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Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Journeys from the fax

Finishing the Second Novel

This time last year I posted the manuscript of my debut novel to my publisher Urbane and here I now am itching to write The End to its sequel.

For anyone tracing developments in the follow up to the Life Assistance Agency I apologise. There was to be a webcam, but watching an author working on a new book is akin to observing someone looking for something without knowing what it is they’ve lost. But, there is an update…

The end is in sight. It’s the kind of rallying cry familiar to Edwardian explorers (if there’s any left) before they noticed another perilous crevice of 800 feet to be negotiated before supper using nothing but ropes, crampons and smoking pipes clamped between gritted teeth. However, the only virgin ground left to be trodden before the sequel’s end is a few thousand words. The end is in sight.

I’ve written it at a speed better associated with Londoners pouncing on vacated seats on the tube, which is my own fault for leaving such obvious potential for a follow-up. I should be grateful, as although this new instalment leaves a door open wide enough to reverse a harvest-laden tractor through, there’s currently no more directions on the Life Assistance Agency’s Sat-Nav. They’ve been busy, perhaps they deserve a rest; their office certainly requires a tidy.

Being a writer often provokes questions from people, and not only ‘Can you pay back that tenner yet?’ There’s a misconception that you must be rolling in it. If ‘it’ refers to misplaced punctuation, plot holes and underused characters then the answer is an empathetic YES. I was delighted that fans of the first book were asking for a sequel until I realised it meant I needed to write one.

Some have asked if writing a second novel is easier. In a way it is, but only like the second girlfriend (or whatever it is we’re calling them these days) feels the same yet completely different. Much like the most inept explorers, the endeavour of novel writing is started through the wrong end of a telescope: a distant and idealised destination appears. Although most of the time you’re arguing with automated fake Twitter accounts about Diane Abbott, with each week even the slightest amount of writing brings you closer to arriving, albeit with the occasional crow startling you at close range through the lens.

It’s way too early for saying it’s going well; I verge from rehearsing Not the Booker Prize acceptance speech, to calling Apple support desperately requesting how I retrieve deleted manuscripts from my computer’s hard drive, but I’ve enjoyed the first draft, so the second needs to be for the reader. Then comes the title. The working title of Blind Fury always sounded like it’d already been taken, and annoyingly I have an unused title so good that it demands an entire book to be written, yet in the penultimate chapter the sequel’s finally appeared. It was so late it’s lucky not to be called The End.*

*Title to be confirmed once I ask my publisher and a hundred other people what they think of it.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – –   and is a farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

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

and it currently on offer at 99p on ebook here –

 

 

 

Your toothbrush is in the garden – How to know you’re a parent.

To be fair, ‘How to know you are a parent’ is not a blog people are crying out for.

If you are a parent of young children it’s unlikely you need someone pointing out how your life, once brimming with cultural events, casual sex and hangovers (generally in that order) has been reduced to chiselling hardened Shreddies off the kitchen floor and falling asleep at the local pub quiz once a year. Even if you did have time to read blogs, the burning toast, spilt drinks and Fisher Price war zone that was once your garden are clues enough.

The most frequent observation of parents is the vague concept of having had a life before toddlers, despite being unable to identify what it was. There are memories not involving Primary school BBQs, bric-a-brac sales and PTA meetings that are evidenced by photos, even if you can’t recall where you were, or who with, or why.

At the peak of toddler parenting, the most amount of daylight ‘me’ time is when you put the rubbish out, before you skip back inside to prevent the 4-year from short circuiting the house.

There will also be a number of unread books on child-rearing. There’s too many better things to be reading before you have them, and you have too little time once you do.

You don’t become entirely deskilled, there’s just nothing to put on your CV, unless companies need employees adept at eating chocolate biscuits hidden beneath cushions, to identify dinosaur silhouettes at 20 paces, and demonstrating interest in when a child is speaking whilst actually having no idea what they’re saying.

Your pet hate is no longer unpunctual drug dealers, but over-eager parents, tending to their darling’s every whim with the attention of nuclear waste handlers, and are actually equipped with baby wipes/water/snacks for the park. The helicopter parent has the wild look in their eyes last seen in John Rambo’s, while the child develops levels of narcissism also last seen in Rambo. As with East 17 playing to 30 people at a 800 capacity venue in Dublin, it’s hard to know who to feel the most sorry for, the band or the audience, parent or child.

