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Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Journeys from the fax

Are we too busy, and what should we do about it?

Busyness is an important topic for Idle blogs, which has been put off for too long… 

‘Keep busy’ someone once advised me, which would have been helpful had the reason for my seeking their advice not been due to doing too much. Now, before anyone who knows me has choked on their cornflakes, I’m not renowned for industriousness; as I’ve said before, writing a book doesn’t appear to be doing much beyond quietly swearing under your breath, and I’ve avoided real work like the moon avoids the sun. It’s not for no reason that the greatest inspiration has been Jerome K Jerome and his Idle thoughts of an Idle Fellow.

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. Socrates once said, which someone (probably himself) astutely wrote down, before it was forgotten. Coming from someone who was a stonemason, hoplite and later a founder of western philosophy this is possibly a bit rich; much like Madonna advising people not to be ambitious. If you’ve ever seen a bust of Socrates, which might have been a self portrait as he was skilled with stone, you’ll probably think, ‘there’s a worried man looking like he’s one of those turtles supporting the world while the other 3 pop off for some lunch’ He has too much on his mind. As we all do. He looks like he could do with a sit down after throwing his initial notes on western philosophy on the fire.

We are all so busy: working, driving, and playing angry birds, all too frequently at the same time. There appears to have been an unconscious internalisation of ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’ without a moment spent on looking at what alternative work options the horned chap might have to offer. Perhaps it’s a hangover from the Victorian era, like geraniums.

Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with being busy. We might pronounce it business, but the world is run on busyness, and the Western world has engineered suspension bridges, flying machines and teas maids rather than sit around to be accused of idleness. The industrial revolution might be boiled down to the fact that too many people didn’t know what to do with their hands.

With an instinctive dislike of work, writers often moan about having a novel to finish, but what’s even more horrifying is finishing one. Working on a novel is like having a mobile shed to potter about in, without the wood shavings, unlabeled paint pots bearing no relation to any shade of paint in the house and spiders (unless you’re Stephen King). ‘What’s a writer if they aren’t writing anything?’ the little voice whispers as you sit down with the TV to relax, before you give up trying to comprehend Dr. Who, and decide to do something instead. Anything.

But doing nothing is important. Retrenchment is crucial, as a traditional army, of which Socrates would have been familiar, needs time to rest after advancement, so do we. It is a chance to look at the territory conquered, and consider what is next; to look at maps and push wooden horses across them with long sticks. Aboriginal people would frustrate earlier settlers, they were guiding by sitting down every few miles, when asked as to why they replied ‘to let our soul catch up.’ Perhaps we could all learn from that without having to colonise other countries and then die of scurvy. It may not get you out of doing DIY, but next time someone asks why aren’t you doing anything, just say you’re allowing your soul to catch up

The first Life Assistance Agency novel was selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

How important is the Title for a novel?

‘And I thought writing a novel was hard. Try naming it.’ Me, April. 2018 

We all know the difficulty in naming things. I don’t just mean first thing in the morning when you’re pointing and mouthing at the kettle in the hope someone might translate despite living alone. But you’re not alone. Since Ug first turned to Ug and pointed at Ug, it became clear that it was important to differentiate some things from others.

In fact it’s what humans do, it’s a defining feature of our dominance of the planet, we go around naming things and then kill them off, but that’s not to say it’s easy, naming I mean, not driving species to extinction. The Americans often get it wrong, what’s with egg plant as opposed to aubergine, while Eskimos found themselves with too many words and too little to name, so chose to distinguish fifty types of snow, which is still about 1000 less words than the English have for rain.

Of course car manufactures constantly struggle with names. That there was a meeting at Renault in which the Twingo was agreed as capturing the essence of their new model is the sort of event that those participating in have since drowned in Villages Macon. Mind you, at least they retain the ability to look people in the eye, unlike those involved with the Ford Ka.

Meanwhile, HP clearly don’t struggle with product names, with the rather snappily named dv8000z printer, but then I guess you don’t spend pub conversions recommending printers to friends, that’s for books, films and bands. They live or die by their name; it doesn’t matter how good the prose is if it’s called Mr Front’s Behind.

