Postcards from the Edge (of St Petersburg)

In 2008, I wrote an entry on this blog entitled The End.

About a year and a half ago, I fin­ished the second Saskia Brandt nov­el, Flashback. My thoughts for the third one centred around Imperial Russia. I was par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in pla­cing Saskia – who derives her advant­ages from an almost dir­ect con­nec­tion between her nervous sys­tem and the Internet – in a situ­ation where she could have no real advant­age bey­ond her know­ledge of the future.

I don’t remem­ber much about the exper­i­ence of writ­ing that book, The Amber Rooms, so it’s inter­est­ing to con­tin­ue read­ing this entry.

[The Amber Rooms] was a pleas­ure to write. I wanted to pro­duce some­thing that reminded me of Alistair MacLean, where the story’s struc­ture reflects a heist and the read­er not entirely informed about how much the prot­ag­on­ist knows. To help get this right, I plot­ted much of the nov­el in advance.

I think about my life at that point. In short: Publishers weren’t buy­ing my books; I felt redund­ant as a writer; I knew I would soon aban­don my goal of writ­ing books. That aban­don­ment — that real­isa­tion of the tox­icity of my situ­ation — was brief. I am writ­ing again. However, I con­sidered The Amber Rooms to be a last waltz. The manu­script would remain on my com­puter, keep­ing the unpub­lished Flashback com­pany, while I turned my back on the one thing I do very well: write.

The point of writ­ing a book, I sup­pose, is to get it pub­lished. I’m not con­fid­ent that it will be picked up by a pub­lish­er – not because I lack con­fid­ence in the book, but because the second book hasn’t found a pub­lish­er yet. The third book isn’t likely to shift if the second one hasn’t.


Do I think I deserve to be pub­lished? No. That’s too strong. I mean this: I don’t write books so I can put them in a draw­er.

Let me turn back to an earli­er entry. This is dated 1st November, 2007, five days before my birth­day:

At the moment, I have some ideas that refuse to tes­sel­late. I hope my gentle read­ers won’t be offen­ded if I don’t go into them in too much detail. Suffice it to say that I’m read­ing some excel­lent oral his­tor­ies of women anarch­ists in 1870s Russia. An intriguing archi­tec­tur­al folly known as the Amber Room will fea­ture.

I have stood in the Amber Room. The Russian gov­ern­ment would prefer vis­it­ors not to take pic­tures there, so I did not. But I stood with­in it. I stud­ied its pan­els and frowned into its mir­rors. I closed my eyes and breathed in; it did not smell of pine, which was unex­pec­ted. The moment I remem­ber most clearly is my girl­friend look­ing at me as though she loved me. So we made it to the Amber Room. This strange thing I do — fic­tion — has not been quite des­troyed by my fail­ure to con­vince a tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­er to take a chance on it.

I tried to ima­gine Saskia Brandt reflec­ted in one of those tall mir­rors between the amber pan­els.

I made it to the end point of the cre­at­ive pro­cess for Flashback. That is, I got the book to read­ers.

Yesterday, someone in America called Suki read Flashback and wrote:

Hocking does not make a mis­step in this beau­ti­fully con­struc­ted nov­el, and when his tal­ent for plot meets his tal­ent for prose, the res­ult is extraordin­ary. I look for­ward to the next Saskia Brandt adven­ture!

On the 17th March, 2008, I wrote:

So what is it? What’s the story, Saskia? Why are you stand­ing on the threshold of the Amber Room, and what does it have to do with going home?

The story is…well, it’s anoth­er adven­ture. All stor­ies are adven­tures. And going home.

St Petersburg
Sailing into St Petersburg via the Gulf of Finland — 6.30 a.m., 23rd August 2011

On Legerdemaine

Part two of my inter­view Aliya Whiteley is now up on her web­site. More mots bon from me.

A: When do you feel sat­is­fied that you’ve done enough research?

I: I don’t think I’ve ever felt sat­is­fied with research. There’s always some­thing that you’ve handled wrong. With spe­cif­ic regard to a nov­el, where you’re deal­ing with the rep­res­ent­a­tion of lived exper­i­ence, there’s no way everything is going to ring true. A phrase might be wrong; or a train line that you thought was there in 1904 wasn’t built until 1910, or some such. I’d go as far as to say that if I ever had that feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion, I’d be los­ing my grip on real­ity.