Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Journeys from the fax

How I wrote my first novel

Some time ago I was asked to write about myself and how I started writing the WHSmith Fresh talent novel, The Life Assistance Agency. 

I started the Life Assistance Agency many years ago. It was initially called the Karma Account, which considered how our deeds might determine our destiny, and this led me to consider how hard this must be for people who are immortal, and particularly laborious once they found themselves into the 200th year.

Not knowing any immortals to ask, I had to make one up. Or rather I didn’t. I forget how I first encountered Dr. Dee, the Elizabethan alchemist of the late 1580s, but I’m glad I did. He had pursued angels, so it wasn’t a huge leap to him chasing immortality.

He seemed a good starting point, particularly in the absence of any others. Actually, Damon Albarn and a few other writers were drawn to Dee at a similar time, which I was initially angry about  – ‘hold on, he’s my historical figure.’ – but then concluded it was all rather elegant synchronicity.

It’s hard to know when I started writing. I recall a story involving my Action Men that was never finished, which is probably for the best. I remember sitting down when I was 21 and asking flat mates to not disturb me, as I scribbled out some poems that in my mind’s eye were part-obscured by curling smoke of Gauloise cigarettes and unrequited love. That the latter was still easier to come by in light of a local newsagent selling French cigarettes this was particularly galling. (Excuse French regional pun). I then tried writing short stories, but having read Raymond Carver’s, the standard was set too high.

I was drawn to the spirituality of the Romantic poets, who seemed to spend more time loafing around Greek islands and having orgies than actually writing anything. However, as a life style choice I was made quickly aware of its limitations, so started working in IT recruitment instead.

There are few things more motivational than an office. Forget sunsets, hilltops and breaking waves; open-plan corporate environments are the true muse. Employees beavering away at desks are actually people writing novels, rewriting the small print of an office milk whip, or re-juggling their Fantasy Football teams. It’s a fertile environment for the imagination, and one in which I learnt the crucial skill of writing while actually doing something else entirely.

Rather foolishly in terms of sales I eschewed writing about Irish dysfunctional families and buried abuse, to write the sort of book I wanted to read – escapist, light-hearted and occasionally funny. Basically PG Wodehouse with semi-automatic weapons. However, there’s great risk is suggesting you’ve written a humorous book in case it’s, well, not funny.

Like the sun, my novel was something best seen from the corner of my eye, staring at it directly and I’d be blinded. Of course starting a novel before you’ve written a short story gives you no idea how long it’s going to take, nor how hard it is. However, for when people ask what you’re doing, it does create an allure of intelligence, so long as it’s not your boss. It also justifies sitting down for long periods of time.

Anyway, I digress. I left IT recruitment to follow a 15-year career as a mental health social worker. People ask if my novel is influenced by this, and the answer is no. It would be unfair on the clients, and myself. After all, voyeurism in made-up characters is acceptable, somehow less so in real people.

I liked the idea of a novel that was fantastical, but that didn’t deliver anything too unbelievable too quickly; so that you are already sucked into the narrative by the time anything unrealistic happened, by which point it was too late. Even then, I’ve been careful to place events in a very real world of fast food and pop music so the fantasy never gets entirely out of hand.

The idea of a Life Assistance Agency had always appealed: a company that does not need to define itself by any specific services, or indeed any viable business plan. Our main protagonist Ben Ferguson-Cripps is exactly the sort of customer the Agency dreams of and this is how he first hears of it in Chapter 1:

I looked again at The Life Assistance Agency business card, and marveled at the optimism of a business plan that involved punters not mocking such speculative services. I recognised the card’s Impact font. The KLF used it on their record sleeves.

Your problems, our assistance

Where telephone banking and dietary supplements fail,

The Life Assistance Agency succeeds.

 Private investigation, sick day excuses, situation manipulation, people: lost and found, Life advice, , coincidences arranged, hits arranged, soul mates found (special rates apply), final Will and testament re-writing, fear of death minimalisation, account massaging , Swimming lessons, Feng Shui and Bonsai trimming.