One of the reasons parents declare (to themselves) that they’ve never been happier might be due to no longer having any time to watch the news, or comprehend a newspaper. The first section to be slung from the weekend newspaper you’ll never read anyway is the Travel section, as you glimpse places you’ll never visit, ‘on a shoestring budget‘ or otherwise. The closest you get to current affairs is Channel 5’s Milk Shake Monkey visiting the remnants of a fishing fleet in Newquay with a bunch of bananas and primary school children.

Other sure signs involve:

  • You say ‘hold on a minute’ about once a minute
  • You know the price of a pint of whole fat milk and never return home without a bottle.
  • Your toothbrush is in the garden
  • You never go upstairs without taking the opportunity to carry something with you
  • You’re woken up at 6am by the sort of enthisuasm unknown outside Saturday night TV studio audiences, but which certainly isn’t your own.
  • You invent pointless games you won’t recall the intricate details of, but they need to know at 6:01am.
  • When you’re playing music, say the sublime Brennan Green remix of 2bears Not This Time, they shout ‘too loud’ with hands over their ears, until you turn it off and they can watch Ninjagotubbiebetsquares at full volume.
  • Your first name has become ‘But’. As in, But daddy..
  • You know that the easiest way to get a child to play with a toy is to start packing it away
  • You never have any change on your pocket for vending machines, which is possibly how you ended up with children in the first place.
  • You refer to yourself in the third person, like a master criminal, albeit one that hasn’t cleared away breakfast to make way for lunch.

Yet, despite you wishing it was their bed time from the moment they wake up, you miss them from the moment they go to sleep.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – –   and features no children, other than one in the background on page 24.

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

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

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

and on ebook here –

What your bag says about you..

A blog considering those secret worlds hanging on our shoulders.

About the only thing worth reading in the now painfully self-conscious NME is where they accost innocent people using headphones in the street, and ask what they’re listening to. It’s basically an exercise in how quickly people can mention something cool, like Royal Blood, rather admit they were listening to the original cast recording of Cats. But it’s an interesting glance into a private world, even if Mr. Mistoffeelees tends to stay there. Another private world is our bags.

A friend recently posted a photo of her with friends displaying what was in their handbags. Instead of the usual knot of used tissues, house keys, and wrappers of Werthers Originals that their partner had no idea they’re addicted to, they took the opportunity to show off how intelligent, good looking and charming they all were by revealing the novels they were carrying. That one of these was my own Life Assistance Agency obviously helped. ‘I couldn’t put it down’, she kindly said. ‘Why, was it glued to your hand?’

Presumably the disentangling of boiled sweets from old copies of the Metro newspaper had occurred off camera, but what a wonderful new #hashtag that could be, #whatsinyourbag – as people reveal their secrets and empty the contents of their bags for public hilarity, horror and respect.

Of course a book is the most important thing to be carrying in your bag, apart perhaps from your house keys, although someone I know has so many bags that she has a book permanently stored in each one rather than risk leaving the house without reading material.  Lesser used bags reveal  old classics and forgotten bookmarks.

I remember my Grandma’s purse. She could have travelled to the far reaches of the galaxy with its contents. Stamps. Luncheon vouchers. Food stamps. Even some money. And an old curled photo. It was the weight of a dumbbell and the world stopped when it opened. I don’t know what novel she had in it, but it could easily have accommodated one.

There was a time when I’d have welcomed interest in the contents of my bag. It was an original standard D-Day British issue backpack and I was obsessed with it, and its contents. As a 9-year old I had the sort of paraphernalia best suited to surviving a nuclear winter – this was the 80s after all – complete with a spam tin, an army issue water bottle (circa. 1962) and a hunting knife blunt enough to eat with. These days my bag is likely to contain a damp gym towel, having soaked through printed off pages of my novel, with corrections now a damp mess; which in places is still an improvement on the original text. Of course you sometimes forget what’s in your bag, at least until the house mice decide to finish off the honeycomb Galaxy bar on your behalf. I was grateful they had only found one of them.

If they’ve made a film about bloody emojis I’m amazed that the inside of a bag hasn’t yet been turned into a £150m feature film. After all, there’s probably 100 tonnes of tissues, old travel cards, novels and make-up being carried around London alone per day, so let’s shine a light. #whatsinyourbag ?

No copies of the Life Assistance Agency were harmed in filming the bag contents.

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.’

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

and on ebook here –

 

The idiot’s Guide to making tea

Opening sentence to Henry James’ (1881) The Portrait of a Lady.

‘Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.’

