Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Interview 2 with Toby Frost: Interview Harder

My first interview with the author of the Space Captain Smith series, Toby Frost, (which was also the first interview I did for this blog) can be read here.

I’m delighted to say that I managed to prise him away from the tea and crumpet long enough to ask some more questions.

Q: It was May 2011 when we did the first interview, and you said (correctly, as we’ll shortly see) there was more to come from Space Captain Smith. A Game of Battleships is due out in August. Could you give us a quick rundown of the plot’s premise?

A: Certainly. In short, Isambard Smith and his supposedly trusty crew are given a mission to hunt down a mysterious vessel that’s been picking off convoys at the edge of the British Space Empire. Meanwhile, the Empire is about to sign a top-secret treaty with its allies. Unfortunately, the head of security for the treaty is Major Wainscott, a half-sane commando with a propensity for nudism and violence, and the ship that Smith is hunting turns out to have sinister powers of its own. Things soon take a turn for the chaotic as cultists, aliens, creatures from another dimension and about a thousand killer frogs become involved...

Q: As well as writing the Space Captain Smith comedy sci-fi series you’ve also penned some more serious fantasy. Do you think we’ll see your fantasy before Space Captain Smith book 5, or is it too early to say?

A: It’s really hard to say. I honestly don’t know whether the fantasy novel will ever see print. I do have some other projects on the go, so there’s a lot to deal with. I wish I had more time to write, but then there is this annoying day job thing to take into account.

Q: Will we be getting other versions (audiobook and e-book) of A Game of Battleships (Amazon currently only lists a printed version)?

A: I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see an ebook version. As for audio, I’m not sure as yet. It would be nice, as I was very impressed with the audiobooks of the first three stories.

Q: Do you find comedy easier or harder to write than ‘serious’ stuff?

A: It’s a very different discipline. Of course, you’ve got the extra effort of writing jokes as well as stories. You also have to keep the jokes coming, which means that you don’t have to – and can’t – go off on rambling asides, or change the tone too drastically. That said, I think people have a tendency not to regard comedy very, er, seriously. Perhaps you can get away with slightly more when you’re telling jokes, but then you have to write the jokes in the first place. I think it evens out as about equivalent in difficulty.

Q: Do you find it easier to do world- and character-building for fantasy or sci-fi, or is it pretty much the same in terms of difficulty/challenge?

A: Pretty much the same. A lot of the time I’ll find myself looking at real-world history and extrapolating some interesting detail, or using a real story as the springing-board for making something up. There are many broad themes you can latch onto that make good inspiration: the empire-building of the Victorians, or the intrigue and progress in the Renaissance. You end up knowing an awful lot more than you can ever put into your stories, but that’s just how research works. When I get famous, I’ll put it all the extra stuff in a role-playing game. Have I ever told you about the adventures of Old Blueteeth the space pirate...?

Q: When you aren’t writing, how do you like to unwind?

A: I am somewhat geeky and spend a lot of time reading and building model kits. I don’t play that many computer games, but there are a few that really grip me, usually where you can amble round a world exploring. I’m lucky enough to live in the countryside, so quite often I’ll go for a wander in the woods nearby. It’s good exercise, and there’s less chance of being eaten by a dragon.

Q: What’s been your best moment as a writer?

A: There’ve been a lot! I’m always very pleased when people say they’ve enjoyed the books. I also like seeing the covers, because they’re so well-drawn. It seems to make the books so much more real, to know that the publishers liked it enough to commission a picture! But in general, it’s knowing that people have enjoyed the stories. That and the royalty cheques.

Q: Which authors first inspired you to become a writer?

A: The first writers that really seemed to be saying something of direct relevance to me were George Orwell and Mervyn Peake. I then read Raymond Chandler, and loved his writing. All of those authors had a very strong, clear prose style, and even when being florid, were always precise. It also helped that two of them had strong social consciences, and were skilled enough to be able to integrate their own views into their stories without seeming to regurgitate the Guardian editorial.

Q: Darker fantasy, as epitomised by Martin, Abercrombie and Lynch, has in recent years become some of the most popular. There’s been a bit of a criticism for it recently, with the subgenre dubbed ‘grimdark’ and attacked by certain quarters for being too nasty. What’s your view on this, and how dark or delightful is your own fantasy?

A: I think it’s part of the process of fantasy moving on from being (apologies to the exceptions) a genre massively overshadowed by one writer, Tolkien. However, a bad book with rape and murder is still a bad book. We have to be careful not to move from writing childish books where everyone in the kingdom is permanently overjoyed to adolescent books where everyone is miserable and incontinent. Monty Python covered that territory in the Holy Grail ages ago, and the first book would probably be more fun anyhow.

What I’d like to read in fantasy would be shorter, more eccentric books, with unusual characters and one story per volume, that were about something other than saving the world. Not every thriller is about assassinating the president, so why shouldn’t we have a fantasy novel about someone trying to find his mum? My feeling is that to produce really great novels, fantasy has to ditch the soap opera elements. Of course, this won’t happen, since series sell...

My own stuff was written a long time ago, and I always tried for a noir-type feel, with a level of realism somewhere around John le Carre or Raymond Chandler. I don’t see it as dark as such, just realistic within its own setting. But at the end of the day, if the story is about talking rabbits on a pony farm, there’s no point squeezing in a load of carnage if it’s going to make the story false. You have to get the tone right in any sort of novel, comedy or otherwise.

Thanks for the questions – it’s been interesting!


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