0208 333 21-0

07873 643 338

This is the start of what has been described as a romp, a farcical road trip and the Blues brothers pursuing the Holy Grail, and not just by me, but readers kind enough to not only find excellent similes, but to put them on social media . The Life Assistance Agency’s first case is a missing university lecturer, before the agency in turn find themselves pursued by a Psychic Society intent on preventing ordinary folk from straying into the occult.

When writing a novel it is important to be ambitious whilst remaining realistic – which is exactly the sort of advice that the Life Assistance Agency’s proprietor, Scott Wildblood, has spent a lifetime ignoring. And I guess I did too. Annoyingly writing is something you can only learn by writing. And nothing tells you you’re not yet ready to publish like showing it to someone who rips it apart. It’s these bruising moments that sort the wheat from the chaff; which is exactly the sort of overused metaphor that an honest reader will suggest you rewrite. It hurts, but what doesn’t kill you makes you a better writer.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –



How to create your Perfect Writing Space

Herds of sheep must be queuing up for relocation in Chipping Norton since David Cameron installed a traditional shepherd’s hut in his garden. Although, if Cameron wanted the full experience he’d be better off sitting on his lawn under a waxed poncho for weeks at a time.

Mind you, regardless of your politics, it’s easy to understand the appeal of a hideaway. Doubtlessly he will be writing his memoirs in there, and he can’t be expected to do that in his local artisan café, even if populated by the Chipping Norton set.

Beach huts hold a similar appeal, with writer’s justifying borrowed money off future royalties to secure the ideal creative environment. There’s probably stronger grounds to buying one as a holiday getaway with children, but they’re as conducive to writing as a malfunctioning burglar alarm.

The wish to own a beach hut is timeless. It’s the sort of fantasy shared by 5 year olds to 80 year olds. They look like boiled sweets from a distance and serve the same purpose as a garden shed, without the need to do any gardening. They are an escape. It’s basically middle class caravanning, although their sole purpose really is to provide somewhere to boil a kettle, when it’d be easier, and far cheaper, to buy one from the local cafe. Australians see the beach as somewhere to demonstrate physical prowess; the Brits see it as somewhere to dunk biscuits in hot drinks. I know whose side I’m on.

The first thing you’ll notice is that owners spend less time writing or stripping for a swim, than they do stripping wood to treat, varnish and paint. It’s never ending. If you like DIY then buy a beach hut, but if you like sitting around in the sun watching other people work then visit a friend who owns one. If you get bored you can always admire the procession of increasingly complicated mixed breed dogs and overhear snippets of conversations as people stroll past. Apart from following them, the only way to enable more complete eavesdropping is to station friends at regular intervals along the row of huts, but before you’ve even completed any admin on this you’ll have wondered why the hell you’re bothering instead of brewing another cup of tea that you don’t want just because you can.

The most important skill is to not look too smug. This is harder said than done, as beach hut owners’ smiles achieve new depths of smugness. And I’ve basically become one of those annoying people who, like a new parent drawing attention to a baby, look for conversation opportunities, like a boxer eyes gaps in an opponent’s defence, to mention owning the hut. I’ve basically become one of those who introduces a subject without any grounds whatsoever for doing so, like Diana Abbot when asked to back up costing of her latest social policy

One of the joys of a hut, like a houseboat or tent, is that you can reach everything you own without having to go upstairs to look for it while forgetting what you went up for. Mind you the fact that everything is within reach doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find it, but there’s something comforting about it; it’s like a well-kitted out womb.

As to the writing, it’s all very well achieving the perfect environment in which to create, but all the best ideas for novels come when you’re running for a bus without a pen. which is actually a far harder environment to maintain with any continuity, although it a bit cheaper.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

Is Social Media making us miserable?

Social media, as with having children, you have to ask, what the hell did we do before? Presumably we whittled sticks, recorded TOTP on video compilations and skipped through the long grass?

‘I’ve left Facebook’ is greeted initially with shock, laced with considerable disbelief. And that’s before you’ve even told anyone. Ironically it might be your most popular update, that you’ll never get to see. There’s a stubbornness to it; like leaving a great party early, albeit a party at which people are sharing photos of food, children and fierce political party allegiances. And clips of dogs falling off bar stools. It must be that which keeps us all there. The dogs I mean.