There’s still a list of unused children’s’ names in my phone, which makes naming future dogs easy, although they all answer adequately to ‘Oi.’ But book titles are far more important than pet names. Titles need to be catchy, intriguing, and ones not used before, which is a shame because George Orwell nabbed them all. Of course no one ever judges a book by its cover, (which is why illustration is a multi-million pound industry), but the title needs to promise everything even if it fails to deliver

Annoyingly I have a title for the unwritten 3rd Life Assistance novel, yet the completed 2nd one is without a title, or rather has more names than Eskimo snow. Of course asking people for opinion only confuses things, as they all like different ones and not my favourite. A Twitter poll of alternatives doesn’t help, you just get loads of support for the title you put in as a joke to provide some balance.

Neil Tennant has frequently named songs after books, Can you Forgive Her? for example, but that doesn’t help when entitling other books unless you want to test ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ by a visit to court. Perhaps songs are a good inspiration., but then there is also the Ronseal approach, but if my new novel did what it says on the tin, the tin would read – The Life Assistance Agency abandon their USP by refusing to scry for angels opting instead to write biographies for fading pop stars, yet become entangled with 400-year-old unfinished business- which is definitely too long as a title.

Ah, perhaps I’ve just found it…

The first Life Assistance Agency novel was selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

How to Survive those Tough moments in Writing

Contrary to popular quotes, it isn’t always sitting down at the typewriter and bleeding (Hemingway.) 

It seems timely for a blog about when writing gets tough, and I don’t mean losing your wi-fi connection and having to actually do some, but when the task appears to have been set by some vindictive boss you no longer have the contact details for.

Sometimes writing is a summer breeze on a stifling hot day, it’s oil on a bat, or sugar in tea, but sometimes it is hard work. This was unlikely to have been part of the plan when some younger version of yourself thought being a writer seemed appealing. The job spec. was all mid-distance gazes, dented typewriters in war zones and thoughtful drags on cigarettes, but it’s not. And of course there’s no one to blame, not even the Conservative party or Brexit. This is your own doing, and a predicament familiar to writers everywhere.

We all get stuck sometimes. Of course it’s always advisable to leave a scene as the bullet leaves the gun, but what if you just had to press on and leave the scene with the closed door. Now what? Does he fall down the stairs? Make a sandwich? Sometimes it’s best to just stare at the enomity of the task and weep. Or blog of course. Or do some research.

Research is difficult. No one really likes doing it. Those inclined only want to run the marathon alongside football mascots and people dressed as rhinos, they don’t want to do six months of training with no one watching. But like prepping for painting a room, and research, that’s the tough bit. I’m currently researching the historical novel, although how watching youtube clips of Jay Leno jacking off over a remodelled merlin v12 is a mystery the book is unlikely to solve.

If tough moments is something Sean Penn didn’t experience when writing his recent novel then his readers certainly will. That’s if there are any following the scathing reviews. I recently blogged about terrible novels, which Sean Penn clearly hasn’t read, although he does us a favour by giving his a pretentious title – Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff – that appears to have been constructed by choosing words at random. Penn has clearly not only failed to read my blog, or his own book, but also Stephen King’s marvellous book On Writing, in which he reminds us that ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs.’

Apparently Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff  is worse than Morrissey’s List of the Lost, which is the sort of thing I’d love on the cover of my next novel, but suspect Penn not only takes his name far too literally, but also himself too seriously. I do wonder if he will be doing imminent talks in support of how there is no such thing as bad publicity. However, it is galling how actors think writing novels is so easy, and can then get their stinker published with the ease of leaning on a wall.

However, Penn has done the writing community (is there one?!) a favour. If you are writing with sentences and a readily understood vocabulary then your book is unlikely to be as unreadable as Penn’s. Now, where was I?

 

The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Sitting in the Corner when Writing.

Regular visitors to idle blogs, idlers as they might be known, will be familiar with the coffee shop as an important element to the writing process. It’s all very well setting up a lovely study at home from which children are banned to sing the theme tune to Yo-Kai Watch if you have opportunity, but chances are that instead of writing you’ll spend the day enmeshed in the intricacies of telephone banking, or rearranging your books in the order that you recall reading them. Leaving the house is a good idea for anyone, particularly writers, before you’re talking to yourself and hearing the furniture reply.

It’s good for people to see writers at work. It may not hold attention for long, after all, how entertaining is a person sighing loudly, but still, we need to publicise our existence. One of the most common responses to discovering you’re a writer, after initial shock involving a slack jaw, is the question ‘are those still going?’ You reassure them that books are indeed ‘still going’ despite a part of you being deeply aware that needing to explain this shows how the battle lines are already redrawn.

