Hogg-Tied To Life
Hogg, a stoutly but gentle Brit, smiles easily. His study is a disaster waiting to happen.
“Please, make yourself comfortable,” he says, picking up a pile of papers he’d taken off a chair. “There’s not much room around here I’m afraid.”
I sit on the emptied chair, waiting patiently for him to find another spot for the papers. He sets them precariously on one corner of his desk, a second later to see them gliding to the floor as he tries to prevent the happening catastrophe. He mutters a small profanity, turns and smiles, rather hoping, I suspect, that I hadn’t heard.
“Is this typical of the way you work?” I ask.
“Well…” and he pauses, looking round the room, “I guess it must be.” His gentle laugh is enough to tell anyone he doesn’t mind poking fun at himself.
“You have no-one who comes in to clean for you?”
“You just missed her!” And again, his laughter.
Hogg is one of those perpetual jokers, making a serious interview difficult. He is sensitive to questioning, being occasionally sharp when the subject touches his personal life. Self-exiled from the British Isles, Hogg is now settled on the shores of Mendocino. He purchased a ranch here in 2012 but never resided until 2016.
I asked him why the four-year gap.
“America is, or was, very hospitable once they understood I had invested in property. It seemed a better way than asking an American woman to marry me. I didn’t know anything about investments really, property seemed to be a safe bet. As you know, it certainly wasn’t.”
“Little is known about you. This is the way you prefer it, I suspect?”
“That’s because there’s nothing to know. I lived in Scotland with my dogs and that’s all there is to it. I’m not a creature of social niceties.”
“But you have no work published, though you have written all your life?”
“That’s true…let me think…yep, perfectly true.”
“Any reason why?”
“Yes, I never wrote anything good enough.” He laughs. His blue eyes, creased at the edges, are set deep, and his brow furrowed. Clearly, Hogg is comfortable with his failure. He gazes out of the window, overlooking the dramatic shoreline. A hundred feet below, seals bark and jostle for a space on the rocks. He returns to his desk, stoops and gathers up an armful of papers and shows them to me.
“Sixty years of writings, seven million words made up in Scotland, half again in Paris, and maybe a couple of hundred thousand in California. None of it, nothing, has produced anything I like, let alone a publisher. What I can tell you, and I suspect this is my fame, and the reason why you’re visiting me today, is to talk about what happens to such a man, a writer with the outstanding ability, the peculiar talent of being the only author in history who put down five million words without slapping to life one substantial character in one small base of a story; not even a comic strip in a local newspaper; not even an autumn pickle recipe!”
Hogg almost disintegrates with laughter.
“You are surrounded by beauty, you have animals everywhere, it seems, horses in the paddock, sheep in the field, numerous cats, and I counted, well tell me, how many dogs?”
“Eight. They are all working dogs.”
“Animals mean a lot to you.”
“Love of animals is just something natural. My father worked dogs, which is weird because he was a deep-sea fisherman. We had several dogs and a couple of horses and there were peacocks and cats and birds, it was wonderful really; a perfect childhood, if you know what I mean, so perfect that disappointment was never something I ever felt.”
Hogg is visibly moved. I ask him if he wants to stop, collect himself before going on with the interview.
“No. Thank you, let’s get it done. I have work to do out there.”
“The photographs on the walls, they are members of your family?”
It is the first moment I feel an edginess to his response.
“You’re beginning a new story?”
“Yes, time permitting. The schedule here is mad. From the moment I wake it’s all hands to the barn.”
“What time do you wake?”
“Three. I write for a couple of hours, then head down to the shoreline with the dogs. I do that about five, after a cup of tea, some toast and jam. When I get back I head to the barn. I like to ride the horses, so I’m not really settled to write until late
“Your new story, what will it be about?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t meet with or talk to other writers. I don’t know how they begin. Sometimes, I sit down and try to imagine a story, try to think of a plot that will entertain or amuse, or both. I love to write about romance, that is where I’m at. Who isn’t. I suppose I just sit down and think, yes, I have a story to tell, romantic, tragic, funny so perhaps this is a story I should share, not sell.”
“With a happy ending?”
“If you can tell me what makes a happy ending for some and is guaranteed, I’ll write it. If I take my own experience, the romance from my own life, well, I just keep going and hope that a happy end will find me.”
“You’re not happy?”
“I have happier days. I’m never unhappy.”
“There’s a lot of stories in this pile, I’m sure.”
“I guess so, but very few are finished. I write some, save some, take them out again a year later and ask myself if any of them was worth the effort.”
“Writing is hard for you?”
“Hell, no. Writing is like breathing. I like to look up, see all the stories floating by, and pluck one down. No, writing is not difficult, editing is! I don’t do it.”
“You don’t edit?”
“Dear Lord, no. I have a hopeless grasp of grammar. What would be the point? I just try to get stuff down. If no stories are floating by, I meet up with Lori. She’s always got a story to share.”
“No…” and his eyes shine a mischievous sparkle. “Just a child who comes to visit.”
“Do you think you’ll have even one successful story to share?”
“What, can I tell you about writing that hasn’t already been said. I don’t consider myself a failing author if I never see my stories on the shelves, written, done, finished, printed, stamped, bound, borrowed, read, repaired, and shelved. Sure, mine has been a life of spectacular events, both sad and happy, a life of writing and composing, moons wax and wane, trains arrive and depart, lives teeter on the brink, suitcases packed and unpacked, bells ring in far off steeples, journeys begun, finished, and some yet being travelled under soft burning September skies, a dog barks over the hill, letters are written, sealed, posted, talking of love or fear or fun…and all these things happen when I’m writing. All the time I keep thinking to myself ‘What if a train arrives and I’m not there to see who gets off?” And because I’m interested in life, not a damn thing gets finished. Love has come into my life and I know very well how it glows and burns, and yes, sometimes fails, love, like a train, blows its whistle and moves off. There’s a story right there.”
At the end of the interview he shakes my hand and bids me a safe trip back to San Francisco. When I get to the car he is standing at the fence kissing one of the several horses in the coral. He is a man who appears to never let people in close. I’m certain the people of Mendocino will watch with interest this failing author’s story.