Social media is a strange place that demands revisiting like an itch that’s impossible to locate. We are certainly addicted. If someone was checking for their car keys with such frequency they’d be advised to seek therapy. I recently saw a woman check her phone again 4 seconds after she had put it back in her pocket. Someone else was scrolling down a page without even looking at the screen. They are basically adult Fidget Spinners ™ with tied-in monthly contracts and a thousand photos you’ll never look at.

Without social media you’re left in the sort of time chasm that’s perfect for writing your second novel, if only that felt less like a vicious bully following you around sprinkling self doubt in your ear. And that’s on a good day. Actually, I hope that’s not true, the current book is going well, but it’s hard work writing a novel. I should have learned this by now.

People are encouraging, with comments such as “you’ve done it before, you’ll be fine,’ which is kindly meant, yet I’ve done A-levels before and I doubt I’d even get the grades that I scrapped together back then. The most encouragement I’ve had is Arundhati Roy taking 20 years to follow up her Booker winning The God of Small Things (1997) with her second, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which probably perfectly encapsulates how she felt upon finishing it. I bet she put a Facebook update about that, and then one of a dog falling off a barstool for good measure.

So, how’s it been, leaving this great party in which you sometimes feel that everyone is dancing better than you? Well, you can read a book on a train, which makes you at least 20% more attractive whoever you are. And it’s social media with which novels are competing, but it’s free AND addictive, like crack cocaine for the idle.

Having left, you still wake up with potential updates, such as ‘I’ve just woken up’, before realising that it’s a bit lame and no one will be interested. And that’s the problem with Facebook, even your most private thoughts are fractured through the lens of the potential public eye.

I mean you already know your morning must be bad if the new Mike and Mechanics album has improved things, but sharing that on social media to blank indifference, or some response perhaps involving ‘I preferred them with Peter Gabriel’ (actually, that was Genesis), soon dampens all recovered spirits.

Social anxiety is part of the human condition, and it’s magnified on social media; this worry that you’re missing out is inescapable unless you’re knee deep (ahem) in an orgy, but perhaps social media is the stark realisation that there isn’t some mythical party that everyone’s at bar you, but instead populated by lots of people dogmatically certain of their political opinions, dietary requirements and propensity to overshare. And love of careless dogs.

Shame I can’t share this on social media. Oh well, maybe just one more time.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

Is the Midlife Crisis in crisis?

During a recent radio interview promoting my debut novel (cue: promotion alert klaxon), I was asked about the Life Assistance Agency’s theme of longevity. That, and the advisability of driving to the Antarctic in a family car, which is certainly one way to achieve a never-ending car journey to plant a flag.

It has been a long-burning ambition of humankind to live forever, but humans have also been responsible for Smell-o-Vision, and Clippy, the MS Word Office assistant who offered even less useful assistance than the Life Assistance Agency, and only ever helped by minimising itself, so just because there’s been an idea doesn’t necessarily make it a good one.

I was being interviewed on BBC Radio Drive Time again, and I now question discussing the inadvisability of eternal life, due to it resulting in watching all the people you love age while you don’t. However, I fear they are still winching cars from hedges throughout Kent, as drivers lost their will to live. Thankfully the interview picked up. However, it did  raise the question of aging, and how the raging against the dying of the light was once best expressed via purchasing an unsuitable soft-topped sports car with an acceleration faster than your reaction times, and an extramarital affair. But people don’t get old anymore, they just keep on keeping on. If millennial fashion for high waisted jeans is an indicator, midlife appears to start at twenty and stops at some point during a Saga cruise to Ibiza when you accidentally take more than your usual cheeky half and plummet off the side whilst inadvisably demonstrating your windmill.

Why is this? Well, we all live online now, where we’re all the same. We can now be everything to anyone (within reason) without the obvious giveaways of walking sticks and involuntary afternoon naps to expose you. There used to be time when you’d only get to flirt with someone on a date, yet now we’re all hiding under the table and sending up notes and flattering selfies.