Our local coffee shop has a such a regular clientele that no one needs to order anymore. As in PG Wodehouse novels, customers are known by their regular order: Flat white, English breakfast, Tight arse who brings in his own banana, etc. And as any creative knows, the fetish of how  and where you write is crucial. The aforementioned Wodehouse invariably wrote with a Pekinese warming his feet and was finished by an early lunch, while Hemingway’s prose was soaked in whiskey and manliness and probably started at lunchtime.

As a tea drinker in a coffee shop I feel like an imposter, but as I’m tapping studiously away into my laptop, carefully compiling playlists for future unwritten novels, I feel at home. That is if I’m in a corner, although I’m unsure why being cornered is the perfect muse. Where sailors had mermaids, I seek a nice secure corner. I’d rather not analyse this too closely, but the knowledge that your back is covered is reassuring.

However, I’m not alone in seeking a corner for creative purposes. Sadly there are only ever four in a room, and there are clearly other writers on the run, refusing to sit back-to-the-door. I had been hoping for a blue plaque on the window seat corner, but another writer has started arriving before me. He’s too tired to write, and sits there with a smug look, occasionally mingling with a bafflement as to who or where he is, but at least he has the best table in the house. I have little sympathy, and he had better be writing a better novel than me. He’s got no excuse not to be. In fact there should be some method of measuring this, to ensure the corners get the writers they deserve. I’d suggest this, but who wants competitive writers kicking off and knocking over inkwells.

I suppose writing at home might be preferable, there’s less competition, but no one can see you sighing there. Although perhaps the most lucrative future might be subverting the laws of physics and invent rooms with more than four corners to accommodate more writers.

The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance The sequel is due to be published in March 2019, depending upon whether I get a corner table.

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

 

and on ebook here –

 

 

The problem with Terrible Novels

Some books are best left forgotten… 

It’s hard to remember bad novels because good ones make such a lasting impression that they thankfully obliterate the memory of the poor ones. The only impact the poor ones make are on the sides of recycling bins.

I’m not going to name (m) any names, after all, I’m a novelist. I know how much goes into writing a book. For some writers real life is just noise in the background; simply material with which to mould stories and tricky plot knots.

To be fair it’s all a matter of taste. To some people my debut novel the Life Assistance Agency is a glorious collision of the Blues Brothers meets Da-Vinci Code,  while others think it’s really good. The clearest sign that a book is rubbish is when you’re accompanying the reading with sighing sounds. Pages are turned with the sort of dread familiar to anyone who has to take young children swimming later in the day*. I’m pleased no one has yet compared this with mine.

There was a time when I felt obliged, in accordance with some unwritten code rumoured to exist atop himalayan mountains, to finish any book I picked up. I’ve been more loyal to books I dislike than friends I like. This once meant trawling my way through The 91 principles of Cataloging when I mistakenly held it for someone while they jumped off a bridge. To be fair it was a text book. Mind you, even that’s preferably to Morrissey’s novel List of the Lost, which somehow exceeded his own autobiography in verbosity, and made sex sound like the sort of substance found stuffing Victorian cushions.

It’s always awkward when friends recommend a book that it turns out to be less readable than a doorstop. (BTW Alan, thankfully I’m currently enjoying A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman!). You sometimes return a book with a vague nod at having enjoyed it, praying that they don’t press you for enlightening thoughts on what happened at any point beyond page 32.

It’s hard to be objective; one man’s If on a Winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino is another’s 50 shades of Grey, and to be honest it’s hard to slag off books when it’s admirable to find people still actually reading and not scrolling through anodyne updates on social media. However, the idea of reading another novel encompassing cross- generation Irish families with hidden secrets makes me want to suggest taking the kids’ swimming.

Bigger targets are the easiest to hit, and the aforementioned Dan Brown’s Da-Vinci Code really is unreadable to anyone who likes English, sentences and words. One of the best examples of him failing to capture an instantly recognisable human experience is:  

He could taste the familiar tang of museum air – an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon – the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

Although, perhaps if most people walk into museums, sniff the air and think ‘is that the arid, deionized essence carrying a faint hint of carbon?’ or ‘how corrosive is my breath exactly?’ then I’ve been kept in the dark. Or rather, the night-long gloom that envelopes sentient beings with an inability to envision where they might be traversing in the dim blackness, as Dan Brown might put it.

