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Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Journeys from the fax

The Cure – Wembley Arena. December 1st. 2016.

You might say Christmas has come early for Cure fans, starved of new material since Robert Smith teased them with the promise of a rapid follow up to the 4:13 Dream album – in 2008. The Cure’s legendary 3-hour sets are not for casual fans, not that any are here; any fair weathers would have been elbowed in the face for tickets before they could say ‘will they play Friday I’m In Love?’

Immensely popular, the Cure can be heard throughout modern music; they are no longer a cult, but have found a global niche. They are rock’s least likely success story. At their heart of course is Robert Smith, a man who’s had less of a bad hair day and more of a bad hair career. And from the scratchy, well-knitted guitar lines of Pictures Of You – New Order minus the MDMA – to the forlorn ‘I know we have to go’ of a slow-burning Out Of This World from 2000’s Bloodflowers , nothing has changed.

The sound is immense, as original bass player Simon Gallup stalks the stage like he’s auditioning for Guns ‘N Roses. A neglected lust lies at the heart of these songs: the country walk rush of High, to the swamp funk and machine gun drums of The Walk, to the krautrock early Simple Minds of The Push. You have to admire Adele for covering it, but thankfully they reclaim Love Song’s bedsit romance as their own.

The defiant Play For Today provokes terrace chants, and although BloodFlowers’ title track gropes around unsuccessfully for a tune, the poetry of Primary keeps its rock on the perfect leash. And it’s the inclusion of these darker album tracks that prevents it from being a festival set, and pleases the fans.

Smith stands in a rare spotlight for Three Imaginary Boys and you’re reminded of how they’ve always stayed our side of the velvet rope. Although Bowie’s guitarist Reeves Gabrels has been a Cure band member since 2012, there’s never been any superstar feats. Gabrels sears out skyscraping riffs on Burn, as they twist their sound through so many ports-of-call that it’s impossible to discern if they’re magpie or originator.

As ever, it’s an epic set. The Forest is welcomed like an oldest friend, with the sort of echoed guitar that keeps the Edge awake at night. Any doubts about arena sound will have been put to bed, as will fears of a tendency for meandering sets. Tonight it’s a Cure jukebox, as the visuals magnify each of Smith’s self hugs; not that he needs them, the crowd hold him to their hearts all night.

They disappear countless times, presumably to apply hair spray, and return for a customary 20 encores. For the casual fan it might feel like being at the best party no one invited you to, but it’s not too late to stay. Leave your gothic gloom preconceptions at the door. They even play a needless Love Cats and a massive Hot Hot Hot. But it’s the crisp lines and jerky riffs of Killing an Arab that carry us home.

The debut novel The Life Assistance Agency is available now here  –   , and in all good bookshops, including Foyles.

Can a Health Farm Kill you?

Last weekend I visited a health farm/hotel spa. My only previous acquaintance was the one featured in James Bond’s Thunderball, during which he basically trashed the place; which is a poor advert for the relaxing weekend such establishments promote.

These ex-country homes are often found at the end of long driveways, ideal for driving expensive cars along, so other guests can see, as your Michelin Pilot Sport PAX 245/690 R520 tyres crunch perfectly across the gravel. Our VW Passat was quickly shown the rear car park, leaving the main house car spaces to the neon orange McLaren F1, and inexplicably a 1970’s Vauxhall Cavalier.

The first thing that strikes you at any health farm, spa, hotel resort, or whatever they’re bloody called, is the accommodating staff, who in one case literally tripped over themselves to help. Of course, it’s incredibly pleasant to be treated like duchy, but there remains the inescapable sense of snipers concealed behind chimney stacks and trees, monitoring staff-to-guest interactions, with any dip in helpfulness resulting in triggers being pulled. The staff appear to be traumatised by the importance in being polite, and are probably reminded at hourly motivational meetings involving leather straps and waterboarding.

There are numerous treatments on offer, which is euphemism for massages. There are saunas and steam rooms, and a hot tub that no one had told a nauseatingly amorous  couple was to be shared. What was going on beneath the bubbles is probably best left there. It was all very relaxing, other than the fact it felt like a ninja training camp, everyone padding around in dressing gowns and slippers – there was the sense that your throat could be slit at any moment. Not particularly calming, and that was before I looked at the price of lip balm.