Getting old always used to be so obvious. My Grandpa wore an old suit and brown shop apron all his working life, and on retirement he hung up his apron and simply stopped wearing the tie. Now men are wearing T-shirs into their 50s without anyone advising them not to, while women are borrowing their teenage daughter’s dresses.

For most men, the midlife crisis is something that happens to someone else: laughing at the mate who starts competitive cycling as a socially acceptable way in which to wear lycra, while they themselves stalk their first girlfriend on Facebook, or sign up to Rightmove alerts for potential pubs to transform into a B&B adorned with a DJ room and vinyl on the walls.

However, there are some clear signs: needing to diarise the next day’s hangover after a few pints in the pub is one, as is signing up for triathlons, getting excited about the News coming on and setting up direct debits to charities, but mostly it’s happening so gradually that no one notices, until you finally discard the roller skates you bought at university because they invalidate your life insurance. It’s probably a healthy denial, but perhaps when the time finally arrives we’ll be less prepared for it, like getting to the South Pole to realise you’ve left the flag at home.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

Vinyl – the comeback. The music format that won’t go way.

With all the optimism of a razor seller in Shoreditch, vinyl won’t go away. This is particularly true for charity shops selling overpriced Val Doonican albums involving jumpers on the cover better suited to office charitable fundraising.  That they’re priced at all and not contributing to landfill says everything that’s needed to know about vinyl’s resurgence. Millennials even call them vinyls, presumably clarifying confusion in previously calling them records.

Even the Frozen soundtrack is on vinyl for under 5 audio purists who refuse to listen to digital because it strips away analogue warmth through too much compression. But ever since shellac replaced phonograph cylinders, audiophiles have argued over sound quality, often so loudly they can’t hear Let it go by Elsa, which has to be a good thing.

This resurgence has been occurring for years. I wrote a piece for Sabotage Times in 2014, and Record Store Day (celebrating its 10th year on 22nd April) has become a victim of its own success, at least by fans angered at the limited edition Jack White flexi-disc made from a crushed 1967 les Paul being sold while they remained in the queue. Detractors claim Record Store Day is promoting an obsolete format, and suggest Coin-Op Day or Clothes Mangle Day as equal contenders; that it’s Luddite sentimentality. This tells you much about misunderstandings around vinyl. Because it is on vinyl does not make it necessarily good.  After all, Slip Knot and Limp Bizkit both release records, or rather vinyls.

Vinyl sales are higher than they have been for two decades. (See how Vinyls sales are higher – doesn’t work?)  It’s the fastest growing format on the market. It’s still small, but 3.2 million records were sold in 2016, a rise of 53% on the previous year, Like drink mixers for spirits at parties, there’s more demand than supply, with pressing plants unable to keep up.  To make things worse, bands feel obliged to press records on coloured vinyl, or stretch a single album over four sides creating a double album, which ruins listening experience previously spent sitting down for longer than two tracks at a time. It’s great for Iphone Health app stats, but breaks the musical spell.

Vinyl is the great comeback of our times. All it takes is for something to be taken seriously for it to happen. Look at Jeremy Corbyn. Vinyl even conquered CDs, despite them claiming to be better because you could spread jam on them, and certainly cassettes. Although aficionados are attempting to revive this defunct format, presumably by spooling tapes back together using pencils, before turning ironic attentions to 78 rpm shellac records and phonograph cylinders.

As predictable as Richmond residents wearing Italian puffy jackets and body warmers, the vinyl debate tremors into the digital age, but it’s the opportunity to hold music in your hand which gives it quite literally the edge. And unlike your smart phone, your  record player won’t stop playing just because your work, friends or family are ringing you. Until it’s time to move house vinyl seems the best idea in the world, and is apparently here to stay. Roll on Record Store Day to see grown adults fighting over the 7″ of the Beatles double A-side Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever in its original picture sleeve, which will never get played.



My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

Pet Shop Boys at Royal Albert Hall

Some people will do anything for charity; even watch their favourite band at the Royal Albert Hall. Pet Shop Boys sell out the final night of Roger Daltrey’s Teenage Cancer gigs, and it’s a chance to indulge their reflective side in spirit of the evening with the pumping pop sitting (mostly) on the bench.