It was at the museum point that I decided I had better things to do than follow Robert Langdon running through corridors and libraries, and thought I’d do something else. Like anything. Even DIY, or glossing. It’s so bad that even Ron Howard and Tom Hanks couldn’t make a watchable film of it. The book I mean, not my glossing.

Perhaps its sensible to get in with preemptive attacks, like Daniel Pitts’ book called The Most Boring Book Ever Written, which almost demands critics to argue otherwise.  And the critics are baffling. The Evening Standard described Hanif Kureshi’s The Last Word as ‘brilliantly funny’. Now, I’m aware that daily reporting of London stabbings must cloud your judgement, but it must’ve been a very quiet day in the office for the self-absorbed protagonist, who changes characteristics quicker than you can keep up with them, to be described as brilliant, much less funny. Mind you, Kureshi might think I’m lucky to have my novel beside his, and he’d probably be right.

*More of this in a future blog post.

My novel can of course be reviewed, so I’m hoping Dan Brown or Hanif Kureshi are not reading this.

The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Minds – Between Two Worlds – live at the Roundhouse.

If there was one resounding image from tonight’s gig, it was Jim Kerr, alone on stage after the band had exited following a silky Don’t you forget about me, dancing alone to Roxy Music on the PA, like the teenager so in love with music he still can’t stop.

Guitarist Charlie Burchill is the same. No one’s told him not to smile like he is the band’s biggest fan been allowed on stage. He’s one of music’s underrated players, utterly intrinsic to the Glasgow band’s sound, even if it’s music now appealing to men who’d get thrown out of their golf club for the leather jacket they’re wearing,

Simple Minds have played 3000 gigs since their first at Glasgow’s discotheque Satellite City 40 years and sometimes you want a band that once sound-tracked your bedroom posturing to play new songs. The songs you imagined they might write all those years ago; new songs in which to sink your still-bruised soul and discover understanding. Well tonight they did. Simple Minds are so pleased with their new album Walk Between Worlds they are playing it live. The entire thing. To a crowd who are probably wishing they’d bought it.  For those hoping to skip and instead bounce in new ways to old songs were destined for disappointment, although the band did start with the haunting European trance of I Travel, and hopes were raised by swamp funk morphing into the proto trance of a pulsating Love Song.

With a new line-up joining Kerr and Burchill, inc. drummer Cherisse Osei, the band look like the upper deck of a night bus, however their prize still glitters. Kerr is in awe of Osei, although where one goes after describing previous drummer (long-standing Mel Gaynor) as ‘the greatest drummer in the world’ is beyond even Kerr’s hyperbole.

There’s a steel-tight riff of Magic, which is so new even Charlie isn’t mouthing along to every lyric, and although not everything sticks it’s fascinating to hear the band as you might a new group. Most songs feel like growers, although Summer sounds like an ill-advised Chris Rea remix.

They break after side 1 of the new record for a brief chat, ‘so we can have a sit down’ Kerr jokes. He enjoys the stage like a seal enjoys water. Of the new songs side 2 is better: Barrowland Star hits like a classic and they know it. Kerr points at his old school friend with another ‘Charlie!’ who unleashes swelling waves of guitar chops. Kerr’s final words will either be ‘Let me see your hands’ or ‘Charlie…’ Sense of Discovery succeeds in not only referencing Alive and Kicking (which they later play to rapturous reception) but does so with a beautifully segued new riff. They revisit synth new wave with the title track, before a pause to announce the godly Waterfront, announcing the victory lap of a joyous Someone, Somewhere, in Summertime and The American. However, there remains the inexplicable absence of All the things she said.

A subtly spruced up New Gold Dream is perfection as-ever and still illustrates how they found their ambition before U2 had recovered from New Year’s Day. The crowd leave; grinning as Kerr still dad dances alone on the stage, miming the lyrics of Roxy Music, reluctant to allow the night to end.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  featuring Simple Minds and Bruce Springsteen is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do we still do Valentine’s day?

For anyone with admirers and insatiable appetite for chocolates and flowers it’s your time of year again. Anyone without an admirer in their life on Valentine’s Day should either buy one, if that’s still allowed, or read this post.

What is it about the 14th February that redefines how we express our love for one another? Overnight, a vague ‘I love you’ as you dash onto the school run is deemed inadequate if not accompanied by chocolate in ribbons and overpriced flowers. Suddenly, if you can’t say it with a Cadillac-sized Hello Kitty doll then it’s not worth saying at all.

