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Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Journeys from the fax

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 –

How to Survive the Midlife Crisis…

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.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,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 – – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance 

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 –

https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/card?preview=inline&linkCode=kpd&ref_=k4w_oembed_q8XtxQlP54ixyc&asin=B01JDPGZHO&tag=kpembed-20

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)
Rent
Later Tonight
New York City Boy
Miracles
The Survivors (with Johnny Marr)
Leaving (with Johnny Marr)
Jealousy (with Johnny Marr)
Interval 
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: 

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

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

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04swbkc#play

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

 

 

 

 

 

Top Secrets to Better Blogging.

Since the children have learnt to use the TV remote and subsequently made me obsolete, blogging has been a reason to wake up in the morning, If only this were true. It’s still a cup of tea, or beer and sausage rolls (in the evening obviously) , but these events sadly do not justify a blog post.

The key to blogging is something happening to you. Blogging is like declaring intention to write an autobiography before anything has happened. It’s the pressure of writing a weekly newspaper column but not getting paid for it; if anyone still is. You start questioning the blogability of everything you do. Oh, I tripped over a shrew while putting the rubbish out  – ‘Blog about it.’

However, it’s actually been a busy week. On Thursday some charming woman calling me a white piece of shit punched me in the face. The fact I was holding a terrified 3 year old did nothing to deter her. She had been driving past a primary school at a speed high enough to justify a brief word of advice. Her battered car also needed a clean, but there was no time to mention this before she had lumped me in the eye and driven off. I called the police to report it; the racially aggravated assault, not the dirty car. It’s become quite a talking point. It’s like nothing has really happened locally for six months. Ironically, it was during something actually happening to me that for once I was not assessing it for blogability

The trick to blogging is knowing what to write about. And nothing triggers panic like suggesting you know the secrets to blogging. There are none. Although it’s best to avoid politics, particularly these days, when the arguments are so polemic they make north and south appear like buddies that have drunk in the same pub for 30 years.

It might be timely to express indignation about Trump, but so many people already are that you wonder if he’s simply an indignation-conducting rod. It’s hard to know if he created the anger, or if it was there already. Either way, none of it is healthy, and I’m already furious enough about missing the last of ITV’s Ninja Warrior. No matter how much you might be struck by the irony of pacifists accusing Therese May as an appeaser, it’s best to keep quiet.

Trump’s existence creates such outrage that even his sensible comments (he has made one I believe about NATO) are lost in the pursuit of umbrage. Twitter’s #notmypresident was blatantly untrue in the States, yet perfectly accurate anywhere else in the world. Anyway, I wouldn’t have voted of him, but I don’t have the energy for outrage at an elected Head of State doing what he wants to do. It’s probably the human rights of Saudi Arabia or Iran hanging gay men that upsets me more, but let’s leave it there.

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 –

 

 

 

 

La La Land or Trainspotting 2..?

Generation X have been faced with a difficult decision. It’s of the sort impossible to shy away from; the sort that might affect families for generations to come. While some friends have voted one way, declaring their decision as irrefutable, others are reaching for the sick bucket, or rather Sick Boy. In such divisive times it’s hard to find middle ground. On one hand you have La la Land, which has the charm of a singing box of milk chocolates, while on the other you have a return to the adrenaline soaked underworld of Trainspotting 2.

As an alternative choice someone suggested Manchester by sea, declaring it as an emotional gut punch of a film, ‘though not many dance routines. He made it sound like latter day Take That.

The sequel to Trainspotting has taken a while, as Danny Boyle wisely waited for his cast to look older enough. In Hollywood this can mean a long time, and Euan Mcgregor’s career-requiring youthfulness is even referred to by the enigmatic Sick Boy.

John Lee Miller inhabits his hair-bleached role like it’s god-given, but from the loafers up he’s a legend in his own mind, even if his bedraggled pub suggests that he might want to take a closer look.

Euan McGregor, while not as bad as his cardboard Obi Wan, is acted off screen by the others. Mostly by Ewen Bremner, who’s Spud was the heart of the first film and the soul of this. Trainspotting 2 somehow succeeds in being a 117 minute trailer for itself, which is quite a feat, but it’s Spud who stops the film only being an extended pop video. He’s the vulnerable anti-hero we’re all chanting for.

It’s actually better than the first film, with a new found pathos that was lacking from the youthful original. These characters have grown up. Well, perhaps not grown up, but grown older. Sadly they are not the same thing, which is what interests us. It’s not just the characters that have changed (or have they?) but Edinburgh. It’s a different time, where the brutality of the past has been replaced by Starbucks and trams. Of course Begbie remains psychopathic, although his taste in well-cut Pringle jumpers has to be admired, even if he’s likely to glass you for mentioning it.

We’re on side from the moment Mark Renton flips the vinyl record in his hands with an ease that is second nature to a now aging generation; a demographic that like all others never believed it would. There are elegant shadows of the original throughout, as an ambient version Born Slippy provokes mass soul searching throughout the cinema. What have we been doing for twenty years? Fallen in love. Given up drugs. Bought not rented. Bearded or notVinyl or download.

The film has been accused of lacking female characters, which is right-on bollocks, if you’ll excuse the pun. It’s a film about men struggling with the loss of youth, so why would it not focus on male characters? Anyway, there are enough females, who spend their time raising their eyebrows at men’s inability to grow up. Either that, or shafting them with strap-ons obviously.

Last time we watched this film was while coming up for air after bongs, so it’s lucky the perfectly edited flashbacks to the 1992 original negated the need for homework in re-watching it. There are even 80s songs, which the surge of Brit pop and house music had hoped to replace. The unmistakable pound of Frankie goes to Hollywood’s Relax has the surge of intent lacking from most national anthems. Meanwhile the kick of Run DMC’s It’s like that and Queen’s Radio Gaga provokes grins like supporters of La la Land also claim to have found on their faces.

That Mark Renton and Sick Boy are still having a beer at the close of  Trainspotting 2 is telling. Have they grown up? Who knows, but it’s Spud who is the one who needs saving, and perhaps he is. I for one look forward to finding out, as the UK finds it’s own version of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. See you in twenty years time.

My novel – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 – the Life Assistance Agency is available now here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance  – read the book before it’s made into a film.

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