For me one of the greatest parts about being a writer is getting to know other writers and being part of an artistic communal. I feel more support and encouragement for my work from the online community I have built in the last year and half than from people I have known and loved for years; no one gets how important that support and encouragement is better than another writer. People who read my work, share my work, comment on my work light up my life in inestimable ways. Of course this makes it critically important to me to remember to return the favor whenever possible.
Of the many, many wonderful writers I have made the acquaintance of online, one of my favorites is the hilarious and keen-witted Tom Hocknell, author of the newly released novel The Life Assistance Agency, which I had the pleasure of recently reading. Tom also has a great blog where I am a very regular visitor (and I encourage you to become one too!). You’ll come for the incredibly witty turns-of-phrase and return for the varied and always engaging content.
One of the topics broached in Tom’s debut novel is the possibility of the existence of angels. His protagonist, the irascible Ben Ferguson-Cripps is a skeptic, but as it happens both in good stories and in life, the universe has a way of challenging our assumptions. The question always remains—will we doubt the evidence of our own experience in favor of a worn-out but beloved belief system? Or as Ben puts it, “What does anyone ever see, but desire?”
Because I am nothing if not a noodge, while I was reading the book I would occasionally give Tom updates as to where I was in the story (Kindle-style, which means percentages and not pages!) but I refrained from quoting him back to himself (although I was very sorely tempted to share all of my favorite lines with their author). As much as I complain about Kindle reading, however, its handy search device will now allow me to share one of my favorites with you: “He looked at me like someone finding another side to exam papers with a minute to go.” HA! That’s the kind writing you have to look forward to in this!
And if I could actually have seen Tom when I broached the subject of angels with him personally, that may very well have been the look he would have given me. This is one of the many reasons I don’t Skype. I told him that my own feeling about angels is exactly the same as my feeling about aliens: while I consider it more than likely that both exist, I am thoroughly convinced that they have not appeared in any of the formats we have been told about. In other words, what I DON’T BELIEVE is that there are civilizations so far advanced of ours that they are able to build ships that travel light years to visit our planet undetected…and then CRASH. As for angels—sure, they are out there, but without the wings and glorious proclamations. Angels and aliens are subtle.
In The Life Assistance Agency Ben finds himself hooked into a scheme to try to actually communicate with angels, although in my mind (and his, I suppose), if angels had anything important to tell you they would find a way without all the smoke and mirrors. Because they’re angels, right? If they don’t come looking for you, it seems somewhat unwise to go looking for them.
But looking for angels is the order of the day, in part to fulfill the legacy of the late (and very real) mystic, Dr. John Dee. Here the novel dabbles in historical fiction, as we are treated to, via the journals of Dee’s wife, a behind-the-scenes imagining of Dee’s attempts to “scry” (communicate with angels) with his colleague Edward Kelley. The story incorporates the real-life facts of this bizarre partnership and creates clever parallels between the duo and our modern day team, the titular “Life Assistance Agency”, Ben and his partner Scott. These parallels become more meaningful as the story progresses.
Scott’s optimistic “can-do” attitude is the perfect foil for Ben’s curmudgeonly intolerance of most things, actually. Something they can both agree upon, however, is the appeal of a beautiful woman, and this predictably causes problems—both in the modern day and historical aspects of the story. The mystery Ben and Scott are determined to “solve” turns out to be something of a ruse—more smoke and mirrors—but that ruse is delivering them to a much more profound adventure than they ever could have imagined. No spoilers here, because you will not see Hocknell’s twists coming.
The Life Assistance Agency is a story that begs a sequel—but not because the story isn’t complete (I HATE that). It begs a sequel because the discoveries of this novel, along with the humorously fluid definition of what the actual Life Assistance Agency DOES, sets up the possibilities of endless adventures for the charming leads. Hocknell keeps the story light (for the most part) but never fails to provide his own intelligent insights for the novel’s bigger questions; you will find yourself contemplating what exists beyond the veil of the reality we see and wondering if there ever really was such thing as a coincidence.
Now back to the idea of this writer’s community…here is our opportunity to be each other’s angels every day. It doesn’t take much! A quick read of a blog, a “like” here, a retweet there and a comment when the spirit moves you. Being there for each other actually makes it an always worthwhile endeavor, not just when we have a big success or breakthrough accomplishment. We are each other’s angels because we encourage the process and support the results. And that is a truly wonderful feeling.