Last year I welcomed debut author SIMON TOYNE into the Coffee & Roses Spotlight to talk about writing and publishing the first novel in his trilogy, Sanctus. Since then he has become a bestseller all over the world, enjoyed the kind of success most writers can only dream of and become a dad for the third time. As he launches The Key, the second novel in the trilogy, I caught up with Simon to talk about his incredible success and his experience of writing a second novel in its shadow.
Why thank you. It was kind of like the movie experience of being published rather than the real one, I think. There was one crazy week when the manuscript had been sent out everywhere and I was invited in to see a bunch of different publishers in London, all of whom wanted to buy the book, and at around 4 o’clock each afternoon my phone would start ringing with a bunch of American publishers doing the same. At the same time there were auctions happening in several other territories. My agent kept telling me ‘this never happens’. It was amazing and scary all at the same time. I kept expecting to get a call from someone telling me it had all been some unfortunate mistake.
What has surprised you most about being a published author?
I’m still taken aback when I meet someone who’s actually read my book. It’s a bit like finding out a stranger has been rifling through your secret diary. I know it’s totally irrational but it still kind of freaks me out a little. You spend so long with the story and the characters just in your head that when it becomes public property, it takes a bit of getting used to. I’m getting better. I try not to back away now when someone says ‘Hey, loved your book.’
What have you found most difficult to deal with?
The solitude. Before becoming a full-time writer I was a TV producer, which is a very noisy, collaborative world to be in. I would have meetings with a whole load of other people and decisions would be made on what needed to be done, then they would all go off and do it. Now I have a silent meeting with myself, decide what needs to be done, and I have to go and do all of it. Thank God for Twitter and Facebook, if it weren’t for that it would be like being in solitary.
How challenging was it to write the second book in the trilogy, The Key, following the unprecedented success of Sanctus? Did you find you were daunted by the prospect of going through the writing process again?
I was definitely writing The Key in the shadow of Sanctus, which had been so enthusiastically received by all and sundry that I really felt the pressure to match it with the next story. First books are written under the radar to a degree because no-one is looking over your shoulder and you have as long as you like to finish them. As soon as you have a deal, however, you have a contract telling you exactly when your next book will be delivered (a lot less time than I had for Sanctus) and also roughly how long it will be. And this time everyone is waiting for it, editors, jacket designers, sales and marketing departments, advanced reviewers and – with a bit of luck – readers. I felt the weight of all of them on my back as the word count rose and the deadline loomed.
And all the publicity that comes along with a book being published in lots of countries eats massively into the time you should be spending just knuckling down and writing the next one. As a result of all this, a large chunk of The Key was written in airports and foreign hotel rooms. I hate writing in airports. They are very uninspiring, soul sucking places. There’s a very good reason you don’t see artists setting up their easels while they wait for a delayed flight. Incidentally, the picture of me here, looking all floppy haired and authorial, was taken in the lobby of a hotel in Toronto when I was so jet-lagged I could barely spell my name.
What advice would you give to writers facing the 'second novel' challenge?
Just get the first draft done without agonizing too much about it. I think I wasted a lot of time trying to write the perfect first draft when I should have just written a very imperfect one and started in with the re-writes much, much earlier. Remember, you don’t have to show your first draft to a living soul.
Tell me about The Key. What can readers expect from the second book in your trilogy?
The first book focused mainly on the Sacrament, the great secret held in the Citadel of Ruin, and how the main female character, Liv Adamsen, is driven to discover it in order to find out who she is. It’s as much about identity as anything. The Key deals with the ripple effect in the wake of the Sacrament being discovered and the focus switches more to Gabriel and how his past is tied into what turns out to be a prophetic sequence. It’s also more about notions of home and the idea of where we come from. There’s a slow burn ‘will-they-wont-they’ about Liv and Gabriel’s relationship that deepens in The Key and will reach an ultimate resolution in the third book, which I’m writing now.
After having achieved so much in such a short space of time, what ambitions do you still have for the trilogy?
My over-riding ambition is to try and make the finished trilogy feel like one whole, continuous story rather than three distinct parts. The books do each work on their own but I want someone to be able to start at Sanctus and read all the way to the end of book three, feeling happy and satisfied that they went on the journey and that it felt seamless.
You've just become a Dad for the third time - congratulations! How is writing the third book going with a brand new baby in the house?
I’m not going to lie to you – it’s hard. Little Betsy (see photo, right) is exactly 4 weeks old and, although she is gorgeous, adorable and has unbelievably cute little feet, I have hardly written a word since she popped out. I usually rely on a routine to sit me down, automatically and unquestioningly, in front of my computer at set times each day to work. With a small baby any notion of a routine goes out of the window, so the writing starts to slide. She arrived during the Easter hols as well, so my other two kids were at home requiring food and entertainment. Sadly, watching me stare at my laptop for hours on end whilst muttering to myself and playing Tom Waits albums really loud is not their idea of fun. In the midst of all this The Key came out, so that also blew a hole in my ordered world. I’m trying to get back on track now.
Do you have plans for further novels after the Sanctus trilogy? Or is it too early to think of that yet?!
I have a whole file full of ideas that I will dig out and revisit once the first draft of Book 3 is in and I’m waiting for notes. When I started writing Sanctus I had a few ideas kicking around and I wrote them up to feel them out a little. From this I realized that Sanctus was the best idea, so that’s what I ended up writing. I’m imagining I will do the same with the half-baked ramblings in my ideas file in the hope that the same thing will happen (God, I hope it does, otherwise I’m sunk). It takes me the best part of nine months to write a book so it has to be an idea I’m REALLY interested in.
Anything else you'd like to say?
I think your next book should be called ‘Love in an Elevator’ – to keep with the song-title theme.☺
Now there's an idea...
Thank you to Simon for a fab interview! THE KEY is out now and I have my shiny new copy waiting for me when I finish my line edits of doom - can't wait to read it! You can follow Simon on Facebook, on Twitter @sjtoyne and on his website.