By 1991 Pet Shop Boys had replaced sampled orchestra with a real one for the single version of Jealousy, and no one really noticed. Well, they do tonight: the presence of the 66-piece Royal Philharmonic is unmistakable, and as they launch into a jaw-dropping full-length version of Left To My Own Devices (complemented by opera singer Sally Bradshaw) you wonder where they have left to go.

Too often these days music sounds like it’s not only written on laptops, but by laptops. It’s a criticism that Pet Shop Boys shrugged off years ago, but any remaining rock snobs will be disorientated by the presence of Johnny Marr, a long-term collaborator with Tennant and Lowe since 1991’s Behaviour, and of course Electronic.

Marr finds himself part of the orchestra, albeit under spotlight, and is introduced for Tonight Is Forever; its bedsit dreams perfectly finding a new home in Kensington opulence. Its spine-tingling riff from the horn section powers a youthful hymn to hedonism that remains tantalisingly out of reach. It’s perfect.

Their Liza Minnelli version of Rent replaces the original’s seediness with Broadway, and you have to wonder what Morrissey would make of Marr grinning throughout his disco wah-wah guitar of New York City Boy. However, Marr is occasionally so low in the mix that you wonder if he’s plugged in.

There’s a sumptuously electronic Miracles, and another highlight is The Survivors, which Tennant quips as from the ‘underrated’ Bilingual album. It’s a rich wave of hope and snatched romance of London’s West End and Embankment gardens.

Tennant recently joked that he might find Pet Shop Boys annoying if he wasn’t in them, and as he quotes from Othello for the dramatic opening of Jealousy you can see why – but seeing Lowe playing chords he first wrote in his parents’ dining room at the grandest piano, you can forgive them anything.

The second half takes unexpected detours through even the most rabid fan boy’s playlist, which might have tested the casual fan. But, even a full orchestra can’t save Hold On. It’s so middle of the road that you wish a ten-ton truck might run it down, but instead it plods to its twee conclusion. Fans will scrap over better alternatives from Tennant/Lowe’s imperial catalogue for years to come.

Things pick up with Marr’s slide guitar on For All Of Us and the drifting west coast acoustic melancholia of Breathing Space. The strutting crunch of Can You Forgive Her? makes a welcome appearance, with their call to arms: ‘she’s made you some kind of laughing stock/because you dance to disco and you don’t like rock.’

While It Couldn’t Happen Here is huge enough to make the auditorium feel small, He Dreams Of Machines, their unreleased ode to Alan Turing, takes an unexpected route; its Bladerunner moodiness is as far from Go West as possible (which is, thankfully, absent tonight). They revert to pop as Sally Bradshaw returns for a triumphant It’s alright.

Johnny Marr probably spends his time while not playing reflecting upon how good his guitar playing was on This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave. It’s either that, or exploring the thin line between louche and irritation that only invitation to Bernard Sumner stands between them delivering pop music’s high tide mark of Electronic’s Getting Away With It. It’s probably absent because it’s not ‘official’ Pet Shop Boys-canon. It is a missed opportunity, and their artistic purity is rather contrary, but then that’s probably why we love the Pet Shop Boys so much.

Full Set List:

Set one:
Left to My Own Devices (with Sally Bradshaw)
Tonight Is Forever
This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave (with Johnny Marr)
Later Tonight
New York City Boy
The Survivors (with Johnny Marr)
Leaving (with Johnny Marr)
Jealousy (with Johnny Marr)
Hold On
It Couldn’t Happen Here
For All of Us (with Johnny Marr)
Can You Forgive Her?
Breathing Space (with Johnny Marr)
He Dreamed of Machines
Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin (with Johnny Marr)
Indefinite Leave to Remain (with Johnny Marr)
West End Girls (with Johnny Marr)
It’s Alright (with Sally Bradshaw and  Johnny Marr)
It’s a Sin (with Johnny Marr)

My debut The Life Assistance Agency, chosen as part of WHSmith Fresh Talent, is a thrilling and farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

it can be bought here:   and here:,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

How Long does it take to write a novel?

