Life doesn’t happen in chapters — at least, not regular ones. Nor do movies. Homer didn’t write in chapters. I can see what their purpose is in children’s books (“I’ll read to the end of the chapter, and then you must go to sleep”) but I’m blessed if I know what function they serve in books for adults.— Sir Terry Pratchet
I’m aware that this title appears to be advertising the bookshop of Berkshire’s leading commuter town, but it’s been drawn to my attention by no one that I’ve been so busy blogging about writing books that I’ve not looked at how to read the blasted things. Every reader knows how to buy books – see a previous blog : https://lifeassistanceagency.com/2018/12/28/how-to-buy-books/ – but reading them is an art form itself. In a modern world of boxsets, bagels and Brexit it’s a wonder anyone is reading, yet the literary…
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” John Steinbeck
To be honest this should read how to start a new blog, as I’m sure I’ve started one like this before. Yes. All writers have been here before: the hinterland between the joy of completing a novel and the niggling sense that it’s time to start another. Life basically becomes a decision between buying a dog, or writing a new novel. Mind you a book doesn’t plead to be walked or fed, although it does rest its head on your lap and look up at you expectantly; wondering when you’re going to do something. I only ever had the ambition to write one book, I thought that would be enough, but it’s strangely addictive.
Unfinished Business was published last month as a continuation of the Life Assistance…
“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”
― Charles Bukowski
What awful timing, or perhaps it’s related. My new novel UnfinishedBusiness is published and I’m struck down by what feels like something I don’t want to name, no, not a STD, but writer’s block. Despite a launch party last night that included four Spanish women without word of english to their name arriving to buy a signed copy of the novel for one of their brothers, I’m looking at Unfinished Business with the sense it was a fluke; never to be repeated.
I can’t recall if I’ve written about writer’s block before, I must’ve blocked it out, which is exactly the sort of crap joke that suggests it’s time to step away from the keyboard and do something else. Anything. Just stop writing. Mind you writers aren’t capable of much else, unless it’s the…
Civilisation only ever hangs by a thread. Today one of those threads seems to have frayed, perhaps snapped. It is impossible to watch the footage coming out of Paris. Like videos of pornographic violence, all that can be done is to groan and turn away. It is not possible to watch the spire of Notre Dame collapse. It is not possible to watch the great cathedral consumed by fire.
Evelyn Waugh once said that in the event of a fire in his house, if he was able only to save his children or his library, he would save his library because books were irreplaceable. Only at a moment such as this is it possible to concede the slightest truth in that remark. Almost anything could be borne rather than the loss of this building.
There will be recriminations, of course. There will be disputes about budgets, and overtime and safety standards and much more. It is worth reading thispiece from two years ago about the funding problems that existed around the cathedral’s restoration. But if Notre Dame can burn then all this is as nothing, because it tells us something too deep to bear. As I said a couple of years ago in a book, in some way the future of civilisation in Europe will be decided on what our attitude is towards the great churches and other cultural buildings of our heritage standing in our midst. Do we contend with them, hate them, ignore them, engage with them or continue to revere them? Do we preserve them?
Though politicians may imagine that ages are judged on the minutiae of government policy, they are not. They are judged on what they leave behind: most of all on how they treat what the past has handed into their care. Even if today’s disaster was simply the most freakish of accidents, ours would still be the era that lost Notre Dame.
We would have to tell future generations what it was like, this treasure that we lost. At the start of this decade I was living part of each week in Paris, commuting back and forth to a little flat on the edge of Le Marais. Each time I headed out to the earliest Eurostar on a Monday morning I would see the great cathedral first as I turned into the street. One winter morning heavy snow was falling and as I headed to the station I stopped dead, alone in the street with the cathedral and just drinking in the sight of a building I had seen a hundred times before. When I got into London a friend could see I was just beaming still, radiating far too much joy for such a time of the week. He asked how I was and I remember simply saying, ‘This morning I saw Notre Dame in the snow’. It was like that.
It’s not news that I’m a bookworm, I’ve been reading avidly and collecting books since I was 6. Books always represented escapism and knowledge…but escapism first and foremost.
I’m also in love with language, the way words can be weaved and put together. I studied English, German and Spanish at a high level and taught myself some Italian. Words have always fascinated me, there is something…magical about what I call a “tight line.” In fact I’ve been known to read tight lines several times in a row when I encounter them – I savour them. Yes, I’m one of those people.
Whilst I’ve always been a bookworm, I became a beta reader only (kind of) recently. But I must say it’s been the most amazing experience. To be able to read a chapter or even just a few paragraphs only minutes after they’ve escaped from the writer’s mind and imagination is…well, it’s everything.
I started reading Unfinished Business by Thomas Hocknell back in 2017 and I was gripped from the start. I can be an impatient type – especially when it comes to books I’m enjoying, I’ll read something I really like in one sitting sometimes – but in this particular case I had no choice but to wait as the novel was far from finished when I first got my hands on it. I must have been a bit of a nightmare because there were numerous occasions when I asked Tom if he’d written anything new, (anything at all, even just a few lines?!) because I was dying to know what happened next. I was urging him to write, poor man – as if he didn’t have a life and other things to do!
