Writing Journeys – Tom Toner
I met Tom the week that Dragon’s Blade was released back in late 2015. Coincidentally his book had been published that same week (almost to the day) and so naturally we got to talking. It’s been great having a companion of sorts on this rough adventure that is getting books out into the world. We’re going off the reservation again with a Sci-Fi author but I imagine many of you are fans of the genre. His debut novel, The Promise of the Child, has received high critical praise including this enviable line from Tor.com – “Among the most significant works of science fiction released in recent years.” And now, over to Tom.
I know these guest posts are supposed to be about our writing journeys, the struggle, breaking into the business, that sort of thing. And that’s the great adventure. But what happens afterwards, when the sunset’s buggered off and the extras have gone for dinner? This is the tale of my appendix (not my actual appendix, although that untrustworthy organ would make a much more interesting subject), my afterword, my supplementary material. What happens next?
I’ve been a published author for just over a year now – nothing compared with most of the writers here – but it seems to have been one of those bottomless years, like the magic suitcase with unreliable clasps from Fantastic Beasts. In twelve months I’ve finished my second novel, made serious headway with the third, drafted a fourth, pitched a fifth, researched a sixth and begun a novella, all the while banging my head against a wall trying to publicise the very first one all over again (having mostly forgotten what it’s about). Fifteen hundred cups of coffee, six hundred beers, seven or eight thousand Hawaiian pizzas and a cookie meant for Brandon Sanderson later, I’ve gained – by some unfathomable coincidence – sixteen extra pounds. Figuring that’s per novel, I should weigh in at a respectable, rather Georgian forty-four stone by the time I’m done.
Statistics aside, I get the feeling that the first, very fattening year’s the easiest (and the yummiest). For a full half of it you’re allowed to bask in the mystery, an unknown quantity. Your parents (briefly) refrain from reminding you what a waste of space you are; friends – even strangers – assume pompous literary voices as they take the piss out of you. It took me a long time to shed the embarrassment of a first-time work that hadn’t yet been broadly reviewed, and to feel at home in front of a discerning, intelligent audience, let alone a microphone (they’ll scare the crap out of me until the day I die, a massive forty-four stone bin bag winched out of an upper floor window). But you settle into it. I’ve had friendly comments even from people who couldn’t stand the book, and I’ve yet to encounter a decent, really nasty troll (touch wood). Most of all it’s the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people, some of them even fans, and – let me tell you – nothing prepares you for the joy of discovering that there are actually people out there anticipating your next book. Until that point I’d written into the void, as if the entire thing were an exercise in meditation, to be deleted at the end of the day, unread. Now there are people familiar with the series and excited to see where it might go, and I write all subsequent books entirely for them.
Still, it’s a game of two halves. There are swings and roundabouts and… slides and whatnot. You learn a lot of harsh truths, that first year – things I wish I’d known when I started out. There’s the heartbreak of seeing your book sent off into Twitter’s clamouring marketplace and manage barely a whisper, or the slog of the Goodreads popularity contest: a vast, jagged mountain that everyone and their dog seems to have bloody climbed already (you can see the buggers up there, breakfasting at the summit, while you curse and stumble and faff with your crampons down below). You learn (muddying my metaphors) that the jungle’s just too crammed with tall trees; there can’t possibly be enough light for everyone. The money hemorrhages away, the interest never picks up. You go back to work. It hardens you. With just a little nudge, it could drive you slightly mad. Creativity and competition are a restless, bitter concoction, and to compound it all there’s the spectre of guilt at your back, whipping you along: can I be doing more? Can I work harder, faster, more efficiently? Am I working too fast? Am I rushing it? How do I spread the word more, or balance that with writing? Will I be ashamed of the finished thing? Don’t get me wrong, it’s the dream job. There are, however, some side effects.
But then your second year starts, your second book comes out. The passion comes staggering back through the door after a month-long bender somewhere and you remember the intense pleasure of creating something intricate. There’s always something, some tiny mechanism, to be getting on with: an idea to expand, some character to develop, a plot thread to work out, a world to build. You hunch, vessels luminous with coffee, fingers flying on the keys, and the universe – hell, the multiverse – explodes onto the page. If that’s what you like to do, and get a little money for it at the same time, it’s a bloody miracle. Aaand to be brutally honest I have a steak and ale pie in the oven as I write this, so… insert grand conclusion here.
Tom Toner was born in Somerset in 1986. After graduating with a degree in Fine Art from Loughborough University and the FHSH in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, he spent some time in Australia teaching life drawing. Upon returning to England he completed his debut novel, The Promise of the Child. He lives in Bath.
Well, everyone, we’ve made it all the way here – nearly the end of the trail. The end of our own little journey with these amazing guests. Tomorrow dear reader we’ll hear from our last guest. Yet we’ll be going out on a rather inspirational high by hearing from 2016’s best new discovery in fantasy – Josiah Bancroft, author of Senlin Ascends. See you then!
tom toner, writing journeys