Now, I’ve rattled on about declining standards in tea-making for so long that I thought I had already blogged about it. People I’ve harangued certainly thought so. However, and there are plenty of howevers, this is a theme that warrants returning to. After all, if it’s important enough for George Orwell to write A nice cup of tea between addressing communism, aspidistras and paeans to his perfect pub the Moon on the Water, this subject suits Idle Blogs well. So, sit down, don’t make a cup of tea quite yet, and read on. The rules:

1 The only person who can make a decent cup of tea is you. so, NEVER get anyone else to make it. This can be tricky, as tea is the first thing most people offer you on arrival in their homes – that’s if you’ve been invited in and they’re not calling the police. Mind you, while awaiting the officers arrival is perfect cuppa time. Anyway, on invited arrival, deny you want tea, before waiting ten minutes, then politely suggest you’ll make one yourself. If your hosts insist on making it, ensure you stand near the sink, to pour it away

2 How to pour away tea someone’s made you has its own subtle criteria. Ensure the sink has no cloth in it, or you’ll be explaining to your host why their recently wringed dishcloth is now spreading milky, undrinkable tea over their work surface. The best way to dispose of it is at the same pace you would drink it. Despite your own sense of self importance, not to mention that of the tea, after ten mins they’ll have forgotten all about it, so it can disappear unseen. However, this has not yet addressed the issue of making a good cup of tea.

3. At this point it’s good to stress that the best avoidance other people’s tea is through meeting them in the pub. I would suggest the Moon on the Water, had it not been appropriated by a chain, with the sort of identikit chalk boards that would leave Orwell sleepless. Anyway, in pubs no one thinks they can do better than beer brewers, apart from the lonely home brewers, so it’s a level playing field. However, this is not always possible-

4. So, as ever, yup, even with tea making , timing is everything. Unlike with coffee, this has been adressed by calling a specific moment in the day Teatime. It’s so idiot proof that insipid tea making is inexcusable.  Coffee has no such marker, and presumably this is why it’s drunk with such obsessional abandon, as though really screaming for some containment. It needs boundaries like our well-mannered tea. However, despite there being an actual teatime…

5. the best time to drink tea is probably first thing in the morning. When I say ‘first thing’, I mean it as being the first thing you do upon waking, not at 00:01.  If you get good at it, sleeping can be poor based simply on how good your restorative cup of tea will be upon waking. Of course, (see point one) generous people occasionally like to make you tea, even at 7am, so it’s tricky. It is advisable to either have a bedroom with a sink in it, or print off these rules and ‘accidentally’ leave them out. At this point I feel that tangents may be resulting in anyone looking for real advice on making tea might be drifting away to Jamie Oliver, or Orwell, so

6. Equipment – Fresh water, tea bag or leaves – let’s not be purist about this, there are other battles, such as the china. It HAS to be bone china. I’m risking snobbery here but if coffee drinkers can publicly ask for a latte-mild-chocco-hot-bot without pronouncing the hyphens, then this bone china rule has to hold. Although-

7. china cups are not necessarily needed. Not only do they fail to hold enough tea, but the exact angle of your superfluous little finger informs those in the know exactly which college you attended at Oxbridge. Or not.

8. A thin bone china mug is perfect, so why use anything else, unless you’re offering tea to builders – no offence, but, I doubt they hand out their best china to people handling wet cement for a living either.

9. The next crucial thing is to leave the tea bag in. Presumably there’s some EU directive demanding high street coffee shops only wave a tea bag above the water, with contact lasting no longer than 8 seconds. They then slosh in enough milk to douse a bonfire. So, tip 8 is really – LET IT BREW. You want it strong enough to require teeth bleaching to remove the stains.

10. Add only a SMALL AMOUNT OF MILK. A SMALL AMOUNT OF MILK cannot be stressed enough. Sugar is optional, but only if you’re trying to prove a point, and keep your teaspoon out of work. Best is half a level teaspoon of brown sugar, which offsets the bitterness to the tea enough to maintain it.

11. Of course this brings up the subject of the teapot. The teapot is increasingly used in TV dramas as an indicator that it’s set in the past. Either that, or as a prefabricated home for mice on CBeebies. However, it remains a staple for anyone serious about their teatime, but for some reason seems out of place and overambitious for the morning cuppa. The best contents of an afternoon teapot is 3 parts Assam, 1 part Earl grey, not mice wearing their Sunday best while sliding down the spout.