Staff encouraged eating in the restarurant like it was a religious mantra, but instead we asked where the nearest pub was, to a look of horror on said member of staff’s face. It was like I’d cursed in the Vatican. They said it was a 40 minute walk, which I (correctly) interpreted as being a 15 minute stroll.  We left the grounds, somehow without tripping the alarms and search lights, and found one of the best pubs in Sussex (i.e. the world) called the Red Lion in Turner’s Hill. Not only did they serve 5 different local ales, but a snack selection including every possibility currently on sale in the UK, and the finest beef and horseradish £1 roll I’ve ever had. It has to be said that its open fire, wooden booths, friendly gamekeepers and five pints of Harveys was more relaxing  than anything the health farm could offer.

For couples who’s idea of romance is holding hands while getting their backs massaged , a weekend at a health resort is ideal, although that makes requests for a happy finish awkward. Mind you, the resort’s idea of a happy finish is giving you the bill, which undoes any measure of relaxation achieved. If anything the panic at the cost requires another visit to a health farm. It’s the perfect business plan, unless James Bond is staying.

 

The Life Assistance Agency is available now and features no health farms –   and in all good bookshops, including Foyles.

How I (finally) Got Published

I’ve been not published for long enough to allow a kettle to boil, much less forget how articles on How I Got Published are inspiring and galling in equal measure. I have however finally made it to print, so sharing the experience of how it happened feels at least appropriate, even if it feels like fluke. Getting published feels like the glowing perfection of a film’s first act, before a Boeing 747 crashes into the house. This is how it happened, getting published I mean, not the plane crash.

An actor friend told me two years ago how he was giving up his pursuit of acting, and I was struck by what a momentously adult moment this was; to surrender those dreams of his younger self. Well, I reached a similar moment. Over the past two years I had sent my novel the Life Assistance Agency to so many agents that I had reached Z in the literary agent lists, and stopped even noting where I had sent it. Any advice of submitting to only 4 or 5 agents at a time long-since ignored.

Random House then showed an interest, which they probably regretted as I followed them home every night. Mind you, the meeting involving a free cup of tea and Kit Kat in the Random House cafeteria was the most exciting thing to have happened, which speaks volumes about my literary endeavours up to then.

Sadly, this was the peak of my involvement with Random. They had recently signed a novel involving the Elizabethan alchemist and magician Dr. John Dee and feared it risked overkill. They also wisely declined to provide me with this writer’s home address, which might have risked another kind of overkill.

Over the years I also managed to gain and lose two literary agents. To misquote Oscar Wilde, “To lose one agent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

At this point I put the manuscript to pasture, and started another novel, set in a small tenement block in London Bridge. Once I finished this, I glanced again at the Life Assistance Agency. It was at this point, were it a movie, the audience would groan at magnitude of cliché. Yes, I decided to give it one more chance. I would give it another edit and tidy up, before sending it to every agent/publisher foolish enough to publicise their address in the country in a sort of mail-shot more associated with general elections.

There were no takers, but during this time I was building up a Twitter following, mainly by making friends with people in the hope they might return the interest. Once I had gained 2000, a newly found friend suggested Urbane Publishing, as a publishers happy to consider manuscripts without agent representation. And it was while buying tickets to see Hotel Transylvania 2 with my son that I received the email I thought I would never get. I celebrated by buying the 4-year old the sort of ice cream he never thought he would get, and won’t have again, unless film rights are requested.

And it so happened. The first thing I did on returning home was to recycle the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2010 edition with a satisfying ‘fuck you.’  And spent the next 9 months endeavouring to not fantasise about selling enough paperbacks to cover my expenses. Mind you, I’d prefer not to calculate the hourly rate. It feels surreal; all those dreams and aspirations now to be made public. Annoyingly, the moral of the story is never give up.

The Life Assistance Agency is available to buy from local bookshops and at Foyles:

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

Kindle is available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Assistance-Agency-want-forever-ebook/dp/B01JDPGZHO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

the disappearance of Adele Bedeau. by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Purchased by chance, or rather by me, in Hatchards, the gorgeous bookshop on Piccadilly, it’s seldom you read a book as well executed as its cover. The classical image of a man and his carafe of red wine sums up the wide range of nocturnal entertainment options in Saint-Louis. This is not a Butlins. But one of thousands of towns in the sleepier parts of Europe, in which time trots by, untouched by hypermarkets, the Internet or personal drones. There’s the sense that a box set of Narcs or Sons of Anarchy could change the town forever, as the residents flock around to see how shiny DVDs are.

It’s against this backdrop that the underwhelming, yet well-dressed detective Georges Gorki finds himself investigating the disappearance of waitress Adele Bedeau from Restaurant de la Cloche. He remains haunted by an unsolved case 20 years earlier.