I won’t even pretend I was an ideal beta reader. For all the: “your characters are well fleshed out, this is a gorgeous line, that scene was breathtaking…etc…” there was also: “this situation doesn’t make sense, you’ve got to add some scenes so the connection between those 2 is more believable because right now I’m not buying it, and what was that? he/she wouldn’t say that…etc”
Actually, that is an ideal beta reader – what I meant was that Tom probably wished at times that I was just a little less demanding.
In any case I’ve been with the novel for quite a while now, all the way to the editing stages and finally publication. It’s coming out in about 10 days and I’ve lost count of the number of times I read it. Which is why it was such an emotional moment when I finally got an actual copy of it last Friday. It might not have been as defining a moment for me as it was for Tom – because, you know, he actually wrote it – but I did feel a little bit like a godparent when a baby comes into the world. It might not be my baby, but I love it all the same and somehow feel responsible for it.
So I read the novel again – in book form for the first time! – this weekend in my garden. I admit without any shame whatsoever that I cried when I turned the last page. I felt very proud to have played even a small tiny part in the creative process.
What kind of a novel is Unfinished Business? I’m fearful to say very much because if I start I will go on and on, and there will inevitably be spoilers (this isn’t meant to be a review as I can’t write them – I invariably say too much)
Let’s refer to the back cover to give you an idea:
“The Life Assistance Agency finds itself at a loss after returning from Europe.
Ben is determined to stay away from anything involving Angels, when the phone rings to invite him to write the biography of a self-deluded singer from defunct rave group Elev-8.
At his mansion in Sussex they meet the singer’s right-hand man, Billy `blind’ Fury, a retired wrestler, and his beautiful secretary Amber. Both of whom have plans for the Life Assistance Agency far beyond writing down half-recalled anecdotes from the early 90s pop charts…”
If I absolutely had to, I would describe it as a thriller…a thriller which involves the hopeless but v. funny duo Ben and Scott whom we last saw in The Life Assistance Agency – let’s note though that Unfinished Business is a stand alone novel, there really is no requirement to have read the first one to enjoy its sequel.
So Unfinished Business is a thriller…with a little bit of fantasy, wit and humour, with a love story and deep observations about life, a thriller that’s also incredibly well-written with enough tight lines to satisfy the most demanding literature lovers. Tom consistently blows my mind – and my mind is not at all easily blown – because of his fluency with language, the ease with which he writes perfectly gorgeous sentences that are scattered throughout his manuscript like sparkling stars in an already stunning purple summer sky.
Oh, look at that, I’m so in awe of his talent I’m getting lyrical myself!
In all seriousness, what I love about his writing is how he switches between…let’s say self-deprecatory wit and…poetic prose…seemingly effortlessly. I’ll be sitting there smiling at a humorous line when suddenly a little jewel of a sentence comes along to take my breath away. Or there’s a tense scene with guns and immediately afterwards a magnificent description of a pier…or something.
It’s like: just when you thought you were reading a book that’s actually really funny,and rather exciting too, the author hits you with the reminder that he can actually write, and write bloody well too.
Did I digress? I probably did a little…so, revenons à nos moutons as the French say…
To conclude, Unfinished Business is very much along the lines of what P. G. Wodehouse might have written if he was around today – Unfinished Business is P. G. Wodehouse with guns and car chases.
Ultimately, Unfinished Business is a bloody good story – it’s pure blissful escapism…which is the main reason I started reading in the first place.
PS: I loved The Life Assistance Agency – Tom’s first book – but I can confidently say that he’s managed to write a second novel that’s better than his first. And yes, it’s ok for me to write this as I’ve already told him…several times – he can’t have minded because he still thanked me in the acknowledgements.
Never judge a book by its cover – What you should think.
Always judge a book by its cover – What people really think.
This is one of those blogs on which I upload the picture before I’ve written anything. I’m probably too delighted to put words together or something, but after a few years of tapping away like a mice doing home improvements the new book is ready. Not only that but it has a cover. Unfinished Business, the stand-alone sequel to the Life Assistance Agency, to provide its full title, is ready for the world that is not necessarily ready for it.
The cover is amazing, which I can comfortably claim because I had nothing to do with it. It is courtesy of http://www.nicandlou.com whom also did the first one, so there’s that all important continuity familiar to dog breeders and Star Wars fanatics.
“True life is elsewhere. We are not in the world.”Arthur Rimbaud
#Writingprompts, if their 20,000 Instagram usage suggests, are very popular, although some way off #cutekitteninbucket. I’ve never been a fan of writing prompts. They sound too deliberate, like intending to do shots before you’ve left the house instead of spontaneously deciding eight tequilas is a good idea from the moment you reach the pub. To be fair life is a writing prompt, as anyone who’s written a To-do list with testify. However, I was recently exposed to the most fantastic inspiration for writing at my local B&Q. No, I wasn’t lost, nor was I asking directions to the nearest record shop.
These days there are hash tags for everything, although there’s an odd sweet sense of fresh territory when coining a new one on Instagram and #DIYWritingPrompts was a new one. At least it was yesterday. Imagine being…