The short answer is bloody ages. I should know. The Life Assistance Agency loitered in my life with the entitlement of sullen teenagers at a bus stop. It was long enough to be transferred from at least two computer hard drives. For many writers, looking too closely at how long it takes to complete a book is inadvisable without emergency services on speed dial.

As already blogged about on here, one of the popular questions people have for writers is ‘are you writing another one?’ which makes you wonder why you started all this nonsense in the first place. Despite your wildest fantasies, there’s no sea of adoring fans at Red Rocks under a blood red sky or name drops from major interviewees clamouring for another book, there’s simply people idly wondering if you’re going to write another, as though it’s on par with eating a few more crisps at a party.

I recently read a fascinating interview with Will Menmuir – a Booker Prize long list nominee –  who wrote a diary about his writing The Many. It is an honest account of how a first draft barely makes sense even to the writer and that the daily 500 words goal was lucky to met in a fortnight.  In light of the time spent writing a novel it’s almost unseemly how quickly you forget the arduous process . Balancing prose, characters and plot is akin to swinging across a room using nothing but cotton threads. It’s basically sticking with an idea that you keep fearing might be shit with no one yet to tell you otherwise.

I always intended my Life Assistance Agency to be a series of books from the instant that the Commissioning Editor at Random House asked me if it had sequels. I made up the sequel’s title Blind Fury on the spot, which led to the idea of having a retired wrestler Billy ‘Blind’ Fury as a character. See what I mean about having potentially shit idea and sticking with it.  Since this working title, I’ve been toying with the idea of the Life Assistance Agency and the Loneliness of a Pop Star. It echoes Herge’s Tintin books – the life Assistance Agency in Tibet, etc, which basically looks like a thinly disguised excuse to go travelling for ‘research’.  I’ve been long obsessed with what successful pop stars do once their moment in the sun inevitably fades and they’re left with the mansion and a swimming pool in the shape of their own ego.

Since the first novel got published I was aware of needing to write a follow up. I had already completed 40,000 words of Blind Fury, but decided I needed to start again from scratch. I’d like a word with the version of myself making that particular decision.

The hardest thing to find in writing is your voice. It eventually arrives, but only after more false starts than the Millennium Falcon. I always wanted to write novels as thin as the cigarettes I was smoking. Some kind of treatise on the human condition that hit home truths like the LA Lakers hit home runs* Instead, I now aim to write wry, entertaining  adventure yarns of the old mould involving angels. The most annoying thing about this is that I don’t read novels about angels, although I do think Stigmata is an amazing film. To be honest the angels are coincidental. It’s really about a pair of chancers setting up an agency in the same spirit that pioneers once set up record companies, publishing houses and dentists. Put a sign up and pray people will come. Like Douglas Adams wrote Hitch Hikers Guide to Galaxy in the Sci Fi genre, the angels are really simply a vehicle for some jokes and absurd predicaments.

So, this is a declaration. Of sporadic blog posts that captures the blood, sweat and tea stains of writing a novel that is currently called the Late Night Loneliness of a Pop Star: a Life Assistance Agency novel. with a word goal of 1000 per week. There I’ve said it. I even wrote a line I loved the other day: ‘The yellow Daihatsu was hurtling up the driveway as though driven by someone looking for dropped sweets in its foot-well.’

So only 30,000 left to go.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –


 *I know nothing about baseball so if the LA Lakers are currently discovering poor home form then this analogy may not work.  I basically had one of their caps once.


Cumbersome or Cumberbatch? A review of Marvel’s Dr. Strange.

The Marvel Universe is possibly expanding quicker than anyone without a mutated super power enabling comprehension of multiple storylines can keep up with. Recently it’s been the turn of Dr Strange to make his appearance, with Benedict Cumberpatch playing the slightly odd surgeon Dr Steve Strange, who’s idiotic driving ends in a crash that he fully deserves.

Beyond Cumberbatch frowning it is hard to know what to expect, but starring an actor better know for ‘serious drama’ signifies a maturer approach to the Marvel cannon, that and psychedelic swirls better suited to explosions in an ice cream parlour. It also features Mads Mikkelsen, who stars in so many things these days that I half expect to wake up and find him in my bedroom. I know several women for whom this would not be a problem, although their husbands might take issue.