It’s a literary whodunit of which there are not enough, and is better written than most Booker Prize winners and certainly has a better story, although that isn’t difficult. It instinctively understands that lovers of well-written prose can also enjoy a good thriller, rather than enduring existential hubris of college professors flirting with the possibility of a student affair for 600 pages. Too many literary books are about what if? This novel explores what is, and creates a turn-pager of the elegance you dared not dream of.

The characters are shady and real. And Burnet captures the ennui of an unimportant market town perfectly; one simultaneously longs to live there, while feeling grateful one does not. It’s a town to escape from, yet none of the characters have. The inhabitants are the ones left behind.

There are glorious culture clashes between the traditional strait-laced upper French classes and the more dashing – by Saint-Louis standards – Inspector Gorski, but the real standout is Manfred Baumann, the loner assisting in his enquiries. Baumann is a character as unforgettable as the novel, who lives in an apartment he’s incapable of making a home. It’s tremendously thrilling stuff.

Graeme Macrae Burnet’s recent novel His Bloody Project was actually long listed for the Man Booker this year, again published by Contraband, and promises to be an equally affecting read.

 

ABC – Lexicon of Love at Royal festival hall – a review.

This was how it was always supposed to be. Where pop opulence meets romantic strolls; those lost days caught momentarily in time. Tonight the current ABC line up are joined by the Sinfinica orchestra, and from an opening double whammy of the chic When Smokey Sings and soaring elegance of Viva Love from Lexicon of Love 2, Martin Fry’s performance and Anne Dudley’s conducting are masterful.

As the last member to join ABC, Fry is last to leave. He has wisely retired the gold lame suit, although his shoes boast gold courtesy of Jimmy Choo.  He’s loosening his tie by The Flames of Desire only 10 minutes in. It’s pop so tight you can hear the punctuation.

He graciously introduces songs, recalling the writing of new Love inside the love with Dudley, and when they first met in a Brick Lane studio in the early 80s. Those years shadow the first act, as the sequel to the seminal Lexicon of Love is played. His knack for an erudite middle 8 remains as intact as Neil Tennant’s. And as the strings simmer the schmaltz, it’s elegance on tap.

Inexplicably, in light of Rob Fusari arriving to play a neck-slung synth dipped in glitter, the overly wrought Singer not the Song doesn’t quite click. “We started as a punk band, and look what happened”, Fry jokes, as Confessions of a Fool recovers affairs, at least for those who’ve done their homework and bought the new LP; for the others it’s their loss.

Alongside Viva LoveKiss me Goodbye was salvaged from sessions following 1991’s underrated soulful yacht pop of Abracadabra but it’s hard to begrudge Fry the shortcut. 1987’s The Night you Murdered Love closes the first half in flurry of tight disco.  With such Stalinist rewriting of their history, the fair-weather fan might be mistaken for thinking they have only made two LPs. There’s no King without a Crown, or even the orchestral Ocean Blue.

Act 2 opener Show Me finally gets the crowd up. It’s quickly followed by the string stabs of Poison Arrow and Date Stamp, as Fry invites us into his time machine. He knows how dearly these songs are held. The cash till riff of lost single Date Stamp and the Prince-esque 2 gether 4 ever lose none of the funk as they punch their tight horn riffs. But after the swelling perfection of All of my Heart, it’s predictably The Look of Love that wins tonight, even returning for a slightly needless encore; it had already made its mark.

Fry is caught between the Rewind crowd wanting the hits and others who want development. As an artist Fry obviously sits in the latter camp, yet tonight his classical pop succeeds in pleasing both.

Tom Hocknell’s debut novel, the Life Assistance Agency, was published in September. It has been described as PG Wodehouse writes Da Vinci Code via Douglas Adams and is available here – 

The Danger of Locker Room talk

I’ve lived in London for 25 years and never described my residential area as ‘happening.’ This maybe due to never having lived in a happening area, but I’m not even sure what an area needs to qualify as happening. However, a chap in the (cough – middle class alert) yoga locker room clearly did, as he happily announced his pleasure at having moved to a more ‘happening area’. He was declaring this to a fellow yogi (or whatever the plural of smug yogic middle class people are called), who was unable to escape due to needing to towel himself dry. Mr. Happening warmed to his theme, while wearing the least happening underpants I’ve seen since I had my own as a teenager.  He was adding that it feels far more like London when you’re away from the gentrification, and there’s less mums.

