Monday, April 23, 2012

Simon Toyne - the adventure continues!

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.
Congratulations on the massive success of your first novel, Sanctus. What has the experience been like for you as a debut novelist?

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.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Not just a one-trick pony...

There has been - unsurprisingly - a humungous amount of publicity in the past couple of days about the announcement of J.K. Rowling's new novel. Aimed at adults this time (although I know an awful lot of 'grown-up kids' who adore her previous work!), the novel will be very different from the books she has become famous worldwide for. So, is it a good move?

Photo © Wall to Wall Media Ltd. Photographer: Andrew Montgomery

All the blaze of publicity yesterday about the new novel - and the resulting response on twitter, news sites and blogs - was fascinating to watch. As ever, twitter served up the most witty responses, with most of the reaction good-natured and positive. People seem to be genuinely intrigued to see what a 'different book' by J.K. Rowling will look like. But some in the media seem to be quite miffed that she's writing 'out of her genre' (I apologise for the awful phrase) - and this made me think about the preconceptions and labels that a lot of authors deal with.

I read a fantastic interview of Stephen King by Neil Gaiman in The Sunday Times Magazine last week, where he was asked whether he saw himself as a horror writer - and whether he minded being labelled as such. He didn't mind at all, but said, 'I never thought of myself as a horror writer. That’s what other people think.' Of course, Stephen King has written a great deal of other stories and books that aren't horror at all (I know because I am a complete wuss and those are the only ones I've felt brave enough to read!), but he admitted that it took a long time for him to be recognised for this.

Being stereotyped is something that unfortunately all authors will face. Imagine the media furore if Hilary Mantel wrote an urban fantasy novel, or Jeffery Deaver published an emotional family saga (although personally I would love to read either of those!) While I love, love, love writing romantic comedy, I also have ideas for other stories that are different. My short stories, for example, are significantly darker in style than my novels. And I have a comedy urban fantasy novel currently being rejected a lot by major publishers (under my pen-name of Ellis Parker). I'm working on an idea for a story that combines a natural gift with a murder case. I have a children's story idea bubbling away in the background... Will any of them ever see the light of day? Maybe not, but I hope that one day I can share some of them with the lovely people who read my stories. In the meantime, it's perfectly OK to want to write different stuff and I think it's good for me as a writer to try out other styles of writing because of what it teaches me. A crucial part of being a writer is exploring new stories - whatever shape or flavour they might be.

While many of us writers can only marvel at the phenomenal success of J.K. Rowling, I do wonder if she ever felt hemmed in creatively by the novels she created. I know some people would argue that she didn't have anything to complain about, what with all the money she was making, but writers know that writing is about more than just making a living. Expression is something you can't put a price on - as is inspiration. I wonder if she had a million and one other ideas bubbling away as she worked on the behemoth of the Harry Potter series (a common ailment amongst writers) - was it ever a source of frustration to her that she couldn't explore these?

I don't know whether The Casual Vacancy will sell gazillions or be moderately successful. I suspect that her legion of fans will buy whatever she writes (because readers aren't as bound by labels as the media or publishing industry seem to be). And in a way, it doesn't matter. Practically speaking, she's more than proved herself and it's less of a risk because her mortgage doesn't depend on its success. But I applaud her for showing another side to her craft.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When I Fall in Love - Episode 2 - seaside and cupcakes!

This year I'm taking you behind the scenes of writing, editing and publishing my fourth novel, When I Fall in Love. This week, I grab a much-needed weekend off and head to beautiful South Devon, before a dash across the country to take part in a literature festival...

One of the mistakes I made last year was not taking any real time off. With my crazy writing schedule and Bob's gardening business, it can be difficult to find time for a break, but we were very lucky to be invited down to beautiful South Devon with Bob's parents (aka Uncle Dudley and Auntie Mags!) to join them for the first few days of their holiday. And, of course, I took my video camera, so you can see just how fabulous the area is (and why it's a favourite place for Bob and me!)

My BIG news is that I'm currently working on something that I'll be able to tell you about fully really soon - the chance to read something new from me a few months before When I Fall in Love arrives in November...

Also in this week's decidedly holiday-ish vlog is the amazing cupcake café I discovered when I spoke there at an author event as part of Crawley WORDfest 2012. Not only was it a fab venue but Jo and her team are really friendly and made Bob and I feel right at home. And the cupcakes... just amazing! One of the things I love as an author is that inspiration can sneak up on you when you least expect it - and that's exactly what happened when I visited Cupcake Genie in Crawley. The place has a fantastic vibe and creativity and it was great to hear about how the business began and see the passion the team have for their café. So I've decided that Cupcake Genie is going to make a cameo appearance in When I Fall in Love: Elsie works at a retro-themed ice cream café in Brighton's North Lanes and I knew that they would make their own ice cream on site, but as it's a café they also need to sell lots of amazing baked goods, so I was trying to work out how they could outsource their baking (seeing as Auntie Mags' Tea and Sympathy café is a little too far away!) Bob and I had been discussing how I could do this on the journey down from Birmingham, and while we were at the cupcake café Bob suggested that we could include them in a cameo role seeing as they aren't too far away from Brighton. Problem solved! (Thanks, Bob!)

So, without further ado, grab your shades for my seaside-themed vlog - and as always please let me know what you think (and ask me a question for next time!) by leaving a comment below or emailing me at Enjoy! xx

p.s. This week's YouTube-nominated freeze-frame is entitled, 'Beautiful sea!' xx

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