12. To truly appreciate tea, it’s best to limit intake. Unless they have two cups on the go, some people limit their consumption to the short time it takes for a kettle to boil. Each to their own, but it’s better to spend time anticipating a cup of tea, as opposed to never letting one go. Ideally – drink twice a day. When you need it to wake up, and to counter the mid afternoon slump at teatime. Drinking tea twice a day means that while you’re not drinking a cup, you’re anticipating it, which for anyone who saw the Star Wars prequels, will know is a better state to be in.

Oh, and to stress the fresh water. It’s been rubbished in the past as being pedantic, mainly by me, but now I’m sold. It makes a far superior cup of tea.

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.’

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

and on ebook here –

 

My first Literary Festival – Curious Arts

The Life Assistance 2017 UK tour has three dates. World domination postponed.

It’s hard to know from which angle to approach this blog. Not only was my appearance, to be interviewed by the ever-charming Paul Blezard, at the delightful Curious Arts Festival in Hampshire a debut one, but it was also the first time I’d taken children to a festival. I blame both for a beer earlier in the day than I might otherwise have indulged.

I was emboldened to find that my appearance at 1pm in the Arcadia was following a whiskey-making class and it was raining, so finding a pissed up captive audience in my tent couldn’t have been better planned. However, they had clearly drifted off to find cigars or something. Nonetheless a welcoming crowd met me, albeit a sober one.

I read out a chapter, and got a few laughs that weren’t from a family member, before a warm and pleasant conversation with Paul, during which I heard myself publicly admitting that I self-deluded myself into thinking I was not writing a humorous novel in case it wasn’t funny. Afterwards I even signed some copies, and spoke to some glorious people who were so defined because they had read (and thoroughly enjoyed) the Life Assistance Agency, and keen for a sequel, which is fortunate as it is scheduled for publication next year.

In addition to the promotional opportunity, the organisers were kind enough to provide with a spacious glamping tepee, in which we rolled out Snooze 200 sleeping bags amongst 500 mini zombling toys. Despite the headroom and space, glamping is still camping, and the night was spent restlessly dreaming of the Snooze 400 sleeping bag, while trying to change sides while zipped up in a body bag.

Having two kids with you certainly prevents you from agreeing to a glitter make-over at 5am in the dance tent, although plenty of parents were happy to make the most of their compromised situation by blocking the exits to the main tent with pushchairs and trolleys of snoozing kids during the main act of  Tom Odell, (an alluring mix of Elton John gorging on early piano house). Other parents had spent the day making do with getting pissed in the kids’ tent while their offspring made papier mâché masks and cadged money for face painting. It may not be a good look, but a look nonetheless.

The most inspiring characteristic of children is their disregard for torrential rain, but realising a change of scene was needed, we decamped from the kids tent to, well, the campsite, where the festival programme of events served as something to taunt you while sitting in a tepee while the kids treated the inflatable beds as unregulated bouncy castles.

The weather improved the next day, allowing for Dave Eggers to talk about giving up writing for a year, which in light of his recent Heroes of the Frontier* is a good thing. He is instead taking up the challenge to personally impeach President Trump. This is fine, although the unquestioning obedience with which his audience held up their hands to take a solemn oath to similarly overturn Brexit was chilling. Thankfully the good humour of Crazy Golf ensured matters did not get out of hand politically. A hole-in-one by my 3 year old, witnessed by myself, will remain the highlight of this and any festival I’ve ever attended, as it did him. He spent the entre day informing anyone attempting the hole that he had managed the hole in one, before demonstrating how impossible it was to recreate.

The Curious Arts festival is a welcome addition to the festival calendar and not simply because they invited me to attend. It’s chilled like the Big Chill can barely dream of these days, amongst the glorious surroundings of a manor house on talking terms with PG Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle.

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.’

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

and on ebook here –

 

* Disclaimer. I have thoroughly enjoyed his previous books, but this one is succeeds only in being conceited, boring, judgemental and irritating. He was however following up the Circle, which algorithms have proven to be the perfect novel, so we can forgive him the pressure.

 

 

 

Simple Minds – Acoustic Tour review.

It’s hard to know who started this fashion for proving your back catalogue via acoustic treatment. Perhaps it was the MTV unplugged albums of the 90s, or the contrived informality of Mumford & Sons, but everyone’s at it, even A-ha next year. At this rate we can anticipate Kraftwerk’s Electric Café on mandolin and bongos. However, Jim Kerr mentions Simple Minds’ own reluctance to sound like hippies crouching over a camp fire half-way through this intimate West End show, by which point they’ve already proven that their idea of acoustic is akin to sharing a hanger with a jet plane taking off. After all, this is a band whose last album was called Big Music. Drummer Mel Gaynor might be absent, but percussionist Cherisse Osei does the work of twenty drum machines.

