It was bright and sunny in February. I loaded up camera and tripod in the front basket of my ¥15’000 standard Japanese commuter bicycle, the kind everyone rides to the stations in the morning, and dropped down the steep roads north of Tama River, then hit the elevated tarmac by the side of the waterway, and headed east.
It was late afternoon by now, as I’d let myself be delayed at home, by nothing other than my own procrastination. I had a sense that delay might turn out to be a good thing though, depending on how far down the path I was when the sun started dipping low in the beautiful, clear blue sky.
All I knew was that I was cycling in the direction of Tokyo Bay, and Haneda Airport, and, on the other side of the river, Kawasaki and its vast, waterside industrial zone.
Bikini body in the sun, half-cocked gun, a summer weapon, a sassy siren sensing and inviting desire, it was a wave rushing towards me, I was riding the crest, eyes closed beneath my shades, heat spreading between my legs,
but suddenly it all changed, no rhyme, no reason, what the actual fuck was going on, my crazy brain switched moods randomly, I’ve always been my own worst enemy – it was
a senseless dream starting with a less than vague promise of sex and ending with
Van Gogh penniless and in despair trying to drown himself in the deep sunflower fields—which had long haunted him—their colours and shapes having intensified his misery.
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.
5 am: he’s shivering, cold seeping into his bones, teeth shattering, he turns up the volume on the radio – it’s playing that song everyone hums, everyone knows. Alone in his bed, twisted in a wrinkled sheet which has seen better days, he can’t sleep, looks at the ceiling, thoughts turning, colliding – deadly ennui.
He’s losing his head and his cigarettes are all gone, stubbed out in three different ashtrays displayed around the bed. His studio is a mess of used tissues and empty bottles – it smells just how it looks: stale.
He’s lonely, fucking lonely.
He finds just enough at the bottom of a bottle to have one last drink but the glass escapes, shatters on the floor – he cuts his hand while picking up the pieces, it’s shallow, he sucks the blood on his fingers, vaguely thinks he should disinfect but on the heels of that: fuck it, let it kill me – who the hell cares anyway.
6 am: he needs to find a drink, black coffee or something stronger – he’s not sure yet, thinks: let’s leave this place, leave it to fate. Once in the street he sees some stars – in a Paris sky it’s pretty rare, what with all the réverbères – he cranes his neck to talk to them: “do you have anything to tell me?” he asks, feeling kinda foolish. They don’t reply, keep looking at him from afar.
He gets in his car, roule au hasard, goes through a red light, thinks: don’t get stopped, the last thing you need are the cops – slows down, which is how he spots a small bar squeezed between two bulging buildings. He parks the car, goes inside the tiny bar, takes a seat by the window lit so bright he’s relegated to the role of shadow. In a dark corner a platinum blonde sips on a liqueur, she looks at him, says: “champagne?” He nods: “okay.” Within seconds she’s sitting next to him, one hand on his shoulder, the other in her hair and whispers: “a hundred?” He says: “why not.”
7 am: hotel. He pays, has to dig deep in his pockets for crumpled notes, feels cheap, the clerk looks bored. The room is small, it’s a hellhole, the blonde walks to the bed, gets straight down to business. She takes off her pantyhose and the rest quickly, expertly – revealing tanned skin with an orangey hue which screams ‘fake’, like her platinum hair. She pats the empty space next to her: “coming, darling?” He takes three steps, she grabs him, her painted nails leave a faint trail on his face. Her lips are artificial red, her arched back a practised pose, his cold fingers don’t warm up on her frigid skin, her eyes are empty, blind mirrors. They’re both thinking of nothing while moving in tired synchronicity – there’s no heat between those two writhing bodies despite the groans and moans. The bed creaks, the shutters slam, he thinks: fuck it, I can’t even cum. Frantic, he makes a last desperate effort, increases his rhythm, her eyes lose their vagueness, she’s getting pissed off, it’s taking too long and she’s had enough – he pulls out, he’s gone limp, she simply says: “tough luck, time for sleep”, snatches her clothes and leaves, not even bothering to close the door behind her.
She runs away, the morning is grey, there are no taxis, she has to walk, she feels ugly, needs to go home.
8 am: she’s shivering, cold seeping into her bones, teeth shattering, she turns up the volume on the radio – it’s playing that song everyone hums, everyone knows. Alone in her bed, twisted in a wrinkled sheet which has seen better days, she can’t sleep, looks at the ceiling, thoughts turning, colliding – deadly ennui.
She’s losing her head and her cigarettes are all gone, stubbed out in three different ashtrays displayed around the bed. Her studio is a mess of used tissues and empty bottles – it smells just how it looks: stale.
She’s lonely, fucking lonely.
She finds just enough at the bottom of a bottle to have one last drink but the glass escapes, shatters on the floor – she cuts her hand while picking up the pieces, it’s shallow, she sucks the blood on her fingers, vaguely thinks she should disinfect but on the heels of that: fuck it, let it kill me – who the hell cares anyway.
Building castles, pies in the sky, leaving pebbles underneath the neon lights. Did you see the marble statue looking down on us, with an enigmatic and slightly benign smile, injecting magic in an otherwise pink and subdued night. On the merry-go-round, eyes shut tight, the unicorns turn and dance with the swines.
A little star dust is the only make up worthy of the dreams in my eyes, and the whisky coloured words no less than our misfit minds deserve.
Give us a few light years and we will have figured out nothing, but by then we might have written a couple of epic stories & modern myths.
Somewhere, a giant will weep in the darkness and indifference while secrets — never meant to be kept — will burst, tired of waiting for deliverance.
The poets are dead, I don’t want nor need their decayed crowns on my head, I’m happy with graffiti on my walls, stylish and sexy, never mind the bald eagles — utterly appalled — screaming at me in fury.
What else matters but our collection of moments, small slices of life, gathered in my hands whilst I strike a pose—hold it for the pages of Vogue—before releasing them all…and people slow to a crawl…awed and warmed by the radiant colours flying up into the ether.
I feel slightly foolish posting this as it was a very clearly over the top “look” for last night’s party (I actually didn’t want to go to) but there are a few of my followers who insist on my Halloween pics every year – you know who you are and this is for you 😉
“September was always the annual period of change. Countryside fields previously swaying with blankets of wheat were now barren stubble, views begin to emerge between the branches shedding leaves, while evenings tucked in more effectually than my oversized school shirt that I’d only grow into after Christmas.”
Loved this – please do go and like the original post 🙂
“Blue-bore”, “blue-borie” – when the weather is gloomy or stormy, an opening in the clouds through which clear blue sky can be seen (Scots). Metaphorically, therefore, a glimpse of hope, a hint of the imminence of coming change. – Robert Macfarlane
Idle blogs were never intended as a diary. To be honest it’s hard to know my intention of regular blogging beyond growing a readership so large that I might then flog my own range of gold-plated trainers (guaranteed to burn twice as many calories). Instead I appear to have written an online diary, the secret blogs of Tom aged 44 3/4s (ish). Looking back I can see how these sporadic and hopefully entertaining thoughts on why everyone is a twat, apart from me, actually mark my life, like sweets trailed behind Hansel and Gretel.
And September is the month for looking back. Forget the forced-celebrations of New Year; September was…