INTERVIEW: Tom Toner

Tom is a London-based author with a degree in fine art. The Promise of the Child is his first novel.

GS: Tell us about your novel, The Promise of the Child. What sets it apart from other current SF and why will people want to buy it?

It’s a blend of space opera and fantasy, set in the 147th century, with tin spaceships and singing sea monsters and big ttonerpichorrible giants! So far as I can tell, it’s very unusual for science fiction, at least I haven’t read anything else like it out there. It’s the first book of six, so hopefully readers will get really invested. It’s pretty big, so it’d be great for self-defence! Other than that, I think the blurb sums it up really well. (GS note: to save you having to exercise your Google-fu, here is the blurb, which we have to say sounds a bit ace In a lonely Mediterranean cove lives Lycaste, a lovesick recluse legendary amongst the giant peoples of the Old World.  In the Vaulted Lands of the Amaranthine Firmament, the Perennials play host to a contender for the Immortal throne: Aaron the Long-Life, the Pretender, a man who is not quite a man. In the barbarous hominid kingdoms of the Prism Investiture, where all life is cheap, an invention is born that will become the Firmament’s most closely-guarded and coveted secret. Sotiris, heartbroken and awaiting madness, must relive his twelve thousand years of life to stop the man that he would call Emperor. Ghaldezuel, knight of the stars, must plunder the rarest treasure in all the Firmament, the object the Pretender will stop at nothing to obtain. Lycaste, outcast for an unspeakable crime, must journey to the heart of the Provinces, braving the grotesques of an ancient, decadent world, to find his salvation...”)

GS: What made you want to write science fiction?

It wasn’t originally going to be an SF book. It was always going to be set in the future, but at some point this spaceship came along! When I first started writing, I wanted to be all literary, and there’s this perception that SF can’t be literary…but then I couldn’t resist writing about spaceships going pew-pew-pew and fighting and explosions and fun! It’s something a little bit different, the kind of thing I’d like to read, and I love reading SF.

GS: Who or what have been your key inspirations?

I owe a massive debt to Iain M Banks! He’s my favourite SF author, I’m very sad not to have had the chance to meet him. I’m also a really huge fan of David Mitchell. I read a huge amount of Stephen King in my teens, so he’s definitely an influence. Brian Aldiss is another. I think you learn a lot about writing by reading.

In terms of other external influences, I really like a lot of Renaissance and Baroque art, and I get a lot of ideas in art galleries. Hieronymous Bosch and the Garden of Earthly Delights is another big influence The Promise of the Child is a very visual book, and it’s got a really visible visual style, a bit like a del Toro movie, or at least that’s what I was aiming for! In my mind, the first book has its own colour code which is like green and gold, where the second book is more red and blue – it’s a bit like synaesthesia, to me each book has its own colours and patterns.

GS:What’s been the most surprising thing about being a debut author?

Probably all the kind of non-authory stuff. Before I was published, I just imagined that I would write this book and hand it over and that would be that. I had no idea that there would be so many people getting so involved in the process, and in such a social way. I had no idea there was such a community around publishing. I just assumed it would be very solitary…and it is a solitary working day, but it’s not a solitary job at all. People have been so nice to me, I’ve been absurdly touched by it all and by how great the Gollancz team have been.

GS:What’s been the most challenging thing about being a debut author?

All the public speaking! I really didn’t like it at first, but now it is quite fun. I mean, it’s still terrifying! Just the sheer volume of people and that feeling of being judged. I quite like it now, though. Oh, and working to deadlines, of course! I had four years to write the first book, and now I’ve got one year to write the second. Of course, panicking about it doesn’t help!

GS:Have you been asked or felt that you should build a social media presence for self-promotion?

I’m so frightened of writing anything online! Anything you write online sticks there forever. With regards to self-promotion, I’d hope that word would spread in other ways. I always like to find things more naturally or based on external opinions. And while I am very proud of my book and very fond of it, self promotion just doesn’t come naturally to me. Plus, I’ve been working on it for four years, so I’d like to talk about something else now!

GS:If you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?

The-Promise-of-the-Child-by-Tom-TonerSpend more time away from the laptop! Use notebooks instead. I got all my best ideas when I was away from the laptop. For me, it’s much better to just sit down with a notebook and puzzle things out. I think my writing was of a much higher quality than it would have been because I wasn’t getting distracted thinking about sentences and structure. Basically, if in doubt, don’t go near a laptop! Just use notebooks and cross things out as you go along to keep track.

I also think I have to appreciate how lucky I’ve been, as well. Anyone can learn to write, but not everyone has the luxuries of time or energy to sit down and do it.

GS:Have you got any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

Just the next book! It’ll be finished in about a month, and is due to be released sometime next year. It has a working title of The Weight of the World. Like The Promise of the Child the title works on several different levels which will become clear when you read it!

GS:What are you reading now?

I’ve got a few books on the go at the moment! I’m really enjoying Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson, and Steeple by Jon Wallace which is really great, very short and sharp. I’m also really loving When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner, and I’m reading another book about the North Sea called The Edge of the World by Michael Pye, which sounds really boring but it’s actually really good.

Thanks so much for talking to us, Tom!

The Promise of the Child will be released by Gollancz on 19 November.

GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)

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