Author Interview: Thomas Hocknell

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Today I am delighted to welcome Thomas Hocknell to my blog. Thomas is the author of ‘The Life Assistance Agency’, which I review here.

1. You have done what so many writers dream of and had your novel published. How have you found this experience?

Publication is a fence I’ve been running to leap over for twenty years without any thought as to which way to land – forward roll, the splits, or careen into the nearest gorse bush to emerge quicker than I went in. Time will tell, but at risk of sounding like one of those positive affirmations back-dropped by a rose, publication day was one to savour. Although, it mainly involved sweeping up untouched children’s breakfast cereal and being asked to pay for 4-months worth of backdated Sunday papers at the local newsagent. I used to think writers lived somewhere indefinably special, but they walk among us.

It was certainly a day to quit worrying about MS spell-check missing thong instead of thing throughout the 300 pages of the Life Assistance Agency.  It’s a day like no other, although most writers would claim it’s the best day to start writing the next novel.  Which is lucky, because the most popular question since publication is “Have you started a 2nd one?” I mean talk about not being allowed to rest on your laurels.

Publication day is the sort of day that validates those annoying motivational Twitter status updates involving ‘following your dreams’, and ‘Stars can’t shine without darkness.’ The sort of updates that no one says to your face in fear of being strangled, and without which Twitter would be diminished to people declaring themselves as coffee addicts, uploading photos of cats and flogging vampire novels thinly disguised as porn. Or is it the other way around?

But it’s been wonderful. A dream has come true even if it was a 10-year overnight success. If anything it still feels a little surreal, but it certainly changes your relationship with writing. You suddenly have readers beyond immediate family!

2. Urbane require collaboration with authors in marketing their books. Has this worked out as you expected?

They do. They are an independent publisher, but not having been published before means I have no idea of how it works elsewhere. I’ve been blogging at Idle Blogs of an Idle Fellow for 2 years, and that has gained a secure and loyal following, for which I am deeply grateful. It’s resulted in a kind of established market, albeit a small one. And the generosity of support from friends on Twitter (let’s not call them followers) has been flabbergasting. Ultimately though, you can’t keep flogging the book; it has to take on a life of its own. But there’s no better feeling than seeing it in a bookshop window.

3. Have you done many live author events and, if so, do you enjoy them?

At the first book launch, I so hated being the centre of attention that I found myself still up at 3:30am imploring people to stay, and that it was too early to call it a day. Actually, ask me this again next week, as I have a second one lined up.

4. What is your approach to the on line reviews of your book?

Well, I initially declared I wasn’t going to read any. So, once I’d read them all, I found myself in a collapsed state best known as depression. It’s amazing how one negative review can skewer the glow of the good ones. If I’m honest, it also made me feel exposed and a little vulnerable. I was reminded of the Edna St Vincent Millay quote – “A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.”  I thought it best to buy some smart new pants.

However, as the weeks passed, the review about me not knowing what genre I was writing in began to sting less. After all, I’ve never chosen to read a novel according to its genre. Then a complete stranger compared the Life Assistance Agency to Douglas Adams’Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. He only wrote 2 and a half of these novels, which I always wanted more of. I’m cautious when aligning myself with such a great like Adams, but he was a huge influence that I’m happy to shout about it. His sentences were so unpredictable that you get the sense even he didn’t know where they were going.

5. When asked what you do, do you describe yourself as a writer?

That is a brilliant question. I do now. Or rather no one has asked since I was published, which is a bit annoying, so I don’t know for sure. I look forward to not saying I’m a social worker, at least initially, although that is what pays the mortgage. The most popular question when people hear that you write is “Are you published?” like it’s something that inevitably happens to every writer. Of course you want to grab them by the lapels and scream ‘D’you have any fucking idea how hard it is to get published?’ This is now avoided by simply pointing them in the direction of my T-shirt emblazoned with I’M PUBLISHED.

6. Are you going to do this again – is there another novel in the pipeline?

See what I mean about not being allowed to rest on your laurels! There is actually. I’m pleased to say that this novel can be seen as cue for further adventures of the Life Assistance Agency, which will vindicate its proprieter Scott Wildblood, as much as it will annoy his partner Ben Ferguson-Cripps. I love writing, at least when it’s going well. It’s like pottering about in a garden shed but without the spiders and tripping over the patio heater you don’t recall buying.

Where my readers can find you

Blog: Idle blogs of an idle fellow – Journeys from the fax

Twitter: Tom Angel (@TomAngel1)

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Thomas Hocknell is from Kent and lives in London. He has been a social worker, car salesman and gardener. He attended the Faber Academy and The Life Assistance Agency is his first novel. His blog, Idle Blogs of an Idle Fellow, aims to embrace random topics of modern living, but mostly complains about other people’s inability to make decent tea. He also writes for Classic Pop magazine, the Good Men Project and The Line of Best Fit.

 

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The Life Assistance Agency is published by Urbane Publications and is available to buy now.

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Book Review: The Life Assistance Agency

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“I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud” (Jung)

The Life Assistance Agency, by Thomas Hocknell, introduces the reader to Ben Ferguson-Cripps, the author of a mildly popular blog and one published book with sales figures so disappointing his agent is considering no longer representing him. In need of an income, Ben has taken a job transferring data from an ancient mainframe onto a contemporary IT system, despite having no idea how to do this. When he is found out and dismissed he visits the newly formed Life Assistance Agency. He discovers it has been set up by an old friend, Scott Wildblood. Ben last saw Scott when he was having a heart attack in the office where they both used to work.

Scott offers Ben a job, although he has yet to secure any clients. Ben is sent out wearing a sandwich board to drum up business, but has more success when he rings the number on a missing person’s poster and taps into the desperation of a middle-aged woman whose husband has not been seen for two weeks. The man, Thomas Foxe, had an interest in medieval alchemy and had attempted to commune with angels, much to the irritation of his now worried wife. Ben and Scott discover that a series of related artefacts have recently gone missing, their provenance leading the less than intrepid duo to follow the errant lecturer across Europe.

Ben and Scott track the missing Dr Foxe whilst sinister operatives from a secret society, intent on retaining their monopoly on contacting higher beings, track them. There are night-time flits, car chases, underhand thefts, and the translation of a diary that dates back to the sixteenth century. This tells of an alchemist, Dr John Dee, who worked with a scryer in an attempt to create gold and the secrets known only by the angels.

The plot is fantastical and is told with a healthy dose of cynicism, especially when considering man’s preoccupation with wealth and longevity. However, after an entertaining opening I found I was not always engaged as the adventure progressed. There are many amusing one liners and I enjoyed the denouement but my concentration drifted during the twice detailed journey through Europe.

I enjoy the author’s blog and this is written in much the same style. It is a light-hearted and wry look at belief whilst pandering to modern day sensibilities. A shame then that, in places through the middle, it did not fully hold my attention.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane Publications.

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