Like a ninja choreographing Future Islands, Jim Kerr has already grabbed a fan’s phone for a selfie, upheld his mic stand, and walked through the auditorium before the evergreen New Gold Dream has even finished. With entertaining stories between songs, Kerr’s a definitive front man, attacking every song like it’s the encore. Charlie Burchill’s spent 40 years watching his mate’s gleeful dad-dancing, although there are less scissor kicks these days. Yet Burchill’s reflective guitar playing is as unique as Marr, Clapton or the Edge, with his distinctive pose of holding it like a dance partner to tease out unforgettable stadium riffs. It might be acoustic, but it’s classic Simple Minds. The only song that misses the synthesizers is the closing Alive and Kicking, which adopts its football chant defiance nonetheless

Tellingly there are no songs beyond their imperial period of the 80s, only what Kerr shamelessly describes as ‘these classic songs’, but their pompous reputation is ruined here by effortless passion and playfulness, with the sound quality more crystal than the huge chandelier above the stage. Glittering Prize certainly chimes as majestically perfect as ever.

The butch Stand by Love is somehow reminiscent of Tom Jones, while they pull unknown funk from Someone Somewhere In Summertime, which follows a blissfully melancholic Big Sleep. They’re as kind to Don’t you (forget about me) as it has been to them. Their cover of Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town is diverting enough, but they return for several encores to allow Kerr to show off some new jackets and freshly thoughtful arrangements of Waterfront and Promised you a Miracle. He’s grinning to the last, as is the crowd, as though high on knowing they’ve made a superfluous acoustic album an essential live experience. They’re extraordinary.

My music-heavy 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.’

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

and on ebook here –

 

 

Is the Hobbit – Battle Of Five Armies the Worst Movie EVER?

We are all complicit. You don’t make $250 million films without a script if you lack confidence in people watching it. There’s not been such a waste of money since the North Korean space project. But at least that played for laughs. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies makes Michael Bay’s Transformers, which itself felt like someone throwing lit-petrol in your eyes for 2 ½ hours, look like the hushed whispers of twitchers seeing a nesting Siberian Accento in a bird hide

Peter Jackson actually deserves an Oscar, for making the most boring film of all time, although I’ve not seen Andy Warhol’s 8-hour Empire featuring the Empire state building in slo-mo. Mind you, he was aiming to make an unwatchable film, and I believe a pigeon does land on it at the 6 hour mark. However, unless the concluding Hobbit film is the greatest prank ever, Peter Jackson achieved this without even trying.

The KLF got flack for burning a million quid, but at least it had artistic integrity; at least it was an answer that demanded questions. Five Armies only asks questions without providing any answers. The most pertinent is WHY? I would have preferred to watch smouldering £50 notes on a campfire, as the Last train to Trancentral shuddered to its final rest in a damp farmhouse on the island of Jura; for one thing it’s nearer Middle Earth.

I’ve no problem with big films, but the most memorable thing about the Avengers for example, wasn’t the predictable CGI showdown, but the sharp script. Peter Jackson’s script for Five Armies is basically this:

Dwarves peer over a wall, a peaceful hobbit somehow escapes, four (of the Five Armies) armies turn up via big earth worms without anyone asking where the fifth one is, and proceed to hack the hell out of each other under the presumption that a) we care b) we know why. Billy Connolly then turns in a hammy performance only outdone by the giant pig he’s riding. There’s a cursory love story with all the frisson of canal root dentistry, while Stephen Fry acts as overwhelmed as the audience feels. The only comic relief, which might shake Connolly’s confidence, is a troll knocking itself out on a wall, neatly encapsulating how watching this film felt, only without the peaceful oblivion of unconsciousness.

The rot had set in with its predecessor, a watchable film were it not for Orcs’ inability to hit metal barn doors if their arrows were magnetic. All they successfully destroyed was dramatic tension. How 200 orcs failed to hit a single dwarf as they leaped from barrel to barrel on river rapids like an advanced level of Marioland is beyond belief. Presumably, at the very least, the Orc Quartermaster and archery instructors lost their jobs.

After an ill-justified 3 hours of Five Armies, even the CGI begins to look bewildered, hoping its creators might take a lunch break. And as the ‘story’ peters out in a peaceful dell, the audience released a collective sigh, presumably before leaving for the box-office to request a refund. It was a sad conclusion to an increasingly tired series of films that capitalised on the success of the original trilogy of Lord of the Rings. The single good thing about Five Armies is that unless Jackson is willing to dramatise the middle earth encyclopedia Silmarillion, it’s the last one.

