Author Spotlight – Toby Frost
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Toby Frost!
Toby Frost is the author of the six Space Captain Smith books, comedies about the adventures of a gin-swilling British spaceship captain and his less-than-competent crew. He has also written the novel Straken and various short stories set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, for Games Workshop’s Black Library imprint. Recently, Toby self-published Up To The Throne, a dark fantasy story set in a magically-enhanced Renaissance. He plans to release a sequel, Blood Under Water, in Summer 2019. His website is www.tobyfrost.com.
Welcome to the Hive, Toby. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I think I’d be a ranger. I’d get to have a dog (well, a wolf) and I’d be equipped with a bow so I could deal with the various monsters from a safe distance. I like the countryside and I’d be able to keep well back from the mayhem. Provided that I didn’t accidentally shoot the other characters, it would be fine. Hopefully.
When you’re not trawling through the countryside with your wolf-dog, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I do quite a lot of writing with music on. I work better with albums rather than individual songs, just so I don’t have to keep stopping to put on something new. I try to write every day, and I feel guilty if I don’t, but I don’t think this is necessarily vital for all writers (just me). I do plot my books reasonably carefully, but that’s mainly because I don’t think it’s my strongest point, so I try to deal with the problem before it comes up. I’m not sure if that makes me a plotter, a pantser, or some weird hybrid, like someone who does the gardening in their pants.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Although it’s hard to talk about fantasy without Tolkien being in there somewhere, the greatest fantasy influence on me has to be Mervyn Peake. I read his Gormenghast books when I was about 16 and thought they were fantastic. I still find the scale of his imagination and the language in which he described his creations deeply impressive. He’s also got a real eye for detail that you sometimes don’t see in fantasy. I’d also nominate The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck, which is an attempt to re-tell the medieval stories about King Arthur in modern prose. Steinbeck turns these mythical figures into real characters. In terms of who I’d like to work with, maybe Guillermo del Toro. He’s made some beautiful films. Even the weaker ones look amazing.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
The last thing I really enjoyed watching (well, re-watching) on TV was the old BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It’s very slow, but the acting is very good and there’s a real sense of menace, a feeling that any of the genteel spies could suddenly murder the others. In terms of games, I love anything where I can just explore the setting at my own pace. I’m a big fan of Skyrim and Fallout, and I’ll always have a lot of time for the old Thief games.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
I’d spend the extra day either seeing friends, making a model of something (me and model kits have a long and nerdy history), or doing all the stuff that stops me from writing on all the other days, to free up more writing time!
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’ve got two WIPs. The first is a second fantasy novel about Giulia Degarno, called Blood Under Water. It’s about a conspiracy in a city quite like Venice, involving magical glass, smugglers and shape-changing monsters. It’s a fast-moving, thriller-type story. The other WIP is a much larger fantasy epic, loosely based on the wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries. It follows four very different characters who get caught up in the same plot, as their world moves towards war. It’s going to be long, complex and pretty bloody!
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The more I write, the warier I am of giving writing advice. It’s definitely not a case of “one size fits all”. The best advice, I think, is very vague: persist. Keep writing, keep learning, keep trying to produce finished pieces, each one better than the last. Don’t give up. There’s a lot of art in writing (and some luck), but there’s also a lot of craft, and craft can be learned and practiced. The worst advice? Hmm, I suppose “write what you know” isn’t much use to SFF writers. “Write what you can convincingly depict” would be better. I’m also wary of people who talk about writing as if it was purely mechanical, like cranking a handle to churn out money, or a sort of mystical process, like a séance. It’s something between the two.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I find that there’s much less chance of stumbling if I know what I’m going to write before sitting down to write it. I spend a lot of time thinking about what to write next, as well as reading up on my research, so when it comes to the literal typing, I usually don’t run into many blocks. When I do, I’ll often skip on to a different part of the story or to another character, and fill in the blanks when editing. That usually works – provided I don’t forget what I’d been meaning to write when I come back to it!
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Well, I’m somewhat nostalgic for the UK in the 1990s, when I was growing up. There are a lot of historical periods that I’d like to see – London at the height of the Victorian era, Florence at the time of Leonardo, and anything with dinosaurs – but I wouldn’t want to stay there very long. I think I’d want to be certain that I could get back before going!
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I’d mention Homunculus by James P Blaylock. It’s a wild – and sometimes funny – adventure set around a club of scholars in Victorian London. It’s hard to sum up the plot very easily, but it involves zombies, an evil millionaire, weird automatons in wooden boxes, a home-made spaceship and a blimp piloted by an ancient alchemist. I suppose it’s steampunk, but that really doesn’t capture just how crazy it all is. Imagine a Tim Powers novel with all the dials turned up to eleven. I’m not sure that it’s a work of incredible literary importance, but it is a lot of fun.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
Why should readers check out my work? Because there’s something for everyone. If you want comedy – I’ve written comedy. Dark fantasy? Space adventure? Leonardo-style flying machines? Giant homicidal lemmings? British astronauts obsessed with tea? A man punching orcs with a robot arm? I’ve written about all of these things and more (albeit not in the same book)!
Fantastic! Thanks again for joining us, Toby, and good luck with your latest release!
Toby Frost is the author of the Space Captain Smith books and the Warhammer 40,000 novel STRAKEN. His latest fantasy novel, UP TO THE THRONE, is the first book of the Dark Renaissance series, and is available now.