It’s hard to know what’s most annoying about Valentine’s Day. Of course my distaste for it is NOTHING to do with not getting any valentines cards at an early age where your social standing is based entirely upon a) quantity of valentine cards received, b) your parents having a swimming pool and c) your ability to fart on younger children’s heads, lack of success in all three contributed significantly towards my low-ranking social status.

February has apparently been long celebrated as a month of romance. That’s easy to believe, after all, due to not having seen the sun since November, your seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has left you mumbling at unattainable tropical destinations in the travel supplements of weekend newspapers. It’s so dark outside that romance must be the only answer, although there’s the sense of an audience so broken that they’ll clap at anything.  Valentine’s Day sure did one thing right, and that was its timing.

The Romans took the day as an opportunity to congregate at some sacred cave where the founders of Rome were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf. You can probably see where this is going. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. Rather typically cats avoid this. The goat’s hide would then be cut into strips, before being dipped into sacrificial blood and taken into the streets. Both women, and nearby crop fields, would be gently slapped with the hide. This is the first time I’ve encountered women and crop fields with equal billing, and being gently slapped by bloodied hide isn’t exactly the most predictable of romantic gestures, so full marks for the unexpected. However, for anyone attempting this today I’d recommend that you establish the are not a vegan beforehand. While I don’t profess to fully understand the female psyche, if this is the sort of surprise they enjoy in lieu of a candlelit meal for two, then I’ve been misled.

The truth behind the Valentine legend is murky, which is rather fortunate for the saint, as I’m sure a few people would like a word in his ear, or at least reimbursement for the enormous Hello Kitty heart doll that cost a week’s wages for delivering to her place of work, which she then has to carry home. Because nothing screams romance like apologising for a soft toy large enough to require a ticket to a carriage of commuters already struggling for space. Valentine’s Day is a day when trying too hard, while not doing quite enough, have never danced so closely. But, let’s face it, really nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like a dying bouquet of flowers.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is obviously the perfect Valentine’s day gift, and is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

Is taking a legal Smart Drug stupid?

Want to be cleverer…?

One of the problems with human beings, apart from their inherent ability to overpopulate the planet, insistence on watching team sports and blocking the middle lane, is their tendency to invent things without fully understanding the ramifications. If Thomas Edison, inventor of the mechanical phonograph cylinder, had known in 1877 that this would lead to ten Westlife albums, including a Frank Sinatra covers album (Allow us to be Frank – No, put the vintage 50s mic down) because presumably the legendary crooner failed to truly nail those standards like five Irish chancers on stools could, would he have burnt his phonograph blueprints? The list of regrettable inventions is endless, from Segway scooters, to Iphone covers with fucking massive mouse ears, to shoe umbrellas and those metallic reflectors for tanning your neck.

But, perhaps there’s none more ill-thought out than smart drugs. Modafinil claims to help keep up with workloads and is popular among students – with as many as 25 % taking them to increase smartness, and yet they STILL need Safe Spaces. Of course smart drugs to make you feel more intelligent have been around for millennia, often in the shape of beer, which can make you so bright that you encase your head in concrete inside a microwave for a bet.

The main reason that smart drugs are an ill-thought out invention is that another problem with humans is individual unflappable belief in their own intelligence, particularly when confronted with other humans, who are invariable stupid; and this is before they’ve taken any Modafinil. Imagine walking around actually being more intelligent than people and the idiocy you’d have to endure. Although paying for car park tickets via your phone might finally be possible, you’d have to do a lot of parking to make it worthwhile.

However, smart drugs do appear to increase cognition. Fighter pilots even take them to improve reaction times, which aren’t entirely necessary for writers sitting in coffee shops, but are appealing nonetheless.

And it certainly is appealing. Writer David Adam in the Sunday Times described how he took one as an experiment, and went to his usual cafe to write. As its effects kicked in he could barely type sentences quick enough. The words felt sharper and better than ever before. It sounds like being strapped to MS Word rather than an F-16 breaking the sound barrier, but was a thin line nonetheless. I wonder if it’s like writing a book on speed, only to discover in the morning that you’ve transcribed the English dictionary. Apparently it even increased the size of Adam’s screen. He didn’t declare if this applied to other things, but what a cheap way to upgrade your laptop. However, someone else reported that the drug helped him focus, but it was on the wrong things – such as playing video games on his Smartphone. Because if there’s one thing mankind needs these days is increased use of their smart phones; which have been smarter than their owners since the iPhone 4s, and don’t require Modafinil, only recharging twice a day.