Now, I was unaware that the prevalence of motherhood was what identified an area as happening or not. But I was reminded of Donald Trump’s recent excuse for lurid obscenities as being ‘locker room talk’. I presume he wasn’t referring to socio-geographical opinions better suited to pissed up estate agents furiously incapable of departing from their habitual script of describing cramped flats as cosy, neglected courtyards as gardens, and postal codes as ‘happening’.  Presumably non-happening locations are frozen in time-continuum stasis in which nothing happens; earth worms, traffic and people imprisoned by the impossibility of moving. Actually, this does rather accurately describe Sutton and Kingston on the London Surrey borders.

I continued to mind my own business (i.e. attempting to not look like I was intending to blog about his comments) as Mr. Happening informed his companion that it was a relief to be away from all the gentrification. You know, how all those coffee shops, window boxes and Farrow & Ball pastels can be traumatic to the more urbanely cool personality. Ironically, even while wearing unhappening pants, he could not have appeared more suburban if he’d had a bricked-over driveway to hand. I was struck by those moaning about gentrification of an area generally being those actually causing it. Besides, what would the process of de-gentrification look like? Neglected houses with rotten guttering, overgrown gardens and broken windows. Mr. Happening appeared to like the neater things in life, he was at yoga after all. He looked as edgy as a melon.

A happening area implies nightly police sirens, and street drinking or loft parties, which you call the noise pollution people about because you’re in bed by 10 o’clock, or watching George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. I might be showing my age, but surely happening places are where you want to visit, not live. I was encouraged mind you, as I later walked home from my local station, when overhearing someone on the phone encouraging a visit to south London because ‘There’s an event tonight. It’ll be really good.’ It was one hell of a hard sell, suggesting that perhaps I live in a happening area after all.

Something that IS happening is the Life Assistance Agency, which is available to buy here –  and in all good bookshops, including Foyles.

Review of Saint Etienne in Heaven. Fox Base Alpha.

 

It might be 1991’s Foxe Base Alpha silver anniversary, but it sounds fresher than ever, as this once heavenly band reach Heaven, thankfully in one piece, to play its entirety. Saint Etienne’s debut album was as synonymous with the rave generation as the Jam sound-tracked the Mods, and was peppered with samples, few seizing the zeitgeist quite like ‘Can I have an E, Bob?” from Blockbusters. It’s ironic that tonight singers Sarah Cracknell and Debs are sitting down to enjoy that particular reference this evening.

Of course when sequencing an album, you’re not thinking about playing it live 25 years later, and there’s a touch of (misplaced) reluctance to open with their definitive version of Neil Young’s Only love can break your heart. It’s an energetic start, followed by the elegantly claustrophobic Carnt sleep. What was once a prescient consequence of clubbing, these days it’s more likely to be costly loft extensions giving the crowd sleepless nights than class A’s.

The folk pop of Spring paved the way for later hit You’re in a bad way, which also gets an airing tonight, once Foxe Base closes and the gig morphs into a live rendition of their greatest hits Too young to die. However before then, the surprise tonight is the effectiveness of a pleading She’s like a Swallow, as it drifts from ambient noodling, through hypnotic chanting – ‘She’s like the river that never runs dry’ – into the sumptuous acid squelch of an old 808.

Nothing can stop us arrives like only the opening track of side 2 can, a call to arms that may have never happened. 25 years suddenly feels a long time ago. As the album closes it’s with relief from the band, who can finally control the set list. Q-Tee arrives to rap early b-side Filthy, which lives up to its name and captures a west London when Talkin’ Loud trip-hop jostled happily alongside house music.

The Italo disco of Join our club and Kiss and Make up demonstrates how they always had tunes to spare. But the highlight is Hobart paving. Always their warmest of songs, tonight its plea of ‘don’t forget to catch me’, effortlessly resonates with a grinning crowd, who gustily sing it back. For a moment those missed kisses of youthful summers return. A new album is promised, but for tonight Saint Etienne have found the future their nostalgia was always searching for.

Tom Hocknell’s debut novel The Life Assistance Agency was published on 22nd September by Urbane Publishing and is not written in the 3rd person. Available here –

 

 

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“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.”  – Edna St Vincent Millay.

It’s hard to not sound conceited writing a blog  about’the day I got published’, but I thought it important to commemorate a day I thought only happened to other people. Well, at least other people who’ve written a book. Non writers have even less chance of getting published than writers; if such a thing is possible. Of course I now find myself in the group of people I once wished to stab in the forehead.

Publication day is the sort of day that validates all 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?

