hope we've intrigued readers to go out and try The Mathematical Mysteries - and for the rest of July the e-version of A Question of Trust is available at the amazing price of 99p! See publishers' Farrago website for details
Reviews of the books can be found here - The Truth about Archie and Pye
A Question of Trust