There have been other inadvertent consequences of taking Modafinil. Psychiatrists, in their usual habit of throwing medications at pathologies to see which one sticks, treated a 45 year old Turkish woman for sleeplessness with Modafinil, only to find it increased her sex drive, much to the alarm of her 75-year-old husband. Another reported side effect is severe headaches, which was clearly something this woman didn’t suffer from, but her husband wished she did.

Yes. I think it’s best to be thick, life is hard enough without knowing with certainty that you are invariably right, about everything. It might even lead to thinking you can record a Frank Sinatra covers album. Just say no people, don’t put the tool into stool.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

When to submit your novel to Literary Agents.

We all have goals in life, it might be reaching new levels on Candy Crush, or for the less remedial, intending to read more novels, or perhaps even write one. The first revelation is that novels aren’t as easy to write as they are to read, unless it’s Wolf Hall.

It’s hard to know how many times I sent my completed novel out to agents and publishers, even more times than I completed it for the final time – seventeen times. Any literary agency fool enough to publicise their email and submission details will have seen it at some point. Some twice, and some probably seventeen times.

But, if literary doomsayers are believed (i.e. me), it’s hard to know why anyone would be bothered. People are too busy looking at their phones like insecure new mothers to be reading books. Writing a novel feels like inventing the steam engine at the advent of the internal combustion engine. Yet people persist.

However, as the human race evolves from hunters and gatherers, to audiences demanding constant entertainment, buckets of food and wi-fi connections on trains at 220 feet underground, novels maintain an admirable hold over us, or at least the film adaptations do.

As the new year approaches, literary agents must already be bracing themselves for the flurry of novel (or less novel) submissions completed through seasonal hangovers, winter illness, and inebriated family encouragement. Spam filters already sending automatically generated rejection letters to novels with cats as protaganists, will be updated to strip out novels involving girls on trains and teenage wizards.

The best advice to any debut novelist on completing a manuscript is to lock it in a drawer for 6 months,and post the key overseas instead of sending it to the nearest agency before the ink’s dried, which is what everyone does. It’s only once receipt is acknowledged that you realise it was an experimental old draft, which you’d written from the POV of a sock, and described literary agents as illiterate swamp donkeys.

Then there’s the posted submissions, which some agencies insist upon, presuming, probably correctly, that despite having spent 5 years working on a novel, for most writers, printing off its first 3 chapters and writing a covering letter, is too much effort.  Once thanking the exhausted Canon Gs-57 printer in your workplace in the acknowledgements, and using all its paper, you walk to the postbox swinging imaginary holes-in-one, despite never having played golf in your life. The showbiz hi-hat cymbal, as the manuscript joins the others already in the letterbox is spoilt only by the immediate realisation that your protagonist’s mother needs to be a monk, not a seamstress.

However, before even facing up to the horror of a rewrite, you need to retrieve your manuscript. As an alternative to breaking into the agency at night, or waiting to intercept the postman, you nod companionably at passers-by, while dislocating your arm in four different places attempting to extricate it from the depths of the letterbox.

Then come the rejection slips. Some arrive so rapidly that agencies somehow send them before confirmation of having even received the manuscript. There are also some more ideas on how to quicken up the rejection procedure:

  • Send a precise outline of your availability for book signings and appearances for the next 5 years.
  • Include a series of photos showcasing various outfits you intend to wear to prize ceremonies, with invitation for their feedback on most suitable combinations.
  • Make a short list of actors you wish to appear in the film.
  • Make a long list of actors you wish to appear in the film.
  • Suggest they contact Sophie Marceau as escort for the duration of promotional tours.
  • Outline your rider, which includes ballpoint pens that someone has already scribbled with to ensure they work immediately when needed.

It’s difficult submitting something you believe is good because Aunt Joan enjoyed it after one too many ports. Everyone is writing a novel, possibly more than those reading them. Agencies are so inundated by manuscripts they abandon offices every 6 months, while losing sleep over the fact that some might be good. It’s why you have to ignore the pain of a rejection slip, like boxing, after the 50th punch they stop hurting. But who knows, perhaps yours might be one sliding off the ‘slush’ pile into the hands of the agent with a free weekend ahead to spend reading. If not, there’s always next year, or Angry Birds.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

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