Welcome to my weekly slot Author Interviews.
This is where I get to find out about the author behind the book and hopefully glean some useful insight on being a writer.
This week I am interviewing author, blogger and music journalist Tom Hocknell. Sigh!
So, Tom welcome to my blog, please have a seat!
Tell me about yourself and the book / books you have written?
I am a mental health social worker and music fan who escaped into books from an early age, until you could only glimpse my feet. I’m also a music journalist, which if it paid better would be the most perfect job in the world.
The novel I’ve written is called the Life Assistance Agency. It features a speculative agency founded upon a business plan better known as a hope and prayer. The agency picks up the 400-year-old trail of the Elizabethan alchemist Dr. John Dee. It would appear that the artifacts he used to call angels are being fought over by a mysterious organisation and a university lecturer.
When did you write your first book?
Gosh, starting them is the easy bit. It’s the finishing that’s hard. My first story involved my Action Force ™ figures when I was about 11, but sadly major publishers never picked this up. I finished my first novel called Age of entitlement about 7 years ago, but realised after sitting on it for 6 months that it needed more work than the north Korean nuclear project, so I returned to a novel called the Karma Account that I had started a few years before that, which morphed into the Life Assistance Agency, and finally finished it.
How long did it take to write your first book?
The reality of this is too hard to bear, so I’ll say 4 years. It feels like a reasonable length of time. It’s hard to qualify, because I’m always balancing other things, like family, a job, various courses and compiling iTunes playlists. Not to mention countless re-edits of the finished article.
What was your motivation to write your first book?
I think my need to do something creative wasn’t being met by working in IT recruitment (funnily enough), or sitting around making ambitious plans based upon the elation of my early 20s.
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
Not knowing where the hell it was going for ages, until I realised the key was to have flashbacks to Elizabethan times. However, this idea may even have been someone else’s. It’s hard to remember! At least I can blame them for the difficulties inherent in writing (some) historical fiction.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
The entire thing is a bad patch, or a great achievement. My views on my work generally depend upon what mood I’m in, as opposed to the actual writing.
I also find my 18 essential Rules to writing as paramount.
My favourite one is:
The best way to judge the camber of a floor is to roll a marble across it. You can’t do this until you’ve built the floor.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
I start with a premise, such as ‘who wants to live forever?’ in the Life Assistance Agency, and then explore how I might look at that. To be honest, I often just hear a little story and think about what happened before and after that, and start writing. I also write down titles and wonder what a book called that might look like. However, mainly I start writing and see what happens. I am writing the sequel to the Life Assistance Agency and still only have half an idea about what’s going to happen. But I know it’s called Blind Fury. T’s a good title. I wanted to write a novel about the battle of Britain call Scramble, but someone already has! Sometimes I’ll know the ending, but unsure how to get there. I just hope for the best. Writing with your fingers crossed is tricky, but I think I’ve mastered it.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
You can make thing up without getting arrested or causing huge arguments. You are basically a god.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
That’s tough. I guess it’s isolating but on an unconscious level, that’s probably why we do it. So you get what you wish for.
Have you ever considered quitting writing and if so how have you worked through this?
I’m not sure that’s really possible. I’m studying, so banned myself from writing. A week alter I was writing a weekly blog that lasted a year. I know do it less frequently. I just wanted the challenge. It’s great actually seeing how many people are reading your stuff – the problem is you get addicted to the stats.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I used to have to go the same place, but it fetishises the whole process. Having to wear a fake beard and lucky pants never worked when going on the pull, so it’s unlikely to help with writing. I never understood JK Rowling claiming to be so skint she had to write in a cafe. Surely that’s where any writer writes, so they’re not distracted by playing records/tidying the kitchen/plumping cushions, etc.
To be honest, I spend far too much of my life failing to down vitamin tablets in one swallow, and spend the rest of the day gulping like a pelican eating a plate.
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
Writing a novel strikes me as the perfect way to legitimise procrastination.
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
For me it’s plot, which makes things even harder. I know some writers talk about their characters ‘taking over’ and dictating the plot. Mine tend to sit around eating crumpets or snoozing while waiting for me to make them do something. Bloody lay-a-bouts.
What has been your biggest learning during your writing career?
Wow, that’s hard. To be patient. To accept the final draft isn’t, and to shamelessly use what you hear and see. People forget even the most brilliant things they say, so they’ll never know you put it in the mouths of your characters, for which you’ll get the credit, even by them! Besides, it retains it for some sort of posterity
How do you manage social media as a writer?
Far too often and frequently! Particularly since gearing up promotion for September and the publication of the Life Assistance Agency. I don’t let social media in the bedroom, and I prefer to read a novel on public transport. We’ve become automatons, addicted to our phones. It’s sad. And don’t even get me started on adults playing that Crushed Candy nonsense.
Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
Read novels – lots of them. Be committed and be in love with the joy and potential of picking up a novel in a shop and buying it. If you want to be a part of that, then write, but write only for you, at least to start with. Then do whatever the hell the publishers ask for to get it published! .
Writing is all about the edit. Get it down and you can see what’s wrong with it. Editing is ceaseless, such as using fewer words, like replacing ‘giving way’ with ‘surrendering’.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome it?
I’d rather not think too hard about that. I’m happy once I have an idea that I can then tinker with it, which is easier than having to come up with something new.
Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
It’s always good to have an idea for the next one; it means there’s no empty abyss at the end of the one you are writing. It’s motivation to finish it, so you can start the next!
What do you wear to write?
Tweed pyjamas, lucky pants and a fake beard.
Thanks Tom. Great interview.
I have got so much from this. Loved your 18 Rules of Writing. My favourite was editing whilst drunk. I must try that! I agree writing is all about commitment and hard work. Love the outfit – tweed pjs -sigh!
I must say your blog ‘Idle Blogs of an Idle Fellow’ is a great place for a browse, whilst drinking a coffee.
The Life Assistance Agency will be published by Urbane Publishing in September please go here to order a copy or even better, to your local bookshop in September as Tom will probably be there trying to get a pen to work.
Next week historical fiction author Tony Riches will be sat in my red chair.