Mikkelsen is underused, and features as some kind of a sushi chef who has watched too many samurai movies. He has stolen some pages from a book in the fiercely guarded library, which clearly wasn’t that well protected. The film is really an expansion upon someone with overdue library book fees to pay.

After The Ancient One (Tilda Swindon) turns London into a huge enveloping Tetris game our first introduction to the Dr is where he’s naming music trivia during a surgical operation like someone rehearsing for Radio 2’s Pop Master. It’s the kind of knowing nod to pop culture that began with Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and is now de rigor of any film that wants to enjoy complicit winks with the section of an audience that knows its Nick Drake from its Nick Cave. It’s a shame Strange never mentions his love of music trivia again, as he lurches off to Tibet after losing use of his hands after the self-inflicted car accident. With Batman, Iron Fist amongst others, it’s hard to know what the Marvel/DC universe would do without the Himalayas – the departures lounge must be packed with superheroes returning to the western world.

Cumberbatch is so good at playing arrogant twats that you have to wonder where the script stops and he starts. He does however do a good job of not laughing at the pompous script, while the multi-verse of different dimensions sounds a little too much like an EDM motto, or the recent Danger Mouse episode involving the Twisty verse. It’s really the story of how he gets his cloak, which isn’t from TK Max and amusingly has a mind of its own. There is of course the customary cameo from Stan Lee.

The end is a little like the Matrix meets the Haribo kaleidoscopic Trolls movie, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless, although it’s hard to see how anything beyond the Dr Strange Origin story can be of much interest.

My debut novel The Life Assistance Agency as chosen for WHSmith Fresh Talent can be bought here:

Book Promotion – the BBC Radio Interview.

I’m unsure what the highlight of being asked onto BBCRadio Kent to talk about the Life Assistance Agency was, but it wasn’t tapping the producer lightly to request water. The aim was to not disturb her in case she was on air, but it resulted in her leaping into the air squawking while clutching her chest, as I hastily explained that I’d been attempting to get her attention without disturbing her. Thankfully she didn’t accidentally slide a fader down and bring Thursday night’s Drive Time with Dominic King prematurely off air.

Writing a novel doesn’t prepare you for LIVE radio interviews. In fact it prepares you for very little; not even writing another novel, which feels like swinging across a room using nothing but cotton threads. I had an ale in the pub next door for medical purposes, and it took admirable restraint to not tell the bartender that I was half an hour away from my radio debut, the radio which I had to describe to my 5 year old as being TV but without pictures.

I’d been given some good advice: no ‘uuummms’, don’t swear, and no alcohol in the studio – it’s the not the 1970s. Don’t swear was the most popular advice, while my own internal voice kept muttering ‘don’t slag off Royal Tunbridge Wells’ like it knew I might, despite never having had a bad word to say about the place for most of my life. I was also careful not to drink the previous night; the best place for a hangover is on the sofa, not on the radio.

Also, despite having seen numerous Teenager Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers on the school run, I restrained from accusing some parents of being too stupid to discern between characters from books and the Nickelodeon channel

Because it was World Book Day I was going to arrive dressed as a writer, but thought pyjamas would be too much even for radio. It was appropriate to be asked in for World Book Day as Dr. Dee, the historical character of my novel, would have been a keen supporter. Even in 1580 he had considerably more books than children, in an age when this was unheard of. Sadly there are homes in which this remains the case today. As I say in my novel, he was a man in desperate need of a Kindle, needing an entire wagon to transport his books around Europe while his family often walked.

The interview took place on the Drive Time show, as if Kent drivers didn’t have enough rush hour hardships to contend with. My father took this so literally that he sat in the car to listen in. It seemed fitting. The interview went surprisingly well, and I was made very welcome by Dominic King, although I’m sure there’s a word in radio for guests’ best anecdotes appearing off air. He kindly took a photo of us afterwards, in which I missed the promotional opportunity of holding my book, while appearing to have been recently heavily sedated.

I can be heard here – at 2 hours 25 minutes:

And my debut novel as chosen for WHSmith Fresh Talent can be bought here:






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