There is even an extended version but to date no one has been bored enough to watch it. This is a man who can clearly make any old rope from a budget more associated with national space programmes. He’s the opposite to an alchemist.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – –  If dramatised it would also about 2 hours 2 minutes.

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

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

and on ebook here –

 

How NOT to write a novel – top tips.

1. Wait for inspiration.

This is the same as waiting for ‘the one’. They don’t exist. Tellingly you’re more likely to meet inspiration than your carefully constructed fantasy partner. It can happen when a paragraph falls out of the sky so complete that it’s hard to even take responsibility for it, but unless you’re Moses, it’s best to forget the mountain and just keep climbing. Like a good tennis return, if inspiration happens you need to be in the right place at the right time, but you can’t sit down in perpetual readiness, just ensure you’re always within reach of a pen.

2. Plotting.

While it’s thrilling to write without having any idea where you’re going, like some idealised country walk in which you follow your nose to discover abandoned Oast houses, badger sets and rusting farm machinery before a quaint pub that takes at least 4 pints to leave, it does have its pitfalls. Like the country walk, you’re likely to find after a couple of hours that you’ve walked into a dead end and can’t find your way back to the car before realising you’ve lost your keys and it starts raining.

I never plot and you can tell. I have at least one furrow in my brow you could run a river through when I’m lying down. But lying down is something plotting doesn’t allow you to do; it’s like a soduko or crossword, but one that follows you around prodding you in the side demanding attention. It’s like an internal video game in which you have endless lives, with which to knock yourself out against a wall.

3. Look over your shoulder.

Unless you’re a fighter pilot it’s best to ignore what’s behind you. The wonderful thing about writing is what comes out from the forgotten places of your past. It will happen. Writing taps into a reflective space it’s otherwise difficult to contact. As to literature, the past is littered with great writers, unfinished manuscripts and ash-filled hearths. Light your own fire. See what happens.

4. Ignore the craft.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack is a recent book that breaks the rules. It’s novel in a single sentence, which presumably only free divers are able to read for long enough without taking breath. It’s supposed to be excellent. However, if you want to be published it’s best to respect the rules an techniques of writing, at least so you know you’re breaking them.

5. Take Rejections Personally 

Writing is such a fast track to rejections that it feels masochistic . Honest friends and family will tell you first attempts are good, but you can can tell they’ve glazed over and silently praying that you never ask them to read your stuff ever again.

Like anything it takes time to get good, so don’t send your manuscript out too soon. Or at least accept that the best way to notice you’ve not done a spellcheck is by sending it to 40 literary agents.

6. Give up the Day Job. 

It’ hard to know when to announce/admit you are a writer, but it’s best to keep it in the Hobbies and Interests of your CV until it’s at least in the shops. Even then most published writers are barely earning enough to pay the milkman and are hiding behind curtains until he rattles off flicking V-signs at the front door.

Even once you’ve written it you need to promote it, and it’s hard to sell something 8 months old – not that it’s flogging babies or anything.

7. Naming Yourself.

Use initials if you think it sounds important, but hoping you might be googled by idiots unable to spell JK Rowling by naming yourself JK Rolwing is inadvisable – they’re probably illiterate. Names are important, but be careful, Kirkcudbrightshire is an excellent name for a solicitors, but less good for a novelist.

8.  Stop Writing 

The hardest thing to accept is that the first novel you write – yes, the one that cost 4 years, a marriage and a short spell on antidepressants –  is only for you. It’s unlikely to ever be published. It serves to learn the craft. They advise shutting your finished novel in a drawer for 2 months so you can then read it objectively. The first one should probably stay there.

9. Don’t change anything.

Like traffic lights that remain long after the road works have finished there’s still plenty to pack away after you’ve written The End. Even if you like it, there’s now the balancing act between ripping the soul out of it to achieve publication, and maintaining your artistic integrity (or something). Throwing a hissy fit at suggestions with the charm of being paid in 5pence coins will not make you any friends.

10. Don’t expect to get Published. 

This is the tough one. Unless you’re serving a life sentence in a high security prison then everyone writes with some eye on publication. Mind you, with the current appetite for misery memoirs, then you might be more likely to be published with stories of gym visits and staring at the wall without punctuaton or a happy ending. Not that I’m encouraging serious criminality to achieve publication, but we all need a USP.

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.’

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

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

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