The crucial start to a life as a published author (have I mentioned this yet?) was to not spend it on drudgery like fetching milk from the corner shop in my pyjamas whilst resisting the urge to ask ‘D’you know who I am?’. The newsagent would have every right to nod and say ‘Yes, I know who you are, you’ve still got 3 months arrears for weekend newspapers.’ Once I got back from the milk run, I stuck to my plan of leaving London for the day.

The second indication that I was not yet widely known as a published writer was on a Shell forecourt off the A20. Due to driving, I had been out of the social media loop for almost 50 whole minutes, so was keen to catch up while fuelling the car. I had barely tapped notifications on Twitter when a tannoy announcement suggested I stop using my phone by the pump, and cut-off the fuel supply. Pretending I hadn’t heard, and had actually intended to fill the car with only £4:32 of diesel, I went in to pay for some shopping. “I turned your pump off because you were texting.” the cashier gleefully announced. “I wasn’t texting.” I said more petulantly than I intended. Anyway, I was convinced she would imminently recognise me as a published author justified in checking Twitter news. But she didn’t. “Why can’t you text?” I asked. “Because it can cause a spark.” she answered. “Has that ever happened?” I replied, “I mean, a petrol station blowing up from a sparking mobile phone?” She stared at me. “Look at Youtube.” she snapped, like I was the only person left alive not having watched a series of petrol stations exploding through someone texting their mum.

It perfectly illustrates how nothing has changed. Social media is awash with lovely Likes and comments, which will ebb, doubtlessly leaving me bereft. There’s still the sound of Cheerios crunching underfoot, as opposed to Seychelles white sand. There’s still only 24 hours in the day, and I managed to cut my nose shaving, which made it a day of two firsts.

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, publication day was one to savour. It’s 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?” Perhaps then I’ll be allowed to text at the pump.

In case you’ve escaped the blanket bombing promotion of the Life Assistance Agency, it can be purchased here:

And at Foyles  here:  http://bit.ly/2d8wdT9

Or even better from a bookshop, where you get a cuddle. At least in the right ones.

 

 

 

 

Publication day – The Life Assistance Agency

When you have a public platform of the magnitude of Idle Blogs it seems churlish not to announce today as the day I hand in my notice at work. If I was a total idiot, which I’m not, although this might be validly contested in certain circles. Today marks the publication of my debut novel the Life Assistance Agency. The day has finally arrived, despite more acute observers being understandably surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. It’s your typical 19 year overnight success.

It was called something else for a long time, until the title that had been staring out at me finally revealed itself. It was never intended as a social commentary or heavy tome. If it had then I’d happily declare it a failure. The Life Assistance Agency is not the sort of book involving vast Irish families with dubious historical secrets and a silhouetted park bench on the cover. It’s an entertaining escape involving an Elizabethan alchemist Dr Dee and Bruce Springsteen . It’s the sort of book I’d like to read, (if I hadn’t already  done so at least 50 times).

The Life Assistance Agency is an organisation that has no modus operandi, so therefore avoids painting itself into a corner, (although will do so if a client pays them enough to do so). It sounds more like a dodgy business plan mis-heard during a pub lock-in, which it was.

My plans for today involve writing a more robust blog recording a blow-by-blow account of publication day, which is likely to differ little from other days besides wearing an insufferably smug smile putting those on the faces of beach hut owners in the shade. I am also getting out of London to avoid the media scrum and paparazzi for the day.

This is a fabulous opportunity to declare how incredibly supportive SO many people have been. Readers of this blog, followers of my Twitter account at TomAngel1 (the reason for this will reveal itself to readers of the novel), so many of my friends, a Psychiatrist I work with, Faber Academy, my Publisher, and even the courier who delivered ten copies from my publisher this morning. I was so delighted I almost gave him one. He retreated to his van with only seconds to spare.

This support is the sort of thing giving social media a dangerously good name. I say this before the reviews come in; some of which are bound to read like the vitriol of someone who’s missed every bus since last Wednesday and recently had their own novel manuscript rejected.

I also apologise in advance for the imminent use of social media as a tool for nothing else but flog my book. I will keep it to a minimum, as it’s unbecoming. The novel needs to take on a life of its own without requiring me to take it for a daily walk, but for the next few weeks I shall be shouting from the roof tops, and it won’t be ‘Can someone please get me down?’

the Life Assistance Agency can be bought from local bookshops, Waterstones and from here :

https://wordery.com/the-life-assistance-agency-thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

Many thanks. x

 

 

 

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